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Asking BBC Radio 4 for a retraction


Most of you will have heard by now of the terrible piece that BBC
Radio 4, a trusted news source, ran yesterday on Brian J. Ford's
crackpot "theory" that all dinosaur were semi-aquatic to support their
weight.  A good, sober summary is provided here:

Because Radio 4 is a trusted source, it's important that it not spout
nonsense like this.  There is a danger that its credibility will be
damaged.  If a journal were to publish such rubbish, it would be
forced to follow up with a formal retraction, and I want to ask Radio
4 to do the same thing.  Here is the letter I plan to send:

------------ begin letter ------------
Dear Radio 4,

The Today Programme for Tuesday 3rd April 2012 contained a science
piece by Tom Feilden:
regarding Professor Brian J. Ford's "theory" that dinosaurs did not
live on land but in shallow lakes which supported their weight.

Professor Ford's theory was published in a magazine rather than a
peer-reviewed journal, and is wholly unsupported by any evidence
whatever.  It contradicts all evidence from dinosaur anatomy,
biomechanics, sedimentology and palaeoenvironments, and does not even
qualify as fringe science.  It is unsupported and uninformed
speculation which Ford could have disproved had he taken just ten
minutes to look at the readily available literature representing a
century of consensus.

By giving air-time to this speculation, even comparing Ford with
Galileo, Radio 4 has unfortunately lent it a credibility that it has
not earned, introduced a time-wasting controversy where there is not a
controversy, misled the public, and maybe most important compromised
its own credibility as a trusted source of science reporting.  No
listener with any knowledge of palaeontology will have been able to
take this report seriously; will they believe the next science report
you broadcast?

To mitigate this damage, we recommend and request that you broadcast a
formal retraction.
------------ end letter ------------

Obviously such a request will have more force if it is signed by
multiple palaeontologists, so if you agree with the letter below and
would like to sign, please email me OFF-LIST at <mike@indexdata.com>,
giving your name, qualification, department and affiliation, like
        Dr. Mike Taylor, Department of Earth Sciences, University of
Bristol, UK.

In 24 hours, I will append all the signatures I have been sent, and
send the result to Radio 4.

(Please do not suggest changes to the letter.  I'm sure it's not
perfect, but it has to stand as it is since this is the version I am
inviting people to sign.  I can't collect signatures for one version,
then send a different one, even if it's better than the original.
Exception: do point out any typos.)

        -- Mike.