Chambers v the Guardian: Press Complaints Commission’s Decision

My complaint to to the Press Complaints Commission about an article by Dana Nuccitelli in the Guardian which accused Frontiers of giving in to bullying in retracting Lewandowsky’s “Recursive Fury” paper has been rejected. This is their decision. (emphasis mine).

Commission’s decision in the case of Chambers v The Guardian
The complainant was concerned about coverage of the withdrawal of a scientific paper. The article stated that the journal Frontiers had withdrawn the paper in question due to pressure from climate change contrarians. It had linked to a blog post discussing the matter, in which the complainant was named as someone who had contacted the journal to criticise the paper. The complainant said that the article was inaccurate in breach of Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Clause 1 (i) states that “the press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures”. The Commission noted the complainant’s position that Frontiers had not been “bullied” into withdrawing the paper, an assertion for which he considered the newspaper had no evidence and was contradicted by the journal’s retraction statement. The Commission noted that the article had included a statement from the journal which stated that it had received complaints about the paper, and that though it did not consider that it raised any academic or ethical issues, it had retracted it for legal reasons. The Commission acknowledged that the complainant objected to the use of the term “bully”, both in the article and in below-the-line comments, to refer to actions taken by critics of the paper. It made clear, however that, used in this context, the term “bully” represented the journalists’ interpretations of events. It was clear from the article that the grounds of reference for this interpretation were the letters sent to the journal. The complainant was not in a position to dispute the journal’s statement regarding the complaints it had received as a whole, beyond the complaint that he himself had submitted. Under the terms of Clause 1 (iii) the press is free to report comment and conjecture, “provided it is clearly distinguished from fact”. The author of the article was entitled to express the opinion that the actions of the complainant and others amounted to bullying. As such, there was no breach of Clause 1.
The Commission noted that the complainant had objected to the fact that the article had linked to a blog post which named him as one of those who had contacted the journal to request that the paper be retracted. He was concerned that this amounted to an inaccurate assertion that he was a bully. The Commission once more referred to its position that the term “bully” was an interpretation of the complainant’s actions. It noted that the complainant had not disputed that he had contacted Frontiers to criticise the paper, an action which was cited as one reason for its withdrawal. In the circumstances, the Commission did not establish that the link to the blog had engaged the terms of the Editors’ Code of Practice.
Which is fair enough, frankly. It’s a free country, and Nuccitelli is at liberty to call me a bully on his blog, just as I am free to call Lewandowsky a liar and a charlatan and Nuccitelli his bumwiper-in-chief. Blogs being blogs, it’s extremely unlikely that anyone will take the legal action which would establish who is right and who is wrong.
At the origin of this dispute was a peer-reviewed scientific paper by Lewandowsky, Cook and others which stated that McIntyre, Watts, JoNova and I were irrational beings suffering from feelings of persecution. Lewandowsky’s response to all criticism has been either to ignore it, or to state that the only proper response to a peer-reviewed paper is to write another peer-reviewed paper criticising it.
This is unlikely to happen, since the problem with the Lewandowsky-Cook paper is not that it contains some inaccuracies, but that it is a pile of nonsense from beginning to end, from the first citation of a paper by its peer reviewer Dr Swami (“a study of anti-semitism among ethnic Malays found that there was no significant anti-semitism among ethnic Malays”) to the final Summary Table Three that stated that four named bloggers and one pseudonymous blog commenter were paranoid idiots responsible for launching conspiracy theories which weren’t conspiracy theories. The paper was trash, not worth the aether it was published in, and the publishers “New Frontiers in Psychological Science” have been neatly revealed by Lewandowsky’s Vice-Bumwiper Graham Readfearn as promoters of a Ponzi scheme for ambitious academic charlatans in possession of an irresistible urge to publish and a capacity for mutual backscratching that would try the patience of a rhinoceros with anal pruritis.
Somewhere on the scale of seriousness between the scientific paper, whose veracity is guaranteed by the peer review system, and the blog, where any vile accusation can be made with equanimity, lies the newspaper of reference (and lies, and lies, and lies…). This may be the voice of authority, like the Times, the New York Times, or le Monde, or the voice of protest, like Libération, Repubblica, or the Guardian.
The Guardian is certainly the doyen of radical newspapers. It opposed England’s support for the slave states in the American Civil War; it opposed British entry into the Great War and Blair’s Iraqi adventure, and it has honourably opposed the use of torture by British and American governments post 9-11 (as has Professor Lewandowsky, praised be his name).
The Guardian has always taken a great interest in environmental questions, and hence in global warming. It gave quite a lot of space to the contrarian views of Bjorn Lomborg up until about 2009. Then it stopped. For global warming is not simply a scientific fact attested by the IPCC and every responsible scientific body on the planet, it’s also official Guardian editorial policy, according to their environmental editor.
Making predictions of future temperature official editorial policy is pretty odd, but the Guardian is a pretty odd paper. (So are the Independent, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Libération and Repubblica, but that’s another story). Editor Rusbridger was boasting a couple of years ago about having ten or eleven full-time environmental correspondents, each one with a couple of degrees. But Hickman, Vidal, Harrington, Monbiot and the others no longer comment on global warming. They leave it to their associate bloggers Nuccitelli and Abraham, who are no more qualified than you or I to comment on the subject. Abraham s an engineering lecturer who came to prominence with an 80 minute rambling anti-Monckton audio diatribe which was praised to the skies by Monbiot. Nuccitelli is Cook’s Jerk-of-all-Trades at SkepticalScience. The Guardian publishes his regular defences of Cook and Lewandowsky’s pseudo-scientific charlatanism, without ever revealing his links with the charlatans he’s defending. It’s their right. As the Press Complaints Commission points out, it’s only opinion.
“Comment is free, but facts are sacred” is the quote from Guardian editor C.P.Scott which adorns every blog article on their site. The key fact about global warming is that it hasn’t been happening for 17 years, but if you exercise your freedom to comment on this sacred fact at the Guardian, you’re liable to have your freedom to comment removed. Comment is free, but facts are scary.
The Guardian, by embracing Global Warming as a religious principle, has abandoned any pretensions it might have to being a centre for rational discussion. Of course I regret the suicide of Britain’s foremost radical journal, but there we are. It’s their choice. This year or next the Guardian (and the Independent) will probably cease to exist, and there will be no serious centre-left daily to criticise the totalitarian tendencies of governments of left or right in Britain, which is a pity.
The Press Complaints Commission dealt with my complaint in an exemplary fashion. They came back to me with intelligent demands, and I can’t fault their decision. Nuccitelli has every right to express his opinion of me and Steve McIntyre on the Guardian’s site, and the Guardian’s readers (or those who are allowed to comment) have every right to react accordingly.
The pity is that open-minded readers who value the Guardian’s courageous stand on such matters as Snowden and the US spying scandals are turned off reading their nasty little narrow minded rag because of their bonkers stand on global warming. Just as the Lewandowsky affair has turned me off reading peer-reviewed scientific papers. “Why should I believe anything these wankers say?” is my gut reaction to any claim made in a peer-reviewed article in social science. Or, as the original Latin has it: “Nullius in Verba.”

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6 Responses to Chambers v the Guardian: Press Complaints Commission’s Decision

  1. Katabasis says:

    Sorry to hear this Geoff,
    And:

    “The pity is that open-minded readers who value the Guardian’s courageous stand on such matters as Snowden and the US spying scandals are turned off reading their nasty little narrow minded rag because of their bonkers stand on global warming. Just as the Lewandowsky affair has turned me off reading peer-reviewed scientific papers. “Why should I believe anything these wankers say?” is my gut reaction to any claim made in a peer-reviewed article in social science. Or, as the original Latin has it: “Nullius in Verba.””

    – I couldn’t agree with you more. Though on top of this I also wonder about the future of academia and science more generally if and when it finally filters through to general awareness that scholarship on the level of Lewandowsky, Mann, Cook et al has become an accepted part and parcel of our academic inheritance and largely responsible for driving CAGW hysteria.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Katabasis
    Your wider interests in what happens to our trust in science are precisely what interest me.
    You and I (and above all Barry Woods) have been commenting at http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/more-fraud
    where, at long last, after two years of non-stop nonsense from the media, a social scientist has dared to criticise one of his own.
    This may well be a key moment in the Lewandowsky story. If it’ not, well, we’ll keep plugging away.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous above is me, Geoff Chambers, worling off an old computer because my current one two metres away can’t currently connect. I imagine it’s all a question of how many centimetres of cement my internect connection can penetrate. Hope to resume normal service tomorrow.

  4. manicbeancounter says:

    Geoff,

    You say
    ” Nuccitelli has every right to express his opinion of me and Steve McIntyre on the Guardian’s site, and the Guardian’s readers (or those who are allowed to comment) have every right to react accordingly.”

    The problem is that Nuccitelli and others at the Guardian (e.g. Bob Ward) positively discourage readers from comparing their views from those they oppose. They only link to opinions that support their views, to encourage people to evaluate based on false and vague generalistions; and to encourage prejudice in place of toleration of opposing views.
    This strategy I looked at a couple of months ago.
    http://manicbeancounter.com/2014/06/05/how-skeptical-science-maintains-the-97-consensus-fallacy/

  5. Barry Woods says:

    Prof Lewandowsky organised John Cook and Michael Mann to speak at the Cabot Institute next month (I wonder who pages airfares – USA & Australia- and expenses)

    As Anthony Watts is going to attend both, I suggested to the Cabot Institute that they invite Anthony to speak at another evening event. As lewandowsky organised it, I imagine that he will not be impressed. Hopefully the Cabot Institute will consider it seriously

  6. Manicbeancounter
    I kept out of the discussion of Cook’s 97% paper because I thought others could deal with it better than I, and I was right (see Manic’s post linked above, and others).

    Barry
    That’s an excellent initiative, whether or not it comes off. I imagine Anthony Watts has plans to spend his time usefully while he’s in Britain.

    Manic and Barry and I recently met up at a very interesting thread at
    http://www.joseduarte.com/blog/more-fraud?
    I recommend everyone to go there and comment.

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