Schools in the UK should be allowed to show Al Gore’s climate change movie, but only if they give balancing information to pupils, a High Court judge has ruled. The case was brought to court by school governor Stewart Dimmock, who objected to government plans to send copies of An Inconvenient Truth to schools across the country. The judge, Sir Michael Burton, ruled there were nine scientific inaccuracies in the film, which he said had moments of “alarmism and exaggeration” (Guardian, BBC, AFP, Independent).
Errors included claiming that polar bears were drowning as they had to swim further and further to find ice and that sea levels would rise 20 feet as a result of melting Greenland ice in the near future. The Times runs down the nine. Some parts of the blogosphere are reporting eleven errors, taking them from Dimmock’s early statement.
Dimmock, a member of the minor political group the New Party, called the judgement a resounding victory (press release). But he added: “However, as a parent, I find it perplexing that, despite agreeing that that the film was riddled with errors and exaggerations, the Court failed to issue an outright ban on its use in the classroom. Perhaps the Government will now do the honourable thing and bin it.”
This does not seem likely. Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan is on record as saying that the “central argument” of An Inconvenient Truth is supported by the scientific community (BBC). “Nothing in the judge’s comments today detract from that.”
Plans to distribute the film to schools in America ran into different problems last year: Keith Vranes had the story.
UPDATE – 12/10/07
Over at the Deltoid blog Tim Lambert (who pops up in the comments section here) is taking a number of journalists to task, including me. “There were nine points where Burton decided that AIT differed from the IPCC and that this should be addressed in the Guidance Notes for teachers to be sent out with the movie. Unfortunately a gaggle of useless journalists have misreported this decision as one that AIT contained nine scientific errors,” he says.
When he talks of errors, Tim points out, the judge is
just referring to the things that Downes alleged were errors. Burton puts quote marks around ‘error’ 17 more times in his judgement….Burton is not even trying to decide whether they are errors or not. So what is Burton assessing in his judgement? Well, [the relevant law] says that where political issues are involved there should be “a balanced presentation of opposing views” so Burton states that the government should make it clear when “there is a view to the contrary, i.e. (at least) the mainstream view”. Burton calls these “errors or departures from the mainstream”.
Burton’s point is thus that the “errors” are not necessarily incorrect, just that their distance from the mainstream requires that they should be balanced in the context of the applicable law. Happy to clear that up.
Tim then takes issue with the various points.
UPDATE – 16/10/07
Real Climate has weighed in on this as well now: “Overall, our verdict is that the 9 points are not “errors” at all (with possibly one unwise choice of tense on the island evacuation point). But behind each of these issues lies some fascinating, and in some cases worrying, scientific findings and we can only applaud the prospect that more classroom discussions of these subjects may occur because of this court case.”