« testing, testing | Main | youth unemployment rate hits 18% »

March 3, 2008

on "balance"

If you run a speaker series, edit an editorial page, produce a broadcast show, or manage a journal, you give numerous people opportunities to express their views, but you also exclude many potential guests. Attracting a diversity of speakers or writers is usually desirable, although the appropriate range varies depending on the circumstances. For example, an environmental round table seems to need a narrower range of speakers than the op-ed page of a major metropolitan newspaper, which would be "unbalanced" unless some of the contributors were critics of environmentalism.

Choosing a list of contributors is hard. If balance is a criterion, around what center point should the list be balanced? If diversity is desirable, what kind? And what views are beyond the pale? Does President Ahmadinejad belong at Columbia? Does William Kristol strengthen or weaken the New York Times editorial page? Does an environmental series need critics of the greenhouse gas theory? Does a biology series need creationists?

For what it's worth, I would propose these principles:

1. Never give a voice to someone you believe is flatly wrong. That's patronizing, and it renounces your own judgment. If you have been chosen to make decisions of quality, you shouldn't decide against your own assessments in the interest of balance. But ...

2. Make sure that your definition of wrong isn't too broad. I am a critic of libertarianism and of Marxism. Both views, I believe, dismiss the potential for beneficial collective action within a system like ours. But certainly neither view is stupid. On the contrary, I do my best thinking when I have to grapple with strongly argued libertarian or Marxist ideas. Thus, if I were running a series, I would bend over backward to have those two perspectives well and skilfully represented.

March 3, 2008 8:11 AM | category: none


Site Meter