Via PZ Myers I find Bruce M Hood’s story of how Jonathan Leake misrepresented Hood’s work:

Well, what did I expect? A fair representation in the press and a balanced view from commentators? Come off it. …

First, most of the articles in the press are based on the original article in The Sunday Times by Jonathan Leake and Andrew Sniderman. Jonathan did have the courtesy to phone me on Friday afternoon to talk about the piece. He had not read the book but had a copy of SuperSense sent to him. I thought I made my position relatively clear as we discussed the evidence and studies that indicate that we are born with brains to seek out patterns and infer hidden mechanisms, forces and entities. That does not make me either religious or a religious apologist. …

In fact, I categorically said that religions were cultural constructs as Richard Dawkins had proposed.

Jonathan thanked me and said that he would run the piece past me on Saturday for my approval. He didn’t.

As Saturday night passed, I thought that they had probably decided to drop the piece as it did not fit with the simple “Born to Believe in God” angle that he wanted to push when we initially spoke. So imagine my horror to read the title of the piece in the Sunday Times. [“We are born to believe in God”] …

The problem was compounded the following day with pieces in “The Daily Mail” and “The Daily Telegraph” regurgitating new versions of the story with added insertions. And so on…. like Chinese whispers the story has become distorted with individuals adding their own interpretations and agendas.

Sound familiar? It’s exactly what’s happening with Leake and climate science. Leake misrepresents the science and writes a bogus story, which is then mindlessly copied by other British papers.


  1. #1 Philip Machanick
    February 18, 2010

    A sorry tale. I take on the Guardian on my blog, sadly. They used to be a quality paper. In response to all this I’ve set up a petition for those who want to express support for the rights of scientists to work without harassment and personal attack.

  2. #2 Steve Reuland
    February 18, 2010

    “PZ Meyers”

    I believe the correct spelling is “Mayorsshd3”.

  3. #4 Bruce Hood
    February 18, 2010

    I have to say that Jonathan did respond to my initial complaint and allowed me to print an update accurate article online so I thought the Times dealt with situation appropriately.

  4. #5 Marco
    February 18, 2010

    @Bruce Hood: oh, how nice. It should not have happened in the first place! As you indicate yourself, the story then went forward. Did all media outlets correct the story? I’m guessing not.

  5. #6 P. Lewis
    February 18, 2010

    Whilst certainly something is better than nothing, perhaps another pertinent question is whether they(‘ve) agreed to an equally prominent reply/retraction in the print form. I daresay more saw the print version than did the online version (print circulation figures likely to be >1,000,000).

    And Marco has a point about the wider distribution of falsehood. Presumably you’d have to chase each paper independently. That’s a few hundred thousand more wrong impressions to be taken away and disseminated more widely. Shit, rather notoriously, sticks.

  6. #7 stepanovich
    February 18, 2010


    What do you think the ideal level of regurgitated blogspam in the blogosphere would be?

    ( ) No spam! Spam must die! We High Priests of the Marxist Anti-Spam Religion are hopping onto the Anti-Spam Pork-Barrel Bandwagon because our Pope AL BORE GORE has decided that Spam Is Bad!

    ( ) The more spam, the merrier! Spam is freedom! People are calling spammers names merely because they dare to voice a dissenting opinion. Remember, we fought WWII so that spammers can have the right to spam!

    ( ) The debate about spam has become polarized. As the Honest Broker in the debate, I say that the blogosphere needs moderate amounts of regurgitated blogspam.

    * * *

    Back to the post topic: here’s the best illustration I found of the problem of journalistic agnotology.

  7. #8 Cthulhu
    February 18, 2010

    One of the many denialist spin/smear tactics is to raise “calls for resignation”.

    It works like this. As a bog standard commenter, I call for Leakes resignation like so:

    Leake should resign following these revelations!

    Now in future on this subject you can print that there have been “calls for Leakes resignation” following Leakegate.

  8. #9 Bud
    February 18, 2010

    Cthulhu is right (#8). Some similar sleights of hand:

    “Senior scientist warns instances of fiddler’s elbow could reach 300,000” (trans: I am not interested in ranges, only upper limits).

    “Doubts have been raised” (trans: I have raised doubts).

    “Many decent hardworking Australians believe” (trans: I am decent, hard-working and Australian, and I believe it really strongly).

    “Threat of fiddler’s elbow grossly overexaggerated” (trans: they DEFINTELY told me 300,000 cases).

    Result – journalist/columnist maintains moral authority throughout, regardless of position, and doctors are accused of being in on a communist plot to raise taxes on fiddles.

  9. #10 JamesA
    February 18, 2010

    My least favourite journalistic trope is the dreaded “scientists think”. This just fosters the absurd notion of some kind of collective knowledge, without any indication of exactly how many scientists think something or whether said scientists are even working in a relevant field.

    To take an example, you can get something like “scientists think that the earth’s temperature could rise as much as X degrees C in the next 100 years”, when they had taken the upper estimate from a small study with big error bars. When someone points out that this was being excessively pessimistic, that just fosters accusations of alarmism. The reality, of course, is that the alarmism is all the journalists’ in this case.

  10. #11 JamesA
    February 18, 2010

    @Bruce Hood: Lesson here is that people should complain; it’s actually quite sad how many scientists don’t when they are misquoted. I’m sure they have their reasons but a British newspaper journalists’ career is spent working out what they can and can’t get away with saying and people taking it lying down only encourages what we’ve been seeing lately.

  11. #12 PS
    February 18, 2010

    I’m thinking the CO2 level is around 20000-30000 ppm in your immediate vicinity. Oh, and you should have a 50000+ choice.

New comments have been temporarily disabled. Please check back soon.