BBC Science Journalism…Knowing enough is no longer important?

There’s Fiona Fox’s outrageous claim that the way the BBC could really improve its science coverage is to have fewer sceptics. She says:
“To have a sceptic or contrarian in every interview is really misleading the public.”
Luckily, she enthuses, the BBC is doing a fine job of correcting this grotesque imbalance.
“With Climate Science there’s been a real change with people like Richard Black and Roger Harrabin fighting internally to say ‘We don’t have to have a sceptic every time we have a climate scientist.'”


The routine challenging of claims, an essential part of science, is largely absent from the BBC’s science reporting.

On ‘false balance’….. balanced reporting is ‘extremely rare’ in routine science reporting by the BBC….there is little evidence of the use of balance in BBC science reports.




The BBC has long shut out climate sceptics from the debate about climate change…such a policy becoming ‘official’ after its review into its science reporting by Professor Steve Jones….the ‘false balance’ of having allegedly inexpert, unqualified, ‘marginal’ speakers to be guarded against…as the science is of course settled.

The choice of the fanatical pro-climate change Jones as the reviewer showed that the BBC had no intention of an honest debate about its science coverage.


The BBC Trust tells us that ‘Professor Jones makes clear it that, overall, BBC science content is of a very high calibre, has improved over the past decade and outstrips that of other broadcasters both in the UK and internationally.

Just how true is that and just how much ‘false balance’ did the BBC indulge in anyway before the Jones review?

It would seem that Jones’ conclusions were based upon his own prejudices and not the research upon which his report was supposedly based.


Here, via Bishop Hill, we can hear Felicity Mellor from Imperial College London, who did the legwork in analysing the BBC’s science reporting, telling a different story about the BBC’s balance, the quality of its science coverage and the damage such reporting does to the public interest and even ‘democracy’.


These are some selected points about the BBC from the 40 minute speech:

Two main points:

1.  Too much science journalism…produces ‘media noise’ not enlightenment.

2.  Science journalism underuses balance


The journalistic norm of balance is underused.

The media noise masks significant silences.

She says she is looking mainly at routine science journalism rather than controversial areas such as the badger cull or climate change.

 [I would actually disagree with that…..when you listen to what she says you can apply it all to the BBC’s reporting on climate change]

But she does qualify that….. looking at how routine science journalism works informs us as to how the more controversial areas are covered….it establishes the norms and standard practices that then become problematic in the reporting of controversies.


There is too much dependence on press releases..the BBC’s broadcast news depends on press releases for 50% of its coverage, rising to 75% when covering scientific research.


Nigel Hawkes from the Times said that ‘knowing enough is no longer important‘ for science reporters as much material is handed to them on a plate by scientists themselves.

Toby Murcott from the BBC’s World Service said that ‘we reported without significant analysis, depth or critical comment…we just translated what scientists said.’

 David Whitehouse talking about the embargo system when reporters hold back news and then broadcast the press release….‘it encourages lazy journalism and poor correspondents.’


Such journalism fails to address the Public interestthere is a lack of democratic accountability…serving instead those who wish to promote the science and the institutions that hand out the press releases.

The ‘media noise’ from these institutions makes other voices inaudible through intensive PR campaigns, which have the effect of cocooning the power adventure, shielding it from rigorous public scrutiny by fabricating positive stories of its performance within media saturated settings.

The absence of counter voices means science journalism does not serve the public interest.

On ‘false balance’ she states that balanced reporting is ‘extremely rare’ in routine science reporting….there is little evidence of the use of balance in BBC science reports.

There were only 6% of reports that had independent critical voices in them making comments demonstrating the limitations of the research or uncertainties.

The BBC’s science correspondents were the least likely to include ‘uncertainty’ about anything they were reporting upon as ‘fact’.

The lack of balance was encouraged by the sources of the press releases and the BBC’s failure to move beyond these.

Far from ‘false balance’ being the norm as suggested by the likes of Steve Jones and those who wish to silence all climate change critics for instance,  any balance is rarely seen in BBC science journalism.


The routine challenging of claims, an essential part of science, is largely absent from the BBC’s science reporting.

Who finances the research is an important issue…research shows that who funds research often affects the outcome.

Only 3% of BBC news broadcasts mentioned who funded research….Steve Jones ‘shrugged off’ such suggestions when challenged on this claiming that much research was publicly funded.


[However…publicly funded organisations are often just as biased as any commercial one…look at the BBC…or the University of East Anglia..the government’s Climate Change Committee…or charities and other NGO’s….commercial interests are not the only ones that have to be guarded against.   Harrabin, and Black when at the BBC, often targeted sceptics and tried to examine their sources of finance…..without a similar attempt to do the same for the pro AGW lobby]


The way Felicity Mellor tells it you might have a completely different view of the BBC’s science reporting than that of the BBC Trust:

The Trust welcomes the clear finding that BBC science coverage is generally of a very high quality. Given the Trust’s duty to ensure that the interests of licence fee payers are served, together with the public expectation of the highest of standards from the BBC and the organisation’s role in informing the public about science, this is an important conclusion.





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47 Responses to BBC Science Journalism…Knowing enough is no longer important?

  1. john in cheshire says:

    And let’s not forget the 28gate scandal. That bbc outrage seems to have disappeared from public view. This Jones character is quite a dangerous person; as are many of the climate hysterics who dominate the subject.


  2. chrisH says:

    The BBC science boils down to an old Salters Chemistry set with nothing but bicarb and a spent match.
    It`s not what you know…it`s how it makes us all feel.
    And-if you don`t mind…we`d rather not feel like you plebs do.
    Savile was the end of THAT kinda feeling.
    Magnus Pyke, Patrick Moore…but now we`re getting the likes of Steve(The Snail) Jones by way of expertise.
    Lysenko was a paragon of scientific rectitude compared to the BBCs science lot these days…but don`t quote him(they`ll only admire his Monsanto badge, then get Porritt to debate him for our emoting).
    Susan watts-please bring her back…at least she WAS a scientist, so could appeal to that side of her.


  3. David Preiser (USA) says:

    “In every interview”? If only. The reality is more like the rare climate realist who is allowed on air is “robustly challenged”, while those who preach Warmism are treated gently, and given free rein. As we know from 28-Gate, Warmist doctrine is also meant to be infused occasionally into drama and comedy and children’s programming. There will be no “skeptic” balance in any of those cases, ever. Worse still was the BBC’s attempt to attack anyone who thought the ClimateGate emails revealed that at least some of the science was fraudulent or that there was an effort to hide certain things which didn’t help their agenda. Anyone who said this opened up the debate about the validity of the supposedly settled science was robustly challenged, while those who took the side of the Warmists were again given the easy ride and presented as correct.

    This woman is deluded and rather dishonest, as is anyone who agrees with her.


  4. OldBloke says:

    I’ve just looked up Harrabin in Wikipedia. He has no training or education in scientific matters (in anything) and came out of University specialising in English. It would appear that he has made a name for himself just quoting what other people have said. Nice work if you can get it.


    • RCE says:

      But if it was a cultural issue – rather than scientific – then he would be ideally-suited.

      Makes you think, doesn’t it?


    • GCooper says:

      Conceptually, ‘quoting what other people have said’ is precisely what his job as a reporter called for.

      The problem lies with the sources he has chosen to quote and the fatal error he made in siding with one side of an argument he was completely incapable of judging.


      • flexdream says:

        You have a point but it’s reasonable to expect him to have enough understanding to be critical, selective and be able to summarise, rather than just ‘cut and paste’ from a consensus. He’s not meant to be a cub reporter.


        • GCooper says:

          Yes, but it isn’t that hard – and a decent editor would have stopped Harrabin’s editorialising right from the start, telling him to quote from experts A and B and let the listener make up his own damn mind.

          Here is where we find the heart of the problem. The BBC prides itself on its ‘journalism’ but it uses an incorrect definition, confusing commentary with reporting.

          Right across the Corporation’s output, from the blatant axe-grinding of a Lyse Doucet, to the manifest eco-nonsense from Harrabin, what we are being given are opinion pieces dressed-up as reporting.


      • The General says:

        Surely the job of a Reporter investigating any subject, regardless of their particular skill set, should be impartiality, objectivity and a total lack of any agenda . The problem with the BBC chosen Reporters is that they are required to have a particular agenda.


        • Guest Who says:

          ‘The problem with the BBC chosen Reporters is that they are required to have a particular agenda.’
          Not just reporters.

          Box ticking #101.
          An unsubstantiated comment intrigues:
          ‘Given that Jones chose not to include key information provided by his researcher in the report – perhaps the BBC need another report’
          Preferably not anyone too astoundingly uncurious or, like Mr. Pollard, a bit forgetful. I don’t think the licence fee payer, or the BBC’s tanking credibility, could afford it.


  5. stuart says:

    the one with the voice that sounds like its somebody is scratching there fingers across a blackboard racheal burden said on the breakfast show the other day on radio 5 live that surely these recent storms that have hit the uk is proof of climate change and global warming affecting are climate,no racheal you dumbo,the jet steam just happens to be a few hundred miles further west than we expect in winter that is dragging weather systems from the atlantic over the uk,hence people living in low lying areas are always prone to flooding due to the nature of the a few weeks time the jet stream might be further north,hence snow and cold weather will bring the uk to a standstill as usual,that has noting to do with climate change or global warming,simple as that racheal.


    • OldBloke says:

      Hi Stuart, it is correct in what you say about the Jetstream, but the Jetstream is about where it normally is at present, so what we are seeing is basically the norm. As we are as far west in Europe as you can get, we are the last to see any continental air mass(s) that are lurking around and at this time of the year, obviously, cold air masses pop up from time to time. The one that brings the snow is from the east in fact from as far east as Russia (-27 at the moment) and keep an eye for this air mass (very cold & dense) to try and edge itself ever westwards. There is an indication top me that the migration of this air has started, so keep an eye for the forecast for two weeks hence. The cold mass of air will break the jet stream and some will go north and some south with snow on the leading edges of any weather systems that come in from the Atlantic. This is normal, happens every year but will, of course, to some be more evidence of *Climate Change*.


    • Mice Height says:

      A day of rain and wind in Britain, in December!?
      OMG! Up the taxes, cull the pensioners!


      • OldBloke says:

        The irony of your post Mice Height, is that Mr Harrabin does indeed want a cull of pensioners. Global warming (if it exists) would show a decrease in death rates of the elderly population (no brainer), but Harrabin does not want to see Global Warming so in effect wants the Pensioners to continue to die unnecessarily.


  6. stuart says:

    flipping hell old bloke,you should get a job at radio 5 as a weather forecaster and explain to racheal and co what is really going on up there in the skys,trouble is there radio 5 live and racheal burden would then class you as a global warming denier.


    • OldBloke says:

      Stuart, believe me, the chief forecaster at the Met Office in Exeter is aware of me! Oh, and the radio 5 weather forecaster is unlikely to be a genuine *forecaster* as there are three computer models used to *predict* and the Met Office chief forecaster chooses the *best guess* for the weather. This computer report is then given to who ever reads it out on respective media channels.


  7. Mice Height says:

    “BBC/Guardian global warming research/propaganda cruise trapped by record breaking irony”


    • Guest Who says:

      ‘The BBC has long shut out climate sceptics from the debate about climate change…’

      Bar one… Andrew Neil.
      And today, on twitter at least, he has been the subject of a rather unedifying luvvie lathering for having the temerity to share the view that the Love Boat expedition has suffered more than a few credibility setbacks on top of the horrors of seeing the shuffleboard competition cancelled.
      Scientific luminaries ranging from Graham Linehan to Tom thingy from the Telegraph to say… well, that they don’t like him because he’s not toeing their line. It has actually been quite vicious. And fact free amongst the ad homs.
      I suspect he’s a big enough beast to shrug it off, but it does show the pressures that exist within the BBC and it satellite sycophants should even one stray from the hive.
      Really rather distasteful, and of course a worrying symbol of the intolerance displayed in certain sectors.


      • GCooper says:

        Neil has a big enough ego not to care (and good for him). But what this exposes so well is the tremendous peer pressure (cf ‘peer review’) applied to anyone who dares step outside of the prescribed Guardianista opinion.

        I strongly suspect the only way to clean out this particular Augean stable will be to burn it down.


      • Dysgwr_Cymraeg says:

        Well, they has better steer clear of his ( @afneil) programme, or will find he’ll take his revenge served cold.


  8. ember2013 says:

    The problem is that whereas the BBC’s political journalists are informed enough to offer questions, their science journalists are not well versed with the scientific method. Consequently they don’t offer much counter argument. Especially to such technical issues.


  9. Trefor Jones says:

    There has certainly been an outbreak of CAGW fever over the Christmas hiatus. There was a ridiculous programme on Saturday’s Radio 4 on Ice , when no one seemed to have a clue – one pundit was actually a photographer.
    Gardener’s Q.T. came from the Met office hence the usual nonsense propaganda from the discredited pseudo scientists there.
    The Arctic 30 who are damned lucky that Putin needs some good publicity prior to the Winter Olympics were treated as sages as against idealistic fools.
    Even the comedy of the CAGW expedition in Antarctica stuck in 12 miles of pack ice at the height of summer has been badly reported as to it being a tourist trip – it is not.
    BBC, shoddy and unbalanced once again.


  10. ember2013 says:

    There was only one Newsnihgt report which I thought tried to be balanced. It concerned itself with the shoddyness of some models thanks to badly commented FORTRAN (old computer language – don’t ask) code. The journalist was Susan Watts. But bless, she’s left the team.

    The truth is that the controversial climate science (temperature proxies) is heavily reliant on a branch of statistics that not even Physics graduates would be accustomed to. I daren’t hazard a guess but maybe only a handful of undergraduates would use the mathematical tools used by those climate scientists.


    • Guest Who says:

      I think I recall FORTRAN as what we used at Uni, and ironically it was one of my first forays into piping up for Gaia.
      Programming involved stacks of punch cards (fair enough), which one deposited at the computer centre to be ‘run’ overnight.
      Thing is, one error and the blasted thing would belch out a telephone directory’s worth of those hole-punched read out sheets. Which no one in their fight mind would ever bother reading, so it all got dumped into the bin before trying again.
      If Ms. Watts was on a critical case here, credit to her. I might add that by my understanding she didn’t, as such, ‘leave’. Mr. Katz knows what he wants to go down the old Newnight slipway these days, that’s for sure. And apparently Laura K and that FT bod didn’t come cheap.


      • Arthur Penney says:

        FORTAN (FORmula TRANslation) had the advantage that because it was such a primitive language it would run quickly (and crash quickly, too).

        When I was at college circa 1981 we had moved on to more structured languages – PASCAL, ALGOL, COBOL, BCPL, LITHP (in-joke) – but there was still no GUI and programmes were batch processed.

        I still liked BBC Basic (available for Windows now).


  11. thoughtful says:

    I’ve just been doing a little light history reading into the eruption of the Siberian Traps and the mass extinction event which followed.

    Imagine a series of volcanos producing enough lava to cover the whole of North America erupting continually for a million years. Worse still setting fire to coal deposits all over the world!

    A huge extinction event occurred nearly wiping out all life on the planet. Global warming actually did occur and the oceans ceased to flow, becoming stagnant and de oxygenated.

    This is partly the basis for the global warming theory.

    The problem with this though is although there was a catastrophic 8 degree rise in temperature, and CO2 levels rose to 2000 ppm it was not the only gas.

    Pre industrial revolution the CO2 was apparently around 280ppm now it’s around 388ppm a rise of 108ppm. Given a start date of 1760 according to Wikipedia it’s taken around 250 years to reach this dizzying level !

    Obviously a lake of molten lava with a surface area of 2 million square kilometres for a million years is going to affect the temperature of the earth !

    But then so is one of the other most potent greenhouse gases known – water vapour, better known as clouds !

    Then there’s the possibility of methane release as well.

    All in all though CO2 doesn’t seem such an important player, and even if we were to even remotely accept it were then we aren’t even at 20% of the levels at the extinction event.

    So the theory falls a bit flat, but where there’s life there’s always methane, and apparently it is one of the greatest untapped energy sources waiting to be discovered. Anyone feeling a bit entrepreneurial ? Well maybe here’s the next big thing!


    • pah says:

      There was some fascinating research done on methane extraction from domestic sewage. It basically means you can (part) power your house with your own poo. Of course such things will never be allowed to progress as it somewhat diminishes the income of the power companies …


  12. Phil Ford says:

    As I recall it, what came out of the 28Gate scandal was that the BBC had instituted what it deftly refers to as ‘due impartiality’ with regards to climate sceptics. This is another way of saying that the BBC will only pay lip-service (if at all) to the views of climate sceptics if:

    1. It feels that the science is in any way open to question
    2. It feels like it

    Since we know how the BBC feels about ‘the science’ the first is a moot point and almost entirely redundant, whilst the second is the BBC’s default mode with regards to ‘impartiality’ in climate reporting – Charter be damned.

    The BBC has refused to entertain any notion of ‘impartiality’ in climate reporting – it has an unmistakable political agenda with regards to CAGW. Climate scares serve the BBC’s larger, far more insidious common purpose – and this goes all the way back to its fellow travelers in the EU/UN (and countless lefty NGOs) and, of course, the definitely-not-to-be-mentioned-on-the-BBC Agenda 21.

    Anyone genuinely wishing to expose the hopeless political compromise the BBC is in thrall to need only examine its entire sorry history of propagating the CAGW scam to see just how unprincipled, fast and easy with ‘the facts’ and almost entirely devoid of truth in science reporting the BBC actually is – and, worse, all this by own sneering, belligerent admission.


    • GCooper says:

      Exactly. CAGW was latched onto so firmly because it answered the Left’s prayer for ‘scientific justification’ for all the things it had already been urging, but which sensible people had decided were either impractical or undesirable.

      From international economic redistribution to vegetarianism to world government to deindustrialisation, everything that CAGW mandated was something at least once branch of the Left has been agitating for.

      There was simply no way that a BBC or Guardianista type would not grab it with both hands. Once the collapse of Soviet communism had proved socialism a failure, they were desperate for something to justify their beliefs. CAGW was that thing and had the shield of ‘unarguable science’ (albeit faked) to hide behind.

      This not only explains where CAGW came from, but also why it is defended like a religious faith. Undermine it and there’s a lot more at stake than just ‘global warming’.


      • johnnythefish says:

        By an amazing coincidence, back in the 70s when they were panicking everybody into believing the next ice age was just around the corner, the mitigating actions they proposed were exactly the same i.e. ban fossil fuels, go for ‘renewables’, compensate poorer nations etc. In other words, an identical eco-socialist agenda.

        In the absence of being able to locate the relevant website article, here’s one that’s equally entertaining which has loads of quotes/extracts from that time:

        E.g. from 1974: ‘As they review the bizarre and unpredictable weather pattern of the past several years, a growing number of scientists are beginning to suspect that many seemingly contradictory meteorological fluctuations are actually part of a global climatic upheaval. However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing’.

        Not that you’d hear any of this on the BBC.


  13. Sceptical scientist says:

    They used to have a real scientist on – David Bellamy OBE. But he didn’t toe the party line and was dismissed after he frightened the kiddies on Blue Peter. He made out that those nice wind farms are actually nasty horrid things that kill birds and bats and don’t produce much electricity anyway.


  14. Fred Sage says:

    Let us not forget the Catlin BBC expedition in 2009 intended to measure how thin the ice was getting in the Artic It was abandoned because of the cold.


  15. johnnythefish says:

    ‘‘We don’t have to have a sceptic every time we have a climate scientist.’

    Either the BBC really do believe there are scientists and there are sceptics, but there are no sceptical scientists, or they are perpetuating a falsehood.

    Whichever it is, it is truly appalling journalism.


  16. Richard Pinder says:

    I have little idea what false balance means. But the BBC does produce a lot of “Media noise”.

    BBC media noise is an obsession with Climate scientists who use belief, speculation, assumption and consensus, without inviting scientists or Astronomers dealing with facts, evidence and correlation’s, who prove these assumptions wrong.

    The BBC does not need to provide balance if there is no science that proves a fact wrong.
    But Journalists at the BBC engage in widespread censorship of science that proves many of the assumptions, beliefs and speculations of the politicised climate science community wrong.

    The BBC is still actively supporting the biggest corrupt scientific fraud in history, more serious than in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, because this fraud is Global.

    The United Nations was the original source of this insane problem, and it is the job of journalism to uncover this fraud, not support fraud.

    The best way to deal with the problem of media noise is to ignore the science in the media, and look on the internet for the answers that come to mind such as “How do you use the CO2 atmosphere of Venus to calibrate CO2 warming on the Earth to be completely irrelevant for the answer to Climate Change”? and “why does every recent new development point to Cosmoclimatology as the answer”?

    The science is not secret, why do not journalists look on Google Scholar?


    • johnnythefish says:

      ‘The BBC is still actively supporting the biggest corrupt scientific fraud in history…..’.

      Spot on, Richard. I’m pretty sure the majority of people are unaware of the impact this fraud is having on their lives – which will only get worse – or the eco-socialist agenda behind it. The depressing fact is they may never wake up to it because the warmist lobby have such a grip on and within the media, especially that 70% which is the ‘trusted’ BBC.


  17. Guest Who says:
    For all the fun, things seem to be taking a darker turn. Yet reading the quoted commentary of the main protagonists, they seem to remain, ironically, ‘in denial’ as to what has happened, is happening and will need to happen to extricate them from the position they jumped with both feet into.
    A lot of people, time, money and risk (not to mention a bunch of GHGs and possible wreck pollution) are going to get expended to dig them out of this.
    And with a $1000 fighting fund from the public, the ‘free’ Graun/BBC PR machine is going to need to be cranked to 11 to try and cover things in a way that doesn’t look like ‘up’.
    Guessing this won’t feature in any round up of the year Aunty has ready for tomorrow.


    • johnnythefish says:

      ‘……with advanced tools at their disposal (that Mawson never had) such as near real-time satellite imaging of Antarctic sea ice, GPS navigation, on-board Internet, radar, and satellite communications, one wonders how these folks managed to get themselves stuck at all’.

      Maybe because they are so deep in denial they continued to believe their own climate models rather than the real world data 30 feet below their arses.


    • David Preiser (USA) says:

      It’s a religion. It’s way, way beyond anything based on proper science. Their religious belief compelled them to do it in spite of watching real-time satellite images of the ice closing in on them. Even devout Christian crab fishermen in Alaska, upon whom people like this look down, are smart enough to get the hell out of that situation, even when it means giving up tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.

      But these people are Warmists, and their livelihood will suffer no consequences. Gaia is testing their faith, that’s all. The BBC will see it the same way.


  18. OldBloke says:

    It looks like the left side are feeling a little uncomfortable with the phrase *Climate Change*. I heard today a new phrase which could well replace it and it is *Weather Change*. Same poison, different bottle. Heads up for it but it might be a one off, Lord help us. 8-(


    • OldBloke says:

      If anyone is travelling around the UK on the 6th Jan, beware of some severe weather coming our way. We have high pressure to the south and south east of the U.K. and an Atlantic low pressure system will get pushed across the U.K. with the storm centre running across Scotland. Very cold air to the north of it will sweep in behind the system which could show itself as snow in the north and West. With a predicted storm centre of 850 millibars, it will be windy to put it mildly. Keep an eye if you are travelling.


      • OldBloke says:

        Sorry, that should read 950 millibars.


        • starfish says:

          Sorry, that should read 950 millibars.

          phew! I was just off to build an ark!


          • therealguyfaux says:

            Oh– milli-“BARS”!

            For a hot minute there, I thought it said “milli-BANDS.”

            Of which, any number greater than that now existing portends nothing good.


  19. Bodo says:

    Yes, the boats stuck in the Antarctic ice as they search for evidence of global warming is just too delicious an irony.
    Apparently it is packed with journalists, including some from the Guardian and the BBC. No doubt they are highly embarrassed at the turn of events. They’ve been rather quiet, I’m sure if they hadn’t found ice it would be all over our screens.

    The Guardians readers’ comments on this are highly amusing, but are being deleted rapidly for daring to even mildly criticise global warming protagonists. One comment read “The captain saw the ice but the climate models said there shouldn’t be any. He didn’t want to be branded a denier, so on he sailed.”. It lasted 5 minutes and was deleted.