Guest post by Barry Woods
It was only last weekend that the BBC’s Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin and Dr Joe Smith of the Open University made headlines in the Mail on Sunday newspaper. This was because their jointly run – Cambridge Media and Environment Program – (CMEP) that had organised seminars at the BBC between 1996 and 2009 had been revealed to have received funding from the Tyndall Centre (UEA) from 2002 -2006.
These facts alone seems to be a significant conflict of interest that should concern the BBC Trust.
The new emails reveal that not only was the CMEP being sponsored by the Tyndall Centre (UEA) to promote its agenda in the media, but at the same Roger Harrabin was on the Advisory board of the Tyndall Centre! (from 2002 until at least the end of 2005)
“1. We invite three more members to our AB:
Roger Harrabin (media; Radio BBC) – reserve Paul Brown (The Guardian) Bill Hare (NGO; Greenpeace) – reserves Mike Harley (English Nature)” (email 1038 – Hulme)
Tyndall archived webpages courtesy of the wayback machine are here: Advisory board 2002, and here Oct 2005. The Tyndall website changed after this date and no longer shows a link to membership of it’s Advisory Board. The release of the second batch of climategate emails – (2496), gives one reason why the Tyndall Centre funded the Harrabin/Smith seminars – the Real World seminars of the Cambridge Media and Environment Programme
“Did anyone hear Stott vs. Houghton on Today, radio 4 this morning? Woeful stuff really. This is one reason why Tyndall is sponsoring the Cambridge Media/Environment Programme to starve this type of reporting at source.” (email 2496)
Mike Hulme clearly did not like this program and clearly sponsors CMEP to use its influence with it BBC seminars to change reporting at the BBC, with an apparent intent to suppress any sceptical voices. A commentator at the Bishop Hill blog tracked down the ‘woeful’ program, where Prof Philip Stott and the IPCC’s Sir John Houghton debate the “uncertainties” of climate change”, it is mentioned in a 25 Feb 2002 article by Alex Kirby, BBC online environment correspondent, there is an audio link in the article to the radio program (probably UK only, well worth a listen)
Alex Kirby in the article quotes Stott as saying:
“The problem with a chaotic coupled non-linear system as complex as climate is that you can no more predict successfully the outcome of doing something as of not doing something. Kyoto will not halt climate change. Full stop.” - BBC
I might agree with Mike Hulme that Sir John Houghton performed poorly, but here were 2 scientists talking about uncertainties, nearly ten years ago. I see nothing wrong with that program, it appears to present balance, with views from scientists with different opinions. In fact that quote of Stott appears to be almost directly from the 2001 IPCC Third Assessment report (the one with the ‘hockey stick’ graph in) around the time of the interview,
“The climate system is a coupled non-linear chaotic system,
and therefore the long-term prediction of future climate states
is not possible.” – IPCC 2001 TAR (pg 771)
Looking back at Stott’s quote now, and the now, near total failure of the Kyoto agreement, we can perhaps see with hindsight whose argument is treated more kindly by the passage of time.
CMEP – Climate Change A Challenge to Broadcasting seminar
The most controversial seminar that CMEP organised was in January 2006, in conjunction with IBT, it was entitled – Climate Change – A Challenge to Broadcasting in January 2006. At this event it was effectively decided that the science was settled and sceptics should receive less airtime by the BBC. And in 2007, the BBC issued a formal editorial policy document, stating that:
‘the weight of evidence no longer justifies equal space being given to the opponents of the consensus’
This seminar only came to light, when it was mentioned in a BBC report about impartiality. It took FOI requests from Tony Newbery (Harmless Sky blog), Andrew Montford (Bishop Hill blog) to reveal the name of the seminar and eventually CMEP Dr
Joe Smith and Roger Harrabin involvement.
David Holland also pursued the activities of Dr Joe Smith and a copy of his Open University complaint is here, which is well worth a read for more background and detail.
“It is utterly unreasonable to suggest that the Tyndall
Centre at the University of East Anglia would hand over to CMEP funds unless it was believed Dr Smith and Roger Harrabin could, through the CMEP seminars, change BBC reporting policy in the direction the Tyndall Centre wanted.” (David Holland OU complaint)
To this day the BBC will not release the names of the those that attended this event which changed the BBC’s reporting of climate change and a FOI request for a list of attendees is pending a FOI decision (so much for transparency). The journalist Richard D North who was invited had this to say about it
“I found the seminar frankly shocking. The BBC crew (senior executives from every branch of the corporation) were matched by an equal number of specialists, almost all (and maybe all) of whom could be said to have come from the ‘we must supportKyoto’ school of climate change activists.
So far as I can recall I was alone in being a climate change sceptic (nothing like a denier, by the way) on both the science and policy response.
I was frankly appalled by the level of ignorance of the issue which the BBC people showed. I mean that I heard nothing that made me think any of them read any broadsheet newspaper coverage of the topic (except maybe the Guardian and that lazily). Though they purported to be aware that this was an immensely important topic, it seemed to me that none of them had shown even a modicum of professional journalistic curiosity on the subject. I am not saying that I knew what they all knew or thought, but I can say that I spent the day discussing the issue and don’t recall anyone showing any sign of having read anything serious at all” (BBC Submission)”
Andrew Montford and Tony Newbery made a submission to a BBC review of science reporting where they go into greater detail of the issues and the further background to this seminar (here). Yet, the BBC does seem to have taken a ‘side’ in the climate change debate a very long time before this. In 1999 we have this, again to Mike Hulme at UEA. The BBC seeking to find ‘information’ on sceptics what their ‘vested interest’ might be and instant rebuttals to the arguments.
“… Thanks for taking part in the Global Warming thing yesterday morning. I’m sorry the treatment is always so superficial on these occasions, but that I suppose is the level of the public debate.
Nevertheless, the item did bring one sceptic out of the woodwork.
Have you come across him? If you know where he’s coming from, any vested interests, etc, I would be very grateful … indeed, I would be interested in any list of sceptics you may have.
Do you have, or have you ever thought of producing, a rebuttal document outlining in simple terms the fallacies in the various arguments that the sceptics use? I’m sure weather forecasters, specialists journalists, etc, would be very grateful to lay their hands on something like that.” (email 4689)
The gentleman that came out of the ‘woodwork’, they refer to, was later subject to some ‘investigative’ journalism by The Times and was ‘outed as a sceptic’ in the media.
The BBC environment/science team clearly felt more aligned with the climate scientists at UEA, in 2004 Alex Kirby wrote to Phil Jones, making it quite clear his contempt for ‘sceptics (ie loonies) at a time when the BBC as a whole seems to try to have some impartiality for ‘balance’ but it is clearly failing.
“Yes, glad you stopped this — I was sent it too, and decided to
spike it without more ado as pure stream-of-consciousness rubbish.
I can well understand your unhappiness at our running the other piece.
But we are constantly being savaged by the loonies for not giving them any coverage at all, especially as you say with the COP in the offing, and being the objective impartial (ho ho) BBC that we are, there is an expectation in some quarters that we will every now and then let them
I hope though that the weight of our coverage makes it clear that we think they are talking through their hats” (email 4894)
Note this in the run up to a climate conference (political), so that an attitude like this seems to prevailed at the BBC for a number of years, and the facts that many people even perceive that the BBC has a culture of ‘bias’ should be of a serious concern to the BBC Trust. The emails do seem to support the views of a few BBC journalists that have discussed this publically.
“People who know a lot more than I do may be right when they claim that [global warming] is the consequence of our own behaviour. I assume that this is why the BBC’s coverage of the issue abandoned the pretence of impartiality long ago” – Jeremy Paxman
“For me, though, the most worrying aspect of political correctness was over the story that recurred with increasing frequency during my last ten years at the BBC — global warming (or ‘climate change’, as it became known when temperatures appeared to level off or fall slightly after 1998).
From the beginning I was unhappy at how one-sided the BBC’s coverage of the issue was, and how much more complicated the climate system was than the over-simplified two-minute reports that were the stock-in-trade of the BBC’s environment correspondents” – Peter Sissons
The BBC and broken Hockey Stick?
In March 2006 the BBC aired a program called Meltdown, (Youtube here) where the presenter posed as a mildly sceptical individual, trying to resolve the arguments for and against man-made climate change. The culmination of the program was the hockey stick graph, with the intention to show clear and unprecedented ‘dangerous’ climate change and that previous warm periods like the Medieval Warm Period were minimised.
The fact that the ‘hockey stick’ had been discredited seems lost on the BBC, and they go to a scientist very clearly on one side of the debate to explain it to the viewer. No mention of the controversy, no mention of McIntyre & McKitrick’s papers and in fact the BBC producer is telling Briffa what he must do to convey the message of the program, to discredit sceptical ideas and convince the viewer of the consensus scientific arguments.
Hi Keith, [Briffa]
Good to talk to you this morning. Just a few thoughts to reiterate what we’re hoping to get out of filming tomorrow.
1) Your interview appears at a crucial point in the film. Up until now our presenter (Paul Rose, he’ll be there tomorrow) has followed two conflicting thoughts. On the one hand he’s understood that the world is currently getting warmer.
But on the other he’s discovered lots of historical stories (the Bronze Age, the MWP, the LIA) which tell him that climate changes naturally all the time. In trying to resolve this paradox he’s come across this thing called the hockey stick curve, and he’s come to you to explain it to him.
2) Your essential job is to “prove” to Paul that what we’re experiencing now is NOT just another of those natural fluctuations we’ve seen in the past. The hockey stick curve is a crucial piece of evidence because it shows how abnormal the present period is – the present
warming is unprecedented in speed and amplitude, something like that.
This is a very bigmoment in the film when Paul is finally convinced of the reality of man made global
3) The hockey stick curve shows that what Paul thought were big climate events (the Bronze Age maximum, the MWP, the LIA) actually when looked at in a global context weren’t quite as dramatic as he thought. They’re there, but they are nothing like as sudden or big.
4) Paul can question you on things like: How reliable is the hockey stick curve? How do you work out past climate (cue for you to talk about proxies)? What drives all the “natural”
fluctations in climate (this can be answered in very broad terms eg it’s down to changes in the sun’s output, volcanoes etc)
5) In terms of filming my first choice is to do it as a projection in Zicer, where you show the Mann curve, then flick up as many other ones as you think are important (within reason!) and elaborate the point that what’s happening now is unprecedented compared to these historic records. In my ideal world, you walk right up to the projector image and
point things out on the screen, with parts of the projected image falling on your heads and shoulders. Stills of tree rings or anything else climate related eg ice cores, corals,
would also work as powerpoints, because you could talk about them as egs of proxies.
Hopefully this makes it clear what I’m trying to achieve.” (email 1683)
Looking back on this I wonder how Keith Briffa felt about this request, as in the original emails, he was disagreeing with other scientist and saying he thought it might be as least as warm a thousand years ago.
In the second tranche of climategate emails we again see a debate about the problems with various hockey stick reconstructions, and debate about the Medieval Warm Period and McIntyre and McKitrick’s role are discussed and acknowledged privately.
“… How should we deal with flaws inside the climate community? I think, that “our” reaction on the errors found in Mike Mann’s work were not especially honest…”
(email 1656 -Mauran)
extract: “I thought I’d play around with some randomly generated time-series and see if I could ‘reconstruct’ northern hemisphere temperatures. […] The reconstructions clearly show a ‘hockey-stick’ trend. I guess this is precisely the phenomenon that McIntyre has been going on about.” – (email 4241 – Wilson)
extract: “I’m sure you agree–the Mann/Jones GRL paper was truly pathetic and should never have been published. I don’t want to be associated with that 2000 year
“reconstruction” (email 3373 – Bradley)
“Is the PCA approach robust? Are the results statistically significant? It seems to me that in the case of MBH the answer in each is no” ( email 4241-Wilson)
The importance of the Hockey Stick type graph as a climate change icon of the IPCC, are that they ‘show’ that modern temps are ‘unprecedented and dangerous, and that previously thought warmer periods like the MWP were not comparable to now. Of course if they were as warm, what caused the warming would be unexplained predominantly natural processes, this is why certain members of the ‘hockey stick team’ seem to defend it almost beyond rationality. Candor expressed privately to Phil Jones below
“In all candor now, I think that Mike is becoming a serious enemy in the way that he bends the ears of people like Tom with words like “flawed” when describing my work and probably your and Keith’s [Briffa] as well. This is in part a vindictive response to the Esper et al. paper. He also went crazy over my recent NZ paper describing evidence for a MWP there because he sees it as another attack on him. Maybe I am over-reacting to this, but I don’t think
so.” – (email 4101 – Cook)
If the BBC is just using the same small group of scientists very much on a core IPCC consensus side of the debate, are they even aware of the issues, or just convinced by their trusted contacts explanations?
Have the BBC ‘gone native’ in the reporting of Climate Change?
I believe the climategate email correspondence between the BBC and UEA scientists, demonstrate an occupational hazard for all journalists, especially those that specialise in a subject over may years. That journalists become part of the ‘bubble’ ie economics, business, environment, science and especially politics. The danger is being too familiar with their sources over many years and sometimes reliant on the same names again and again and generally trust that ‘voice of authority’.
And especially in a subject like ‘climate change’ and environment, as journalists who are interested in the environment, perhaps easily drift into becoming advocates for an environmental message instead of being reporters of it and ultimately, perhaps this leads championing ‘the cause’.
An environmental journalist wrote an interesting article last year, that demonstrates the reaction amongst non environmental journalists in news organisations, including the Guardian and BBC:
“here’s how some senior journalists described what it was like in their newsrooms after hacking:
“sense of betrayal”
thought we’d “gone native”
“you told me the science was settled – and it isn’t!”
“Climate-gate was extremely damaging in many ways. It gave the impression that journalists had been duped.”
This bubble effect was very apparent in the UK’s Member of Parliament’s expenses scandal, where the political journalists were very slow to react, going to their usual sources, with responses of concentrate on catching the leaker (hacker) and nothing to see, just a non-story. Credit was mainly due to Heather Brookes who investigated for 5 years pursuing (with FOI) to get to that story.
“Heather Brooke is an award-winning writer, journalist and activist. Her unprecedented five-year campaign for the full disclosure of MPs’ expenses led to a full-scale reform of the Parliamentary expense system.” – Heathers blog
I mention Heather Brookes, as she felt the weight of the University of East Anglia attempts to control the media message again, when they complained to her Guardian editor, for mentioning them (just one sentence) in a piece about the University of Stirling.
They’d had a complaint – not from Stirling University, the subject of the piece, but from the University of East Anglia which occupied a whole ONE SENTENCE of my article. The offending section reads thus:
[Guardian] “This is not the first time a university has tried to hide from FoI. The University of East Anglia breached the Freedom of Information Act when handling requests by climate change sceptics (the university escaped prosecution because the case came to light outside the six-month time limit for cases to be brought). – Heather Brookes
Heather Brooke wrote about the shear gall of UEA in complaining about this and her amazement at UEA attempts to seek a correction, in light of what even the enquiries found about FOI and UEA’s, Heather writes about it in some amusing detail on her blog.(here)
This is not the first time that the University tried to media manage a climate message and the idea that scientists were exonerated by a number of enquiries. James Delingpole fought off and won against, a UEA press complaint a little while back on similar themes ( FOI and email deletion) which also prompted a concern about scientists ‘Lawering Up’ at Prof. Judith Curry’s blog, Climate Etc.
The other danger for large corporations like the BBC, is they will seek the advice of their own specialist correspondents or analysts for other areas of programing and the views can become ingrained in the organisation (like a groupthink effect).
An example perhaps is shown here, a BBC journalist writing to The Tyndall Centre and Mike Hulme with respect to advice about – Reinventing Economic Coverage
“My colleague Roger Harrabin suggested I contact you.
I am about to spend several months attempting to answer the following question for senior BBC managers: If we were to reinvent economics coverage from scratch, TODAY, incorporating what we now know (or think we know) about global environmental and economic trends… what would it look like?
In recent years, I have watched an environmental undertow beginning to tug at economies around the world..” (email 1428)
At the time of writing this, was the BBC journalist aware that Roger Harrabin’s CMEP was being funded by Tyndall Centre to comunicate its thoughts to the media and at the BBC? And that her BBC colleague that recommended the Tyndall Centre and Mike Hulme as a contact, was actually on the Advisory Board of the Tyndall Centre and Mike Hulme was signing the invoices for funding CMEP.
Did she realise, or even care, that this relationship puts the BBC Trust in an impossible position in defending it’s impartiality to the general public? The CMEP seminars seem to have been very succesful in persuading the BBC to change it stance and policies in the reporting of ‘climate change’ as described by Dr Joe Smith’s in his OU profile: (h/t DAvid Holland)
“The seminars have been publicly credited with catalysing significant changes in the tone and content of BBC outputs across platforms and with leading directly to specific and major innovations in programming,” - Dr Joe Smith
“It has had a major impact on the willingness of the BBC to raise these issues for discussion. Joe Smith and I are now wondering whether we can help other journalists to perform a similar role in countries round the world” – Roger Harrabin
In defence of the BBC
In the original climategate emails one email gave a glimpse of the ‘hockey stick’ teams apparent thoughts on their relationship with the BBC. When the BBC’s Paul Hudson wrote an article – Whatever Happened to Global Warming, it drew some interesting responses. not least this one from Michael Mann:
“extremely disappointing to see something like this appear on BBC. its particularly odd, since climate is usually Richard Black’s beat at BBC (and he does a great job). from what I can tell, this guy was formerly a weather person at the Met Office.
We may do something about this on RealClimate, but meanwhile it might be appropriate for the Met Office to have a say about this, I might ask Richard Black what’s up here? -“email 0248 – Mann)
(note, this email was released in both sets of climategate emails,)
I thought at the time, the relationship between the BBC and a group of climate scientist was perhaps too close, if they felt that the BBC did a good job and I wondered if Steve Mcintyre, for example, had this sort of access or relationship.
In defence of the BBC, they are not exactly the only media group or journalists that have perhaps stepped from reporting ‘climate change’ to being advocates of ‘climate change’. I am totally convinced that all at the BBC are honestly motivated and sincere in their reporting (no conspiracies here), they have just succumbed to the ‘catastrophic man made climate change’ cutural phenonmen, as it could be argued have very many public and private organisations and of course the political establishment (especially in the UK) over many years.
I imagine, if I was in their position over a number of years, of meeting very many scientists, government scientific advisors, heads of scientific institutions, politicians attending climate conferences, reporting on scientific institution with a position on climate change, what would I think? All whilst in a surrounding popular culture where ‘climate change’ has become the environmental concern of the day.
Would I have paid much attention, to a retired Canadian mining engineer, or a former USA weatherman with a blog. Very probably not, especially in the early years. Ultimately my concern IS NOT with any of the individuals mentioned in the emails or this article, I do believe ALL of them have acted with the very best intentions and are totally sincere.
Ie, Roger Harrabin who has received much criticism recently, must be given credit for being intellectually honest and professional in reporting this encounter after a press briefing:
“On the remaining point – Mr Gore’s implication that ice core records prove that CO2 rises drove shifts in Ice Ages – the judge is spot on.
“…..I challenged Mr Gore about this in an interview for the BBC’s Newsnight programme in March.
He responded, accurately, that scientists believe that CO2 is now driving climate change – but that was not what his misleading historical graph showed…….”
“…. And after the interview he [Gore] and his assistant stood over me shouting that my questions had been scurrilous, and implying that I was some sort of climate-sceptic traitor….. ” – Roger Harrabin Oct 2007
This demonstrated to me Roger Harrabin is a professional, if someone was intentionally promoting a cause, they would not have reported it. (this incident was also referred to in the BBC’s Uncertain Climate, recently)
I believe, if there is one theme to come out of the new emails, I think it is of the increasing pressure on climate scientists over very many years, to provide a simple message to the media, lobbyists and politicians, whilst many of the ‘sceptical’ issues are discussed privately.
Perhaps the BBC and the entire media should pause a moment to reflect on just these two climategate emails and take a fresh look and re-evaluate:
Michael Mann, talking about sceptics, ref the Realclimate blog
“….but the important thing is to make sure they’re loosing the PR battle. That’s what the site is about…..” (email 1485)
“…but I also think the science is being manipulated to put a political spin on it which for all our sakes might not be too clever in the long run.” (email 3066)
Perhaps all ‘climate scientists’ and ‘climate change scientists’ (ref) should also now consider whether RealClimate really represents their best interests, or just a very small group of scientists.
It is very easy to be angry with the BBC, or individuals. I do believe it is more productive to be patient and civil and try to encourage the media to take a fresh look at their own pre-conceptions.
I would no doubt be considered partisan myself, a sceptic, writing for a sceptical blog, but I think any reasonable observer would consider the points made, as of concern and should be looked at afresh.
I do hope that the BBC trust takes a serious look at all the issues raised, again, about the perception of bias in the BBC’s reporting of climate change.
(Note – I have purposely not linked to the emails, just quoted a reference number, should any link get broken in the future)