Open letter to Tony Hall and Director General of the BBC

Open letter to Tony Hall, Lord Hall of Birkenhead and Director General of the BBC, on the platform given to Prof Bob Carter on the World at One programme (Fri 27th Sept 2013).

Instigated by the Claverton Group.

 
We, the undersigned scientists and engineers, write to condemn the appearance of Prof Bob Carter on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme, and to urge the BBC to seriously rethink the treatment given to climate change in its factual programming, and particularly its coverage of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report.

 

The BBC, uniquely amongst broadcasters, has a public duty to provide a balanced coverage of news across its media channels, yet when it comes to its coverage of climate change it has frequently failed to do so. Furthermore, the BBC’s status as a trusted source of news means that damage done by its biased reporting of the overwhelming evidence of the certainty and significance of man-made climate change is inexorably greater. Not only does this damage public trust in climate science, but it also damages public trust in scientific evidence in general. This assertion is even supported by the BBC’s own surveys on public attitudes to climate change.

 

The IPPC’s Assessment Reports represent the consensus of evidence and opinion from thousands of scientists and engineers around the world, working in all of the many fields encompassed by climate change. That consensus is overwhelmingly of the view that the evidence that human activities are driving changes in our climate at an unprecedented rate and scale – there is no ‘climate debate’ in the scientific community.

 

The appearance of Prof Carter on the World at One, and that of climate change deniers on other BBC programmes, is the equivalent of giving a stork the right to reply on every appearance by Prof Robert Winston. Prof Carter is a geologist who speaks for the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change”, or NIPCC, a name which non-experts could be forgiven for confusing with the IPCC, however Prof Carter is not a climate scientist and the NIPCC is not the IPCC.

 

Indeed, had the editors of the World at One bothered to check the credentials of the NIPCC they would have realised that far from being an independent organisation, it is backed by the Heartland Institute, a US-based free-market thinktank that opposes urgent action on climate change, which is itself opaquely funded by ‘family foundations’ suspected of having significant vested interests in undermining climate science. To return to the analogy, that stork would be funded by the Discovery Institute.

 

For climate scientists, and those of us working in related fields, it is hard enough to accept that the BBC is required to give a platform to politicians whose lack of knowledge of climate science is matched only by their unwillingness to ‘use sound science responsibly’. When the Environment Secretary Owen Paterson describes climate change as “not all bad” he may be committing an abuse of the evidence and his position, but he at least does so with the rights and responsibilities of a democratically elected Member of Parliament. However when deniers such as Prof Carter use the media to argue that the scientific consensus on climate change is anything but overwhelming, the evidence on which they claim to be basing their arguments, and their sources of funding, are frequently left unrevealed and unquestioned.

 

It is therefore hardly surprising that the BBC and other media outlets sometimes struggle to find climate scientists willing to speak to them, and by providing a platform for Prof Cater and other deniers the BBC is also complicit in engendering the environment in which climate scientists are often reluctant to speak to the media.

 

The BBC should now issue an explanation for the appearance of Prof Carter and the treatment given to his opinions on a flagship news programme. Furthermore, it should urgently review the treatment of climate change across all of its outputs, and require full disclosures of any and all vested interests held by commentators on the subject. Finally, it should also ensure that the editorial boards covering all its scientific outputs include members with appropriate scientific backgrounds who are able to give independent advice on the subject matter, and that their advice is recorded and adhered to.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Dr Keith Baker, School of Engineering and the Built Environment, Glasgow Caledonian University

Herbert Eppel CEng CEnv, HE Translations

Ms J. Abbess MSc, Independent Energy Research

Chris Jones CEnv IEng FEI MCIBSE MIET

Mark Boulton OBE

David Hirst, Hirst Solutions Ltd

David Andrews, Chair, Claverton Energy Research Group

Ruth Jarman MA (Oxon) Chemistry, Member of the Board of Christian Ecology Link

Gordon Blair, Distinguished Professor, School of Computing and Communications, Lancaster University

Susan Chapman

David Weight, Associate Director, Aecom

Sam Chapman, En-Count

Camilla Thomson, PhD candidate, University of Edinburgh

Dr Rachel Dunk

Prof Susan Roaf, Heriot-Watt University

Helen Woodall

Ian Stannage

Andy Chyba, BSc

Isabel Carter, Chair, Operation Noah

Ben Samuel, BSc

Dr Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow, MIET

Almuth Ernsting

Simon O’Connor

Martin Quick MA CEng MIMechE

Hugh Walding, MA PhD

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