From Dr. Roger Pielke Sr.some comments on the recent scathing report on BBC’s impartiality (ho ho) when it comes to reporting climate change. He writes:
He summarizes this “betrayal” in three summary points
* First, it has betrayed its statutory obligation to be impartial, using the excuse that any dissent from the official orthodoxy was so insignificant that it should just be ignored or made to look ridiculous.
* Second, it has betrayed the principles of responsible journalism, by allowing its coverage to become so one-sided that it has too often amounted to no more than propaganda.
* Third, it has betrayed the fundamental principles of science, which relies on unrelenting scepticism towards any theory until it can be shown to provide a comprehensive explanation for the observed evidence.
Judy Curry has posted
where she discusses their report among other topics. Her summary statement is
When science becomes politicized, we need journalists to be playing a watchdog role and not just parroting the words of scientists and their press releases.
I agree with her conclusion. I also would add that this politicization has permeated the leadership of professional societies including the American Geophysical Union; e.g. see
as well as funding agencies; e.g. see
The press is not the only group at fault as our professional societies and funding agencies are also failing to provide balanced assessments of the science.
Which brings us to thing I’ve been dying to write about for two weeks: Christopher Booker’s magisterial report for the Global Warming Policy Foundation on the BBC’s role in promulgating the Great Man Made Global Warming Myth. It’s brilliant.
So brilliant that I’m going to have to run its damning conclusion at considerable length. Here he is, summing up what he calls the BBC’s “three betrayals”:
The first was the BBC’s betrayal of its statutory obligation to report on the world with ‘impartially’. In its own mind it got round this by creating its own definition of the meaning of the word. The IPCC, the scientific and political establishments, Al Gore, the developers of wind turbines and heaven knows who else were all so unanimously convinced that man-made global warming was an unchallengeable fact that the BBC decreed that these were the only people who should be listened to. Anyone who dissented from this orthodoxy could be ignored as belonging to just a tiny minority of cranks, or venally corrupted hirelings of Big Oil, whose views it would be improper for the BBC to publicise.
The problem was that, outside the ‘bubble’, all sorts of things were beginning to contradict this cosy scenario. Ever more serious scientists were beginning to question the orthodox theory of what was influencing the world’s climate. It emerged ever more clearly that the projections made by over-simplistic computer models no longer matched up with the observed evidence of what was actually happening to the climate. Ever more evidence came to light to suggest that the IPCC was not the unimpeachably objective and honest scientific body it was claimed to be.
It was all this which helped to illuminate the extent of the second ‘betrayal’ in the BBC’s coverage of the story, the way it betrayed the principles of professional journalism. So committed to the cause were its journalists that, when important questions began to be raised as to whether the story was really as unarguable as it was claimed to be, their only real response was simply to dig in their toes to defend it. They could no longer step outside the ‘bubble’, as independent-minded journalists should have been able to do, to consider all these questions in their own right. They could only stay within the mindset they knew, talking only to those within the orthodoxy who could provide them with the answers they needed to fend off all these tiresome ‘deniers’ appearing from outside the ‘bubble’ to ask awkward questions – such as how genuinely scientific were the methods used to create the ‘hockey stick’ graph?
One of the impressions it is hard to avoid in reviewing the BBC’s coverage of this story is that its journalists, and those shadowy figures behind them in the BBC hierarchy, are not particularly well-informed about many of the issues they report on. This point was made as long ago as 2006 by the journalist Richard D. North, when he described his experience in attending that day-long seminar organised by Roger Harrabin, As North observed:
I was frankly appalled by the level of ignorance of the issue which the BBC people showed …I heard nothing which made me think any of them read any broadsheet newspaper coverage of the topic (except maybe the Guardian and that lazily) … it seemed to me that none of them had shown even a modicum of professional curiosity on the subject … I spent the day discussing the subject and I don’t recall anyone showing any sign of having read anything serious at all.
This may help to explain the third of the three ‘betrayals’ to which I referred at the start, the consistency with which the BBC’s coverage of this story has shown so little understanding of the basic principles of science. We have seen how again and again they have put out programmes designed to promote their cause which have contained quite rudimentary scientific errors. They have loved to wheel on front men such as Sir David Attenborough, Dr Iain Stewart or Sir Paul Nurse, claiming to speak with all the authority of being ‘a scientist’ – but who have then been shown, on matters outside their own disciplines, to be out of their depth. These people have been used to lend the prestige of ‘science’ for the purposes of what amounted to no more than clumsy exercises in propaganda.
Perhaps the most revealing example of all of this misuse of the prestige of science was that truly bizarre report produced in 2011 for the BBC Trust by Professor Jones, arguing that, far from being too biassed, the BBC’s coverage of the story should in future become even more biassed still.
The sheer Alice in Wonderland dottiness of this report might serve as a suitable epitaph on what has been one of the saddest chapters in the BBC’s history. Here is a hugely important and far-reaching issue on which for years it has been comprehensively misleading the audience from which it derives its funding. Yet the tragedy is that it seems so incapable of recognising just how badly it has failed us that there is little realistic prospect of it ever being likely to change its ways.
The one body which in theory has the power to call the BBC to account when it is failing in its journalistic and statutory responsibilities is the BBC Trust (which in 2008 succeeded the old Board of Governors). But the Trust’s present chairman Lord Patten, a former EU Commissioner and fervent Europhile, has been an unquestioning supporter of the ‘consensus’ on climate change ever since the days when he was Secretary of State for the Environment back In 1990. He has more recently described it as ‘the only really existential issue confronting the world today’ and as ‘’the biggest issue we face’.
His ‘vice-chair’, Diane Coyle, married to the BBC’s Technology Editor and a former economics editor of the Independent, has similarly parroted the mantras of the orthodoxy (just as in former times, like Patten, she was a fervent supporter of the campaign for Britain to join the euro, scorning those opposed to it as being driven only by a visceral ‘anti-Europeanism and ‘Little England-ism’).
It is hardly surprising that in such hands the Trust should have both commissioned and warmly endorsed Jones’s report calling for the BBC to show even more bias than hitherto. So the BBC’s position is therefore likely to remain – until that time when the great scare over global warming may come to be looked back on as having been one of the most significant examples in history of how easily human beings can be carried away by what the author of a famous book once long ago called ‘extraordinary popular delusions and the madness of crowds’.
I highly recommend Sir Antony Jay’s foreword too, which offers an equally brilliant ex-insider’s insight into the BBC mentality which made these betrayals possible. Perhaps I’ll find time to reprint it in another post. Not in this one, where the lofty scorn of the Booker on tip top form is more than treat enough.