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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.

This week’s top climate science links

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Reframing the debate on climate science

The international consensus on global warming has seemingly experienced a spectacular slow-motion train wreck over the last few months, with “climategate” reports piling up in public debate like derailing rail cars filmed in freeze frame. The fascination for on-lookers, however, is that the science itself is largely blameless. Instead, the pile-up stands as a case study in how not to wage a political battle. And make no mistake; the attacks on climate science are pure politics. We have seen attacks on science before, just pick your favorite example: smoking, toxic pollution, seat belts, etc. However, until there is a fundamental reframing of the climate science debate, one that illuminates the politics, the current round of attacks will continue to enjoy success. Read more

This week’s climate links

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  • SealevelGate – Real Climate cover the true IPCC sea-level scandal. Must read.
  • Climate of fear, Nature editorial (free access) – “The integrity of climate research has taken a very public battering in recent months. Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.”
  • Overview of all the ‘Gates – very useful brief run-down of the last 4 months.
  • Short must read: Climate Change and the Media – “What’s truly infuriating about this episode of journalistic malpractice is that, once again, it illustrates the reasons why the East Anglia scientists adopted an adversarial attitude towards information management with regard to outsiders and the media. They were afraid that any data they allowed to be characterised by non-climate scientists would be vulnerable to propagandistic distortion. And they were right.”

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Fresh batch of 'leaked' emails reveal no sign of conspiracy. Just climate scientists keen on public engagement. 1

Another batch of private emails from climate scientists has been leaked/hacked/stolen/whatever. These ones, though, are very different than the last.

It’s a thread of emails from the NAS (US National Academy of Sciences), and these guys are mad. They are mad about vested interests skewing the discussion. They are mad that journalists have sat and lapped it right up without checking their facts. They are mad that the public is suddenly more confused than ever about a field of science that is more united than ever. Read more

Jones et al. (2010) 1

A brief summary of the Science & Technology Committee”s “ClimateGate” hearing

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee met yesterday for a one off evidence session looking at the disclosure of climate data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. This blog post is a brief summary of the key issues. [Apologies for the use of some jargon that crops up because of the nature of the CRU emails.]

Lord Lawson and Dr Benny Peiser were first up. They represent the Global Warming Policy Foundation who, amusingly, failed to plot 8 temperature values correctly in their logo – I”m not sure that this gives them the authority to question 25 years of academic research on climate data but let”s see what they had to say… Read more

IPCC reform? We need PCC reform first 3

As the ‘Climategate’ news cycle creaks on, pundits are busily delivering advice on how scientists can do their jobs better. “It is time for the IPCC to be disbanded,” declares Ann Widdecombe in the Express, “and replaced by a group of open-minded, fact-orientated, cautious scientists who are interested in truth, however inconvenient.” “Scientists, you are fallible,” proclaims Simon Jenkins in the Guardian. Climatologists “are no different from bankers, politicians, lawyers, estate agents and perhaps even journalists. They cheat. They make mistakes. They suppress truth and suggest falsity.”

These are strange statements, given that climatologists have meanwhile willingly acknowledged and corrected genuine errors, and offered suggestions on improving IPCC processes. The journal Nature published a series of suggestions from five prominent climate scientists on ways forward for the IPCC. The Guardian ran a similar story full of scientists suggesting reforms. Climate modeller William Connolley critiqued the thoroughness of IPCC Working Group II, while defending its use of “grey” literature. Other scientists suggested separating the IPCC’s Working Groups. The evidence suggests the scientific profession puts reflection, doubt and criticism at the heart of its practice.

By contrast, the media’s reluctance to address its own failings is stark. Recent weeks have seen a deluge of “inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” in climate change reporting – precisely the kind of material it is the Press Complaints Commission’s (PCC’s) stated role to guard against. But, as its exoneration of Jan Moir’s falsehoods over Stephen Gately’s death has highlighted, this “self-regulatory” industry body remains toothless. Read more

Climate Scientists Withdraw Journal Claims Of Limit To Rising Sea Levels 1

Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.

Scientists who challenged the possibility of catastrophic sea level rise in coming decades have retracted their argument. Mark Siddall, whose paper claimed sea level rise from global warming could not be more than 82 centimeters (32 inches) by 2100 — despite other estimates of up to 1.9 meters — asked for the conclusions published in 2009 in Nature Geoscience to be retracted, accepting corrections from researchers who had made the higher estimates. The Guardian misleadingly presented the news with the headline, “Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels“:

Study claimed in 2009 that sea levels would rise by up to 82cm by the end of century – but the report’s author now says true estimate is still unknown.

If all one read was the introduction, a reader might get the false impression that sea level rise from global warming is in doubt. The misleading Guardian headline was picked up — as per usual — by the Drudge Report and Marc Morano’s conspiracy site Climate Depot. Read more

This week’s climate links

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Sunday Times promotes climate denier 2

A couple of weeks ago, Ben Goldacre bashed out a quick piece for the Guardian’s news desk on the subject of the General Medical Council’s damning verdict on the conduct of Andrew Wakefield, in which he said:

As the years passed by, media coverage deteriorated further. Claims by researchers who never published scientific papers to back up their claims were reported in the newspapers as important new scientific breakthroughs, while at the very same time, evidence showing no link between MMR and autism, fully published in peer reviewed academic journals, was simply ignored. This was cynical, and unforgivable.

That last paragraph is particularly important because it shows one of the more common ways in which mainstream media outlets consistently distorts the truth by selectively highlighting particular claims and/or research on the basis of whether it conforms to an established narrative. Take, for example, yesterday’s Sunday Times, which devoted several hundred words to the uncritical promotion of the latest effluvial outpourings of  TV weatherman and all-round climate crock, Anthony Watts. Read more