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: