David Colquhoun has posted something on the BBC’s announcement of a report on the impartiality of science journalism on the BBC. I’ve sent them my twopence-worth.
I believe that two issues which (among others) should be addressed in the forthcoming review of impartiality and accuracy in the BBC’s coverage of science are (a) linking to original sources and (b) balance.
References provide a way of instantly checking the facts behind a story. The BBC have previously informed me that “As the is site intended for lay readers, it is our editorial policy not to give specific references to pieces in journals”. The implication seems to be that lay readers either don’t need references or can’t understand academic papers. This is a position with which I would strongly disagree. Given the ease with which sources can be linked to in online stories, the failure to link to original sources in such reports represents a real wasted opportunity.
It was also pointed out to me that the BBC’s policy was in line with the practice in national newspapers. Rather than aiming to be on the same level as the Daily Mail, perhaps the BBC should aim higher and use the New York Times as a role model?
With regards the need for “balance” in reporting: too often, minority views that are not supported by the available evidence are given undue prominence. I can recall seeing examples of this in the BBC’s online reporting of news on vaccination, with the opinions of fringe groups seemingly accorded the same importance as the established facts on vaccination. Professor David Colquhoun provides an example of a Radio 4 phone-in that was skewed in favour of the views of an advocate of alternative medicine here: You and Yours.
I had a bit of a whinge about this a couple of years ago. Here’s what I wrote at the time: Linky McLink.