Sunday, 14 August 2011

BBC biased and inaccurate again.

Oh dear the BBC does it again. This is a long post and I am repeating much of what has been said before but it is necessary so that if the journalists themselves read it they will know where they went wrong. It seems that BBC local radio stations will put anything out as news if given a convincing enough press release.

This example isn't as bad as the really disgustingly biased piece from Radio Lancashire earlier in the week but it is still wrong.

This was on Radio Cornwall on Friday between 12 noon and 3pm and it contained factual inaccuracies and exaggerations.

Before I start on this it is important to be rational and look at the evidence. So let us assume we are working with a blank slate and that we know nothing of the current hysteria which is so dominant.

What do we really know about the horse and cattle deaths. Well we look at the EVIDENCE
There is a really detailed analysis here.

The claim is made that ragwort is a serious issue for horses and cattle and that specifically with horses it is killing thousands of them a year. This claim is behind all the stuff that we see and hear in the media. IT DOES NOT STAND UP TO INVESTIGATION.

Recently as I blogged the Advertising Standards Authority acted on this and several companies had to stop using these claims to sell their products. The ASA are not environmentalists. They just look at the facts. Unfortunately these false statements have had their effect and are still being repeated.

So why do so many people believe it? Perhaps the clue is in what was written by William James a famous philosopher who is regarded as the father of modern psychology
"There's nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it."

It has been said so many times that it becomes what people regard as common knowledge.

It doesn't make it true. Only evidence does. As I repeat here time and time again. There are many causes of liver damage. Far more cattle suffer liver damage and die from parasites than from ragwort. We have the statistics to show that! The statistics also appear to show that more horses are recorded dying from Equine Grass Sickness than ragwort poisoning. Grass Sickness is a peculiar malady where horses die and it rarely affects horses fed only hay.

One knowledgeable on-line commenter wrote this recently and it is basically true.

There are two ways for horses to die from ragwort. If their owners don't pay enough to get a large enough paddock with good grazing or if their owners buy cheap hay that hasn't been produced from fields free of ragwort.
There is a relevant point here from Ireland which has not been subject to campaigning with incorrect information. It was made On June 5th 2005 by the Irish Minister for Agriculture and Food

" "There are no official figures available in Ireland for deaths of horses due to ragwort poisoning. Unofficial estimates indicate that the level is very low and does not warrant any special attention or investigation."

Also there has been a survey running in the Netherlands that ensures that any horse that is suspected of dying of ragwort poisoning gets a proper post mortem to check that it isn't a commoner cause of liver damage. That particular survey has had no reported cases of horses dying of ragwort poisoning since 2007.

Now let's deal with that broadcast. It is difficult to comment on all of it. I could spend all day, but let's take a set of statements made near the beginning.
“One head can produce something like a quarter of a million spores.”

First of all this is a flowering plant and it produces seeds not spores and this quarter of a million spores is another example of the hysteria. These stories grow like the size of a fisherman's prized catch. This might be possible in highly extreme cases just like men can grow to nearly nine foot tall but it is certainly not a reasonable statement to make on air.

These are figures for real counts for typical ragwort plants at a number of sites in England which have been published in the scientific literature

So we can see that a quarter of a million is nowhere near typical and quite often it is just a few thousand.

Then this particular comment by the presenter continues.
And it can blow in the wind and it can go everywhere.

This is not what the EVIDENCE says. They studies show that the majority of ragwort seeds fall a the base of the plant and the rest are almost entirely deposited within a few metres and this is in accord with the published papers on the aerodynamics of seed spread.
A detailed analysis is available here.

So again people have been mislead

And then this set of comments is topped with these inaccurate statements.
It is illegal to grow it or allow it to be grown

This is most emphatically not true. It was changed towards the end of the programme and it even seems that Natural England didn't get it right.

Here is the law and what it says.
"(1) Where the minister of Agriculture fish and food (in this act referred to as ' the Minister') is satisfied that there are injurious weeds to which this act applies growing upon any land he may serve upon the occupier of the land a notice, to take such action as may be necessary to prevent the weeds from spreading.
(2)This act applies to the following injurious that is to say-
spear thistle
creeping or field thistle
broad leaved dock

It is a piece of legislation that provides for AN ORDER to be made. There is nothing that says that you automatically MUST eliminate this plant from land. They were simply wrong on that broadcast.
It is completely wrong for our national public broadcaster paid for out of the licence fee to broadcast incorrect information about the laws that govern us.

There are serious problems with that broadcast. It is very seriously misleading people.

You can listen to the relevant clips of the broadcast including a news item which completely failed to provide balance Talking about “the spread of ragwort” implying an increase when the EVIDENCE says that in may actually be decreasing.

The radio clips are on this link

You can comment on the BBC's official on-line form here,

As ever these sites provide accurate supporting information to what I say. Ragwort Facts and Ragwort, myths and facts. The latter site is produced by a horse owner who used to belong to a ragwort extermination group and believe all the stuff that I am debunking, until she asked the technical experts who became her site's co-authors for help and discovered it was all nonsense.

Ragwort Hysteria latest entries

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