Readers may remember the recent furore caused by the findings of an ‘independent review’ of the impartiality and accuracy of BBC science coverage commissioned for the BBC Trust. The story was covered on this blog as we pointed out the evident flaws with the reviewer and the review itself.
The review was conducted by a regular BBC guest and broadcaster – more BBC impartiality for you – the ‘genetics professor’ Prof Steve Jones. The BBC choose to describe Jones by his discipline, yet choose to play down that his genetics specialism is the snail. Perhaps it doesn’t sound as grand when put that way, so best to leave it out – easy for the masters of omission at the Beeb.
While Jones may be feted by some in the media for his ‘exceptional writing skills’ it seems there are some major flaws in his use of evidence and citation, which should be a matter of concern for a scientist. Perhaps Jones should have had peer-review process… As Harmless Sky brings to public attention, the BBC Trust has been forced to publish a ‘Clarification’ in which it has had to amend a passage in the review. As always it seems ‘correction’ is the hardest word at the BBC and admission of error must be avoided at any costs. The BBC Trust expains the problem:
On 8 August 2011 the Trust published an updated version of Professor Steve Jones’ independent review of the accuracy and impartiality of the BBC’s science coverage due to an ambiguity in the section on climate change. This reference was in the section on pages 71-72, immediately before Professor Jones discussed statements about climate change contained in two BBC programmes.
The Trust and Professor Jones now recognise that the passage as originally published could be interpreted as attributing statements made in those two programmes to Lord Lawson or to Lord Monckton. Neither programme specifically featured Lord Lawson or Lord Monckton and it was not Professor Jones’ intention to suggest that this was the case. Professor Jones has apologised for the lack of clarity in this section of his assessment, which has now been amended.
Typical weasel words constructed by the PR department. Suggesting the passage ‘could be interpreted as attributing statements’ and that there was merely a lack of clarity is absolute nonsense. The passage clearly attributed statements, exactly as intended.
It was not a clarification required from Jones, it was a correction, and that is what has been made. Harmless Sky carries the ‘before’ and ‘after’ passages for ease of comparison which show up the intentionally misleading statement by the BBC for what it is. As Tony, the author of Harmless Sky goes on to point out:
One can well understand why Lords Lawson and Monckton would have been a bit miffed. I sincerely hope that someone at the BBC Trust had the grace to blush and apologise, but the ‘clarification’ they’ve provided sounds rather graceless and grudging. Perhaps its a bit difficult to face up to the fact that you’ve published a review of accuracy costing £140,000 which is not only inaccurate but probably libellous too.
The estimable Bishop Hill, who has given this story the
CO2 oxygen of publicity, adds an important note about the Professor Jones’ evident relativism which demonstrates the lack of rigour applied in what amounts to a BBC hatchet job of its critics on the subject of climate change/global warming:
But even if we accept that the rise is all caused by man, it is instructive to observe the outrage with which Prof Jones greets a true (but incomplete) statement from Johnny Ball and then note his silence on say the Horizon programme in which incorrect statements were made about the relative contributions of mankind and volcanos to the atmosphere.
It is instructive indeed. The message from Professor Steve Jones is clear, you don’t have to be right as long as you’re part of the majority, the consensus if you will. You can get a pass for just about anything as long as you say what those holding the purse strings, and the keys to the broadcasting studio, want to hear.
At least one good thing has come from this farcical story – Jones has managed to torpedo his own credibility with independent thinkers, and people who examine evidence rather than accept lofty claims at face value. Long may that continue until facts replace increasingly flawed hypotheses.