Climate Deniers' Campaign Against the BBC Backfires
by Kelly Rigg, executive director, GCCA, Huffington Post, July 25, 2011
Last week's independent review of the BBC's science coverage was a major setback for climate denialism, concluding as it did that the BBC has given far too much weight to unsubstantiated claims. But one point has been largely overlooked in the extensive news coverage and commentary about the report: climate denial activists had actively campaigned for the investigation in the first place. That campaign has clearly backfired.
The BBC has received many complaints about alleged weaknesses in its treatment of the subject. Many emerge from an organised response by determined climate‐change deniers rather than being objective disagreements with particular programmes.
Because so much of science involves uncertainty, it is open to attack from those who have never experienced that sensation. Purity of belief makes it easy for denialists to attract the attention of news organisations, but hard for them to balance their ideas against those of the majority. This can lead to undue publicity for views supported by no factual information at all.
For at least three years, the climate change deniers have been marginal to the scientific debate but somehow they continued to find a place on the airwaves.And it further discredits the factually-challenged claims of some of the campaign's front men:
The impression of active debate is promoted by prominent individuals such as Lord Monckton and Lord Lawson. The BBC still gives space to them to make statements that are not supported by the facts.It should therefore come as no surprise that the report concludes the BBC has devoted too much attention to global warming deniers, not too little as denialists had claimed (and this is what most of the press coverage has focused on):
The BBC needs to continue to be careful when reporting on science to make a distinction between an opinion and a fact. When there is a consensus of opinion on scientific matters, providing an opposite view without consideration of "due weight" can lead to 'false balance', meaning that viewers might perceive an issue to be more controversial than it actually is. This does not mean that scientists cannot be questioned or challenged, but that their contributions must be properly scrutinised. Including an opposite view may well be appropriate, but the BBC must clearly communicate the degree of credibility that the view carries.
The climatewiki is so dangerous because it presents itself as providing 'neutral' information about climate change, when in fact it is a highly selective and ideologically filtered presentation of climate science and politics. The tactics of organisations like the Heartland Institute are well known: funding and disseminating information that aims to undermine attempts to regulate carbon emissions. They have been exposed and discredited on many occasions. But this is more subtle -- it's an attempt to make a grab for the very building blocks of knowledge that the media and political debates develop from.