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Leading British scientist to scrutinize BBC’s science coverage

DACEY steve jones.jpg
Steve Jones to head BBC Trust review

By James Dacey

British biologist Steve Jones is to head a review of impartiality and accuracy in the BBC’s coverage of science, called for by the BBC Trust – the BBC’s governing body. The Trust has also published guidelines for this review, which give the scope and the timetable of activities.

The review comes as pressure has mounted on the BBC in recent years due to issues such as climate change, GM crops and stem cell research becoming increasingly politicized.

For example, in 2007 the corporation cancelled a special day of programmes that was to be devoted to climate change when senior news executives questioned the impartiality of this broadcast.

The BBC Trust will assess BBC content across all of its media outlets including the BBC World Service, over the coming months. They say that this will involve a number of public engagement activities.

“It will ask whether the BBC’s coverage of science taken as a whole, presents a partial view of the nature of science and the role science plays within society,” say the review guidelines.

Jones will scrutinize the results of these exercises before writing a final report, which is expected to be published in the first half of 2011.

“I look forward to sampling some of [the BBC’s] huge coverage of physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, geology and more to see how well it is doing its job,” says Jones, who is head of the genetics, environment and evolution department at University College London.

“Science is by nature a field full of dispute; this is how it advances. Dispute is not the same as bias, though: and a bias towards optimism or pessimism is a real danger, both in the public presentation of science, and in the beliefs of scientists themselves.”

In addition to his academic research, which focuses on the evolutionary and genetic aspects of biology, Jones is also a familiar guest in BBC programming. He has made more than 200 appearances on BBC radio and has also been a guest on a number of BBC current affairs programmes including Question Time and Newsnight.

“He was selected on the basis of his academic credentials, of his knowledge of the media and his reputation amongst the scientific community,” says the BBC Trust in a statement.

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