Confusion in the BBC about balance

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

The issue of the BBC and its search for balance on coverage of climate change was explored recently in the Guardian, with this owing at least some debt to skepticalscience.  It seems to me that the BBC’s problem lies in its confusion of three things:

[i] climate change itself – the evidence for change – the evidence for human agency in relation to the change,

[ii] its implications – informed projections about the physical implications of this (temperature rise / sea level rise / weather pattern change / etc) – and their likely direct effects on life (of all kinds), and

[iii] policy matters – what we might do about any or all of this through global co-operation / within the EU / as UK society / regionally / as families / as businesses and other organisations.

This confusion was evident in the recent inappropriate Radio 4 pairing of Lord Lawson, who understands policy and who's now famous for being opinionated, and Sir Brian Hoskins, who's a climate scientist of some distinction and a member of the UK committee on climate change.  BBC presenters are at their happiest when discussing policy, where everyone can have an opinion, and every opinion counts.  Thus they think they have balance in such discussions, where expertise meets opinion.  The trouble is that, through this, they foster the impression that there is an even split amongst climate scientists about the evidence for change, when there isn't.  Did they invite Lawson because they couldn't find a nay-saying climate scientist?  Or did they really want to have a policy discussion?  Did they know?

Any way, the Hoskins / Lawson combination rather got in the way of anyone learning very much about one of the most important issues of the day.  A pity.  If there were more proper scientists amongst BBC managers and editors this confusion might be less likely, and the public better informed.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Can the pro-business Economist now claim to be less confused about balance then the BBC? The current issue (8-14 March, pp. 66-67- 'Who pressed the pause button') has a policy-free tour through the complex interacting variables that may account for the slowdown in global average temperatures. The article concludes: " ... the planet's temperature rise on 'pause' looks temporary. Like the Terminator, global warming will be back".