BBC on the Overselling of Climate Science

Via James Annan, a BBC piece on the “cry wolf” problem:

Hardly a day goes by without a new dire warning about climate change. But some claims are more extreme than others, giving rise to fears that the problem is being oversold and damaging the issue.

I’ve written narrowly about this problem before from a media point of view – the seizing upon a small and suggestive result to suggest a large and conclusive problem. But the BBC piece is much more comprehensive.

James links to Roger Pielke Jr.’s post on the issue that covers the most important base well: the BBC’s decision not to quote your garden-variety skeptics, who are in a tiny minority and are therefore easily dismissed in the tribal climate wars tussle. Instead, the producers chose people who believe in the scientific consensus, and believe climate change is a problem. By shifting the debate off of the usual tribal terrain, the producers force the discussion into a much more useful territory.


  1. No, my tongue wasn’t in my cheek. I was genuinely horrified, though Gavin’s response was a comfort.

  2. ?? You cannot be serious!! Journalists reading (and understanding) scientific papers? Which planet is this, I’d like a ticket there!

    I’m sure some of the higher-class ones like yourself do, of course. But Myles Allen on that programme explicitly said that the press release was written so journalists could just copy it out without having to read the paper. That’s also what I always understood to be the baseline case – anything over and above that is to be welcomed, but not expected.

  3. I think fleck has a very relevant point. gavin can’t have it both ways. If his personal experience is good behavior by journalists, he shouldn’t tar them with the tar brush. If the converse, then he ought to cite examples and expand on his expereicne and the rough percentages. I’m glad Fleck called him on it. Gavin’s pattern of speech falls right into what Von Storch talks about with scientists wanting to have it both ways. Enjoying the skewed stories that serve their enviro-political hobby horse, and being able to have plausable deniability when someone pushes too much on the truth/details.

  4. TCO – I don’t have a point. I asked a question. Gavin and James have both offered answers, from a scientist’s point of view, that are useful, and I remain horrified. I don’t think readers are at all well served by reporters writing stories who don’t/can’t read the papers. But stones and glass houses etc. I’ve been the guy more than once who got the assignment on a subject I knew nothing about.

    P.S. Your obsession with Gavin is a little creepy.

  5. I don’t have a Gavin obsession. But just out of interest was it creepy in a sexy way or in an ax murderer way?

  6. My first rule is never expect a reporter to understand anything complicated. It wastes your time, and it annoys the reporter (esp. if they have a deadline).

    There are exceptions. That is always the second rule.

  7. huh? how can blogging be creepy? Isn’t it the implicit Blue Velvet type eerieness that is creepy? The chance of real sex or violence? how can being stalked in blogs itself (and I don’t) be creepy. And I really give others way more attention than gavin. He’s low on the beating list. You’re higher. Ummm…unless you like that.

  8. You know, just this afternoon my daughter was telling me I ought to take granola bars on my bike rides rather than the expense foodbargoobers I use. Now that it’s got the TCO stamp of approval, I must!

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