This is dispiriting. Why the BBC, of all media, continues to do this defies reason—although there probably is a reason for it, just a really stupid one. As we all know, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) started releasing its next round of reports last week. And as we all know, the global warming deniers—those that are left, anyway—are all set to denounce it. Except the BBC apparently couldn’t find any scientist in the UK who was prepared to do this. The Guardian’s John Ashton takes it from here, reporting that when the IPCC Summary came along last Friday:
At breakfast time, Radio 4’s Today programme informed listeners that despite extensive efforts, the BBC had been unable to find a single British scientist willing to challenge the IPCC’s findings. At that point the BBC might have concluded that the IPCC’s views represent an overwhelming consensus and left it at that.
So then what happened?
Instead, BBC news editors evidently cast their net wider. By lunchtime World at One was introducing Prof Carter as an Australian geologist, speaking for the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change”, or NIPCC. Someone who is not a climate scientist, in other words, representing a Not-The-IPCC body. Indeed, it turns out that the NIPCC is backed by the Heartland Institute, a US-based free-market thinktank that opposes urgent action on climate change.
In a remarkable interview that dominated the entire World at One coverage, Carter poured scorn on the IPCC’s findings. He drew on his geological expertise to argue that there was no more point in trying to mitigate climate change than in trying to prevent earthquakes. He claimed that, unlike the intensively peer-reviewed findings of more than 800 IPCC researchers, the NIPCC’s work was truly independent, while cheerfully admitting that family foundations in America paid for it. He implied that it represented a widely held scholarly view, pointing to “around 47” scientific collaborators. He did not specify how many of these were climate scientists.
Some hilarity, and considerable outrage, ensued. This is not, sadly, the BBC’s first miscue on the climate front—there have certainly been others. Wait, this is the BBC—the best broadcaster in the world. Right? What’s going on here? Ashton has a theory:
In 2011 the BBC Trust invited Prof Steve Jones of University College London to review the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s science coverage. In the case of climate change, Jones found that there had indeed been a tendency towards “false impartiality … too often, bodies it turns to in such discussions have a social and political rather than a scientific agenda”.
With one purely organisational exception, the BBC at the time accepted Jones’s recommendations. It is therefore puzzling that David Jordan, the BBC’s head of editorial standards, should this year have gone out of his way, when giving evidence to MPs, to say that Jones had “made one recommendation that we did not take on board. He said we should regard climate science as settled … we should not hear from dissenting voices on the science of climate change.”
In fact, Jones made no such recommendation. He had, in effect, merely urged the BBC not to give an undeserved appearance of scientific authority to those with no supporting credentials. So why did Jordan go to the trouble of repudiating him? Could it have anything to do with the “long meetings” about climate change he revealed he had recently conducted with Lord Lawson and Peter Lilley, both well known for their lack of scientific credentials and their robust critiques of the views the IPCC has now endorsed?
So the head of editorial standards at the BBC takes his tips on science reporting from known climate change deniers?