Cliscep v. the BBC: Round 1
A few days ago I sent a complaint to the BBC about the Attenborough programme “Climate Change – the Facts.” Complaints by email are limited to 2000 characters (about 300 words.) I wanted to get the maximum factual criticism in, so it’s written in Twitterspeak. Here it is, as posted, except that I’ve added numbers to each paragraph for ease of reference:
1. Most “facts” quoted false, some irrelevant or misleading in context. Examples:
2. There are no “Greater storms, greater floods extreme sea-level rise.” according to the IPCC, nor, according to the IPCC, is this “happening far faster than any of us thought possible.”
3. “At the current rate of warming,” we risk, not the “devastating future” mentioned by Atters, but the same temp rise as last century: < 1°C.
4. Bats dying in thousands from heat first recorded in Australia in 1791, not our fault.
5. Temp rise at the equator is less than elsewhere. Highly habitable (unlike the poles.)
6. Wildfires in Ca last year caused by sparks from electric cables, not clim change. Film of wildfire was from 2009 in Montana, but Atters introduced it with “The fires that swept through California last year…”
7.“Antarctica is losing 3X as much ice today as it was 25 years ago.” But it was gaining 25 yrs ago.
8. Louisiana land loss due to subsidence, also silting, river course changes, deforestation. Not climate change.
9. Orang utan being killed off by deforestation to grow palm oil to satisfy green policies to save climate.
10. Graph falsely attributed to IPCC. Real temps go up to 2018, so can’t be from last IPCC report.
11. On Paris summit, no mention of fact that countries responsible for 70% of emissions are not bound to make any reductions at all. Europe and white commonwealth are to do all the reductions. Absurd.
12. “rapid falls in the price of renewable energy. Solar power has led the way with this.. Germany went first.. and China really picked up the baton.”
13.Germany has 2nd highest electricity prices in Europe. China will continue increasing coal use until 2030.
14. “Solar power is now the cheapest form of newly installed electricity in more than 60 countries” because coal and gas are not “newly installed”and no-one is installing nuclear.
15. 1 fact quoted from a scientific source: “..huge benefits from a warming planet. In the IPCC’s own report, there’s fewer deaths from cold-related diseases.” Lawson
Six of the fifteen paragraphs, numbers 2, 3, 7, 8, 10, 12, mention what I consider to be false statements.
Paras 5, 11, 13, 14 refer to statements which are wildly misleading, since they leave out important context.
Paras 4, 6, 9 refer to the long sequences on bats, forest fires, and deforestation, which are not relevant to “the facts” of climate change.
Here is the reply from the BBC complaints team:
Dear Mr Chambers
Thank you for contacting us about ‘Climate Change – the Facts’ and your concerns surrounding the accuracy of the programme.
Climate Change – the Facts represented the work of a wide range of scientists from the UK and US, as well as other countries, demonstrating the scale and scope of scientific endeavour and thinking around this complex subject.
Their interviews were based on their research, describing what it has revealed and in some instances expressing personal reactions based on their deep insights. The overall content of the programme was also based on peer reviewed scientific research, which was rigorously checked by an independent scientific consultant, a leading academic at University College London. Inevitably in a 60 minute programme there were some subject areas which could not be addressed in greater detail or which we did not feature.
The vast majority of climate scientists agree on the fundamentals of human induced climate change and this was reflected in the film. As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing those who do not agree with this position.
There are many complexities in communicating climate change to a mainstream audience; the film sought to balance potentially alarming scenarios with scientific analysis on attribution (the extent to which extreme weather events and other phenomena such as sea level rise can be linked to climate change), climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future (in which inevitably there are many uncertainties) and actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change going forward. While Sir David Attenborough drew on his own experience of reporting on this subject over many years, he also balanced a sense of urgency with optimism that there are ways of addressing the serious issues we undoubtedly face.
We hope this helps to address your concerns and we thank you for taking the time to contact us.
Kind Regards, BBC Complaints Team
This is unsatisfactory. The next step is a complaint about their reply, followed by a complaint to Ofcom if they don’t reply satisfactorily to that. I’ll also be writing to Chris Rapley, who was the scientific advisor to the programme, and to Peter Stott, who also had some advisory input, I believe. Since my complaint about the insufficiency of the BBC’s reply to my complaint is also limited to about 300 words, there’s lots I won‘t be saying, so I thought I’d get it off my chest here.
You can send a written complaint of any length you like, but the simple fact of it being on paper means that it will inevitably (and quite literally) go to the bottom of the pile. So I’ll be replying by email, and linking to this article, (and to a couple of forthcoming articles here by other clisceppers.) That way I hope to be able to make my point within their absurd limits. What follows is the basis of my objection to their reply to my complaint, as if addressed directly to the BBC. The paragraphs are numbered in order to aid reference in my reply to the BBC.
1.The presenter of a TV nature programme is not testifying on oath, and no-one expects him to cite a peer reviewed source for each statement. However, a programme with “the Facts,” in the title should surely be held to higher standards than one which simply expresses the opinion of the presenter.
2.Your reply states that the interviews with scientists“were based on their research, describing what it has revealed and in some instances expressing personal reactions based on their deep insights” That would be fine in a programme titled “Climate Change – Personal Reactions of some Scientists based on their Deep Insights.” But that wasn’t the case.
3.You continue: “The overall content of the programme was also based on peer reviewed scientific research, which was rigorously checked by an independent scientific consultant, a leading academic at University College London.”(Why they fail to name Professor Chris Rapley is a mystery. We know perfectly well who he is.)
3.1 .My last brush with Rapley was when his lawyer wrote to me demanding that I remove from my blog a samizdat transcript of a monologue he had delivered at the Royal Court – a theatrical piece entitled 2071, in which he explained to enthralled London theatregoers why the world was going to end before his granddaughter had attained the age he was at then. My justification for infringing his copyright was that if you’re going to announce the end of the world to a few privileged theatregoers, and receive a subsidy from the European Union for doing so, then the least you could do would be to let the rest of the world in on the secret. The lawyer didn’t see it that way, but she told me that the script would be available free on the site of the Royal Court. I don’t know if it is, but you can buy the script on Amazon for 1 cent, so honour is saved.
3.2I also had a go at Rapley for chairing a conference of psychoanalysts discussing how to make their patients more neurotic and miserable than they already were by bolstering their belief in the imminent end of the world. This probably contravenes some professional code of conduct. I must look into it some time.
3.3 But even before that I had written to the Science Museum demanding the sacking of Rapley from his post of Director. The story, briefly, is this. In late 2014 he had organised a forthcoming exhibition on Climate Change at the London Science Museum. Then an election was called for early 2015, and the environment minister Ed Milliband asked Rapley to bring forward the exhibition to occur before the election. This was impossible, so Rapley asked a public relations firm to put on a scratch exhibition, which they did, in six weeks. It was rubbish, apparently, and resulted in a minor scandal when an online questionnaire on belief in climate change went wrong for the organisers, and was hacked. I wrote to the Science Museum trustees pointing out that directors of major cultural bodies do not normally jump to it when requested to by government ministers, except perhaps in North Korea, and demanding that Rapley be sacked. They didn’t reply, but soon after Rapley resigned, to take up a chair in my old university. By chance, my granddaughter was a student recently in the department to which Rapley was attached. She’d never heard of him. She’d hardly ever seen most of the professors, since the courses were given mostly by doctorate students. That’s the world’s fifth best university for you. It wasn’t like that in my day.
3.4 So I shall be writing to Professor Rapley too. A 93 year-old nature reporter can be forgiven for going a bit over the top on “the facts.” Rapley was paid out of the BBC licence fee to rein him in. I wonder what advice he gave, and whether it could be retrieved via a FOIA request? We know the BBC doesn’t like that, since they fielded five barristers to prevent Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery from discovering the identity of the 28 climate scientists responsible for establishing their policy on reporting climate change.
4. “Inevitably in a 60 minute programme there were some subject areas which could not be addressed in greater detail or which we did not feature.” Certainly. These will be listed in a forthcoming article here. Not to have mentioned climate sensitivity, for example, is a serious omission. The fact that the IPCC estimates climate sensitivity to CO2 as anywhere between 1.5°C and 4°C, and that there has been no progress in identifying a more precise value of this key concept in forty years, is a serious problem for climate science. But not, apparently, for the BBC.
5.“As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing those who do not agree with this position.” Please name one person, anyone, who claims that climate change isn’t happening. The main claim of us climate sceptics, (or denialists, if you prefer,) is that climate change is happening all the time. Your policy, as demonstrated in this programme, and in all your output on the subject, is to ignore the opinions of all those who refuse to conform to the catastrophic view of climate change. Among those whose views were not mentioned in the programme, and can never be mentioned in any programme on the BBC, according to the criteria you announce, are respected climate scientists like Richard Lindzen, Judith Curry ,and John Christy and Roy Spencer of the university of Alabama, who produce the main satellite data base of global temperatures. As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing climate scientists who do not agree with Michael Mann, Naomi Oreskes, and Peter Stott. Michael Mann and Naomi Oreskes hold opinions which are .. controversial.
6.“The film sought to balance potentially alarming scenarios with scientific analysis on attribution (the extent to which extreme weather events and other phenomena such as sea level rise can be linked to climate change), climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future (in which inevitably there are many uncertainties) and actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change going forward.”
6.1“The film sought to balance potentially alarming scenarios..”The logical follow-on would have been: “..with less alarming scenarios.” Because, as you go on to say of what may happen in the future: “inevitably there are many uncertainties…” But instead, you balance your “potentially alarming scenarios”with“scientific analysis on attribution … climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future … and actions aimed at reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change going forward.” This is not balancing. This is assuming the truth of the potentially alarming scenarios, and deciding what must be done to mitigate their effect. At no point were the “potentially alarming scenarios” balanced. And why should they be? As you say yourself in your reply: “the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate.”
7. “While Sir David Attenborough drew on his own experience of reporting on this subject over many years, he also balanced a sense of urgency with optimism that there are ways of addressing the serious issues we undoubtedly face.”Sir David Attenborough is 93. No-one is going to take him to court for being somewhat economical with the truth in a script that he may not even have written himself. But once again, the balance is unbalanced, because “the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate.”
8. The credits are extraordinarily vague for a programme claiming to reveal “the Facts” on a subject which numerous world leaders have identified as the most important problem facing the world. Three people responsible for producing the programme are identified as working for the Glasgow-based TV production company IWC Media. Only one of them, Jonathan Warne, features on the IWC Media website. Before helping to produce “Climate Change – the Facts” he was an estate agent. Nothing wrong with that, but one would like to know exactly what was his input into a programme about “the facts” of the science of climate change, and also what was the input of his two colleagues at IWC media who don’t even feature at their employer’s website.
9. The longest section of the programme is devoted to the opinions of Greta Thunberg, a child suffering from Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, who rose to fame when her mother wrote a book accusing the Swedish government of not doing enough to help her daughter. How this fits into a programme entitled “Climate Change – the Facts” is a not explained.
Geoff, yr letter, alack, pearls before swine. Here’s another view of the walrus stampede by Susan Crockford. who happens to be a scientist studying polar bears, but just not one of the consensuss scientists that the BBC endorses.
Jo Nova also recently did a blog post critical of the Walrus Affair. You might like to check it out. I will link to your post on her blog.
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Geoff, well done, indeed. Even by the standards of the BBC, however, their reply to you is astonishingly bland, patronising and unfocused on the detail of your complaint. Definitely worth escalating IMO. Good luck.
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“As climate change is accepted as happening, the BBC no longer seeks to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing those who do not agree with this position.”
This approach goes back to the 2004. This Tyndall working paper shows the strategy:
“The Social Simulation of the Public Perception of Weather Events and their Effect upon the Development of Belief in Anthropogenic Climate Change” Dennis Bray and Simon Shackley, September 2004. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
“As the science itself is contested, needless to say, so are the potential policy changes. So how then do people make sense or construct a reality of something that they can never experience in its totality (climate) and a reality that has not yet manifest (i.e. climate change)?
To endorse policy change people must ‘believe’ that global warming will become a reality some time in the future.
Only the experience of positive temperature anomalies will be registered as indication of change if the issue is framed as global warming.
Both positive and negative temperature anomalies will be registered in experience as indication of change if the issue is framed as climate change.
We propose that in those countries where climate change has become the predominant popular term for the phenomenon, unseasonably cold temperatures, for example, are also interpreted to reflect climate change/global warming.
David Miliband MP, DEFRA, at the Audit Commission annual lecture, 19 July 2006:
“So the science is increasingly stark. The potential to solve climate change is increasingly in our hands. Public awareness and concern has never been higher. The challenge is to translate awareness into action.”
Labour’s favourite think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, (David Miliband was an IPPR Research Fellow in the 1990s), had the following advice in 2006 for public agencies interfacing with the public:
“…it is our recommendation that, at least for popular communications, interested agencies now need to treat the argument as having been won.”
“This means simply behaving as if man-made climate change is real, and that individual actions to prevent further change will be effective. The UK Government’s new climate-change slogan – ‘Together this generation will tackle climate change’ (Defra 2006) – is but an example of this approach. It constructs…its own factuality.”
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Well done Geoff. Well put together summary.
“This is unsatisfactory.”
Understatement of the year!
Their reply failed to address any of your valid points, even passingly, let alone substantially, substituting instead a dollop of meaningless corporate-speak. I think the fact that they have adopted this tactic from the word go speaks volumes. They have tacitly admitted at this very early stage that they have no logical, rational defence of the program, the way it was constructed, the presentation of and the technical merit of the ‘facts’ offered up for prime time public consumption therein. Already, they are on the ropes.
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I wonder if Channel 4 or another broadcaster would would seek to balance the debate with a programme of their own.
typo in 3.4 Ripley = Rapley
[Thanks Stew. WordPress has these funny turns. In one article it transformed Oreskes to Orestes throughout]
The big problem is that when it decided to show, and give maximum publicity, to the Attenborough programme, the BBC must have known it would generate lots of complaints regarding the inaccuracies and issues in the programme. I imagine, therefore, the bland pro forma response is the one that all complainants will receive, and it was prepared in advance, in all probability.
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An admirable initiative, giving the BBC a chance to redeem itself a little. Letting some apprentice compose the brush-off was not a good start for them though, as it merely reveals the jaded kit of boilerplate he or she had available to play with. But regardless of what they may do next, the complaint itself, and the response to the response, stand by themselves as fine pieces of work that will help illuminate discussions of the state of the BBC in general, and Attenborough’s Disgrace in particular, for some time to come.
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Agree with Mark and John here. The programme was disgraceful, as was this form response. But we are going to respond to the response.
I wonder what would would happen if one sent in a totally spoof complaint?
Probably get the same reply.
Geoff C: The IPCC says…
BBC: We don’t present views that aren’t mainstream…
BBC: ‘We don’t interview people who don’t support the view of most climate scientists.’
So why the fuck are you talking to Michael Mann then?
from your post – “Rapley was paid out of the BBC licence fee to rein him in. I wonder what advice he gave, and whether it could be retrieved via a FOIA request? We know the BBC doesn’t like that, since they fielded five barristers to prevent Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery from discovering the identity of the 28 climate scientists responsible for establishing their policy on reporting climate change.”
the BBC news team almost daily report on stories/investigations the info/data they have obtained is from FOIA requests.
what a bunch of hypocrites.
Maybe you should stress the fact that the programme is outside the consensus view as given by the IPCC, therefore they are giving airtime to cranks and did not do enough to stress that these views are not supported by “the science”
ya had 300 words and threw spitballs, none of which stuck to the wall.
Pick your best argument, having too many makes it easy for them.
or get many people, each of whom writes up one argument.
folks will never learn
As some of us suspected, the BBC response IS a pro forma that was obviously drafted in advance in anticipation of complaints, and is being sent to all complainants, regardless of the detail of the complaint. Dave S has just posted the BBC’s reply to his complaint, over at Unthreaded at Bishop Hill, and it’s the same as the reply you received.
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How would one big, fully referenced spitball be better?
I say (para 2) “The IPCC doesn’t say that.” They’re free to find a quote that shows I’m wrong, if they can.
I say (para 3) “the current rate of warming is not devastating.” They’re free to cite evidence that it is, and so on.
Half the time, I don’t even know what I’m talking about, and that’s part of the point. Take para 7 on Antarctic ice. I’m saying the professional glacier man is wrong and I’m right, though I know nothing about Antarctic ice, except that it was thought to be growing until recently, and now it’s thought to be diminishing, with absolutely no certainty about anything. In these circumstances, for the expert to make such a precise statement, with the implication that the Antarctic is going to melt away and we’re all going to drown, is serious professional misconduct. If I’m wrong, I’ve just been a bit of a cocky twat, which is not the same thing.
Saying: “You’ve got something wrong” is one thing. Saying “you’ve got at least ten things wrong” in 300 words is something else. That’s what I wanted to do.
I’m not saying it’s the only possible strategy. The BBC is a different kind of target from, say, Al Gore. There are laws about how the BBC is supposed to behave.
Just to confirm MARK HODGSON 28 Apr 19 at 6:48 pm, my complaint, which focused on two issues picked pretty much at random (the presentation of scientists’ beliefs about the impact of climate change on extinction rates; and mass bat deaths) recieved an identical response, which I’ve rejected.
Are you sure you are only allowed 300 words? I’m sure the box allowed 2000 words.
Oops – I was conflating characters with words- ignord that bit!
Has anyone considered offering a complaint that explicitly pre-empts the BBC’s standard reply. Might I suggest something like the following?
“The programme ‘Climate Change – the Facts’ clearly fails to represent the work of a wide range of scientists from the UK and US, as well as other countries. Furthermore, it fails to demonstrate the scale and scope of scientific endeavour and thinking around what is a complex subject.
Rather than presenting widely accepted facts, the programme was based solely upon interviews with selected experts in which they were describing what their personal research had revealed whilst, in some instances, expressing personal reactions based on their insights alone.
Although the overall content of the programme was based on peer reviewed scientific research, the programme failed to warn the viewer of the recognized inadequacies of the peer-review process – a failing that was compounded by the BBC’s policy of using only a single scientific consultant to check the veracity of the research featured in the film.
Whilst the vast majority of climate scientists agree on the fundamentals of human induced climate change (as was reflected in the film), the BBC policy of no longer seeking to ‘balance’ the debate by interviewing those who do not agree that ‘climate change is happening’ has resulted in a failure to consult those scientific experts within the field who emphasize the uncertainties that remain.
Notwithstanding the many complexities in communicating climate change to a mainstream audience; the film failed to balance potentially alarming scenarios with scientific analysis on attribution (the extent to which extreme weather events and other phenomena such as sea level rise can be linked to climate change), climate modelling and projections of what may happen in the future (in which inevitably there are many uncertainties).”
If they respond to the above complaint with their standard reply, the two can then be put side-by-side to make the BBC look like the arses that they surely are.
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That’s your best point. It should be included in the formal complaint. Except that there’s nothing I can find on the BBC website that forbids them from being arses. They’re supposed to tell the truth, and not display political bias (except in Venezuela) and not do anything to provoke a bloody civil war that may kill hundreds of thousands (except in Venezuela) and not propagate lies that may provoke a third world war (unless they concern Iran, Russia or China, in which case it’s ok.)
And here we are worrying about some fibs told by a senile producer of nature programmes and a child with mental health problems. We must be mad.
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Geoff. We are mad of course, but thank heavens we’re not utterly, irreparably, unwittingly, comprehensively, reprehensibly and ultimately catastrophically, batshit crazy.
I’ve been exploring the BBC and Ofcom sites trying to discover exactly what the BBC is supposed to do and not do. It’s not at all clear. I can’t find anything that says for instance: “the BBC shall not take sides and prevent opposing views from being expressed.” Nor that they’re obliged to tell the truth.
Their defence may come down to: “our researcher Liv Grant was so upset by the upcoming end of the world that she contacted Michael Mann, and he agreed with her.” I don’t know how we can answer that.
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Geoff, you could try the BBC Charter:
Click to access charter.pdf
“6. The Public Purposes
The Public Purposes of the BBC are as follows.
(1) To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and engage with the world around them: the BBC should provide duly accurate and impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world. Its content should be provided to the highest editorial standards. It should offer a range and depth of analysis and content not widely available from other United Kingdom news providers, using the highest calibre presenters and journalists, and championing freedom of expression, so that all audiences can engage fully with major local, regional, national, United Kingdom and global issues and participate in the
democratic process, at all levels, as active and informed citizens.”
“10. Engagement with the public
(1) The BBC must carefully and appropriately assess the views and interests of the public and audiences, including licence fee payers, across the whole of the United Kingdom.
(2) The BBC must make arrangements to ensure that the diverse perspectives and interests of the public and audiences, including licence fee payers, across the whole of the United Kingdom are taken into account in its decision-making.”
“12. Openness, transparency and accountability
(1) The BBC must observe high standards of openness and seek to maximise transparency and accountability.
(2) The BBC must ensure that the following are made public as soon as possible—
(a) the minutes of the meetings of the Board;
(b) important decisions (and reasons behind them and a summary of the evidence that supports them) concerning changes to the creative remit, work plan and material changes to the UK Public Services, non-service activities, and commercial activities; and
(c) such other information (including minutes of the meetings of committees of the Board) it is reasonable and proportionate to publish to comply with paragraph
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The BBC are almost certainly reserving their big gun to blow opposition to Attenbollocks away. Give up now. Greta can SEE carbon dioxide!!!
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Alan, this only confirms that GT is an alien hybrid with a penchant for frequenting power stations and landfill sites, who is gifted with senses which go way beyond those of normal human beings.
“She can see carbon dioxide with the naked eye. She sees how it flows out of chimneys and changes the atmosphere in a landfill.”
Christopher Reeve with your X-ray vision, eat your heart out; this gal can look at the lungs of the planet itself and diagnose major disease!
Thunberg’s mother’s book is out in German under the title “Scenes from the Heart – Our Life for the Climate” and in Italian under the title “Our House is on Fire – Our Battle against Climate Change.” Greta is now lead author. According to an English language review at Good Reads there’s very little about climate change in the book. She and Attenborough make a perfect pair.
In the Italian blurb Greta says:
“I don’t want your hope. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act as in an emergency, as if your house was on fire. Because it is.” Apparently it all started when she refused to eat meat and most other foodstuffs, leading the family to become vegans.
I still like the clip of her mum singing Dido and Aeneas. That started with teenage girls as well, being first performed in 1689 at Josiah Priest’s girls’ school in London, which was a cultural backwater then compared to Italy or France. Then for three centuries Britain was a centre of civilisation and learning, and now we’re back to square one. From Henry Purcell to Michael Gove. Oh well.
Geoff perhaps you may have temporarily forgotten that Govee was a pompous ass long before being ensnared by politics. He was a regular on BBC’s Newsnight, full of supercharged pomposity and second-hand opinions on all matters artistique . So not a circle, more a death spiral.
So Greta is a profoundly mentally I’ll child whose parents have decided to monetize her tragic condition.
And major European media thinks she is some of child priestess to their climate obsession.
Unlike yourself, I don’t have a lot of history within this game, and so I can’t point to any past encounters to justify my opinion of individuals such as Chris Rapley. However, I recently came across what has said regarding the use of the term ‘denier’.
“…those who are the target have successfully associated it with holocaust denial and hence tagged it as pejorative and insulting.”
I know Rapley isn’t the only person who holds to this bizarre victim-mentality theory but, even so, he is supposed to be a man of science who might be expected to have some basic competence in the art of interpreting evidence. I guess that is what self-righteousness does for you. I can see now why he was so perfectly qualified to advise the BBC.
Barry Woods once dug out a discussion involving I think Monbiot and Lynas in which they suggested using the term “denier” precisely in order to associate it with Holocaust denial. (Does anyone have the reference?) The connection is made indirectly in the Cambridge “Conspiracy Theory and Democracy” research, in which “Climate Change is a Hoax” and “The Holocaust has been exaggerated” feature among the ten conspiracy theories tested in a dozen countries.