Science and Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Daily Mail (CLC071)

1. How should climate scientists communicate their findings?

Does the media make effective use of scientists when covering the debate about climate science?

Are there any scientific voices missing in the debate?

The Daily Mail’s science and environment correspondents read the major academic journals every day and report on papers which we believe are important and will interest our readers, Correspondents usually interview the author of the scientific paper, and other experts in that field, on the phone to ask them questions about their research and its wider significance. They also make use of the independent Science Media Centre which organises panels of scientists a once or twice a week to give their opinions on a topic or report and take questions from journalists, and provides reaction from scientists to articles authored by their colleagues. Climate change is no exception to this and our reporters regularly interview climate scientists and other researchers whose work has an impact on the climate, and report on their work. Like most scientists, climate scientists generally send out press releases about their published research in advance, and offer to speak to journalists about it, which is always appreciated. There are very few scientists in this field who publicly challenge the consensus about climate change. One example is Professor Judith Curry from the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology who speaks to the media about her concerns that 1998 was the hottest year on record and there has been little warming since so she is often quoted.

The Science Media Centre gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry and I am aware that they highly value the Daily Mail as a supporter.

2. Scientists usually come top of professions that are most trusted by the general public in surveys. Why is that different in the climate debate?

What are your trusted information sources on climate?

Is there a tendency on both sides of debate to demonise the opposition?

Reporters covering all science issues including climate change should give an impression of how much agreement there is and how important a piece of research is in the wider context of that field. In climate science there is almost universal agreement that the climate is changing, and humans are having some impact on it, but not on its pace and scale and possible future effects. Just because the public trust scientists does not mean every piece of research by every scientist should be reported as fact—science is all about probabilities and it is our job to explain the debate and how it is changing. For example the scientist James Lovelock whose influential books suggested that there would be imminent disaster from global warning in the coming years has since moderated his stance as reported here- Most science published in newspapers is based on material published in a peer-reviewed journal, further explained in an interview or conference presentation.

3. What is your opinion of mass media coverage of climate?

Is it possible for our major broadcasters to function as trusted voices on issues such as climate?

How should we decide on what weight sceptical voices should be given in the mass media?

Climate science has changed dramatically in recent years—there are now departments at universities around the world devoted to what was previously a niche issue. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has around 800 scientists. But it is also a political issue. It is linked to rising energy bills for homes and businesses, to aid to the developing world, and feeds in to the debate about renewable energy (for example whether in cutting carbon emissions it damages the environment in other ways). For example in 2009 the “Climategate” controversy scientists at the University of East Anglia were exonerated of wrongdoing by a number of inquiries, but it is clear from their emails to and from government departments and the Met Office that they were discussing how their scientific findings fitted alongside political developments and international negotiations. It is important to explain uncertainties and changes to the science and expose where there may be a political agenda.

On sceptical voices, there are very few serious scientists who deny the climate is changing. But what is causing it, how fast is happening and what we do about it is controversial. When quoting those with well-known sceptical views such as Lord Lawson, we usually refer to him a climate change sceptic.

We note that according to last month’s Spectator he complained that a meeting of scientists at the Lords was held without reporters being present to record the differing views of scientists.

4. James Painters research has found that press coverage in the UK has become increasingly polarised—why is this?

Do you consider the public are sensitive to the differences between reportage, informed commentary and polemic?

Controversy and dissent sells—isn’t this the reason the proportion of sceptical commentary in the press is much greater than the weight of science output might warrant?

Climate science is used by government and others to justify higher energy bills; construction of wind farms, green taxes on businesses which can affect jobs; and closures of coal-fired power stations. When a subject becomes more prominent in public debate, and has considerable political and economic implications, then controversies will come to the fore. As far as the Painter report is concerned we would take issue with information provided in 2009 in regard to this paper and the reporting of Copenhagen.

To my knowledge the only Daily Mail editorial on the subject is the one attached to this email. It says “this paper keeps an open mind on climate change”. Some columnists have doubted it in opinion pieces under their own name such as this article by Christopher Booker Others say it is real and serious and talk about how Britain should combat it—such as this by the New Scientist’s Fred Pearce about nuclear power The public can read the news report and the comment and make up their own mind. Readers of the Daily Mail will be very familiar with distinct ways in which the paper reports news and comment. I am not aware of any climate science stories that have had an effect on newspaper sales.

5. What is your publications working definition of climate change?

Do you think that is understandable to most of your readers?

Does it agree with the current science facts?

It would be impossible to define every term used in the Daily Mail; we generally follow current widely accepted usage. Scientists now refer to “climate change” rather than global warming, as they no longer believe the effects of greenhouse gas emissions are simply warmer weather, but as climate patterns changes, the weather may become more extreme, with more floods and droughts; some areas of the world could become colder and others warmer. There are also other factors affecting the climate such as EI Nino and La Nina currents, volcanoes and cloud patterns. James Painters’ research (referred to in question 4) makes the point that scientists think it is misguided to attribute single weather events to climate change as there is too much uncertainty there. But we do mention these trends in the Mail’s weather reporting—see the article attached “Monsoon Britain” from January 2013 about how scientists believe downpours will become more common.

6. Do you agree that there are core facts that everyone might agree upon? Where should these facts be promulgated?

Can you all agree, for example, on whether there needs to be more information available on climate science in formats that the public can engage with?

Do you think there any bodies that all sides of the debate could accept as authoritative voices on climate science?

The climate is always changing and the vast majority of climate scientists believe there is a significant human impact on it although they disagree about the pace and effects. Climate scientists are unlikely to write papers saying climate change is not happening. The implications of climate change are also looked at by physicists, biologists, chemists, geologists—there is no one authority on it.

7. As a publisher of news, you communicate with the public on climate issues. Do you think you attract a broad spectrum of opinion or are you only speaking to like-minded people?

What is your purpose in writing about climate? Are you seeking to change minds, to educate and inform or simply to entertain?

Do you find people better understand climate issues when they are linked to more immediate concerns such as energy efficiency, energy security or and local environmental benefits like improving air pollution?

I am not aware that we have polled the views of our readers on climate change, although national surveys show a larger proportion of the public are sceptical about it than scientists are. (This may be because our readers will remember just 20 years or so ago scientists used to think the world would enter another Ice Age.) We try and relate our reporting to our reader’s lives in terms of possible extreme weather and flooding, the effect on wildlife and nature, energy bills and energy security and health phenomena, such as hay fever or deaths from cold weather. Climate change can be an abstract concept so yes it can be better to link it to immediate concerns but we also cover major reports on the subject, for example these latest predictions from the UN’s climate change panel in September 2013: Our reporting is intended to inform and entertain—something eye-catching the readers may not have heard of before—for example this story on animals shrinking as temperatures warm may get coverage even though it does not directly relate to our readers’ lives.

8. Discussions and dissent on climate change policy often focus on uncertainties in the science.

Should policy not be driven by mitigating the risks of climate change rather than hesitate due to uncertainties in aspects of the science?

Are the possible risks from climate change something that is covered effectively in the media?

It is not the role of newspapers to dictate policy.

Policy is concerned with mitigating the risks of climate change—while trying to make sure other countries do their bit and that it does not overburden households and businesses. It is driven by the science, which involves uncertainty and the probability of different scenarios. The modelling of past and future climate has become far more sophisticated in recent years but it is still prone to uncertainty—the latest IPCC report put the predicted rise in temperature at between 2C and 4.8C by the end of the century, and revised down how much warming there has been since the 1950s from 0.12C per decade to just 0.05C since 1998. Our readers will want to know how sure scientists are about different outcomes—especially if it involves tough choices now. I trust your committee will find this helpful.

December 2013

Prepared 1st April 2014