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C4 Accused Of Falsifying Data In Documentary On Climate Change

By Steve Connor

08 May, 2007
The Independent

The makers of a Channel 4 documentary which claimed that global warming is a swindle have been accused of fabricating data by one of the scientists who participated in the film.

The Great Global Warming Swindle was broadcast on 8 March and has been criticised by leading scientists for errors, distortions and misrepresentations.

The film has also been referred to the regulatory watchdog Ofcom which is considering a complaint from 37 senior scientists that the programme breached the broadcasting code on the misrepresentation of views and facts.

Now even a climate sceptic whose dissenting views were used by the film- makers to bolster their claims about the "lies" and "swindles" of global warming has accused the documentary of promulgating falsehoods.

Eigil Friis-Christensen, director of the Danish National Space Centre, has issued a statement accusing the film-makers of fabricating data based on his work looking at the links between solar activity and global temperatures.

Dr Friiss-Christensen said that a graph he had produced some years ago showing the link between fluctuations in global temperatures and changes in solar activity - sunspot cycles - over the past 400 years had been doctored. The documentary used the graph to pour scorn on the idea that the global warming in recent decades is the result of man-made emissions of carbon dioxide. Solar activity, the programme stated, is the cause of global warming in the late 20th century.

However, Dr Friiss-Christensen has issued a statement with Nathan Rive, a climate researcher at Imperial College London and the Centre for Climate Research in Oslo, distancing himself from the C4 graph. He said there was a gap in the historical record on solar cycles from about 1610 to 1710 but the film-makers made up this break with fabricated data that made it appear as if temperatures and solar cycles had followed one another very closely for the entire 400-year period.

"We have reason to believe that parts of the graph were made up of fabricated data that were presented as genuine. The inclusion of the artificial data is both misleading and pointless," Dr Friis-Christensen said.

"Secondly, although the commentary during the presentation of the graph is consistent with the conclusions of the paper from which the figure originates, it incorrectly rules out a contribution by anthropogenic [man-made] greenhouse gases to 20th century global warming," he said.

Dr Friis-Christensen, a physicist, believes that solar cycles play an important role in climate change and that not enough effort has gone into addressing the theory. The fabricated data did not, he said, make any difference to the overall view he takes but he is still critical of the way the film handled the scientific evidence. Asked by The Independent whether the documentary was scientifically accurate, Dr Friiss-Christensen said: "No, I think several points were not explained in the way that I, as a scientist, would have explained them ... it is obvious it's not accurate."

The C4 programme also used out-of-date solar cycle data relating to the past 30 or 40 years which made it appear as if temperatures and solar activity were rising together when in fact solar activity has levelled off for the past few decades. "After 1985 we don't see any rise or shortening of the solar cycles compared to what we saw in the temperature [record]," Dr Friiss-Christensen said.

Dr Friis-Christensen is the second scientist to appear on the programme who has criticised the way the film was made. Professor Carl Wunsch of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that the way his interview was edited gave the misleading impression that he was not concerned about rising levels of carbon dioxide - a diametrically opposite view to his stated position.

Martin Durkin, who wrote and directed the programme, was unavailable for comment but admitted in an email to Mr Rive that the graph was wrong. "Thank you for highlighting the error on the 400-year graph. It is an annoying mistake which all of us missed and is being fixed for all future transmissions of the film. It doesn't alter our argument," Mr Durkin said.

However, the graph and its fabricated data will still be included in the DVD of the programme which went on sale yesterday. The advertising for the DVD says: "Everything you've ever been told about global warming is probably untrue. This film blows the whistle on the biggest swindle in modern history."

Mr Durkin has already apologised for an error in another graph used in the film which had to be corrected before the film's second transmission on the digital channel More 4.

The scientists who have written to Ofcom include Sir John Houghton, the former chief executive of the Met Office, Lord May of Oxford, a former government chief scientist and past-president of the Royal Society, and Professor Chris Rapley, director of the British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge. In a letter to Mr Durkin they call for changes to the programme before the DVD version is released, even though DVDs are not covered by the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

"So serious and fundamental are the misrepresentations that the distribution of the DVD without their removal amounts to nothing more than an exercise in misleading the public," they say.

© 2007 Independent News and Media Limited

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