Friday, November 05, 2010

More on Leake

So the mention of Leake on this post seems to have got everyone very excited. Coincidentally, Simon Lewis (who also commented on the previous article) has an article in Nature about the Amazon thing. And as well as doing some more digging, I've had a couple of emails directly from Jonathan Leake himself, though he didn't want them published.

Lewis and Monbiot both seem to accept that the main cause of the problem was probably some last-minute behind-the-scenes editing rather than Leake, and I see no reason to doubt them. It obviously shows up the Sunday Times in a poor light, not only that they could have collectively done such a horrible job, but that they took so long to sort it out afterwards. But it looks more of a collective focus on "controversy" rather than a specifically sceptic agenda per se, though I'm not sure if that really makes it any better. While I'm certainly not averse to journalists doing a bit of investigation and asking difficult questions (rather than merely parrotting press releases) it's important to be fair and honest in their reporting, or else they risk losing public where have I heard that before?

I'm not going to delve into the failures or otherwise in the IPCC process itself right now, because from my POV that is somewhat tangential to the main issue. Lewis got his honestly-held opinions badly misrepresented so as to make it look like he was saying something that was diametrically opposed to his real views. Whether he is right or wrong isn't actually the point here.


William M. Connolley said...

If Leake won't squeak - publicly - then presumably it is because the paper is leaning on him. But until he does disown the story, it has his name on it, and he is responsible for it, and shouldn't be trying to weasel out by private hints.

P. Lewis said...

I read Simon Lewis's piece in Nature before you posted the above, and two things struck me immediately in it.

"An accompanying editorial called for the IPCC chairman to resign."

"Its reporter, Jonathan Leake, asked both leading and genuinely inquisitive questions."

I think you can probably visualise the picture revealed by my joining up of those dots.

Now, academic authorship, the allowing of one's name in the author list, carries with it great responsibility: to support the major points discussed therein and to understand the basic work involved. If you can't do both, then you remove your name or take any consequences that may arise. A few have fallen foul of this. Schatten is one who springs readily to mind as someone who took the ensuing flak because he was the named second author in the case of Hwang's stem cell research fraud.

I don't see why journalists should be held to any lesser standard on authorship. If J. Leake allows his name to be associated with something he hasn't written (and perhaps doesn't believe), then what does that say about his principles (and yes, I realise that's easy for me to say when it's not my job continuation that might be a factor in the "industry"). I thought our journalists were meant to be principled. Nope? I must be naive.

No, I don't think J. Leake deserves much sympathy in this episode, more especially if those leading questions had an ulterior motive to begin with, even if they weren't J. Leake's own leading questions.