Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap: “sceptical” journalist Jonathan Leake under scrutiny

Over the December 2009 and January 2010 period the denial movement went into over-dive in their attempts to tear down the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment report.

The blogosphere and general media was “rocked” by Climategate (the stolen CRU emails) and then just as famously the supposed flaws in the IPCC report. First it was Glacier-gate, then followed Amazon-gate. The body blows to the scientific community came think and fast.

At the time Lord Monckton was touring Australia claiming the “times suited him”. Miranda Devine, the Sydney Morning Herald’s resident denier had this to say:

“…The latest revelation is that an IPCC claim about the Amazon rainforest was also drawn from a WWF report. The IPCC says it is simply a “human mistake” to parrot WWF press releases, as if they are credible science and not green propaganda, and no one bats an eyelid.”

Clearly there was a concentrated effort by the denial movement to mislead the public.

By trashing the reputation of the IPCC and the accuracy of the report, the denial movement hoped to shape public opinion. As I’ve noted, the vast majority of people have not taken the time to read the various documents that make up the Fourth Assessment report. As such, it is hard for them to understand it’s depth.

To be frank, the various “scandals” did create an impression that something was amiss at CRU and at the IPCC. But now that the hype is passed – or to choose another metaphor the rubble has settled – the truth is starting to emerge. It would appear that the actions of ethical behaviour of numerous journalists are now being questioned, and it does not look good.

Jonathan Leake, a journalist for the UK’s Sunday Times is now at the centre of a “scandal” (I promise to resist using Leake-gate) over the so called “Amazon-gate” affair.

Yet another “gate”?

One of the supposed mistakes the IPCC was to overstate the sensitivity of Amazon to climate change: the charge was that they relied upon non-peer reviewed materials and overstated the impact of climate change.

Well it seems the scientific expert on the issue – Simon Lewis in the UK – whose work informed the IPCC’s understanding of the issue is not taking it lying down. Climate Progress sums up the events nicely:

“The IPCC famously wrote:

Up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation; this means that the tropical vegetation, hydrology and climate system in South America could change very rapidly to another steady state, not necessarily producing gradual changes between the current and the future situation.

This statement in the 2007 IPCC is “basically correct but poorly written, and bizarrely referenced,” as Lewis told the BBC in January.  Indeed, the underlying science is quite strong, as made clear in a recent statement by 19 top U.S., U.K., and Brazilian scientists, including Lewis, who point out “there are multiple, consistent lines of evidence from ground-based studies published in the peer-reviewed literature that Amazon forests are, indeed, very susceptible to drought stress.”

That didn’t stop the anti-science blogosphere and media from spinning this into another phony “gate,” as ClimateSafety explained in an excellent post, “AmazonGate: how the denial lobby and a dishonest journalist created a fake scandal.”  Anti-science Blogger Richard North spun up the story, and it was turned into “news” by anti-science reporters James Delingpole of the Telegraph and Jonathan Leake of the Times…”

Simon Lewis has lodged a complaint with the UK’s Public Complaints Commission which handles complaints against the media in that country. It’s a 33 page document, however reading it one is struck by the disingenuous behaviour of Leake. In particular I’d note the following paragraph:

I spoke to Jonathan Leake on the afternoon of Saturday 30, a few hours before the article went to press, as he wanted to check the quotes he was using by me (checking quotes was agreed between ourselves on Friday 29 January). The entire article was read to me, and quotes by me agreed, including a statement that the science in the IPCC report was and is correct. The article was reasonable, and quotes were not out of context. Indeed I was happy enough that I agreed to assist in checking the facts for the graphic to accompany the article (I can supply the emails if necessary). Yet, following this telephone call the article was entirely and completely re-written with an entirely new focus, new quotes from me included and new (incorrect) assertions of my views. I ask the Sunday Times to disclose the version of article that was read out to me, and provide an explanation as to why the agreed correct, undistorted, un-misleading article, and specifically the quotes from me, was not published, and an entirely new version produced.

Was this a deliberate attempt by Leake to mislead Lewis?

The email exchange documented in the complaint is revealing: it clearly shows that Leake was provided with references to the correct information. Lewis went out of his way to assist Leake, only to have his acts repaid with a story that distorted the actual science.

What the denial movement and creationists have in common: premeditated deceit

It very much reminds me of the tactics used by of creationists when they tricked scientists such as Richard Dawkins and PZ Myers into “appearing” in the film “Expelled: no intelligence allowed”.

This is further confirmation of two things: that (a) these  movements share a disdain for science and (b) will resort to the same grubby tactics.

The PCC will obviously make a determination at some point in the future, yet even so Lewis’ complaint is revealing. This gives us first hand evidence of the tactics of “sceptical” journalists whose writings bolster – and lend credibility to – the denial movement in the mainstream media.

We are now starting to uncover the dirty trick and tactics of the denial movement. For too long the denial movement have had a free pass, freely casting aspersions against scientists, politicians and activists. Putting them under the microscope will expose just how they distort the science, and by extension mislead the public.

It’s now the turn of the denial movement to be concerned. The spotlight is on them.

What else will we find?

5 thoughts on “Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap: “sceptical” journalist Jonathan Leake under scrutiny

  1. J Bowers says:

    Just thought I’d let you know it’s Jonathan Leake, not Andrew Leake. 😉

  2. […] Amazongate – claims that the IPCC overstated the impact of climate change on the Amazon rain forest by relying on a WWF press release have proven to be groundless. […]

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