Sunday Times Publishes Climate Change Apology

Dr. Simon Lewis

Dr. Simon Lewis

 

Following the media frenzy about the “errors” in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Dr. Simon Lewis filed a complaint (pdf) with the relevant press oversight body. In response, the Sunday Times has retracted a story by Jonathan Leake on a supposed ‘Amazongate’ and published the following apology:

The article “UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim” (News, Jan 31) stated that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had included an “unsubstantiated claim” that up to 40% of the Amazon rainforest could be sensitive to future changes in rainfall. The IPCC had referenced the claim to a report prepared for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) by Andrew Rowell and Peter Moore, whom the article described as “green campaigners” with “little scientific expertise.” The article also stated that the authors’ research had been based on a scientific paper that dealt with the impact of human activity rather than climate change.

In fact, the IPCC’s Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change. We also understand and accept that Mr Rowell is an experienced environmental journalist and that Dr Moore is an expert in forest management, and apologise for any suggestion to the contrary.

The article also quoted criticism of the IPCC’s use of the WWF report by Dr Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at the University of Leeds and leading specialist in tropical forest ecology. We accept that, in his quoted remarks, Dr Lewis was making the general point that both the IPCC and WWF should have cited the appropriate peer-reviewed scientific research literature. As he made clear to us at the time, including by sending us some of the research literature, Dr Lewis does not dispute the scientific basis for both the IPCC and the WWF reports’ statements on the potential vulnerability of the Amazon rainforest to droughts caused by climate change [my emphasis].

In addition, the article stated that Dr Lewis’ concern at the IPCC’s use of reports by environmental campaign groups related to the prospect of those reports being biased in their conclusions. We accept that Dr Lewis holds no such view – rather, he was concerned that the use of non-peer-reviewed sources risks creating the perception of bias and unnecessary controversy, which is unhelpful in advancing the public’s understanding of the science of climate change. A version of our article that had been checked with Dr Lewis underwent significant late editing and so did not give a fair or accurate account of his views on these points. We apologise for this.

For the full details, please see the RealClimate posting Leakegate: A retraction.

David M. Davison

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2 Responses to “Sunday Times Publishes Climate Change Apology”

  1. Comment by Dr. Lewis following the apology by the Sunday Times:
    “I welcome the Sunday Times’ apology for failing to accurately report my views and retract the Amazon story. As several experts told them – their story was baseless. What I find shocking about this whole episode is that an article read out [loud] and agreed with me was then switched at the last minute to one that fit with the Times’ editorial line that the IPCC contained a number of serious mistakes, but actually ignored the scientific facts.”

    The full blog can be read at:
    http://climateprogress.org/2010/06/20/amazon-ipcc-climategate-sunday-times-jonathan-leake-simon-lewis-apology-retraction/

    David M. Davison

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