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« Public investigations | Main | Shub and the IPCC renewables report »
Wednesday
Jul202011

BBC review is out

The BBC review of science coverage is now out.

Readers may remember that Tony Newbery (of Harmless Sky) and I made a submission to the review. In it we demonstrated that the BBC Trust had misled the public over a seminar discussing climate change coverage back in 2006.

Obviously this was quite a serious allegation and one that should have raised some important questions for the review. This is how Prof Jones chose to address our allegations in his report.

A submission made to this Review by Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery (both active in the anti‐global‐warming movement, and the former the author of The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science) devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures but the membership of a BBC seminar on the topic in 2006, and to a lengthy discussion as to whether its Environment Analyst was carrying out BBC duties or acting as a freelance during an environment programme at Cambridge University. The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over but parts of the BBC are taking a long time to notice.

 

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Reader Comments (93)

Has anyone read Prof. Steve Jones' apparently well-received Coral: a pessimist in paradise? It looks like Prof. Jones has some skin in the CAGW game?

Jul 20, 2011 at 7:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterbernie

Andrew
Your quote from Jones is not as out of the way as it might sound.
There certainly is a school of thought that says that the increase in CO2 since the start of the Industrial Revolution is down to mankind's activities which are broadly stated as increased fossil fuel burning due to industry, transport, and energy use.
Since Jones is a geneticist (what is it with that field? First Nurse, now Jones!) I would expect him to get his information from somewhere which he considers more reliable. The question really is, to what extent is that 40% increase down to our activities and is the conclusion a reasonable one to draw?
(Whether that 40% increase is relevant in the context of global warming is, of course, another debate.)

Jul 20, 2011 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

I could get rather angry at being labelled "delusional" but there is no point. Steve Jones was carefully selected by the BBC Trust and the report is not surprising.

He goes for the "science is settled" route that all scientists should know to be a wholly unacceptable statement.

Generating lots of heat I have to say will achieve nothing, nor will the increasing number of comments that predict the imminent demise of CAGW and sometimes AGW.

This will not happen until the observed data negates the models and that could be many years. The forensic work by people like McIntyre and the lucid reporting of that work by our host will eventually be noticed by those that can dictate policy, but it will not happen any time soon.

If anybody has evidence that my pessimism is unfounded, I and I suspect others would be very interested in reading it!

Jul 20, 2011 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Hewitt

So he's doing everything in his report that he accuses skeptics of doing?

Frankly, if the man can't get right what " hide the decline" was about, there's no helping him...

Jul 20, 2011 at 7:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterFred

Shub
the Anderegg reference should be to note 23 on p70. Just sloppy, but if you pointed it out, you’d just be accused of ignoring the “factual argument” like Montford and Newbery, who had the gall to point out that the rules had been changed, the goalposts moved, and the referee was blind, and who are therefore accused of being bad sports, not interested in playing the game.
I don’t understand why you and other are happy to see that the “higher echelons of the scientific enterprise” are either liars or fools. Time and again we’ve greeted their idiocies with “this time they’ve gone too far”, “the truth will out” “the tide is turning” etc. This is not just a matter of the BBC displaying its prejudices. The entire political and intellectual establishment is behind this. They have learned nothing from Climategate or the IPCC scandals. They can’t change, and no political or media pressure exists which can influence them. The more we shout, the more we appear to be the mentally deficient deniers Jones thinks we are - if our shouts could be heard, of course, which they can’t - Jones and the BBC will see to that.

And what’s Yeats’ theorem?

Jul 20, 2011 at 7:56 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

John Hewitt
Agree absolutely that “Generating lots of heat ... will achieve nothing, nor will the increasing number of comments that predict the imminent demise of CAGW and sometimes AGW”.
You ask for evidence that your pessimism is unfounded. I find your hope that CAGW will die when the observed data negates the models unrealistically optimistic. We’ve already been promised that the error bars will be wider, the uncertainty greater , in the next IPCC report. They’ve got thirty years of work invested in making the data fit the models, how can anyone find anything wrong with it?
Politically, the Huhne / Miliband generation are good for another thirty years. They won’t give in. Why should they? Ever. Who’s going to make them?
Now show me some evidence that my pessimism is unfounded.

Jul 20, 2011 at 8:10 PM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

@Mike Jackson, 5.16pm:

The BBC won't 'implode' on this subject. They have a copper bottomed get-out, namely - 'we were only reporting the vastly dominant scientific opinion'. Regrettably, that is still the case, however much we might wish otherwise.

The fact that we can see how the CAGW theory fits neatly with their liberal commentariat groupthink is neither here nor there. Until there is a paradigm shift in the science and/or public policy (a very long way to go on both fronts) the position they are currently taking is unassailable.

As I commented on here the other day - we always say 'how can they get away with this?'.

Well, another day, another depressing example.

Answer: easily. Sorry to add to the voices of doom today, but there we are.

Jul 20, 2011 at 8:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterDougieJ

@geoffchambers

"Politically, the Huhne / Miliband generation are good for another thirty years. They won’t give in. Why should they? Ever. Who’s going to make them?"

Abso-f**king-lutely right Geoff. But those mendacious, manipulative bastards (Bob Ward, I'm talking to you) cannot be allowed to be taken seriously, so I for one am still up for poking them with a sharp stick.

Jul 20, 2011 at 8:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterJerryM

I'm starting to feel I'm trapped in the Stepford Wives.

Seemingly intelligent, rational, articulate people (like Steve Jones) are being transformed into passive obedient unquestioning robots.

BBC biased? No it's fantastic!

Does the RS have a little factory somewhere manufacturing these automatons to order?

It's all getting a little scary.

Jul 20, 2011 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterGSW

Mike, it's a non sequitur. At least 95 per cent of the CO2 in the atmosphere comes from natural sources. There has been an increase in atmospheric CO2. Neither of these is in dispute.

But as Jones presents it, Fact B refutes Fact A.

A sub-editor would have spotted this and flagged it. Jones has editors to review his Telegraph columns and his books. I guess we are seeing "the naked geneticist", writing on a subject that is not his specialty, and not thinking very hard about the science as he writes.

Jul 20, 2011 at 10:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

The main point our host is making seems to have got a bit lost. He and Tony wrote a detailed account of numerous examples (see pages 8, 9 and annexe) of misleading and biased climate reporting by the BBC. These points have been completely ignored by Steve Jones.

Jul 20, 2011 at 10:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterPaulM

The errors of fact and of reasoning in the report are quite startling. That is encouraging because it makes rebuttal much easier. To those who may be feeling despondent: don’t be! Science will win through, it always does.

Jul 20, 2011 at 10:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterFZM

Its pretty depressing, but chin up everybody - nobody thinks Galileo was wrong now. It might just take a bit longer than we thought...

And there's always those Solar Cycles to look forward too.

Jul 20, 2011 at 11:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterThinkingScientist

Oh dear oh dear oh dear

The Joneses aren't keeping up (with climate research).

And now we have (a) somebody that Phil could shine against; (b) BBC's approval of using total climate ignoramuses to talk climate change.

Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

But don't you worry, even the Mighty News of the World has fallen. One day, the BBC's conspiratorial attitude towards any topic will come home to roost.

Jul 21, 2011 at 12:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

I've read Steve Jones' folksy, pop-science features in the Telegraph for a while now and often noticed a bit of left-leaning political preaching in them.

Reading a few biographies of him, like this one in the Independent

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/profile-professor-steve-jones-a-very-natural-scientist-1086633.html

.........it's pretty obvious that his main interest, since the '90's, has been in advancing his media career as author of popular science books and "go-to" presenter for TV pop-sci items.

He's married to Norma Percy an award winning, left wing, TV documentary producer who once worked for a Labour MP and makes her films with another well known Labour supporter called Brian Lapping (who wrote a famous hagiography of the Wilson government).

They live in edgy, trendy lefty Camden - natch.

Nothing wrong with any of this, of course, but it does tend to move him out of the cosy, reliable, tweed jacketed prof category, a bit more towards the identikit, North London, lefty media hack - making his evangelical warmist views a bit more predictable.

Of course the BBC would have known this full well when they chose to have him, rather than a "proper" scientist, to review the "impartiality" of their science output.

It's in their genes - you see.

Jul 21, 2011 at 12:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

This report will delight hard core BBC climate zealots. But it is so shockingly partisan on CAGW that it could backfire as spectacularly as the 10:10 No Pressure Video, by awaking latent and suppressed doubts among the 'silent majority' of more thoughtful and moderate executives.

Jul 21, 2011 at 1:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterPharos

I can admit I had never heard of Steve Jones before but then I am hardly the average wide-eyed follower of would-be Scientific Apostles.

Anyway, he may not have noticed but his Wikipedia entry makes him look like a Christopher Hitchens...a mind constantly going to waste in the manufacturing of yet another totally bogus controversy, like blaming private schools for all ills of England and opposing a visit by the Pope.

In other words, apart from his specific sector of specialization, everything Steve Jones says and writes has a content value hovering a Planck length from zero, because it drowns in its own bile.

Jul 21, 2011 at 1:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

@ ThinkingScientist

nobody thinks Galileo was wrong now

No they don't, but the Catholic Church is still there, still preaching the same thing and has more adherents now than it did then. So not a lot of reason for optimism.

Jones seems to have decided his ToR was to rule from authority on the science of CAGW. I don't know why he thinks he's an authority or why he decided to ignore evidence of a deliberate attempt by the BBC to load the dice a certain way. The question he thinks he is answering was not asked, and the one that was asked has not been answered.

Jul 21, 2011 at 1:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

@Foxgoose
@Maurizio

How dare you impugn the dignity and credibility of a very carefully selected independent academic and omniscient parroter of house dogma.

Shame on you, shame.

Jul 21, 2011 at 1:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterTom

Poor Brits. You suffer so much. Government run broadcasting is yet another source of your suffering. This fellow Jones was hired to do an evaluation (but clearly not a critical evaluation) of BBC practices and what does he do? He lectures the audience. "Listen Brits," he says, "Global Warming is good science and its critics have not a leg to stand on." Here in the USA, even NPR had to wear a smile and speak politely when they spouted their CAGW propaganda, yet they still lost their funding. Poor Brits. I wish you well.

Jul 21, 2011 at 3:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheo Goodwin

BBC Breakfast has just had a live outside broadcast from a 5MW solar subsidy farm in Nottinghamshire (about 7:25 UK time).

It was peeing down and they forgot to mention how much power was being generated!

They may show this again in the next hour.

Jul 21, 2011 at 7:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

UPDATE:

5MW solar subsidy farm on again at 8:20 UK time

Jul 21, 2011 at 7:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

Theo Goodwin:
No. Government-run broadcasting is not another source of our suffering. We quite like the BBC, which is why we’re so angry when its purpose is perverted
Pharos:
I hope you are right that this report will awaken “latent and suppressed doubts among the 'silent majority' of more thoughtful and moderate executives”.
I used to battle away on Guardian threads labouring under the same illusion. It was when the Religious Affairs corrspondent and the Literary Editor weighed in with their “science is settled” articles that I realised all was lost. It’s like in those science fiction films where the hero realises that even his lover and his best friend have had their minds taken over by aliens.
I really see no solution other than to huddle together here and console each other, while bickering about whether the fact that Jones lives in Camden proves that it’s all a left-wing conspiracy.
As Justice4Rinka points out, the Catholic Church is still there, (though they have apologised to Galileo, four centuries on).
Maurizio:
The corruption of the BBC is not like the fall of the News of the World. No journalist on any mainstream media could get such rubbish past the sub-editors, as Andrew points out. They’ve hired Steve Jones to do the job in the same way that the News of the World hired “freelance” hackers. (oh well, maybe you’re right).

Jul 21, 2011 at 7:59 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

"Since Jones is a geneticist (what is it with that field? First Nurse, now Jones!)"

Although Jones is mostly retired from active research, he still keeps his hand in certain areas, his favourite topics are the genetic study of population control, on fruit flies,..... and humans.

Jul 21, 2011 at 8:00 AM | Unregistered CommenterFrosty

PaulM
Yes, the main point of His Grace’s and Tony Newbery’s complaints has been overlooked in this thread in our anger. For Jones’ gratuitous insult, stating that Montford and Newbery’s detailed criticism of BBC practices implied that “The factual argument, even for activists, appears to be largely over” is just one lie among many.
It’s the tactics of the playground bully, who knows that any violent reaction provoked by his insults can be easily countered by his superior force.
No doubt our host and TonyN will be making a reasoned reply to the BBC Trust. The rest of us can do the same, each in his own way. This will of course be interpreted as another “assault on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers”. But what else can one do?

Jul 21, 2011 at 8:18 AM | Unregistered Commentergeoffchambers

For a somewhat dated list of BBC Science silliness, see http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003507.html

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:05 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Pond

I had thought more highly of Steve Jones. It's amazing what people will say when they're paid to say it.

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

"devotes much of its content to criticising not the data on temperatures "

Well perhaps if Phil Jones had discharged his duty under the FOIA correctly that might have been possible...

Jul 21, 2011 at 9:39 AM | Unregistered Commentertallbloke

Consensensus science backed up by consensus journalism will simply result in accusations of the BBC promoting propaganda.

I think this quote from the report is telling, "It hopes that these initiatives (concerning due impartiality, due weight, false balance) will boost editorial judgement and confidence and, in particular, encourage senior editorial staff to discuss these critical editorial concepts face to face with those they manage."

As climate science has abandoned scientific arguement and the scientific method we now see BBC journalists abandon investigative journalism and examination of the arguements with regard the broadcasting of science.

Jul 21, 2011 at 10:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

geoff: perhaps the best comparison is to the Met (Police, not Office). And you can see, after years of keeping themselves busy with the Gillette Squad and investigating Kate Moss, their chickens have come home indeed.

Jul 21, 2011 at 10:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

Andrew
I agree that we are in the Land of the Non-Seq (just down the road from the Slough of Ad Hom!) on CO2. But we know that the level of atmospheric CO2 has increased by 40% in the last couple of hundred years (at least we think we do; I have heard of research that says otherwise) and there is a school of thought that says man is almost entirely responsible for that increase. If that is correct then Jones has a point when he disputes the statement that 95% of atmospheric CO2 is natural.
The trouble is that this is the sort of thing that happens when you engage in sound-bite science and when you have an agenda to pursue. Trying to explain precisely why Jones is wrong in the argument he is trying to make would take up more than the attention span of the average British citizen. So those with the axe to grind can rely on the "stands to reason" defence and simplify the argument to the point where the statement is not actually "right" but, to the uninitiated, makes perfect sense.

Jul 21, 2011 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterMike Jackson

Biased BBC has a relevant article today about the intertwinings of reviewer and reviewee: BBC TRUSTEE IS CLIMATE ACTIVIST

Jul 21, 2011 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered Commenterdusty

Best thing Skeptics can do now is simple report the BBC everytime they lie about AGW to there dog as thats about all thats left to honest citizens.

I surpose failed science journos end up somewhere.

Jul 21, 2011 at 12:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterShevva

http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9544000/9544252.stm

Connie St Louis "Climate change is a fact" telling us Lawson should no longer be asked about climate change on the BBC because the science is settled.

Jul 21, 2011 at 12:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterJason F

Jason F,
Yet the AGW believer and promoter both, in a discussion when confronted with the idea they beleive the science is settled generally deny the science is settled.
The slippery evasive nature of AGW belief is fascinating.

Jul 21, 2011 at 1:02 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

This is disappointing, but there is a silver lining.
The cultists seem to be becoming increasingly alarmed that they are losing the argument.
It reminds me of a description of the last days of the Nixon cabal, as the Watergate enquiry wound its agonisingly slow way to the final chapter.

Meanwhile in Australia, our Green - Labor - Independent coalition are basking in the glory of a full 26% support in the latest opinion polls, as they press on with their plans to "put a price on carbon", whatever that may mean.

Jul 21, 2011 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterAusieDan

Oh, the irony! This must be right into Josh Territory...

Prof Jones, who gave the 1991 Reith Lecture, said the BBC presented "the views of tiny and unqualified minorities as if they have the same weight as the scientific consensus"

For example, the BBC is right now presenting the view of a minority of one scientist, wholly unqualified to say a thing outside his area of research, as if he had the same weight as the scientific consensus.

Jul 21, 2011 at 3:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterMaurizio Morabito

I wonder how the beeb will deal with the CERN Kirkby Svensmark findings on cloud seeding when they are published? Let's console ourselves with the anticipation of that!

Jul 21, 2011 at 8:27 PM | Unregistered Commentermarchesarosa

This is, I suppose, the same Steve Jones who used to write for the Telegraph. He may still do - I don't read the Telegraph any more. He used to be quite interesting and actually sound like a scientist. Pity to see what he's become....

Jul 22, 2011 at 7:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

geoff,
Sorry for the late reply. To me, what convinced me of the superficiality of Jones' knowledge of the climate debate situation, rather than otherwise, was his self-professed approach to any issue, his uncritical acceptance of the media consensus on climate change issues and complete lack of knowledge of sceptical questions. Indeed I think that Montford and Newbery wasted their detailed arguments on this target and his grandmotherly approach - "the world *is* warming as the Hadley graph shows. Let's all walk down the street and lobotomize ourselves".

By appearing to be happy to see the higher echelons to be so superficial - but definitely not taking Jones to be lying - I was only presuming to be able to take him at his word. Indeed I do believe it - the report from Jones reflects the bubble he lives in. Maybe it will be broken one day.

'Yeats' theorem', in this case, is the ever-widening ripples of competent mediocrity (turning and turning in the widening gyre) and attendant deadening of curious voices and minds (the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity). Jones' report reminded of the second coming. :)

Jul 24, 2011 at 4:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterShub

Prof. Trevor Davies of the UEA has commented on the BBC's review:
http://www.uea.ac.uk/mac/comm/media/press/2011/July/impartiality

Re the BBC's coverage of the Muir Russell report on Newsnight:

"Frustratingly, this sort of imbalance is still seen in some media coverage eighteen months after emails and data were stolen from the Climatic Research Unit, and which led to much distortion and misinformation being reported in many sections of the media."

He's very certain that the e-mails were stolen, it appears.

Jul 24, 2011 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_22-7-2011-11-45-25

BBC science coverage: researcher involved in Imperial analysis shares her thoughts [on the Jones review].

"There were no significant factual inaccuracies in news or non-news coverage."

....they didn't look at the Nurse programme then, but on the other hand....

"One thing that's very striking is that there’s a real lack of questioning of claims about science, even though that is an essential feature of science itself. There is often a lack of different voices around a story, so you'll hear the academic who's conducted the research being interviewed and that's all. In the majority of reports, there's no-one to provide a balancing viewpoint."

Jul 25, 2011 at 4:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

Someone else complaining that the BBC tilts the table:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/georgemonbiot/2011/aug/05/top-gear-bbc

Aug 5, 2011 at 8:21 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

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