So What has the BBC's Roger Harrabin Actually Done?

There is considerable buzz about reports that “the BBC has changed the news to accommodate an activist“.

The BBC journalist involved is environmental correspondent Roger Harrabin, with whom I must say I have privately exchanged views in the past (wrong…it was Richard Black).

And the BBC article is “Global temperatures ‘to decrease‘”, Friday April 4, 2008.

The “accusation” regards the contents (and title) of the article having been changed to please an environmental activist, allegedly called “Jo Abbess”.

This being the internet, with Fool’s Day not that much in the past, there is not much one can be sure of. So I have compared the three available version of Mr Harrabin’s article. Versions (1) and (2) as per Jennifer Marohasy’s blog. Version (3) as currently on the BBC web site (I am sorry but I have to take (1) and (2) at face value, hoping they are not the product of fakery).

My conclusions are: Mr Harrabin’s article is clearly biased in favour of AGW but not more than other articles in the past by Harrabin and others (see here for more about BBC’s biased reporting); and the whole evolution of the article’s text is compatible with the story of “Jo Abbess” being true. Despite of that, there is still hope.

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a. Differences between (1) and (2)

Version (1) starts with:

Global temperatures this year will be lower than in 2007 due to the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. […] But experts have also forecast a record high temperature within five years.

Version (2) instead:

Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. […] But experts say we are still clearly in a long-term warming trend – and they forecast a new record high temperature within five years. The WMO points out that the decade from 1998 to 2007 was the warmest on record. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74C. While Nasa, the US space agency, cites 2005 as the warmest year, the UK’s Hadley Centre lists it as second to 1998. Researchers say the uncertainty in the observed value for any particular year is larger than these small temperature differences. What matters, they say, is the long-term upward trend.

There is a slight “style” change from “lower” to “drop slightly”. Not sure one can make much of a fuss about that. More important, there is a whole new section reiterating that there is a “long-term warming trend”.

This doesn’t appear much of a “scandal” to yell about, even if it clearly shows the BBC party-line of driving home the “world is warming” message no matter what, perhaps even no matter where.

b. Differences between (2) and (3)

Version (2) starts with:

Global temperatures will drop slightly this year as a result of the cooling effect of the La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. […] This would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory. But experts say we are still clearly in a long-term warming trend – and they forecast a new record high temperature within five years.

Version (3) starts with:

Global temperatures for 2008 will be slightly cooler than last year as a result of the cold La Nina current in the Pacific, UN meteorologists have said. […] But this year’s temperatures would still be way above the average – and we would soon exceed the record year of 1998 because of global warming induced by greenhouse gases.

So we are back to “slightly cooler” instead of “drop slightly”, some sort of “middle way” as AGWers won’t like the use of “cooler” and skeptics will object to “slightly”.

Another change is that there is no more mention, at least at the beginning of the article, of those “questioning climate change theory”. AGWer Ms or Mr “Jo Abbess” will be surely happier.

Furthermore, in the latest version Mr Harrabin has added yet another mention of “greenhouse gases”, in what looks like a clarification: a clarification, that is, that Mr Harrabin’s article really does follow the aforementioned BBC “party-line”.

Conclusions

The BBC article is clearly biased in favour of AGW but no more than previous pieces (see here for more about BBC’s biased reporting). The whole evolution of the text is actually compatible with the story of “Jo Abbess” being true.

There is hope though: Mr Harrabin’s “initial forgetfulness” allegedly corrected after exchanging e-mails with “Jo Abbess” might be a sign that, when free to think, even BBC journalists are not fixated with accusing mankind of burning up the planet.

Former BBC science correspondent David Whitehouse, in fact…

UPDATE: The Register’s Andrew Orlowski has something to say about “blog bully” Jo Abbess