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BBC science review

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Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 13:00 UK time, Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The BBC Trust has published a review of science coverage across the whole of the BBC, carried out by Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, with content analysis provided by a team from Imperial College London.

BBC science web screengrab

 

I'm delighted to say that his "first and most important conclusion" is that the BBC's output is widely praised for its breadth and depth, its professionalism, and its clear, accurate reporting.

But Professor Jones found that the coverage could be improved in some significant respects, a view endorsed by the Trust.

His report suggests there is too little cooperation between the various parts of the BBC that cover science, and that news coverage relies on too limited a pool of commentators and sources - creating the risk that we give our audiences an incomplete view of developments in the scientific world.

The report also says we should make sure that we achieve the right balance between well-established scientific fact and opinion. Otherwise, Professor Jones argues, there is a danger of the BBC giving undue prominence to critics on the fringes of what is actually a settled scientific debate.

That doesn't mean that in future we will, for example, not interview climate change sceptics.

But we must continue to take care to reflect the balance of the debate in any scientific controversy. There will be occasions when a scientific story should be presented as a debate purely and simply within the scientific community.

There will be others when it is appropriate to broadcast a range of views, including some from non-experts, because science cannot be divorced from the social, political and cultural environment in which it operates.

When we do that, across all our coverage we will have to work harder to explain to our audiences the background of contributors - for example, whether they are scientists, policy-makers, lobbyists or whether they are taking an ethical stand.

The College of Journalism has agreed to help us explore some of these issues in the year ahead.

In addition, I can confirm that we will be looking to appoint our first Science Editor for BBC News whose task will be to bring a new level of analysis to science coverage, strengthen our contacts, and help us to take an overview our coverage relative to the weight of scientific work.

Fran Unsworth is head of Newsgathering at BBC News.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    It appears to me that when science is covered by BBC News it is nearly always based on press release regurgitation. The same goes for most technology news.

    Unfortunately I predict that if this article gets many comments they will predominantly be from the climate change brigades (both sides) and I can see how this has become a constant drain on any science staff at the BBC.

  • Comment number 2.

    Will this report be released for public viewing?
    Steve Jones is a fine writer and I would be very interested to read his opinions on this matter.

    I also second comment #1. Science is much more than just "climate change" and the environment, but I often think that many at the BBC don't realise this.

  • Comment number 3.

    Reading the report I am amazed, and concerned, at the criticisms made about the coverage of science in BBC News programs. Too narrow, to much based on press releases (75%) it said, relies on too few journals, too much in the SE, BBC News journos dont use the internet efficiently, uses the same narrow range of experts too often, is too reactive and not original...I could go on.

    So this is not a clean bill of health, far from it. It is an inditement of lazy journalism.

    As for the BBC's reporting of climate science, the report is a whitewash.

    Just compare the BBC's reporting of climate science to that done by the science editor of the GWPF. It's science editor (writing in the section called the observatory) is highly knowledgeable, close to the science, and is everything that the BBC's reporting isn't. It is almost embarrassing for the BBC

    So, I know where I would go for a BBC Science Editor.

  • Comment number 4.

    The former newsreader, Peter Sissons, claims in his autobiography that the BBC Trust report was commissioned in January 2010 as a response to blog campaigns by self-proclaimed ‘sceptics’ against the Corporation’s coverage of climate change. But one major response to this important report should be for the BBC to make stronger efforts to uphold the public interest by challenging the inaccurate and misleading claims of bloggers, campaigners and politicians who reject and deny the findings of mainstream science for ideological reasons. The BBC is required by law not to sacrifice accuracy for impartiality in the coverage of controversial scientific issues such as climate change. Yet, it is well known that there are particular BBC presenters and editors who allow self-proclaimed climate change ‘sceptics’ to mislead the public with unsubstantiated and inaccurate statements. For instance, the BBC TV programme ‘The Daily Politics’ recently allowed one ‘sceptic’ to assert, unchallenged, that “pensioners will literally die” as result of the UK’s climate change policies, and another to wrongly imply that the rise of nearly 40 per cent in atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide might be due to natural causes. While the BBC has many excellent reporters, it is time for editors and presenters to stop giving an easy ride to those who mislead the public over scientific issues such as climate change.

  • Comment number 5.

    Glad to see that Prof Jones doesn't mince his words when it comes to climate change deniers.

  • Comment number 6.

    my mistake, I didn't see the hypertext colour on my screen...

  • Comment number 7.

    "There will be others when it is appropriate to broadcast a range of views, including some from non-experts, because science cannot be divorced from the social, political and cultural environment in which it operates."

    This is all very well but the major failure so far has been the inability to distinguish fact from fiction, and opinion from observation. If this is not done the viewer/listener understandably gets confused and ultimately ill-informed. This does a huge disservice to the license fee payer and the concept of an informed citizenship overall. From now on I would expect a far higher standard in making absolutely clear when scientific weight of evidence is being introduced as against a 'belief' or an 'agenda'.

  • Comment number 8.

    Having now read the report and the annex, I am disappointed that there does not seem to be any understanding of whether engineering is distinct from science or not and this is further confused by the inclusion of technology in some catagories. I think the BBC's coverage of engineering is pretty good and having been the source of some of those stories over the last year this pleases me no end.

    However, the report itself seems to suggest that engineering is a 'profession' rather than a 'topic' like science, but is keen to claim all the engineering stories as 'science'. If the BBC really thinks engineering is something separate from science, can we look forward to the BBC Board comissioning a similar study of the BBC's coverage of engineering?

    By the way - my uneasyness of engineering being wrapped up with technology in some parts of the report is due to the BBC website technology section seeming to be exclusively about ICT - which is really only a very small sub-section of technology.

  • Comment number 9.

    '4. At 14:34 20th Jul 2011, Bob Ward - The BBC is required by law not to sacrifice accuracy for impartiality in the coverage of controversial scientific issues such as climate change.

    One would have hoped that it would not have needed a law for an objective, professional news organisation with a remit to inform (and entertain... not mutually exclusive) to see merit in accuracy and impartiality.

    But there you go. Laws can be made to be broken.

    As for what is 'well known' vs. what is tribal opinion, that seems still to be in the eye of the beholder.

    With luck, the new Science Editor will be able to walk a line based on actual accuracy and impartiality in science, as opposed to what some seem to feel it should be.

    By definition, it really should not be too hard. In theory.

  • Comment number 10.

    "science cannot be divorced from the social, political and cultural environment in which it operates"

    Of course it can, and it must be. Science is about what is true, policy and culture are about how we respond to that. The moon is simply not made of green cheese, and no policy decision or cultural phenomenon will make it be made of green cheese, regardless of how much we might want it to be.

    Everyone's entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

  • Comment number 11.

    With its relentless promotion of the Planetary Fever and its silence on Climategate - except to cover the whitewashes - the BBC demonstrated its hopeless bias for all to see.

    Humpty BBC fell off the wall and, even if they actually tried to become more objective and credible - which they won't - all this wolf crying has had its inevitable impact on its credibility.

  • Comment number 12.

    I see you've managed to stir the zealots on all sides of the debate with this. But the fact that Geneticist Steve Jones felt it was necessary to talk utter tosh about climate science was very poor judgement on behalf of the BBC.

    Climate science isn't fact or fiction, it's an on-going scientific investigation. The fact a sound bite was allowed out stating it was all "sorted" 25 years ago I find abhorrent. NOTHING has been decided. And while we are on the subject, science is about consensus; it's about facts. If 100 hundred scientists stated the world was flat and 1 said it was round, would it be flat? No. Because empirical evidence proves the 1 correct. So it will be case with climate science... but not for a long time. There are far to many unknowns in the models, something the BBC reported on in "Material World" just two to three weeks back.

    I'm currently heading a statistic analysis of the BBC science website from 2000 until January this year. Early results show a clear bias. So I wonder how Steve Jones got his results. I will of course be sharing my data... Unlike a certain over Prof Jones. :-)

  • Comment number 13.

    The report says that BBC News science coverage is:
    • Too narrow.
    • 75% based on press releases.
    • Only 1 in 8 reports based on press releases had an 'independent' quote.
    • Mostly from the South East.
    • Needs better contacts with scientists.
    • Is far too often reactive and not original.
    • Rarely searches for stories of its own.
    • Does not use the internet as well as it should.
    • Has an over reliance on a narrow base of sources of scientific information.
    • Mostly relies on a handful of journals.
    • Uses the same experts for quotes too often.
    • Is not representing the wider world of science.

    This is a damning indictment of the BBC’s narrow and limited science journalism.
    The term ‘consensus’ doesn’t belong to the world of science, but to politics. There is a consensus on green vested interest within the establishment which the actions of the BBC aim to protect. The comment of Bob Ward reflects this as he is linked to carbon traders who rob us all by putting a price on CO2. This is about our right to collectively own the atmosphere. The green elite are essentially privatising our right to use the atmosphere free of charge. There was a great out cry over the proposed selling off of Britain’s forests - why not for CO2 and the atmosphere?

    Nowadays I, like many, no longer watch the BBC as it cannot be a source of accurate science news reporting as long as green vested interest are in government. I prefer to get my science news uncensored from the GWPF on the web.

  • Comment number 14.

    Surely a review of impartiality needs to be done by someone who is impartial themselves? The prof says the BBC should "take into account what he regards as "non-contentious" stories, which surely is just his way of ensuring his worldview is the only view given expression by the BBC?

    He says, "undue attention is given to marginal opinion" well that's just his opinion and again is simply to silence those who may disagree with his worldview.

    That Prof Steve concludes that the BBC science coverage is in "a healthy state" simply underlines that by & large the BBC share the same worldview. Prof Steve just wants to crush any scintilla of expression that does not conform with this view.

    As a Roman Catholic I profess the Creation of the world by God, a profession shared with over a billion fellow catholics and as many muslims as well as Jews. Yet Prof Steve says "creation flies in the face of the whole of science". So is origin of the universe & all life a non-contentious fact of science, or is it highly contentious to systematically prevent the expression of a creation based view of science?

    Just on the numbers Prof Steve has got this wrong a handful of materialist scientists v billions of people of Judeo Christian and Islamic faith. Yet the prof thinks they shoould recieve no attention as being "marginal" in opinion as defined by him!

  • Comment number 15.

    You know what you could do to improve the accuracy of the science on the BBC websites? Employ a b####y scientist.

    As for accuracy of your reporting- it is a running joke in the scientific field that the media wouldn't be able to accuratley report a scientific story if their lives depended on it. I see nothing different here on the BBC. IN fact the systematic and institutionalised bias that is evident here at the BBC is appaling.

    Accurate scientific reporting? Don't make me laugh.

  • Comment number 16.

    Comment 14 by daypass

    Professing something does not make it true. You need to provide evidence. A "holy" book will not do.

    Neither is something true just because lots of people believe it - otherwise the world would only have started to orbit the Sun quite recently (a fact that the church denied on pain of death and torture for many, many years).

  • Comment number 17.

    the main theme of this report is true. for when you have young graduates that present programs on the universe and all they can do is come up with probabilities and say that something might happen in so many years i do not can that an informative program as it is not providing the viewer with a definite answer all it is saying is that this or that might or might not happen it do's not give any kind of answer to any of the questions asked in the program so the viewer is not any the wiser

  • Comment number 18.

    There is I think a fundamental error in the idea of a Review of BBC Science coverage and that is that there is such a thing as an absolute scientific 'fact' in the way that two plus two equals 4. Mathematics has some areas in which there are well formed almost axiomatic or definitive facts - take number for example: generally defined via the notion of sets to provide a formal definition of some idea of the counting relationships within the set we call number.

    However the further one stays from abstract mathematics the less 'definitive' science becomes and the more controversial, and that is also true for much of modern mathematics. Physics the nearest subject to mathematics grows and develops its model of the real physical world as does mathematics. There will always be uncertainty in all sciences even mathematics - that is the point I am making and to look for the 'right' answer is and will always remain a philosophical inexactitude and essentially wrong.

    What this leads me to is that to portray science as accurate and right is, and will always be, misleading and inaccurate. I, for example like the multiverse model of physical existence (that is a model that does not exclude more than one big bang) I appeal to the argument that as we already know, in that we have evidence of, that there can be such a thing as an event horizon then just because we have yet to or may be unable to observe evidence of a multiverse that should not be taken as evidence that the real best model of physical existence is not one based around the multiverse idea. This all gets very complex very quickly in that it joins with the physicists desire to formulate one consistent model for the whole of physical existence from the forces through to particles and such ideas as mass (hence the pursuit of the Higgs boson). I also like the mathematical model of 11 dimensional representations of everything - think of it as 10 dimensional super strings - if that is not too hard - translated to become a plane or brane (M (brane) theory).

    Getting back to my point - just becasue I, and a few thousand physicists around the planet think these ideas for a model of existence may have some degree of probable accuracy and predictive value does not make us 'right or indeed 'wrong'.

    These theories did not exist a few years ago they have evolved and so if they are 'right' that which is correct has changed too. This development and change or paradigm shift is a (well studied) sociological process where, individuals hold onto ideas for as long as they have already held them - is a reasonably successful model of how things change.

    Which brings me to Climate Change (seeing as you wrote about it and for no other reason!). The problem with Climate Change is that it is in a period of sociological evolution - the people involved behave politically rather than scientifically! There can be no admission by the AGW clique that their theory is not absolutely correct lest it collapses completely. Where as the two (or more) other groups that adopt the other views that there is no such thing as climate change and the middle way group that see a better explanation being that climate change is not to do with man driven CO2 change, but is happening, and is due to, something different - likely to be the changes in solar radiation as evidence by sun spots (hence those people see the probability is quite high that the planet will experience another Maunder Minimum in the short term but then solar radiation will increase and than planet will warm again. All of these arguments and positions are scientific and have predictive value - however for policy makers the ameliorative actions vary between none to cutting CO2 or space mirrors.

    Get used to it that is what science is about!

  • Comment number 19.

    It's all been said on both sides of the Climate debate here. I know where I stand - right behind every word announced here by Robert Leather. We all know about BBC bias. Consider this: MORE ON THE SUNSPOT STORY
    Auntie – your slip is showing
    Posted on June 18, 2011 by Verity Jones

    http://diggingintheclay.wordpress.com/2011/06/18/auntie-%E2%80%93-your-slip-is-showing/#more-2114
    Time for the Beeb to rethink its appearance on at least one aspect of science reporting.

    I was gobsmacked by Tuesday’s news predicting a sunspot cycle shutdown. I mean, yes I have been following the science, theories and speculation about the quiet sun on Watts up with That and Tallbloke’s Talkshop, but it was a big shock to hear the announcement. It’s been well covered in the MSM – The Telegraph: New Little Ice Age in store? – The Daily Mail: Earth facing a mini-Ice Age ‘within ten years’ due to rare drop in sunspot activity (commendably discussing much of the science in detail) – The Guardian: Solar cycle may go into ‘hibernation’, scientists say.

    I did catch a 20 second report on the Thursday morning 8am news on BBC Radio 4:

    “Scientists in the United States say the sun appears to be entering a period of hibernation, with far fewer sunspots than have been expected. A previous quiet episode in the middle of the 17thC is said by some experts to have led to cooler temperatures on Earth.”

    No more than an understated sound bite. No experts trotted out to discuss it, nothing. Read more at link at head of this comment

  • Comment number 20.

    comment 16 Ivan

    Ivan, Perhaps I didn't make my point clearly. I was not trying to convert you to the truth of creation. I was pointing out that the report writer Professor Steve Jones is not unbiased when he makes the remarks that he did in his report. It seems to me that rather than following the evidence Professor Jones wants to rule out whole classes of phenomena because they do not fit his "faith" position. Hence he wishes to make faith based value judgements on what is or is not a "marginal opinion" and what should or should not be held "contentious". It should not be the case that the only philosophy of science that is allowed space at the BBC is metaphysical naturalism.

  • Comment number 21.

    John_from_Hendon wrote:
    There is I think a fundamental error in the idea of a Review of BBC Science coverage ...etc. Probably the most balanced comment I have ever read on the BBC website! Just brilliant John. If only the BBC and other writers of dogma might understand this point of view - then the world of non consensus might see what the truth is. There are ALWAYS three sides to every question,,, My side, your side, and the truth.

  • Comment number 22.

    BBC coverage is poor and biased on climate change and just poor on other subjects.

    Your journalists do not understand science - so why not start over and see if you can get scientists to do journalism?

  • Comment number 23.

    daypass - I'm afraid you're using the well worn and hopelessly inadequate arguments of cranks everywhere - Steve Jones does not reject thing "because they do not fit his "faith" position" he rejects them because there is no evidence to support them. Science is not about having faith in anything or anyone, it's about making observations and testing hypotheses, preferably to destruction. A scientist is someone who changes their conclusions to match the evidence, a fool starts with his conclusion, and believes it in regardless of the facts.

  • Comment number 24.

    Bob Ward (#4) is a paid PR man for a green organisation.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    I believe the BBC's charter is [int al] "to entertain, inform and educate". In general you do a good job but I would appreciate a bit more depth in the science.

    Just to get into the green discussion...! (1) Methane (e.g. from cows) is some 20 times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide; so why aren't we all vegetarians or even vegans?!! and
    (2) In Wales they are planning to erect more wind turbines when there is surfeit of potential hydro power (e.g. water mills used in woollen and corn grinding industries years ago)
    Discuss...

  • Comment number 27.

    Re 19. Daviid_Dublin:

    It's your non-BBC sources that are the ones misreporting and sensationalizing that news (with the exception of the Guardian perhaps which makes it clear the scientists aren't predicting a little ice age - compare that to the title of the Daily Mail one). The BBC did cover this, but in an accurate and measured way.

    As far as the science is concerned there is no little ice age gonna happen in 10 years and the solar scientists that performed that study did not suggest there would be.

    The "little ice age" attachment came from global warming skeptics. Global warming skeptics have for a few years been pushing a little side project of fantasizing about the world cooling, which includes pointing at cold weather events and predicting the world is going to cool over coming decades. Why do they do this? Because it's the opposite of global warming and they really don't like the idea of global warming so they choose to promote the complete opposite. Pretty dumb but there you go.

    Notice your sources that push the ice age stuff are 2 global warming skeptic blogs and the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, who have probably jumped on the subject for sensationalist reasons (omg an ice age!) even though they do themselves have global warming skeptic tendancies.

    Of course if you read the BBC science pages you would have found out that scientists don't expect the quiet sun to plunge the world into a little ice age (how it affects UK weather is another question though). I even think News Night covered it.

  • Comment number 28.

    ps: Dear 'Editors'. Small 'projection', based on 'historical data' (mostly not modded out): Closing for further comments, especially when promising replies to questions or interaction, which then are spared from materialising, can be viewed as ironic. At best.

    When claiming impartiality and openness to scientific rigour, a joke.

  • Comment number 29.

    '27. At 10:14 21st Jul 2011, quake
    I even think News Night covered it.'


    Even? You think?

    Covered it up, more like.

    It's like saying this 'report' was even given top billing approval in a press release from Greenpeace.

    Newsnight even reported this a while ago:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9383598.stm

    Lately, not so much. They seem to have lost their Marbles. Can't think why.

    I recall it was also home to 'experiments' conducted to suit Mr. 'Science is settled' Miliband.

    Science is not served by a selective edit suite overseen by a misguided management with political puppet masters.

  • Comment number 30.

    The report is remarkable for its bias and failure to understand or even attempt to address the issues related to climate change.

    Jones shows his prejudice right away by talking about astrology in the climate section and referring to sceptics by the abusive term 'deniers'.
    He makes false claims of a coordinated response of complaints.
    He completely misrepresents the opinions of Bjorn Lomborg (or perhaps the BBC programme he is referring to did).
    He refers to the submission from Montford and Newbery briefly and dismissively, but completely ignores the long list of examples of BBC bias on the issue, such as the Newsnight story that edited an Obama speech to make him say something about climate change that he in fact ever said, and the false BBC claim that scientists were being offered thousands of pounds to criticise the IPCC.

  • Comment number 31.

  • Comment number 32.

    So basically we are saying that there will be more censorship on the climate change debate, and other scientific areas too. Worth remembering that when the BBC sets about making a science based programme the censorship starts with the selection of participants. Whenever I have been approached by a BBC researcher it is clear as to what opinion or standpoint they want me to express. This is the moment of elimination and it continues from there. And oh dear, we have this tired dichotomy between opinion and settled scientific facts. It is time for big changes in the BBC, which we will not see.

  • Comment number 33.

    An amazing piece of self-praise from the organisation that brought us the Panorama fiasco over WiFi. Looks like the actual report says there is more to worry about than to celebrate.

    The general news media as a whole do not understand science and indeed, the scientific method is at odds with journalistic processes and traditions. To say that science "cannot be divorced from the social, political and cultural environment in which it operates" is only true of historical analysis. It is instructive to look back and see how the absolutists have treated scientists over the centuries. Beyond that, Fran's assertion is tosh: science has always had to separate itself from these environments in order to progress. There's a great Poul Anderson sci-fi story about a race who can't develop their technology or their society because their religion forbids the depiction of circles; so they never invent the wheel.

  • Comment number 34.

    30. At 12:30 21st Jul 2011, SamuelPickwick - completely ignores the long list of examples of BBC bias on the issue, such as the Newsnight story that edited an Obama speech to make him say something about climate change that he in fact ever said

    Ah... BBC... and especially, excuse me... even Newsnight 'editorial'.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3zhe1jIcFc

    That's once in the can. I forgot about pre-production.

    32. At 12:39 21st Jul 2011, ProfPhoenix - Whenever I have been approached by a BBC researcher it is clear as to what opinion or standpoint they want me to express.

    Kinda got it all neatly wrapped up, don't they?

  • Comment number 35.

    One of the major issues that the report seems to ignore is the lack of science on the BBC as a whole.

    Other than a very limited and quickly declining coverage on the BBC website and even more limited coverage on BBC New24 there is next to no serious science on the BBC.

    How the report will effect the partisan and rather biased reporting by the BBC on green issues will be interesting to see. It might absolve the BBC of the need to report AGW sceptic views but no doubt the partisan support for wind and wave renewables will continue even in the face of sensible scientific scepticism.

    There might well be some justification for sidelining the climate sceptics in the face of massive scientific evidence but what of the almost universal support and partisan reporting of renewables and the “green” ideology that runs counter to almost every scientific study produced?


    If we are going down the “science evidence is paramount” route then the green environmentalist lobby standpoint on replacing fossil fuels with renewables must surely also be sidelined, and properly put into the crackpot group along with the flat earthers and intelligent design.

  • Comment number 36.

    For me, the take home message from Prof Jones report seems to be that for the contentious science topics, the BBC is not finding the best critics. The principal investigator (and corresponding author) is probably not going to volunteer the most penetrating criticisms of their own work, even though they may not personally have done the work. Neither is a press release, nor other scientists who work in their lab. A co-author/collaborating scientist from another institution can often provide a different, but non-dissenting, explanation of the science. Other scientists known to the journalist may not wish to be drawn on subjects outside of their own realm of expertise, so where are the best critics to be found? If the story is about genetic crop-modifications or nuclear power then you can always phone up Green-Peace. They'll give you an opinion. In fact I can save you a phone call and tell you right now what their opinion will be. It can be a difficult problem.


    I'm glad that Professor Jones mentioned Ben Goldacre because he's a great example of a national newspaper columnist/critic with a good scientific mind. (The closure of the News of the World hasn't much changed the general situation). As others have noted, Ben Goldacre is a scientist and medical professional who does journalism, not a journalist writing about science and medicine. Ultimately there is no substitute for doing the “leg-work” on a subject and educating yourself. That is one of the most important principles behind people studying for a Ph.D. (the scientists “union card”). If a topic is very difficult to understand, it is helpful to remember some basic questions and principles. The best science makes readily testable predictions. Ask the questions “What specific predictions are being made? And when would this happen? Has it been done? Did it happen?” (Simple. In theory, as poster #9 correctly says.)

    Now, lets take a well known, real world example of scientific predictions proclaimed in the press world wide. Predictions made about a decade before the end of the last century. These predictions certainly helped shape some fiscal policies of western governments, especially regarding the particular field of scientific endeavour. Yes, you guessed it. It's the sequencing of the human genome. Announced in the 1980's, first draft completed by the turn of the century. The predominant story I read in the popular press and beyond, was that it was going to open up a treasure chest of information, benefiting the human race through improved medicine and new drugs. Now, more than a decade later, I ask “Has it happened?” No. But I thought that long beforehand. Not strictly being a geneticist (let alone a famous scientist), who would have believed me any way? There was, in fact, no shortage of minority, dissenting opinions among scientists (geneticists and non-geneticists), but they weren't labelled “deniers” in those days. Don't get me wrong, it was, is, and shall continue to be an important scientific mile stone. But some of the predictions made may never come true and those that do may take a long time, and not happen in the way predicted. Yet if we now went looking for people to answer those key questions, you may well find fewer volunteers than you did then,or that THEY didn't actually make those predictions. And if you are able to quote their exact words showing they did, they may point out to you how it was that you came to misinterpret what they were really predicting. Or that “it did come true” but “a bit less than we said”.
    Now. What other scientific predictions that came to prominence in the last decade of the 20th century can you think of?

    There. And I managed all that without mentioning you-know-what.

  • Comment number 37.

    LabMunkey

    You say the BBC News should employ someone who is a scientist. They tried that. The best science reporter the BBC ever had was Dr David Whitehouse. He certainly knew his stuff and I see he writes about science and the media for the GWPF and puts the BBC to shame I say. I still hear him on the radio and saw him on Sky News where he was on for hours and hours on the day of the Japanese volcano giving a masterclass of explaining earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear reactors. That day bhe demolished the BBC's response.

    He looks too young to have retired. The BBc could do no better than ask him to return, IMHO.

  • Comment number 38.

    Well, if you are prepared to take sides.... faaaaaaar apart, at least the money seems good.

    http://junkscience.com/2011/07/21/bloomberg-to-give-greens-50-million-for-anti-coal-efforts/

    (I am aware that there is all sorts of funding every which way, but the spread can often be editted out).

  • Comment number 39.

    So i suppose that Galileo might not get much airtime if he could be around.

  • Comment number 40.

    I think the BBC should merge their Science and Religion departments to help cut costs.

  • Comment number 41.

    #40.Kit Green wrote:

    "I think the BBC should merge their Science and Religion departments to help cut costs."

    Funny farm stuff!

    Try this: Does AGW have more or less predictive value than the prognostications of Nostradamus?

    AGW is rather like badger culling as a solution to TB in cattle - a creature of pseudo-scientific fashion!

    At least sun spot variability is reasonable well recorded along with rather less well recorded climate data. The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) of 1645 to 1715 is also congruent with recorded colder than usual conditions - that is there is some correlation between the variation in the output of the major heat source for our planet and changes in planetary temperature and this is backed by a wealth of records of cold weather phenomena such as the freezing of the Thames. Last time I looked at what the CO2 laughingly mob call data they could not explain it at all - they just tried to pooh-pooh the well recorded and extensive phenomenological records.

    You are of course appealing to religion to support climate change as you have lost the factual argument and can think of no other way of doing so - this is why you thought it a fun jape to call for the merging of science and religion - back to pre Renaissance/Leonardo times! What unmitigated rubbish!

  • Comment number 42.

    I know nothing of the science of Global Warming but the BBC's reporting has always left me sceptical. Why is it consistantly reported as being only a negative change? Surely one would expect as many positive as negative outcomes.
    I am just as sceptical about the reporting on the economey. If Government spending is financed three parts taxation and one part borrowing then, effectively, taxpayers are running an additional credit card on behalf of the Government. Where is any mention of the taxpayer's increasing credit card debt when the BBC gives air time to every Public Service Union Representative?

  • Comment number 43.

    Ironic, isn't it, that this report praising the BBCs science output is released in the same week that the BBC start to air a science programme fronted by Richard "The Hamster" Hammond?

  • Comment number 44.

    I have a quite different aspect of climate to consider, which needs a technical analysis to be related with some urgency by the BBC.
    .
    To me, there seems to be no satisfactory account of the precise effects of an artificial modification of the climate of the UK in winter mornings, by means of the proposed change to summertime of an extra hour on the clocks to Central European Time instead of "GMT" or Universal Coordinated Time 2.
    .
    My main complaint is the apparent absence of a clear statement concerning the effects of starting the mornings in Winter unusually one hour earlier for the rush hour (and both starts for worktime and schooltime) - all in an artificially increased morning darkness by the use of summertimeon the clocks. The latter is to such an extent that sunrise in Northern Ireland will be one hour later in January at 09:52am CET in Londonderry - compared to last January at 08:52am GMT.
    .
    My experience of reported conditions over 7 years in SW Spain - always with summertime of CET on the clocks in Winter, plus the findings of the Independent National Commission in Madrid (ARHOE) on the current starting times of both work and school schedules in Spain, suggest that there are some disturbing influences on not only the daily efficiency of performance on continually being awakened in the hours before the general starting time of 08:00 hours CET (before 07:00 hours on the sunclock - or that civilised time used previously on clocks in Winter) - but also an obvious increase in the hazards incurred during an earlier starting session each morning - which I have not yet seen analysed by ROSPA and Greenpeace relative to previous "normal" rush hour mornings in the UK.
    .
    Reports on the influences of the lighter evenings only, appear to contradict the analysis and findings by the Independent Commission in Spain for precisely the same imposition of one hour of summertime CET in Winter.

    W E G Plumtree,
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]
    Spain
    21 / VII / 2011.

  • Comment number 45.

    One positive.

    I've just noticed the appellation and extent of context used: 'Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, with content analysis provided by a team from Imperial College London.'

    Suitably courteous, and impressive.

    Now, will this be maintained in all future 'reporting'?

    Or will honourifics and institutional back-up be subject to the same interesting new 'value judgements' we seem to need to get used to, where a person in the room at an awarded institution becomes a Nobel Prize Winner, but a full-blown, fully qualified (relevantly) academic is lucky to get more than a surname?

    As it suits.

  • Comment number 46.

    'the BBC's output is widely praised for its breadth and depth, its professionalism, and its clear, accurate reporting

    There seems also pride in the extension taken into other areas.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2011/07/social_media_guidance_for_bbc.html

    '...you shouldn't say anything that compromises your impartiality or sound off "in an openly partisan way".'

    Wise words. As Google is defined by 'don't be evil', so the BBC is now by 'try not to be stupid'. Very 140 characterorless.

    'Read more and comment at the Editors blog at BBC News.'

    We do seem to get quite a lot of the broadcast wisdom and, for a while, the comment. But the response component remains pretty much disabled.

    Why?

  • Comment number 47.

    41. At 19:18 21st Jul 2011, John_from_Hendon

    I am not appealing for anything, except some humour and self examination from the dogmatic, the ranters and the undecided, regardless of where their prejudices and certainties are in the vast spectrum of opinion.

    It is this lack of self examination that leads to the mainstream acceptance of pseudo-scientific reporting which can often be a case of simplified reporting so that the audience (that the editors probably think will be too challenged) remain engaged. It is also likely that mainstream editors just cannot fully understand more than an oversimplified press release.

    You cannot expect MSM to present the same peer review standards as scientific papers receive as it is just not appealing to their audience.

    I see bad science all around but to turn it into a political style polarised debate does not reflect this or solve it.

  • Comment number 48.

    The Corporation's Royal Charter and Agreement requires that the BBC covers controversial subjects with due impartiality.

    At the present time its statements on climate change and related energy issues are little more than propaganda.

    We expect better of the BBC. If it does not report impartially, how can the majority of the public (with no scientific education) form sensible views?

    Its biased reporting on climate undermines its credibility in other areas.

  • Comment number 49.

    Professor Jones:
    too little cooperation between the various parts of the BBC that cover science - agreed.
    - news coverage relies on too limited a pool of commentators & sources - creating the risk that we give our audiences an incomplete view of developments in the scientific world - agreed.
    - making sure that we achieve the right balance between well-established scientific fact & opinion, which is clearly delineated - agreed.
    Debate re science should be welcomed, like that old stand-by Darwin vs. evolution, of which I believe neither, but believe that humans were evolving right along, met something alien, and kaboom, we took a giant human step for humanity.
    The College of Journalism has agreed to help us explore some of these issues in the year ahead. Good place for it.
    Looking to appoint our first Science Editor for BBC News whose task will be to bring a new level of analysis to science coverage, strengthen our contacts, and help us to take an overview our coverage relative to the weight of scientific work. Way to go. Looking forward to all these changes.

  • Comment number 50.

    47. At 11:36 22nd Jul 2011, Kit Green wrote:

    41. At 19:18 21st Jul 2011, John_from_Hendon

    So suggesting that science and religion should be merged was humour? Sorry, I missed that, as I took you far too literally and perceived in your suggestion a reversion to the pre-renaissance dark ages where the Pope decide on what was the truth without any reference to science!

  • Comment number 51.

    50. At 13:45 22nd Jul 2011, John_from_Hendon

    I think in that realm the Pope has been replaced in our internet society by the certainties presented to their respective audiences by Dellingpole and Hari. As far as I can see they both ignore the inconvenient truths. Unfortunately even that phrase has been made too political due to the Gore film.

  • Comment number 52.

    I can only conclude that this 'independant' report is written by someone who never watches, listens or reads BBC output. Theres practically no science - especially when compared to the prolificate arts coverage - and when there is science it appears mainly aimed at children of primary school age. In fact, it is very good for primary school kids and maybe sun readers.

  • Comment number 53.

    "In addition, I can confirm that we will be looking to appoint our first Science Editor for BBC News"

    I find this the most remarkable statement. Not that BBC News is hiring a Science Editor, but that it never had one before. How ever did it cope ?

  • Comment number 54.

    53. At 15:53 23rd Jul 2011, falconeri -
    I find this the most remarkable statement. Not that BBC News is hiring a Science Editor, but that it never had one before. How ever did it cope ?


    As with so much, in a 'unique' way?

  • Comment number 55.

    Down with the climate sceptics, down with ethics, down with bad scientists who question global warming. Long live the apocolyptic scientists who are trying to save the planet. Surely there must be a link between far right extremism (see US T party sceptics) and climate change denial. Down with far right climate change denial. Long live BBC objectivity. Welcome to the new science editor, keep this far right denial stuff off our TV screens. Enough, I say.

  • Comment number 56.

    The Daily mail has spun this report as BBC bias / censorship, and even as some sort of proof that GW is wrong!

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2018143/Steve-Jones-BBC-Trust-Review-global-warming-trusted.html

    The comments are horrifying, the number of people who have fallen for the anti-GW spin.

  • Comment number 57.

    "In addition, I can confirm that we will be looking to appoint our first Science Editor for BBC News"

    Whoever gets the job can feel free to contact any school teacher for a far better and more accurate analysis than any tabloids are giving these days.

  • Comment number 58.

    '56.
    At 13:58 24th Jul 2011, Kiteman wrote:
    The Daily mail has spun this report...'


    Maybe they, in turn, if beforehand, had some kind of similar report commissioned, only the recommendations were in another direction?

    If so, and if the 'direction' was non science and pro-dogma, shame on them.

    However, as the DM is a private outfit, I can treat their commitment to impartial news with the respect it deserves, plus a tangible audience reaction: I don't buy it.

    However, that option is not always so easily applied elsewhere.

  • Comment number 59.

    About other sources and unproven theories/claims that can be a problem before release, Are they real or not. I would like to comment on the American Space program here in the science forum. You must asked your self if the Americans knew they were going to ground all your current space crafts, would you allow your self to be totally cut off from space for a while. I myself was not sure until recently. With a friend one quiet night last year in the Great Lakes area Ontario Canada an exploding light appeared in the sky. Several other nights as well. There was sound of a faint puff of wind and something small and elongated burst out of the light at a rapid speed. The object very quickly slowed its descent and flew back up and headed toward mid west USA. This object could be seen for 15 seconds before going out of sight. with in 2 minutes there was another big white burst of light and an identical object flew through it, slowed its rapid descent the same. Given the same amount of time it too flew back up and traveled in the same direction. I am sure some people want to say it was a UFO or something weird. I do believe in UFO's, but these were not UFO'S. They were really cool American Techno Space craft. They appeared quit small so we were thinking maybe a 2 seat vehicle. Who knows right now. I can guarantee you this is all true. I am not shocked at all. Before you just disclaim this. It might be easier to simply come look around yourself.

  • Comment number 60.

    '59. At 05:45 28th Jul 2011, Adexter6 -They appeared quite small so we were thinking maybe a 2 seat vehicle.'

    One is sure the tech is around to achieve many of the air and space borne spectaculars often attributed to UFOs in terms of propulsion/manoeuvring

    Be great if this was also matched by the means to cope with G-forces to keep pilots conscious, much less not a thin smear on the back bulkhead too.

  • Comment number 61.

    ...and the full heft of the BBC is thrown behind this:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-14291992

 

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