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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

UK media watchdog rules Daily Mail climate science denial article was 'significantly misleading'

By Phil Plait

Ah, sometimes there is justice in the world. A little, at least.

The UK tabloid Daily Mail has been forced to acknowledge a ruling that an article they published that was chock full o’ misleading climate science denial was, in fact, chock full of misleading climate science denial.

The article was published on February 5, 2017, and was written by David Rose, whose apparent difficulty being accurate when writing about climate change has a long history. He’s written so many error-laden articles that listing them all would be counterproductive; instead, you can search my blog to read just the ones I’ve written about.

One of Rose’s favorite topics is the so-called global warming “hiatus” or “pause” deniers like to claim started in the late 1990s. I actually call this a “faux pause” because it never happened. The warming never stopped. Despite this, in an effort to sow doubt on the science, many deniers bring this idea up at every opportunity.

To bolster the “hiatus” claim, Rose wrote the February Daily Mail article about new measurements of global sea surface temperatures, saying the data had been manipulated by scientists.

I won’t go into details here; I debunked Rose’s claims in detail right after his article came out. So did a lot of other people, including many climate scientists. His article was riddled with errors, including a graph that was incredibly misleading about the global temperature trend. The graph made it look like data from the Nation Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was flawed (Rose’s word) and that updated UK Met Office Hadley Centre data showed lower temperatures. However, the two graphs use different baselines; that is, they use different ways of recording temperature deviations. When they’re scaled the same way the two graphs overlay very well, showing they agree that temperatures are indeed getting warmer.

temperature overlays


After the article was published, Bob Ward — the policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment and the ESRC Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy at the London School of Economics and Political Science — filed a complaint with the Independent Press Standards Organization (IPSO), a group in the UK news media that monitors and regulates the news industry there.

After some deliberation, IPSO found that Rose’s article violated Clause 1(i) of the Editor’s Code of Practice, which states, “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.” The graph clearly violates this, and in my opinion much of the text Rose wrote does as well.

And because of that, the Daily Mail had to acknowledge the ruling (both in a separate announcement as well as in the original article). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, though, they state the facts of the ruling without ever actively admitting wrongdoing. Look for the words retract, error, apologize, or correction in that article. You won’t find them.

Ward himself has written an article about this, including outlining his complaints in quite some detail. It’s astonishingly thorough, and quite damning.

I’ll remind you that Rose’s article accuses scientists of manipulating data, but it was the article itself that was found to have “significantly misleading statements.” Irony can be pretty ironic, sometimes.

While I’m glad this complaint was upheld and the Daily Mail was forced to announce the decision, the entire situation is still aggravating. This sort of science denial is pernicious, because even if a retraction is timely — and heaven knows this one was not, despite the hammering the article got by scientists within a day or so of its being published — it does cumulative damage. It gets passed around in denier circles and in the media, and adds incrementally to the distrust of science and scientists. That lingers long after the details of the article are lost to memory (or corrected).

In fact, U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas), a particularly egregious climate science denier, and who also happens to be the chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, tweeted this fertilizer after Rose’s article initially came out:


You read that right; Smith accuses others of having a politically predetermined conclusion on climate change. At least he's read his Orwell.

The article also led to a lot of sound and fury from the Committee, which used this already-debunked nonsense to attack the science of the Environmental Protection Agency. I’m not surprised; Smith loves him some global warming, so much so that he lets it alter his sense of reality (where he’s joined by others in the Trump administration). Worse, the Committee itself holds one sham hearing after another to downplay the effects of warming and promote the use of fossil fuel. It’s a national, a global, embarrassment.

This is why I continue to write about this issue. Climate change, fueled by global warming, is a huge threat, and one we need to be talking about. Now. It should be the number one topic on news shows and in the political arena; instead we get denial by politicians and essentially no (or no good) coverage by media.

There is no wrong time to talk about climate change, and no wrong place. Now is exactly the time we should be talking about it … and making sure that when others talk about it, what they say is accurate.