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Posts Tagged ‘BBC bias’

Climate Expertise Inflation By The BBC

2009/02/23 10 comments

Richard Black’s desire to defend the BBC is natural and even commendable. Still, his or any defence of the (unsigned) Feb 15 “Global warming ‘underestimated’” article is untenable.

That article is clearly misleading.

Black tries to make a point about Field’s political weight and the breadth of the IPCC “Impacts” Working Group remit:

As the new co-chair of the IPCC working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, he now has a leadership role in the periodic assessments of global climate change that are the most politically significant documents in the field; so his views on the subject will presumably carry some political weight, and are therefore worth reporting.

As to how well qualified someone who started life as a biologist is to pronounce on climate change; well, if you look at the scope of that IPCC working group, it’s extremely broad, and I suggest it would be impossible to find anyone who has formally studied all of the relevant disciplines.

That situation, though, is hardly unknown in science. Even within universities, a dean of science could hardly be expert in every subject in his or her faculty; yet many intelligent and able people seem to make a decent fist of it, and it’s highly unlikely, I would suggest, that Chris Field would have got the job if his peers didn’t think him qualified.

But that’s not the issue with the Feb 15 article. The problem is that the BBC chose to describe Field as a “leading climate scientist“. And whilst Black is right in stating that Field is a leader, and a scientist, and a biologist with experience in the potential impacts of climate change, by all means Field is no “climate scientist“.

Why couldn’t the BBC write of Field as a “leading biologist in the field of climate change“? As things stand instead, casual readers of that article will have no clue of the fact that Chris Field’s take on future temperatures is not a climatologist’s.

A quick search in past BBC news reports reveals how Brian Austin for example, Dean of Science at Heriot Watt University, was characterised first and foremost as the exact kind of expert he was (microbiologist) (“Sponge puzzles superbug experts“, 26/12/2005).

The BBC faux-pas about Field is perhaps telling of a mindset that conflates all kinds of experts under the all-encompassing umbrella of “climate”, whenever anybody mentions climate change/global warming within the IPCC orthodoxy.

And that mindset can only succeed in cheapening up the very concept of “climatologist”.

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

2008/04/07 8 comments

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

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