Science Coverage in the Media — A Report on the BBC

By Darcy Cowan 22/07/2011

I just read this story about an independent review of science reporting from the BBC (via It covers the release of a report on the coverage of science by the BBC, while the report is mostly favourable there are a few things that could be addressed and done better.

The obvious one is the general media habit of false balance. This is the practice of inserting contrary views for the sake of it and in doing so providing a false sense of the actual sate of affairs. Examples given in the report are AGW, the MMR vaccine/Autism brouhaha and GM crops. For other markets I’d throw in the creationism/evolution “debate”, clashes between so-called Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM, or now “Intergrative Medicine”) and other issues where the science strongly favours one view point.

This is a significant problem in the media where the pressure must be great to both appear “impartial” and to take advantage of “manufactroversies” to drive consumers up-take of content. Care must be taken when presenting stories to give due weight to each view point in order to convey the correct interpretation to the target audience if stories are to be presented correctly. Too often fringe views are given disproportionate air time in order to the provide “balance”, but this has the effect of giving these views more credence in the public consciousness than they deserve.

A great parody/analogy used in the report by the reviewer was “mathematician discovers that 2 + 2 = 4; spokesperson for Duodecimal Liberation Front insists that 2 + 2 = 5, presenter sums up that ’2 + 2 = something like 4.5 but the debate goes on’.

That’s it in a nutshell.

A great video of comedian Dara O’Briain covers the same point. (I know it’s been posted before but it’s hilarious)

I have not yet had a chance to look at the entire report (it’s over 100 pages) but hopefully I can wade through it at some point ad pull out a few more interesting points.

Filed under: Sciblogs, Science Tagged: AGW, Autism, BBC, GM, media, MMR, reports, Science and Society, Steve Jones, Vaccines

0 Responses to “Science Coverage in the Media — A Report on the BBC”

  • Agggghhhhhh!!!! TVNZ have done it again. Tonights One news 26 August had a piece on blood sucking. Specifically drawing your own blood, spinning it down to separate platelets from plasma. Then……reinject the “reinvigorating plasma” into your face to rid them on wrinkles.

    For balance they had a doctor who suggested it was the next snake oil.

    FFS!!!!! Why do they do this?????????

    • reinvigorating plasma eh?
      Well maybe their skin isn’t getting enough plasma….well it’s not the worst thing people inject into their wrinkles.
      Still, doesn’t mean the News should be advertising it.