Leakegate: Jonathan Leake strikes back

Last week I got an email from Amy Turner of the Sunday Times:

Dear Tim,

I'm writing a piece about Science bloggers and would love to talk to you about yours. Are you free to talk to me today or tomorrow? Hope to hear from you.

Turner usually writes celebrity puff pieces rather than about science, so it was pretty obvious that Jonathan Leake was organizing some payback because I had dared to criticize him. I agreed to the interview and, sure enough, it wasn't long before Turner was threatening me (How would I react if Jonathan Leake sued me for libel?) She complained that I had been unfair to Leake by not contacting him even though I had. She was particularly upset by this post, where I quoted an "Action on Smoking and Health" correction to a Jonathan Leake story:

We have heard that the figures reported in the Sunday Times yesterday (and now circulating elsewhere) are not based on any research conducted to date.

The impact of the smokefree legislation on heart attacks is being analysed by Anna Gilmore and team at Bath but they have no final results yet.

Turner reckoned that someone, somewhere must have told Leake the 10% number and it was unfair of me to suggest that he made the number up. But my post just quotes the correction and notes that Sunday Times failed to correct their story.

I brought up Leake's story on the IPCC report on the vulnerability of the Amazon. Even though he knew, from multiple sources, that that report was accurate, he claimed that it was bogus. Turner was unable to offer any defence of Leake.

I was expecting something quite unpleasant from Turner, but she exceeded my expectations, digging up the nastiest thing she could find about me:

Pielke has been stung by the non-academics, too. He describes on his blog the "giant fish" of the public intellectuals in the blogosphere pond, then the "big fish" who feed them and the unqualified "minnows" -- the amateurs -- and the way they interact in the blogosphere: "To more effectively attack someone's reputation they ... rely on the minnows of the blogosphere, people who see it as their sole job to 'trash' someone's reputation via innuendo, fabrication and outright misrepresentation. Among these minnows are controversialist bloggers like Tim Lambert, who are professionally unqualified to engage in the substance of most debates (certainly the case with respect to my own work), yet earn their place exclusively by making mountains out of molehills."

Notice how after complaining how unfair I was to Leake but not giving him a chance to respond, Turner published Pielke's dishonest attack without giving me a chance to respond to it. She also calls me a non-academic even though she is well aware that I am an academic. She avoids any mention of the substance of my criticisms of Leake, dismissing them as "tirades":

He supports Mann's hockey-stick model and has posted tirades against bloggers and science journalists, including Jonathan Leake, The Sunday Times environment editor.

Turner also writes:

Professor Roger Pielke of Colorado University is an expert on extreme weather and disaster impacts. He was an author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change but disagreed with how his work was represented in its last report, which he blogged about. Fierce abuse ensued, with some coming from academics masquerading behind pseudonyms. When one appeared to threaten Pielke's children, he tracked the blogger down and found he was a professor.

Pielke is not telling the truth here. For the true story see here.

Also not true is this statement.

"[Steve McIntyre] allows criticism but never ad hominem stuff or political ranting."

McIntyre covers up his ad hominems by going back and editing them out of his posts, but one still there was when he called Gavin Schmidt and Caspar Amman "Dumb and Dumber".

Turner's story looks like it dropped through a time warp from 2003 -- a whole story on blogs without a single link to any of the blogs mentioned. Though in the sidebar is a link to The Times list of the Top 30 Science Blogs, a list that includes Deltoid.

Also commenting on Turner's piece are anarchist606:

In short this article is a one-sided snipe at a blogger who is holding big-media to account and they don't like being told when they are wrong.

and Ben Goldacre:

don't see how the Times' ad hom attacks on Tim Lambert here are any better than any blogosphere rant

Amy Turner did not respond to my questions about her article. Nor did she respond when I sent her a draft of this post.

More like this

Honestly, what else can you expect? It doesn't appear they have any basis from which to defend Leake's work, so of course they have to try to riposte with empty rhetoric. It's actually pretty disappointing: one would expect that after years of drawing such weak ripostes from exposed politicians and businesspeople, the Times would have an idea of how to deliver a stronger one themselves.

By Nils Ross (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

You gotta give credit to Pielke for his amazing description of McIntyre or Watts, though. Misspelled the name pretty badly, but the description is bang-on.

How much egregious journalistic malpractice must Leake engage in before he gets fired (or at least reprimanded)? Instead, apparently his employer just unleashes attack dogs on those saying the emperor has no clothes.

Sad state of journalism these days.

I hope you kept a recording of the interview, Tim ... ;)

Hope you record your interviews.

Hey Tim, did you record the interview?


On a slightly less flippant note, I predict that this won't be the end of the scrapping.

In this Leake and Turner are doing themselves no favours though - in the long run the exposure will only help Tim, whilst simultaneously making them look more like the hacks that they are showing themselves to be.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Do you keep your e mails particularly the anonymous ones? Could be worth a post just on how viscous and stupid some of them are.

I am ready to be corrected on this but as I understand it, it is an offence under the Australian Telecommunications Act to record anything on a telephone without the express permission of all parties on the line or a court order (as is the case where criminal investigation is on foot). Tim would have to have sought and obtained the interviewer's permission.

That might not have been a bad idea, come to that even if he'd been bluffing ...

Imagine if he had said under the provisions of the Australian Telecommunications Act I am required to obtain your permission to maike a recording of this conversation. Do you grant your consent?

It might have kept her honest ...

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Could be worth a post just on how viscous and stupid some of them are.

Stupid I can get, but syrupy? They seem to flow pretty well, from what I read. The stream of consciousness is fast running. ;-)

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Try it again:

the link

I figure if the tabloids just keep annoying small groups of in-the-know people at a time, eventually everyone will know they are full of nonsense. Maybe we have already reached that point.

"Turner usually writes celebrity puff pieces rather than about science".

I'm not sure this is correct. From what I can tell she usually doesn't write anything, at least for the Times, and I kind of wonder what she does for a living.

Just left the following comment:

So, how much did Jonathan Leake have to pay Amy Turner to write this drivel? God forbid a journalist actually do any research and stand up for journalistic integrity.

A much more interesting piece would have consisted of reporting how bloggers are exposing journalists to be intellectually lazy propagandists who lack the backbone to push back against editors looking to find false controversy using the excuse of "journalistic balance".

@Fran Barlow, #8:

You win.

I'm actually a little surprised, after all of this hubbub over journalists misrepresenting their interviewees, that Tim didn't record or try to record this exchange, suspecting it was related to Leake.

The question, however, is an excellent idea.

Does anyone have either Amy Turner's or Jonathan Leake's email? It does not seem to be readily available from the Googles.

By Former Skeptic (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Thanks for the link P Lewis ... your link suggests that I wasn't quite right on the facts and that Tim may have been within his rights to record the interview (since it wouldn't have been "interception") even without her consent, though publishing it subsequently may have been in the grey area.

By Fran Barlow (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

Of course, Leake could stop all the allegations of dishonesty, fabrication, and misrepresentation quite easily.

He just has to cease being dishonest, fabricating, and misrepresenting.

I have several times advised people to *always* tell a reporter:
"With your permission, I'll record this. Sometimes interviews are really educational, and I like to put them as podcasts. Of course, I give people time to write stories."

If they say no, tell them sorry.

By John Mashey (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

What ridiculous treatment.

When dealing with the Sunday Mail and other suspects outlets, it seems it behooves anyone working in the science field to record these conversations.

I haven't had to do this with anyone, but I understand that different reporters and media outlets have various policies and views on the topic.

-Aaron Huertas
Union of Concerned Scientists

Tim given Murdock's News of the World is having problems because of dodgy practices,private Detectives,phone taps ect,I would check everything that Murdock owned papers send,you never know where it been,and most of all watch your back.

By John Ryan (not verified) on 02 Mar 2010 #permalink

How funny is it that she used the "minnows" comment, while using Richard Dawkins's name to bring eyes to an attack against Dr. Lambert?

At my pro-science [petition](http://www.petitiononline.com/clim4tr/petition.html)), one Steve McIntyre of Toronto, Canada has posted a comment "Phil is reich!!!!" I'm not entirely sure what this means, or if the name is that of the same person, but could this be the same Steve McIntyre who "never [allows] ad hominem stuff or political ranting"?

Let's see if he answers my [question](http://climateaudit.org/2010/03/02/opening-night-reviews-in-the-uk-pres…) on his blog as to whether it was him and what it means ...

Amusingly, posting at McIntyre's site seems to have resulted in some contrarians posting at the petition. Maybe they count too?

What's nuts is that someone like Simon Singh can get sued for saying that chiropractic is bunk, but someone like Jonathan Leake can get away with outright fabrication and borderline libel of reputable science and get away scot-free.

Someone needs to fight fire with fire and take advantage of the UK's ridiculous libel laws to strike an ironic punch against trash journalists.

> Someone needs to fight fire with fire and take advantage of the UK's ridiculous libel laws to strike an ironic punch against trash journalists.

In principle, I agree, but there are three problems with that. First off, most academic scientists don't have the kind of legal funding that it would ideally need. Second, most academics consider themselves to have better things to do than chasing around legal cases. Third, many would consider it hypocritical considering there is currently a backlash going on within UK academia against the libel laws.

Myself, I find myself agreeing with the second point, not so much the third and the first point is just plain annoying. The trouble is that the universities, professional societies, research councils, stakeholders and so on don't really flex their legal muscles unless there is some money-making aspect that is under threat; they'll quite happily go to war over unfulfilled contracts, patent disputes or if someone badmouths some commercial science (as in the case of chiropractic), but the reputation of academic research doesn't seem to enter into it.

Whether the current wave of BS in the British press will bring about some kind of culture change in this remains to be seen. I, for one, hope it does. There is a big emphasis on research in the UK university sector right now and we can't go on forever with the hacks like Leacke seeing the scientists as soft targets.

Sorry, rant over. That turned out longer than I intended...

Can't remember where I read this, but someone else has pointed out a similar pattern for [Jonathon Petre](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/search.html?s=y&authornamef=Jonathan+Pe…), who wrote the quite gobsmackingly bad [Daily Mail 'u turn' article](http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/search.html?s=y&authornamef=Jonathan+Pe…). From his list of articles:

> Yoga and horoscopes can lead to possession by Devil, claims Cardinal

>'Disgusted' Jerry Hall refuses to see rocker Ronnie

> Handbags at dawn: Shoppers jostle for bargains in £1billion Boxing Day sales frenzy

etc. I was wondering before: does the Mail article demonstrate ignorance or duplicity? Looking at this, I'm concluding it's ignorance, stemming from a complete lack of respect for science in most of the media. How else can a writer be allowed to flit between showbiz and an article requiring stats 101? The big question for me: did someone in the editor's meeting say to Petre - turn this into an 'astonishment at u-turn' article. That makes it duplicity.

How we fix this, I don't know. Well - Tim's setting a great example: keep up the amazing work!

I see no value at all in talking to people like Leake, Delingpole, Bolt and co or their hired help. As they say, don't feed the trolls - wherever they post.

Leake is obviously starting to feel a bit hemmed in, having to send out Amy to fight on his behalf. No-one of any consequence takes him seriously - and given the way he twists everything, he's rapidly running out of real climate scientists who'll give him the time of day. Now he and his kind have to rely on the hangers-on and wannabes like Pielke.

The best thing is to stick to what you are doing and keep pointing out his fabrications and cowardly behaviour. As people start to see the scientist witch hunt for what it is, Leake is becoming increasingly isolated. If anyone in future years does remember him, it will be as just another conspiracy nutter and generally forgettable shock jock.

Re legal action - I'm posting everywhere I can, the suggestion that scientists band together and set up an international 'fighting fund' and use it to fund a test case in the UK - or even here in Australia. I know lots of other people would contribute if someone was able to set it up. (Modelled on the NFF's Fighting Fund that farmers contributed to.)

So far no takers. My guess is that scientists don't think like farmers, they are mostly employees not business people, and even if they thought it a good idea probably wouldn't do anything about it.

That's one reason why scientists are such a soft target. They fight back, but only with words, science, reason and fact - not with the law. The blogs and media are not fighting with science or reason - they are using fear and lies; and counting on the fact that no individual scientist could afford the cost of taking them to court, even if they had the appetite to do so.

Geez, Turner hasn't exactly put much effort into her 'investigation'.
Where is her attack on the 'bloggers' that have a go at the climate scientists?
No bias of cause, just muck raking, money swindling garbage.

I seem to remember Tim saying that he was an amateur like Monckton. So is has Turner called Monckton an amateur.

I'm all in favour of closing down amateurs!
That would leave thousands of scientists to get on with their job. I'm sure Tim would be happy to.

Ha-- Leake sent a girl to fight his fights. Well, a girl and, whatever Pielke Jr. is.

'Someone needs to fight fire with fire and take advantage of the UK's ridiculous libel laws to strike an ironic punch against trash journalists'

I think it would be extremely damaging for scientist to stoop so low as to use something like the UK's libel laws. Damaging to science and scientific discourse that is.

By Jody Aberdein (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

Re: Sou

The states of Texas and Virginia have filed suits in Waashington that the EPA is wrong in regulating GHG because Global Warming is based on "faked science" (=Climategate). State scientists in both states has disasociated themselves from their Attorneys General, so if the suit ever comes to court, it does not have much of a chance. But it might do for climate science what "Dover County" did for Evolution.


Texas and Virginia. Why am I not surprised?

@ #25: Philip Machanik
I see Phil Jones left a nice note at your petition.

Tim, Tim, Tim, Tim!!! I TOLD you to wear the OTHER scarf! No wonder she gave you such a bad write-up! I wish your sort would take journalism a bit more seriously.

Also, would it have absolutely killed you to mention that your cousin went to school with Madonna's stylist?

By Marion Delgado (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

Sou | March 3, 2010 4:57 AM

I for one would be prepared to contribute some money to a 'fighting-fund' for scientists to sue reporters or others who misrepresent them.

By Peter Pan (not verified) on 03 Mar 2010 #permalink

Good reply to a nasty little attack my the Times.

The deference with which the article treats denialist bloggers is staggering... plus the staggering blindness to quote the bit calling out Tim because he's not a climate scientist but failing to mention that neither are the so-called 'big fish' she fawns over.

#37 J Bowers: thanks, I saw the Phil Jones comment. McIntyre says the comment against his name is by an impostor so I blanked it. Curiously, someone tried to argue in detail against my [petition](http://www.petitiononline.com/clim4tr/petition.html) at his site (I saw the original post before it was snipped) and was completely deleted. Even more curiously, my original question to McIntyre along with pointer to the petition is still there.

And some people whinge because the occasional post to RealClimate is dropped.

For my own blog, I never drop or snip comments unless they are spam. You never know when someone will demand FOI and it will be no work, all there in plain view :)

Another thing someone could do is create a petition to the Prime Ministers office:


You need to be a UK citizen, although you don't have to be resident in the UK.
You also need to check to see if there is an existing similar petition.


" Ha-- Leake sent a girl to fight his fights."

Grow up! A woman is a woman

By Dave Andrews (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

Amy Turner did not respond to my questions about her article. Nor did she respond when I sent her a draft of this post.

One of my profs in J-School (journalism school, that is) said the difference between journalism and gumflappery is the striving for accuracy to shed light on a topic rather than heat.

Amy's on the wrong side of that equation. And she gets paid for it?

43 Dave Andrews,

I feel I must recognise one of your few indisputably true statements.

A woman is a woman

By TrueSceptic (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

41: Philip Machanik: "And some people whinge because the occasional post to RealClimate is dropped."

Seen how Tom P was treated at CA this week after he may have found a major flaw in McIntyre's submission to the UK Parliamentary committee hearing investigating CRU? Modded and ad hom'd. Tom's spoken to the committee, regardless, after McIntyre said he was too busy this week to prioritise notifying Parliament, even though his submission is part of the accusations against Jones and Briffa. Such integrity.

Just to clarify: McIntyre admitted he needs to check his submission again.

"A woman is a woman "

True, TrueSceptic, (and Dave Andrews) but you missed the punchline:
"... but a good cigar is a smoke!" - Kipling

By Don Wigan (not verified) on 04 Mar 2010 #permalink

Boris said:

whatever Pielke Jr. is

I think Chaaucer had that figured out when he said:

I trow he were a gelding or a mare.

By Ian Forrester (not verified) on 05 Mar 2010 #permalink

TrueSceptic (#45):

Best comment I've read all year. Thanks for the LOL moment!

By Former Skeptic (not verified) on 05 Mar 2010 #permalink

50 FS,

Of course DA missed the irony in Boris's comment, in that "sceptics" have been fond of saying that so-and-so scientist was "beaten by a girl" (Lucia Liljegren, that schoolgirl, etc.).

By TrueSceptic (not verified) on 06 Mar 2010 #permalink

Amy Turner was shortlised for 2 British press young journalist awards subsequent to these nasty comments. That is something pretty big for someone under 30. She was also shortlisted for boradsheet feature article of the year in the year of her tragic death. Journalists are people too.

Amy Turner was shortlised for 2 British press young journalist awards subsequent to these nasty comments. That is something pretty big for someone under 30. She was also shortlisted for boradsheet feature article of the year in the year of her tragic death.