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BBC science coverage

An interesting programme on the BBC's science coverage, in which we learn that Richard Black and Roger Harrabin have been central to the push to sideline sceptic opinion.

Does this explain why they avoid reporting the facts over Climategate and its associated inquiries?


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Reader Comments (39)

I used to really respect the bbc.Now i think as some have said that the licence fee is a tax on t.v. You have to ask yourself, why does the govt support the bbc?.Its a left leaning middle class gravy train for london types.They make some wonderful programs, but the political and educational opinion should be removed.

Apr 24, 2010 at 10:24 AM | Unregistered Commenterstephen parker

But wasn't Harrabin that did the quite good interview with Jones getting him to open up and make a few eyeopening comments ? Or is this Harrabin's chance to make "amends " for the BBC?

Apr 24, 2010 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss

True, but the questions included " several gathered from climate sceptics. " I think looking through the interview we can all tell which questions these were, with 90% certainty. Some are questions which wouldn't even occur to anyone who wasn't a sceptic, and certainly wouldn't be framed in the way they were.

In fact to call it an interview at all is rather misleading. It was a questionnaire to which Jones responded in writing - and then extra material was added by UEA. This was as likely to be PR puff as any exchange between a "journalist" and a subject is ever likely to be.

This wasn't a Paxman grilling, with Harrabin pressing a reluctant Jones and following up admissions with further pointed impromptu questions. Harrabin could have been as surprised as the rest of us by Jones semi-frankness. He might well have expected Jones to come back with uncontroversial answers or at least nothing to frighten the believers. This, after all. was done with the co-operation of UEA's press office.

There is no reason to suppose that Harrabin expected anything revealing to come from this exercise. After all Harrabin distanced himself as much as possible from the questions short of saying "Look these questions are from lunatics but I have to ask - don't blame me!" Rarely has a "journalist" seemed so embarrassed to ask reasonable questions, questions which should have been asked by responsible, informed, unbiased journalists years ago. The sort of journalist which "the BBC's environment analyst" ought to be, for example.

The questionnaire:

Apr 24, 2010 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

I think it's probably fair to say that no journalist has acquitted themselves particularly well over Climategate and particularly over the subsequent inquiries. It's only RH and RB I have to pay for though.

Apr 24, 2010 at 11:35 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

I listened more carfully this morning.
BBC Newswatch yesterday (23/04/2010)
(Fiona Fox) and she is doing a review for the Science Minister!!!!

"to have a sceptic in every interview is misleading the public about 'climate science'" - Fiona Fox

"People like Richard Black and Roger Harrabin, fighting internally to say we DON'T have to have a sceptic every time we have a climate story."

Fiona Fox: Chaired a report, for Lord Drayson, the science minister, looking into the quality of science reporting 6 months
Quality of science reporting

"Fight the good fight for accuracy, in fact
On Climate change there has been a real change..
People like Richard Black and Roger Harrabin, fighting internally to say we DON'T have to have a sceptic every time we have a climate story."

Fiona Fox is about 6 minutes in.. Newswatch 23/04/2010

Are the environment team bbc man made 'climate change' news media gatekeepers?

LISTEN very carefully, about 9mins 24 secs in, Fiona Fox nearly had a BIG slip of the tongue
and said Climategate. changed direction very rapidly... ;) :)

Am I imagning that! ?

Apr 24, 2010 at 12:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterbarry woods

Bishop - please can you get a list of the 35 or so science journalists at the BBC and their qualifications?

Apr 24, 2010 at 12:53 PM | Unregistered Commenternot banned yet

I thought the Newswatch report was very poor.

I am amazed that the review of BBC science coverage is being led by Prof Steve Jones of UCL. This is as bad as having Philip Campbell Editor of Nature on the Muir Russell CRU enquiry. He is not independent.

Jones owes his status as a celebrity scientist to the BBC who took him from obscurity and allowed him to present the Reith lectures (on radio) in the early 90's. The BBC then published his book. Jones is a real insider at the BBC just like Robert Winston and Ian Stewart. He makes money from the BBC, gets publicity and further work from the BBC, and yet he's supposed to be an independent reviewer of BBC science. This is nonsense. He has vested interests in not annoying the BBC.

Years ago I was very impressed with the BBC's science correspondent called david whitehouse - I think he was a professional scientist before working at the BBC and seemed to be the only science journalist there who knew what he was talking about. I heard that he was dismissed because of his sceptical stance on climate change. Looking back on BBC News Online he was certainly the only one of them who did stories that properly questioned the 'consensus' The BBC seems to have increased its number of science journalists recently so I think its unlikely whitehouse left because of cutbacks. Was he forced out because of scepticism?

Apr 24, 2010 at 1:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterPConstantis

In the report Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre said BBC science coverage was excellent. Looking at their website I see that several BBC people are on the board of the Science Media Centre - another example of independence!

Apr 24, 2010 at 2:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterPuzzled

I need some navigation help - the bbc link doesn't take me to the interview.

Apr 24, 2010 at 2:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Maloney

BBC? Why do you permit them to stay on the public teat?

I find it amazing that you willing pay to support the government's propaganda arm. Not that RTE is any better. But at least at age 70 I no longer have tele tax in Ireland.

Apr 24, 2010 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Pablo de la Sierra

Thos of us outside UK cannot watch BBC TV in iPlayer. Could someone sum up the program?

Apr 24, 2010 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterEric Gisin

PConatantis: I heard Richard Whitehouse give a talk on climate change a few weeks ago; but I'm not sure whether he was dismissed or left voluntarily (it must be difficult to be a loan voice of sanity at the beeb). He certainly knows what he is talking about.

Apr 24, 2010 at 5:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

For the record, Fiona Fox is ex-Revolutionary Communist Party (Frank Furedi/Mick Hume/Living Marxism/Spiked/Institute of Ideas.)

Just so that the discussion is aware of this.

Apr 24, 2010 at 5:50 PM | Unregistered Commenterslowjoe

Eric Gisin

Have a look at this:-

Apr 24, 2010 at 6:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

At 9:20 Fiona Fox claims "no self respecting scientist will say 'I don't know' ". What rubbish.

I particularly recall an item on Channel 4 news during the post-Climategate pre-Copenhagen period. Jon Snow was reporting from the Amazon and interviewing Bob Watson and Ross McKitrick via satellite. Towards the end of the interview Jon asked them to comment on the likely impacts of climate change on the Amazon. Watson spouted the usual unsupported alarmist guff, but when Jon Snow asked Ross to comment, he simply said "I don't know. It's not my area of expertise". It left Jon Snow floundering - but Ross definitely rose a few more points in my estimation.

Apr 24, 2010 at 7:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterukipper

I think the answer to the BBC's bias may be found in the BBC Trust (sic) document: "FROM SEESAW TO WAGON WHEEL Safeguarding impartiality in the 21st century" which may be found at:

See page 40 of the above document which refers to the reporting of catastrophic man-made climate change. Here is an extract:

“The BBC has held a high-level seminar with some of the best scientific experts, and has come to the view that the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus. But these dissenters (or even sceptics) will still be heard, as they should, because it is not the BBC’s role to close down this debate. They cannot be simply dismissed as ‘flat-earthers’ or ‘deniers’, who ‘should not be given a platform’ by the BBC. Impartiality always requires a breadth of view: for as long as minority opinions are coherently and honestly expressed, the BBC must give them appropriate space.”

The BBC has refused my FOI request to know who the "best scientific experts" were and how they were chosen.

Apr 24, 2010 at 7:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Post


Perhaps we should leave the LM network alone. They have enough trouble with George Monbiot.

Apr 24, 2010 at 7:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDreadnought

My own impression of the BBC is that it has become a gross, overblown bureaucracy. A check on the expenses of the senior officials reveals an astonishing sense of entitlement. The one redeeming feature is that I am now of an age when I am no longer required to cough up the licence fee on pain of prosecution. Tip: chances are you can safely ignore your annual demand note as it seems they have decided it is more expense than it is worth to pursue the licence fee dodgers.

In my working life I had occasional contact with them, once as a member of the Visiting Committee of the Open University (it was a long time ago). The then BBC officials came across as incredibly arrogant. At other times I was strongly advised never to grant interviews unless they were live. If they were first taped and put into the edit room you were as good as done for. The BBC, its officials and editors have an agenda. Their position on climate change is but one manifestation of this attitude.

Apr 24, 2010 at 7:51 PM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

You have to take this into account: they were looking at science reporting in the aftermath of MMR, a saga where the BBC and the rest of the media did a lot of damage by lending contrarians a megaphone.

If you're a journalist, how do you know how much prominence to give to which views?

My main gripe with the mainstream news is that they frame the debate in terms of "there is / there is not" AGW, and neither answer can be completely correct.

Apr 24, 2010 at 7:54 PM | Unregistered Commenterjim

"david whitehouse"

More (a lot more!) at Harmless Sky, here:


Apr 24, 2010 at 8:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Fiona Fox chaired a workshop on the media and climate change that was discussed earlier here

There's a recording of the event here

Her first question was: 'is it the responsibility of the media to ensure the public think the right way on [climate change]?'

Apr 24, 2010 at 8:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterDR

On the BBC itself, Fiona Fox: (23/04/10)

"People like Richard Black and Roger Harrabin, fighting internally to say we DON’T have to have a sceptic every time we have a climate story.”

This is the same Richard Black at the BBC, that Michael Mann’s frist thought was to call, when Paul Hudson – wahtever Happened to Global Warming, story appeared on the BBC website.. (month before ‘climategate)


From: Michael Mann
To: Stephen H Schneider
Subject: Re: BBC U-turn on climate
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2009 09:00:44 -0400
extremely disappointing to see something like this appear on BBC. its particularly odd, since climate is usually Richard Black’s beat at BBC (and he does a great job).
from what Ican tell, this guy was formerly a weather person at the Met Office.

We may do something about this on RealClimate, but meanwhile it might be appropriate for the Met Office to have a say about this, I might ask Richard Black what’s up here?


So straight from the BBC itself, evidence that the environment team (and the bbc)are acting as gatekeepers for AGW advocates.

I doubt if Steve Mcintyre, or any other 'lukewarmer' can just give the BBC’s Richard Black a call

Apr 24, 2010 at 8:43 PM | Unregistered Commenterbarry woods

April 24, 2010 | jim,

"If you're a journalist, how do you know how much prominence to give to which views?"

Good point, possible answer? - Research, done by BBC researchers, not just reporting what government officials and NGOs - Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWT etc say/state.

In other words they need to get some damn work done, some research work, then and only then can they produce an "independent journalistic report"

Only propaganda machines parrot from advocacy group's agenda.

Apr 24, 2010 at 8:49 PM | Unregistered Commentergreensand

The BBC are fundamentally authoritarian. They see themselves as an authority and they trust authority. The following is from Media Lens.

Jeremy Paxman On Iraq - “We Were Hoodwinked”

In an interview last week, Jeremy Paxman - leading interviewer on BBC 2’s flagship Newsnight programme - claimed that he had been “hoodwinked” by US government propaganda prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Paxman commented:

"As far as I personally was concerned, there came a point with the presentation of the so-called evidence, with the moment when Colin Powell sat down at the UN General Assembly and unveiled what he said was cast-iron evidence of things like mobile, biological weapon facilities and the like...

"When I saw all of that, I thought, well, 'We know that Colin Powell is an intelligent, thoughtful man, and a sceptical man. If he believes all this to be the case, then, you know, he's seen the evidence; I haven't.’

"Now that evidence turned out to be absolutely meaningless, but we only discover that after the event. So, you know, I’m perfectly open to the accusation that we were hoodwinked. Yes, clearly we were."

The following is the BBC's Newsnight report on Climategate. The message is "trust the scientists". Paxman states that he flicked through the emails and didn’t find anything interesting.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Apr 24, 2010 at 9:21 PM | Unregistered Commenteranon

This is revealing ..

Apr 24, 2010 at 10:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I have been asking this for a while so its worth a reiterationI think.

The BBC does have a great history of covering science. Horizon is a premier science prog - there is a 60GB+ torrent available of Horizon science programmes from the 70s, 80s and 90s to relish - they were good. Those of us interested in science would sit down and watch Horizon, it was an event.

I've asked many times where is the Horizon coverage of this, where is the coverage of climategate ? They used to cover all sorts of things. They were happy to cover other things like the claims over cold-fusion, free energy and so forth - and basically did a reasonable and even handed job. They would even reveal a lot of stuff people didn't know.

Nowadays Horizon seems to be drawn into popularist things like why do people age (suggest maybe you look at their age ?), the stars (ooh that star professor who used to be in that band is so handsome) and so forth. There isn't the hard-hitting truthful above all else investigation of anything really.

Now I dread a news bulletin from the BBC. Shuckman will appear, probably next to a sea wall and pointing his hand at just how high the sea will be when calamity calls. The temptation to shout "tosser" at the TV is only restricted by the presence of children in our house.

I still respect the BBC, even love some of it (Ashes to Ashes and Have I got News for You and QI are ace). Unlike a lot of people I like BBC4 as well.

I just want it to get out of the political mess it is in just now. Just avoid a position, investigate, report and do nothing else. Its up to the rest of us to decide for ourselves. Be the clear lens you used to be, the bright light on all those subjects which were never covered elsewhere.

Maybe, just maybe, I may even support the TV licence then.

Apr 24, 2010 at 11:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris

since climategate broke, and paul hudson (bbc weathman) was the first to authenticate the emails, why hasn't anyone at BBC interviewed hudson and looked into what he received weeks prior to the release of the emails/harryreadme and code from CRU?

why hasn't BBC ever mentioned hudson when referring to trenberth's 'travesty' email, and other emails regarding hudson's 'whatever happened to global warming?' story?

why doesn't the british public have a VIABLE sceptical choice in the upcoming elections?

Apr 25, 2010 at 12:14 AM | Unregistered Commenterpat

Artwest ( April 24 ) -- thanks for that explanation. I'm from NZ so I'm wasn't aware of these details , but it makes sense now.

Apr 25, 2010 at 1:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoss

No "Witch Hunt" from me I assure you, but once again it is interesting to see the background of someone like Fiona Fox as it enables one to see perhaps exactly where the hidden agenda that these "gatekeepers" for the Climate Change = Catastrophe spin comes from:-

From our old friend Wiki

Fiona Fox (born 1964) is the director of the Science Media Centre and a former leading member of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Fiona was born into an Irish Catholic family in North Wales, the younger sister of Claire and Gemma. She attended St Richard Gwyn Catholic High School, Flint, and studied journalism at the Polytechnic of Central London.

Fiona started her career at Thames Polytechnic as an assistant PR officer. From there she worked for six years at the Equal Opportunities Commission where she became a senior press officer, followed by two years running the media operation at the National Council for One Parent Families. A total change of environment followed as Fiona became Head of Media at CAFOD, where she founded the Jubilee 2000 press group, which aimed to push serious Third World issues onto the media and political agendas.

In December 2001, Fiona was appointed the founding Director of the Science Media Centre, based at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in London, UK.

She is married to political commentator and teacher Kevin Rooney.

Kevin Rooney, head of social science, Queens’ School, Bushey, Hertfordshire

Not a lot of true science background there then.

Still it could be worse - "Dr" Caroline Lucas - head of the UK Green party is indeed a PhD. And is often wheeled out as "Dr" when she pontificates on Climate Change. Most people in the UK no doubt assume that her qualifications are in a science related field. Because those that introduce her fail to make it clear that whilst Caroline Lucas - Green Party expert on Climate Change - does have a PhD, it is in Victorian Literature. Specifically;-

"She earned her PhD from the University of Exeter in 1989 with a thesis entitled Writing for women: a study of woman as reader in Elizabethan romance".

If this were all a novel - I doubt you could make it up! - The publisher would reject the novel manuscript on the basis of it being too far fetched!

And yet these “gatekeepers” arrogantly state that the sceptical viewpoint has to be suppressed.

Apr 25, 2010 at 7:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterDarce

Sorry! - Silly me - It is Elizabethan literature!!

Now that makes all the difference.

Apr 25, 2010 at 7:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterDarce

35 'reporters'. Wow.

I do accept that educational qualifications need not be a deal-breaker, but one wonders how many of these, and those in editorial have, or have access to the mindset that can challenge a story properly.

And resist the temptation, or instruction to 'enhance the narrative'. That's before, as with anything, those up the editorial chain decide what stays in, gets dropped, or needs 'help'.

What, precisely, is the definition of a 'specialist at the BBC'?

Anyway, Fiona Fox 'thinks it's really good'. On Newswatch. At least she was not a sulky BBC bloke in a blazer saying exactly the same thing as they do every week.

As with any pretension of objectivity on the BBC, who chose her to speak on behalf of this topic? Maybe another, dissenting, voice was deemed not necessary on this occasion ... 'as you don't always need folk to understand there is another view'.

But good she thinks Messrs Black and Harrabin are tops.

I am sure a view held by all.

Apr 25, 2010 at 8:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter

If you are going to tell a lie make sure it's a big one?
The BBC allows too many sceptical views on AGW.
What absolute garbage,although since the truth has come out via the Climategate emails,not every news report is infected with alarmist nonsense.

Apr 25, 2010 at 9:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey


since climategate broke, and paul hudson (bbc weathman) was the first to authenticate the emails, why hasn't anyone at BBC interviewed hudson and looked into what he received weeks prior to the release of the emails/harryreadme and code from CRU?

Paul Hudson never said he received the full Climategate package. He said he had been sent the emails referring to himself, and so he could confirm their authenticity. It seems clear Hudson has a "friend" within the CRU and in my opinion, that "friend" may ultimately be the person responsible for the whistle being blown on the CRU.

I don't think Hudson is complicit in any cover-up of Climategate and it seems clear to me that, though he undoubtedly already knew (probably at great professional expense) what we know regarding the inappropriate political machinations and manipulations emanating from the CRU, the zip file was as much news to him as to the rest of us when it entered the public domain.

Apr 25, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterSimonH

On the BBC's coverage, Fiona Fox unwittingly highlights the fault that lies in science reporting. Regarding achieving balance - she gives examples of balancing Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, she says "it just doesn't work with science". In fact it does, it just isn't done.

When quizzing an MP, a journalist is mindful of who is giving the answers - their political biases, their motivation for saying the things they say - and accordingly the journalist applies a measure of scepticism or even cynicism in their subsequent analyses and reporting. The BBC's, and indeed other MSM outlets', premise of understanding is that scientists - unlike politicians - are dispassionate, that they are themselves balanced in their views, and that their assertions are therefore likely above reproach.

They are not treated as advocates of agenda, despite very clear evidence in the public domain to show that they very much are, and it is specifically because of this failure to critically apply fundamental tenets of journalism to sciences that the resulting science reporting is so poor. Poor sciences - not exclusively, but notably, Climatology - are able to exploit this weakness in journalism to introduce "trojan" bad science into the popular conscience. The poor scientific research is the bullet, the in-built alarmism provides the gunpowder, and an unwitting mainstream media provides the gun.

Clearly Harrabin and Black are knowing perpetrators of these breaches of journalistic integrity because their political alignment, which is supported by these poorly performed scientific efforts, suit them just fine. Steve Jones would do well to ensure that these malignant cancers are removed with expediency.

Apr 25, 2010 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterSimonH

I haven't read the book yet, but I'm curious as to whether William M Connolley is mentioned in the book and to what extent.

Apr 26, 2010 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonymous coward

William is in it briefly in a couple of places.

Apr 26, 2010 at 1:12 PM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

Biased BBC is quite a good website for uncovering hidden agendas at the BBC:

Apr 28, 2010 at 12:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterNemesis

It has been interesting to read the comments about the BBC 'science journalists.' Consider this recent example of the coverage of the quiet sun cools Europe. Work carried out at the university of reading. The BBC merely posted the press release with no additional 'journalism.' So much for bringing its expertise to bear!

New Scientist also copied the press release and was completely uncritical with numerous errors.

But look at what David Whitehouse did. This, in my view is a proper science journalist. This is perhaps the reason why the BBC dismissed him, and why they really need him.

He demolishes it!

Apr 28, 2010 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterTharcomb

I remember that when Climategate news broke, even though the BBC had the emails long in advance, Roger Harrabin wrote a weasle worded report giving minimum information, then he filled the rest of the web page saying that the consensus that [ CO2, global warming, doom, we are going to fry, etc] was 90% but he had it on good authority that it was now 95%.
I wrote to the BBC and complained, calling for him to be sacked. This was just an on-going display of incredible bias by Harrabin and Black. I have also complained to the BBC Trust, but it makes no difference at all. I have detected that Harrabin has recently tried to be more objective, but it is painful to see his attempts when he clearly does not feel anything other than a completely alarmist view.

May 16, 2010 at 11:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

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