There are lessons to be taken from even the most rant-y or misguided efforts of pseudo-science and un-science and general misrepresentations of science provided you know where to find them. One aspect of the near congenital media screw-up of science is the idea that one vocal dissenter to a well recognised hypothesis or theory makes this either controversial or uncertain. In fact I recently found a great quote by a science journalist on this very issue: “Journalism, which relies on “balance”, has never dealt with science, which relies on consensus”. (Sharon Weinberger).
The truth of the ‘groundbreaking hypothesis’ is of course the opposite. There are, sadly, professional researchers with proper (and typically relevant) qualifications who are still staunch opponents to even the most basic and well supported theories of science. Frankly if you scour the world well enough you can probably find someone with a PhD in the right field who is confident that evolution doesn’t happen, amniotes are polyphyletic, birds evolved from lizards, HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, fish are secondarily aquatic and who knows what else (most of these are actual examples, yes, really). They can provide plausible sounding reasons for why they are right and the consensus is wrong which will be believable to anyone who does not know the literature or the details of the arguments and evidence.
The media loves these guys as nothing sells a story like controversy. People arguing in words on or screen is far more dramatic and involving that scientists dryly explaining some bit of evidence (or so they seem to think, no matter how exciting the evidence is and David Attenborough or Carl Sagan never needed people top argue with to explain great science). It makes for good entertainment and helps parse out the information and explanations that will bore and audience. I can see the appeal. Some ideas and researchers are of course more credible than others and genuinely do turn out to be right, or half-right but let the scientists worry about that, not advertise something as right that is almost certainly wrong.
However, this approach can give a very misleading view of the consensus of science as a whole. The whole ‘equal time’ ideal is also understandable, but given the limitations of TV, news articles or whatever, it tends to be a to-and-fro debate over one small subset of the evidence that is being pushed by the minority. Almost by definition you do not get to see that a) probably 99% of the other researchers think this is wrong and b) that probably 99% of the evidence suggests this is wrong, which is where a comes from in the first place. Even those that go as far as to point out that one of these is very much a minority view, you can bet that they will be pushed as the plucky underdogs fighting against the establishment who are holding back their ideas and ignoring their research. This may well be true, but only because it is clearly irrelevant / overstated / wrong, not because we are trying to keep out new ideas or good research.
Just because someone disagrees (and don’t forget than minority dissenters are always the loudest – no one stands on street corners saying the sun *will* come up tomorrow) does not make them right, or even part right. Pretty much every aspect of science still has bits that are uncertain or apparently contradictory or odd, or even inexplicable (so far). It is easy to highlight these at the expense of all the other data and provide a platform for dissent or contradiction. Don’t be fooled.
I can see the media attraction for controversy, but conflating one person’s misguided ideas or minor piece of evidence with a major flaw in a theory or a rift in scientific consensus is misleading. You are essentially providing a false representation of the scientific community and that is unfair and inappropriate. I do appreciate that it can be hard to engage an audience on difficult subjects and to keep science reporting both interesting and informative. However, if you are going to try and make a science program / article / whatever, surely you are by definition trying to inform and educate. Therefore by stirring up a fake hornet’s nest or pushing incredible ideas as credible and fringe ideas as mainstream (or simply repressed by ‘the man’) you are not informing or educating, but misinforming and (for want of a better word) ‘miseducating’. If you are going to bother, do it right and don’t make out there to be fire when there is just a wisp of smoke, if that.
It’s easy for me to say “don’t be taken in by false controversies” and to avoid the cranks, and kooks, and so on. To do so you rather have to be au fait with the issues at hand and the past of the individuals concerned. If anything that is why it is so inappropriate for the media to misrepresent these things since we have to rely on them to fill us in on things in which we are not and expert and to provide an accurate view (note that balanced is NOT the same as ‘consensus’ as noted above). However its generally a fair indication that if only one or a few people support a position, it’s probably wrong, if they are actually from a field well outside what they are criticising (like engineers looking at evolution) then they are probably wrong. There is general debate and controversy in science – lots of it, and it’s interesting to see how the evidence can be interpreted, how new evidence and ideas change the views and consensus and you don’t need to manufacture false dichotomies to provide the drama.
Ultimately, I guess I can sum this up in one line as: there is a reason that of all the dozens or hundreds or even thousands of experts in this field think this guy is wrong, and that’s because he’s wrong.