Johann Hari on Journalismgate

Johann Hari has written an excellent article in The Nation on the scandalously poor reporting in the main stream media on climate science and scientists:

Yet when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative–See! The global warming story is falling apart!–to be reinforced by the media. It doesn’t matter that their alternative theories are based on demonstrably false claims, as they are with all the leading “thinkers” in this movement. Look at the Australian geologist Ian Plimer, whose denialism is built on the claim that volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans, even though the US Geological Survey has shown they produce 130 times less. Or Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker, who says the Arctic sea ice can’t be retreating because each year it comes back a little… in winter.

Many Americans assume that if a story has been in the news section of a reputable English newspaper, it has been fact-checked. One recent climate “scandal” that spread from Britain shows how these stories actually originate. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change–the umbrella organization of the world’s climate scientists–explained that 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest is at risk of dying if there is even a slight reduction in rainfall. This is true. It is the view of the most distinguished scientists in the field. The IPCC sourced this claim to a report by the World Wildlife Fund–when, in fact, it should have referred to a report by professor Dan Nepstad, whose work is mentioned only in passing by the WWF.

It was a minor footnoting error–but when a denialist blogger named Richard North noticed it, he announced he had found the IPCC making fake predictions. He tipped off the Sunday Times, owned by Fox king Rupert Murdoch. The newspaper’s journalists quoted Dr. Simon Lewis, a leading rainforest expert, who explained that it was a very minor mistake and that the core claim is accurate. The paper ignored the bulk of his comments and mangled his quotes to make it sound like he agreed that the IPCC had been talking rubbish–and ran the “story” under the headline “UN Climate Panel Shamed by Bogus Rainforest Claim.” It gave credit for “research by Richard North.” The story was then zapped all over the United States as Amazongate, and as a result millions of people are now under the impression that the Amazon is in no danger. The Sunday Times refuses to admit it made a whopping error–in a story that attacks the IPCC for supposedly making a whopping error.

Read the whole thing.

Also worth reading is Mark Hertsgaard in the same issue:

Jon Krosnick, a Stanford University professor who has been surveying Americans’ views on climate change since 1995, says that, in fact, Americans remain overwhelmingly convinced that man-made climate change is happening and must be confronted. “The media is sensationalizing these polls to make it sound like the public is backing off its belief in climate change, but it’s not so,” argues Krosnick, who delivered a paper on the subject at an American Meteorological Association briefing in Washington a day after the Gallup poll was released. Krosnick says that Americans’ views have remained quite stable over the past ten years and that in November 2009–the very time the media were full of stories about the stolen British e-mails–a whopping 75 percent of Americans said they believed that global temperatures are going up.

Krosnick, whose academic specialty is the wording of survey questions, suspects his colleagues at Gallup and elsewhere have gotten misleading results because of the way they worded their questions: their phrasing ended up testing whether Americans believed in the science of climate change rather than the phenomenon of climate change. “Most people’s opinions are based not on science but on what they experience in their daily lives,” Krosnick told me. “So our surveys ask people if they have heard about the idea that temperatures have been going up over the past 100 years and if they agree with this idea.” The 75 percent of Americans who answered yes to that question amounts to “a huge number,” says Krosnick–a far higher level of agreement than pertains on most political issues. Where climate change deniers have had an effect, he adds, is in reducing, to 31 percent, the number of Americans who think all scientists agree about climate change. “But most Americans have thought that [scientists don’t all agree on climate change] for the entire fifteen years I’ve been polling on this issue,” adds Krosnick–further tribute, it seems, to the media’s longstanding habit of giving a handful of deniers prominence equal to the vast majority of scientists who affirm climate change.

Hat tip: Climate Shifts.


  1. #1 SteveC
    April 24, 2010

    @ 398
    I wholly agree with you Dave Andrews.

    Comments in posts like this one to san quintin “… or is it just a case of ‘lending’ your name to a paper so that the publishing record looks better?” or this one to MFSyou have no idea, for example, if there were similar migrations in the past and what you are now observing is perhaps not unusual” are nothing more than sly insinuations and unsubstantiated slurs on people’s character and professional behaviour. I agree it must stop.

    Oh, wait…

  2. #2 Connor
    April 25, 2010

    SamG – You misread my post. I said noBODY, ie. no single person, but a consensus can have a polyopoly over the truth. Everyman is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts, or something like that.

    Since the term ‘denier’ is what you are so hotly contesting, let’s use an analogy. Do you think that David Irving’s ‘truth’ is as valid as mainstream historians when it comes to the Holocaust? Of course not, he is a lone wingnut, kind of like McIntyre and Watts etc, who goes to great lengths to deny to widely accepted historical truth of what happened to the Jews during WW2.

  3. #3 Dave Andrews
    April 25, 2010


    Your analogy fails because, of course, there is considerable provable historical ,and still some eyewitness, evidence that the holocaust happened.

    Evidence of the importance of climate change, however, and what it might mean in the future, is far more nebulous and relies very largely on climate models and not on empirical evidence. So people can rightly be sceptical of this and that does not make them ‘deniers’.

  4. #4 Ian Forrester
    April 25, 2010

    Dave (the Idiot) Andrews said:

    and not on empirical evidence

    This just shows that he uses big words without even knowing what they mean. There is a huge amount of empirical (look it in the dictionary) evidence that shows that AGW is real.

    Try [this thread on Deltoid](

    And you wonder why you are the butt of jokes and scorn when you show just how stupid you are. But, hey, being stupid is better than being dishonest, we wouldn’t want to call you dishonest would we?

  5. #5 SteveC
    April 25, 2010
  6. #6 truth machine, OM
    April 25, 2010

    Connor, your argument is a logical fallacy. If there’s no monopoly on the truth, consensus is irrelevant.

    Uh, say what?

    Logic: ur doin’ it rong.

  7. #7 Ian Forrester
    April 25, 2010

    Thanks SteveC, I have to get better at using proper internet techniques.

  8. #8 truth machine, OM
    April 25, 2010

    I said noBODY, ie. no single person, but a consensus can have a polyopoly over the truth.

    Scientific consensus has nothing to do with any sort of opoly — it is simply the fact that those in the best position to judge a matter agree on the matter. Consider the consensus among mathematicians that Andrew Wiles proved Fermat’s Last Theorem. It’s the best basis for reaching a conclusion as to whether he did — it sure beats reading the proof and coming to your own conclusion. Or consider the consensus among scientists that the Earth is nearly 14 billion years old — that is the best basis for reaching a conclusion as to the age of the universe — it sure beats doing your own measurements.

  9. #9 Connor
    April 25, 2010

    Dave Andrews – No it’s not, the evidence for AGW is overwhelming and is based on direct experimental evidence

    You people are called deniers because denial is exactly what you do, and you employ many of the same techniques as other deniers, such as those who downplay the Holocaust, like it or not dem’s the facts. So, suck it up, or stop denying the truth, because that’s the only way you are going to avoid being correctly labeled a denier.

  10. #10 truth machine, OM
    April 25, 2010

    I have to get better at using proper internet techniques

    All you have to do is read the text just above the comment box that says

    > Comments: (you may use HTML tags or [markdown]( for style). Please make urls into proper links like this: `[Description](`.

  11. #11 truth machine, OM
    April 25, 2010

    Oops …

    Or consider the consensus among scientists that the Earthuniverse is nearly 14 billion years old

  12. #12 Connor
    April 26, 2010

    Truth Machine – I stand corrected!

  13. #13 Dave Andrews
    April 26, 2010


    No one doubts that the earth is warming, or at least was till around 2003.

    If you read what I said it was questioning the importance of climate change and the use of climate models to predict what it might mean in the future.

    The latter are basically mathematical models which probably have as much provenance as those that told the bankers et al that they could carry on with their fantasies until reality collapsed about their ears. They are certainly lacking in many aspects of representing the Earth’s climate.

  14. #14 Dave Andrews
    April 26, 2010

    Ian Forrester,

    Oh dear me, can you actually make any comment without being abusive?

    One really feels for those who are close to you, if they exist.

  15. #15 Ian Forrester
    April 26, 2010

    Dave (the idiot) Andrews, do you find the truth to be hurtful? Do you think that maybe if you thought about why you are an object of scorn and ridicule and decided to improve your persona that maybe people might stop telling how stupid and dishonest you are?

    Think about it, if you are capable of rational thought.

  16. #16 Lotharsson
    April 26, 2010

    The latter are basically mathematical models which probably have as much provenance as those that told the bankers et al that they could carry on with their fantasies until reality collapsed about their ears.

    …because as is widely acknowledged by “skeptics”, financial models are based on fundamental physics that can be demonstrated in the test lab. (And climate models are the ONLY reason that climate scientists are deeply concerned about climate change.)

    No, really! And I have this great CDO you should buy – guaranteed free of modeling influences, so right up your alley! There’s more where that came from…

  17. #17 Connor
    April 26, 2010

    Dave – No, just because the atmosphere supposedly hasn’t warmed since 2003 (which it has, so it’s a moot point really) doesn’t mean the planet has stopped accumulating heat. Water is a much more efficient heat storage medium than gas, and surprise surprise, oceans have continued to warm at truly alarming rate

    See: ( “An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950”)

    An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950 (Murphy 2009)

  18. #18 Dave Andrews
    April 27, 2010


    The climate models might be better now than they were 20 years ago but they are still a long way from truly representing many aspects of the Earth’s climate.

    Climate modellers know this, though they are reluctant to admit so in public. (Jeopardises the funding sources)

    There are so many aspects they cannot model properly and they still can’t basically support projections on less than a couple of thousand kilometres.

    So the fact IPCC relies on them demonstrates that the process is a political not a scientific one.

  19. #19 Anonymous
    April 27, 2010

    Dave: You are essentially saying models are not good enough, right? Care illustrating the following?

    A) How climate models are better now than they were 20 years ago.

    B) What uncertainties are inherent in climate modelling and in which way these are accounted for in a climate model. For a bonus point, how are these represented in any one particular model’s output, and why is this insufficient.

    C) Provide evidence that climate modellers (which ones?) know that they “cannot model properly”. Since people are innocent until proven guilty, the onus is on you to prove that deception is going on.

    D) List the aspects that they cannot model properly, and explain on what scale of projection they CAN model properly, and summarise why and how this makes climate models unsuitable for use in climate forecasting.

    Finally, please ensure you discuss this in terms of climate, not weather.

    In essence, tell us what specifically makes which particular climate model unsuitable.
    Since you seem so familiar with this stuff, you should have no trouble answering this questionnaire. Show us you know how a climate model works, so we believe your concerns when dismiss what is essentialy the best tool we currently have for climate forecasting. Then we can try to address your specific concerns about climate models.

    Failure to do this will clearly demonstrate that you are a troll and a denialist who is only parroting lines (which he does not understand) he read elsewhere in order to disrupt discussion on a topic that had nothing to do with climate models, but was instead centered around bad journalism.

  20. #20 MFS
    April 27, 2010

    Sorry guys, #419 post above was mine. Somehow it lost my handle.

  21. #21 SteveC
    April 27, 2010

    Dave Andrews – in addition to MFS’s questions in 419 above and the request “Finally, please ensure you discuss this in terms of climate, not weather.“, please also ensure that your answers do not reference the usual rag-bag of “sceptic” websites (WUWT, ClimateAudit etc.) since the models, assumptions, assertions and projections they use are, shall we say, questionable.

    Thank you.

  22. #22 Connor
    April 27, 2010

    Total pwnage!

  23. #23 jakerman
    April 28, 2010

    Speaking of bad journalism here is a keeper.
    [James Delingpole]( pops at air vent to explain his motives:

    April 23, 2010 at 5:04 am

    >*Gosh, you guys put me to shame. I’m just an Oxford English literature graduate and journalist who happened to get lucky with a story – Climategate – which was broken here first. Though I’m fascinated by the science – reading blogs like this has been a real education for me – what most interests me about AGW as a libertarian is the politics of it all.*

    Perhaps James gets all his scienctific education from partisan blogs?

    >*I’m sure most of you would agree that AGW is the greatest lie ever told. You guys are more than capable of explaining why it’s a lie.*

    James doen’t need a scientific process to get close to seeking truth. James selectes his perefered outcome. He simply finds the blogs that align with his politics.

    >*I see my job (as the cultural critic my university degree trained me to be) as being more in the way of analysing how it is that this lie became so widely promulgated, of exposing just how deeply buried in the fabric of our culture, and of trying to suggest what the hell we might do to stop it.

    Shorter James: *Lets just assume the science is all wrong, my job is to construct a radical libertarian narative to explain world if this was the case.*

    >*Scientifically, I’m not worthy of you. As a polemicist, though, I hope I do my bit. This is war, perhaps the most important war our generation will fight, and we’re in this one together.*

    Thanks for the confirmation James!

  24. #24 Harry Braun
    April 28, 2010

    The New York Times ran an article about the American Petroleum Institute in April of 1998. It outlines a very specific and detailed plan by oil and gas industry representatives to invest millions of dollars in an effort to undermine support for the Kyoto Protocol and discredit the scientific consensus opinion that greenhouse gases are causing the planet to warm.

    The draft plan, titled “Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan,” concedes that opposition to the protocol is not shared by the public or a vast majority of scientists worldwide. “There has been little, if any, public resistance or pressure applied to Congress to reject the treaty, except by those ‘inside the Beltway’ with vested interests,” it notes.

    Read: Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan

  25. #25 Dave Andrews
    April 29, 2010


    I assume, perhaps wrongly, that as an educated person you read widely about the issues concerning climate change and GCMs. If you haven’t apparently come across the many caveats about climate models expressed by the modellers themselves then i am very surprised.

  26. #26 SteveC
    April 29, 2010

    Dave Andrews @ 425

    You were asked for evidence to substantiate your repeated claims that

    (a) climate models were unfit for the purpose in many respects, and

    (b) climate scientists know this.

    And your answer is the caveats placed there by the modellers. Is that it?

  27. #27 MFS
    April 29, 2010

    Dave Andrews @ 425:

    Yes, Dave, despite their many caveats, climate models are the best form of climate forecasting available at the moment. Yet you confuse me. You go on a bit of a ‘conspiracy’ tangent when you assert [Climate modellers know this, though they are reluctant to admit so in public (Jeopardises the funding sources)]( However without missing a beat [you point me to the literature]( saying “if you haven’t apparently come across the many caveats about climate models expressed by the modellers themselves then i am very surprised”.

    Which is it, are they hiding the uncertainties inherent to every model or are they detailing them at length in the literature? If they are hiding them, how do YOU know about them?

    So since climate models and their uncertainties ARE our best forecasting tools, can you substantiate your allegation that they are unsuitable? The scientific community has accepted modelling forecasts, with all their caveats and uncertainties. What is your basis for rejecting them? So far you’ve only given us fluff. I for one hate to repeat myself.

  28. #28 Dave Andrews
    April 30, 2010


    Let’s put it this way.

    A few scientists have indeed published papers outlining the problems associated with the models, eg, Stainforth et al 2007.

    Most papers gloss over this, however.The MSM, meanwhile, accept whatever is in the press release, and rarely does a press release point out problems with the models.

    Sometimes, asked to comment, modellers will point to the difficulties, eg, Myles Allen commenting on the UK Met Office announcement in June 2009 of new predictions of the impact of climate change to 2080 down to a resolution of 25km2. Allen was skeptical that projections could be supported below resolutions of ‘a couple of thousand kilometres’.

    His four lines in Nature (vol 459, 25 June 2009)had no effect on the MSM, and Met Office, going over the top.(Even Nature’s headline to the small piece in which he was quoted was “Climate projections taken to finest detail”, as if he had not said what he had.)

  29. #29 Lotharsson
    May 2, 2010

    So Dave Andrews is complaining about media coverage of models instead of substantiating his claim that they are unsuitable for many purposes – or indeed even enumerating those unsuitable purposes, let alone the finer nuance of specifying how useful they are (or are not) for a given purpose. Nor is he demonstrating how this substantiates his claim that the IPCC is a “political process rather than a scientific one”.

    Colour me surprised.

  30. #30 MFS
    May 2, 2010


    So scientists do actually publish their methods! Publishing is in fact “admitting so in public” With this momentous news we can accept that you were [lying]( and move on.

    Science is not communicated by press release. The materials and methods are published in the literature. The models are discussed. The methodology is tried by others. If another researcher finds a problem with the model, he publishes this in the literature.

    If you have discovered a problem with the models, then please, by all means share it with us, or publish it. I can GUARANTEE you if you can bring a major climate model crashing down, this will be worth a paper in Science or Nature and give you instant fame and fortune as a scientist. There aint no faster way to renown and grant $$$ than by refuting a major piece of widely accepted research.

    On a side note I have yet to meet a scientist who did not laugh at the media coverage of a story that they knew first hand about. They mangle it something cronic! The moral is, if you pay attention to the media rather than going to the sources, the joke’s on you.

    So can you show us a problem with a climate model, one so crucial that it will bring the entire AGW hypothesis crashing down in flames? I though not. Just feeding us recycled garbage from WUWT or other poor, misguided source. Moving on…

  31. #31 Dave Andrews
    May 2, 2010


    “The moral is, if you pay attention to the media rather than going to the sources, the joke’s on you.”

    To an extent I would agree with you on this. But AGW is now a political process attempting to persuade politicians and peoples to take certain actions (Lotharsson you need to come out of your ivory tower, if that is where you reside). So scientists can no longer ignore the ‘political’ nuances that will be given to their papers. They should therefore be far more upfront about acknowledging the problems with their models.

    The IPCC, likewise, needs to be much clearer about the uncertainties involved in the science than it is in its summary for policymakers.

    As a recent Nature editorial on assessing the impact of climate change said (18th Feb 2010),

    ” Researchers need to resist the pressures to overstate the robustness of their conclusions and to be as open as possible about where the uncertainties lie

  32. #32 MFS
    May 2, 2010

    Dave @ 431,

    So you’re saying, in essence:

    1 – [Modellers lie, they know their models are crap and hide this](

    2 – [Oh, no, wait, modellers publish their methods and acknowledge the pitfalls of the models.](

    3 – [Hang on, AGW is now a political issue and climate scientists need to acknowledge their work is crap](

    Now, when will you admit you’ve been [caught in a lie]( and stop subtly (or not-so-subtly) trying to shift the discussion away from science and models onto media and politics? We can all see you’re not comfortable discussing the science, but that’s actually what we’re here for.

  33. #33 Lotharsson
    May 2, 2010

    …(Lotharsson you need to come out of your ivory tower, if that is where you reside).

    As I’ve stated a number of times (a) I’m not a scientist and (b) I work in private industry.

    But AGW is now a political process…

    You’re conflating two things.

    The politics of the response to AGW are political. The science of AGW is a scientific process – one that includes publishing all the caveats and uncertainties that you are still claiming are kind-of hidden by the scientists.

    You seem to like trying to apply political argument to the science itself when you can no longer argue the science – hence the usefulness of the conflation to you.

  34. #34 Dave Andrews
    May 3, 2010


    As you know very well you have misrepresented what I said. There is no point in responding because you will do the same again.

  35. #35 oto emlak ilan
    September 22, 2011

    Truth Machine – I stand corrected!

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