IPSO up­holds cli­mate sci­ence com­plaint over re­port in MoS

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - News -

FOL­LOW­ING an ar­ti­cle pub­lished on Fe­bru­ary 5, 2017, in The Mail on Sun­day, head­lined ‘EX­POSED How world lead­ers were duped over global warm­ing’, Bob Ward com­plained to the In­de­pen­dent Press Stan­dards Or­gan­i­sa­tion (IPSO) that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Ac­cu­racy) of the Ed­i­tors’ Code of Prac­tice. IPSO up­held the com­plaint and has re­quired The Mail on Sun­day to pub­lish this de­ci­sion as a rem­edy to the breach.

The ar­ti­cle re­ported on claims made by Dr John Bates, a cli­mate sci­en­tist for­merly em­ployed at the US Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion (NOAA), about a pa­per pub­lished in the jour­nal Sci­ence that sug­gested that there had been no ‘pause’ in global warm­ing in the 2000s. Dr Bates had pub­lished a blog crit­i­cis­ing the way the data used for the pa­per had been an­a­lysed and archived. The ar­ti­cle de­tailed at length the com­plainant’s con­cerns with the data; it then char­ac­terised them as demon­strat­ing ‘ir­refutable ev­i­dence’ that the pa­per had been based upon ‘mis­lead­ing, un­ver­i­fied data’.

The ar­ti­cle was il­lus­trated with a graph. It plot­ted a red line, de­scribed as ‘the “ad­justed” and un­re­li­able sea data cited in the flawed “Pause­buster” pa­per’, and a blue line, de­scribed as ‘the UK Met Of­fice’s in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied record’, which it said ‘showed lower monthly read­ings and a shal­lower re­cent warm­ing trend’. A note at the base of the graph stated that ‘0 rep­re­sents 14°C’.

The com­plainant said that the sig­nif­i­cance of Dr Bates’s con­cerns about the ar­chiv­ing pro­ce­dures had been mis­rep­re­sented in the ar­ti­cle, and the newspaper had taken no steps to es­tab­lish the ve­rac­ity of Dr Bates’s claims. World lead­ers had not been ‘duped’, as the head­line said, and there was no ‘ir­refutable ev­i­dence’ that the pa­per was based on ‘mis­lead­ing, un­ver­i­fied data’, as the ar­ti­cle had claimed.

The newspaper said that Dr Bates had shown it ex­am­ples of both fully archived cli­mate data and the less de­tailed ver­sion used for the pa­per; putting raw data on a web­site is not the same thing as full data ar­chiv­ing; there­fore the ev­i­dence that the pa­per’s data was un­ver­i­fied and mis­lead­ing, was ‘ir­refutable’.

The Com­mit­tee em­pha­sised that its cen­tral con­cern was whether the ar­ti­cle had ac­cu­rately re­ported Dr Bates’s con­cerns. It de­cided that the newspaper’s claims that Dr Bates’s tes­ti­mony had pro­vided ‘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, 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.

The ar­ti­cle claimed that be­cause of the NOAA’s ‘fail­ure to “ar­chive”’ the data, ‘its re­sults can never be ver­i­fied’. The Com­mit­tee did not con­sider that the ar­ti­cle had made suf­fi­ciently clear that the fail­ure to ar­chive had been a fail­ure to ar­chive the data through a par­tic­u­lar method, and that the data had been made pub­licly avail­able. In char­ac­ter­is­ing Dr Bates’s claims in this way, the newspaper had failed to take care over the ac­cu­racy of the ar­ti­cle, in breach of Clause 1 (i), and had then failed to cor­rect these sig­nif­i­cantly mis­lead­ing state­ments, in breach of Clause 1 (ii).

The graph which ac­com­pa­nied the ar­ti­cle had pro­vided a vis­ual il­lus­tra­tion of the newspaper’s con­tention re­gard­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween the ‘flawed’ NOAA data and other, ‘ver­i­fied’, data. The newspaper’s fail­ure to plot the lines cor­rectly rep­re­sented a breach of Clause 1 (i), and there had been a fur­ther fail­ure to cor­rect the sig­nif­i­cantly mis­lead­ing im­pres­sion cre­ated as a re­sult. There was a fur­ther breach of Clause 1 on this point.

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