BBC Science Coverage: It's Worse The We Thought

BBC News’s “Science & Environment” pages have seldom been a paradigm of in-depth, unbiased, trustworthy coverage. Yet, they’re now sinking to new, sensationalistic lows. And it’s not just climate change.

Latest offerings: Richard Black on absurdist claims that million-year-long processes are changing right now; Black again telling the world that coal is now good (and reporting the energy policy ideas of a Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology); Mark Kinver crying that penguins are “suffering” (whilst whales and seals are thriving, as reported well hidden in the same article); Pallab Ghosh fantasizing about Soviets getting the Moon before the Americans (forgetting that the key technological factor was the development by the US of combustion chambers able to withstand enormous pressures, so the Saturn-V could do with 5 engines on the first stage instead of 30).

Expect soon articles on how people feel about string theory, and the dangers to the fabric of the Universe caused by pesky European particle accelerators (oh…nevermind)

In Case You Happened To Think Any Good About The BBC…

…here’s a story that will make you stop fantasizing.

There’s an old Italian proverb, “mal comune mezzo gaudio“, i.e. “a shared pain is half a pleasure”. Evidently, the destruction of journalistic standards about science has now spilled way beyond climate change.

Perhaps we could all save a quid or two on the TV licence by replacing all BBC science hacks with press release feeds based on RSS. At the very least, those are supposed to be verbatim copies of somebody else’s work…

UPDATE 25 Jul: The following comment of mine at the BBC is still in the “moderation queue”. Go figure.

To Tom (the commenter): Had Tom (the journalist) and the BBC reacted more promptly, none of the accusations would have appeared. There’s full 25 hours between comments 2 (Switek pointing out the similarities between his blog and Feilden’s) and 4 (the first comment about “Shame!”), and the “correction” must have happened three days after Switek raised the issue.

If you’re ever in court and you think you can reply to questions and requests with a 72 hours’ delay, you’re going to have a hard time whatever the jury…

To Tom (the journalist): Had you put a link to Switek’s blog, nobody would have ever accused you of plagiarism. Now, could you and the BBC Editors please come around to understand what the Internet is, and stop agonising about adding any link to outside sources??? THANK YOU!

UPDATE 26 JUL: As if by magic, the comment above has now been released from the moderation queue.

Poor Overall Quality Of BBC Science Pages – Not Just Climate Change

Interesting to see Ben Goldacre (here and here) and then Paul Bradshaw (here) complain about the BBC’s “bizarre” policy of linking to “journal homepages, and university homepages” rather than to the actual article being discussed. Goldacre:

there are the many serious problems raised by linking to university homepages (eg glasgow.ac.uk) and journal homepages, instead of specific research. They leave it completely ambiguous as to what piece of research was being described, often there is insufficient information in the news article to identify it, often time has passed and it is unclear what issue of the journal someone should be looking in

One of Bradshaw’s points might sound very familiar with people interested to understand climate change beyond the catastrophical rubbish so often mentioned as “science”:

Authoritative, accurate and attractive coverage relies at least in part in allowing users to point out issues with scientific research or its reporting

It is very unlikely the BBC will change its attitude…the Corporation is not built to correct itself based on readers’ comments. Still, people can vote with their mouse, and follow the lead of award-winning science writer Ed Yong (@edyong209):

Just unfollowed the BBC Science pages. What’s the point? Bland, linkless coverage. Times, Wired, NYT, Nature all far better.