Science sites blunder badly on solar farm “dumb town” story

Practical skepticism means using critical thinking everyday. Sometimes the news sounds TOO RIDICULOUS to be true. That should be a flag to question it or at least read VERY carefully before passing it on. A recent story about a North Carolina town who rejected solar panels was not quite what the headlines said it was. I wrote about it over at Doubtful News.

Sure, two commentators (who may be related) said at a public council meeting they had some concerns about the proposed solar farm — that it would mess with photosynthesis of plants and suck up all the energy from the sun. But those weren’t direct quotes and we aren’t clear exactly what was meant or the context. Perhaps they misspoke or meant something a bit different than how it was reported.

It turns out that the core of the citizens’ objections were concern over too many solar farms in the town — this would be the third approved, according to the local news. These comments were made in a public meeting where people often take a stand against the powers that be (industry and government) and get mighty emotional about it to press their points.

While the council voted ‘no’ to the rezoning that would have allowed the farm, the disapproval was not because the people were “dumb”. They had their own reasons for their opinions and several of them were by no means dumb. What was pretty dumb was how many reacted to the story.

Many “science” sites promoted the relinking pieces by laughing at the people of the town and making fun of them. That was uncalled for.

First, this vote belonged to the community so who are we to pass judgement on it. None of us were at the meeting or knew of the issues contested. Second, the whole story WAS NOT given by those that took some select details out of context to make a clickable, facepalm-worthy story. Third, it is unproductive to belittle peoples’ fears. We would do better to understand them and be charitable to their situation to figure out why they decided what they did.

Instead, too many sites to name promoted it as a joke,  serving up this story on their websites or Facebook pages uncritically and without any thought. Even several “skeptical” sites. The town council’s decision to not allow solar farms was not just based on science but it included political, social and economic factors. It’s a flaw to characterize the story as being due to stupid people who don’t understand basic science. That’s a form of scientism as well as being pretentious and ignorant. Similar decisions come up in every community every day. Is this the way to respond?

We may see things that other people do as unwise or confusing from our perspective. But we fail to take into account THEIR perspective to which they have come via a different method and evidence than you or me. A good critical thinker strives to make their judgements, conclusions, or opinions based on all the sides of the story and not jump on a view that oversimplifies the issue or makes us feel superior to others. And if something sounds a bit off, look into it first before commenting, sharing or mocking.

Really, all I had to do was go to the primary source, the local news piece, to find clues that this “dumb town” story was, instead, dumb, lazy and insulting reporting by others.

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