In February 2017, the London-based tabloid Daily Mail published an article by David Rose with the headline “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” The piece, which has been shared online nearly 200,000 times, accused the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of breaching “its own rules on scientific integrity” to promote a “flawed report” that purposely “exaggerated global warming and was timed to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change.”
The story apparently inspired Congressman Lamar Smith (R-TX), a climate-change “skeptic” who chairs the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, to issue a press release titled “Former NOAA Scientist Confirms Colleagues Manipulated Climate Records.” There and on Twitter, Smith attacked NOAA for playing “fast and loose” with the evidence in order to support the Obama administration’s “costly climate agenda.” Smith wrote to NOAA demanding more documents to determine “whether the science at NOAA is objective and free from political interference.” Based on the fact that it had “cheated and got caught,” he insisted that the American Association for the Advancement of Science “redact” the NOAA study.
The thing is, the Daily Mail article was bullshit. Its single source, retired NOAA scientist John Bates, denied its thesis, which was that NOAA had tampered with its data. His only complaint was with the report’s timing, which he said looked rushed to coincide with the Paris climate summit.
So far, this sounds like so many of the other “he said/she said” stories that we see in our mainstream media, where lies, false equivalences, and pseudo-science trump observable reality.
In England, however, media institutions belong to the Independent Press Standards Organisation, an impartial regulator that accepts complaints about phony stories and follows them up with the alleged offenders. And the IPSO has real power; it creates a record for future researchers and can publicly embarrass reporters. In this case, it forced a lengthy mea culpa: The Daily Mail admitted that its putative exposé “failed to take care over the accuracy of the article” or fix “significantly misleading statements.” It’s not a perfect solution—the correction was shared only about 300 times—but it’s better than nothing.