The BBC, Paul Homewood notes, has been forced to retract fake claims about extreme weather based on a now discredited paper by Britain’s IPPR that we mentioned last week. Typically, it has done so in as surreptitious a fashion as possible and naturally the retraction won’t get the attention the screaming headlines about apocalypse did. But as with the CBC backing reluctantly down on similar if less drastic claims recently, the fact that it happened, and that the IPPR itself made significant changes to the paper, is an encouraging sign that methodological jiggery-pokery and hysterical sensationalism are in the end self-defeating.
The IPPR, or “Institute for Public Policy Research”, is a left-wing outfit known for work on social policy not science. The press would certainly exercise a degree of caution about climate work from a right-wing outfit. And just possibly they will become a little more wary after being burned by such unfounded claims.
Paul Homewood observes that on the most relevant sections the revised paper backs down. But it still makes a variety of totally fact-free claims, for instance that globally arable land is shrinking when even the UN says the reverse is true.
Many people are frustrated that “the public” doesn’t accept “the science” on some subject or another. But it’s very important that the press stop grabbing things they wish were true and yelling them without checking whether they are in fact true. And that requires a deeper change of attitude, from the crusading journalism that has been popular since the 1960s back to the skeptical kind previously in vogue.
The BBC, for instance, should be an observer not a participant in the debate on climate change. Instead, last September, a leaked email to staff revealed, it essentially banned climate sceptics from its programs, saying “To achieve impartiality you do not need to include outright deniers of climate change in BBC coverage, in the same way you would not have someone denying that Manchester United won 2-0 last Saturday. The referee has spoken.” Furthermore, “Be aware of ‘false balance’: as climate change is accepted as happening, you do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate.” Ironically, the memo also said “Climate change has been a difficult subject for the BBC, and we get coverage of it wrong too often.” Maybe that’s because you’re too quick to believe any nonsense that seems to support a crusade you’re meant to be covering not taking part in.
It is vaguely encouraging that news stories about recent deadly tornadoes in Alabama tended not to mention climate change, perhaps because of the juxtaposition with a wintery blast in the Midwest and Northeast. Perhaps evidence is making some kind of comeback. But it has a long way to go.