Professor Peter Wadhams’ Complaint to IPSO

Professor Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University has just written to the UK’s Independent Press Standards Organisation about recent articles that “ha[ve] substantially damaged my reputation for scientific integrity, and I believe that this was the deliberate intention”. Here is the text of his complaint.

The writer of this article, Ben Webster, phoned me up cold in my office at Cambridge University on Thursday 23 July, saying that he was writing a piece on the retreat of sea ice in the Arctic, and whether it was increasing or not. We discussed the scientific data, then he asked who else was working in this field in the UK, in order to contact them. I mentioned that there are not many others in this field, since three of the leading figures died within a short space of time in accidents in 2013. He asked for further details.

I asked that this be completely off the record because of (a) the sensibilities of relatives of the deceased (Prof Laxon’s partner was particularly upset by the subsequent publication),
(b) my own scientific reputation (I did not want to be made out to be a crazy person),
(c) the fact that these deaths were investigated and were very clearly simply an extraordinary coincidence.

He raised the question of whether they were murdered. I agreed that for a short time I thought that they were, since I had had the experience of being run off the road at the same time by a lorry, but that it was very clear afterwards that the three deaths were individually explainable accidents.

I did not make any of the statements enclosed in quotation marks by the reporter. Webster promised that this was in confidence and that if he wanted to use it he would contact me first. The next thing I saw was the article plastered over Saturday’s “Times”. He had clearly done some research in procuring photographs, but did not bother to contact me, and broke his promise of confidentiality.

The publication, subsequently picked up by the Sunday Telegraph and Mail on Sunday, has substantially damaged my reputation for scientific integrity, and I believe that this was the deliberate intention.

Here are our edited highlights of the story so far:

23 thoughts on “Professor Peter Wadhams’ Complaint to IPSO

  1. According to an article by John Vidal in The Guardian:

    One of the world’s leading Arctic sea ice experts has responded strongly to a Times newspaper story claiming that he thought assassins may have murdered three leading British scientists in 2013.

    Professor Peter Wadhams, Cambridge professor of ocean physics, has complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso) that his scientific reputation had been damaged by Times environment editor Ben Webster and that he had been inaccurately quoted.

    A spokesperson for The Times said: “We have a recording of Professor Wadhams making these statements. Another newspaper [the Telegraph] subsequently reported that he had made similar comments to their journalist. We stand by the story.”

      1. Do you really expect the Times to whack it all over the internet? Have you no concept of how that would play out in court? Obviously not but the lawyers for Professor Wadhams and the Times certainly will

  2. Professor Wadhams must sue the Times and the Telegraph. If he is correct he will be a rich man!
    Curiously, I expect the writs will not fly. Funny, that!
    The good Prof appears to be losing what little credibility he has left. I have heard other in his field tend to snigger and tweet in uncomplimentary terms when he takes the podium for some of his prophesies of doom.

    1. Illiterate comment by denialist idiot

      Funny how all the deniers are so stupid they can’t even write 2 or 3 sentences without failing several times – did any of these denialist morons actually finish school?

  3. I’d like to hear it too.

    The wording of the sentences dos not match well enough to support the title. The statements do support someone who was saying that they originally suspected foul play but then realised that it was nothing more than coincidence.

    It’s just the semantics of the language and how it is used. I never believed that what I saw written and the so called “statements” were in sync and so I’d have to literally hear him say them in the order that they claim, without direct prompting from the interviewer, before I’ll believe it.

    I’ve seen far too much of this in the UK press over recent years to actually believe they’re not lying to me.

    1. Snow White and I are itching to hear those “WadhamsGate” tapes as well. We made that suggestion to Messrs Rose and Webster earlier, but have yet to hear back from them.

      See the current slide 43 in the ever expanding show above for further details.

  4. I called The Times switchboard this morning and asked to speak to Ben Webster. I left a message on his voicemail asking him to call me back about his Peter Wadhams story.

    I called the switchboard again and asked to speak to Ben’s editor. The switchboard put me through to the Times news desk. The person I spoke to said that:

    Maybe you can drop him an email? If he’s not in the only way to get in contact with him is either call back later or drop him an email.

    I enquired:

    Does he have an editor, a superior of some sort I could speak to?

    to which the reply was:

    It’s better to speak to him

    I persisted:

    OK – When do you think he might be at his desk answering his telephone?

    Let me just check….. He’ll be in later today.

    You don’t know how much later?

    No I don’t I’m afraid.

    Is it OK if I pop this on my blog? Can I have your name?

    No, sorry. I’m going to have to go because the other line is ringing, but if you call back later he’ll be in.

    All right, but that’s not very helpful, whoever you are.

  5. My perseverance has finally paid off! Albeit in a modest sort of way.

    I finally managed to speak to Ben Webster, who told me I should speak to The Times’ Director of Editorial Communications, so I called her but only managed to leave a voicemail. Hence this email:

    Hi Jessica,

    I left a message on your voicemail earlier. I finally managed to speak to Ben Webster a few minutes ago. He told me he had no comment to make and that I should pursue my enquiries via you, so that’s what I’m doing!

    Please call me on my landline number ASAP. For some context see:


    Jim Hunt

    1. And I’ve now received an admirably swift response:

      Hi Jim,

      Thanks for your voicemail. This is the statement we have issued on this story:

      A spokesperson for The Times said:

      “We have a recording of Professor Wadhams making these statements. Another newspaper subsequently reported that he had made similar comments to their journalist. We stand by the story.”

      I am heading into meetings now for much of the afternoon. We are not saying anything further at this stage. Please feel free to contact me rather than Ben with any enquiries for The Times.



  6. Google reveals this morning that the Independent joined in the fun yesterday. In an article entitled:

    Cambridge professor claims three leading climate scientists may have been assassinated

    Alexandra Sims alleges that:

    A Cambridge professor has claimed that three scientists investigating the effect of global warming upon melting Arctic ice may have been assassinated.

    Peter Wadhams, a professor of ocean physics, said that Seymour Laxon of University College London, Katherine Giles also at UCL and Tim Boyd of the Scottish Association for Marine Science had been murdered, after all three died within a few months of each other in 2013.

    Professor Wadhams also believed he had been targeted by assassins after claiming that a driver in an unmarked lorry attempted to push his car from the M25.

    The Indy haven’t signed up to IPSO. Maybe they’re not big Twitter users either?

  7. Ah the smell of damage limitation….

    If Webster had been totally honest, provided a factual, accurate and, above all, chronologically correct statement of events; there would be no need for the Times action.

    So far nobody has involved a lawyer. IPSO has been contacted and a complaint has been made. OK that does not preclude a lawyer after IPSO has made it’s investigation…

    To me it’s another case of being “economical with the truth”. These people are fairly consistent in the way they talk to others. After all communication is their day to day business. I am pretty certain that it all were above board then the statement would have read.

    “We have recordings of Dr Wadhams saying these words exactly as we have printed them”

    That lack, to me, smacks of damage control. Look at it from a corporate point of view. The attack dog has been muzzled and the owner is controlling all access to information and to spin.

    Does that sound to you like a company that has absolutely nothing to fear from either Dr Wadhams or the relatives of the deceased??? Those relatives are pretty mad with Dr Wadhams right now. Just imaging how mad they will be if it turns out that the Times and all the others “adjusted” the truth to suit their own ends????

    This one isn’t going to go away but also nobody is now going to let the real truth slip either…

  8. The value of proven oil reserves at risk of remaining unexploited should Climate Change be taken seriously is $50-80 trillion. We know the fossil corporations fund denial, so ‘conspiracy theorizing’ is not far-fetched at all. So, to add to the atmosphere of sabotage, I must add this: in the 60 yr history of Spaceflight, there have been five ‘fairing failures’, in which a rocket fairing failed to deploy properly near the end of rocket launch, and the payload (usually a satellite) was lost. Two of these five were Climate Science missions in the last decade. The odds of a ‘mission’ being a ‘Climate Science’ mission are incredibly low to begin with. The odds of having a ‘fairing failure’ are astronomically low, especially after the fairing mechanism was worked out in the 1960’s and ’70s. Essentially, there is no reason for a fairing failure, ever, in modern spaceflight. But you can fail a fairing with the proper application of Superglue, and the right access to the rocket just before launch. After the first failure, NASA spent two years and millions of dollars picking over every possible failure source, declared the rocket fairing ‘fit for service’, launched again, and the failure occurred again. I think I once calculated that the likelihood of TWO Climate Science missions ending in ‘fairing failure’ is a billion to one. Conspiracy or Paranoia? We report, you decide.

    1. Umm, I thought the skeptics were the conspiracy theorists? I could swear Lewandowsky said so, so it must be true.

      1. Are you accusing Ben Webster of wearing a tinfoil hat when it suits him?

        If so then I trust you have some evidence to back up your scurrilous allegation? A recording of some sort perhaps?

  9. Shock News! Prof. Wadhams gets offered the right to reply!!

    We’ve been badgering The Indy after they virtually printed the “WadhamsGate” conspiracy story on Monday without talking to Peter Wadhams first. They have now communicated with him, and amended their story as follows:

  10. Wow, they outdid themselves here. They actually printed the absolute minimum they possibly could in order to insulate themselves from serious censure.

    They could have printed

    “Dr Wadhams has advised us that he does not believe that the three scientists were Assassinated, did not believe it at the time of the Times interview and did not state that he did believe it during that interview”.

    But that would be an apology too far wouldn’t it….

  11. Although the decision was apparently taken earlier this month, IPSO’s ruling on this case has only just been publicised via Twitter. To summarise:

    Decision of the Complaints Committee
    04762-15 Wadhams v The Times

    1. Professor Peter Wadhams complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times breached Clause 1 (Accuracy), Clause 2 (Opportunity to reply) and Clause 14 (Confidential sources) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Climate scientist fears murder by hitman”, published in print and online on 25 July 2015.

    10. The Committee had listened to a recording of the complainant’s interview with the journalist, provided by the newspaper, in which he made the statements attributed to him in the article. The article had accurately reported his position as he had explained it to the journalist.

    15. The complaint was not upheld.

    Date complaint received: 26/07/2015
    Date decision issued: 11/09/2015

    IPSO do rap The Times very gently over the knuckles about promising to call Prof. Wadhams back before publishing anything:

    14. While it was regrettable that no further conversation had taken place as the journalist had suggested, the agreement to speak further did not represent an undertaking by the journalist not to publish material without the complainant’s consent. The complainant’s expression of doubt at the close of the interview did not render him a confidential source.

    but nonetheless conclude that:

    Remedial Action Required: N/A

    The moral of this tale would seem to be “Don’t speak to journalists without taping the conversation” and “Don’t speak to journalists without saying the magic words ‘off the record’ first” or quite possibly simply “Don’t speak to journalists”!

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