The BBC Reviews Its Trust

The BBC Trust are to review the BBC’s treatment of Science in the BBC Media. I can’t say for sure whether that’s going to result in anything helpful or not, since it’s going to be effectively an “internal inquiry”. Their quest for objectivity may end up in compromise and playing to the heckling balconies :-

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jan/06/bbc-trust-science-impartiality-review

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/6941616/BBC-to-launch-review-into-allegations-of-bias-in-its-science-coverage.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1241209/BBC-probes-bias-science-coverage.html

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/jamesdelingpole/100021508/finally-bbc-asks-are-we-maybe-a-bit-biased-on-climate-change/

http://www.geeks.co.uk/11966-aunty-gets-hot-and-bothered-over-climate-change

What I can say is that the BBC Trust should address the matter of verifiability. In other words, how can the information that they are reporting be verified ?

In interviewing or quoting any person on a scientific matter, the BBC should at the very least do the following things :-

1. Identify the sources that the person relies on for their information.

2. Identify the network within which the person operates, and have some idea about the purpose of the work of that network.

3. Identify the branch of scientific knowledge that the person is engaged in, whether as a professional or “lay”, and judge whether they are likely to have sufficient knowledge to be able to give accurate answers to the subject at hand.

Here are a few examples :-

a. What scientific training and knowledge does James Delingpole have ? How did he acquire it ? And what are his social and professional ties ? Who are his colleagues and how do they source their information ? Can he be relied upon for an adequate representation of the Science of Global Warming ?

b. What background gives Clive James the authority and gravitas to be able to pronounce upon Climate Change and the Science behind it ? Who does he consult for his facts and opinions ? Can philosophy or critical thinking alone resolve the truth emerging from Climate Change Science ?

c. What studies has Paul Hudson conducted into the Science of Global Warming ? As a “weather man” can he be relied on to assess the true nature of the changes in climate that are ongoing ? Does he have an appreciation of the evidential facts in terms of global rainfall distribution and patterns ? Can he understand the results from the satellite and weather balloons ?

d. Should the BBC consult known Global Warming Sceptic-Deniers such as Roger Pielke Senior, Roger Pielke Junior, Patrick Michaels, Richard Lindzen, Timothy Ball, Frederick Singer… ? Their position is declared as being against the obvious conclusions of the whole body of Science. Should the BBC not be asking them to provide their own, verifiable alternative explanations if they do not accept the main body of Science ?

The BBC should be careful to distinguish between genuine scientific debate on the one hand, and opinionated nonsense on the other. The annals of Climate Change Science show that knowledge is evolving, but doesn’t negate the central core facts :-

http://www.nature.com/climate/2010/1001/full/climate.2010.134.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/dec/29/climate-science-2009

Does the BBC want to maintain the trust of the general public ? If so, they should not be concerned about keeping a “balance” between different opinions, but more about keeping to a level of verifiable accuracy.

Let the BBC do real science, not social science !

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