Thursday, 11 October 2007

Overstated science - but political agenda

The British media are currently full of the news of a court case in which a Kent school governor, Stewart Dimmock, has obtained a high court judgement relating to Al Gore's climate change film, An Inconvenient Truth. See, for instance, the BBC's Gore climate film's 'nine errors', the Daily Mail's Labour 'is brainwashing pupils with Al Gore climate change film' says father in court, or the Telegraph's Al Gore's climate change film 'is propaganda'.
      The thrust of the story is that the film contained nine points that didn't reflect scientific consensus, so it has to be shown with this proviso made clear. However, this in itself may not be what it seems, given the repeated tendency of news reportage to polarise equivocal or balance-of-probability statements into clear-cut ones; William M. Connolley at Stoat - The boring truth - has examined some of the judgement and concluded that it has been "badly, consistently and lazily reported".
      The important thing to note is that the conclusion is not, as you'd imagine from the coverage, that the film is horribly error-ridden. The judgement stated: "It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme", that its propositions "are supported by a vast quantity of research published in peer-reviewed journals worldwide and by the great majority of the world's climate scientists" and that "Al Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate". Here is the judgement - Dimmock v Secretary of State for Education & Skills [2007] EWHC 2288 (Admin) (10 October 2007). It mentions the Claimant's expert as a "Professor Carter" - could it be Bob Carter?
      One area of laziness, or perhaps lack of will, is failure to fully analyse the political agendas. The BBC piece ignores this aspect entirely; the others explore only those of Gore and the UK government. The newspapers play the "common man" card, making prominent mention that Mr Dimmock is a father of two, a lorry driver, and a school governor, but are extremely coy about exploring his membership of The New Party, a political organisation which gave support to his campaign and whose website newsdesk is closely following this story. Just for a spot of background, The Scotsman delved into the origins of The New Party over three years ago - The rich recluse masterminding Britain's new party - finding it to be originated and its launch funded by a right-wing anti-environmentalist, Robert Wilson Menzies Durward, who was also behind an anti-environmentalist pressure group called the Scientific Alliance - see Hard rockers (Guardian July 11, 2001) and the SourceWatch profile. None of this, unsurprisingly, is mentioned in The New Party's UKPRwire press release on the case
      Of course it's possible that this connection is irrelevant and Mr Dimmock, completely independently and altruistically, just broke open his piggy bank, and a few nice people helped him stump up a couple of hundred thousand pounds on litigation for the utterly neutral purpose of stopping the use of political materials in teaching (and also to set up a website of mysteriously-obfuscated ownership, Straight Teaching, to the same end), and it all just happens to pertain to global warming. Or it's a move in a propaganda war by a fringe political party, with known anti-environmentalist roots, against a prominent and popular documentary expressing, and dramatising to some extent, the scientific consensus on global warming. You decide.

Addendum, October 12: Meanwhile, the news came out today that Gore and UN panel win Nobel prize: Al Gore and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee said they had been chosen for "their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change". One might wonder if the timing of this case was deliberately chosen to undermine this achievement as, the BBC reports, "this year speculation was high that the recipient would be linked to climate change campaigns".
      The blog Obsolete has followed up in more detail who is involved in The New Party and what its policies are: it was enough for me to see that their website cites essays by Melanie Philips of the Daily Mail.

Further addendum, October 12: I see Spinwatch has come to the same conclusions: see Revealed: The Hidden Agenda Behind Al Gore Attack. Today it continued its coverage with BBC Messes Up Again on Gore Story, reporting that "Radio Four’s flagship lunch-time [The World At One] news programme invited Martin Livermore from the Scientific Alliance to give an interview on Gore winning the Nobel Prize", even asking Livermore about the court case. The BBC failed to make the connection that, as described above, the Scientific Alliance and The New Party supporting Mr Dimmock's court case come from exactly the same stable.

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