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What The Media Tell Americans About Free Enterprise

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August 1996


Where Science Meets Politics
Guest Review, by Linda E. Platts

Science and technology are now major players in the public policy arena. While much of the media ignore the science behind many political issues, at least one show takes it on squarely. TechnoPolitics, a half-hour public television show, is helping its viewers make sense out of technical information and also see how the policies that evolve will affect their lives.

Hosted by James K. Glassman, a Washington Post columnist who also hosts CNN's Capital Gang Sunday, TechnoPolitics is designed to "distinguish the science from the politics in policy debates," according to the producers. Thus, it deals with issues such as electronic communications, air defense, fat substitutes, medical research, and global warming.

The show delves into one topic at length and then follows with a briefer look at two other subjects. Film clips provide background information usually followed by a debate by experts representing both sides of the issue.

What distinguishes TechnoPolitics from other shows dealing with topical issues is its willingness to air views that get short shrift elsewhere. In a recent show, the World Bank came under close scrutiny. It is supported by the American taxpayers to the tune of $789 million a year and relies on the American government to guarantee its loans. Glassman dug in with queries on the bank's hefty salaries, its new $314 million headquarters, and its often risky loans, which no private bank would consider.

For another show, TechnoPolitics tackled pornography on the Internet. One side weighed in with the view that children must be protected at all costs and government control is essential. The opposing side suggested parents should do their jobs, rather than allow the government to gain a foothold on the free flow of information over the Internet. Another emotionally charged issue tackled recently by TechnoPolitics was medical research using animals. News footage with an animal rights activist and a patient battling AIDS introduced the segment, then in the studio two scientists presented contradictory "scientific" evidence. There were no clear winners or losers in this debate, but it highlighted the complexity of making public policy about animal testing.

Whether the subject is a replacement for the F-16 or saving human lives, TechnoPolitics doesn't shy away from the hard issues. The joint strike fighter, for instance, is intended to meet the needs of all the military services, but the development time, as Glassman noted, stretched well into the next century. Even more attention to the costs behind the science would be a welcome addition.

The last segment of each show does not examine an issue so much as raise an interesting subject. A New York Times reporter told how alternative medicines can deter patients from seeking effective treatment from conventional sources. A writer from Scientific American explained that all great scientific discoveries have already been made and from now on we will just be refining the details. Interesting, yes, but there is no debate and viewers are left in limbo waiting for the point that is never made. TechnoPolitics might be better leaving these stories to another program and sticking with the clear, rapid exchange of views that distinguishes the earlier portions of the program.

TechnoPolitics is produced by the Blackwell Corporation in association with South Carolina Educational Television and it is distributed by the Public Broadcasting System. It is broadcast on 180 stations and reaches 40 of the top 50 markets. It airs on Sunday mornings in most markets.

Linda E. Platts is an editorial associate at PERC (Political Economy Research Center) in Bozeman, Montana.


Rich Noyes


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