Monday, 9 August 2010

Falsehoods and bias in BBC Science report

On 24th June BBC online published "Study examines scientists 'climate credibility'" , in response to a carefully thought out empirical paper on scientific expertise in climate science. It was an important paper as the press release from Stanford University shows. Read the press release then read the BBC's article and see if you think the BBC's article is fair.  Here is my complaint, sent August 9th 2010:

I have compared the Stanford Press Release to your article and have to say that the claim you make in paragraph 12 is false if it is based on that press release.

Please could you cite your source for the claim that the Anderegg study was a response to the specific recent scandals you refer to.

This article breaks the story of one of the most important scientific papers published recently for public understanding of Climate Change. You say “Sceptical groups, however, argued that publication in scientific journals was not a fair test of expertise.” That is not a view being honestly held or coherently expressed because no alternative measure is offered.

Your suggestion that Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen is an impartial observer is false. She is a founder of a pressure group called the “Scientific Alliance” which recieves funds from the mining industry, Whilst Dr Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen is from the University of Hull, she is an Emeritus Reader in geography, therefore retired. Her criticisms of Anderegg et al would have to apply to herself if you were being even handed.

Concluding your article with her quote “that the authors belong to an IPCC supporting group that must count as believers and belong to the beneficiaries of the man-made warming scare” is biased . Such a statement deserves to be investigated if true. It can be investigated as I demonstrate in the above paragraph , and I have found that this article is manufacturing a controversy to suit industry and special interest groups.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Stage 2 of the BBC complaints process

Here is the response to Stefan Curran, sent 9th August 2010

Dear Stefan,

Thank you very much indeed for your undated letter.

In addition to my letter (of February 5th ) I sent the BBC a number of emails through the internet complaints portal. However I 'phoned the complaints department the day I received your letter and they confirmed that your letter is also a response to all of those emails. You have not addressed the points I made in my emails sent on or around 15th February about editorial guidelines on impartiality and personal view.

I also emailed on 21st February an assertion that sections 7.9 and 7.13 of the Broadcasting Code had been breached. I even received a response from Alec Mackenzie on the 28th February promising a substantive reply. I have to take your letter as an indication that the BBC complaints department is now backtracking on that position. And I must express shock that the BBC ignores accusations of stepping outside OFCOM's rules. On June 8th I emailed to point out that Ms Townsend was unwilling to substantiate or clarify her claim about the “200 environmentalists”. I have repeatedly asked for identification of the 200 environmentalists (most recently on 8th June by email) and the BBC's response has been highly unstatisfactory. Ms Townsend's assertion about the motivations of such individuals has not been scrutinized by the programme makers and does not stand up to scrutiny after the event.

I put it to you again that OFCOM section 7.9 demands that the BBC be able to determine whom Ms. Townsend was referring to, and also demands that an offer to contribute to such persons or organization was made. And that in the absence of that, sections 7.9 and 7.13 have been breached.

I have to suggest that your assertion that the title of the programme was posing a question rather than asserting a point of view is dishonest. As a linguistic construction it was a question, but not one that the programme made any attempt to answer. The title of a documentary is clearly an indicator of a point of view.

Thank you for disclosing the original intention of the programme. I take that as an indication that the bias displayed by Mr Rowlatt was inherited when the documentary was conceptualized, which he has chosen to amplify rather than moderate.

I have to say that I find point (i) very disturbing. An evaluation of what is really justified requires full understanding of the magnitude of the problem, we simply don't have that. By suggesting that some proposals can be dismissed as not really justified, the programme downplays the problem.

I should point out that all informed commentators know that there is a wide gulf between climate science and the public's view of climate change. The climate change problem is a hotly contested issue which many people deny altogether, there is a considerable degree of public confusion and unscientific skepticism about this issue which, I might add, the BBC has played a part in disseminating. This documentary proceeded as if that context did not exist, that the threat of anthropogenic climate change had somehow instilled a shared set of values upon which environmentalists infringe. In essence this documentary has turned reason on it's head.

Turning to point (ii) this documentary produced an argument to that effect without producing any evidence . There was no examination whatsoever of the profile or rationale or numbers of people who were taking climate change less seriously than they might.

We have a vague reference at the end when Mr Rowlatt refers to “many people” but he simply ploughs on to his conclusion that solutions being proposed will serve to confirm scepticism. Whilst there may be some truth in that, he offers no caveat that such an approach is irrational, unscientific,illogical and biased. The listener is left with a false impression that such thinking is reasonable. I put it to you that this is not impartial and is indeed identified in the BBC Trust's guidance on this, which sees causation and solution as separate debates . I am sure we would both agree there is great wisdom in the BBC Trust's approach, which states that it “is not the job of the BBC to close down [the causation] debate”. Likewise it is not the job of the BBC to enflame the causation debate with arguments from the solution debate. This documentary set out to conflate these debates in order to reach a conclusion which is neither honest nor rationally held.

I urge you to please reconsider the position of the BBC. The best course of action would be for the BBC to admit that this broadcast was ill-concieved. That it was unfair from the outset, and that as an investigation it was a sham.

My best wishes and,

Hengist McStone

P.S. You may be interested that I develop my thoughts publicly on this at