[Note: Ofcom is the UK broadcasting regulator]

The other night, BBC News was able to get it’s teeth into a story that combined two of the Corporation’s favourite hate figures. With the publication of Ofcom’s report based on a sixteen-month inquiry into ITV’s documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, they had the chance to attack both climate change sceptics and their most despised rival for audiences.

On the 10pm. News Roger Harrabin assured viewers that the inquiry had been brought about by a ‘deluge’ of complaints although, according to Ofcom, there were only 265 of these from the general public. The audience was estimated at 2.7 million. True, there was also a 176-page complaint from a group coordinated by someone called Dave Rado **, but this involved many of the usual suspects in the climate science community including Sir John Houghton, Robert Watson, Bob Ward, the late Bert Bolin and William Connolly*. Ofcom wisely seems to have kept this separate from the other complaints, as it was clearly more in the way of a lobby group campaign than a reflection of wider public disquiet. They argued that the film had mislead the public.

The BBC then seized on a minor finding in the report that the programme makers had, in one of the five sections of the film, been found guilty on the lesser charge of lack of impartiality, but this was a bad case of clutching at straws. Ever since The Great Global Warming Swindle was first broadcast, the environmental lobby of which the BBC is undoubtedly part – has been screaming that the film was misleading in the way it represented climate science. Ofcom was unable to find any evidence to support this claim.

The report’s findings are being well reported by Steve McIntyre here, with more to come tomorrow, so I am not going to cover the same ground in detail. Although the BBC trumpeted some minor criticisms of the documentary in the decision section of the report, these seem to be rather in the case of an alleged armed robber who is acquitted on a bank-raid charge, but convicted for the subsidiary offence of parking on a double yellow line near the scene of the crime.

There was no criticism of sections 1-4 of the programme, which considered the scientific controversy about climate change, but Ofcom did find that in the final section, which dealt with public policy, the program should have given voice to a wider spectrum of opinion. At no point does the report find that the makers of the documentary misled the public.

At the same time, Ofcom ruled on three separate complaints, form Sir David King, Professor Carl Wunsch and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; more about these later.

What I want to do today is compare this inquiry with the High Court case last year that found a wealth of misleading information in Al Gore’s global warming propaganda-fest, An Inconvenient Truth. This came about when a School Governor objected to what he considered to be a highly political polemic being used as a teaching aid in UK schools.

At the end of the case, Mr Justice Burton’s snappily written and beautifully clear judgement identified nine instances where the film represents scientific evidence in a misleading way. These included: sea level rise and the risk of catastrophic melting of the polar ice-caps, the correlation of global average temperature to atmospheric CO2, hurricane Katrina, the loss of coral reefs, anthropogenic influence on the Gulf Stream, the danger to polar bears, and the diminishing snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro. In fact the judgement shot down most of the cherished global warming scare stories of that time.

Strangely, the BBC’s coverage of this bombshell focused not on Mr Justice Burton’s unchallengeable findings, but on his punctuation. In referring to the particular instances in the film that he determined were misleading, he enclosed the term ‘error‘ in single quotation marks. This was construed by the BBC to mean that the learned judge did not really consider that they were errors at all, and this was passed off as a vindication of the film and its maker.

So how did a High Court judge, who can hardly be expected to have studied climate science, manage to make an equitable ruling in a case that turned on the validity of complex scientific research papers?

Both sides in the case had called a single scientific expert as a witmess; Professor Bob Carter for the school governor, Dr Peter Stott of the Hadley Centre for the government. The learned judge quite simply identified instances where there was no conflict of evidence between these two witnesses. In other words, misleading passages from the film that Professor Carter had identified and that the man from the Hadley Centre was unable to offer substantiating evidence for.

(Ironically, all this happened just before the Nobel Committee announced that Al Gore would receive their Peace Prize for his contributions to the crusade against climate change.)

Later, realclimate.org, the web’s leading alarmist climate science blog, followed the same line that the BBC had taken, but with a few inimitable embellishments of its own. Firstly, as the plaintiff in this case had been backed by a wealthy businessman, they considered that this had a material bearing on the credibility of the judge’s decision. Next they also argued that the use of the term ‘error’ in quotation marks made the judgement meaningless. Then they restated the ‘evidence’ on which the misleading sequences in the film had been based, but failed to mention that Dr Stott had been unable to produce credible supporting evidence. They failed to mention the ingenious way in which Mr Justice Burton had reached his conclusions.

RealClimate’s reiterative debunking technique worked reasonably well for most of the issues, at least if you did not know what had actually happened in court; they simply shouted ever more loudly that Al Gore was right and the judge was wrong. But there was one hitch. A passage in An Inconvenient Truth had clearly stated that the tiny Pacific island of Tuvalu had already been evacuated as a result of rising sea levels caused by human induced global warming. This was totally untrue, and demonstratively, so as the island is still inhabited.

This is the distinctly chilling justification that RealClimate’s Gavin Schmidt and Michaeal Mann (of hockey stick graph fame) offered for Al Gore’s baseless assertion about Tuvalu:

In the movie there is only one line that referred to this: “That’s why the citizens of these pacific nations have all had to evacuate to New Zealand”, which is out of context in the passage it’s in, but could be said to only be a little ahead of it’s time.

Overall, our verdict is that the 9 points are not “errors” at all (with possibly one unwise choice of tense on the island evacuation point). [My emphasis]

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/10/convenient-untruths/langswitch_lang/in#more-483

Next time someone tells me that they have put the goods I paid for in the post, when what they really mean is that they will dispatch them as soon as they find my order and get round to it, I must remember that this is only an ‘unwise choice of tense’, and not a lie. Given that RealClimate is run by a cabal comprising some of the biggest names in climate science, and as this blog is the first port of call for those in the media who want to discover the ‘truth’ about global warming, there is something quite chilling about their pronouncement.

Ofcom’s adjudication on The Great Global Warming Swindle is a far longer, and far less enjoyable to read, than Mr Justice Burton’s judgement, but these are the bare bones of what it says.

The regulators was unable to find anything much wrong with the way in which the first four sections of the film dealt with the scientific evidence that is relied on by many global warming sceptics. This was in spite of the combined efforts of some eminent climate scientists to persuade them that the film was misleading in a 176 page submission that had taken months to prepare. In the fifth, and final, section of the film, Ofcom considered that there was some lack of impartiality in respect of public policy issues. This was not considered to be a serious enough offence to warrant any sanctions against the broadcasters

A complaint from Sir David King, that he was misquoted in the film, was upheld. This involved a claim by Fred Singer that Sir David, a past Chief Government Scientific Adviser to the UK government, had said that by the end of this century, the Antarctic will be the only place on earth that is still cool enough to be habitable. As the production company accepted that this was a true reflection of Sir David’s views because it had been widely reported by the media, including the Independent and the New Statesman, without correction, this seems like pretty rough justice. Evidently Sir David was quite content to let this version of his utterance pass unchallenged in publications that are sympathetic to the alarmist cause, and where they were used to whip up hysteria about global warming. On the other hand, he squeals like a stuck pig when it is repeated in a sceptical documentary.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also had a complaint partly upheld. They claimed that the production company did not give them sufficient time to respond to accusations of political bias made in the film and Ofcom agreed. This finding seems perverse given that the IPCC failed to reply to two out of three of the emails they were sent asking for their views. Even more perverse is the response of the IPCC’s chairman to this great victory over the filmmakers:

“I think this is a vindication of the credibility and standing of the IPCC and the manner in which we function, and clearly brings out the distortion in whatever Channel 4 was trying to project,” said Rajendra Pachauri, the organisation’s chairman.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7517509.stm

Dr Pachauri does not dwell on the fact that the IPCC’s complaints about what the film actually said were not upheld.

Then there is the sad case of Professor Carl Wunsch, who complained that he had not been properly informed about the deeply sceptical nature of the film when he was invited to take part. This was upheld, but perhaps it says more about the professor’s care for his reputation than it does about the integrity of the arguments put forward in The Great Global Warming Swindle.

When an ITV executive was interviewed by the BBC’s Newsnight programme about Ofcom’s report, he announced that Channel 4 will be screening Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth when it becomes available for broadcast next year. I wonder how many complaints Ofcom will receive when this happens, and whether they will devote sixteen months to an enquiry? In view of Mr Justice Burton’s judgement, I don’t see how ITV can have a leg to stand on if they are accused of broadcasting a misleading documentary about climate change then.

* Update 25/07/2008. Dave Rado has pointed out to me that Phil Jones and Myles Allen were not named in the complaint to Ofcom that he coordinated. In fact they were signatories to an open letter to Martin Durkin, the producer of The Great global Warming Swindle, complaining that the film had misrepresented and misinterpreted scientific evidence and citing a complaint to Ofcom. I have edited paragraph 2 accordingly.

** Update 09/08/2008. Dave Rado has assured me that he is not an environmental activist and, at his request, I have edited this sentence  which originally read ‘ True, there was also a 176-page complaint from a group coordinated by an environmental activist called Dave Rado …’. I apologise for any embarrassment that this may have caused him!

39 Responses to “Ofcom’s inconvenient truths and Al Gores swindle”

  1. Re. #20, TonyN, yes please could you edit the article – I am not an environmental activist.

    Re. your other points, Ofcom chose not to investigate the accuracy or otherwise of the film, considering it to be outside their remit. See

    In your comment about scientific illiteracy you are confusing objectively verifiable facts with scientific theories and opinions. I have no problem with someone disputing orthodoxies, but whether or not their dispute is scientifically literate comes down to the basis they dispute it on.

    Dave

  2. Whoops – I don’t know how I managed to screw up the link in the previous comment – sorry about that.

  3. Also, re. the question you raise about media reporting of science and its tendency to sensationalise, see here and here.

    (I think I’ve got the hang of using your links button now!)

    Dave

  4. On the media’s reporting of science, I think this article is also insightful.

  5. Also, re. your point about the climateaudit article, see here.

  6. Re: #26, Dave Rado,

    I have made the alteration that you requested.

    For the next few days I am going to be involved in industrial scale family celebrations, so I’ll look at your other comments in detail later.

  7. Dave

    The fact is that your 176-page complaint had no significant impact on Ofcom’s decision.

    There is little point in cherry picking bits of the Ofcom decision to try and make it look as though they spent 16 months considering the matter and then came to the wrong conclusion. Had the scientific content in parts 1-4 of TGGWS been misleading then it would have been ‘content which materially misleads the audience so as to cause harm or offence’ and fallen foul of Section 2.2 of the Code.

    You seem unwilling to accept that if someone argues against your pet scientific hypotheses they are not guilty of being inaccurate or misleading. They are simply expressing an opinion that differs from yours.

  8. The reason they took 16 months was because of the back and forth correspondence over the Fairness complaint. They could have published the Standards ruling (which basically states that they did not think it was in their remit to investigate in detail the accuracy or otherwise of the statements in the film) a year ago.

    Dave

  9. Also, you mischaracterise our complaint. We did not object at any stage to the film’s disputing of mainstream scientific theories (and your term “hypothesis” displays a strong bias on your part). Disputing scientific orthodoxy is what science is all about. Doing so by falsification is not.

    For example the section of the ruling entitled “Use of Graphs” discussed a single graph which Channel 4 had accepted was inaccurate and didn’t mention at all any of the further 8 graphs which were complained of.

    As another even more revealing example, Ofcom didn’t consider the film’s false claim, with its implication of corruption, that Mrs Thatcher had stated in a speech to the Royal Society that:

    ‘“There’s money on the table for you to prove this stuff”. So of course they went away and did that.’

    There are two speeches by Mrs. Thatcher to the Royal Society that mention climate change (http://tinyurl.com/2kvovo, http://tinyurl.com/2n5n5a), neither of which contain anything that could be construed as meaning “there’s money on the table for you to prove this stuff,” or even mention the funding of climate science.

    So this could easily have been checked by Ofcom but it was not; and it had nothing to do with theories and everything to do with misrepresenting facts.

    Dave

  10. Dave,

    Have you considered coordinating an application for judicial revue the Ofcom decision? And how on earth can my use of the term ‘hypotheses’ be construed as a sign of bias?

  11. Hi Tony

    There is a lengthy and potentially multi-stage appeal process to go through before the issue of judicial review becomes relevant. Greenhouse warming theory is not generally regarded as a hypothesis.

    Dave

  12. Dave Rado

    Greenhouse warming theory is not generally regarded as a hypothesis

    Of course it is. There is little doubt that GHG’s tend to trap thermal energy. However, the Greenhouse-warming-theory claim that the effect is more than say 0.5 degC for CO2 doubling is pure hypothesis.

  13. Re: #32

    Please note that I used the plural form of the word in question.

  14. Tuvalu

    It is not ‘sinking either, BUT GROWING!

    From the BBC:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10222679

    Low-lying Pacific islands ‘growing not sinking’By Nick Bryant

    BBC News, Sydney

    Low-lying Tuvalu is one of many Pacific states worried by climate change A new geological study has shown that many low-lying Pacific islands are growing, not sinking.

    The islands of Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Federated States of Micronesia are among those which have grown, because of coral debris and sediment.

    Coral Debris and sediment……

    As described by Darwin:

    THE

    STRUCTURE AND DISTRIBUTION

    OF

    CORAL REEFS

    Charles Darwin: 1842

    http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=text&itemID=F271&pageseq=1

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