Fact checking, environmental journalism and summing up on 'mini' ice ages
- 12 Oct 2011, 18:00
- Christian Hunt
journalist Jonathan Leake posted a comment on our piece about the
'mini' ice age story, essentially claiming that the story got
mangled in the editing process. He has also got the Global Warming
Policy Foundation to append an explanatory statement to their full
repost of the article.
Unfortunately the Express story still stands. The Express has
opted out of the Press Complaints Commission process, so isn't even
any theoretical way to take them to task for it.
We've done a bit of asking around about this story, and the
general opinion seems to be that the Sunday Times made a bit of a
mess of it. But there's clearly a problem here when a scientific
paper can - through a process which sounds like more cock-up than
conspiracy, to be honest - be misrepresented in one newspaper,
enthusiastically promoted by lobbyists and copied (and amplified to
the main front page story) by another paper, ending up with an
article which has basic and formidable factual inaccuracies.
If the general public are confused about climate science, and if
interest in it as an issue has melted away amongst policymakers and
journalists, this kind of episode has probably played it's
As one commenter on our blog post put it in reponse to Leake:
"you're saying that journalists who
don't have any understanding of the subject matter dick around with
your articles after you've finished them."
A discussion has been sparked online by
an article suggesting that scientists should be able to fact check
articles about their work before they are published.
It's easy to see what is problematic about that suggestion - it
could cut across journalistic integrity, and there is a reasonable
argument that those who are used to communicating to other
scientists might not be best placed to judge what's appropriate in
a journalistic setting.
But on the other hand, episodes like this do suggest that the
current fact-checking processes of some environmental journalism,
in a time of budget cuts and increased pressure to produce
'content', are inadequate.
What do you think? What would need to change to prevent these
basic mistakes getting out of hand?