British press forced to apologise again

Yet again the UK press has been forced to backtrack over a misleading climate change-related article. Readers will probably remember that the Sunday Times was recently forced to issue a retraction of Jonathan Leake’s “Amazongate” story, and now it’s the turn of the Sunday Telegraph, which has made an apology over accusations made against Rajendra Pachauri, head of the IPCC in an article by Richard North and Christopher Booker. At least it’s an apology of sorts…

On 20 December 2009 we published an article about Dr Pachauri and his business interests. It was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position as head of the IPCC and we accept KPMG found Dr Pachauri had not made “millions of dollars” in recent years. We apologise to Dr Pachauri for any embarrassment caused.

Now that’s all well and good, and it’s right that the record has been set straight, but it’s not exactly an honest apology. They say “It was not intended to suggest that Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position” as if it was simply a case of careless wording which unintentionally gave a misleading impression. So let’s see what the original piece actually said – it has been removed from the Telegraph web site but can still be found here

What has also almost entirely escaped attention, however, is how Dr Pachauri has established an astonishing worldwide portfolio of business interests with bodies which have been investing billions of dollars in organisations dependent on the IPCC’s policy recommendations.

It is remarkable how only very recently has the staggering scale of Dr Pachauri’s links to so many of these concerns come to light, inevitably raising questions as to how the world’s leading ‘climate official’ can also be personally involved in so many organisations which stand to benefit from the IPCC’s recommendations

So if these statements (and the rest of the article) were not intended to give the impression that “Dr Pachauri was corrupt or abusing his position” could someone kindly explain to me what impression the reader was supposed to get from the article?

North himself is entirely unrepentant, despite the fact that a review of Pachauri’s finances by KPMG revealed that “No evidence was found that indicated personal fiduciary benefits accruing to Pachauri from his various advisory roles that would have led to a conflict of interest.”

But then North vehemently objected to the abovementioned retraction issued by the Sunday Times, going so far as to issue a complaint to the PCC, possibly because Leake’s original story was largely based on North’s “research”.

Of course none of this has any bearing on the actual scientific arguments around climate change, but it it is hard to avoid the conclusion that for the likes of North and Booker, James Delingpole, Melanie Phillips et al. this isn’t about the science, of which they understand little and care even less, it is a propaganda war with the aim of planting doubt in the minds of the public and making it ever more difficult for politicians to take meaningful action to prevent increased global warming. In which case, however insignificant this kind of arguments is in the overall scheme of things, any setback to their cause is to be applauded.

Fighting back

I think it’s fair to say that the record of certain elements in the UK press of reporting on climate change has hardly been illustrious, but over the past few months, in the wake of the “climategate” story and the Copenhagen summit, they have surpassed even their own dismal standards with a whole series of high profile stories riddled with inaccuracies and distortions and which, frankly, betray either profound ignorance or dishonesty or both. I have described one example here, and there are others here, here and here – and this is only a selection.

Apart from the usual misrepresentations of the scientific arguments a noticeable trend we have seen is for scientists quoted in these articles to claim that their views have been blatantly misrepresented. One especially notable case recently was of course Phil Jones’s statement that warming since 1995 does not quite reach statistical significance, which was portrayed as “There has been no global warming since 1995″, but all my above links contain examples.

It is also clear from the above links that climate bloggers have done sterling work in exposing and refuting the various distortions and misrepresentations, but now one of the scientists who has been on the receiving end is fighting back. Climate Progress reports that Dr Simon Lewis, co-author of a paper on the impact of reduced rainfall in the Amazon, has submitted a 31-page official complaint to the UK Press Complaints Commission (PCC)  over an article in the Sunday Times in which he claims

they used highly selective reporting to imply, by omission, that a leading expert – myself – concurred with them that the IPCC had published an incorrect scientific claim. This is not the truth, and not what I told the Sunday Times, and therefore I consider the article materially misleading.

Dr Lewis’s complaint is especially damning because not only does he claim that his views were misrepresented, but that the journalist Jonathan Leake read out to him an original version of his story which fairly represented his views but

following this telephone call the article was entirely and completely re-written with an entirely new focus, new quotes from me included and new (incorrect) assertions of my views.

This doesn’t come as a huge surprise given Leake’s previous record, but it’s still a serious allegation. I have to say that I don’t have enormous faith in the PCC and even if they investigate and find against Leake and the Sunday Times it is unlikely that any published correction will get the same publicity as the original story, but I commend Dr Lewis for this actions and I do think that other scientists who have received similar treatment should follow his lead.