Cindy Baxter writes:
The UK Sunday Times has apologised over a major part of the so-called “climategate’ scandal – "Amazongate".
In February this year, the Sunday Times ran a story alleging that the IPCC was making stuff up about the effects of climate change on the Amazon.
The story was picked up across the world, appearing in print, on blogs and on television. The allegation was that the IPCC used a bad reference for its predictions around the Amazon, one taken from a WWF report. The reference WAS missing from the report, but the science was correct.
"In fact, the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence," says the Sunday Times apology.
In fact, the Sunday Times had the reference to the peer-reviewed scientific literature a full eight hours before going to print. It had also talked with the author of that scientific literature, but that didn't appear in the story either.
When the Sunday Times talked with climate scientist and rainforest specialist Dr Simon Lewis, they completely disregarded his comments, misquoted him, and read him a version of the story that bore no resemblance to the story that appeared in the paper.
"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," said the Sunday Times.
The authors of the report, and Dr Lewis then complained to the UK's Press Complaints Commission, complaints which have led to this full apology and retraction four months later.
This is yet another nail in the "climategate" coffin. It's yet another part of the "scandal" around the IPCC that has turned out not to be a scandal at all. So the question remains: Will all the media who ran the "Amazongate" story also run retractions? Will it be taken off websites? Will, for example, The Australian, which ran the story, word for word, as a syndicated piece, also run an apology and take the story off its website? (Update: it appears they did remove the story but we couldn't find a retraction.) This story was the basis of editorials, blogs and general diatribes against the IPCC around the world.
The hype around Amazongate was enormous. It travelled across the world.
But much of the media never likes to admit it's wrong – and the climate denial bloggers pushing the climategate hype have never let the truth get in the way of their story - so my guess is that they won't be jumping to correct themselves. So if you know of any blogs or newspapers that ran the story, I encourage you to write a letter, call them up, post a comment to get them to take it down and run a story about the Sunday Times' apology. They owe it to the public. And to the climate.
(As you need to register at the Sunday Times site to read the retraction, we reproduce it here for your convenience)
The Sunday Times full retraction: The Sunday Times and the IPCC: Correction
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 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.
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.
The original article to which this correction refers has been removed