Biased People vs the BBC

Over at the LSE’s Impact of Social Science blog has a good piece uncovering flaws in a report by the Thatcherite Centre for Policy Studies

A fortnight ago, the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) published the report ‘Bias at the Beeb: A quantitative study of slant in BBC online reporting’, announcing, in the words of its author, that “Our results suggest the BBC exhibits a left-of-centre bias in both the amount of coverage it gives to different opinions and the way in which these voices are represented.” Confirmed proof of bias in BBC news – hinted at anecdotally and suggested in individual policy areas in the past – would and should be a big deal, so unsurprisingly the report received substantial coverage in the press. So far, 12 articles have been published citing the conclusions of the report, including a leader in the Daily Telegraph. However, even a cursory look at the research shows fundamental flaws that raise questions about the conduct and presentation of think-tank research and seriously challenge the report’s conclusions.

First, a caveat – this is not intended to be a defence of the BBC; it is an argument for adhering to the basic principles that keep empirical research ‘honest’ – verifiability, replicability, validity of methods, and so on. The CPS report on the BBC is deficient in all of these areas. It is opaque, it omits key data, resists replication, and presents results obtained via contentious methodology as fact without acknowledging alternative explanations, yet it sits on the record as definitive evidence of BBC ideological bias.

This is depressingly predictable. Part of the problem with abandoning impartiality for ideology is that if you already know the answer – and let’s be clear the CPS was never going to run a story accusing the BBC of right-wing bias – then you are not going to be very interested in the methodology by which that answer was reached.

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