Few stories about climatology generated as much attention, positive and negative as one by Jonathan Leake in London’s Sunday Times back in January. “UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim” claimed that references to threats to the Amazon rainforest from global warming were “based on an unsubstantiated claim by green campaigners who had little scientific expertise.” As pretty much anyone without an ulterior motive who bothered to look into the matter quickly discovered, that wasn’t true. Now, more than five months later, the Times has apologized for the story.
The most interesting part of the apology, from my perspective as a former editor, is this:
A version of our article that had been checked with Dr [Simon] Lewis [whose Press Council complaint prompted the apology] underwent significant late editing and so did not give a fair or accurate account of his views on these points. We apologise for this.
This suggests that Leake isn’t the only journalist working for the Times who resists the notion that the climatology community knows what it’s talking about.
The second most interesting part should be the apology trail. Tim at Deltoid offers a partial list of other online sources that used Leake’s story but haven’t yet apologized. The Wall Street Journal is among the more notable examples,
This is a relatively new challenge for the journalism community. Facts and falsehoods travel far and fast these days. It’s not an easy matter to track them all down and get the responsible publishers to act appropriately. The same technologies that give ideas legs should make it easy to propagate a correction, but that doesn’t take into the need for integrity among the human elements.
It’s also a reality that many journalists who weigh in on a given subject only every now and then aren’t likely to be following the subject closely enough to notice when a correction is made at the source. All the more important then, that those of us who do follow it closely do what we can to give the correction as much attention as possible.