Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We tend not to make statements

The Toronto Sun has picked up on the "Amazongate" story with journalist Brian Lilley reporting the response of the WWF, which says "it cannot be held responsible for how the UN climate change group used its data."

Privately, Brian tells me that the WWF was extremely reluctant to make any statement at all. He says that it "essentially tried to tell me that this is all too complex for my pretty little head", then declaring (on the record): "We tend not to make statements in contexts where there seems to be limited interest in a balanced appraisal of an issue."

How different that is from last January when Keith Allott, the WWF's climate change campaigner was affirming his pride on the "accuracy" of his organisation's reports.

He pledged to carry out an "internal investigation" into how its Global Review of Forest Fires came to miss out a reference to what it claimed was the source of its material, Fire in the Amazon, a 1999 overview of Amazon fire issues from the respected Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da AmazĂ´nia (IPAM – Amazon Environmental Research Institute). "We have a team of people looking at this internationally," Allott said.

In an official statement on 31 January, the WWF then noted that some commentators had concluded that potential climate impacts on the Amazon "are overstated and unsupported." It thus declared, "WWF refutes this conclusion and stands by the credibility of its report."

Then on 7 February, its UK chief executive, David Nussbaum, told The Sunday Times that the WWF report was "fully supported by peer-reviewed literature". Author Andy Rowell claimed that the key figure in the report "had been backed up by peer-reviewed research both before and after our publication."

This was backed by another statement from WWF on 10 February, announcing the outcome of its inquiry promised at the end of January. The reference (Fire in the Amazon), it said, "was drawn from an authoritative source, was factually correct and is supported by the peer-reviewed literature."

Last week, though, UK head of media Benjamin Ward was only prepared to argue that Fire in the Amazon was "quite appropriate" for use in their report, A global overview of forest fires., while admitting the source was a Brazilian advocacy group website. Asked whether it was peer reviewed, he could only say stiffly, "We have never claimed it was peer-reviewed."

Just a day earlier, though, the WWF was signatory to a duplicitous statement in a press release urging news outlets that reported on the original "Climategate" controversy to set the record straight.

These outlets were urged to highlight recent developments "that completely disprove" much of the evidence that supported the alleged "Climategate" scandal with the same forcefulness and frequency that they reported the original charges.

Citing The Sunday Times article alleging that the IPCC had issued an unsubstantiated report claiming 40 percent of the Amazon rainforest was endangered due to changing rainfall patterns, it happily lifted chunks of text from the retraction, even though by then it knew the retraction to make false assertions:
... the IPCC's Amazon statement is supported by peer-reviewed scientific evidence. In the case of the WWF [World Wildlife Fund] report, the figure had, in error, not been referenced, but was based on research by the respected Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) which did relate to the impact of climate change.
"Failure to publicly correct the record undermines the very heart of journalism - to report the truth," declared the WWF.

Now, when given the opportunity to set the record straight, all it can manage, is: "We tend not to make statements in contexts where there seems to be limited interest in a balanced appraisal of an issue." How interesting.

Comment: Amazongate thread