The Guardian disappoints

Over the last few weeks or so the UK Guardian (who occasionally reprint our posts) has published a 12-part series about the stolen CRU emails by Fred Pearce that are well below the normal Guardian standards of reporting. We delineate some of the errors and misrepresentations below. While this has to be seen on a backdrop of an almost complete collapse in reporting standards across the UK media on the issue of climate change, it can’t be excused on the basis that the Mail or the Times is just as bad. As a long-time Guardian reader and avid Guardian crossword puzzle solver, I’m extremely unhappy writing this post, but the pathologies of media reporting on this issue have become too big to ignore.

We highlight issues with three of the articles below, which revisit a number of zombie arguments that have been doing the rounds of the sceptic blogs for years. Two follow-up pieces will deal with two further parts of the series. Hopefully some of the more egregious factual errors can be fixed as part of a ‘group experiment‘ in improving the stories, though the larger misconceptions probably can’t be (and readers should feel free to use this information to comment on the articles directly). Why the Guardian is asking for group input after the stories were published instead of before is however a puzzle. Some of the other pieces in this series are fine, which makes the ones that get it so wrong all the more puzzling. The errors consist of mistakes in the basic science, misunderstandings of scientific practice, more out of context quotes and some specific issues that are relatively new. (In the text below, quotes from the articles are in italics).

Part 3: Hockey Sticks

Some of the more egregious confusions and errors were in the third part of the series. In this part, a number of issues that were being discussed among the paleo-community in 1999 were horribly mixed up. For instance, there was a claim that arguments on the zeroth-order draft of the 2001 IPCC report were based on Briffa’s reconstruction showed the 11th century as being almost as warm as the 20th century, while Mann’s graph found little sign of the earlier warming. But this is simply untrue since at the time Briffa’s curve only went back to 1400 AD (not the 11th Century) and the discussions had nothing to do with the medieval warm period, but rather the amount of multi-decadal variability in the three different reconstructions then available. This was corrected in the online edition, but the description of the dispute in the article is still very confused.

That discussion was conflated with a completely separate April 1999 issue based on a disagreement about a perspectives piece in Science (which appeared as Briffa and Osborn, 1999) and which was in any case amicably resolved.

That discussion is then further confused with the discussions about the framing of the SPM text which despite Pearce claiming that ‘the emails reveal how deeply controversial it was at the time, did not get discussed in the emails at all. And while the article claimed that the uncertainty was not discussed in the IPCC report, the discussion in Chapter 2 was actually quite extensive.

Part 5: Chinese weather stations

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