Leakegate: Scientist fights back

Simon Lewis has made an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about Jonathan Leake’s dishonest reporting on the Amazon rainforests. David Adam reports:

Lewis said: “There is currently a war of disinformation about climate change-related science, and my complaint can hopefully let journalists in the front line of this war know that there are potential repercussions if they publish misleading stories. The public deserve careful and accurate science reporting.” …

Lewis also complains that the Sunday Times used several quotes from him in the piece to support the assertion that the IPCC report had made a false claim. “Despite repeatedly stating to the Sunday Times that there is no problem with the sentence in the IPCC report, except the reference.”

Lewis said he made the PCC complaint, which runs to 31 pages, only after other attempts to raise his concerns failed. A letter to the Sunday Times, he says, was not acknowledged or printed, and a comment he posted on its website was deleted.

The Sunday Times is complicit in Leake’s dishonesty and it’s good to see Lewis holding them to account.

Update: Joe Romm has posted Lewis’ 31 page complaint. Highlight:


I spoke to Jonathan Leake on the afternoon of Saturday 30, a few hours before the article went to press, as he wanted to check the quotes he was using by me (checking quotes was agreed between ourselves on Friday 29 January). The entire article was read to me, and quotes by me agreed, including a statement that the science in the IPCC report was and is correct. The article was reasonable, and quotes were not out of context. Indeed I was happy enough that I agreed to assist in checking the facts for the graphic to accompany the article (I can supply the emails if necessary). Yet, following this telephone call the article was entirely and completely re-written with an entirely new focus, new quotes from me included and new (incorrect) assertions of my views. I ask the Sunday Times to disclose the version of article that was read out to me, and provide an explanation as to why the agreed correct, undistorted, un-misleading article, and specifically the quotes from me, was not published, and an entirely new version produced.

Comments

  1. #1 John Mashey
    March 24, 2010

    David Adam has been doing a good job over there, including the IOP coverage.

  2. #2 sod
    March 24, 2010

    good. all legal means to fight these distortions must be used.

  3. #3 ben
    March 24, 2010

    Victims of dishonest journalism… join the club. Journalists have been biased and dishonest since there’s been journalism. Same with judges. Same with Politicians. Same with… just about everyone.

  4. #4 sod
    March 24, 2010

    look ben, the article above (can you read?) points out one significant example of misrepresentation in the media.

    Tim has actually found and documented countless errors in the articles written by Leake.

    your claim “the same happens elsewhere too” simply doesn t cut it.

  5. #5 sod
    March 24, 2010

    oh, and don t miss the spin on this on [WuWt.](http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/24/complaint-issued-on-amazongate-reporting/)

    BUT, this could be the opening shot by AGW advocates to attempt to shut down free speech.

    “our right of free speech includes posting blatant lies. how do you not understand that?”

  6. #6 Paul Crowley
    March 24, 2010

    Bear in mind that the PCC almost always find for the journalist and are almost completely toothless anyway.

  7. #7 sod
    March 24, 2010

    oh, most stupid (climate science) [decision](http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7073272.ece) i heard of in a pretty long time:

    Even the title of the £4 million gallery has been changed to reflect the museum’s more circumspect approach. The museum had intended to call it the Climate Change Gallery, but has decided to change this to Climate Science Gallery to avoid being accused of presuming that emissions would change the temperature

    watts linked to the poll the museum had put up. some sceptics even manipulated the pretty stupid online poll and proclaimed their deeds in the WuWt comment section (counters were set back somewhat after).

    just wait for his post declaring this a massive success…

  8. #8 Dappledwater
    March 24, 2010

    Sod #7, that Professopr Rapley sounds like a eunuch.

  9. #9 MapleLeaf
    March 24, 2010

    Dr. Lewis,

    Way to go! It probably won’t go anywhere, but you do not know if you don’t try. Leak needs to be held accountable for his transgressions. If the PCC fails you could always consider direct legal action.

    At the very least this sends a message to the “journalists” that scientists are going to take a stand.

    Anyhow, thanks for doing this and the best of luck.

  10. #10 MapleLeaf
    March 24, 2010

    “The Sunday Times said it that printed two letters in response to the article. It said it was “currently dealing with Simon Lewis’s complaint and hope to resolve the issue”.

    Uh huh. They have not responded to Lewis and deleted his comment on their web page.

  11. #11 Dave
    March 24, 2010
  12. #12 ben
    March 24, 2010

    look ben, the article above (can you read?) points out one significant example of misrepresentation in the media.

    My point is just that this has been the status quo for issues I care about for a loooong time. So I don’t get too excited about it when you guys find a problem of this sort in the media… join the club.

    The other point, I suppose, is that I don’t care about the media misrepresentation because I don’t trust those lying sacks of shit anyway. So they can misrepresent all they like.

    Here’s a good example of how much it matters that journalists misrepresent facts:

    “You know, I wanted to sit on a jury once and I was taken off the jury. And the judge said to me, ‘Can, you know, can you tell the truth and be fair?’ And I said, ‘That’s what journalists do.’ And everybody in the courtroom laughed. It was the most hurtful moment I think I’ve ever had.” – Diane Sawyer

  13. #13 Ben Kalafut
    March 24, 2010

    How is this “holding them to account”? This commission has no legal authority.

    Climatologists and scientists in related fields need to start filing libel suits–as many as it takes.

  14. #14 Mike
    March 24, 2010

    WUWT never ceases to amaze me.

    Trying to get accurate reporting of your work and holding people responsible for flagrantly misquoting you is “shutting down free speech”?

    Which two random neuron pulses collided to create that logic?

  15. #15 Mike
    March 24, 2010

    1/ Good on Lewis for calling them to account
    2/ Now watch the denial movement go into meltdown about “free speech” and the “suppression of the debate”.

    This is what a free debate is. It’s not sitting back passively and letting them hurl abuse at scientists. It’s a vigorous and necessary defence.

    One thing I’d note about deniers: they have glass jaws.

    They can dish it out, but collapse into a nervous, screaming heap the moment their “integrity” is questioned.

  16. #16 cindy
    March 24, 2010

    Off Topic #2: speaking of dodgy journalism, RealClimate – Santer vs Guardian round two just posted.

    But back to Leake vs Lewis… @Ben Kalafut – yes, they could sue for libel; possibly should, but they’re scientists who want to get on with their work – tying themselves up in libel suits timely and expensive.

    PCC is toothless, yes, but they’d have to tie themselves into knots to find for Sunday Times.

  17. #17 MapleLeaf
    March 24, 2010

    “Which two random neuron pulses collided to create that logic?”

    OK, now that really did make me laugh out loud! :)

  18. #18 Mike
    March 24, 2010

    Actually – nothing better demonstrates the hyprocrisy of the denial movement’s claim that free speech is being supressed than this claim made by the great dissembler himself, Lord Monckton:

    http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=NTQxMA==

    “Viscount Monckton of Brenchley complained to the Press Complaints Commission that two articles published in the New Scientist on 16 August and 30 August 2008 – respectively headlined “Are some things best left unsaid?”, and “Editors must be our gatekeepers” – contained inaccuracies in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code. He also complained that the magazine’s editing of his letter of response raised a further breach of the Code…

    The complainant said that the first article contained a number of inaccuracies about a paper he had written about climate change for another publication, Physics and Society. Most significantly, it was wrong to say that he had failed to correct the false impression of the editors of Physics and Society that he held a doctorate of science. Neither he nor the scientist who recommended him to the editors had claimed he had such a qualification, and his correct title had appeared on all correspondence with the publication”.

    This buggers are absolutely *shameless*.

  19. #19 climateprogressive
    March 24, 2010
  20. #20 RnR
    March 24, 2010

    He is a machine. Now the renewables industry in England is after his scalp.

    [Renewables industry considers press complaint over "feeble wind farm" report](http://www.businessgreen.com/business-green/news/2259938/renewables-industry-considers)

  21. #21 Mike
    March 24, 2010

    Sorry to bombard, but it looks like Monckton has a history of complaining to the PCC (and losing). He appears to be somewhat twitchy about his reputation.

    Another example here: http://www.pcc.org.uk/news/index.html?article=MjExMg==

    “The Hon. Christopher Monckton complained to the Press Complaints Commission on behalf of Consistent Hotel Staff Ltd that the Evening Standard had sought to obtain information through subterfuge in breach of Clause 11 (Misrepresentation) of the Code and by doing so had intruded into the privacy of a number of the company’s employees in breach of Clause 3 (Privacy) of the Code.

    The complaint was rejected…

    The newspaper said that it had received information from several sources that the company was employing and exploiting illegal workers. It considered that the use of subterfuge in order to establish whether the allegations were true was in the public interest as, consequently, was any resulting intrusion into the privacy of company employees…”

    Reporting went undercover to investigate allegations of illegal workers being exploited. Monckton brought the complaint on behalf of the company.

    Interesting, it would seem one of the world’s most prominent denialists *may* have interests in a company that exploits illegal workers… why else bring the complaint? I can’t determine if Monckton is a director or has shares. Still, curious. Very curious.

  22. #22 Lotharsson
    March 24, 2010

    BUT, this could be the opening shot by AGW advocates to attempt to shut down free speech.

    Proving once again that WUWT has no idea of what they are talking about – in this case, they don’t even know the definition of the hallowed American term “free speech”.

  23. #23 Lotharsson
    March 24, 2010

    Hilarious whinge from McLean et al.

    Shorter McLean et al: “peer review of comments is unscientific!”

  24. #25 Boris
    March 24, 2010

    FOIA requests and personal attacks on Simon Lewis in 3….2….

  25. #26 Tim Lambert
    March 24, 2010

    Update: I’ve added a link to Lewis’ 31 page complaint.

  26. #27 Mike
    March 24, 2010

    @ jakerman post 25

    Your right! He did too! My, I see a pattern here. Let’s exploit the media, tell lies and distort the evidence… but for goodness sake, don’t question us!

  27. #28 V. infernalis
    March 24, 2010

    @7:

    I left the following comment on the Times’ museum story:

    I look forward to them revamping exhibits on evolution to include intelligent design because there’s a big contingent of people who are not convinced. After all, you want to welcome creationists into the debate by being as neutral and fairhanded as you can be.

  28. #29 duckster
    March 25, 2010

    “our right of free speech includes posting blatant lies. how do you not understand that?”

    Curiously, FOX news once won a first amendment appeal against the journalists, Jane Akre and Steve Wilson, who prepared a report on Bovine Growth Hormones in milk which Monsanto were more than upset about, and managed to get the story angle ‘adjusted’ before it was broadcast. FOX argued (successfully) that they had no legal requirement to report the truth in a news story.

    How can you even argue with an organisation that defends their right to mislead their audience if it is in their commercial interests to do so?

  29. #30 Marion Delgado
    March 25, 2010

    In case anyone is keeping score, vanity-press right-wing play-journalist Tom Fuller says journalists NEVER check with a source about a story (to make sure quotes are right and the gist of the story is right). That’s not how the game is played.

    So now we know who the role model for an “examiner.com” blogwhore is.

  30. #31 Andrew77
    March 25, 2010

    So we seem to have two sets of errors in this Amazon saga.
    1) The IPCC, in its scientific report, cited a study by a pressure group (WWF) to support of a claim that the Amazon might die back by 40% if there was a slight decrease in rainfall.
    The WWF report in turn cited a report by Nature that was actually about the risks posed by fire and logging and did not say much about rainfall.
    The WWF has ‘fessed up to this error in a letter to the Sunday Times. That letter said: ‘The primary source for this statement is Fire in the Amazon, a 1999 overview by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute that states: ‘Probably 30-40% of the forests of the Brazilian Amazon are sensitive to small reductions in the amount of rainfall.’
    But there’s a problem. The AERI is another pressure group set up to campaign for sustainable development of the Amazon. Very respectable I’m sure – but their report is not peer-reviewed either. So we have an IPCC claim of great importance referenced to a pressure group which first mis-cited a Nature paper and then replaced that citation with a reference to a study by another pressure group. There is no other area of science where this kind of referencing would be acceptable on such major issues.
    Whatever the merits of the scientific argument about the impact of changing rainfall levels, this is very poor quality work by the IPCC. If, as Lewis suggests, there was plenty of peer-reviewed work that the IPCC could have cited why did it not do so?
    It is the same kind of failure that led to the claim about melting himalayan glaciers. The real point here is that the IPCC has let itself and the climate community down very badly and made itself vulnerable to such attacks. But let’s be specific here. Most of the IPCC’s work, especially the basic science remains rightly intact. It’s Working Gp 2, the report on impacts, that went so badly wrong. This also contained the false Himalayan claim. A real debate about this issue would get away from the sterile sceptics vs warmists debate and consider the real issue of why WG2 was so poorly written. The lead author was Martin Parry – what’s his excuse?
    2) As for the sunday times – its original headline about bogus claims was exaggerated and stupid which I guess is why they changed it on their website.
    But the text of the article is purely about the failure of the IPCC to reference its claims properly and, taken on its own, this seems to be accurate.
    The original Sunday Times Amazon article also made a strong statement supporting climate science. It said: ‘Scientists fear the controversies will be used by climate change sceptics to sway public opinion to ignore global warming — even though the fundamental science, that greenhouse gases can heat the world, remains strong.’ So it seems wrong to class them as sceptics. The paper also has a long history of publishing articles supporting climate science.
    It seems both the IPCC and The Sunday Times have to learn to be more careful. But the IPCC (WG2) had four years and hundreds of scientists to get its report right while the newspaper had a few days. Whose mistake was the more serious??

  31. #32 allen
    March 25, 2010

    Mike @28
    Your right! He did too! My, I see a pattern here. Let’s exploit the media, tell lies and distort the evidence… but for goodness sake, don’t question us!

    Sooo applicable to so many people

  32. #33 Jeremy C
    March 25, 2010

    Ummmmmm Andrew 77.

    Simon Lewis is complaining to the PCC about the result of his interaction with Johnathon Leake for the article on the ST. Joe Romm’s reproduction of Lewis’ complaint shows that it appears one article was written then a completey different article was prepared and published. This is far, far different than arguments about the review work of the IPCC, in fact I don’t see how you can make a comparison.

  33. #34 Lars Karlsson
    March 25, 2010

    32 – According to Nepstad, on whose work the WWF based their claims, there were [additional studies](http://www.whrc.org/resources/online_publications/essays/2010-02-Nepstad_Amazon.htm) that support the sensitivity of the Amazon to rainfall reduction and which WWF/IPCC should have cited.

  34. #35 Sou
    March 25, 2010

    @ Andrew77, if you’re going to cross-post on different blogs (climateprogress and deltoid), can you at least use paragraphs here, just in case someone wants to read it. (And stick to the one user name if you want to be recognised – or is this just a cut and paste of someone else’s post?)

    BTW – Leake’s invention was more serious, because he deliberately falsified his article. The IPCC report on the other hand is accurate, with a couple of minor mistakes in the detail – fewer than Encyclopedia Britannica and infinitesimal per column inch compared to any newspaper.

  35. #36 Sou
    March 25, 2010

    For the curious who checked, Andrew77′s post on climateprogress (posted by Prince Albert at 5:06am) didn’t meet the guidelines and has now been removed. Good decision by them to get rid of the extraneous clutter :D

  36. #37 lord_sidcup
    March 25, 2010

    @Andrew77 #32

    “But the IPCC (WG2) had four years and hundreds of scientists to get its report right while the newspaper had a few days. Whose mistake was the more serious??”

    I don’t know if you have actually read Lewis’s complaint to the PCC, or even the highlight of that complaint quoted in Tim’s update above. Leake read a version of his report to Lewis over the telephone the day before publication, and Lewis was happy that it accurately represented him. However, a completely different article was published in The Sunday Times the following day. Trying to excuse Leake’s inaccuracies on the basis of him having only “a few days” does not stand up as he (or someone else) completely re-wrote an article that Lewis had no problem with. It seems that Leake gave more credence to the claims of an unqualified blogger (Richard North) than he did to an actual scientist.

    If you ever get around to reading Lewis’s complaint you will also see that a comment he posted on the Sunday Times website criticising the article was deleted, and that he also wrote a letter to the Sunday Times that they refused to publish. There are no excuses for the Sunday Times on this.

  37. #38 sod
    March 25, 2010

    as predicted in my post #7 above, watts has put up a [declaration of victory](http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/03/24/wuwt-makes-a-difference-london-science-museum-changes-their-climate-change-exhibit/) over the stupid museum exhibition title change.

    as they now “avoid being accused of presuming that emissions would change the temperature” (something that every physics book will tell you), expect more such changes soon:

    for example “to avoid being accused of presuming that too much eating would change your weight.”

    this one is really nice: ““The Science Museum will not state a position on whether or not climate change is real, driven by humans or threatening.”

    so they are not giving any basic facts at that exhibition? sounds like a place to visit!

    ps: notice the usual inconsistency in the denialist position (pretty obvious in the comment section). the same people who have been shouting “no consensus” for years, now praise how a stupid online poll changed the the presentation of this museum.

    2)

  38. #39 Bernard J.
    March 25, 2010

    [Andrew77](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2010/03/leakegate_scientist_fights_bac.php#comment-2377077).

    You probably can’t afford a clue, but perhaps you might be able to purchase a carriage return or several.

    If you sell some of your concern, you should just about be able to afford such.

  39. #40 Bruce Sharp
    March 25, 2010

    Posts such as the one by Andrew77 remind me of a good article by Greg Laden: [You said one thing wrong, therefore everything you ever said is also wrong.](http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2009/11/you_said_one_thing_wrong_there.php).

    Oh, wait… Laden was talking about one mistake. Andrew is talking about two, or maybe even three. I guess Laden’s point doesn’t apply.

  40. #41 frankbi
    March 25, 2010

    > > BUT, this could be the opening shot by AGW advocates to attempt to shut down free speech.

    The irony, eh?

    Of course, when right-wing extremists themselves try to shut other people up, they call it _defending_ free speech.

  41. #42 Dan Olner
    March 25, 2010

    Question: did anyone from CRU, or Prof Jones, complain to the PCC about the Daily Mail “u turn” story? I tried, but of course you have to have been involved in the story, unless there are exceptional circumstances.

    If they haven’t, could someone prod them please? No-one else can do the complaining for them, and that story was a travesty.

    Nice one Dr Lewis.

  42. #43 Dave
    March 25, 2010

    @39 sod

    My favourite part in the comments in the “victory” thread is someone posting the response they got from Dr Vicky Carroll re: their queries about the numbers, when the poll closed, etc.

    She said the breakdown was:

    > Gallery
    > Counted in = 3408
    > Counted out = 626

    > Web
    > Counted in = 2650
    > Counted out = 7612

    > Total
    > Counted in = 6058
    > Counted out = 8238

    So, of those that actually bothered to visit the exhibit, a large majority came away accepting the need for strong action, while the majority of those sitting at home clicking a web form were against.

    While WUWT crows over the numbers, I find the comparative breakdown between the engaged and the stay-at-homes quite telling.

  43. #44 truth machine
    March 25, 2010

    Whose mistake was the more serious??

    What is the point of such a comparison? Something bad is not made less bad by comparing it to something worse; if it were, we could excuse almost anything by comparing it to the worst possible thing.

    Beyond that … if you go to the top of this page and examine what you are supposedly commenting on, you will find that it is not about a “mistake”. Your whole post, regardless of its accuracy, is irrelevant.

  44. #45 truth machine
    March 25, 2010

    Posts such as the one by Andrew77 remind me of a good article by Greg Laden: You said one thing wrong, therefore everything you ever said is also wrong..

    It’s odd that it reminds you of that, since Andrew77 didn’t say anything remotely like that. In fact, he stated that “Most of the IPCC’s work, especially the basic science remains rightly intact” and “the … headline about bogus claims was exaggerated and stupid”.

  45. #46 truth machine
    March 25, 2010

    Victims of dishonest journalism… join the club. Journalists have been biased and dishonest since there’s been journalism. Same with judges. Same with Politicians. Same with… just about everyone.

    I have a bridge you can jump off of.

    I don’t care about the media misrepresentation because I don’t trust those lying sacks of shit anyway. So they can misrepresent all they like.

    Bruce Sharp’s link applies, but it seems that you’re not likely to believe it, or anything else.

  46. #47 Tom Fuller
    March 25, 2010

    Marion Delgado, well, you proved your point by not checking with me before misquoting me. But you didn’t prove mine.

  47. #48 himThere
    March 25, 2010

    Curiouser and curiouser!

    There is a slightly eccentric blog site (http://eureferendum.blogspot.com/2010/03/death-by-press-release.html) that is claiming that a complaint against Leake alleging dishonest reporting is somehow a defeat for all those scientist contributing to the IPCC.

    I am a scientist myself (not in climate as add), but admit I am completely baffled by the tangled web of logic deployed over at “eureferendum”.

    Perhaps I have spent too long in the lab and become detached from the ‘real world’, where apparently up actually means down, black really means white, and bad definitely means good.

  48. #49 Jim Eager
    March 25, 2010

    Joe Romm reports at Climate Progress that the Sunday Times has admitted to Simon Lewis that “it has been recognised that the story was flawed” and that the Times has offered to print Lewis’ letter, but Lewis instead demands the Times retract the article and issue a public apology.

    http://climateprogress.org/2010/03/25/audio-sunday-times-leake-simon-lewis-ipcc-amazon-story/

  49. #50 truth machine
    March 26, 2010

    you proved your point … But you didn’t prove mine.

    Ah, a denier finally got something right.

  50. #51 truth machine
    March 26, 2010

    [Here](http://www.examiner.com/x-9111-Environmental-Policy-Examiner~y2010m3d26-Global-warming-The-potential-and-the-problems-of-green-technology) is the measure of Tom Fuller:

    As was mentioned during the recent inquiry by the UK House of Commons, Steve Mosher and I have written a book about the leaked emails that have caused so much controversy. The title is Climategate: The CRUtape Letters. It is available on Create Space here, Amazon here, Kindle here and Lulu here. One Amazon reviewer wrote, “Mosher and Fuller do a good job putting the ClimateGate documents in context, and the book is a riveting read. I received my copy yesterday, and find the book to be faithful to the climate war events that I have followed over a period of years. It reports actual email communications of a small group of paleoclimatologists and their roles in perhaps the biggest scientific hoax since Piltdown Man.”

  51. #52 lord_sidcup
    March 26, 2010

    Regarding Richard North’s eccentric website, do you think [this](http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_rqH4fUbko2U/S12JQ7e8MOI/AAAAAAAAP7s/FbFqsFjtd5Y/s1600-h/flesh+wound.jpg) is increasingly looking like hubris?

  52. #53 P. Lewis
    March 26, 2010

    Re Jim Eager’s comment #50

    The retraction, apology and Dr Lewis’s letter should be in print, not just on the website. I’m sure more misinformation would have been received by the print readers than the website readers. And it should be as prominent, in terms of location and headline as the original article.

    The ST voice message (if genuine) also suggests they think they don’t have a leg to stand on in front of the PCC; in fact, they seem to have shot any defence they may have had to pieces.

  53. #54 Lotharsson
    March 27, 2010

    Speaking of the dynamics pointed out in this thread (including whining about “censorship”), I reckon this article lays out the strategy which generally leads to a denialist win-win.

    (And no, this won’t be news to many here…)

    Step 1: Some misinformer or anti-science group puts out misinformation on the science or misrepresents the views of some scientist or expert.

    Step 2: They get debunked, by that person and/or others.

    Step 3: They demand equal time for their misinformation or misrepresentation, either through formal debates or “balanced” media coverage.

    Step 4: If they get the equal time, their strategy has worked, and they can go on to fabricate more misinformation and misrepresent the views of other scientists. If not, they simply attack those who fail to give them equal time or debate them as being biased or scared.

    Step 5: Go back to Step 1.

    As others have noted, it really helps when performing this strategy if you’re entirely shameless – or clueless.