September 21, 2017
A leading British newspaper is “sorry not sorry” over claims that global warming really isn’t that bad
by Nikki Griffiths
Do you like fake news? The Mail on Sunday sure does.
Back in February, the UK’s second-largest Sunday newspaper printed a contentious story by David Rose, claiming that global warming data had been exaggerated in order to influence the Paris Agreement on climate change.
But whoops!, that’s come back to bite them in the ass. They got their facts wrong, and months later they have been forced to apologise.
Unfortunately, the Mail on Sunday has a readership of 1.25 million and the article has already been shared at least 200,000 times. But better late than never??
Under the headline “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data,” the article is a detailed, sympathetic consideration of claims made by John Bates, a climate scientist who used to work for the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Bates wrote a detailed detailed post for Judith Curry’s Climate Etc. blog, criticising a paper published in the journal Science, arguing that “residual data biases in the modern era could well have muted recent warming” — that is, the unintentional mishandling of some data had caused scientists not to perceive some warming that had nonetheless been going on.
The report claimed that the ‘pause’ or ‘slowdown’ in global warming in the period since 1998—revealed by UN scientists in 2013—never existed, and that world temperatures had been rising faster than scientists expected. Launched by NOAA with a public relations fanfare, it was splashed across the world’s media, and cited repeatedly by politicians and policy makers.
But the whistleblower, Dr John Bates, a top NOAA scientist with an impeccable reputation, has shown The Mail on Sunday irrefutable evidence that the paper was based on misleading, ‘unverified’ data.
But as it turns out, yeah, not so much. Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, raised a serious complaint that resulted in the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) investigating the story. He told Fiona Harvey at the Guardian, “Fake news stories about climate change are a significant threat to the public interest in the UK, US and other countries. The expert community must continue to fight back against the deluge of propaganda from climate change deniers.”
Ipso ruled on the story, finding a host of problems, including that graphs in the piece distorted data, and also that the
article had characterised Dr Bates’ testimony as providing “irrefutable evidence” that the paper had been based on “misleading, ‘unverified’ data”, leading—as the headline claimed—to world leaders being “duped” over global warming, and “convinced” to invest billions in climate change. These claims by the newspaper went much further than the concerns which Dr Bates had detailed in his blog or in the interview; they did not represent criticisms of the data collection process, but rather, were assertions of fact that the data had been demonstrated conclusively to be wrong and had a significant impact on the decision making of world leaders, with an additional implication this had been part of a wilful attempt to deceive. Dr Bates had challenged the findings, as he was entitled to do; however he had not proven them to be false, nor had he suggested that the authors of the study had acted dishonestly. Having considered Dr Bates’ claims in detail, the Committee concluded that they did not constitute or identify “irrefutable evidence” that the data was “misleading” or that leaders had been “duped”. The newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article.
Global warming, and especially the 1998-2013 global warming hiatus, are contentious enough subjects without attempts at manipulation through emotional and misleading language. And the stakes are high: as Rose points out, “[Bates’s] disclosures are likely to stiffen President Trump’s determination to enact his pledges to reverse his predecessor’s ‘green’ policies, and to withdraw from the Paris deal — so triggering an intense political row.”
The UK’s Met Office (that’s what we call our national weather service) recently put out a press release that read, “Global temperatures have risen since pre-industrial times (1850–1900) by around 1° C. The influences of anthropogenic greenhouse gas release and aerosols explain much of this increase but natural variations in climate, such as the influence of El Niño, mean that the observed temperature rise isn’t even from year to year.”
Pause or no pause, pretending global warming is not happening seems kind of stupid. I mean, I’m keen to listen to actual experts in the field but I guess a lot of people aren’t, because hey, Brexit.
Anyhow, everyone, it’s ok, because they’ve apologised very sincerely. A Mail on Sunday spokesperson told the Guardian:
“The subject of the rate of climate change is fiercely debated, with reputable scientists taking positions on both sides. The Mail on Sunday has published articles that challenge some widely held opinions. The complainant in this case is a professional spokesman for two academic institutions involved in the debate. He has complained to the press regulator on three previous occasions about our articles on climate change, but those complaints were rejected.
“This newspaper is fully committed to the principle of independent press regulation and is a member of Ipso. We are disappointed with this finding, but we accept it and are publishing the adjudication with prominence in the newspaper and online.”
More a case of “sorry not sorry” than a real apology, isn’t it? Purposely misleading a public whose capacity to make decisions you don’t trust anyway (see: Trump, Brexit, etc.) is shameful. And a 647-word retraction (which you can now read in full at the top of the article) seven months after the event doesn’t seem to cover it.
Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.