At the Guardian's The Observer column this week, Robin McKie considers how science is treated in the UK, particularly how it is presented by the media. Prompted by the BBC Trust, geneticist Steve Jones reviewed the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC's science coverage and, in his report, cautioned that the media often fails to make a distinction between what is fact and what is opinion. Jones was referring to the media's willingness to give climate change deniers, anti-vaccination activists, and other groups an audience, in the name of journalistic fairness. "By contrast, scientists, as purveyors of common sense, have found themselves sidelined because producers wanted to create controversy and so skewed discussions to hide researchers' near unanimity of views in these fields," McKie adds in his column. "In this way, the British public has been misled into thinking there is a basic division among scientists over global warming or MMR."
Science deniers say they are skeptics, but really it is the scientists who are the skeptics, questioning ideas and theories, and throwing them out if they don't fit the data, Royal Society President Paul Nurse tells McKie. "When an idea reaches the stage where it's almost ready to become a paper, it has therefore been subjected to savage scrutiny by its own authors and by their colleagues — and that is before writing has started," McKie says. "Afterwards, the paper goes to peer review where there is a further round of critical appraisal by a separate group of researchers. What emerges is a piece of work that has already been robustly tested — a point that is again lost in the media."
So, how should science be reported? "What we don't want to do is go back to the days when fawning reporters asked great figures to declaim on scientific issues – or political ones, for that matter. On the other hand, we cannot continue to distort views in the name of balance," Jones tells McKie.