The United Kingdom tabloid the Daily Mail could be dubbed “the Fox News of the Internet.” It has a huge audience, a conservative slant and has a blatant disregard for the facts. The paper wields huge power in the UK, and with its website plotting a U.S. expansion and reportedly receiving about 154 million global unique browsers each month, it is increasingly gaining that traction in the U.S. as well.
The Daily Mail is best known for its celebrity gossip, but this year U.S. media turned to it for science reporting. The tabloid had huge influence in stirring up faux controversies about climate science, often shredding facts and then abandoning the damage it had done in the name of viral traffic. In fact, four times this year the Mail published climate stories that required corrections, which the paper often skirted by revising its article without a formal correction, helping the misinformation to continue to spread. In September, for example, the Mail's claim that Arctic sea ice had increased by 60 percent not only pushed a misleading narrative about the clear long-term decline in Arctic ice, but also got the figures wrong -- the real increase was less than half that amount. Yet the claim was repeated by two U.S. Congressmen in a hearing and at least 36 different U.S. news outlets.
For these reasons, the Mail earns the distinction of being Media Matters' 2013 Climate Change Misinformer of the Year.
The Mail's Arctic Ice Inaccuracy Received Widespread Coverage, Even After Correction
David Rose's Most Egregious Myth: Arctic Sea Ice Is Increasing, Proving “Global COOLING.” Daily Mail reporter David Rose, who often covers climate change in a misleading way and was previously known for uncritically repeating Weapons of Mass Destruction claims by an untrustworthy source, wrote a September 7 article titled “And now it's global COOLING! Return of Arctic ice cap as it grows by 60% in a year.” In the article for the Daily Mail's sister paper, the Mail on Sunday, he claimed that Arctic sea ice levels had increased by almost one million square miles in the course of a year, citing data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). [Mail On Sunday, 9/7/13] [The Guardian, 12/8/10]
Mail Was Forced To Issue A Correction After Inflating The Increase By Over 200 Percent. Journalist Bob Ward reported that the Mail's figure was incorrect, based on Rose's interpretation of a typographical error on the NSIDC website and “faulty reasoning”:
Rose told me by e-mail that the source of his claim that the ice extent was 60 per cent higher this year was an announcement posted on the website of the United States National Snow and Ice Data Center on 4 September: “August 2013 ice extent was 2.38 million square kilometers (919,000 square miles) above the record low August extent in 2012. The monthly trend is -10.6% per decade relative to the 1981 to 2010 average.”
Elsewhere on its website, the NSIDC indicated that the average Arctic sea ice extent in August 2012 was a record low figure of 1.82 million square miles. This should have led Rose to claim that the Arctic sea ice was 50.5 per cent higher last month, but further faulty reasoning led him to conclude the difference was 60 per cent.
However, the NSIDC confirmed to me yesterday that the main figure used by Rose for his article was mistyped and that the mistake was corrected on 10 September, showing that Arctic sea extent in August 2013 was only 29 per cent higher than was recorded for the same month last year. [Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, 9/18/13]
Mail On Sunday subsequently corrected their article, including a headline change to “And now it's global COOLING! Return of the Arctic ice cap as it grows by 29% in a year” (down from 60 percent). However, even disregarding the statistical error, Rose's argument was misleading: 2012 was a record-breaking year for Arctic sea ice lows, and an increase from such an anomaly was to be expected. Nevertheless, the August 2013 sea ice extent was the sixth lowest for that month on record -- a point that Rose neglected to mention. Skeptical Science illustrated the fallacy of using a single year's data to discredit a long-term trend:
[Skeptical Science, 9/13/13]
U.S. Media Repeated Rose's Inaccurate Arctic Ice Claim At Least 38 Times. The false claim that Arctic sea ice had increased 60 percent was picked up by U.S. news outlets at least 38 times, including 22 instances after the correction, by 36 news outlets. These mentions primarily came from conservative media, and also includes several state outlets that published the same inaccurate column -- one op-ed written by Cal Thomas (nationally syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor) appeared in 10 different news outlets, and another written by Robert L. Bradley Jr. (CEO of the fossil fuel-funded Institute for Energy Research) appeared in three. Several of the reports repeated Rose's absurd suggestion of a long-term decline of Arctic sea ice showing that the planet is “cooling.” Not included in our count were at least six letters to the editor that were published using his false statistic, five of which were published after the correction. [American Thinker, 9/8/13] [Bowling Green Daily News, 9/21/13, via Factiva] [Breitbart, 9/8/13] [Bristol Herald-Courier, 9/21/13, via Factiva] [Casa Grande Dispatch, 9/21/13, via Factiva] [CNS News, 9/13/13] [Fox News Channel, Cashin In, 12/14/13] [Daily Caller, 9/8/13] [Daily Review Atlas, 10/3/13] [Examiner, 9/17/13] [FoxNews.com, 9/9/13] [Hawaii Reporter, 10/9/13] [Hot Air, 9/8/13] [Idaho State Journal, 10/8/13] [Independent Journal Review, 9/8/13] [Investors' Business Daily, 9/9/13] [Investors' Business Daily, 9/24/13] [Investors' Business Daily, 9/26/13] [Jefferson City News-Tribune, 9/23/13, via Factiva] [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 9/9/13] [McClatchy-Tribune Regional News, 9/23/13, via Factiva] [MSN.com, 9/9/13] [National Review, 9/9/13] [Newsbusters, 9/8/13] [North Platte Telegraph, 9/12/13] [Orange County Register, 9/20/13] [Shreveport Times, 9/24/13, via Factiva] [Standard Journal, 10/28/13] [telegram.com, 10/3/13] [The Coeur d'Alene Press, 9/30/13] [The Daily-Tribune, 9/29/13] [The Desert Sun, 9/28/13, via Nexis] [Fox News Channel, The Five, 9/11/13 via Media Matters] [The Herald-Journal, 9/11/13] [The Leaf-Chronicle, 9/21/13, via Factiva] [The News Journal, 9/28/13] [The Tulsa World, 9/21/13, via Factiva] [Fox Business, Varney & Company, 12/16/13] [The Virginian-Pilot & The Ledger-Star via Factiva.com, 9/20/13] [Washington Examiner, 9/18/13] [Townhall, 9/19/13] [Wilson County News, 10/29/13] [Pensacola (FL) News Journal, 10/5/13 and 10/5/13, via Factiva] [FoxNews.com, accessed 12/18/13] [Sourcewatch, accessed 12/18/13]
Rose's False Number Repeated By U.S. Congressmen During Hearing. The inaccurate 60 percent Arctic increase figure was also used by two U.S. congressmen to cast doubt on climate change and argue against addressing it. In a September 18 House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing (a hearing dubbed by Organizing for Action as “DenierPalooza”), Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY) stated, “I recently read an article that stated that the Arctic ice had nearly a million more square miles of ocean covered with ice than at this time of year,” and Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) asserted that “Arctic ice has actually grown 60 percent.” [Media Matters, 9/19/13]
The Daily Mail Published Three More Climate Fallacies Requiring Corrections In 2013
David Rose Altered The Words Of Scientists. In an article titled “The Great Green Con no. 1: The hard proof that finally shows global warming forecasts that are costing you billions were WRONG all along,” Daily Mail journalist David Rose reported that he presented “irrefutable evidence that official predictions of global climate warming have been catastrophically flawed,” and featured quotes from four climate scientists. However, three of those four scientists subsequently criticized Rose, with two saying they were misrepresented in the article. Climate scientist Myles Allen said that Rose misrepresented his view by claiming that he now thought the world was on the course for much lower warming than he previously thought. Allen said that he “certainly never suggested to David that my assessment of the odds on any particular level of warming by 2100 had changed.” Climate scientist James Annan said that the Mail on Sunday had seemingly attributed quotes to him that he never actually said. The tabloid subsequently issued an apology for incorrectly quoting Annan, but did not address the other criticisms. [Mail on Sunday, 3/16/13] [The Guardian, 3/20/13] [Carbon Brief, 3/19/13]
Yet some conservative U.S. media still have the misquotes on their websites, including a post by Climate Depot's Marc Morano -- Media Matters' 2012 climate misinformer of the year -- and another by PJ Media. [Climate Depot, 3/17/13] [PJ Media, 3/19/13] [Media Matters, 12/27/12]
David Rose Fudged Numbers To Claim Climate Scientists “Confess[ed]” To Lower Warming. The Mail on Sunday published an article on September 14 originally titled “World's top climate scientists confess: Global warming is just HALF what we thought.” In the article, reporter David Rose claimed that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was set to admit that the world is warming more slowly than previously thought. A climate scientist explained to the UK watchdog group Carbon Brief why Rose's numbers were “completely incorrect” and that the true revision was minor -- from 0.13 degrees Celsius per decade to 0.12 degrees Celsius:
The Mail on Sunday says:
“Back [in 2007], [the IPCC] said that the planet was warming at a rate of 0.2 degrees Celsius every decade ... But the new report says the true figure since 1951 has been only 0.12 Celsius per decade - a rate far below even the lowest computer prediction”
Dr Richard Allan, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, tells us this statement is quite simply wrong. He says Rose has mixed up the numbers in the last IPCC report.
“The main claim by David Rose in the Mail on Sunday is that rate of global warming since 1951 has been halved since the last IPCC report. This is completely incorrect.”
In 2007, the IPCC said the rate of warming since 1951 had been not 0.2 but 0.13 degrees Celsius per decade. If the new report says 0.12 degrees Celsius, as the Mail on Sunday suggests, this is a very minor revision of 0.01 degrees.
So where does the 0.2 degree per decade figure come from? Richard Allan tells us it does appear in the last IPCC report, but refers to a 15-year period in the run up to the report's release, not the warming per decade since 1951. He says:
“The 0.2 degrees Celsius per decade figure relates to an observed warming over the period 1990-2005 which clearly cannot be compared with the period since 1951”.
So the two figures Rose compares are not measuring the same thing. As the Met Office's Richard Betts tweeted yesterday: “Rose created a headline by misrepresenting [the 2007 IPCC report].” [Mail on Sunday, 9/14/13] [Carbon Brief, 9/16/13]
After it was shown that Rose was comparing two numbers that measured two different things, Rose dodged responsibility by issuing a “clarification” that moved the goal posts to change the title to “global warming just QUARTER what we thought.” Despite the incorrect figures, a number of conservative media outlets amplified his claims, including:
- Rush Limbaugh devoted significant airtime to this report, in a segment titled “Global warming scientists: We were wrong.”
- Hot Air published an article titled “New IPCC report to retreat on global-warming claims,” leading with “At least according to the Daily Mail, which heralds the final draft report as a major step back for global-warming advocates.”
- Breitbart published an article titled, “Leaked UN Study: 15-year 'pause' in global warming.” [Rush Limbaugh, 9/17/13] [Hot Air, 9/16/13] [Breitbart, 9/8/13]
Daily Mail's James Delingpole Slandered The Met Office, Misrepresenting Its Findings. On January 9, the Daily Mail published an article by James Delingpole -- an English columnist known for dismissing the climate change consensus with inflammatory rhetoric -- attacking the United Kingdom's Met Office, one of the world's top weather forecasting services. In it, Delingpole called the Met Office “not just risibly incompetent-- but an active menace both to the integrity of science and to the nation's wellbeing” and “Britain's foremost cheerleader for climate change alarmism.” The Met Office issued a public statement in response on January 10, detailing the inaccuracies in Delingpole's story:
This article contains a series of factual inaccuracies about the Met Office and its science, as outlined below.
Firstly, he claims the Met Office failed to predict snow in 2010, but our 5-day forecasts accurately forecast 12 out of 13 snowfall events - as you can see in this article.
Mr Delingpole also says we failed to predict flooding in November last year. Once again, our 5-day forecasts gave accurate guidance and warnings throughout the period.
Mr Delingpole then inaccurately states that the Met Office has conceded 'there is no evidence that 'global warming' is happening'. We have not said this at any point.
In fact, we explicitly say this was not the case in an article, posted on the home page of our website and widely circulated, which was written in response to articles about updates to our decadal forecast.
He also states that the Met Office was trying to defend a narrative that the “the past ten years have been the 'wettest decade ever'”. Again, this is not something the Met Office has ever said.
Also he quotes David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation saying that the Met Office 'thinks weather forecasting is beneath it' and that 'climate change... brings in more money'. A cursory glance at our annual report and accounts (pdf) would reveal weather forecasting represents the vast majority of the Met Office's contractual work on behalf of the public.
There are also a number of other accusations which cannot be substantiated.
Over two months later, the Mail finally appended a note at the bottom of the article from the Met Office Chairman on March 8. The Met said the note “does not fully address all the issues we had with the original article” but that it was “grateful” that the Mail had dealt with its objections. [Daily Mail, 1/9/13, updated 3/8/13] [Met Office News Blog, 1/10/13] [Met Office, 3/8/13]
Why Does U.S. Media Trust A Tabloid On Science?
Daily Mail Consistently Publishes Sensationalist, Contradicting “Science” Stories. The Daily Mail has consistently misled on scientific developments, even publishing articles that blatantly contradict each other. For example, two Mail Online articles made different claims about whether or not fracking can cause earthquakes:
The newspaper also appears to encounter a difficult time accurately reporting on the science behind relatively fluffier subjects, including whether or not wearing high-heeled shoes produces negative health outcomes or if mobile phone usage does or does not contribute to increased incidence trends of brain cancer:
The Daily Mail has also mislead on the science of cancer research to grab traffic. As Buzzfeed pointed out in an August 1 article, the Daily Mail has claimed that the sun, polio, Jasper the rescue dog, and many other things could be the “cure for cancer.”
Study: British Tabloids Contribute To Climate Misinformation In Public. Research from Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute studied the effect of British tabloids such as the Daily Mail on how citizens perceive climate change. They found that misinformation in these tabloids “can contribute to skewed views among these papers' many readers.” From Oxford University's press release:
Based on an analysis of nearly 1,000 tabloid articles from the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Express and the Mirror, the researchers found that many readers were being misinformed. The researchers analysed the tone, the context, the terminology, the labelling of those quoted and the relationships between messages.
The researchers found that about a quarter of coverage in the four UK tabloids from 2000 through 2006 misrepresented wide scientific agreement that man-made GHG emissions have 'very likely' had a role to play in global warming.
Dr Max Boykoff, James Martin Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, said: 'These newspapers have very high circulation and influence in the UK. We hope these findings help tabloid reporters and editors reflect further on the accuracy of their climate change reporting.
'To the extent that reporting and commentary have misrepresented scientific consensus on the issue of human contributions to climate change, there is a problem.'
Dr Boykoff continued: 'Misreporting on human contributions to climate change can contribute to skewed views among these papers' many readers. We're all involved in the fight against climate change and it's in all of our interest to widen, rather than restrict, the spectrum of possibility for appropriate policy action.' [Oxford University, 4/28/08, emphasis added]