500 Years Ago There Was 'Scientific Consensus' That the Earth Was Flat. Why Does the BBC (Which Devotes 46% of All Science Coverage to the Subject) Take the Same View on Global Warming?

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

500 Years Ago There Was 'Scientific Consensus' That the Earth Was Flat. Why Does the BBC (Which Devotes 46% of All Science Coverage to the Subject) Take the Same View on Global Warming?


Byline: DAVID ROSE

WHETHER the staff of the BBC, facing budget cuts and the loss of 3,000 jobs, will consider last week's BBC Trust Review of the corporation's science coverage as money well spent is doubtful: according to a spokeswoman, it cost [pounds sterling]140,000. Unfortunate as this is, the Review's wider impact is rather more pernicious.

On a superficial reading, the Review, by the London University biologist Steve Jones, looks dull and bureaucratic.

But beneath the surface it is an attempt to shut down debate and impose ideological conformity on a highly controversial issue - the extent and likely consequences of man-made global warming.

Why Professor Jones was thought a suitable person to conduct the Review at all is not a trivial question. Having long toiled in obscurity on the genetic makeup of snails, Jones owes his sudden metamorphosis into a 'media tart' (to use his own phrase) entirely to the BBC, which chose him to deliver the Reith Lectures in 1991.

Numerous further radio and TV appearances followed, and with them book sales of which he could not previously have dreamt.

It is also worth asking why the Trust decided to blow its money (a little under half of which went on Jones's fee) on examining its science reporting: there are surely other areas of public policy significance - immigration, for example - where a casual viewer might conclude that BBC coverage can be self-censoringly selective. Such subjects are uncomfortable, and for that very reason, an objective analysis of the way the corporation handles them is arguably overdue. But the real problem with the Jones Review is its bewilderingly misleading content. Jones writes that his own knowledge is 'remarkably broad, but fantastically shallow'. Presumably he meant this as a joke and yesterday the BBC Trust spokeswoman insisted it is 'a major piece of work, involving extensive research, consultation and content analysis'. If that is what the Trust believes, it has been fooled.

For its first 65 pages, the Review attains a tedium so intense it might be self-parody, and is mainly focused on the Byzantine BBC hierarchy. Then, under the heading 'Man-made global warming: a microcosm of false balance?' the document wakes up, and Jones's previously anodyne prose is suddenly flooded with passion.

Interviewed last week when the Review was published, this was the subject on which Jones dwelt, and it seems clear he sees this as the main point of the exercise.

The report contains a startling statistic: 46 per cent of all BBC science news stories deal with global warming, although, as Jones writes, this massively over-represents the tiny number of researchers who work on it compared to the thousands working in other fields.

But this grotesque skewing of emphasis is not Jones's beef. His problem is that the BBC gives far too much space 'to the views of a determined but deluded minority' - those he terms climate change 'deniers', whose views, he writes, should be seen as on a par with the conspiracy theories that claim 9/11 was a 'US government plot'.

Such individuals Jones sees as victims of a psychological 'syndrome'. Unfortunately, he goes on, awareness of the anathema such heresy represents has not yet 'percolated' throughout the BBC. With disgust, he cites a Panorama broadcast in one of last year's bitter freezes, which had the temerity to ask whether the science that predicted an imminent warm Armageddon was any longer valid.

In Jones's view, this is 'an exhausted subject', where only 'the pretence of debate' remains. The Beeb must now accept that 'the real discussion has moved on to what should be done to mitigate climate change' - by which, one presumes, he means vastly expensive energy taxes and investment in 'renewables' such as wind-farms.

Not the least surprising aspect of this thesis is the rarity with which BBC news correspondents do challenge warmist orthodoxy.

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500 Years Ago There Was 'Scientific Consensus' That the Earth Was Flat. Why Does the BBC (Which Devotes 46% of All Science Coverage to the Subject) Take the Same View on Global Warming?
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