Christmas 2011: editorial

When balance is bias

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d8006 (Published 20 December 2011)
Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d8006

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  1. Trevor Jackson, magazine editor
  1. 1BMJ, London WC1H 9JP, UK
  1. tjackson{at}bmj.com

Sometimes the science is strong enough for the media to come down on one side of a debate

In his 2010 BBC television series Wonders of the Solar System, the physicist Brian Cox made a remark that offended some horoscope lovers. “Despite the fact that astrology is a load of rubbish, Jupiter can in fact have a profound influence on our planet. And it’s through a force . . . gravity.” The BBC received a number of complaints, including one from a viewer who said that Cox made his comment without an “alternative opinion being allowed.” The complainant griped that the programme made no attempt to “consider such questions from the perspective of an astrologer, who draws upon a very different body of observation and knowledge built over thousands of years.” Cox later gave the BBC a statement (which it declined to issue) saying, “I apologise to the astrology community for not making myself clear. I should have said that this new age drivel is undermining the very fabric of our civilisation.”

This tale, which beautifully points up the ridiculousness of always demanding balance in science communication, is told by Steve Jones, emeritus professor of human genetics at University College London, in a report published this year.1 The BBC Trust commissioned Jones to review the impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science; and although …

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