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The most error-ridden web page about climate change?

Bob Ward, Policy & Communications Director

19 April 2011

The Global Warming Policy Foundation has published what may be the world's most inaccurate web page about global warming.

Over the past six months, the Foundation's "science editor", David Whitehouse, a former BBC journalist, has produced a number of web pages purporting to analyse trends in global temperature data.

One of these pages, published on 2 February with the title 'The Temperature of 2010', claims to compare "the relevant data for the temperature of the Earth's surface", using the records of monthly and annual global temperature published by the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, the UK Met Office, the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

I have sought to check and validate the information on this web page and discovered more than 90 individual inaccuracies and misleading statements, which I have itemised in an email to the Foundation today and listed here. I do not know of any other web page about global warming that is so error-ridden.

The Foundation was launched by Lord Lawson of Blaby, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer in Margaret Thatcher's government, on 23 November 2009, just three days after emails hacked from the University of East Anglia were posted on the web, leading to the so-called 'Climategate' controversy.

The Foundation's website claims that it seeks "to inform the media, politicians and the public, in a newsworthy way, on the subject in general and on the misinformation to which they are all too frequently being subjected at the present time".

Yet its website is littered with inaccurate and misleading information about climate change, particularly in relation to the basic science, such as global temperature trends. The web page on 2010 temperature data is the worst of the lot.

Most of the inaccuracies on the web page appear to be straightforward misreadings of data, the result of sloppiness rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead.

However, the page also includes some misleading statements that are rather more significant, such as inferences that the high global temperatures in 2010 were solely the result of the El Niño that developed late in 2009 and persisted until early summer of the following year.

The web page neglects to mention that El Niño develops every two to seven years on average, and so cannot alone explain why 2010 was close to being the warmest year since global temperature records began in the 19th century. The underlying warming trend due to rising greenhouse gas concentrations helps to explain why 2010 was a near-record year.

This is not a one-off oversight, as the Foundation's website hosts a number of pages that provide inaccurate information about global temperature trends, including a graph on the homepage which supposedly represents the record produced by the Met Office of annual temperature since 2001, but which does not match the data.

Apart from misleading anybody who reads these web pages, the Foundation has also misinformed journalists, as illustrated by a report published in the 'Mail on Sunday' in December last year, which stated:

"Meanwhile, according to an analysis yesterday by David Whitehouse of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, 2010 had only two unusually warm months, March and April, when El Nino [sic] was at its peak."

In fact, none of the global temperature datasets show that both March and April were record months.

As the Foundation is a registered charity, such errors appear to be in violation of the Charity Commission's 'Guidance on Campaigning and Political Activity by Charities', which states:

"A charity can campaign using emotive or controversial material, where this is lawful and justifiable in the context of the campaign. Such material must be factually accurate and have a legitimate evidence base."

Perhaps the Commission could persuade the Foundation to remove from its website the inaccurate and misleading information about global temperature trends? 

Bob Ward

Photograph of Bob Ward, Policy Communications Director