Yes, there seems to be a trend towards this, at least when religion or other “either-or” malignancies mutate, like two-party political systems, or even opposite schools of thought in science, like dynamic vs static Universe, or bird Dinosaurs vs lizard Dinosaurs once upon a time. (I don’t include evolution in the former lot, since I haven’t (yet) read a paper by a scientist that proposes an alternative.) When media ™ on a whim and a rating decides it’s hot stuff, beware. They’ll heat it up.
This post by Matthew Nisbet mentions main points of the actual study (which I am too cheap to buy online) and brings up the question, among others, of what will make people engage in discussion and discusses the need of a scientific consensus.
I wrote this to add something to my comment #8 on that article (which is inserted below): The fourth option I see as a way forward is to instead of forcing consensus, to dispense with consensus. Seeing as religions have failed at this (even with a limited set of unproven sources without sources), I think science advances only by fierce NON-consensus of individuals presenting neutral and testable measurements, fact, or conjecture with rationale. To sever that tree of research open to anyone will yield the same consequences as imposing needless legislation on free trade; those who know the rules and use them will quash the competition and make the consumers of same suffer.
Religious believers will not all be swayed by a board of truth of not quite final theories of everything; some will be engaged by heated debate of scientific theories. We do see that today. Probably not enough to stop the habit of going to church or slitting the throats of conscious lambs, perhaps enough to watch a TV program. For myself, I’d rather see a science vs science fight than a science vs religion fight, and so, I think, would a ninth grader not brought up in a too fiercely religious home.
Comment #8 follows. It’s a suggestion of alternatives to decrease the polarization of debate. (Quoting myself, huh? I’d never think I’d sink that low. But anyway.)
I have a hard time addressing the behaviour of groups of individuals, let alone trends among groups of individuals, and further less groups of individuals in opposite camps, and least of all media coverage of the different camps. :)
Also, there is no will left in me to find middle ground or go down the track Taylor is (probably accurately) describing.
What is left when no more can be left out? To pick a fight, one you believe in. If media is considered the way to reach out to, um, those more numerous than the people who look shit up (note how I avoided the word “masses”!), the positive action is to empower the media reaching out to them for “your camp”.
The other option I see is an opening up of dialog of all camps, which I only see the good guys without agendas doing, and which can be hard to fit inside the programming time of media channels and attention span of (passive) viewers.
A third is establishing a working board of scrutiny of media, without censorship. Right now it’s mostly censorship without scrutiny. If we imagine a society where this would actually happen, that would relieve that society of some of the fascination for entertainment, misrepresentation of fact, and shift of focus purveyors of woo rely on.