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« Kelly in the Times | Main | More from the SciTech inquiry »
Tuesday
Jul022013

PCC throws out complaint against David Rose

The Press Complaints Commission has thrown out a complaint about David Rose's Mail on Sunday article about climate sensitivity. This is the text of their ruling.

The complainant, an environmentalist and the author of greenerblog.blogspot.com, was concerned that the newspaper had published an article on the subject of climate change – both in print and online – which contained a number of alleged inaccuracies, misleading statements and distortions in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.

Under the terms of Clause 1, “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information”; “a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected promptly and with due prominence”; and “the press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”.

In this instance, the article under complaint formed part of a “four-page special report” entitled “The Great Green Con”.  The piece was written from the perspective of investigative journalist David Rose and, in the Commission’s view, readers would have recognised the article as one individual’s analysis of the information provided by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  When reporting scientific findings, publications must often present complex information to a general readership; this may involve an element of interpretation.  The newspaper was permitted, under the terms of the Code, to publish such interpretation of scientific data, however strongly disputed.

The Commission considered each of the points raised by the complainant in turn and carefully took note of the supporting material supplied by both parties.

The article was accompanied by a graph showing estimated temperature changes over time alongside the average temperature for the same period.  The complainant said the newspaper had misrepresented the nature of computer model hindcasting (where known or closely estimated inputs for past events are entered into a model to see how well the output matches the known results) when it described the earlier temperature records in the graph as having been “plotted in retrospect”.  The complainant said that if the graph had been accurately “plotted in retrospect” by hand, it would have displayed a post-1998 levelling off of surface temperatures.  The Commission considered that the newspaper was free to rely on a graph produced by computer model hindcasting showing predicted data originating from the IPCC and actual temperatures supplied by the Met Office.  While the complainant’s position was that the newspaper could have better explained to readers the processes behind generating such a graph, the Commission could not conclude that the description of predictions “plotted in retrospect” misrepresented what had been done in this instance.  There was no breach of the Code on this point.

With regard to the article’s claims that “the graph confirms there has been no statistically significant increase in the world’s average temperature since January 1997” and “the awkward fact is that the earth has warmed just 0.5 degrees over the past 50 years”, the complainant argued that this might possibly be true of the world’s average surfacetemperature, but the phrase “world’s average temperature” implied that all temperature measurements were included.  He said that when the continuing increase of ocean temperature is included, a statistically significant increase in the world’s average temperature has continued since 1997.   The Commission could not agree that the phrase “world’s average temperature” would automatically be understood to include ocean temperature.  It considered that the readers would have understood the figures to represent surface temperature, as experienced in their day-to-day lives.  The Commission’s role is to administer the Editors’ Code of Practice and it emphasised that it is not the correct body to test veracity of the scientific data relied upon by the columnist.  However, it was able to conclude that the newspaper had not presented those figures to readers in such a way that would have misled them as to what was being shown by the graph.

The Commission noted that, contrary to the complainant’s assertion, the article did not refer to Dr David Whitehouse as an “expert” in the field of climate change.  Rather, he was given the broader description of “avowed climate sceptic” and author.  In the absence of any complaint from Dr Whitehouse that his position had been misrepresented, the Commission was unable to conclude that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 of the Code on this point.

Although the complainant considered that the newspaper should have explained to readers the background of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the Commission made clear that the Code does not require newspapers to publish exhaustive information on a particular subject.  The omission of details about the political motivations of the Global Warming Policy Foundation did not render the article misleading or significantly inaccurate in such a way that would necessitate subsequent correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii).  In any case, the Global Warming Policy Foundation was mentioned in the context of the report penned by Dr Whitehouse and, as his position as a sceptic was made clear, the Commission considered that it would have been clear to readers that the organisation was not impartial on the issue of climate change.

The complainant was concerned that the article’s reference to the “global cooling” theories of the 1970s was misleading as the idea was only put out by a very small group of scientists at that time.  The Commission noted his position that just seven scientific papers from the era suggested cooling, while six times that number suggested warming.  He had argued that the prevalence of global warming theories meant that it was wrong for the newspaper to state that “in the Seventies, scientists and policymakers were just as concerned about a looming ‘ice age’ as they have been lately about global warming”.  This was plainly a matter of interpretation of scientific papers (which the complainant did not dispute existed) and the Commission considered that the newspaper was entitled to set out its editorial stance that historical concerns about global cooling are comparable to modern day fears about global warming. 

The complainant objected to the article’s assertion that “the forecasts have also forced jobs abroad as manufacturers relocate to places with no emissions targets”.  He asked the newspaper to provide examples of where more than one manufacturer had relocated to places with no emissions targets where the motivation of “no emission targets” was the primary driving factor.  The Commission noted that the during the complaints process the newspaper had supplied material detailing how companies – such as steel manufacturers and oil refineries – have closed or relocated due to carbon constraints.  The complainant had accepted the newspaper’s evidence that energy levies may be a factor in some firms relocating and the Commission was satisfied that there was no breach of the Code on this point.

No breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) was established by the complaint.

Finally, the Commission noted that the complainant had initially expressed concerns about the reporter’s alleged misrepresentation of comments made by Professor Myles Allen in relation to past predictions for temperature change and revisions to those predictions.  In regard to complaints about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – where there are no obvious first parties cited in the article, who might complain – the Commission emphasised that it can indeed investigate complaints from any concerned reader.  However, in this instance, the disputed comments were clearly attributed to Professor Allen (who had subsequently clarified his position in an article published in The Guardian newspaper). 

During the complaints process the complainant had indicated that he was content to leave it to Professor Allen to complain about these issues, rather than pursue the matter himself.  The Commission noted that Professor Allen had written in support of the complainant’s case, but had not submitted his own formal complaint to the PCC.  The Commission explained that it had subsequently written separately to Professor Allen, providing him with the information necessary to allow him to make his own complaint, but no reply had been received. The Commission made clear that should Professor Allen decide to complain separately, then it would be happy consider the matter further. 

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Reader Comments (45)

" Editors’ Code of Practice.

Under the terms of Clause 1, “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading, or distorted information”; “a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected promptly and with due prominence”; and “the press, ……..., must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact”."

Does this apply to the BBC?

Jul 2, 2013 at 6:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

Glad that the PCC reached the correct ruling, but in any free society citizens should be appalled and ashamed to have such a set of press complaints commissars.

Outside of libel law, the appropriate response to alleged inaccuracies in publication should be reasoned public criticism in the court of public opinion, not attempting a power play in a system which is likely to be misused over time.

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:01 PM | Registered CommenterSkiphil

Game set and match to David Rose.

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

That must be one of the most humiliating judgements ever handed out by a QUANGO. The tenor of the judgement is dismissive, bordering on sarcastic throughout. Such tribunals invariably attempt to find some minor point in favour of the complainant - I could see no such amelioratory attempt here.

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

I cannot seem to find out who "David Rose" actually is; it's not the MoS deputy news editor of the same name, who disavows the connection on Twitter. I am wondering whether it may be a pseudonym of Johann Hari, who appears to have used the name some years ago in circumstances that led to some controversy over journalistic standards. Neither the MoS namesake nor Hari have so far responded to my enquiries.

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:26 PM | Unregistered CommenterSackerson

John B

I was just going to write that.. :-)

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames P

Next up should be a complaint to the PCC about todays "Times" T2 supplement article about Stephen Emmott, where Cook and the dreaded "97%" is quoted as if gospel.

I wonder which way the PCC would find in that case ?

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:34 PM | Unregistered CommenterNeil

As so often, there's a horrible whiff of totalitarianism about the complaint. No dissenting opinions will be tolerated. There will be no debate. It just confirms it is a religion not a science.

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:37 PM | Unregistered Commentermike fowle

I may just be in a grouchy mood this evening but the phrase "up yours, mate!" comes to mind.
Good result.

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:45 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!

Jul 2, 2013 at 7:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in France

Hardee-hardee-ha-ha

Go visit greenerblog.blogspot.com if you fancy some sour grapes for dessert.

Jul 2, 2013 at 8:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

I would like to propose that the Commissioner who gave this ruling receives a knighthood and he would deserve it a damn sight more that some who have received that honour!

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:01 PM | Registered CommenterDung

Wow! Well reasoned dismissal too. I though it would be along the lines -this is all too silly so just go away- but "the complainant" got detailed rebuttal on every point.

Never heard of this greenerblog guy but listening to the list of complaints it seemed the guy has the usual alarmist axe to grind and was trying every right-on ideological litany attack in the tool box. So it's sweet that it has all backfired especially as we now have the bonus on record that he

"accepted the newspaper’s evidence that energy levies may be a factor in some firms relocating"

:)

Look out for some scientism fuming after seeing this dreadful possibility that their every "evidence based" whim can't be forced onto the media and that all media isn't guaranteed to vetted by them personally in the future. Good. Ha!

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:12 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

That pesky David Rose journalist chappie was at it again on Sunday. Will he never learn? Just what distinguished eco-luvvie or well respected fake charity will he upset this time? Will he never show respect for those dedicated government bought and paid-for climate scientists who selflessly put the future of the whole planet before personal gain?

"Dirty tricks of the the fracking deniers: How Green zealots peddle cynical propaganda to stop Britain mining £3 trillion of shale gas...enough to keep the lights on for 141 YEARS"

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2351759/Dirty-tricks-the-fracking-deniers-How-Green-zealots-peddle-cynical-propaganda-stop-Britain-mining-3trillion-shale-gas--lights-141-YEARS.html

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

@The Leopard

The complainant describes himself as "a longstanding Green Party activist".

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Seems like a very reasoned and balanced judgement. Whatever next? My BSA complaint has been shuttling backwards and forwards. TVNZ's defences look lamentable but who knows?

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:25 PM | Unregistered CommenterGixxerboy

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Turning Tide

Ah, right, that figures:)

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:26 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Worth noting that the complainant is a well known Green Party Activist and Councillor, in my neck of the woods.

I wonder if he made that clear to the PCC.

If political activists start running to the PCC every time they read something that contradicts their ideology - we'll need to boost the PCC headcount to something akin to that of the Indian Civil Service.

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:26 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

I find the entire idea of a truth commission endowed with powers by the government abhorrent. How does anyone know they are qualified to ascertain the whole truth of anything? Do they have a history of uncovering truths heretofore overlooked? What special powers do they possess that the rest of us lack?

If the people can't take it upon themselves to determine the truth of a statement or report, why should the government create a panel to do it for them? The logic of the thing escapes me.

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:32 PM | Unregistered Commentertheduke

Neill:

I listened to Stephen Emmott, Danny Dorling, Jill Rutter and Amartya Sen on "Start the Week" yesterday. Only Amartya Sen made any sense, see: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006r9xr

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRod

Would it be unkind to get on over to greenerblog.blogspot.com and add a few comments?

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Jones

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:32 PM | theduke

I find the entire idea of a truth commission endowed with powers by the government abhorrent.

I don't know if you are talking about the PCC there but after seeing some commenters on WUWT who seem to think the PCC is a bit Orwellian I think it's worth a reference here for the record:

"The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is a voluntary regulatory body for British printed newspapers and magazines, consisting of representatives of the major publishers. The PCC is funded by the annual levy it charges newspapers and magazines. It has no legal powers – all newspapers and magazines voluntarily contribute to the costs of, and adhere to the rulings of, the Commission, making the industry self-regulating."

The PCC is not perfect ,and has had some dodgy moments, but I'm more worried about what's going to replace it post Leveson. I have lost track actually, I thought the PCC was on its way out.
I last heard talk there was to be some new body that would be "independent" but will also have some legal bite, if so, then with real powers I think there will be a real worry about power plays made to control that and then what is permitted to be heard within "science truth" ;)

Jul 2, 2013 at 9:54 PM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

@ Foxgoose at 9:26 PM

"I wonder if he made that clear to the PCC". No, he didn't. Just his name & title.

I'm surprised you boost his ego by describing him as "well known", albeit in your neck of the woods.

What he did do though, on his blog, was instruct his readers to:-

"Please copy my complaint below, modify it and send in your own complaint (to the PCC). Also, please spread it on Twitter, Facebook by email and by word of mouth."

http://greenerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/complaint-to-pcc-re-david-rose-mail-on.html

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

@Joe Public: "What he did do though, on his blog, was instruct his readers ..."

Judging by the number of comments on his blog, that should be "... instruct his reader"

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

...I'm surprised you boost his ego by describing him as "well known", albeit in your neck of the woods....

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:03 PM Joe Public

Well - it is a very small neck of the woods ;-)

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:16 PM | Registered CommenterFoxgoose

Such arrogance from this "Green Activist".

It must have been quite a shock for him to have to accept proof that jobs ARE being lost due to the crazy policies inflicted on us all by the Climate Change alarmist zealots.

I really do hope the tide is turning.

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:23 PM | Unregistered CommenterDoug UK

What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. How about some complaints next time the Guardian or other leftwing publication refers to "deniers" being funded by big oil? How about complaining about the articles trying to justify the economics of wind turbines, etc.?

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterRoy

@Doug UK "I really do hope the tide is turning."

It is, I assure you ;)

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

The Green Taliban isn't dead yet!

Jul 2, 2013 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterConfusedPhoton

That linked Mail article is the one that was classicly astroturf-bombed in the 'most recommended' comment thread at the top by zealots. The more recent comments refer. It would not surprise me if the complaint was connected to that rather pathetic incident.

There's an appropriate medical condition - tenesmus - that can be well-termed analogous .

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:18 PM | Registered CommenterPharos

@ConfusedPhoton The Green Taliban isn't dead yet!

True. Alive in New Zealand, where this kind of news is censored by the Green MSM.

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterManfred

" ... the Commission considered that it would have been clear to readers that the organisation (the GWPC) was not impartial on the issue of climate change."

[Impartial: Not prejudiced towards any particular side or party]

It is far from clear to me. It is the facts that are impartial, not the GWPC.

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve

[...] but the phrase “world’s average temperature” implied that all temperature measurements were included. He said that when the continuing increase of ocean temperature is included, a statistically significant increase in the world’s average temperature has continued since 1997.[...]

Utter bollox, and undoubtedly that passage could have come straight from; "The thoughts of" arch warmist, windbag and boss shaman ...um chairperson Jimmy Hansen, who was recently 'retired' from GISS.

Jul 2, 2013 at 11:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterAthelstan.

It appears poor green blogger has been misled by a combination of dogmatism and his reliance on ... skepticalscience. In one of his responses, he links to a skepticalscience video, in support of his argument.

The video has been been withdrawn.

Jul 3, 2013 at 12:37 AM | Registered Commentershub

I can now confirm the author is NOT Hari.

Jul 3, 2013 at 7:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterSackerson

These rulings tend to be political and, in this case, reveal changes in the political landscape. The actual argumentation is amusing but irrelevant.

Jul 3, 2013 at 7:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrute

I wonder if Dr Lawson would care to explain how he (or more likely his successors, given his age) plan to practice decent medicine without any drugs made from artificial chemicals, without most of the electrically-operated equipment which surgeries are equipped with these days, without a reliable telephone system or guaranteed electric light.
Just asking.

Jul 3, 2013 at 10:06 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Sackerson, indeed, David Rose is not Johann Hari. I can reveal that he is in fact David Rose. You can find him on twitter.

Jul 3, 2013 at 10:24 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Dr. Lawson is a retired psychiatrist, who should easily understand the irony of the words, Physician, heal thyself.

His blog title is derived from Mabinogion. The name first appears in 1795 in William Owen Pughe's Cambrian Register: "The Mabinogion, or Juvenile Amusements, being Ancient Welsh Romances."

That says it all, really. His "greeness" has not been good for him, I fear. Poor chap.

Jul 3, 2013 at 4:26 PM | Registered Commenterperry

I've just been on the good green doctor's website and read some of his 'poetry'.
Needless to say, it's atrocious. It reads like something a naive and opinionated 16 year old teenager would write.

Jul 3, 2013 at 11:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterjoerommiswrong

Look, I am not Johann Hari, and never have been. I have been a journalist since 1981, working as an investigative reporter for (successively) Time Out, The Guardian, The Observer, BBC current affairs/Panorama, The Observer again, Vanity Fair and the Mail on Sunday. I am currently a contracted freelance for both the MoS and VF. There is, confusingly, another David Rose (much younger and better-looking than me) who is the MoS deputy news editor. You can check my Linked In profile if you wish:

http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=34044922&trk=nav_responsive_tab_profile

You can also follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DavidRo21545155

I have no idea why Johann Hari used my name when he was writing bogus web posts. I have never spoken to him.

Jul 4, 2013 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Rose

Why would anyone ever think it could be Hari? He would more likely be the complainant.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/sep/14/johann-hari-apologises-orwell-prize

"The award-winning Independent columnist Johann Hari has apologised for plagiarising the work of others to improve his interviews and will take unpaid leave of absence from the paper until 2012.

Hari also apologised for editing the Wikipedia entries of people he had clashed with, using the pseudonym David Rose, "in ways that were juvenile or malicious", saying he was "mortified to have done this". He admitted calling "one of them antisemitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk".

Hari is also handing back the George Orwell prize he won as "an act of contrition for the errors I made elsewhere, in my interviews" and will undertake "a programme of journalism training" during his leave of absence."

On the basis of this it sounds like he could be back working, but I haven't seen any of his nonsense around.

Jul 4, 2013 at 1:50 PM | Registered Commenterdennisa

Dr Lawson complains that Dr Whitehouse is not a climate expert and that his expertise is in astrophysics.

Busted. Obviously with an astrophysics background Dr Whitehouse knows nothing of interpreting say, a graph, and knows nothing about statistics or probability, or the scientific method, or how to read a scientific paper. He can't do maths or even think logically and follow a scientific argument.

And who would be an 'expert' according to Dr Lawson? Would a scientist who knows all about tree rings be an 'expert' on the greenhouse effect, or El Ninos?

What a scientifically stupid person Dr Lawson is.

Jul 4, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterExpertnot

@David Rose: sincere apologies for the confusion, and I am indeed now following you on Twitter. I found your argument in the MoS interesting.

The Climate Change Debate seems to resemble football in its tribalism. Personally I feel that (a) scientifically, CO2 must be a factor in global warming but (b) there are so many other factors on either side that it's not possible to predict the course of events.

Which leads me to wonder why Western governments have gone gung-ho on carbon limits - perhaps there is a bigger story in looking at how the transfer of manufacturing capacity to China may have certain personal and political advantages for certain players?

@dennisa: I understand JH is back in the UK and writing for at least one major newpaper.

Jul 4, 2013 at 9:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterSackerson

As usual the motivations of tiny groups like the GWPF are cited, but never the motivations of those with links to government, thousands of times richer and more powerful than everyone else put together..

Summary : the complainant was knowingly disingenuous on every single count.

Heartening though that the Press Complaints Commission was able to see this.

Jul 6, 2013 at 9:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterKatisha

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