Scientist urges colleagues to fight bad media standards

“Closing the newspaper with a sigh is not enough.” Says Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow and reader in global change science at the University of Leeds.

Lewis found himself center of attention in the follow-up on last year’s IPCC media frenzy. As an expert on tropical forest degradation the Sunday Times unjustly quoted him as supporting the populist camp – as a presumed climate skeptic.

The newspaper did not deliver on promised editorial feedback, misleadingly quoted Lewis and tore the whole argument apart under the populist headline ‘UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim’ – with Lewis as the leading expert supporting that statement. Lewis in fact supports the IPCC statement that Amazon rainforest is very much at risk from climate-change-induced droughts.

Meanwhile [good old] BBC did a good job reporting on the same matter, quoting the same Lewis in a whole different manner: correctly.

“I was furious [for the clarity, at the Sunday Times, not the BBC]. This constituted a serious affront to my professional credibility”, Lewis writes in a Nature column.

The Sunday Times did not publish his response letter – while Lewis could find 20,000 copies of his proclaimed ‘skeptic views’ on the internet.

Lewis decided to take further action and now shares some advice with his fellow-scientists on an assertive media strategy – and possibly to seek advice on legal action, should things go wrong.

“The media dictate what most people know about contemporary scientific debates. Given the need for informed policy, scientists need to learn to better read and engage with this media landscape.”

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