Posts Tagged: amazongate


Richard North’s problem with reality: or, how a climate change denier trashes his own professional reputation 21

Now that the full debunking of the “Amazongate” episode has hit the mainstream, it has been instructive to see how the story’s originator has been responding. The wild claims of blogger, climate denier and sometime collaborator with Christopher Booker Richard North originally found their way onto the pages of the Times – after a brief stopover on far-right conspiracy theorist James Delingpole’s Telegraph-hosted blog. North claimed that the scientists behind the IPCC’s second 2007 report had made unfounded statements about the Amazon – in particular on its sensitivity to declining rainfall and potentially grim outlook – an accusation that was debunked by experts in the relevant field almost as soon as it was published. Following a complaint by Dr Simon Lewis of the University of Leeds, who was quoted in the Times’ article, the paper has been forced to publish a retraction.

Yet now that this fake scandal has been exposed, including in an important account by the Guardian’s George Monbiot, North has – perhaps unsurprisingly – been pouring scorn all over that paper’s comment pages. More significantly, after Monbiot noted North’s well-deserved reputation as an “egregious fabulist” “nearly all of” whose “concocted” “stories” (and Booker’s) “fall apart on the briefest examination”, North proceeded to threaten Monbiot and the Guardian with libel action. North referred to “all references to myself” in Monbiot’s blog post “as being libellous and highly damaging”. Read more

This week’s top climate science links

Dive right in:

  • Will 2010 be the hottest year on record? – it all depends on which data source you choose: GISTEMP (likely) or HadCRU (about as likely as not).
  • Climate change is leaving us with extra space junk – Even the space junk is trying to tell us we’re changing the climate. One more independent line of evidence to add to the pile, how many do we need?!
  • Black Carbon’s Grey Areas – A brilliant, must-read article on black carbon. Who would have thought it has such broad geopolitical implications? Worth the effort. It’s conclusions: 1. Stop throwing cook-stoves at the problem. 2. Target diesel. 3. Be very careful about comparing black carbon with carbon dioxide.
  • Ocean acidification – still happening.
  • Arctic climate may be more sensitive to warming than thought – “Our findings indicate that CO2 levels of approximately 400 parts per million are sufficient to produce mean annual temperatures in the High Arctic of approximately 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees F) [19 degrees Celsius warmer than today!],” Ballantyne said. “As temperatures approach 0 degrees Celsius, it becomes exceedingly difficult to maintain permanent sea and glacial ice in the Arctic. Thus current levels of CO2 in the atmosphere of approximately 390 parts per million may be approaching a tipping point for irreversible ice-free conditions in the Arctic.”
  • Network Rail study to assess impact of climate change – eco-stealth taxes are being used to… strengthen our vulnerable rail network, oh.
  • Troubling ice melt in East Antarctica – it’s losing mass, which is not good. – “It’s too early to know what the ice loss in East Antarctica really means, says Isabella Velicogna, a remote-sensing specialist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “What is important is to see what’s generating the mass loss,” she says. Reductions in snowfall, for example, might reflect short-term weather cycles that could reverse at any time. But thinning caused by accelerating glaciers—as seen in West Antarctica—would warrant concern.”
  • Peru inventor ‘whitewashes’ peaks to slow glacier melt – In a remote corner of the Peruvian Andes, men in paint-daubed boilersuits diligently coat a mountain summit with whitewash in an experimental bid to recuperate the country’s melting glaciers. Peru’s Environment Minister Antonio Brack has said the World Bank’s 200,000 dollars in funding would be better spent on other “projects which would have more impact in mitigating climate change.” “It’s nonsense”, he commented bluntly last year.
  • Leakegate: A retraction – “It is an open question as to what impact these retractions and apologies have, but just as with technical comments on nonsense articles appearing a year after the damage was done, setting the record straight is a important for those people who will be looking at this at a later date, and gives some hope that the media can be held (a little) accountable for what they publish.”

And finally, on a slight tangent:

  • Ben Goldacre: Yeah well you can prove anything with science – “When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate bid to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken. This is an interesting finding. But I’m not sure it makes me very happy.”

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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.


“AmazonGate”: how the denial lobby and a dishonest journalist created a fake scandal 22

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.

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