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March 4, 2014updated 05 Mar 2014 11:18pm

Are there really two sides to every science story? Debate at City University on 25 March

By Dominic Ponsford

For some scientists, having Lord Lawson on the Today Programme to argue against the effects of man-made climate change last month was akin to having a flat Earth believer on to argue against the proposition that the world is round.

They argue that on some issues the weight of scientific opinion is so strong that journalists are seeking to create a ‘false balance’ by inviting on people with opposing viewpoints.

Many mainstream scientists think journalists are also wrong to seek opposing views on subjects like homeopathy (most scientists don’t think it works) and the efficacy of taking the MMR vaccine.

To find out whether there really are two sides to every story, Press Gazette has teamed up with City University in London to host a special one-off debate.

Chaired by Fiona Fox of the Science Media Centre it will ask whether it is time for journalists to rewrite the ethical rulebook and simply acknowledge a few scientific truths.

Among the panelists are broadcaster and geneticist Professor Steve Jones who published a report for the BBC Trust in 2011 in which he argued that the corporation gave too much weight to fringe scientific viewpoints on subjects such as climate change, GM crops and MMR.

The other panelists are:

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BBC head of news programmes Ceri Thomas

Bob Ward – Policy and research director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change

Michael Hanlon – Science writer and author, former science editor of the Daily Mail

Fiona Fox said: “I think many now agree that the hallowed principle of ‘journalistic balance’ is problematic when it comes to science and no one has made that point more than me.  But I also think we have to be careful about where lines are drawn. Reporting climate change or GM crops as if there is a 50/50 split in science is misleading, inaccurate and poor journalism.  But that does not mean that media debates about these controversies should be monopolised by scientists to the exclusion of other voices.

"I have agreed to chair this debate because I genuinely sit somewhere in the middle and think this panel guarantees a thoughtful, grown up discussion between speakers who care passionately about getting this right.”

After the discussion there will be complimentary networking drinks courtesy of City University Journalism Department.

When: Tuesday, 25 March – 6.30-8pm (with networking drinks directly afterwards)

Where: Oliver Thompson Lecture Theatre, City University, Northampton Square, Islington, London – click here for map and directions.

Open to all, but if you would like to come please write your name and email address in the form below:


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