Carl Wunsch, whose complaint is considered by Ofcom here page 70), is a distinguished scientist. Wunsch read a copy of our GRL paper prior to publication and commented favorably on it, though he was not prepared to provide any public support. A couple of his papers show the peculiar results that red noise series can produce – an approach arguably similar in spirit to our critique of Mannian PC analysis. (In the discussion of the handling of trends in AR4, the position of Wunsch’s opponents is unaccountably preferred to Wunsch’s.) I met Wunsch briefly in San Francisco; he was a mentor to Peter Huybers, who introduced me to him. Many of his quotes in the Ofcom decision are similar to points that I’ve made here.
Ofcom provided an interesting account of how Wunsch got involved with Swindle, which has obviously been a very radicalizing experience for him.
The issues in the Wunsch complaint were different than the accuracy complaint. They were:
1) whether Wunsch was sufficiently informed about the nature of the film to give informed consent. Here they considered Practice 7.3 which stated:
“Where a person is invited to make a contribution to a programme (except when the subject matter is trivial or their participation minor) they should normally, at an appropriate stage: be told the nature and purpose of the programme, what the programme is about and be given a clear explanation of why they were asked to contribute.”
2) whether the programme misrepresented his views, with Ofcom considering separately at the way “the programme presented Professor Wunsch’s general views and those specifically relating to the presence of CO2 in the ocean.” Here Ofcom relied on Practice 7.6 which states that:
“When a programme is edited, contributions should be represented fairly.”
How Wunsch Came to Be Involved
In Sept 2006, the producers sent Wunsch an email, which Ofcom described as follows:
The Committee noted that Professor Wunsch had been contacted initially by the programme makers via email on 15 September 2006. The initial email advised Professor Wunsch that they were producing a programme “about the climate change debate” and that they had read reports about the “effects of climate change on the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt and the Gulf Stream, and wanted to ask if you agree with the conclusions that they are in imminent danger of shutting down”. The letter went on to say that “We are looking for a contributor to talk to us about whether global warming is having a detrimental effect on the oceans or if it is just the case that we don’t yet have enough information to make it a full gone [sic] conclusion”.
Wunsch promptly replied on Sept 18, 2006 referring to a popular representation of the Gulf Stream as a “fairy tale for grown ups”:
He responded that this was “absolutely not” the case, stating that “you can’t turn the Gulf Stream off as long as the wind blows over the North Atlantic and the earth continues to rotate!” and went on to describe the ‘conveyor’ as “a kind of fairy-tale for grownups”. Professor Wunsch said that “I’m willing to talk about these things. I believe that there are all kinds of things happening in the oceans, many highly troubling, but I also believe that one should distinguish what the science tells us and what is merely fantasy”.
It sounds like things started off on pretty friendly terms. Channel 4 said in its evidence (and I saw no evidence that Wunsch denied this):
the programme makers swapped anecdotes with him about the absurd apocalyptic reporting of the global warming scare in the press and TV. Channel 4 said the programme makers also informed the complainant of other contributors who it said were well-known for their critical views on the theory of man-made global warming
The parties had a a telephone conversation, memorialized in a contemporary email (which Ofcom accepted as a plausible rendering of the conversation):
“We are making a feature length documentary about global warming for Channel Four in the UK. The aim of the film is to examine critically the notion that recent global warming is primarily caused by industrial emissions of CO2. It explores the scientific evidence which jars with this hypothesis and explores alternative theories such as solar induced climate change. Given the seemingly inconclusive nature of the evidence, it examines the background to the apparent consensus on this issue, and highlights the dangers involved, especially to developing nations, of policies aimed at limiting growth.”
“We would like to do an interview with you to discuss the notion that there is a scientific consensus on the effects of global warming on the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt, the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Drift. It has been widely reported that Britain and Western Europe could soon be plunged into a mini ice age, and we would like to show that this is simply not true that they will shut down.
We would like to talk to you about the numerical models and whether they give us a realistic perspective of the impact of climate change on our oceans. We would also like to talk to you about the ‘memory’ of oceans and how it can take varying amounts of time for a disturbance to be readable in the North Atlantic.
Fundamentally, we would like to ask you whether scientists have enough information about the complex nature of our climate system. Do the records go back far enough to identify climate information about the complex nature of our climate system? Do the records go back far enough to identify climate trends, and can we conclusively separate human induced change from natural change?”
So far, everything seems on track. Ofcom also found that the correspondence made it clear that the producers were approaching things from a “skeptical” viewpoint and this had been made clear to Wunsch:
It was also clear from the correspondence that the programme makers intended to do this through exploring theories which went against the scientific consensus and through looking at the potential dangers (in light of the inconclusive evidence of man-made climate change) of policies aimed at limiting industrial growth. The Committee noted that the recorded interview with Professor Wunsch also proceeded on this basis.
Ofcom examined the unedited and edited interview footage. They determined that the topics discussed with Wunsch were in fact the topics listed in the original email and that these were the same topics that Wunsch is shown commenting on:
The Committee noted from the unedited recording of Professor Wunsch’s interview that these were indeed the topics that were raised with the complainant, and were the same ones which Professor Wunsch was shown commenting on in the programme as broadcast.
The Committee noted a number of Wunsch’s statements, which, on their face, are ones that many CA readers would agree with:
“The models are so complicated you can often adjust them in such a way that they do something very exciting.”
“…So there is a bias, there is a very powerful bias within the media and within the science community itself towards results which are dramatisable [sic].”
“I agree that there’s a very serious risk here [with global warming]. But where I begin to disagree is where people say “the data shows” or “my model proves that”, it’s not at that level.
that it is not yet possible to prove that particular changes in our environment are being caused by human industrial activity, and that the media tended to favour those scientific predictions which warned of disaster.”
On many occasions, I’ve observed that, unlike many readers, if I were a policy maker, I would be guided by the advice of major institutions, even if I had personal reservations about the quality of work. Wunsch took a not dis-similar stance:
“most of the time consensus is at least operationally the correct way to proceed, it’s [the issue that is] the need apparently for consensus in the midst of the turmoil of science that is advancing rather more slowly…than we would like.”
So Wunsch obviously contemplated that some sort of “skeptic” production was within the realm of acceptable discourse. Rive and William Connolley would still have hated anything along the lines of what was described in the original Wunsch correspondence. But there was obviously some sort of line that Wunsch felt could be taken. So precisely where did things go awry?
Wunsch’s third and most serious allegation, where he accused the producers of coming “close to fraud”, was characterized by Ofcom as follows:
Professor Wunsch said that the programme makers used his contribution, through its context, to imply that CO2 was all natural, coming from the ocean, and that therefore the human element is irrelevant. Professor Wunsch said he had told the programme makers that a warming ocean could expel more CO2 than it absorbs – thus worryingly exacerbating the greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere. Professor Wunsch said that the use of his remarks in this way came close to fraud.
This accusation was rejected in its entirety as follows:
However, in the Committee’s opinion Professor Wunsch’s comments in this respect had not been primarily to warn of the dangers of warming the ocean (as Professor Wunsch had suggested in his complaint). Rather the references had been used to make the point that the relationship between carbon dioxide and atmospheric temperature is complicated. In the Committee’s view, it was entirely at the programme maker’s editorial discretion to decide whether to include these comments in the programme.
In relation to Head b(ii) the Committee therefore found that the programme maker’s editing of Professor Wunsch’s comments about the presence of CO2 in the ocean did not result in unfairness in the programme as broadcast. Accordingly the Committee did not uphold this part of Professor Wunsch’s complaint.
Although Ofcom rejected this complaint, Wunsch’s other two complaints were upheld. Ofcom found that Wunsch had not been adequately warned under Practice 7.3 of the aggressive polemical turn that the production itself would take and for which there was little hint in his correspondence and actual interview. Ofcom:
it found no indication that Professor Wunsch had been informed of the polemical line that the programme would take, for example that the programme would state that the public was “being told lies” and the “scientific evidence does not support the notion that climate is driven by carbon dioxide, man-made or otherwise”. In the circumstances, the Committee considered that Professor Wunsch was not provided with adequate information to enable him to give informed consent for his participation.
While Wunsch may well have been naive, the obligation to comply with Practice 7.3 rested with the producers regardless of potential naivete on Wunsch’s part. I’m sure that Wunsch was bullied by climate scientists of all stripes after the fact, but I’m sure that his complaint was not due to this bullying but to a sincere belief that he had not been properly informed. Under UK legislation, he was entitled to complain to Ofcom and did so. The unfortunate outcome of this seems to have been the radicalization of Wunsch, who now sounds as strident as anyone else, and it will take him a long time to chill out.
The final issue related to whether there had been selective editing that breached Practice 7.6 by forming an inaccurate overall impression of Wunsch’s views was conveyed. Ofcom quoted the following comments from the unedited interview that hadn’t been used, finding that the failure to represent this aspect of Wunsch’s position was unfair in the context of the production.
“So it isn’t the consensus per se that is the issue, and most of the time consensus is at least operationally the correct way to proceed, it’s [the issue that is] the need apparently for consensus in the midst of the turmoil of science that is advancing rather more slowly…than we would like.”
“The consensus that emerges through the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] process is generally a reasonable one. But very little of it can actually be proven in the sense that one might say, okay, I can demonstrate to you that Newton’s laws of motion will describe the flight of a ball…”
“I believe a consensus of most scientists who work in climate, given that it is a rather young science, without sufficiently long records, is that there is a very real threat of global warming. Most of the data we have do show that the Earth is warming up, has been warming roughly over the last 100 years. The extent to which this is anthropogenic is the subject of fierce debate. There is a consensus I think of the great majority of scientists that there’s strong evidence that a big part of it, if not most of it, is anthropogenic…And even were it to turn out that it was natural, the threat to humans is very much the same. And one might argue that there has been too much debate about whether it is anthropogenic and whether is it natural and too little attention paid, first of all what are we going to do if this continues to happen? Because there will be real effect on human beings even if it were natural.”
“The healthy science says that, “yeah, there is a working story, but at the same time there are problems with it”, and it’s quite possible that many of the elements that go into the consensus in ten years’ time will be understood actually not to have been true or as accurate as people thought.”
Thus although Ofcom found that the programme fairly represented Wunsch’s view in respect to the matters discussed on air, they found that the exclusion of other views in the context of the program amounted to selective editing. That seems fair enough to me. Lots of people feel that they were ill used in a program but don’t believe that they are in a position to do anything about it. In this case, there was legislation enabling Wunsch to make a complaint. Wunsch did so and received a fair hearing. Would that we’d been so lucky in our FOI requests.
Readers should note that Wunsch’s complaint had nothing to do with the long Rive et al complaint. Wunsch’s complaint was about personal unfairness under Practice 7.3 and 7.6. Ofcom’s findings in respect to Wunsch, which seem reasonable enough to me, have nothing to do with their findings (virtually total rejection) of the Rive complaint – which again seems reasonable enough to me.
Tomorrow, I’ll finish off with a discussion of the IPCC finding, where there is an interesting link to our FOI inquiries.