UK newspaper regulator acts against fake news story about climate change which fooled US Congressman

A British newspaper, ‘The Mail on Sunday’ has been forced today (17 September) to publish a lengthy ruling by a press regulator, admitting that it misled audiences around the world with an article about climate change in February.

The article by David Rose, published on 5 February, wrongly alleged that world leaders had been “duped” by an academic paper that was based on “misleading, unverified” data about global warming. The allegations were based on a blog and an interview with Dr John Bates, a former employee of the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

But a complaint by Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of economics and Political Science, to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), a regulator funded by some of the UK’s newspapers including ‘The Mail On Sunday’, led to a lengthy investigation into Mr Rose’s article.

IPSO has now concluded that Mr Rose’s article breached its Editors’ Code of Practice, which states that “the Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text”.

In its 647-word adjudication, IPSO stated that its Complaints Committee had “decided that the newspaper’s claims that Dr Bates’ testimony had provided “irrefutable evidence” that the paper had been based on “misleading, ‘unverified’ data”, leading – as the headline claimed – to world leaders being “duped” over global warming, and “convinced” to invest billions in climate change, went much further than the concerns which Dr Bates had detailed in his blog or in the interview; they did not represent criticisms of the data collection process, but rather, were assertions of fact that the data had been demonstrated conclusively to be wrong and had a significant impact on the decision making of world leaders, with an additional implication this had been part of a wilful attempt to deceive.”

In addition, the adjudication pointed out that Mr Rose had made “significantly misleading statements” about the archiving of data used for the academic paper, and that he had accompanied his article with a graph that created a “significantly misleading impression” of trends in global average temperature.

The full decision by IPSO is due to be published tomorrow (18 September 2017).

Mr Rose’s false allegations were repeated by several media organisations in February, including ‘The Times’ in London, and Fox News in the United States. In addition, Congressman Lamar Smith, who chairs the United States House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, cited Mr Rose’s article in a letter to NOAA that demanded action against Dr Thomas Karl and the other authors of the academic paper.

Mr Ward said:

“It is perhaps surprising that Representative Smith and others were not more sceptical of the accuracy of Mr Rose’s article given his previous track record of inaccurate and misleading reporting about climate change. I have today written to Representative Smith to draw his attention to the IPSO ruling.

He added: “This is another shameful moment for the British media because Mr Rose’s article misled audiences around the world. But I am glad to say that the UK has many excellent science journalists who, unlike Mr Rose, take great care to uphold the public interest by reporting accurately about climate change.

“Fake news stories about climate change are a significant threat to the public interest in the UK, United States and other countries. The expert community must continue to fight back against the deluge of propaganda from climate change deniers. Earlier this year, Wikipedia’s editors announced the welcome step of excluding the ‘Daily Mail’ from its list of authoritative sources. I will be drawing the attention of Wikipedia’s editors to the adjudication in the hope that they add ‘The Mail on Sunday’ to its list of fake news sources.”

The text of the adjudication and a full statement from Mr Ward is included at the end of this media release.

 

For more information about this media release please contact Victoria Druce on +44 (0) 207 107 5865 or v.druce@lse.ac.uk or Bob Ward on +44 (0) 7811 320346 or r.e.ward@lse.ac.uk

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

  1. The text of the adjudication published today in ‘The Mail on Sunday’ is: Following an article published on 5 February 2017 in the Mail on Sunday, headlined “EXPOSED How world leaders were duped over global warming”, Bob Ward complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the newspaper had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. IPSO upheld the complaint and has required the Mail on Sunday to publish this decision as a remedy to the breach.The article reported on claims made by Dr John Bates, a climate scientist formerly employed at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), about a paper published in the journal Science that suggested that there had been no “pause” in global warming in the 2000s. Dr Bates had published a blog criticising the way the data used for the paper had been analysed and archived. The article detailed at length the complainant’s concerns with the data; it then characterised them as demonstrating “irrefutable evidence” that the paper had been based upon “misleading, unverified data”.The article was illustrated with a graph. It plotted a red line, described as “the ‘adjusted’ and unreliable sea data cited in the flawed ‘Pausebuster’ paper”, and a blue line, described as “the UK Met Office’s independently verified record”, which it said “showed lower monthly readings and a shallower recent warming trend”. A note at the base of the graph stated that “0 represents 14°C”.The complainant said that the significance of Dr Bates’ concerns about the archiving procedures had been misrepresented in the article, and the newspaper had taken no steps to establish the veracity of Dr Bates’ claims. World leaders had not been “duped”, as the headline said, and there was no “irrefutable evidence” that the paper was based on “misleading, unverified data”, as the article had claimed.The newspaper said that Dr Bates had shown it examples of both fully archived climate data and the less detailed version used for the paper; putting raw data on a website is not the same thing as full data archiving; therefore the evidence that the paper’s data was unverified and misleading, was “irrefutable”.The Committee emphasised that its central concern was whether the article had accurately reported Dr Bates’ concerns. It decided that the newspaper’s claims that Dr Bates’ testimony had provided “irrefutable evidence” that the paper had been based on “misleading, ‘unverified’ data”, leading – as the headline claimed – to world leaders being “duped” over global warming, and “convinced” to invest billions in climate change, went much further than the concerns which Dr Bates had detailed in his blog or in the interview; they did not represent criticisms of the data collection process, but rather, were assertions of fact that the data had been demonstrated conclusively to be wrong and had a significant impact on the decision making of world leaders, with an additional implication this had been part of a wilful attempt to deceive.The article claimed that because of the NOAA’s “failure to ’archive’” the data, “its results can never be verified”. The Committee did not consider that the article had made sufficiently clear that the failure to archive, had been a failure to archive the data through a particular method, and that the data had been made publicly available. In characterising Dr Bates’ claims in this way the newspaper had failed to take care over the accuracy of the article, in breach of Clause 1 (i) and had then failed to correct these significantly misleading statements, in breach of Clause 1 (ii).

    The graph which accompanied the article had provided a visual illustration of the newspaper’s contention regarding the difference between the “flawed” NOAA data and other, “verified”, data. The newspaper’s failure to plot the lines correctly represented a breach of Clause 1 (i), and there had been a further failure to correct the significantly misleading impression created as a result. There was a further breach of Clause 1 on this point.

 

  1. The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment (http://www.lse.ac.uk/grantham) was launched at the London School of Economics and Political Science in October 2008. It is funded by The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment (http://www.granthamfoundation.org/).

 

  1. The full statement from Mr Ward is:“This is a significant victory for the long-suffering readers of ‘The Mail on Sunday’ who have been subjected to a campaign of misinformation about the causes and consequences of climate change. The adjudication that the newspaper has been forced to publish today makes clear there were serious inaccuracies in the article by David Rose. Although IPSO did not take into account the inaccurate nature of the claims made by Dr Bates, it found that Mr Rose had grossly exaggerated the content and significance of those claims. This is just the latest example of Mr Rose’s fake news stories about climate change which have been published by ‘The Mail on Sunday’. Some of his previous articles have been based, for instance, on a fake cover of ‘Time’ magazine and a typographic error on the website of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.“Most reputable media ignored Mr Rose’s false claims when they were published in February. However, a few other outlets, such as ‘The Times’ and Fox News, were fooled and erroneously reported the story without checking its veracity. In addition, Representative Lamar Smith, who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, was also taken in by Mr Rose’s article and cited it in a letter he wrote on 14 February to the Acting Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It is perhaps surprising that Representative Smith and others were not more sceptical of the accuracy of Mr Rose’s article given his previous track record of inaccurate and misleading reporting about climate change. I have today written to Representative Smith to draw his attention to the ruling.“This is another shameful moment for the British media because Mr Rose’s article misled audiences around the world. But I am glad to say that the UK has many excellent science journalists who, unlike Mr Rose, take great care to uphold the public interest by reporting accurately about climate change.“Fake news stories about climate change are a significant threat to the public interest in the UK, United States and other countries. The expert community must continue to fight back against the deluge of propaganda from climate change deniers. Earlier this year, Wikipedia’s editors announced the welcome step of excluding the ‘Daily Mail’ from its list of authoritative sources. I will be drawing the attention of Wikipedia’s editors to the adjudication in the hope that they add ‘The Mail on Sunday’ to its list of fake news sources.“In addition to publishing the 647-word adverse adjudication from IPSO, I hope that Geordie Greig, the editor of ‘The Mail on Sunday’, will apologise to Dr Tom Karl and the other co-authors of the academic paper that was wrongly attacked in Mr Rose’s article.”