Leakegate: Jonathan Leake caught misrepresenting another scientist

By now I'm sure you're all familiar with Jonathan Leake's practice of misrepresenting what his sources by quote mining them. In his story that misrepreseted what the IPCC report says about natural disasters, Leake quotes Muir-Wood:

Muir-Wood himself is more cautious. He said: "The idea that catastrophes are rising in cost partly because of climate change is completely misleading. "We could not tell if it was just an association or cause and effect. Also, our study included 2004 and 2005 which was when there were some major hurricanes. If you took those years away then the significance of climate change vanished."

That seems to imply that Muir-Wood thought that the IPCC report was wrong. But Muir-Woods has released a FAQ.

  1. Does RMS believe the IPCC has fairly represented the research findings?

Yes, RMS believes the IPCC fairly referenced its paper, with suitable caveats around the results, highlighting the factors influencing the relationship that had been discovered between time and increased catastrophe costs. We believe it was appropriate to include the RMS paper in the report because, at that time, it was the only paper addressing global multi-peril catastrophe losses over time that had been normalized for changes in the values and exposure at risk.

You can be sure that Muir-Wood also told Leake this, and Leake concealed it because it undercut his story.

More like this

Are you sure it's a Leake and not a hack?

I believe that in a normal world journalists like this would get sacked or at least reprimanded. Leake probably gets a pat on the back and a big fat bonus.

Actually I think this is the normal journalistic world!

There was a time many years ago when the newsmedia did cutting-edge reporting and journalistic investigation (eg, "60 Minutes" type stuff), taking months to check, interview, and compile the facts for a story. Those days are long gone. I've heard very respected old-school journos lament the "new breed" where it's done quick, dirty, and cheap.

Time is money. 10 second juicy sound-bites are what they're after. Fact-checking takes extra time and costs extra money.

MikeH@3: Ouch! That one's a keeper. Thanks.

el gordo: The Register, 'El Reg', an IT portal. A bastion of scientific impartiality on Global Warming. I'm going to take that story with a magnum helping of salt until I find it independently confirmed.

Besides, the MSM has come out with a big fat load of not very much at all in the way of 'revelations'. Haven't you been following Journalismgate? At the heart of all the hot air that's been blown in the past months lie one minor mistake in WG2 on Himalaya glaciers and a dubious reference to essentially correct information on the Amazon rainforest, also in WG2. So I'm bursting to know what revelations _you're_ talking about.

'Interesting' report el gordo

The report claims:

>*He found that North Atlantic hurricane activity increased significantly, but the increase was counterbalanced by diminished activity in the East Pacific, where hurricane-strength storms are 50 per cent more prevalent. The West Pacific showed no significant change. Overall, the declines balance the increases.*

Reads like there is a typo somewhere, so I checked the origianl paper here

The paper find statistical significance in the rise of more intense storms in the North Atlantic, supporting the IPCCs assessment.

But contrary to the above report, in his paper he does not find statistical significance decrease in more intense storms the Eastern Pacific (nor anywhere else) to counter balance this.

Besides finding support for the IPCC in the North Atlantic he finds a significant drop in the number of storms in the tropics of the Southern Indian Ocean. But a significant rise in the proportion of hurricanes which mature into major hurricanes in the same area. The IPCC point out there are concerns about the quality of data in these other regions.

MikeH. A good find indeed. And only on the basis that certain folk don't follow links they might not want to read, I reproduce the following from your link so that all may see:

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor of Sunday Times, in a recent article on the controversial book of Percy Seymour defending Astrology, made an extra ordinary claim ... that ... Richard Dawkins backed the views of Seymour defending the pseudo-science Astrology.


"However, Seymour's theories won qualified support from an unexpected source. Richard Dawkins, professor for the public understanding of science at Oxford University, who once suggested that astrologers be prosecuted under the trades descriptions act, said that although he had not read the book Seymour's ideas sounded interesting."

...Richard Dawkins informs [Sanal Edamaruku, the President of the Rationalist International]:

"No. I most emphatically did NOT give my support to Percy Seymour. I was telephoned by a journalist called Jonathan Leake from the Sunday Times who asked me for a comment on Seymourâs book. I said I hadnât read it, and therefore could not comment. Leake then read me part of the jacket blurb, which said something about magnetic fields before birth having an influence. I said something sarcastic like, âWell, thatâs very interesting, no doubt, but what the hell has it got to do with astrology?â The next thing I knew, the newspaper quoted me as âsupportingâ Seymour by saying his work was âinterestingâ. I am furious about this gross misrepresentation, and you may publish my disclaimer, if you wish."

#8, sorry couldn't read any further after the comment of "data fiddling". Then he goes on to proclaim, some sort of neutrality on the subject. What a dufus.

By Dappledwater (not verified) on 16 Feb 2010 #permalink

@ 9

Wow. What a lying scumbag Leake is turning out to be.

Regarding the hurricanes thing, there is a real danger of semantic confusion here. The word 'hurricane' is used to refer to N Atlantic and NE Pacific tropical cyclones, as distinct from typhoons. Therefore, the statement that hurricanes are on the increase could still be construed as safe.

But besides all that, it sounds like El Reg (along with the Daily Fail and many others) needs a lesson in was 'statistical significance' means.

El Reg reports

Hatton has thirty years of experience of getting scientific papers published, but describes this one, available on his personal website, as "unpublishable".

Well yes.

Here is a hint el gordo - read his conclusion in point 1 followed by his conclusion in point 5.

The link to Hattonâs paper is at 8 above.

MikeH, there's probably even more of a hint in the "paper's" title 1999-2009: Has the intensity and frequency of
hurricanes increased?

The WMO uses climate normals for a reason, and they don't just happen to be applied for temperature measurements.

Of course, hurricanes may well be assessed differently to other climate measurements, as IIRC WMO normals should strictly be arithmetic means calculated for each month of the year from daily data. Perhaps hurricane data don't quite fit that procedure. Even so, 11 years as a period for studying hurricane climate phenomena is probably way too brief a period to return any meaningful results.

Some food for thought on that topic from page 17 of the Copenhagen Diagnosis:

> Several studies since the IPCC report have found more evidence for an increase in hurricane activity over the past decades. Hoyos et al. (2006) found a global increase in the number of hurricanes of the strongest categories 4 and 5, and they identified rising sea surface temperatures (SST) as the leading cause. Warming tropical SST has also been linked to increasingly intense tropical cyclone activity â and an increasing number of tropical cyclones â in the case of certain basins such as the North Atlantic (Mann and Emanuel 2006; Emanuel et al. 2008; Mann et al. 2009).

> Scientific debate about data quality has continued, especially on the question of how many tropical cyclones may have gone undetected before satellites provided a global coverage of observations. Mann et al. (2007) concluded that such an undercount bias would not be large enough to question the recent rise in hurricane activity and its close connection to sea surface warming. A complete reanalysis of satellite data since 1980 (Elsner et al. 2008) confirms a global increase of the number of category 4 and 5 (i.e., the strongest) tropical cyclones: they found a 1°C global warming corresponding to a 30% increase in these storms. While evidence has thus firmed up considerably that recent warming has been associated with stronger tropical cyclones, modeling studies (e.g. Emanuel et al. 2008; Knutson et al. 2008, Vecchi et al. 2008) have shown that we have as yet no robust capacity to project future changes in tropical cyclone activity.

I think much of the debate is really what counts as 'statistically significant' and how you pick your data. Given that the IPCC made it abundantly clear that the increases in tropical storm severity and frequency was one of their less certain predictions in AR4, I wouldn't think this one is gate-worthy.

Here is a better reason why Les Hattons article is unpublishable. Hatton is trying to falsify the studies of storm intensity with different measures to those used by current studies. Hatton is using ordinal categories of intensity where as the leading science have employed [scale measures of intensity](http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/ch3s3-8-3.html).

Hatton is correct that his paper is unpublishable. Its like trying to disprove that the Hubble telescope can see changes on [surface of Pluto](http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/hubble/science/pluto-20100204.html) based on the fact that your backyard Refractor can't see those changes.

I read TheRegister daily, for breaking IT news. I ignore their climate reporting, because most of it is by Andrew Orlowski, a committed denier. You can rely on him to propagate the most egregious anti-scientific rubbish at every opportunity.

By Mal Adapted (not verified) on 16 Feb 2010 #permalink

The quote maybe inaccurate but i dont think it misrepresents John Houghton views...

âGod tries to coax and woo, but he also uses disasters. Human sin may be involved; the effect will be the same.â

· âIf we want a good environmental policy in the future weâll have to have a disaster.â

These quotations are from an interview entitled âMe and my Godâ in the Sunday Telegraph on 10 September 1995.

It seems, from the little experience i have on this blog, that most posters resort to name calling to refute statements. It is even stranger that this quote is being compared to "climategate", like it was in anyway on the same scale of deception and poor science. I suppose, and its just a supposition, that is all there is left to support that CO2 is the end of the world. Here are a few things more dangerous to our survival: Factory Farming; chemicals spill offs into our waters; The loss of the manufacturing industry in Europe, America, and Canada. Just to name a few.

Marred, the main point Tim is making that, if one was to add up all of the lies, deceptions, distortions and manipulations by those intent on us doing nothing about AGW, the furore over climategate would become utterly insignificant; a footnote. The media hardly challenges the ways in which powerful vested interests are funding groups who lie and twist science to promote a pre-determined worldview and political agenda; at the same time, scientists who argue that AGW is a reality are put under a magnifying glass and everything they say or do is relentlessly monitored in order to catch them out if they make any kind of slip-ups.

I have been there. I know all too well as a scientist that I am subject to attack if I put one foot wrong. It seems like many of those abusing science by disputing the empirical evidence for AGW can say whatever they like and get away with it. One side in this debate lies through its teeth and is habitually give a free pass; the other must be scrupulously honest or there will be hell to pay.

As with respect to environmental threats, you left out two of the most important ones: habitat destruction and the loss of biodiversity. Climate change will exacerbate both.

By Jeff Harvey (not verified) on 18 Feb 2010 #permalink