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Dr David Whitehouse, the former BBC Science Correspondent and Science Editor of BBC News Online who now works as an advisor to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, has written an excoriation of his former employer on the GWPF website.
He essentially accuses the BBC of "rewriting science history in the BBC News archive and erasing original content".
What happened was that a paper was published in Nature claiming that ocean temperatures are rising 60% faster than previously thought. Problems were soon spotted however, especially over the margin of error, and the paper corrected.
The first flush of coverage was far too unthinking and in general did not reflect the tentative nature of the debut of a new ocean temperature measuring proxy – i.e. the changing components of the atmosphere above it. Too much was simply copied from the press release and not enough questions were asked.
As so often with climate research papers, there was no critical assessment of the paper and no questions about its extraordinary claims. Rewriting much of the press release was the usual technique that passed for journalism.
The BBC’s news story on 1 November was remarkably sensationalist...
By November 7th it became obvious that the paper’s conclusions were wrong...Shortly afterwards the Washington Post and numerous media outlets in the U.S. published about these new developments reflecting that.
But not the BBC. They did not address the issue until November 20th a day after the GWPF put out a press release suggesting that they should get round to it. The way they did it, however, raises serious concerns.
Rather than writing a new story about these major developments they eradicated the original story and simply overwrote it with a new text, using the same URL. They left it in the archive there with no mention that they had removed the old one, meaning that the original report no longer exists except via the wayback archive....
The article makes no sense without the original. At its end it contains an unnecessary self-serving, “UPDATE: The original version of this story was published before the errors in the study came to light.” The comment about the large uncertainties in the data by Thomas Froelicher that was present in the original article has been removed.
The original story led the science news page. The “corrected” version, however, is hidden in the archive and not on the BBC’s live page, so few will see it and those that do will not get a chance to read the original article. It’s gone.
The erroneous conclusions from the Resplandy paper are now “out there” and being repeated as fact. How are they to know the situation has changed if the retraction news is not placed in as prominent position as the original?
Rewriting articles in the BBC News archive, erasing the original content is a dangerous thing to do, especially for a news organization with a reputation to uphold. What happens when you can’t trust the BBC archive, when there is a possibility that you are not reading an article as it was originally published but has been completely changed? It jeopardises BBC News’ standing as a journal of record. Researchers and historians looking into media coverage of climate change will be totally misled by this action. Search the BBC News archive for the Resplandy paper and see what you get.
The BBC should restore the integrity of its archive, recover the eradicated BBC story, and publish the new post on its live science page.
You can compare the two versions here:
A further point I've just spotted is that the 'Present Version' (20th November) still contains the original comments (1st-2nd November). It wasn't re-opened for comments!