At his website The Lay Scientist, Martin Robbins sets out a case that the BBC gives short shrift to science, regularly omitting scientists from programs about matters like global warming that require sceintific expertise, allowing all views, even bizarre ones, about scientific questions in a misguided effort to afford “equal time,” and either downplaying science or, when showing it, dumbing it down in an condescending way.
Three of Robbins’s indictments:
- Instead we live in a bizarre place where it seems almost every half-baked opinion – no matter how stupid or irresponsible – must be broadcast to the world as valid and equal. In this polluted environment, attitudes to things like ‘facts’, ‘evidence’ and ‘science’ range from indifference to open hostility, as Adam Rutherford discovered when he made the mistake of appearing on Today recently. . .
Rutherford’s experience with John Humphrys was little better (audio). Every question was designed to put the guests on the defensive or to create conflict, and even reasonable points were phrased in an aggressive manner. Hasn’t science lost its romance? Isn’t this all a waste of money? Don’t you wish you got some of the money that CERN gets? When his guests provided answers, such as Rutherford’s neat explanation of the economic benefits of investing in scientific research, they aroused an “mm” or were ignored. Worse, Humphrys seemed almost proud of his own ignorance of the subject; it’s hard to imagine a presenter treating economics or the arts in a similar manner.
- The BBC Trust’s 2011 report on science found that only about an eighth of broadcast news items about research included the voice of an independent expert in the field, not involved with the research in question (see Alice Bell’s blog for some interesting coverage of that report).
And this is a depressing one:
- When scientists are allowed to get clever, TV producers are forced to go to absurd lengths to compensate. Witness Cox’s recent ‘Night with the stars’, in which Cox was allowed to explain aspects of quantum theory on condition that various comedians and celebrities were brought on to act dumb and reassure the audience that nobody really understands this stuff. It was fun I admit, but if the BBC filmed a lecture about the life and works of Dostoevsky, do you really think they’d have a succession of celebrities coming on stage to look bewildered by the clever man’s long words?
I don’t watch the BBC, but perhaps some UK readers can weigh in about whether Robbins’s complaint is justified.
h/t: Tom C.