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The Bishop, the Sky and the Leveson Inquiry

The Leveson Inquiry has just published a submission from me and Tony Newbery of the Harmless Sky blog.

The submission was prompted by Fiona Fox's evidence to the inquiry, which told a tale of wicked journalists distorting the results of noble scientists. Tony was aware, however, that the origin of the distortion was not in fact in the media but in a press release prepared by the scientists themselves, with assistance from Fox's own Science Media Centre. We have attempted to fill in some of these details for the inquiry.

The submission also covers the BBC's handling of climate science and controversies over Climategate.

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Reader Comments (30)

Para 21 / p 17

putting pressure on an academic journal to tow the partisan line
Andrew! Really!
Good report so far ... apart from that!

Aug 17, 2012 at 3:06 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

'Warmist thanks for everything so far' - Ed Acton.

Lovely if true, lovely if a typo.

Aug 17, 2012 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I know it's a bit late now but their are quite a few instances of the Outside organisation being described as the "Outward" organisation - or is that a related company?
Also "Athony" (Anthony?) under the signature box.

Sorry for the pedantry...apart from those minor points, massive thanks are due for the enormous effort you and Tony have applied to this. I don't know how you find the time but I'm glad that you do. It is important to rebut the blatant misinformation perpetuated by the SMC.

Aug 17, 2012 at 3:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton


Always happens when pointing out someone else's errors! Bugger.

Aug 17, 2012 at 3:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Is Tony's name really "Athony"? -- signature box at end.

Aug 17, 2012 at 3:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterPJP

Remember, dont feed the trolls...

Aug 17, 2012 at 3:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterCmdocker

Excellent submission, a lot of work went into this and it shows in its detail.

Aug 17, 2012 at 4:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterStigerDen

Very well said Andrew. It epitomises why I am constantly drawn to this site. You are a civilised and reasonable human being making a civilised and reasonable argument. By your restraint and logical arguments those who oppose you are shown up for what they are. [Insert appropriate nouns and adjectives here.] It warrants a contribution to the tip jar, methinks.

Aug 17, 2012 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike Fowle

My post has been quoted by an odious troll. Euuuueeerrrrrggghhhh!! I feel sullied. Must take a shower or six.

Aug 17, 2012 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBuffy Minton

Excellent work Bish and Tony

Your testimony is on the record. Whether the powers that be take any notice remains to be seen. I have long thought that the only way that climate science would change its ways would be under the scrutiny of judicial enquiry. I do not know if the Leveson Enquiry will prove to be the right forum but it can surely do no harm.

Seguimos luchando

Aug 17, 2012 at 5:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterDolphinlegs

A real tour de force Bish ( & Tony).

A huge amount of work must have gone into this, and it shows - well up to your usual standard.

I doubt anything else submitted to Leveson will be as meticulous and comprehensive - let's just hope they bother to read it.

Aug 17, 2012 at 6:02 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

As far as I can see, there is no link to the 11 degree press release, which is bit strange.
Here it is on the NERC website.
While I'm in critical mode, the document really is too long and I doubt whether anyone from Leveson will read all the way through it. Interesting to see Myles Allen crops up again.

On a more positive note, the point that media hype about climate change is largely due to the climate scientists themselves is a very important one. Recent example include the Greenland ice melt story and the "UK hot as Madeira in 50 years" story.

Aug 17, 2012 at 6:18 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Tut tut - Foxy Fiona has been discovered going commando to Leveson by a Bishop of all people. How will she live it down?

Aug 17, 2012 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterLuther Blissett

Yes, warmist thanks for this massive effort :)

I agree with Paul that it's too long but it has many strengths. Who of us could possibly have done something this comprehensive, perfectly structured and without typos? It was vital that it wasn't Fiona Fox and the Science Media Centre who alone shaped Lord Levesen's view.

LORD JUSTICE LEVESON: I think it’s a very interesting area because it seems so easy to fix.

That one sentence sends a chill down my spine. Thank you that he does have an alternative view presented calmly, with full reference to the underlying documents,

The section on UEA, Phil Jones and Neil Wallis, like everything else, isn't perfect but it's completely groundbreaking. If something better ought to have been said, what has been said here is a million times better than silence.

Amazingly well done, Montford and Newbery.

Aug 17, 2012 at 8:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

Having read it once, I thought it was brilliant. After reading some of the comments here, I read it again, trying to put myself in the position of Lord Leveson and his panel who, swamped as they no doubt are with other submissions and evidence to read, might not give it the attention it deserves. Having done so, hopefully without allowing my own prejudices to get in the way, I still think it’s brilliant and it definitely draws one further and further into it. I think any of the panel that reads past the first page will read it to the end.

Aug 17, 2012 at 9:24 PM | Registered CommenterLaurie Childs

Thanks for kind words from various people who recognise that the submission took a while to put together. You are right!

Infuriatingly, the Leveson folk seem to have converted the MS Word file they were sent into a PDF that can't handle live links, which is why there appears to be no link to the Climate Prediction press release and a hell of a lot of other quotes. See all the underlined text aligned to the right: they were hyperlinks in the original.

So far as length is concerned, Andrew and I are all too well aware of the dangers of being prolix, but in this case, and when dealing with lawyers, it was decided that there was more risk in not being thorough than in testing the endurance of people trained to read long documents of this type.

A difficulty that all sceptics face is that nothing is likely to be taken on trust, and that makes brevity virtually impossible.

Aug 17, 2012 at 9:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

I echo all the compliments given above ^.^

I think the attraction of this report is that it reads like THSI, it contains a lot of info but it reads like a good story.

Aug 17, 2012 at 9:57 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Thanks Andrew and Tony for this superb document! It would be difficult for it to be briefer and still cover the material adequately -- indeed, a whole book could be written about the kinds of malfeasance and dissembling outlined here.

I'm still absorbing it all, but I just want to say that the misrepresentations of the whole "11 degrees" affair with the press release and all make it impossible to rely upon anything Fiona Fox or Myles Allen ever wish to say again. They have grossly misrepresented what happened there, and attributed to reckless journalism what was clearly and unequivocally the reckless dishonesty of the original press release. No impartial person could read that PR and be surprised that so much of the media hyped the "11 degree" figure when that was the central thrust of the original PR.

Aug 17, 2012 at 10:27 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

I don't agree that it's too long. After all, it is evidence to a judicial enquiry, not a blog post. The submission is now a matter of record.

Aug 17, 2012 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterJockdownsouth

Andrew and Tony have made a Herculean effort to clean the stables with this. I hope Leveson reflects long and deeply on it.

Aug 17, 2012 at 11:04 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

Sterling work - again - by Messrs Montford and Newbery. The BBC programme "Overselling Climate Change" is still available here, by the way:

To listen to it, you will need software that can access the RealMedia data; I recommend Real Alternative (freeware.)

This excerpt, transcribed in pages 11 and 12 of the report, is very interesting, I think, and bears repeating:

Simon Cox: It’s true that we journalists have a tendency to simplify and then exaggerate, assuming we understand the science in the first place. The climate scientist Hans von Storch believes there’s a process of exaggeration that starts with scientists trying to make their research more interesting to get in popular science journals. It then continues with the press release that strips away many of the caveats and contexts, and ends with journalists focusing only on the extreme scenarios. He’s clear where the responsibility lies.

Hans von Storch: It is often my impression that scientists speak to the media in a way that they don’t mind if they are misunderstood in a specific way. And then the scientists can say, ’Well[ I never said that, I mean you know how the media are, the are just wanting dramatic stories’. So I think it’s very often so that the scientists are making up a story, or indicate what the journalists should say and then the journalists do it. I think that one should definitely not blame the media.

Aug 17, 2012 at 11:46 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlex Cull

Speaking as a trained lawyer, I'd lose the adverbs. They jar when reading.

Aug 18, 2012 at 12:15 AM | Registered Commenterwoodentop

woodentop: absolutely :)

But point taken. It isn't crisp enough for me as a untrained un-lawyer who's had to engage with company law for business reasons. I'm sure you're right about the intended recipients.

There's an echo here of Latimer's concern about the lack of professionalism yesterday at the GWPF. We don't always come across as the slickest operation in town. Nor are we.

But the race doesn't always go to the swift, as the manic depressive behind the book of Ecclesiastes says. That guy too can be dead right even if he's not the greatest company down the pub on Friday night. A bit like that rogue CEO in whose mining company Steve invested long ago. He had in fact found more ore than anyone thought possible. I must one day get that story in full and the lesson Steve drew from it but here's my application for now: the truth is bigger than any imperfect document or human being drafting it.

Aug 18, 2012 at 1:32 AM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

@Latimer 'Warmist thanks for everything so far'

Regrettably a typo - following the links to the pdf ( shows the original says "warmest"

Aug 18, 2012 at 2:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterHK

This book outline has a theme as broad as climate, that is modern communication. I don't see any reason this can't be a huge book. There are masses of people very curious about this brave new phenomenon.

Aug 18, 2012 at 3:05 AM | Unregistered Commenterkim

von Storch's quote is right on target, when he describes how unscrupulous scientists play the gullible (and friendly) media types.

It is often my impression that scientists speak to the media in a way that they don’t mind if they are misunderstood in a specific way.

And then the scientists can say, ’Well, I never said that, I mean you know how the media are, they are just wanting dramatic stories’. So I think it’s very often so that the scientists are making up a story, or indicate what the journalists should say and then the journalists do it.

Aug 18, 2012 at 4:28 AM | Unregistered CommenterRick Bradford

Richard Drake
Nice to see a quote from Ecclesiastes, but why “the manic depressive”?

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.
The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.
All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full: unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.
Sounds like a rational optimist to me.

Aug 18, 2012 at 8:08 AM | Registered Commentergeoffchambers

Tut tut - Foxy Fiona has been discovered going commando to Leveson by a Bishop of all people. How will she live it down?
Aug 17, 2012 at 8:09 PM Luther Blissett

Sadly, she won't need to.

The good Lord L will do what all elderly English gentlemen do on such occasions - cop an eyeful then avert his gaze and pretend to have seen nothing.

Aug 18, 2012 at 8:08 AM geoffchambers

Yes, not a "tipping point" in sight

Aug 18, 2012 at 8:48 AM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

I agree with those who find Andrew and Tony's submission to be a very well-written and compelling document (notwithstanding its length and typos).

Anyone reading it (and following the links which substantiate their claims) can only conclude that in the world of "climate science reporting" one should learn to expect a half-truth or no truth - but in any event (particularly an event managed by Fiona Fox and the SMC), anything but the whole truth.

As a somewhat related aside, I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that Neil Wallis should have decided to start tweeting approx. three weeks ago (very shortly after the 17 July 2012 submission by Montford and Newberry to Leveson). No doubt it is equally coincidental that Wallis has declined to respond to Andrew's polite request to him via twitter.

But it is somewhat amusing to note that in his own submission to Leveson, Wallis declared:

The views promulgated by the omnipresent PR machines are highly partial and contrived. In other words, propaganda.

OK, OK ... so it's ... uh ... slightly out of context! [he was supposedly talking about Gov't PR machines]

But one has to wonder why gov't PR machines should be deemed to be more "partial and contrived" than one contracted by ... oh, I dunno ...the University of East Anglia?!

Aug 18, 2012 at 9:03 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

Geoff: nice point about and quote from Ecclestiastes. On the other hand I think the author's rightly depressed about the world of man. He knows nothing of the Resurrection of the one to come. And I think both sides of the climate debate can be depressed in this way, sometimes rightly so.

In the early morning before hearing Steve speak in London I finished some quite onerous work and clicked across to see what was on the telly. Thus I stumbled across the BBC's chilling documentary about the two surviving inmates of Treblinka, the most efficient death camp of 1942, murdering 800-900,000 men, women and children in half a year, something truly unprecedented in human history.

There are reasons to be depressed some times. I may have projected onto the biblical author or perhaps truly picked up on his despair. But note my application was essentially positive. This brilliant effort by Montford and Newbery could I believe win the day.

Aug 20, 2012 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterRichard Drake

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