The BBC Trust has published a review of science coverage across the whole of the BBC, carried out by Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Genetics at University College London, with content analysis provided by a team from Imperial College London.

BBC science web screengrab


I’m delighted to say that his “first and most important conclusion” is that the BBC’s output is widely praised for its breadth and depth, its professionalism, and its clear, accurate reporting.

But Professor Jones found that the coverage could be improved in some significant respects, a view endorsed by the Trust.

His report suggests there is too little cooperation between the various parts of the BBC that cover science, and that news coverage relies on too limited a pool of commentators and sources – creating the risk that we give our audiences an incomplete view of developments in the scientific world.

The report also says we should make sure that we achieve the right balance between well-established scientific fact and opinion. Otherwise, Professor Jones argues, there is a danger of the BBC giving undue prominence to critics on the fringes of what is actually a settled scientific debate.

That doesn’t mean that in future we will, for example, not interview climate change sceptics.

But we must continue to take care to reflect the balance of the debate in any scientific controversy. There will be occasions when a scientific story should be presented as a debate purely and simply within the scientific community.

There will be others when it is appropriate to broadcast a range of views, including some from non-experts, because science cannot be divorced from the social, political and cultural environment in which it operates.

When we do that, across all our coverage we will have to work harder to explain to our audiences the background of contributors – for example, whether they are scientists, policy-makers, lobbyists or whether they are taking an ethical stand.

The College of Journalism has agreed to help us explore some of these issues in the year ahead.

In addition, I can confirm that we will be looking to appoint our first Science Editor for BBC News whose task will be to bring a new level of analysis to science coverage, strengthen our contacts, and help us to take an overview our coverage relative to the weight of scientific work.

Fran Unsworth is head of Newsgathering at BBC News.


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