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
RealClimate have just published a really useful post discussing the IPCC and media distortion.
As well as kindly praising Tim’s analysis of the affair which you can find here on publicinterest.org.uk, the piece includes a great summary of the IPCC and its processes:
“Assessment reports are published every six or seven years and writing them takes about three years. Each working group publishes one of the three volumes of each assessment. The focus of the recent allegations is the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4), which was published in 2007.
“Its three volumes are almost a thousand pages each, in small print. They were written by over 450 lead authors and 800 contributing authors; most were not previous IPCC authors. There are three stages of review involving more than 2,500 expert reviewers who collectively submitted 90,000 review comments on the drafts. These, together with the authors’ responses to them, are all in the public record.”
They get to the real crux of the recent “scandals”, asking: Do any of them effect the basic climate science? Read more
Anyone following the recent string of articles in the mainstream press attacking the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) may have entertained a sneaking suspicion that the hidden hand of the climate denial lobby was at work behind many of them. That suspicion, it turns out, is exactly right – the fingerprints of the deniers are all over several of the key stories.
This latest feeding frenzy kicked off when one erroneous claim – that Himalayan glaciers were “very likely” to disappear by 2035 – was found to have slipped through the net, the IPCC’s extensive review process having failed to weed it out prior to publication. The claim was included on page 493 of the IPCC’s second 1000-page Working Group report on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” (WGII). The reference given was to a WWF report – part of the non-peer-reviewed “grey literature” that makes up a periphery of the material in the second Working Group’s report.
Marginal as it may have been, for the media this isolated error appears to have opened the floodgates. A hysterical flurry of activity followed, as the denial lobby began trawling through the IPCC report for anything else that might look bad – particularly anything referencing the grey literature. The results of this search were then fed to elements of the press, who eagerly snatched them up – uncritically repeating many of their claims in the process.
A majority of the world’s nations yesterday signed up to the Copenhagen Accord and filed plans for emissions reductions, scraping over the UN deadline of 31st January for doing so. But the pledged actions fall far short of action needed to prevent global temperatures rising by 2 degrees C – the target adopted in the text of the Accord itself.
Instead, existing actions set the world on course for a 3.5 degrees Celsius temperature rise, according to earlier analysis of pledges carried out by consultancy Ecofys. PriceWaterhouseCoopers calculate that on current projections the world will burn up its allocated carbon budget for the first half of the century by 2034 – 16 years ahead of schedule.
This year, the modern environmental movement turns 40. Earth Day in 1970 marked the first mass environmental protest, and whilst some ecological ideas have a much older pedigree, it is only during the past four decades that they have attracted mainstream attention. As the disappointment of the Copenhagen climate talks sinks in, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future of environmentalism. But I would argue that, taking the longer-term perspective, it is still very much in the ascendant.
The “Glaciergate” story is about a claim in the 2007 IPCC report that the Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035. It turns out that the evidence for this claim was from a speculative comment made by a not-very-prominent glaciologist in New Scientist in 1999. The Times and The Express have gone to town with this story claiming that it undermines the whole of the IPCC.
So, what does it really mean? Read more