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Report Faults BBC Science Coverage

Journalists should focus more on accurately representing the science of climate change and vaccinations and less on impartiality, a new review finds.

By | July 22, 2011

Meltic Arctic sea iceNASA GODARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER

There may be two sides to every story, but sometimes only one is right. That’s the gist of a new review of BBC’s science coverage, which suggests journalists should focus more on accurately presenting the scientific consensus and less on presenting both sides on controversial issues such as climate change, genetically engineered foods, or the discredited link between vaccines and autism.

Overall, however, the review praised BBC’s science coverage. But the analysis of 8 weeks of media content conducted by Imperial College London geneticist Steve Jones did highlight several areas for improvement. In addition to giving too much space to fringe views such as climate change skepticism, the report also faulted the media outlet for lacking strong science contacts and for depending too heavily on press releases. The BBC has reviewed the findings and is already on board with one of its recommendations: hiring a science news editor, ScienceInsider reports.

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Avatar of: Toxicolo1

Anonymous

July 22, 2011

Discredited link between vaccines and autism. Discredited by whom? From an excerpt this week;

"Andrew Wakefield was a respected British gastroenterologist who began research into digestive problems in autistic children in collaboration with other doctors in the UK, after being called by parents seeking help. His work indicated severe digestive issues and he asked for more investigation of the MMR vaccine.

Brian Deer is the reporter who savaged Dr Wakefield from the pages of the Sunday Times, a paper managed by Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch who is on the board of GlaxoSmithKline which makes the MMR. Deer researched his case with the help of Medico-Legal Investigations a private enquiry company whose only source of funding is the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Deer was both the journalist writing on Wakefield and the person to bring a case of fitness to practice medicine to the General Medical Council, and then wrote about the proceedings as well. Parents whose children were treated by Wakefield were denied the right to be heard before a real court on claims against the vaccine manufacturers. The High Court judge who denied them was Sir Nigel Davis, whose brother is an executive board member of Elsevier, publishers of the Lancet which removed Wakefield's paper on the subject, published in 1998, and is on the Board of GlaxoSmithKline.
With the London Times given Brian Deer free reign to attack Wakefield, media closed in like shark. Coincidentally, the head of Reuters serves on the Board of Merck, and Miriam Stoppard who writes at the Daily Mirror Newspaper is married to Sir Christopher Hogg, who was Chairman of GlaxoSmith Kline until 2004. Dr Kumar, the Chairman of the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel who ruled against Dr Andrew Wakefield, would not answer questions about his shareholdings in GlaxoSmithKline, and said there was no such thing as vaccine damage as well as saying that any parents who claimed that their children had suffered such, would be treated with scorn and contempt."

Avatar of: Anova

Anonymous

July 22, 2011

How about the fact that Wakefield did not get informed consent from the participants. How about the fact that Wakefield  did not have IRB approval to run his so called study thus making his project unethical. How about the fact that most of the subjects in question were not autistic. How about the fact that Wakefield fabricated all of his key outcome data. How about the fact that Wakefield was working on his own vaccine. How about the fact that Wakefield was working for lawyers that were representing clients who were planning to sue vaccine manufacturers.  You employ the clever tactic used by conspiracy theorists. Throw out a bunch of seemingly connected events which in fact are random events and not connected to sow some doubt and then let people reach the wrong conclusion based on what appear to be conditional events. In fact the probability that all of these events you describe are conditionally connected approaches zero. However, like all good conspiracy theorists are known to say, if the probabilty is not exactly zero, these events could happen.

Avatar of: Garth Flannery

Anonymous

July 22, 2011

Thank you! I can't stand these conspiracy theorists. They have been watching too many episodes of the Xfiles.

July 22, 2011

Discredited by every scientist who's looked at it since.

Avatar of: donna rohrer

Anonymous

July 22, 2011

As a former journalist and now technical writer who is working toward a master's degree in ethics, I couldn't agree more. However, scientists and researchers need to appreciate that few journalists are trained scientists and often don't have or take the time to thoroughly research their stories. A step in the right direction would be to make available more training for journalists by science and engineering professional societies and organizations with missions that aim at raising the level of public understanding of their fields. Just a thought.

Avatar of: Bob105

Bob105

Posts: 4

July 22, 2011

Does Rupert plan to shut down the BBC unit like he did News of World? They're obviously one and the same. This has to be their source for all the Wakefield coverage.

Avatar of: Bob105

Bob105

Posts: 4

July 22, 2011

Anova, everything you said here is based on one source and one source only, Brian Deer (see above). Do you really believe the Royal Free Hospital where the work was done did not require the proper consent forms? The parents brought their kids to Wakefield, not the other way around. How could Wakefield patent a vaccine (mono-valent measles) that had already existed for 40 years? The Lancet had Wakefield's paper in house 6 months before he was contacted by the British Legal Defense Fund. There were 12 other Doctors involved in this work. Isn't it obvious why they deserted Dr. Wakefield? 

Avatar of: JLawrence

Anonymous

July 22, 2011

It's about time.  Several years ago I listened to a supposedly balanced debate on climate change between Fred Singer (environmental scientist specialising in economics, paid as a consultant to the oil industry) and Mike Meacher MP, who had no scientific background at all.  Singer is a climate skeptic, Meacher was intended to represent the oppositive camp.  Of course, Singer made all sorts of claims which could have been challenged by a more knowledgeable person - but Meacher was not up to the task at all.  Had I not known better, I would have thought that support for the ideas of climate change and global warming were very fringe and eccentric, held only by those with no training in the area.  This was on Radio 4, and the presenter did nothing to try to challenge either debater, neither of whom was making much sense.

In the years since that broadcast things have got a bit better, and I'm very pleased that it is now being acknowledged that balanced reporting is not what is achieved when fringe views are represented as mainstream, and broadcasters are unable to engage intelligently with their guests.  Best of luck to the BBC as it continues to get to grips with science.

However, I disagree with DR regarding training for journalists.  I would like to see more scientists recruited to the media instead.  Scientific understanding is not something you pick up in a night course or on a two week retreat.  It would be good to see people with a genuine grounding in scientific methods, research, statistics, and other critical fields in posts where they engage with science-related news.  There may be a few talented individuals who haven't done science since O-level, but can pick up what they need as science journalists - but I suspect it would be considerably easier to train scientists to be good broadcasters than the other way around.

Avatar of: JAS4five

Anonymous

July 22, 2011

Even the FDA is backtracking on vaccinations.  Climate change could be considerably improved by taxing meat which would improve health as well.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Discredited link between vaccines and autism. Discredited by whom? From an excerpt this week;

"Andrew Wakefield was a respected British gastroenterologist who began research into digestive problems in autistic children in collaboration with other doctors in the UK, after being called by parents seeking help. His work indicated severe digestive issues and he asked for more investigation of the MMR vaccine.

Brian Deer is the reporter who savaged Dr Wakefield from the pages of the Sunday Times, a paper managed by Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch who is on the board of GlaxoSmithKline which makes the MMR. Deer researched his case with the help of Medico-Legal Investigations a private enquiry company whose only source of funding is the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Deer was both the journalist writing on Wakefield and the person to bring a case of fitness to practice medicine to the General Medical Council, and then wrote about the proceedings as well. Parents whose children were treated by Wakefield were denied the right to be heard before a real court on claims against the vaccine manufacturers. The High Court judge who denied them was Sir Nigel Davis, whose brother is an executive board member of Elsevier, publishers of the Lancet which removed Wakefield's paper on the subject, published in 1998, and is on the Board of GlaxoSmithKline.
With the London Times given Brian Deer free reign to attack Wakefield, media closed in like shark. Coincidentally, the head of Reuters serves on the Board of Merck, and Miriam Stoppard who writes at the Daily Mirror Newspaper is married to Sir Christopher Hogg, who was Chairman of GlaxoSmith Kline until 2004. Dr Kumar, the Chairman of the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel who ruled against Dr Andrew Wakefield, would not answer questions about his shareholdings in GlaxoSmithKline, and said there was no such thing as vaccine damage as well as saying that any parents who claimed that their children had suffered such, would be treated with scorn and contempt."

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

How about the fact that Wakefield did not get informed consent from the participants. How about the fact that Wakefield  did not have IRB approval to run his so called study thus making his project unethical. How about the fact that most of the subjects in question were not autistic. How about the fact that Wakefield fabricated all of his key outcome data. How about the fact that Wakefield was working on his own vaccine. How about the fact that Wakefield was working for lawyers that were representing clients who were planning to sue vaccine manufacturers.  You employ the clever tactic used by conspiracy theorists. Throw out a bunch of seemingly connected events which in fact are random events and not connected to sow some doubt and then let people reach the wrong conclusion based on what appear to be conditional events. In fact the probability that all of these events you describe are conditionally connected approaches zero. However, like all good conspiracy theorists are known to say, if the probabilty is not exactly zero, these events could happen.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Thank you! I can't stand these conspiracy theorists. They have been watching too many episodes of the Xfiles.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Discredited by every scientist who's looked at it since.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

As a former journalist and now technical writer who is working toward a master's degree in ethics, I couldn't agree more. However, scientists and researchers need to appreciate that few journalists are trained scientists and often don't have or take the time to thoroughly research their stories. A step in the right direction would be to make available more training for journalists by science and engineering professional societies and organizations with missions that aim at raising the level of public understanding of their fields. Just a thought.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Does Rupert plan to shut down the BBC unit like he did News of World? They're obviously one and the same. This has to be their source for all the Wakefield coverage.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Anova, everything you said here is based on one source and one source only, Brian Deer (see above). Do you really believe the Royal Free Hospital where the work was done did not require the proper consent forms? The parents brought their kids to Wakefield, not the other way around. How could Wakefield patent a vaccine (mono-valent measles) that had already existed for 40 years? The Lancet had Wakefield's paper in house 6 months before he was contacted by the British Legal Defense Fund. There were 12 other Doctors involved in this work. Isn't it obvious why they deserted Dr. Wakefield? 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

It's about time.  Several years ago I listened to a supposedly balanced debate on climate change between Fred Singer (environmental scientist specialising in economics, paid as a consultant to the oil industry) and Mike Meacher MP, who had no scientific background at all.  Singer is a climate skeptic, Meacher was intended to represent the oppositive camp.  Of course, Singer made all sorts of claims which could have been challenged by a more knowledgeable person - but Meacher was not up to the task at all.  Had I not known better, I would have thought that support for the ideas of climate change and global warming were very fringe and eccentric, held only by those with no training in the area.  This was on Radio 4, and the presenter did nothing to try to challenge either debater, neither of whom was making much sense.

In the years since that broadcast things have got a bit better, and I'm very pleased that it is now being acknowledged that balanced reporting is not what is achieved when fringe views are represented as mainstream, and broadcasters are unable to engage intelligently with their guests.  Best of luck to the BBC as it continues to get to grips with science.

However, I disagree with DR regarding training for journalists.  I would like to see more scientists recruited to the media instead.  Scientific understanding is not something you pick up in a night course or on a two week retreat.  It would be good to see people with a genuine grounding in scientific methods, research, statistics, and other critical fields in posts where they engage with science-related news.  There may be a few talented individuals who haven't done science since O-level, but can pick up what they need as science journalists - but I suspect it would be considerably easier to train scientists to be good broadcasters than the other way around.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Even the FDA is backtracking on vaccinations.  Climate change could be considerably improved by taxing meat which would improve health as well.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Discredited link between vaccines and autism. Discredited by whom? From an excerpt this week;

"Andrew Wakefield was a respected British gastroenterologist who began research into digestive problems in autistic children in collaboration with other doctors in the UK, after being called by parents seeking help. His work indicated severe digestive issues and he asked for more investigation of the MMR vaccine.

Brian Deer is the reporter who savaged Dr Wakefield from the pages of the Sunday Times, a paper managed by Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch who is on the board of GlaxoSmithKline which makes the MMR. Deer researched his case with the help of Medico-Legal Investigations a private enquiry company whose only source of funding is the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry. Deer was both the journalist writing on Wakefield and the person to bring a case of fitness to practice medicine to the General Medical Council, and then wrote about the proceedings as well. Parents whose children were treated by Wakefield were denied the right to be heard before a real court on claims against the vaccine manufacturers. The High Court judge who denied them was Sir Nigel Davis, whose brother is an executive board member of Elsevier, publishers of the Lancet which removed Wakefield's paper on the subject, published in 1998, and is on the Board of GlaxoSmithKline.
With the London Times given Brian Deer free reign to attack Wakefield, media closed in like shark. Coincidentally, the head of Reuters serves on the Board of Merck, and Miriam Stoppard who writes at the Daily Mirror Newspaper is married to Sir Christopher Hogg, who was Chairman of GlaxoSmith Kline until 2004. Dr Kumar, the Chairman of the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel who ruled against Dr Andrew Wakefield, would not answer questions about his shareholdings in GlaxoSmithKline, and said there was no such thing as vaccine damage as well as saying that any parents who claimed that their children had suffered such, would be treated with scorn and contempt."

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

How about the fact that Wakefield did not get informed consent from the participants. How about the fact that Wakefield  did not have IRB approval to run his so called study thus making his project unethical. How about the fact that most of the subjects in question were not autistic. How about the fact that Wakefield fabricated all of his key outcome data. How about the fact that Wakefield was working on his own vaccine. How about the fact that Wakefield was working for lawyers that were representing clients who were planning to sue vaccine manufacturers.  You employ the clever tactic used by conspiracy theorists. Throw out a bunch of seemingly connected events which in fact are random events and not connected to sow some doubt and then let people reach the wrong conclusion based on what appear to be conditional events. In fact the probability that all of these events you describe are conditionally connected approaches zero. However, like all good conspiracy theorists are known to say, if the probabilty is not exactly zero, these events could happen.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Thank you! I can't stand these conspiracy theorists. They have been watching too many episodes of the Xfiles.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Discredited by every scientist who's looked at it since.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

As a former journalist and now technical writer who is working toward a master's degree in ethics, I couldn't agree more. However, scientists and researchers need to appreciate that few journalists are trained scientists and often don't have or take the time to thoroughly research their stories. A step in the right direction would be to make available more training for journalists by science and engineering professional societies and organizations with missions that aim at raising the level of public understanding of their fields. Just a thought.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Does Rupert plan to shut down the BBC unit like he did News of World? They're obviously one and the same. This has to be their source for all the Wakefield coverage.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Anova, everything you said here is based on one source and one source only, Brian Deer (see above). Do you really believe the Royal Free Hospital where the work was done did not require the proper consent forms? The parents brought their kids to Wakefield, not the other way around. How could Wakefield patent a vaccine (mono-valent measles) that had already existed for 40 years? The Lancet had Wakefield's paper in house 6 months before he was contacted by the British Legal Defense Fund. There were 12 other Doctors involved in this work. Isn't it obvious why they deserted Dr. Wakefield? 

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

It's about time.  Several years ago I listened to a supposedly balanced debate on climate change between Fred Singer (environmental scientist specialising in economics, paid as a consultant to the oil industry) and Mike Meacher MP, who had no scientific background at all.  Singer is a climate skeptic, Meacher was intended to represent the oppositive camp.  Of course, Singer made all sorts of claims which could have been challenged by a more knowledgeable person - but Meacher was not up to the task at all.  Had I not known better, I would have thought that support for the ideas of climate change and global warming were very fringe and eccentric, held only by those with no training in the area.  This was on Radio 4, and the presenter did nothing to try to challenge either debater, neither of whom was making much sense.

In the years since that broadcast things have got a bit better, and I'm very pleased that it is now being acknowledged that balanced reporting is not what is achieved when fringe views are represented as mainstream, and broadcasters are unable to engage intelligently with their guests.  Best of luck to the BBC as it continues to get to grips with science.

However, I disagree with DR regarding training for journalists.  I would like to see more scientists recruited to the media instead.  Scientific understanding is not something you pick up in a night course or on a two week retreat.  It would be good to see people with a genuine grounding in scientific methods, research, statistics, and other critical fields in posts where they engage with science-related news.  There may be a few talented individuals who haven't done science since O-level, but can pick up what they need as science journalists - but I suspect it would be considerably easier to train scientists to be good broadcasters than the other way around.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 22, 2011

Even the FDA is backtracking on vaccinations.  Climate change could be considerably improved by taxing meat which would improve health as well.

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 23, 2011

Scientific consensus is a catch phrase among groups or schools of thought. At the end of the day, it is akin to voting on experiments and results. BBC have been commendably serving the cause of science by informing about two, or some time more versions and views on experiments, results and pronouncements. The viewers must understand conflicts in scientific research to make up their minds to carry forward experiments, versions and views in chosen manners to come to a logical conclusions. Different thoughts followed by experimental exclusion of flawed experiments and judgements is an important, perhaps the only way of doing science.  My commendations for BBC on programmes on science and future thereof. SKT Nasar, Kolkata, India <sktnasar@hotmail.com></sktnasar@hotmail.com>

Avatar of:

Posts: 0

July 23, 2011

Scientific consensus is a catch phrase among groups or schools of thought. At the end of the day, it is akin to voting on experiments and results. BBC have been commendably serving the cause of science by informing about two, or some time more versions and views on experiments, results and pronouncements. The viewers must understand conflicts in scientific research to make up their minds to carry forward experiments, versions and views in chosen manners to come to a logical conclusions. Different thoughts followed by experimental exclusion of flawed experiments and judgements is an important, perhaps the only way of doing science.  My commendations for BBC on programmes on science and future thereof. SKT Nasar, Kolkata, India <sktnasar@hotmail.com></sktnasar@hotmail.com>

Avatar of: SKT Nasar

Anonymous

July 23, 2011

Scientific consensus is a catch phrase among groups or schools of thought. At the end of the day, it is akin to voting on experiments and results. BBC have been commendably serving the cause of science by informing about two, or some time more versions and views on experiments, results and pronouncements. The viewers must understand conflicts in scientific research to make up their minds to carry forward experiments, versions and views in chosen manners to come to a logical conclusions. Different thoughts followed by experimental exclusion of flawed experiments and judgements is an important, perhaps the only way of doing science.  My commendations for BBC on programmes on science and future thereof. SKT Nasar, Kolkata, India <sktnasar@hotmail.com></sktnasar@hotmail.com>

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