Monday 25 September 2017 11.00 BST
Back in February, the conservative UK tabloid Mail on Sunday ran an error-riddled piece by David Rose attacking Noaa climate scientists, who had published data and a paper showing that there was never a global warming pause. The attack was based on an interview with former Noaa scientist John Bates, who subsequently admitted about his comments:
I knew people would misuse this. But you can’t control other people.
The UK press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organization (Ipso) has now upheld a complaint submitted by Bob Ward of the London School of Economics. Ipso ruled that the Mail piece “failed to take care over the accuracy of the article” and “had then failed to correct these significantly misleading statements,” and the Mail on Sunday was required to publish the Ipso adjudication.
The Mail’s manufactured controversy
Essentially, Bates had expressed displeasure in the way the data from a Noaa paper had been archived at the organization. Rose and the Mail blew this minor complaint into the sensationalist claim that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” It would be hard to find a better example of fake news than this one. The piece included a grossly misleading chart that Nasa Goddard director Gavin Schmidt described as a “hilarious screw up”:
Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin)
In fact, the Noaa data and paper in question had already been independently verified by other researchers, and are in close agreement with global temperature data from other scientific groups:
And of course the paper itself had undergone rigorous peer-review prior to its publication in one of the world’s most highly-regarded scientific journals, Science. All signs pointed to the Noaa data and paper being based on sound science that had been reproduced and verified. But that didn’t fit the preferred denialist narrative of Rose and the Mail on Sunday, so they weaved a conspiracy theory that then reverberated through the right-wing media echo chamber.
Misinformation spread through right-wing media outlets
Rose’s story seemed to have all the climate denial components that biased conservative media outlets crave. A lone wolf scientist whistleblowing his former colleagues with accusations of data manipulation for political purposes? Despite the glaring errors in the story that were immediately called out by climate scientists and reputable science journalists, this narrative proved irresistible to the conservative media: Breitbart, Fox News, Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and more ran with Rose’s story. Meanwhile, legitimate news outlets like The Guardian, The Washington Post, Carbon Brief, E&E News, Ars Technica, Science Insider, RealClimate, and numerous other science blogs quickly debunked Rose’s falsehoods.