In February 2007, an article that Jeremy Paxman had originally written for Ariel, the BBC’s house magazine, was published on the Newsnight website. It included this remarkable statement about global warming:

I have neither the learning nor the experience to know whether the doomsayers are right about the human causes of climate change. But I am willing to acknowledge that people who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that it is the consequence of our own behaviour.

I assume that this is why the BBC’s coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago. But it strikes me as very odd indeed that an organisation which affects such a high moral tone cannot be more environmentally responsible. [My emphasis]

Jeremy Paxman, Newsnight Homepage 02/02/2007

This stark admission of partisan reporting by the BBC - coming from someone who has been at the centre of current affairs broadcasting for decades - was a surprise to me, not because I was unaware of bias on this subject, but because someone so highly placed in the organisation was prepared to make such a frank admission.

In June of the same year, the BBC published an 80-page report with the astonishingly obscure title, From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel. Now there may be quite a few people who are concerned about the odd wheel coming off our national broadcaster’s wagon, but why would they be talking about see-saws? A subtitle on the cover of the report sheds some light on this mystery, but not much: safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century’. The connection between this relatively straightforward expression of intent, wagon wheels, and seasaws is explained in excruciating detail in the early pages of the report, but thankfully it is not the subject of this post.

In fact, once one has got past the silly title, the report is very interesting, even courageous in its attempt to confront a difficult problem. This seems to be a genuine attempt to address concerns that editorial policy at the BBC too often reflects the views of its young, metropolitan, university educated, middle class, mildly left of centre employees, rather than the full spectrum of public opinion. This problem is not just the preserve of people who sign letters of complaint, ‘disgusted, Tonbridge Wells’ but as the report makes clear, it is also causing alarm among senior staff within the organisation.

Not surprisingly, I thumbed through From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel to see if it included any attempt to justify the blatantly partisan line that the BBC takes in the climate change debate. I was not disappointed.

Skilfully dovetailed into a section that also considers the problems of reporting Holocaust denial impartially, I found a few paragraphs dealing with what the Corporation obviously considers to be an equally tedious and morally reprehensible group: climate change sceptics. Immediately it became clear why Jeremy Paxman had felt able to be so forthright about editorial policy on the climate change debate in his article. This is what the report says:

The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus [on anthropogenic climate change].

From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel, Page 40

That sentence worried me. Years of watching the BBC’s coverage of this subject - with growing astonishment - during which numerous ‘scientific experts’ who clearly hold very partisan views on climate change, have been interviewed to provide viewers with what they were lead to believe were objective opinions on the evidence for anthropogenic global warming, has made me despair of BBC impartiality. I am thinking of people like George Monbiot, Mark Lynas, Professor Chris Rapley, Lord May of Oxford, Sir David King and Professor Tom Burke in particular. Anyone who has followed this controversy will be well aware that, although such people may be experts on the subject, they are anything but impartial or objective.

In an attempt to discover whether the BBC had organised this seminar in order to acquaint itself with the issues, or whether the purpose had been to obtain some kind of spurious authority for an editorial policy that had long since become ingrained in their news coverage, I thought that it would be worth trying to find out who had been invited to advise them. Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act and the Environmental Information Regulations I made the following request to the BBC for information:

1. What was the name or title given to this seminar?

2. Where and when was this seminar held?

3. When did the seminar start and when did it end.

4. A copy of the invitation that was sent to prospective participants.

5. The agenda for the seminar together with any notes that were provided for the participants.

6. The names of all those who were invited to attend the seminar as participants, observers or in any other capacity together with their job description, organizational affiliation’s or any other information relating to their eligibility for being invited to be present.

7. The names of all those who attended the seminar as participants, observers or in any other capacity together with their job description, organizational affiliation’s or any other information relating to their eligibility for being invited to be present.

8. Any minutes, notes, electronic communications, recorded material or other records of the proceedings of the seminar.

Letter to the BBC, 20th July, 2007

Eventually I received their response:

In this case, the information you have requested is outside the scope of the Act because information relating to the seminar is held to help inform the arc’s editorial policy around reporting climate change. The only exception to this is the logistic details which you have requested

In this respect I can confirm that the seminar was called ‘Climate Change – the Challenge to Broadcasting’ and was held at the BBC’s Television Centre in White City London on 26 January 2006. The seminar ran from 9.30am to 5.30prn.

We are also happy to voluntarily provide you with some further information relating to the seminar.

The attendees at the seminar were made up of 30 key BBC staff and 30 invited guests who are specialists in the area of climate change. It was hosted by Jana Bennett, Director of Vision (then Television), BBC and Helen Boaden, Director of News BBC. It was chaired by Fergal Keane, Special Correspondent with BBC News. The key speaker at the seminar was Robert McCredie, Lord May of Oxford.

Seminar had the following aims:

  • · To offer a clear summary of the state of knowledge on the issue
  • · To find where the main debates lie
  • · To invoke imagination to allow the media to deal with the scope of the issue
  • · To consider the BBC’s role in public debate.

Letter from the BBC, 21st August, 2007

So we know that Lord May, an ex-government chief scientific adviser, ex-president of the Royal Society and a vehement advocate of climate alarmism played an important role in the proceedings. But apparently the BBC would prefer that just about everything else to do with a seminar which formed their editorial policy on a matter of immense public importance should remain a secret.

There may be people outside the realms of the BBC and environmental activism who would attempt to justify this decision, but I doubt if there are many.
As the BBC does not offer any internal review procedure when a request under the
Freedom of Information Act is refused, I referred my application to the Information Commissioner’s Office for adjudication. After a delay of almost a year, they are just beginning to investigate. Future developments will be reported on this blog.

108 Responses to “Jeremy Paxman, the BBC, Impartiality, and Freedom of Information”

Pages: « 1 [2] 3 » Show All

  1. 51
    TonyN Says:

    Tony Brown

    You can use this: tonyn (funny swirly mark) harmlesssky (one of those round things) org.

    Sorry about the convoluted form of the address, but this is one that the spam crawlers haven’t found yet. I’ll be very glad to hear from you.

  2. 52
    TonyN Says:

    David

    My application to the BBC was made under both the FOIA and the EIR. They chose to deal with it under the FOIA and I wrote to the ICO about a fortnight ago reminding them that they should consider this and provide me with clarification of the issues involved.

  3. 53
    David Holland Says:

    Tony,

    They obviously chose FOIA for its exemptions, as has everyone I have requested IPCC info from. To be fair to the ICO, he has corrected quite a few people on their choice, concluding for instance, that radio emissions from mobile phone masts are covered by EIR. Having made that ruling all sorts of information to do with them is also covered. Hopefully he will start to criticise people like the BBC and CRU who just use the FOIA to delay disclosure.

  4. 54
    TonyN Says:

    David

    I hope that you are right, and I will certainly keep hammering away at the EIR aspect of the application. This kind of feedback is very useful. Thanks.

  5. 55
    David Holland Says:

    Tony, this might help:
    Information Tribunal Appeal Number: EA/2007/0072 Dated 29 April 2008

    Para 27
    The Tribunal having heard the arguments of the parties agrees with Mr Michaels that the Decision Notice fails to recognise that information on ‘energy policy’ in respect of ‘supply, demand and pricing’ will often fall within the definition of ‘environmental information’ under Regulation 2(1) EIR. In relation to the Disputed Information we find that where there is information relating to energy policy then that information is covered by the definition of environmental information under EIR. Also we find that meetings held to consider ‘climate change’ are also covered by the definition.

  6. 56
    TonyN Says:

    David

    It might be very useful indeed, particularly the last sentence. I’ll read through the full decision tomorrow.

    It’s frustrating, but at this stage I really do have to wait and see what the ICO come up with. In the meantime any other snippets will be most welcome.

  7. 57
    TonyN Says:

    Tony Brown

    Belated many thanks for the good wishes for the airfield. I’m afraid I was rushing this morning. There are hopes that things will begin to happen there in the autumn.

  8. 58
    Peter Martin Says:

    TonyN,

    That was almost an answer to my question in #11, but not quite. One more try and you might get there: either yes or no would do.

    Well if the question weren’t so loaded a simpler answer might have been more appropriate. I really feel that you are trying to attack the BBC on some technicality rather than on the substantive issue of whether, or whether they are not, reporting the opinion of the scientific community correctly. If you think that they are not, why not just say it? Either yes or no will do :-)

    I’m sure that the tobacco companies would have liked the BBC to have adopted a more balanced line in the 70′s and 80′s on the scientific issues involved in the linkage between smoking and lung cancer. But, I don’t think that there are many now, who would argue that the BBC took the wrong line. There were perhaps similar meetings held when the names of all the participants weren’t fully disclosed!

    Generally speaking, I’m in favour of openness. But, let’s have the same standards for all. If the BBC have to have open book policies on everything, then lets have the same rules for all other TV channels too.

  9. 59
    Geoff Says:

    This supression of alternate views is also happening in the US, and supported by leading publications like the Columbia Journalism Review (see story <a href =”http://www.cjr.org/feature/climate_change_now_what.php” here and commentary here).

    I wonder if Lord May is advising the Columbia Journalism Review?

  10. 60
    TonyN Says:

    Peter

    As you know, and I know, and probably even the BBC knows, there is only one answer to my question. How about closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, holding your nose and whispering that simple little word: YES!.

  11. 61
    TonyN Says:

    Geoff

    I get the impression that the US is about a year behind the UK where attitudes to AGW are concerned. In the months after the IPCC report was published last year, scepticism hit an all time low here, but since then there has been a revival, with the media beginning to publish sceptical articles again. It would seem that hysteria has to reach a certain level of absurdity before people start saying, ‘But why are we doing this?’

    The ideas expressed in the CRJ article may sound convincing when discussed with like minded friends, but when they are committed to print they look just awful and are likely to have the opposite effect to the one intended. They draw the public’s attention to what is going on in parts of the media, and this arouses suspicion.

  12. 62
    Robin Guenier Says:

    At a major international scientific conference held in Norway last week (see video), Indian scientist Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia (Center of Advanced Study in Geology, Punjab University, visiting scholar of the Geology Department at University of Cincinnati, board member of the UN-supported International Year of the Planet and author of numerous scientific studies in the fields of geology and palaeontology), criticized the promoters of man-made global warming fears for “drawing out exaggerated conclusions” and took the UN to task for failing to allow dissenting voices. Responding to criticism from an IPCC official, he said

    See, when we have that sort of attitude, that sort of dogma against a scientific observation that would not actually end up in very, very positive debate. We should maintain our sense of proportion, maintain our sense of objectivity, allow a discussion – not have fixed mindset about global warming

    What I believe the UK licence-payer is entitled to know about a BBC seminar, intended to “allow the media to deal with the scope of the issue” and to “consider the BBC’s role in public debate”, is whether it included that sense of proportion and objectivity and allowed a discussion that was not based on the fixed mindset referred to by Dr Ahluwalia. Knowing who were the “best scientific experts – specialists in the area of climate change” at the meeting would be a good start.

  13. 63
    TonyN Says:

    Re: #55, David

    Wouldn’t it be ironic if FoE has opened Pandora’s box?

    On the other hand, what is depressing about the decision you quoted from is the time scale: three years to get to this stage.

    I am unable to discover whether the Schedule 1 derogation (in respect of information held for purposes other than journalism, art and literature) that protects the BBC applies equally under the FOIA and the EIR. Do you have any views on this? Or are we only going to find out as the process I started last July progresses?

  14. 64
    TonyN Says:

    Robin

    It sounds like a gem, but the video won’t play and I’m getting:

    WM7 Activex control Not Found

    in spite of updating Media Player. Any suggestions.

  15. 65
    Peter Martin Says:

    Tony,

    If you want a yes or no answer, how about NO? In that ‘no’, the BBC need not publish the minutes of each and every meeting they hold and that would include the attendance list of each and every meeting they hold.

    What they do need to is present scientific issues correctly and in a way that informs, educates, and entertains, as Lord Reith would have said. The opinions of the scientific community need to be correctly represented.

    How about answering my question of whether or not the BBC are doing that?

  16. 66
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Peter: it would be helpful if you were to define “the scientific community” whose views you say “need to be correctly represented”. Does it, for example, include Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia to whom I refer in my post 62?

    (Sorry, Tony, I’m having the same problem.)

  17. 67
    Peter Martin Says:

    The BBC are based mainly in London. You might have heard of the Royal Society who are also based there? They generally have a pretty good reputation in the scientific world and are considered to be the UKs National Academy of Science.

    They’d be happy to give the BBC every assistance. Not just in climate science but in all other branches of Science too.

    A good place to start would be to take a look at their excellent website:

    http://royalsociety.org/

    If you need to know whether Dr. Arun D. Ahluwalia is part of the general consensus or is one of the several mavericks who are around, I’m sure that they will be able to advise you on that point too. I suspect that if Robin likes him, he’ll turn out to be the latter, but maybe I’ll be proved wrong on that point.

  18. 68
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Oh dear, Peter, you’re back to suggesting that those who don’t subscribe to what you consider is the “consensus” are “mavericks” and thus, you imply, ineligible to advise the BBC. Would you describe Bob Carter, Sonja A Boehmer-Christiansen and David Holland (all of whom have contributed to this thread) as mavericks?

    In any case, a maverick is commonly defined as “an unorthodox or independent-minded person” or “a determined individualist”. Clearly you have little regard for such dreadful people. But do you think they cannot be part of what you describe as “the scientific community”?

  19. 69
    TonyN Says:

    Re: #65, Peter

    It had not occurred to me that you seriously expected an answer. I would hardly spend a great deal of time processing an FOIA application if I thought that the BBC’s coverage of climate change was accurate and impartial.

    Here is one very recent example when Susan Watts did a rather pedestrian piece for Newsnight about a research vessel that was about to leave for the Arctic to investigate sea ice among other things. Don’t get me wrong, she is a very able reporter. It was just that there wasn’t much in the story to make it interesting.

    As a closing shot she did a piece to camera leaning over the taffrail. After wishing the crew well she said, ‘Who knows, this might be the year when the Arctic is free of sea ice for the first time.’ Or words to that effect.

    As I say, she is an able science reporter, and as such it is hard to think that she could be unaware of the data coming out of NOAA which showed that Arctic sea ice extent significantly exceeds last year’s levels. The news was everywhere at a time when she must have been researching her story.

    Why did she say it?

  20. 70
    Peter Martin Says:

    Its a bit early to say what the extent of the summer melt will be in the Arctic this year. Its not finished yet. Watch this link in the next few weeks:
    http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/

    Do the feel BBC have an obligation to be ‘accurate and impartial’ as you, [snip], would wish the terms to be applied or according to the advice of the the most highly qualified of the UK scientific community? I have suggested the UK Academy of Science should be the arbiters on this but maybe you can come up with some other suggestion?

    You really have no evidence at all, except perhaps for of a couple of loose remarks from individual reporters, that the BBC has failed to follow advice from the most expert opinion that is available to it.

    TonyN: Finding my name is not difficult, but if I choose to use a ‘handle’ on this blog I expect others to respect that, or at least get the spelling right.

  21. 71
    Peter Martin Says:

    “Would you describe Bob Carter, Sonja A Boehmer-Christiansen and David Holland (all of whom have contributed to this thread) as mavericks?”

    Yes.

  22. 72
    PatK Says:

    67 Peter
    It is true that the Royal Society USED to have a good reputation, but that was before May took over. May can easily be referred to as a ‘raving alarmist’.

  23. 73
    Peter Martin Says:

    The Royal Society’s reputation is founded on a whole range of scientic disciplines and the expertise of over a thousand elected fellows. The influence of any single individual is limited. Trying to impose a dictatorial line on them all would be like herding cats.

    But, if you are right, and the Royal Society aren’t up to the task, who would you suggest instead? The ‘Wattsupwiththat’ website ?

  24. 74
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Peter: OK, so we know the names of some of the scientists you think are mavericks. Now consider my next question: do you think that a scientist whom you think is a maverick (defined as“an unorthodox or independent-minded person” or “a determined individualist”) cannot be part of what you describe as “the scientific community”?

    As the Royal Society’s reputation is founded on the expertise of its elected fellows, for its position on climate change to carry weight, I believe that position should have been put to those fellows for peer review and a membership vote before publication. Do you know if that happened?

  25. 75
    TonyN Says:

    There has been some interesting discussion of Lord May’s role in the climate debate (and of this thread too) at Climate Audit here. It includes this contribution form Ian Castles. Particularly note the last sentence:

    You may well be right that Lord May has little real concern whether his ideas are correct or not, but this is not an admirable trait in a leader in science. Perhaps he had little concern whether his ideas, or even his facts, were correct when he recently condemned the ‘active and well-funded “denial lobby”‘ and referred to ‘The distractions and misrepresentations of the well-funded [climate change] denial industry.’ As David Henderson has remarked, ‘May provides no evidence of the ample funding that he refers to or of specific recipients of it whose objectivity, and perhaps professional integrity, are therefore to be held in question’ (‘Government and Climate Change Issues’, ‘World Economics’, Apr-Jun 2007: 221). With prominent figures in the Royal Society exhibiting attitudes such as these, it is small wonder that The Lancet declared in 2005 that that the Society had ceased to be ‘a place to discuss the subversive subject of science’ and had become ‘self-serving and parochial’ (‘What is the Royal Society for?’, editorial, 365: 1746).
    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=3434#comment-290131

    Lord May ended his 5 year term of office as President of the Royal Society in the autumn of 2005.

  26. 76
    Alex Cull Says:

    Hi Tony, re Susan Watts and Newsnight, I suspect that the reason why she said what she said was to remain on-message. She could as well have said something like: “In 2007, Arctic sea ice was at its lowest for many years. This year, the ice extent appears to have recovered somewhat, but who knows how long the recovery may last? Hopefully, this voyage may provide some answers.” Which would have been accurate, as far as I know, but would have left viewers thinking about the fact that sea ice fluctuates, and that it isn’t all a one-way road to an ice-free Arctic. Instead, she appears to have wanted to elicit speculation (and unease) about sea ice vanishing altogether, which makes the ending of the report far from impartial – basically another little tap of the hammer to help drive the desired message home.

  27. 77
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Tony: in my post 48 I noted that not only did Lord May claim, in his valedictory address to the Royal Society, that

    there exists a climate change “denial lobby”, funded to the tune of tens of millions of dollars by sectors of the hydrocarbon industry…

    But he compounded this by going on to say that

    This lobby has understandable similarities, in attitudes and tactics, to the tobacco lobby that continues to deny smoking causes lung cancer, or the curious lobby denying that HIV causes AIDS

    I suspect that some RS members may have been embarrassed that their departing President chose to use this occasion to make such absurd and unsubstantiated claims – insulting to the professional integrity of other scientists.

  28. 78
    PaulM Says:

    Peter Martin,
    the Royal Society, formerly a highly regarded scientific institution, lost all credibility when it recently gave an award for ‘Best Science book’ to a piece of hysterical alarmism by an environmental activist (Mark Lynas, ‘Six degrees’).

  29. 79
    TonyN Says:

    Re #76, Alex Cull

    I agree with every word that you say, but surly the BBC has no business dealing in messages.The From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel report, which I quoted from above, makes this very clear too.

    There seems to be a disjunction between the BBC’s aspirations and reality when it comes to reporting on climate change.

  30. 80
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Maybe the BBC is beginning to listen. Today it’s giving surprising prominence on its website’s “science and nature” section to a report headed “World heading towards cooler 2008” and going on to say,

    This year appears set to be the coolest globally this century. Data from the UK Met Office shows that temperatures in the first half of the year have been more than 0.1 Celsius cooler than any year since 2000

    However, it cannot of course leave it at that and reassures its audience that

    Even so, 2008 is set to be about the 10th warmest year since 1850, and Met Office scientists say temperatures will rise again as La Nina conditions ease.

  31. 81
    TonyN Says:

    Robin

    There are another couple of examples of Lord May’s seemingly casual attitude to evidence supporting his arguments here.

  32. 82
    Peter Martin Says:

    Robin,

    “I believe that position should have been put to those fellows for peer review and a membership vote before publication. Do you know if that happened?”

    Your question demonstrates a lack of knowledge on how the Royal Society, in particular, and science , in general, works.

    25 or so years ago the position of the Royal Society on the AGW issue, would have been more to your liking. It didn’t change to be the way it is because of a vote, or agitation by any pressure group. It happened slowly. Opinions changed as the evidence came in, leading to the emergence of a new consensus. If you sceptics are right, and the world is headed for a new ice age or whatever, opinions will change again if new evidence emerges to support that view.

    The whole concept of this thread, at least as applied to scientific matters, is flawed. It may be acceptable for the BBC to be impartial, as far as is possible, on political issues but it cannot be impartial when it comes to science. A quick look around the internet will unearth all kinds of websites claiming that Einstein was wrong, or that Quantum mechanics must be wrong because it violates this or that philosophical principle. I’ve previously mentioned the the ‘Flat Earth’ society which is still alive and kicking apparently.

    Robin, PaulM, and PatK, and may not like my suggestion of the Royal Society, nevertheless they have not suggested any alternative, but there does need to be an arbiter to which the BBC can turn when it needs to be advised on scientific matters to prevent it from being attacked politically, over a scientific issue, as it is on this thread.

  33. 83
    Alex Cull Says:

    Tony, I agree re the gap between the BBC’s aspirations and reality, when it comes to reporting climate-related matters. The science is unsettled; as people such as Steve McIntyre have shown, IMO this is another symptom of the lack of due diligence on the part of governments and the media prior to nailing their flags to the AGW mast. The amount of spin demonstrated in BBC climate-related online news articles (e.g. their recent Bangladesh land-area report) just says to me: politics.

  34. 84
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Peter: I suggest you confine your silly points – comparing for example those who doubt that AGW will have catastrophic consequences to those who claim Einstein was wrong or those who believe the world is flat – to Tony’s New Statesman continuation thread.

    This thread is about determining the BBC’s impartiality (or otherwise) on climate change. As part of that discussion it is considering the desirability of knowing more about a “high level seminar” on the issue attended by BBC executives and, in particular, the names of the “best scientific experts” who, it is understood, took part in the seminar. My personal position is that, as a BBC licence fee payer, I believe I am entitled to expect openness about this – I see no valid reason for it’s being kept secret.

  35. 85
    Peter Martin Says:

    Robin,

    I do remember also being called ‘silly’ by my mother, years ago, when I tried to explain to her the paradox of Schrodinger’s cat. I think the remark would have come at just about the time I reached the point of the cat being simultaneously alive and dead.

    You say that this thread is about determining the BBC’s impartiality (or otherwise) on climate change. The BBC has said that it is not impartial, and have stated why science and politics are different in this respect.

    Two key questions that you might like to address are:
    Should all scientific issues, or just the AGW controversy, be treated ‘impartially’ by the BBC?
    Who should decide which issues are ‘silly’, such as the Flat Earth / Spherical Earth debate, and which aren’t?

  36. 86
    TonyN Says:

    Peter,

    Explaining Schrodinger’s cat to ones mother is always going to be high risk ;-)

    Sorry to butt in …..

  37. 87
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Peter: you suggest (post 85) that I address “two key questions”. Fair enough:

    (1) ?Should all scientific issues be treated ‘impartially’ by the BBC? ?

    Yes.

    (2) Who should decide which issues are ’silly’, such as the Flat Earth / Spherical Earth debate, and which aren’t?

    First, I’m unaware of such a “debate”. But, if there is one, it’s a pseudo scientific issue and not a scientific issue: all scientists agree the earth is spherical. But suppose, for example, the position was that “based on the best available computer models, many scientists believe that it is very likely that the earth is spherical”, a position with which many scientists disagreed, maintaining it was flat. That would be a “scientific issue” and the BBC should treat it impartially. Yet the IPCC’s position on the cause of global warming is, if anything, rather less certain. Moreover, its “projections” (not predictions) of serious problems if GHG emissions are not curtailed are based, not on observation, but on computer models utilising questionable assumptions – including eight-year old scenarios of dubious economic and demographic validity. All this raises clear scientific issues and the BBC should treat them impartially.

    I daresay you’ll ask how the BBC is to decide which issues are pseudo scientific and which scientific. I believe the BBC is staffed by highly intelligent people who are capable of distinguishing one from the other – it’s usually straightforward enough. But it can sometimes happen that they allow political or other pressures to cloud their judgement. Unnecessary secrecy can be a symptom of this – hence the subject matter of this thread. I suggest we get back to it.

  38. 88
    Peter Martin Says:

    Robin,

    I don’t want to give the impression that conventional science is a monoculture of single opinion, bereft of all disagreement. There’s plenty of that in evolutionary theory and quantum mechanical theory for example.

    So, too in climate science. For instance, the IPCC has published a range of climate sensitivity temperatures from 1.5deg C to 4.5deg C and naturally there are those who would favour the lower end of the range, and those the upper.

    Perhaps you would like to make it clear whether you are arguing that the BBC should be more impartial between these two groups, or if you’d like climate sceptics, who apply terms like ‘hoax’, ‘scam’, ‘fraud’ and ‘charlatan’ to their opponents, to be given an equal share of TV time?

    Of course there are many who would consider that science itself is wrong on a whole range of issues. Should the BBC be impartial in that debate too?

    When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly half way between. It is quite possible, and even likely, for one side simply to be wrong.

  39. 89
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Peter: as you are well aware, you have set up a false dichotomy.

    I have made my views clear on the matters you raised. I intend now to focus on the subject of this thread – in particular, the BBC’s secrecy about its seminar on a matter of great public interest. I suggest you do the same.

  40. 90
    Peter Martin Says:

    Robin,

    If you’d like me to go away I’m sure that you could find a suitable combination of words to convey your meaning, but please don’t accuse me of straying off topic.

    If you’d like to check, I think you’ll find that the title does include the word ‘impartial’. The points of my last few postings has been on the difficulty of defining the word to everyone’s satisfaction, and how it’s inappropriate to expect that the BBC should be impartial on all subjects.

  41. 91
    Robin Guenier Says:

    Peter: see my post 87.

  42. 92
    TonyN Says:

    Peter

    Looking back through your last few comments, it seems that you are arguing that it is acceptable for the BBC to take a position in the climate debate and then report what is happening from that point of view.

    I understand that the BBC’s guidelines for producers require that climate change is presented as though there is no uncertainty and no longer any scope for rational debate on the subject. This is not the case and it is misleading.

    The BBC has long been a major international brand which is based on impartial and accurate news reporting. Impairing that brand by being seen to be biased on a matter of such great importance is particularly dangerous at a time when the Corporation is under enormous pressure from the new web-based media.

    All that is required is that the BBC should apply the same journalistic standards to the climate debate that they apply to party politics. In other words they should report all shades of opinion so that the public have the opportunity to make an informed decision about what they believe.

  43. 93
    Peter Martin Says:

    Tony,

    All that is required is that the BBC should apply the same journalistic standards to the climate debate that they apply to party politics. In other words they should report all shades of opinion so that the public have the opportunity to make an informed decision about what they believe.

    I think this is the key issue. At first glance, this all sounds reasonable enough, but if you think about it I think you should be able to appreciate that a scientific topic, and I have already explained why, requires a different approach.

    I think you need to clarify whether you are asking for there to be a better coverage of the range of opinion which exists within the scientific mainstream, and which is a fair enough point to make, or if you are expecting the BBC to let those, with similar opinions to Christopher Monckton, loose with their allegations of hoaxes and charlatanism etc.

    Most climate scientists are hard working, non-argumentative sorts of people. They are often happy to explain on TV the nature of the problem as they see it, and have reasoned polite discussion with other scientists in their field. That’s the way scientists work and many people would wish that our politicians behaved in a similar manner.

    However they aren’t politicians as we all know them. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect scientists to have to cope with the sort of unwarranted verbal abuse that unqualified, misinformed climate sceptics would dearly like to throw at them and nor would they accept it.

  44. 94
    TonyN Says:

    Re: # 93, Peter

    There can be no double standards for accurate and impartial reporting. In order for the BBC to preserve its reputation, it must apply best practice equally when dealing with both science and politics, particularly at a time when these two areas of public life have become intermixed.

    The general public are not stupid, and they are well able to distinguish between truth and propaganda, experts and charlatans. For this reason they should not be left in ignorance of questions posed by articulate and well-informed sceptics like Monckton. If the sceptic’s point of view is not well founded, then what does the ‘consensus’ have to fear? If the ‘consensus’ can only be preserved by the climate debate in ways that are not impartial and accurate, then what does it tell us about the ‘consensus’?

    It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect scientists to have to cope with the sort of unwarranted verbal abuse that unqualified, misinformed climate sceptics would dearly like to throw at them and nor would they accept it.

    For examples of ‘unwarrented verbal abuse’, try the utterances of Monbiot, Lynas (the pie man), Gelbspan, Romm (I’m sure that Robin can quote some good examples from that source), Lambert, Eli Rabett and many others who attempt to defend their alarmist dogma by vilifying those who disagree with them instead of responding to their arguments. Sceptics have not resorted to using a puerile and despicably abusive term like ‘climate denier’, nor have they any need to.

  45. 95
    Peter Martin Says:

    Tony,

    I wasn’t necessarily thinking of including all the individuals you’ve mentioned. There are those on both sides of the argument who aren’t scientifically qualified, and the BBC would probably be better off shutting them all out completely.

    If you want to learn about the science, the ones to listen to are qualified scientists. Christopher Monckton may be articulate, but is he well informed? Most scientists would think not. No one is saying that the general public are stupid, but the BBC isn’t like the Daily Mail. It does have a duty to report the truth, and not pander to those who would seek to confuse them. The famous Frank Luntz memo is object lesson in how to do just that, and create doubt and uncertainty in the public mind for political reasons.

    There have been, and still are, disputes between science and various groups, which the BBC has always handled sensitively, but, ultimately, they have always sided with the pro-science side of the argument. You are asking the BBC to change its long standing policy on scientific reporting, by suggesting that science and the anti-AGW lobby (is that an acceptable term?) be put on an equal footing.

  46. 96
    Peter Lloyd Says:

    Peter Martin, msg.95 -

    “that science and the anti-AGW lobby (is that an acceptable term?) be put on an equal footing.”

    That, in itself, is an egregious, insulting statement which reflects badly on your ability to conduct reasoned debate.

    There are respected, qualified scientists – many of them Heads of Department at prestigious Universities – whose knowledge and long experience of such sciences as Meteorology, or Climatology, entitle them to argue, if they so believe, that global warming is not caused by the obvious recent increased emission of man-made greenhouse gases. Their position gives them more right than most of us to argue their case on a scientific basis, and your cheap shot does you no credit.

  47. 97
    Rev Doctor Says:

    I would be very interested in any new developments of your requests. As this comment section seems to end abruptly in Sept. of 2009 and it is currently Jan. of 2010 one would hope there has been some advance in the status.

  48. 98
    ThinkingScientist Says:

    I am also interested in re-visiting this topic and updating. I have made a number of formal complaints to BBC on bias in climate change reporting. Following the email exposure from the CRU in East Anglia (“ClimateGate”) I have complained again. Part of the reply just received refers again to the “wagon wheel” report and the panel of “scientific experts”. I know that an FOI has been turned down, but that was pre-Climategate. The BBC claimed it was under the banner of journalism that the seminar was held and therefore outside the scope of the FOI act and this was upheld by the commission. However, their defence against bias on climate change is still held to be the expert panel meeting of 26 January 2006. Were any of the members of that panel scientists that now appear in the ClimateGate emails?

  49. 99
    TonyN Says:

    ThinkingScientist #98 (and Rev Doctor #97)

    This thread dates from August 2008 and was the first post that I put up on the subject. If you look under categories in the left-hand sidebar on this page you will find that there are over twenty subsequent posts dealing with the FOIA request and other BBC related matters. The most recent is dated 15th Dec 2009.

    I would be very interested to know exactly what the BBC have said to you about the Wagon Wheel report, particularly if they are citing the 2006 seminar.

  50. 100
    Brute Says:

    Just a follow-up of the “all important” Copenhagen summit…………all that expensive jet fuel shot to hell…….

    Copenhagen goes from failure to farce. (Or maybe it’s the other way around)

    http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/fullcomment/archive/2010/01/22/steve-janke-copenhagen-goes-from-failure-to-farce-or-maybe-it-s-the-other-way-around.aspx

    The countries marked with “($$)” are also Annex II countries. They are expected to pay the dictators of developing countries great big buckets of cash so they can build presidential palaces and buy private jets stuffed with hookers……(correction) erect wind turbines.

    Clearly no one important is taking global warming seriously anymore. They pay lip service to it, but they know it’s a crock. Deadlines that were so important so that we could avoid “climate catastrophe” are now ignored as public opinion shifts and the credibility of the so-called scientists crumbles. I think it’s well past time to just forget the whole thing.

    Here’s my suggestion. It’s a message to deliver to global warmists everywhere. If you promise to shut the hell up, you global warming alarmists who have made obscene amounts of money by concocting this whole global warming fraud, we promise not to come after you for the money you’ve stolen. Let’s be frank here. You scammed us good. Maybe you deserve to keep the money. It’ll be a lesson for the rest of us (not me, of course, since I never fell for this garbage) about not leaving our common sense at home.

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