Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail has obtained a statement from the BBC on what is beginning to be known as ‘28gate’, although ‘BBC-Gate’ would seem to be more user-friendly. The statement is very interesting, but probably not in the way in which the BBC press department intended.

Here it is:

‘There has been no censoring of climate change reporting. We have attempted to report proportionately. Indeed The BBC Trust’s science review of last year praised our coverage. The event certain bloggers have referred to was one in a series of seminars for BBC editors and managers. They were a forum for free and frank discussion of global issues and not created to produce programming nor set story direction. They involved external contributors from business, science and academia. Seminars such as this do not set editorial policy. They can over time and along with many other elements help inform our journalism through debate and access to expertise, but the setting of our editorial policies is a formal process involving BBC Boards and the BBC Trust.

‘The BBC has refused disclosure on the basis that the documents were held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature, and are therefore outside the scope of the BBC’s designation under FOI Act. The Information Tribunal has unanimously upheld this. The seminar was conducted under the Chatham House Rule to enable free and frank discussion, something that is necessary for our independent journalism.

‘IBT were one of a range of organisations and different voices the BBC worked with in delivering these seminars. They are no longer involved. The events were considered against our editorial guidelines and raised no issues about impartiality for the BBC or its output.’

In passing, the straw man argument set up in the first paragraph that the BBC is being accused of ‘censoring climate change reporting’ looks like an attempt to avoid the real issues. The accusation is that the BBC has made a false claim that editorial policy on climate change was informed, and presumably underpinned, by a ‘seminar with the best scientific experts’ when it is now clear from Maurizio Morabito’s research (omnologos blog) that nothing could be much further from the truth. They are also being accused in the blogosphere, and now in the MSM too, of expending a lot of time and money on trying to cover up this fact.

But the most startling assertion in the BBC statement is that the seminar was not intended “to produce programming nor set story direction.” Helen Boaden’s witness statement for the Tribunal hearing does in fact say much the same thing, but goes on to identify output that the seminar did influence, including Dr Ian Stewart’s notorious three part hatchet job on climate sceptics, Earth: The Climate Wars.

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  A great deal of time has been spent drafting a witness statement for the Leveson Inquiry which has now been published as part of the official record of proceedings. It is a joint effort over the signatures of Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill and myself and we are grateful to the Inquiry for giving a couple of climate sceptics a fair hearing, something that experience has taught us not to expect.

The submission can be found here in the MS Word version submitted to the Inquiry, with all the links working, and here at the Inquiry website in a PDF version without live hyperlinks produced by the Inquiry. I have leveson2requested that the official version should be reformatted to included the links as their absence is confusing to readers and gives the impression that we have failed to reference important documents that we have quoted from.

This submission is, necessarily, a long document as its purpose is to provide evidence to a judicial inquiry chaired by a law lord and administered by a team of lawyers. So at an early stage it was agreed between us that there was a lesser risk in being long than in failing to be thorough. After all, the submission’s intended audience are primarily people accustomed to reading long and complicated documents presenting evidence.

That said, our efforts seem to have received some praise in comments at Bishop Hill and I was interested to note that several people reckoned that there was material for a book in the subject matter we covered. That was my feeling too, and one of the reasons the submission took so long to write was the constant need to select things to leave out so that the document didn’t become unmanageably long. Many of these topics were quite interesting and could bear further exploration.

I apologise for the number of typos that have survived into the finished text. This is in spite of proof reading by Andrew, my wife, and myself. It’s strange how often commenters on blogs focus on such shortcomings in a document rather than its content. And funnier still that when one tries to enlist such people as voluntary copy editors there never seem to be any takers!

Dec 082011

BookerBBC Today, Christopher Booker, Telegraph columnist and author of The Real Global Warming Disaster will be launching a report he has written for the Global Warming Policy Foundation called The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple Betrayal. I implore anyone who is interested in the strange story of how the British public was sold the idea that anthropogenic climate change is threatening the future of the planet to read it.

I saw a draft of the report a little while ago because Booker has used a great deal of the information that Andrew Montford and I have uncovered about the BBC’s unhealthily close and cordial relationship with climate activism. This is very satisfying for us as we have long believed that this is a scandal that needs to be confronted and given a good public airing. Hopefully that will now happen.

However this new GWPF report also contains much that is new to me, and Christopher Booker has obviously cast his net very widely in order to gather together incontrovertible evidence that our revered national broadcaster has strayed far beyond the statutory limitations imposed on its activities so far as impartiality is concerned. Furthermore, the author is scathing about what happened when the BBC Trust set up a review to supposedly consider the accuracy and impartiality of the Corporation’s science coverage. Their chosen author a self confessed ‘media tart’ with close links to the BBC ignored evidence that should have been at the heart of his deliberations. This was provided in a submission that Andrew Montford and I provided him with, and this document now forms the core of Christopher Booker’s indictment of the BBC and the science review.

By chance, new evidence of the BBC Trust’s very strange behaviour when climate change is in the frame has just come to light. This concerns their oft repeated claim that the Jones Review was a ‘routine’ exercise and quite unrelated to Climategate and the welter of criticism, led by the blogoshere, of the BBC’s routinely partisan reporting of the climate debate. It would seem that the Trust has not been altogether truthful.

When Andrew and I originally wrote to the then chairman of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee, Professor Richard Tait, suggesting that we should contribute to their recently announced review of science coverage, we said:

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Before saying any more about Professor Steve Jones’ BBC Trust Review of the Impartiality and Accuracy of the BBC’s Coverage of Science, I should probably own up to not having read the whole report. It runs to over a hundred pages, much of which deals with areas of science that I am not particularly interested in. More importantly perhaps, by the time I had read the one part of the report that considers issues I am very familiar with, I had doubts as to whether the rest was likely to be worth reading.

There are a few basic requirements for any kind of review: objectivity, accuracy, breadth of outlook, the willingness to consider even unwelcome material, clarity and precision when writing up the findings. All of these are essential if the end product is to have any kind of credibility, and all of these are lacking in the parts of the Professor Jones’ work that I have examined.

Only a fairly small section of this report less than ten pages focuses specifically on climate change, although this subject seems to be the elephant in the room throughout the introductory sections, which I have only skimmed through. Climate change is, without question, the most important, the most controversial, and most testing scientific issue that the BBC has had to report during the last decade. One might have expected that rather more space would have been devoted to detailed consideration of such an important topic.

If this rather bulky submission wasn’t enough to inflict on readers, there is also an appendix of similar length presenting Imperial College London’s Content Analysis of BBC the BBC’s Science Coverage. This is a terrifyingly dry looking document, but I did catch sight of a familiar name on the title page.

One of the author’s of this paper is Alice Bell, a specialist in the sociology or education and science communication at Imperial who I once had a very minor run-in with on her blog in connection with the ‘Bedtime Story’ climate scare advertising campaign launched by DECC in the run-up to the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. She had said, in passing, ‘I am in no way a climate change sceptic, in fact I find such people a bit worrying’. I suggested to her that I found social scientists who categorise ‘people’ as ‘a bit worrying’ because of a single opinion they hold with which you disagree might, just possibly, be ‘a bit worrying’ themselves. The point seemed to be lost on her. (Update: Alex Cull has an excellent comment about the Context Report and Alice Bell here.

Anyway, when I first had a look at Professor Jones’ report I did the obvious thing and turned straight to the part that deals with the submission that Andrew Montford and I made to his review. This is what he has to say about it:

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steve-jonesSteve Jones review of the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science was published while I was out of the country and out of reach of the internet. Since I returned there has been a lot of catching up to  do after a much longer holiday than usual, so as I was ‘a week behind the fair’ so far as the review was concerned anyway, I didn’t do more than glance at a copy online, shudder,  and make a mental note to read it properly when there was plenty of time. As it happened this was fortunate, because the version of the review that the BBC posted on 20th July was not quite the final version.

When I finally downloaded a copy this morning, I found this sad little note on the title page:

On 8 August 2011 the Trust published an updated version of Professor Steve Jones’ independent review of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s science coverage due to an ambiguity in the section on climate change. This reference was in the section on pages 71-72, immediately before Professor Jones discussed statements about climate change contained in two BBC programmes.
The Trust and Professor Jones now recognise that the passage as originally published could be interpreted as attributing statements made in those two programmes to Lord Lawson or to Lord Monckton. Neither programme specifically featured Lord Lawson or Lord Monckton and it was not Professor Jones’ intention to suggest that this was the case. Professor Jones has apologised for the lack of clarity in this section of his assessment, which has now been amended.


This is what the beginning of the paragraph straddling pages 71-72 looked like before 8th Aug:

The impression of active debate is promoted by prominent individuals such as Lord Monckton and Lord Lawson. The BBC still gives space to them to make statements that are not supported by the facts; that (in a February 2011 The Daily Politics show) 95% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from natural sources, while in fact human activity has been responsible for a 40% rise in concentration, or (a November 2009 Today programme) that volcanoes produce more of the gas than do humans (the balance is a hundred times in the opposite direction).

And this is how it looked this morning:

The impression of active debate is sometimes promoted by statements that are not supported by the facts; that (in a March 2011 The Daily Politics show) 95% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere comes from natural sources, while in fact human activity has been responsible for a 40% rise in concentration, or (a November 2009 Today programme) that volcanoes produce more of the gas than do humans (the balance is a hundred times in the opposite direction).

One can well understand why Lords Lawson and Monckton would have been a bit miffed. I sincerely hope that someone at the BBC Trust had the grace to blush and apologise, but the ‘clarification’ they’ve provided sounds rather graceless and grudging. Perhaps its a bit difficult to face up to the fact that you’ve published a review of accuracy costing £140,000 which is not only inaccurate but probably libellous too.

Being the slowest site with the news in the whole of the blogosphere can occasionally have its advantages. Apart from the forgoing, which seemed to require an immediate airing, I’ll be posting again later today, or tomorrow, about Professor Jones extraordinary opus. So long after the event much has been said about this document, but there are quite a few things that haven’t been said yet that certainly still need saying. And I fear that there may need to be a bit more ‘clarification’. Accuracy just doesn’t seem to be Professor Jones’ thing.

UPDATE: 21/08/2011

Andrew Montford at Bishop Hill has followed the twists and turns of this story a bit further here and unearthed some other problems.

I’ll begin by saying that I do not consider Professor Brian Cox to be an arrogant person, although I only have his TV persona to go by. The television programmes of his that I have watched have been entertaining, informative, full of the excitement of scientific discovery, and thoroughly enjoyable. So this post is not intended to point to a defect in the good professor’s character, but to the mindset that presently afflicts scientists worldwide, and climate scientists in particular. This is a pernicious example of groupthink rather than the hubris of individual scientists, although one might be able to think of a few candidates for exception. They seem to think that their views should be unchallengeable by anyone outside their own profession.

Brian Cox presented his Wheldon Lecture to the Royal Television Society on 26th November 2010 and it was broadcast on BBC2 late on the evening of the 1st December. Under the title of Science: A Challenge to TV Orthodoxy, he spent 40 minutes exploring the controversy that now surrounds the way in which science is packaged by broadcasters for easy assimilation by their mass audiences. By coincidence, perhaps, this thorny problem is also the subject of a review ordered by the BBC Trust, which I have referred to here and here.

Cox has had an interesting career as a pop musician, as a scientist studying particle physics and as a high profile TV presenter. His undoubted talents have recently been recognised by the award of an OBE for services to science.

The subject he chose for his lecture is an important one; our lives are increasingly affected by the outcomes of scientific research and Cox cites an option poll (MORI 2004) finding that 84% of adults receive the majority their information about science from television. It is unlikely, even with the growth of the internet, that this figure has changed very much since then. However the impact that science broadcasting can have on public policy has increased since 2004 because one particular area of research has become inseparable from public policy: global warming. Television is a major opinion former, and presumably this is why Professor Cox chose to focus his lecture on this topic.

The first part of the lecture is devoted to ground-clearing in preparation for the main thesis, and this is illuminating. Apparently Cox considers that the current impact of science on public policy particularly global warming places great responsibility on broadcasters who cover this subject. Strangely, he makes no mention of the infinitely greater responsibility that this places on the scientists who brief the media about their work.

He then reveals that he does not consider that there have been any ‘serious deficiencies’ in television coverage of science. This is a point of view that appears to be at odds with his patrons at the BBC in view of their decision to hold an investigation in the wake of the Climategate scandal and a welter of criticism from the general public and the blogoshere. And If he is unaware of any deficiencies, I wonder why he chose to devote most of his lecture to the problems that broadcasters face when dealing with this subject?

Turning to the influence that television science broadcasting had on his own choice of career, Cox holds up Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series as a glowing example, describing it as ‘thirteen hours of lyrically [and] emotionally engaging and accurate and polemical broadcasting’. Unfortunately, he is misusing the term polemic here, and that is important as this word occurs no less than ten times in his lecture as he sets out his arguments, and it’s usage is crucial to his conclusions. A polemic is a verbal attack and not, as Professor Cox seems to think, merely the expression of a point of view[1].

After worshipping at the feet of Sagan, the next item on Cox’s list is defining science; no mean task as an aside in a single lecture, and not surprisingly the effort is superficial and unsatisfactory. Having acknowledged that this task ‘is not easy in a historical context’, he suggests that ‘vast amounts of drivel have been written about the subject by armies of postmodernist philosophers and journalists.’ Sweeping such trivialities aside, Cox settles for a brief clip from a rather light-hearted lecture by physicist Richard Feynman in which he describes the scientific method. It is certainly an example of entertaining television, but comes nowhere near ‘defining science’. But this still leads to the following conclusion:

To my mind, science is very simple indeed. Science is the best framework we have for understanding the universe.

Of course when someone describes a complex subject as being ‘simple’, warning flags should always go up. Almost invariably the person who uses this term is being very selective in the way they are formulating their opinion. In this case it is not clear whether Cox is using the term ‘universe’ in a purely astronomical sense as in the mechanics of the universe or in a much broader sense to cover all aspects of existence.

Since The Enlightenment, science has certainly gone some way towards replacing superstition, religious belief, and fatalism as a means of explaining the phenomena that surround us, but it is still a long way from doing so completely. On a worldwide scale, atheism remains a minority point of view, and scientists would do well to humbly acknowledge this fact rather than claim a position of supremacy and infallibility for their profession that many would dispute.

In the film clip Feynman stresses that, if a scientific proposition is not supported by observation and experiment then it is wrong regardless, as he says, of how ‘beautiful, the idea may be’, or how eminent its author may be. Cox amplifies this by saying,

Authority, or for that matter, the number of people who believe something to be true, counts for nothing.


… when it comes to the practice of science, the scientists must never have an eye on the audience. For that would be to fatally compromise the process.

This is a hostage to fortune, for without the notion of consensus and claims by eNGOs and politicians for the authority of the IPCC, promotion of anthropogenic global warming would never have cleared the launch pad. The most startling ‘findings’ in recent IPCC reports are not based on the scientific method at all, but on expert judgement by the authors, and the Climategate emails have revealed an obsessive concern among climate scientists with the response of their audience.

Having started to dig himself into a hole, Cox then redoubles his efforts recounting an incident in which he made a dismissive on-screen reference to astrology as being ‘a load of rubbish’, which resulted in complaints to the BBC from ‘all over the web’. The BBC issued a cautious statement that almost amounted to an apology, saying the views expressed in the programme were not those of the BBC, but of the presenter, a response that Cox considers to be inadequate:

Now, that’s a perfectly reasonable response on the surface. In fact, you could argue that it’s correct. Because a broadcaster shouldn’t have a view about a faith issue which is essentially what astrology is. The presenter can have a view, and I was allowed to have a view. What I did was present the scientific consensus.

But he goes on:

I think, however, that there are potential problems with broadcasters assuming a totally neutral position in matters such as this.

Cox then moves on to use a clip from a news item about concern over the use of the MMR vaccine.  In this Ben Goldacre (of Bad Science fame) gives his views on this controversy citing a Danish study showing that there has been no increase in autism among children who have received the jab, saying:

You’ve not heard about research like this, because the media chose not to cover the evidence that goes against their scare story.

This message, and its relevance to media coverage of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), seems to have passed Cox by. Instead he castigates the broadcaster for concluding the piece with a caveat that these are Dr Goldacre’s views only, in spite of his being a qualified doctor and having based his opinion on peer reviewed and published research. In support of this criticism he cites a US news anchor, Keith Olbermann, as follows:

… obsessive preoccupation with perceived balance or impartiality [is] worshipping before the false god of utter objectivity. His point was that by aspiring to be utterly neutral, it is easy to obscure the truth. And the BBC’s editorial guidelines state that impartiality is at the heart of public service and is at the core of its commitment to its audience. I’m sure that very few broadcasters would disagree with that.

This reference is striking because I have seen precisely the some argument used by the BBC to justify its anything-but-neutral position on anthropogenic global warming (AGW). There is a certain irony too in using the opinion of a US broadcaster in this way given that so many North Americans seem to envy the standards applied to public service broadcasting in the UK.

On the specific point that Olbermann makes, being ‘utterly neutral’ is obviously far less of a threat to impartiality than not being neutral. And the suggestion that being neutral may obscure the truth which is the crux of Professor Cox’s lecture implies that the broadcaster will necessarily be able to determine what the truth is. This conjecture becomes even more problematic when the means by which this feat might be accomplished are considered.

In Cox’s view, reporting science should hold no such dilemmas for the broadcaster: all that is necessary is for complete reliance to be placed on the peer review process. That which is peer reviewed should be the sole reference point for reporting science, and any contrary views should be disregarded.  This position is arrived at by having implicit faith in the peer review process, which may for all I know be justified if, like Professor Cox, you are a particle physicist, but it is unlikely to impress anyone who has cast a critical eye on climate science, where political and ethical considerations seem to carry at least as much weight as robust findings. But this is not the place for a detailed discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the peer review process. Instead, here are some of the propositions which Cox uses to back up his argument:

In science, we have a well-defined process for deciding what is mainstream and what is controversial. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with how many people believe something to be true or not. It’s called peer-review.

Peer-review is a very simple and quite often brutal process by which any claim that is submitted for publication in a scientific journal is scrutinised by independent experts whose job it is to find the flaws.

This is the method [peer review] that has delivered the modern world. It’s good. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the current scientific consensus is of course correct. But it does in general mean that the consensus in the scientific literature is the best that can be done given the available data.

Now you may see there that I’m redefining what impartiality means. But the peer-reviewed consensus is by definition impartial. To leave the audience with this particular kind of impartial view is desperately important. We’re dealing with the issues of the life and death of our children and the future of our climate. And the way to deal with this is not to be fair and balanced, to borrow a phrase from a famous news outlet, but to report and explain the peer-reviewed scientific consensus accurately.

So for me the challenge for the science reporter in scientific news is easily met. Report the peer-reviewed consensus and avoid the maverick, eccentric at all costs.

Such faith in the reliability, independence, and impartiality of peer review may be justified in the field of particle physics where, I assume, political and ethical considerations have a very minor role. So far as climate science is concerned, it flies in the face of what has been learned from the Climategate emails, and much else that has happened in this discipline during the last decade. How many news stories have we seen citing sensational ‘new research’ that has swiftly been discarded?  Predictions of massive sea level rise by the end of the century, an 11o C rise in global average temperature over the same period, the vanishing snows of Mount Kilimanjaro and the drying-up of Lake Chad, the imminent demise of the Himalayan Glaciers, slowing of the Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) with the onset of a new ice age for Northern Europe, and of course that poster-child of the third IPCC Assessment report, the Hockey Stick graph. One could go on and on.

There can be little doubt that Cox is indeed redefining impartiality, and in a way that brings us back to the sub-title of this post an exercise in arrogance. He seems to be telling us that journalists and programme makers who report science should be guided entirely by the scientific community, and leave any critical faculties they may have at home. If this is to be the new standard for impartiality in broadcasting about science, or even a new world order, then who scrutinises the world of science? And lets not forget the Feynman clip that Cox used in his superficial attempt to ‘define science’ at the beginning of his lecture. The great physicist makes no mention of peer review, but there are strictures in both what he says and Cox’s interpretation of it that rule out authority and consensus as being relevant to the scientific method.

Having cleared the ground, the professor now moves on to the red meat of the lecture; climate change.

This is heralded by a clip from The Great Global Warming Swindle (TGGWS), which Cox dismisses as ‘bollocks’, which does him little credit either as a scientist or a TV presenter. On the other hand he accepts that such programmes should be allowed to be broadcast one gets the impression that he thinks he is being rather daring here so long as they are suitably labelled, not as ‘bollocks’ as one might expect, but as polemics rather than documentaries, which Cox seems to think amounts to something similar, but with a warning that it’s probably all rubbish.

In the case of TGGWS, the description ‘polemic’ may be justified. Durkin’s film was undoubtedly a vehement attack on contemporary climate research, but apparently Cox would like any factual broadcasts that do not adhere to mainstream views approved by the scientific community to be branded in this way. Presumably this would mean that a programme about the views of Michael Mann could be promoted as a documentary, while one about the views of Richard Lindzen would be a mere polemic, thereby undermining the credibility of that  eminent scientist before the audience even become aware of what he has to say.  And this raises a new problem, which Cox steers well clear of.

Climate scientists, and particularly the IPCC, have failed to acknowledge the massive uncertainties that are attached to much climate research. This, of course, feeds through into broadcasts where journalists and program makers are unwilling to acknowledge uncertainly for the reason that Ben Goldacre identified. Why water down an eye-catching  prediction by saying that it may never happen when there is no danger of the scientists concerned complaining? But under reporting uncertainty is as misleading as misreporting conclusions.

Even Cox expresses some concern that his approach may be Orwellian, but quickly backs off by saying that he doesn’t really know whether it is Orwellian or not, which makes one wonder why he raised the issue in the first place. Unsurprisingly, he quotes a passage from Nineteen Eighty-Four about history constantly being re-written so that nothing remains on record that cast doubt on the infallibility of The Party.  He may have chosen the right author, but the wrong book. In Animal Farm, the precursor of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the dim but compliant sheep are portrayed as the ruling pig’s most effective weapon in stifling opposing views and awkward questions. They can be drilled to bleat any slogan persistently enough to drown out dissent. I hesitate to draw any parallels between the arrogant culture that pervades climate science and the pigs, or between broadcasters and the sheep, but the temptation is great. Cox’s plea that broadcasters should retail only what scientists tell them is acceptable makes it very, very tempting indeed.

By this stage in the lecture, one might begin to wonder how much serious thought Cox has given to his subject, or whether he has been influenced by the views of the BBC in reaching his conclusions. As a scientist, surely he should not attempt to draw an analogy between the way in which broadcasters should treat climate scepticism and the way they should treat those who believe in astrology or question evolution. This is another line of argument of which the BBC is fond, but it makes no sense; the issues are quite different. No institution such as the IPCC is involved in debates about astrology or evolution. Tens of thousands of delegates do not flock to Copenhagen or Cancún to discus these matters and formulate a world policy, neither astrology nor evolution are new ideas, and scientists are not being funded to the tune of countless billions to conduct research in these fields.

Cox’s peroration begins with these words:

So what are my conclusions about the challenges of presenting science on television?

Well, firstly, scientific peer-review is all-important. It’s not possible for a broadcaster to run a parallel peer-review structure, but it is possible for the broadcaster to seek out the consensus view of the scientific community. This is the best that can be done and appropriate weight should be given to it in news reporting.

Documentary is different because polemic is a valid and necessary form of filmmaking. But having said that, the audience needs to know whether they’re watching opinion, or a presentation of the scientific consensus. And whilst I acknowledge that this is extremely difficult to achieve in practice, it is something that filmmakers and broadcasters must strive to do.

Cox’s final message to broadcasters is clear: they should do what scientists tell them to do and not trouble their pretty little heads with anything that might be too difficult for them to grasp properly. As to listening to ‘mavericks and eccentrics’ who question the scientific consensus established by a supposedly interdependent and reliable peer review process, that would be foolish in the extreme, like listening to astrologers or creationists. And screening the views of people who scientists might consider to be reprehensible in such a way that audiences would be allowed to make their own mind about the credibility of what they are being told would be a betrayal of the broadcasters duty to comply with a re-defined kind of impartiality; a kind of impartiality in which the broadcasters determine where the truth lies on the basis of the majority view of those who are being challenged.

This is, of course, a supremely arrogant point of view, but the scientific community seem to have convinced each other, and themselves, that society should confer such authority on them. One can hardly blame Professor Cox for falling into line.

[1]   A strong verbal or written attack on someone or something. (Oxford Dictionary of English)

Bishop Hill has taken a thoughtful look at Professor Brian Cox’s Wheldon Lecture on ‘Science: A Challenge to TV Orthodoxy’ here, and Josh’s accompanying cartoon is a joy.

The Wheldon Lectures take place under the auspices of the Royal Television Society, but this one was broadcast by the BBC rather in the manner of a Reith Lecture. I wonder why Cox chose to devote half his time to the way in which climate change should be represented by TV, at a time when the BBC Trust has ordered a review of the Corporation’s science reporting, and why the BBC chose to broadcast it?

Last week I posted about the submission that Andrew Montford of Bishop Hill and I sent to the BBC’s Review of the Impartiality and Accuracy of Science Coverage. In passing, I mentioned that initially we had written to Professor Richard Tait, Chairman of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC), who was fronting the project, but had failed to get any kind of response from him. I also said that I would post more about this later.

In fact I mentioned what happened in another post on 3rd August 2010, but as putting our submission in the public domain last week created so much interest – Harmless Sky had by far its heaviest traffic to date, although some of that was due to the Ofcom story it seems worthwhile making the whole correspondence available now, if for no other reason than that it shows what a very strange organisation the BBC is. Continue reading »

Over the last several years, Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill) and I have taken a great deal of interest in the BBC’s coverage of the climate debate, and this has involved a good deal of behind-the-scenes research. So we were obviously interested when the BBC Trust announced in early January this year that they were to conduct a review of the impartiality of their science coverage.

Our first reaction was to write to Professor Richard Tait, the Trustee who was fronting this project, requesting that we should make a submission to the review and pointing out that the main critics of the BBC coverage of AGW were in the blogoshpere. Not only were we unable to get a reply form Professor Tait, but we were unable even to get confirmation from the secretary of the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee that he had been given the letter. This will be the subject of another post.

Fortunately, in April,  Andrew’s remarkably well-developed antenna picked up a request for comments from the general public on an obscure BBC web page. He contacted Professor Steve Jones, the person commissioned by the BBC Trust to conduct the review, who proved to be rather more approachable than Professor Tait. It was quickly arranged that we should make a submission before the end of October. His report is due to be published in the Spring of 2011.

The document that we finally sent to Professor Jones can be found here and it will be interesting to see whether anyone takes notice of what we have said.

See the thread about this at Bishop Hill too.


Read James Delingpole’s typically enthusiastic take on this post at the Daily Telegraph

And JoNova’s perspective from down under here

John A is sensibly cautious about the  BBC listening at WUWT

Geoff Chambers has left this typically thoughtful and provocative comment on the Has the BBC’s review of science reporting been cancelled? thread:

Everyone commenting here has formed his opinion on climate change by looking at both sides of the argument. If you or I want to find out about a subject, we borrow a book from the library, or go on the net. Not so the BBC chiefs, newspaper editors, MPs, and other opinion leaders. They are highly intelligent, sure of their judgement, but very busy. On a subject outside their own field, they ask the opinion of people like themselves with the requisite expertise. Are the papers Phil Jones recommends the right ones to look at in order to judge the quality of his work? Ask Sir Martin Rees [President of the Royal Society]. Is the science journalism of the BBC above reproach? Ask a journalist-scientist on the Telegraph.

Look at your letter from their point of view. Just a “boring obsessive rant” (Professor Steve Jones’ characterisation in the Telegraph) from the green ink brigade. One of them wrote a book? All nutters write books. Possibly someone at the BBC will get one of their underlings to read it, or browse through the Harmless Sky and Bishop Hill blogs for half an hour (the time that the officials at UEA spent browsing through Climate Audit, according to Phil Jones).

Are we winning the argument? Well, yes, in some Platonic universe where only ideas have reality. In the real world, the argument hasn’t begun, and the BBC, like the rest of the media, has little interest in seeing it begin. This is not a conspiracy, simply the way society conducts discussion. Without the adversarial context and equality of evidence provided by an election or a court of law, it may never begin.

The crux of Geoff’s argument is in the last paragraph when he says, ‘This is not a conspiracy, simply the way society conducts discussion’, and I would take issue with his conclusion. Continue reading »

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