BBC staff told to stop inviting cranks on to science programmes

By Sarah Knapton

 

BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’

The BBC Trust on Thursday published a progress report into the corporation’s science coverage which was criticised in 2012 for giving too much air-time to critics who oppose non-contentious issues.

The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

Some 200 staff have already attended seminars and workshops and more will be invited on courses in the coming months to stop them giving ‘undue attention to marginal opinion.’

“The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.

“Science coverage does not simply lie in reflecting a wide range of views but depends on the varying degree of prominence such views should be given.”

The Trust said that man-made climate change was one area where too much weight had been given to unqualified critics.

22 COMMENTS

    • I am trying get my head around the idea of Sean Hannity on BBC, or ABC, or CBC, speaking from a factual basis and without once going “goddidit,” and telling people like Sarah Palin that their opinions are to be listened to.

      Somehow I just can’t do it!

    • Well let’s hope they are being sent to science courses. Many so-called science journalists and reporters are virtually science illiterate and could use a course or two on basic physics, chemistry and biology. Also, on the philosophy and history of science, both of which are no less important than the science itself.

      • @ NearlyNakedApe

        Many so-called science journalists and reporters are virtually science illiterate and could use a course or two on basic physics, chemistry and biology. Also, on the philosophy and history of science, both of which are no less important than the science itself.

        Certainly in the past, many BBC “science correspondents” started off as motor racing correspondents, and then moved over into science.

        Some have a foot in media entertainment, and science camps, so look outstanding in their style and content.
        David Attenborough, Brian Cox, and Dara O’Briain come to mind.

        • Brian Cox is a physicist but I do get your point. Some people with journalistic or other backgrounds unrelated to science eventually do very well in science reporting. I think the key for success in this endeavour is interest and open-mindedness and of course, a little brains helps too.

          Ultimately, it’s up to the media organization to hold their journalists to high standards of reporting. People like David Attenborough who hold themselves to such high standards are alas not a majority in the business.

          As Richard Dawkins once said “You’re entitled to your own opinion but you’re not entitled to your own facts”. Newspaper editors, as well as radio and television programmers all over the world ought to reflect on this.

  1. “The Trust wishes to emphasise the importance of attempting to establish where the weight of scientific agreement may be found and make that clear to audiences,” wrote the report authors.

    Hopefully this will help sort out some of the “politically correct” reporting which gives equal weight to experts and air-heads to generate “controversy”!

    It probably wont affect the tabloids, or some commercial channels, which will still pander to their advertising sponsors.

  2. This could backfire; listen out now for cries of censorship.

    I think the best thing to do is send scientists on courses on how to debate outside the rarefied atmosphere of academe, and to carry out exposition of their discipline in the rough, tumble and glare of the media.

    I’ve heard some of these exchanges on the BBC and elsewhere, and far too often the individual with the specialist PhD has let the crank off the hook, when they could have simply asked their opponent for the source of their “evidence”, or, more bluntly, what qualifications they have to give forth on the subject at all.

    But no, the scientist is too often rendered silent by a phrase such as, what you’ve just said is pure guesswork and speculation. These non scientific individuals are well versed in the media, and almost invariably that’s the only reason they get away with it.

    When punched on the nose, it’s necessary to fight back. And of course for the most part the journalists aren’t qualified to moderate or referee the contest; and that’s what it is, a contest; a fight.

    Perhaps the BBC should organize a series of seminars like the ones so often held between believers and non believers in religion, so that scientists can have a good crack at the deniers.

    After all, this is a matter of scientific findings, not personal belief; which is as slick as snot on a doorknob, and next to impossible to pin down.

    The unscientific arguments could be well and truly exposed for what they are, while at the same time the wider public would benefit from learning about the science involved.

    Everyone would be a winner! Well, not everyone; the charlatans would come a cropper.

  3. The one on the right at the beginning was a maths teacher for a while at my school when I was very very young; I’ve got a school photo in which I’m looking bored and bewildered, and he’s snoozing.

    I don’t know who the one on the left at the beginning is.

    Why didn’t the one on the right at the beginning, ask the one on the left at the beginning, to repeat anything he’d been recorded saying for later comparison, and then likewise, ask him to turn the page after he’d written stuff down and write it again?

    I think that the one on the right was probably too courteous and sensitive a fellow to have have asked the one on the left to have done such a thing.

    It was indeed a different and more gentle age and that would have been cruel.

    I’m reminded of Daniel Dennett’s language experiment at Oxford university, when he asked the audience to repeat a word he’d said in English which they didn’t understand but mimicked perfectly, before being asked by him to repeat some gobbledygook, which they failed completely to do because there was no framework or pattern to go by.

    The video is entertaining but, also a little sad I think.

    • I recall on viewing a more complete video that Sir Patrick did point out to the nut that his Venusian writing of a particular phrase was different to an earlier scribble with supposedly the same meaning, to which the nut replied without a flinch that venusian is different every time you write it! Patrick Moore was a real gent and far too polite to call the nut a nut.

    • Mr DArcy Jul 9, 2014 at 4:55 pm

      Was it Brian Cox who said on the BBC, words to the effect of, “in the interests of balance, it should be said that astrology is nonsense”. How right he was.

      On their joint BBC “Stargazing Live” astronomy programme, Brian Cox replied to Dara’s comment “astrology is rubbish!, with “In the interests of balance, it should be said that astrology is nonsense”.

      http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/jan/24/1

      Professor Brian Cox and Dara O’Briain have unleashed the wrath of Britain’s astrologers with their comments about the ancient art on BBC2′s “Stargazing Live” show, with the result that the Astrological Association of Great Britain have started a petition they plan to send to the BBC.

      The section of the program that caused the fuss has been described in truly harrowing terms by ‘respected astrologer’ Angela Cornish, in an e-mail that was published by the SkyScript blog:

      .. . .. .. . . .

      Since then, TV’s most clean-shaven male Professor has become a bit of a lightning rod for astrologically-guided criticism, and the Astrological Association of Great Britain’s new petition names him personally:

      The Association will be requesting that the BBC make a public apology and a statement that they do not support the personal views of Professor Brian Cox or Dara O’Briains on the subject of astrology. We also request that the BBC will commit to making a fair and balanced representation of astrology when aired in the future.

      On the second sentence at least I think we can all agree. I’d love to see the BBC give a fair and balanced representation of astrology. In fact sod it, let’s extend that to all newspapers as well.

      Such a representation would depict astrology as a pseudoscience with no real basis in evidence that was already being ridiculed in the Dark Ages, and note that after thousands of years astrologers still can’t produce statistically meaningful results.

      Brian Cox also repeated it (HORRORS!)

      The hackles of Britain’s astrologers were raised last year, when Cox took a moment during his Wonders of the Solar System series to explain to the public that “astrology is a load of rubbish,” a statement which pretty much echoes the scientific consensus on the matter, which says that, “astrology is a load of rubbish.” It’s a position that was first reached by Islamic scholars at least 650 years ago, and has been studiously ignored by such great minds as Jonathan Cainer ever since.

      These scientists just keep upsetting and “offending”, those self-important pseudo-science muppets and quacks!

  4. The report found that there was still an ‘over-rigid application of editorial guidelines on impartiality’ which sought to give the ‘other side’ of the argument, even if that viewpoint was widely dismissed.

    There’s your problem right there.

    The BBC can’t tell the difference between an argument and nonsense.

    As the institution which, more than any other, has promoted relativism the only surprise is that anyone is surprised.

    Peace.

  5. BBC journalists are being sent on courses to stop them inviting so many cranks onto programmes to air ‘marginal views’

    This comment makes no sense.

    People with marginal views are sometimes right. They’re on the margins because they’re thought leaders.

    These are the last people we should be shoving off a ‘democratic’ society’s biggest soap box.

    The BBC wishes to atone for one fault by introducing another; it wants to follow its commercial cousins in ‘du-media’ by promoting pop culture over critical thinking?

    Why is it that there’s never a shortage of idiots.

    Peace.

    • Stephen of Wimbledon Jul 10, 2014 at 8:38 am

      BBC journalists are
      being sent on courses to stop
      them inviting so many cranks
      onto programmes to air
      ‘marginal views’

      This comment makes no sense.

      People with marginal views are sometimes right. They’re on the margins because they’re thought leaders.

      They are only thought-leaders on rare occasions.

      I would hope that the BBC staff are being trained to recognise the difference between challenging new peer-reviewed studies, and “marginal” crank views from the likes of Hovind, Ham, homoeopaths, anti-vaxers, Cornish, and the astrologers, who THINK they are thought leaders!

  6. I wonder how they will balance this item?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28274531

    Assisted dying: Ex-Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey backs bill

    Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey says he will support legislation that would make it legal for terminally ill people in England and Wales to receive help to end their lives.

    Lord Carey writes in the Daily Mail that he has dropped his opposition to the Assisted Dying Bill “in the face of the reality of needless suffering”.

    But the current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has called the bill “mistaken and dangerous”.

    Peers will debate the bill on Friday.

    ‘Not anti-Christian’

    Tabled by Labour peer Lord Falconer, the legislation would make it legal for adults in England and Wales to be given assistance ending their own life. It would apply to those with less than six months to live.

    Two doctors would have to independently confirm the patient was terminally ill and had reached their own, informed decision to die.

    Some 110 peers are already listed to speak when the House of Lords debates the private members bill on Friday.

    It seems that becoming old, and maybe sick, helps to counter faith-thinking on needless suffering to please sky fairies, after all!

  7. Looking into my crystal ball, I foresee a big football match coming up on Sunday ! There will be two mighty teams playing and one team will be wearing stripes The teams will come from two different continents, and four wise men will see fair play. The crystal ball is a bit hazy, but it tells me the winning goal(s) will be scored by someone whose name begins with an ‘M’. It could be Muller, it could be Messi, – it’s all very vague. Sorry I can’t be more precise !

    (In the interest of ‘balance’ it should be pointed out that I have just written a load of cobblers !)

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