The PCC verdict is in!

Many of you will have followed the saga of my complaint via the UK Press Complaints Commission against the Telegraph. After lots of toing and froing, the PCC verdict is finally here. Drum roll, drum roll, drum roll…

And of course I lost. This backs up the advice I received from a number of different people who’d made complaints via the PCC in the past. If there is any level of interpretation needed in the complaint, the PCC appear to have a policy of ruling against the complainant.

I’d be very interested in whether you think the PCC are right.  

For me, there are two meanings of “significant” in the context of whether the Telegraph article was “significantly misleading”.

Firstly, there is statistic significance. Is it right to say that an original estimate is wrong if a new estimate is made at a later date, with more information available, and the confidence intervals of both estimates overlap significantly?

Secondly, there is the significance of the effect that it will have on readers. Some will take it at face value and decide not to trust climate models.

I undertook this complaint to find out about the process, because of the idea of creating a platform for the public to raise complaints together against inaccurate or misleading press articles. I’ll write up my thoughts on that in a few days. In the meantime, here is the final correspondence with the PCC:

Further to our previous correspondence, the Commission has now made its assessment of your complaint under the Editors’ Code of Practice.

The Commission members have asked me to thank you for giving them the opportunity to consider the points you raised. However, their decision is that there has been no breach of the Code in this case. A full explanation of the Commission’s decision is below.

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your complaint has been handled – as opposed to the Commission’s decision itself – you should write within one month to the Independent Reviewer, whose details can be found in our How to Complain leaflet or on the PCC website at the following link:

Thank you for taking this matter up with us.

And the verdict itself.  I think it is interesting that they refer to climate change as being a politically sensitive subject:

Commission’s decision in the case of

Bell v The Daily Telegraph

The complainant expressed concern about the publication of an article which was, in his view, inaccurate and misleading in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice. The article reported that the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report had found that ‘the world [had been] warming at a rate of 0.12C per decade since 1951, compared to a prediction of 0.13C per decade’ in the IPCC’s 2007 report. The complainant believed that the difference between the 2007 forecast and the 2013 revised number didn’t justify the claim that climate scientists had previously been ‘wrong’.

Under the Clause 1 (i) of the Code, newspapers must take care not to publish inaccurate information, and Clause 1 (ii) makes clear that a significantly misleading statement must be corrected promptly, and with ‘due prominence’.

Anthropogenic climate change is a politically contentious subject. It is not the Commission’s role to stifle, or in any way to hinder the free exchange of opinions and information, which serves to enrich the quality of the debate on this topic. Newspapers are entitled to report on, and to interpret the findings of the numerous scientific studies which have been published in this complex area as long as, in doing so, they have not misled readers.

In the ‘summary for policymakers’ section of the 2007 IPCC report on climate change, it was stated that ‘the linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13C [0.10C to 0.16C] per decade) [was] nearly twice that for the last 100 years’. The 2013 report noted that the calculated rate of warming since 1951 was ‘0.12C [0.08 to 0.14]’. The newspaper was entitled to interpret this calculation as a downward revision in the pace of observed climate change, even where the IPCC had not explicitly acknowledged that this was the case in the report. Indeed, the margin of error in the 2013 report had also been revised downward. In this context the claim that the 2007 calculation was ‘wrong’ was not significantly misleading. This was especially the case where the extent – and significance – of the revision was clearly stated in the article. While the Commission welcomed the newspaper’s attempt to obtain comment from the IPCC before the publication of the article, there was no breach of the Code.


5 thoughts on “The PCC verdict is in!

  1. These are niggling differences. Reminds me of a society matron on the Titanic, whining “does this life vest make me look fat?”

    In fact, there are current (Google them) studies that show the IPCC too conservative in their estimates. We are headed for at least 4-7 deg C increase (5-8 times current) and with it a complete unraveling. And to think we had the means to prevent it. We just didn’t want to be bothered. Or, we didn’t like tree huggers. Wow.

    But, hey, in a billion years perhaps we will get new species and the remaining humans might be less evil and stupid.

  2. We are heading for 4-7 deg C, up to 8 times current increase. And to think we had the means to prevent it. We just didn’t want to be bothered.

  3. Recent research by Henrik Svensmark and his group at the Danish National
    Space Center points to the real cause of the recent warming trend. In a
    series of experiments on the formation of clouds, these scientists have
    shown that fluctuations in the Sun’s output cause the observed changes in the
    Earth’s temperature.

    In the past, scientists believed the fluctuations in the Sun’s output were
    too small to cause the observed amount of temperature change, hence the need
    to look for other causes like carbon dioxide. However, these new
    experiments show that fluctuations in the Sun’s output are in fact large
    enough, so there is no longer a need to resort to carbon dioxide as the
    cause of the recent warming trend.

    The discovery of the real cause of the recent increase in the Earth’s
    temperature is indeed a convenient truth. It means humans are not to blame
    for the increase. It also means there is absolutely nothing we can, much
    less do, to correct the situation.

    Thomas Laprade

    • Unfortunately, there has been a lot more published research from other institutes and authors to show that this effect is not a significant contributor to warming, and in fact would have likely lead to a cooling.

      every step in the galactic cosmic ray-climate hypothesis is fraught with problems. Evidence suggests that cosmic rays are not effective at seeding clouds. Solar activity has been flat, and even slightly downwards over the past few decades. Galactic cosmic ray flux on Earth has been flat, even slightly upwards over the past few decades. 2009, which saw a record number of cosmic rays reaching Earth (meaning it should have been cold), was the 5th-hottest year on record at the time.

      This failed hypothesis offers a stark contrast to the overwhelming consensus that our greenhouse gas emissions are driving warming. The latter is supported by solid, well-understood fundamental physics. We know that increasing the greenhouse effect causes more energy to be trapped on Earth, and that energy has to go somewhere. The observed pattern of warming is precisely what we expect to see from an increased greenhouse effect, for example with the ‘fingerprint’ of a cooling upper atmosphere due to more heat being trapped in the lower atmosphere.

  4. Pingback: Not standing for it anymore – where next? | John Bell vs Climate Change (currently 10,143-2 to Climate Change)

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