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« The fall of Forest 2006? | Main | Will Hutton's Rio postmortem »
Monday
Jun252012

UK science journos talk "false balance"

The UK Conference of Science Journalists are discussing "false balance" in science reporting today, their session on the subject featuring Professor Steve Jones, whose report on the BBC's science coverage and whose shoddy behaviour along the way have been noted here from time to time.

From the tweets so far, it seems that some of Jones' talk has not been taken very seriously:

I may die of laughter. RT : Steve Jones: scientists tend to agree on most things...

On the other hand, Felicity Mellor has repeated her suggestion that science reporting needs more dissenting voices, not fewer.

Underuse of balance in BBC reporting, says Felicity Mellor. Little room for critical voices in science reports.

It's hard to disagree with this, and I couldn't help thinking of the 2010 conference, which I discussed a couple of posts ago. Presumably wanting to avoid "false balance", the 2010 conference invited Myles Allen and Bob Watson (but no sceptics) to speak to them about Climategate. Readers here know that  both Allen and Watson have admitted that they have not actually read the Climategate emails, although of course this did not stop them speaking and writing about Climategate on a regular basis during the course of 2010.

Watson and Allen's ignorance on the subject was not known at the time and there is of course no reason why they shouldn't hear from two such eminent members of the scientific establishment anyway. However, by failing to invite any dissenting voices to speak, the conference ended up making itself look rather foolish, spending most of the session discussing Climategate as if it had something to do with the CRUTEM surface temperature record.  There was nobody there to point out that only a handful of the thousand or more emails in the Climategate archive had anything to do with surface temperatures at all.

The problem with the false balance approach is that it leaves nobody to tell the emperor that he has no clothes. But it does mean that the efforts of UK science journalists should continue to provide plenty of easy targets. Every cloud has a silver lining.

 


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Reader Comments (14)

...and be reported as a sulphur lining.

Jun 25, 2012 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Nah they wouldn't report it at all, clouds have no effect silver lined or otherwise

Jun 25, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJace

"False balance" is one of those convenient epithets designed to conceal rather than reveal.

As far as I can see, it roughly translates as "Avoid listening to the opinions of those who disagree with you".

In pre-post-modern times, we used to call it "censorship".

In any case - it all depends who does the "balancing".

Can anyone do the latin for - "who should weigh the balancers?"

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:20 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Qui gravat qui ponderis?
Mum says I speak Latin like a native!

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Mum says I speak Latin like a native ...
... of Senegal?

Jun 25, 2012 at 1:58 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

But it does mean that the efforts of UK science journalists should continue to provide plenty of easy targets.
And here we all are, taking potshots at people we could only hope to reach before the internet era via cumbersome “letters to the editor”.
I used to dream of being a campaigning journalist like Paul Foot, exposing the lies and the scams of the powerful. And here I am, part of a co-operative effort, doing just that. In a small way, I’ve fulfilled a childhood dream. Why aren’t I happy?
Because the technological changes which make our protest possible doom our efforts to failure. We bloggers are the new underclass. Our privileges have been recognised. We have the right to bleed away to our hearts’ content in our little world. Like the Diggers, Levellers and Ranters at the Putney Debates in 1647, we have the right to address our grievances to the Grandees, then shut up. Our only recognised spokesmen are Lawson, because he was once elected, and Booker, because he once edited an influential magazine. Neither of them are getting any younger. One day, Phil Jones will be announcing some more “cheerful news” and it’ll be down to Dellers, one of the MSM’s acceptable court jesters, and possibly Montford, because he wrote a book.
That’s how rational debate is conducted according to the rulebook written by Steve Jones, whose qualifications for doing so rest on his specialist knowledge of snails and the fact of being married to a TV producer.

Jun 25, 2012 at 2:19 PM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

I think you're a bit pessimistic, Geoff. Newspaper circulations are in steep decline and I believe people are turning to the internet and blogs like these for more honest and open comment and news. Indeed the press often picks up stories that we have read here (or WUWT and the rest) first. The BBC and other broadcasters are more of a problem, but I think the same trend will come. Incidentally, I don't rate Paul Foor that highly - didn't he work for Maxwell for years without exposing him?

Jun 25, 2012 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

Geoff, here in uptown Tambacounda we recognise that our grandees are the glue that bind the cogs of our society together. We express our discontent through civil disobedience and gentle mockery. Once in a while we pretend we will elect a loony party so they don't take our votes for granted.

G'danga to you and all your people.

Jun 25, 2012 at 3:40 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Reed

Entirely off-topic, except that it impinges on the media, has anyone who gets their news from UK sources seen a mention of the US supreme court ruling on the mandate? Or Holder being in contempt of congress? Have I missed it, or are those stories less interesting than interminable olympic BS?

Jun 25, 2012 at 4:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterRhoda

Rhoda
Things might ease up a bit now England's out of Euro 2012.
But with Williams (V) and Nalbandian dumped on the first day of Wimbledon I wouldn't get your hopes up too high.
The Obamacare story is on the DT's USA page at no 9, only three places down from stories about Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson. Says it all, really.
Neither the DT nor the BBC has the Holder story. Too complicated for their little minds or no-one understands the implications. Remember it's 40 years since Watergate. None of the current crop of churnalists would have a clue what you're on about.

Jun 25, 2012 at 5:06 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

We have the right to bleed away to our hearts’ content in our little world. Like the Diggers, Levellers and Ranters at the Putney Debates in 1647, we have the right to address our grievances to the Grandees, then shut up........That’s how rational debate is conducted according to the rulebook written by Steve Jones, whose qualifications for doing so rest on his specialist knowledge of snails and the fact of being married to a TV producer.

Jun 25, 2012 at 2:19 PM geoffchambers

Geoff ... Geoff .... all those years reading the Graun have given you the fatal lefty flaw - you seem to be expecting "fairness".

In your heart, you're a bit of a leveller or digger yourself, even though you know the establishment will send the boys round to kick the shit out of you - just like it did with them.

By a century or so after the levellers, the rabble had figured out more cunning ways of pissing off their rulers & cutting them down size.

In Bath, where I live, there's a room in the art gallery with plan cabinets you can open and browse all those outrageous 18th century cartoons by Rowlandson etc. - showing the great & the good, right up to the monarch, in highly unflattering situations - usually with their pants round their ankles.

There is no weapon quite as effective and as hard to defend against as good old fashioned ridicule & derision. Everybody who achieves some sort of visibility in public life lives in permanent fear of the mob's ridicule turning on them - that's why people like Hugh Grant & Steve Coogan go before public enquiries and plead for privacy.

The best way forward is to make environmentalism as hilariously eccentric as naturism. Is not as if there was any shortage of material. With pompous ar*eh*les like Miles Allen & Mike Mann - it's an open goal.

Less of the "let's be grown up and talk it over" and more of "yer 'ockey stick's drooped and you'll never get it up again!"

All just IMHO, of course.

Jun 25, 2012 at 9:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterFoxgoose

I will add "False Balance" to my list of tyrannical cliches.

A tyrannical cliche is a rhetorical device to silence your opponent instead of discussing the issue. An easy example is shouting "Racist" - this still works today as well as it did in the 1970s to suppress debate.

The really sad aspect is that these cliches work inside peoples own heads - they build mental shortcuts and road blocks to avoid even thinking about difficult or uncomfortable points.

Jun 25, 2012 at 10:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterJack Hughes

Foxgoose
I can’t decide whether it ‘s a tragedy or a bloody good thing that we were separated at birth, our paths never more to cross.
I could point out that Rowlandson had no more success against the Whigs, Tories and Royals than the Levellers had against the Grandees. Or I could renounce my erudite but somewhat pompous commenting and go back to my first love - cartooning - and get to work on “CO2man the Contrarian” an epic tale of a brutish superhero struggling against the evil Moonbat, aided by a horde of willing animal-skin clad Amazons.
Or I could just shut up and get a life.

Jun 26, 2012 at 5:56 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Bad news on the British science journalism front. The Moonbat is giving up the fight.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jun/25/rio-governments-will-not-save-planet

He’s tired of “wandering, in spellbound reverie, among the circuses”, is longing for “the birdsong and the night chorus, the soft and steady climate which has treated us kindly for so long”, and he’s going to retreat to the wildlands to commune with “the queen's executioner beetle, the scabious cuckoo bee, and the hotlips fungus”.

Not sure if the hotlips fungus is something to embrace or be treated with a massive dose of antibiotics, but he’s going to be sorely missed.

Jun 26, 2012 at 7:32 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

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