Erring on the side of tabloidism | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist
Erring on the side of tabloidism
The horrid misreporting on the case of the British judge
and An Inconvenient Truth
Posted by David Roberts at 12:45 PM on 12 Oct 2007

There are three things you’re unlikely to learn from the mainstream media about the Case of the Nine Errors, wherein a British judge is said to have taken issue with the accuracy of An Inconvenient Truth.

1. The parent who filed the suit, Stewart Dimmock, is a member of a far-right political group with ties to a leading U.K. skeptic group, the one behind The Great Global Warming Swindle.

2. The judge rejected the lawsuit and called the movie “broadly accurate.”

3. The “errors” weren’t errors.

Tim Lambert has the definitive take on this:

Let’s look at what [High Court Judge Michael] Burton really wrote (my emphasis):

[Dimmock’s lawyer] Mr. Downes produced a long schedule of such alleged errors or exaggerations and waxed lyrical in that regard. It was obviously helpful for me to look at the film with his critique in hand.

In the event I was persuaded that only some of them were sufficiently persuasive to be relevant for the purposes of his argument, and it was those matters — nine in all — upon which I invited Mr. Chamberlain to concentrate. It was essential to appreciate that the hearing before me did not relate to an analysis of the scientific questions, but to an assessment of whether the ‘errors’ in question, set out in the context of a political film, informed the argument on ss406 and 407. All these nine ‘errors’ that I now address are not put in the context of the evidence of Professor Carter and the Claimant’s case, but by reference to the IPCC report and the evidence of Dr Stott.

If you noticed the quotation marks around ‘error,’ then you are more observant than all of the journalists I listed above. Burton is not saying that there are errors; he is just referring to the things that Downes alleged were errors. Burton puts quote marks around ‘error’ 17 more times in his judgement. Notice also the emphasized part — Burton is not even trying to decide whether they are errors or not. This too seems to have escaped the journalists’ attention. (And yes, that was Bob Carter mentioned there.)

So what is Burton assessing in his judgement? Well, s407 says that where political issues are involved, there should be “a balanced presentation of opposing views,” so Burton states that the government should make it clear when “there is a view to the contrary, i.e. (at least) the mainstream view.” Burton calls these “errors or departures from the mainstream.”

So contrary to all the reporters’ claims, Burton did not find that there were nine scientific errors in AIT, but that there were nine points that might be errors or where differing views should be presented for balance.

Lambert goes on to look closely at the nine contended points. His conclusion:

Overall, there are a couple of points where I wish Gore would have talked about timescales and probabilities (sea level rise and thermohaline circulation), and a couple of examples that could have been better chosen (Kilimanjaro and Lake Chad). Burton was mistaken on the other points where he felt that Gore went past the consensus. I don’t think that there is any harm in the Guidance Notes on Burton’s nine points, but the usual suspects will, of course, ignore the fact that the judge found that Gore was “broadly accurate” and try to make it look as if there are serious problems with AIT and climate science.

Out of this — a judge rejects the suit, but finds nine points in the film he thinks differ slightly from the consensus, and it turns out he’s wrong about several and the others were at best matters of interpretation, omission, or insufficient context — the mainstream media pulled, in the words of an AP headline I saw earlier this evening, “Judge Says Gore Movie Not Scientific” (it has since been changed).
Your media at work, folks.

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