Sunday Times shows its hand. Again.

Last April, I gave a lecture to the Met Society of Ireland in Glasnevin. A Sunday Times reporter was in the audience, though she did not make herself known to me, ask any questions or attempt to speak to me afterwards. However, five days later I got a call from said reporter, picking up on some choice observations on my part about the, em, quality of journalism on display post-Climategate/Copenhagen and the winter cold snap.

It must have been a veeery slow week, because two days later, a whopper of a ‘news’ article appeared in the ST, covering around two thirds of page 3 (appropriately enough, for a Murdoch title). I covered this incident on this blog back in April.

And now they’re back. From outer space. Those irrepressible Sunday Times hacks, ever eager to please their billionaire publisher, just couldn’t  wait for another juicy ‘climate’ scandal story, they just galloped ahead and made up their own! (Roy Greenslade has a good blog piece about it over on the Guardian website.)

OK, nothing new here, but what’s different this time was the whopping great ‘Correction’ the ST was forced to publish at the weekend, reprinted in full below:

The Sunday Times

Published: 20 June 2010

The article “UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim” (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had included an “unsubstantiated claim” that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall. The IPCC had referenced the claim to a report prepared for WWF by Andrew Rowell and Peter Moore, whom the article described as “green campaigners” with “little scientific expertise.” The article also stated that the authors’ research had been based on a scientific paper that dealt with the impact of human activity rather than climate change.

In fact, the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change. We also understand and accept that Mr Rowell is an experienced environmental journalist and that Dr Moore is an expert in forest management, and apologise for any suggestion to the contrary.

The article also quoted criticism of the IPCC’s use of the WWF report by Dr Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds and leading specialist in tropical forest ecology. We accept that, in his quoted remarks, Dr Lewis was making the general point that both the IPCC and WWF should have cited the appropriate peer-reviewed scientific research literature. As he made clear to us at the time, including by sending us some of the research literature, Dr Lewis does not dispute the scientific basis for both the IPCC and the WWF reports’ statements on the potential vulnerability of the Amazon rainforest to droughts caused by climate change.

In addition, the article stated that Dr Lewis’ concern at the IPCC’s use of reports by environmental campaign groups related to the prospect of those reports being biased in their conclusions. We accept that Dr Lewis holds no such view – rather, he was concerned that the use of non-peer-reviewed sources risks creating the perception of bias and unnecessary controversy, which is unhelpful in advancing the public’s understanding of the science of climate change. A version of our article that had been checked with Dr Lewis underwent significant late editing and so did not give a fair or accurate account of his views on these points. We apologise for this.

There’s a wonderful line in the above that’s worth repeating: “A version of our article that had been checked with Dr Lewis underwent significant late editing and so did not give a fair or accurate account of his views on these points”. Hmmm, what kind of ‘significant late editing’ might that have been, then? I tracked down a copy of the original. It attributes the following to Dr Lewis: “In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited; it contains no primary research data.”

The piece went on to state that “Scientists such as Lewis are demanding that the IPCC ban the use of reports from pressure groups. They fear that environmental campaign groups are bound to cherry-pick the scientific literature that confirms their beliefs and ignore the rest”.

Guess they just made that Lewis ‘quote’ up then? Cherry picking the scientific literature? Now there’s a concept the eager beavers at the ST know all about. Take this little hand-picked stinger from the ST’s hatchet job on me back in April. They stuck in a little sidebar headlined ‘Arctic ice cap recovers’. Here’s what their, ahem, environmental correspondent had to say about this shock news: “Scientists emphasise that the regrowth of ice in the Arctic and the fierce US blizzards are natural variations in weather which have little relevance for long-term climate change. Such caution contrasts with the warnings issued by scientists in 2007 when the north polar ice cap suffered a spectacular summer melt”.

These boffins MAKE STUFF UP – GEDDIT! Just like the news desk of the ST, perhaps. Sadly, a phenomenon known to the scientific community as ‘winter’ may have escaped the ST’s collective scrutiny. Every ‘winter’ the Arctic ice cap expands, then it melts back in the summer/autumn. People called ‘scientists’ freeze their butts off studing the rate of freeze and thaw, examine the amount of old ice that survives the summer thaw and calculate the (continuing) decline in ice thickness – a far more powerful indicator of the underlying trend in the Arctic ice sheet.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles to the south, people in warm offices hand-pick their way through the reams of scientific data and reports from major peer-reviewed publications to see if there’s some way of turning the science on its head – a minor error to be pounced on here, a scientific disagreement to be hyped up there, and voila, “the science isn’t settled…those boffins are just squabbling/on the make/trying to get grants”. There boss, did I do good?

Unfair of course to single out the ST for its tireless work in befuddling the public about climate change. It is just one of a confederacy of science dunces and ideologues, from the Daily Mail/Sunday Express to half the columnists (and a similar number of editors) in Dublin and of course the daddy of them all, RTE’s own Flat Earther-In-Residence and dear friend to snake oil salesmen and potion peddlers everywhere.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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