Tuesday, 29 June 2010

AGW : Does the BBC have a hidden agenda ?

Some months ago I started this blog to document a correspondence with the BBC caused by a controversial radio documentary that I took exception to. It was entitled "Are environmentalists bad for the Planet?" and it was about a lot of things but , oddly, put forward no evidence to justify the title. The BBC have now admitted that the title was to hook in the listeners , perhaps what journalists would call "sensationalist".  It's an explanation but not a satisfactory one.

My contentions only start with the title. So what was the documentary about. Well , one account from the producer of the documentary ( Helen Grady ) says it was lamenting the use of religious language in environmental campaigning. The BBC complaints department divulge "The original intention was to explore whether the assertion by some prominent environmentalists such as Jonathon Porritt that capitalist economic model and tackling climate change are (i) really justified and (ii) in danger of alienating some people who might be persuaded to take the issue of climate change more seriously. " And the presenter (Justin Rowlatt) says it was about hidden agendas in the environmental movement.  So that's four things that it could have been about. Which makes the focal point of the documentary hard to pin down.

But one angle stands out. Anthropogenic Global Warming . Humanity has never before faced a threat quite like it. Our scientists, the brainiest people on the planet are saying and have been saying for years that the planet , our life support system is endangered by our habitual use of fossil fuels. Consensus was reached long ago , indeed Jim Hansen head of NASA's climate science unit testified before Congress that he was 99 per cent certain that the signal for anthropogenic climate change was being detected above the background noise. That was in 1988. Since then the political football has been kicked in to the long grass.  And the science has become more exact , the warnings more stark. But the public are, to this day, largely misled into doubting the science that prophesises the demise of life as we know it.

In such circumstances to adopt a contrarian view of the science (without fully understanding the science) is to argue from a position of ignorance.

Justin Rowlatt asserts his credentials as someone who passionately wants to fight global warming with words like "the urgency and scale of the climate issue " , but delivers a conclusion that takes us back to the skeptics point of view.

Comparison of climate science with the mainstream media's representation of it reveals a startling anomaly. We are being lied to. This is to be expected of the Daily Mail and Murdoch stable which most of us would take with a pinch of salt but the malaise goes much deeper. Try it for yourself. You have already been exposed to the mainstream media's version, now look at what the scientists are saying . Ninety-seven per cent of climate scientists agree that humans are the cause of global warming. But they express themselves in hard to read scientific papers so we have journalists to understand it for us. Let's ask scientific institutions at national level . Well it's worth noting that there is 100 per cent agreement amongst these scientific institutions. You wont have read that in the Daily Mail. OK I reccomend NASA which gives a no-nonsense summary of the evidence  causes and the impacts of global warming.

Here are two ways of evaluating a hypothesis , starting out with no prejudices and solely going by evidence to arrive at a conclusion ; or , searching for evidence to support one's favoured theory whilst ignoring or downplaying evidence which is contrary to such a theory. The first is (broadly) the scientific method and the second is called 'confirmation bias'.

The documentary's claim to being impartial is a pretence. In his conclusion Rowlatt delivers a monologue detailing improbable conditions , false allusions and fictitious premises  to arrive at the words "that will only serve to confirm their scepticism. " A clear example of confirmation bias.

Now one might argue that Rowlatt is just making an observation of how a skeptic's brain might work. But climate science has to stand or fall as science, there is a scientific method for arriving at a conclusion and this is not it. A skeptic might well choose to reject climate science because he doesn't like the political, social , or economic ramifications but that would not be rational . The only valid opposition to the science is better science, and the skeptics are conspicuously short of that commodity.*

Justin Rowlatt's conclusion is biased because it rationalises this fallacious dogma. He doesn't cauition that such thinking flies in the face of cause and effect,  nor does he remind us of the concensus mentioned above . He boldly leads the listener to a conclusion that climate science can be  rejected on terms he has invented which defy all logic.  That is not impartiality.

In doing so he posits the words "hidden agenda".  

Now, Ive got to take issue with this. By definition a movement (in this sense) is diffuse .  Of course there are many agendas in the environmental movement. But just because the BBC has chosen to ignore them for so long does not make them "hidden" . Examination of  this requires a definition of hidden agenda , Dictionary.com gives "An undisclosed plan, especially one with an ulterior motive." Pretending to endorse anthropogenic global warming whilst subverting public confidence in it would seem to fit that definition . Which is exactly what Justin Rowlatt has done.

* GP Wayne 2010

Friday, 18 June 2010

Conclusion of Stage 1

Here is the written response to my complaints. It is undated, recieved by post on 16th June. I have foned the BBC complaints department and spoke to Matthew and he said it was a response  not just to the original letter but to ALL the follow up emails. Which brings them all together, a manouver I am ok by. I am not okay about the lack of disclosure and I have to say that I have been misled by the email I recieved from Alec Mackenzie on 28th Feb.

Dear Hengist,

Reference 725605

Thanks for your letter regarding 'Analysis' as broadcast 25 January.

Firstly, please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we are sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

We forwarded your complaints on this issue to Innes Bowen who explained in response that the reporter was not assuming that envronmentalism necessarily encompasses anti-capitalism. Indeed the reporter's main point was that environmentalism need not be anti-capitalist.

He was merely challenging the views of those environmentalists he has come across in his role as a BBC journalist specialising in green issues who assert that environmentalism and capitalism are incompatible.

We are sorry if the distinction the presenter was trying to make between environmentalism and the views of some prominent environmentalists was not sufficiently clear in the programme.

The title of the programme "Are Environmentalists Bad for the Planet?" was intended as a short and provocative hook to attract the attention of potential listeners. It was posing a question rather than asserting a point of view.

The programme itself was far more nuanced , exploring tensions between environmental campaigners. The title had to be submitted even before production of the programme was under way.

The original intention was to explore whether the assertion by some prominent environmentalists such as Jonathan Porrit (sic) that capitalist economic model and tackling climate change are (i) really justified and (ii) in danger of alienating some people who might be persuaded to take the issue of climate change more seriously.
She added that:
"I don't think we need , as Mr McStone suggests, a balancing programme about why environmentalists are good for the planet as that is the assumption, usually unchallenged, in most coverage of environmental groups. Justin Rowlatts's programme was a rare opportunity to explore whether that assumption is always true"
I realist that you may continue to have concerns with the impartiality of this broadcast . There let me assure you that I've recorded your comments onto our audience log.
This is an internal daily report of audience feedback that's circulated to many BBC staff including members of the BBC executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

All feedback we receive, whether positive or negative, is always appreciated.

Thanks again for taking the time to contact us with your views.

Kind regards

Stefan Curran

[Trancribed by HMcS 18th June]

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

'Ethical Man' accuses himself of bias !

Don't be fooled by the headline is the message here. The BBC's 'Ethical Man' Mr Justin Rowlatt suggests there is a pro-green bias in his slight of hand documentary "Are environmentalists bad for the planet". A few days after the programme was broadcast by the BBC , the highly reputable Roger Bolton of the Feedback programme took the editor to task , and suggested there was a bias, listen to the player on Justin Rowlatt's blog and decide for yourself.  But the headline on the player asks if there is a pro-green bias . That is not what Roger Bolton is suggesting at all. 

It's an old journalistic trick to put a headline up that contradicts with the nitty gritty of the copy. The devil is in the detail and many readers don't bother to read further than headlines.

I have written a comment (number 11) to suggest that this is either an innocent error or perhaps Mr Rowlatt is trying to confuse the issue of the bias he is accused of . But after two weeks the moderators still haven't okayed it, so my criticisms of BBCs ethical man are censored by the BBC and confined to this blog.

Now just for fun I'm asking the readers of my blog (both of you) to check it out and decide for yourselves .So here's what I'm asking you to do . Listen to the recording on the player on this page and ask yourself if the headline on the player is fair and vote on this gadget on the right. Yes I know that's 7 minutes and 47 seconds of your life wasted! Just to be clear you're not  listening to the original BBC documentary but the Feedback programme where the makers of BBC programmes give an account of themselves.

Hengist dares to ask an awkward question

Phoned BBC complaints department today. They weren't much help but agreed to 'red flag' two of the complaints I mentioned that are unanswered.

Long overdue , I have now asked the BBC directly to disclose the identity of the 200 or so environmentalists that Townsend disses. I strongly suspect that the BBC will rely on the veracity of this anecdote to rebut any allegation of bias.  This move of mine is a raising of the stakes somewhat. The makers of the documentary have shown a clear bias in the depth to which they have probed their contributor's positions. Thus they have wilfully neglected to nail down Solitaire Townsend's slur on the motivation of the people she claims to have met. In turn this could easily be interpreted to widen the scope of her claim to cover the whole of the environmental movement. Indeed that seems to be the inference made by the documentary. Compare the depth of probing of Townsend with Justin Rowlatt's hounding of Greenpeace head honcho John Sauven over the uncomfortable question of nuclear power in the context of a world overheating due to carbon emissions.

Will send a further complaint to the BBC in the next few days on the matter of impartiality.  Anyhow here is today's missive:


I refer to my complaint sent on the 21st Feb and await the substantive response promised by yourselves on the 28th Feb. I am writing to suggest that the contribution from Ms Townsend [at 02:05] is less than truthful. It lacks details to enable identification of whom she is referring , which is crucial to the natural justice concept of 'hear the other side'. An allegation about a specific group of people needs to be supported by identifying the specific group of people whom you refer to , without that it's credibility and the credibility of those making the allegation can be called in to question.

I have been in touch with the office of Ms Townsend to ask her to identify whom she was talking about when she refers to 200 or so environmentalists and her assessment of their motivations. She is unwilling to enter into any correspondence on the matter. If you have that information and have simply chosen not to broadcast it please will you disclose it to me . Or if not, please confirm that you are unable to support Ms Townsend's assertions by identifying whom she refers to.

At any rate the question of the identity of these people is apt to my points about the documentary being in breach of sections 7.9 and 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code.