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Nine slaps on the wrist for Al Gore – UPDATED

earthnasa.jpgSchools 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.”

Image: NASA


  1. Report this comment

    x said:

    Since when does judges have dual-duty as scientists???

  2. Report this comment

    S Katz said:

    The judge’s decision is near hysteria, a knee jerk reaction in it’s attempt to deflect the major thrust of Gore’s film. The implications of these nit picking attacks and implication of the ‘harm it does’ grossly outweighs any conflation done in the documentary itself.

    The overall conclusion from AIT is that we as a species are on a serious unsustainable course, which is imperiling the future of this planet, and future generations. It’s valid, and it’s real.

    If one wants to quibble about details of the impact of these changes and time lines presented in the film, cases can be made to do that within all of the models. But not one serious and fair scientific analysis can conclude we can continue on our current course without disastrous consequences.

    The Inconvenient Truth is that we are destroying the ecological balance which is required to support all current forms of life on this sphere.

    This sphere, our home, is the only one we have.

    So, what are willing to give up?

    How many species are an acceptable amount to go extinct? How many people relocated in those countries that cannot cope with climate changes? How much increase in disease vectors are we willing to tolerate? How many people will die?

    What is everyone globally willing to give up, so a small percentage of the world’s rich can rush around in their frenetic lives and stuff themselves full of mindless entertainment and trinkets?

    When is humankind going to become socially responsible for itself, as a community?

    This judge seems to be proud of himself for finding these things he can shoot holes in, and make these summary disparaging comments about AIT. In the US media, the giant propaganda right wing Wurlitzer is cranked up. The conclusion? They use this ‘finding’ as ‘proof’ that climate change is a mirage, that ‘Al Gore is a fraud’.

    This puffery, this indignation about how “Al Gore is scaring our children”, is a defense of greedy and selfish lifestyles, foisted upon us by mega-multi national corporations. We have been marketed to and sold a bill of goods, that life somehow isn’t complete with remote controls, huge televisions, giant sports venues and a massive consumer economy.

    Convenience for the lucky 25% of world’s population is more important, no matter how inconvenient the truth is for the other 75%.

    The basic facts remain. We are killing our planet: we either change the way we live, post haste, or we doom species on this planet to wholesale extinction, and end the lives of millions, if not billions of human beings who are not able to cope with climate change, changes in agricultural patterns, disease vectors .. things we can hardly plan for and imagine.

    It’s only arguing about how soon these changes happen. We are already too late to prevent many of these changes from happening.

    ‘Scaring our children’? We are already here. The actions we take now are to mitigate the worst of the effects, to hopefully reduce the impact of the damage we have done.

    Our children should be scared for their future.

  3. Report this comment

    gern blansten said:

    you wrote:

    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.”

    And what would this “bin” accomplish? did you mean bin the ban or bin the film- because if you meant the latter then wouldn’t it be “can” or perhaps those folks can leave the 9 or 11 inaccuracies on the cutting room floor???

  4. Report this comment

    Irvinemom said:

    It’s about time someone is willing not to take what Gore says as gospel! WAY TO GO JUDGE BURTON!!!!!!!

  5. Report this comment

    Tim Lambert said:

    The reporting of the decision has been shockingly bad. The judge did not say that were scientific errors in AIT. See here.

    We’ve taken note of Tim’s point in the Update above — Oliver

  6. Report this comment

    Boris Schmid said:

    As a kid it took me quite some years before I figured out that documentaries, news articles and schoolbooks do not necessarily speak the truth, but are (often) merely someone’s point of view.

    I don’t think the nine inaccuracies destroy the movie -the take-home message of an inconvenient truth still stays very valid-, but it provides be a good opportunity for teachers to learn their students to have a healthy dose of skepticism of any ‘truth’ that is taught them, to fact-check, and to form their own opinion. That would be a very valuable lesson.

  7. Report this comment

    Jacob S said:

    x, I’m referring to your comment above:

    “Since when do judges have dual-duty as scientists?”

    Well, let’s turn your question around 180 deg and ask:

    “Since when do politicians have dual-duty as scientists?”

    Al Gore hasn’t got a smattering of science in his CV, except of course that he got a D in Intro to Science or something such while in college.

    Al Gore has so far only contributed a lot of CO2 to the deranged concept of AGW, that’s Al Gore Warming.

  8. Report this comment

    Christopher Sauvarin said:

    Humans are SUPPOSED to be the most intelligent life-form on earth.

    The behaviour of some humans beggars belief.

    Why a parent would attempt to prevent a film which broadly presents the efforts of thousands of scientists working for decades being screened in schools, just because it contrasts with his narrow political agenda quite defeats me.

    It’s perfectly clear that the science indicates that we are running out of environment at an increasing rate.

    I’m not worried about climate change for myself, I’m worried about it for my children’s sake and those generations to come.

    When the time comes, we should be able to hand-over the earth to the next generation in the same or better condition as we received it. But we cannot, it is a pale shadow of its former state. I am ashamed at what we have done and continue to do to it every day and at an ever increasing rate!

  9. Report this comment

    Bishop Hill said:

    Well Christopher, some of us are worried about the impact of nutty environmentalists on our childrens’ futures. Shall we let them watch the Great Global Warming Swindle too?

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