AmazonGate Update: Scientist Takes Sunday Times to Press Complaints Commission

The Guardian reports that Simon Lewis, a UK-based Amazon scientist, is taking the Sunday Times to the Press Complaints Commission over an article they published in January claiming the IPCC wrongly predicted that 40% of the Amazon rainforest was vulnerable to reduced rainfall:

Lewis said he was contacted by the Sunday Times before the article was published and told them the IPCC’s statement was “poorly written and bizarrely referenced, but basically correct”. He added that “there is a wealth of scientific evidence suggesting that the Amazon is vulnerable to reductions in rainfall”. He also sent the newspaper several scientific papers that supported the claim, but were not cited by that section of the IPCC report.

Lewis also complains that the Sunday Times used several quotes from him in the piece to support the assertion that the IPCC report had made a false claim. “Despite repeatedly stating to the Sunday Times that there is no problem with the sentence in the IPCC report, except the reference.”

Climate Safety originally covered the bogus claims:

As Lewis made clear in correspondence, the problem was not with the accuracy of the IPCC’s statement, which reflected the peer-reviewed scientific literature – but with the reference that had been attributed to it. The issue had in fact already been dealt with in the report of Working Group I (on “The Physical Science Basis” of climate change), which had got the references right. Did Leake’s article accurately reflect Lewis’ views? “Absolutely not.”

Lewis, it turns out, had sent both Leake and Harrabin the same email. But while Harrabin had included Lewis’s comments on the IPCC’s accuracy in his BBC piece, Leake simply ignored them. Instead, he seems to have invented his own, more congenial version of reality. “4000-page report makes insignificant referencing error” is admittedly a rather less powerful headline – even if it does possess the distinct advantage of being true.

More astonishingly, as science blogger Eli Kintisch revealed, Leake had been told exactly the same thing by Dan Nepstad – author of a 1999 Nature paper cited by WWF, and others that back up the IPCC on the Amazon – two days before his story was published.

Interestingly, the Guardian article doesn’t name the journalist in question, Jonathan Leake. Readers who also follow Tim Lambert over at Deltoid will be all too familiar with Mr. Leake. Tim Lambert’s research shows that, among other things, he:

All of this led Lambert to post:

Here’s a game you can play at home. All you need is a search engine. Take a Jonathan Leake science story with a dramatic headline. For example, Facebook fans do worse in exams. Then do a search on the headline. You win if you can find complaints by scientists that their research was misrepresented by Leake. Like this.

Try the game, it’s fun!

Of the whole AmazonGate/LeakeGate affair, we originally concluded:

While it is wholly unsurprising that the denial lobby should be attempting to push baseless and misleading stories to the press, what is surprising is the press’s willingness to swallow them. In this case, two experts in the relevant field told a Times journalist explicitly that, in spite of a minor referencing error, the IPCC had got its facts right. That journalist simply ignored them. Instead, he deliberately put out the opposite line – one fed to him by a prominent climate change denier – as fact. The implications are deeply disturbing, not only for our prospects of tackling climate change, but for basic standards of honesty and integrity in journalism.

Let’s hope the Press Complaints Commission steps up… then again, don’t hold your breath.

Update: Climate Progress has an excellent post on the same subject.

Update 2: Leake botches another story, this time on UK wind power.

Update 3: Sunday Times admits story was ‘flawed’, offers to print Lewis’s original letter, Lewis rejects.