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Discussion > Unravelling of Grimes "Skeptics = Conspiracy nuts" paper

I have had the following (non)response from the BBC:

Thanks for getting in touch regarding an article on the BBC news website.

We understand you feel the Grimes study on Conspiracy Theories is flawed and that this article should have mentioned this.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-35411684

This article drew attention to a study by Dr David Grimes of Oxford University who used mathematical methods from research on radiation physics to examine the likelihood of conspiracy theories failing.

The methods Dr Grimes used have been supported by other mathematicians and were published in a peer reviewed scientific journal.

Dr Grimes himself accepts that not everyone will be convinced by his reasoning however we felt his study might be of interest to the general public.

We appreciate your feedback about our reporting. All complaints are sent to senior management and our online news teams every morning and we included your points in this overnight report. These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensure your complaint is seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future reporting.

Thanks again for taking the time to get in touch.

Does anyone want to suggest how I should respond?

Feb 11, 2016 at 1:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Idau, that's the standard letter that will be familiar to anyone who's complained to the BBC:

"Thank you for getting in touch.
We understand that you feel 2+2=4 and that we were wrong to say that 2+2=5.
We have checked, and in fact 2+2=5.
We do appreciate your feedback and we take all complaints seriously. "


Ben Pile has a second post here and Geoff Chambers looks in more detail at a paper on conspiracies by Sunstein and Vermeule that Grimes cites right at the start of his paper. Interestingly, that paper says that doubting climate change does not "depend on, or posit, any kind of conspiracy theory.”
That pulls another rug from under Grimes's paper.

Feb 11, 2016 at 2:03 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

The non-existence of negative probabilities is a capitalist construct.

Feb 11, 2016 at 8:03 PM | Unregistered Commentersplitpin

Paul Matthews:

Although it's been a while since I bothered to complain to the BBC, I am boringly familiar with their tactics. I do have a notable scalp dating back to the 2010 election, when I caught the BBC allowing one of its journalists to bias a constituency election report - she magically found 8 "random" voters all supporting her party (as evidenced by her twitter and facebook presence online) in a seat close to where she herself lived (and thus knew where to find her fellow souls), which was in fact highly marginal, and in the end went to the other party in the mainly two way fight. Following that the BBC issued new guidelines to journalists limiting their non-work online presence and requiring a greater degree of neutrality in reporting during election campaigns: moreover, following my complaint they did do another report on the constituency that made clear it was in fact a marginal, rather than the landslide the first report implied.

Part of my argument was that simple statistics would indicate the probability of finding 8 voters for one party in a constituency where the vote was essentially split 50/50 was just 1 in 2^8 if selected at random - and that they had a duty in any event to report on at least the major parties in any constituency. I guess I was more than 97% certain they had been cheating.

I think it took four rounds, including a call with the emollient Irishman the BBC use to try to placate persistent complainers (if you've been through the system, you'll know) before I finally got a letter explaining that the BBC had changed its reporting policies having reviewed the whole saga.

So the question here is, is it worth the candle, and what should be the line(s) of attack?

1) It is plain that they have not actually read and understood the criticisms of Grimes (they never refer to them, only to me "feeling that the study is flawed");
2) Predictably, they are relying on the line of "peer review" and "supported by other mathematicians", when the story is that peer review has failed to point out a fundamental mathematical error in the paper;
3) It may be worth asking on what basis they chose to ask a professor in Seattle, 8 time zones away, rather than say one in Warwick or Cambridge, for supporting comment;
4) It may also be worth pointing out their Charter obligations to inform and educate, rather than serve up junk science in the guise of entertainment as if they were the Daily Mail - an obligation that would be best served by a news story covering the fact that Oxford academics and pre-publication peer review are not infallible;
5) It might also be worth pointing out the paucity of "data" on which the conclusions have been constructed, compared with e.g. a fairly ready potential database of secrets revealed under the 30 year rule (some of which saw light of day as leaks long before, but many did not), alongside comparisons with ENIGMA and the Manhattan project that other critics have mentioned;
6) It could also be worth examining whether the issue is really suitable for treatment via a simplistic model when there are many other variables.
6)

Feb 12, 2016 at 6:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...