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The Strange Case of Albert Gore, Inconvenient Truths and a Man in a Powdered Wig

October 6, 2010

Al Gore, certainly the most vilified proponent of climate change anywhere in the world, earned most of this enmity through the success of a film he presented called An Inconvenient Truth (AIT). The film was a staid presentation of climate science to date, a round-up of research, science and projections, with many cinematic sequences employed to harness the power of the medium.

The majority of the film, covering issues like Himalayan Glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica losing ice, the severity of hurricanes and other weather phenomena, was accurate and represented the science as it stood. Since the release of the film, considerably more evidence has been found in support of the science and projections in the film.

One claim was in error, as was one attribution of a graph. The error was in the claim that climate change had caused the shrinking of Mount Kilimanjaro, although the evidence that the shrinkage was most likely caused by deforestation did not appear until after the film was made. The error of attribution was in reference to a graph of temperature and attributes it mistakenly to a Dr. Thompson, when it was actually a combination of Mann’s hockey stick and CRU surface temperature data.

The Legal Case

The film is also subject to attack on the grounds that Al Gore was prosecuted in the UK and a judge found many errors in the film. This is untrue.

The case, heard in the civil court, was brought by a school governor against the Secretary of State for Education, in an attempt to prevent the film being distributed to schools. Mr. Justice Burton, in his judgement, ordered that teaching notes accompanying the film should be modified to clarify the speculative (and occasionally hyperbolic) presentation of some issues.

Mr. Justice Burton found no errors at all in the science. In his written judgement, the word error appears in quotes each time it is used – nine points formed the entirety of his judgement – indicating that he did not support the assertion the points were erroneous. About the film in general, he said this:

17. I turn to AIT, the film. The following is clear:

i) It is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact, albeit that the science is used, in the hands of a talented politician and communicator, to make a political statement and to support a political programme.

22.  I have no doubt that Dr Stott, the Defendant’s expert, is right when he says that:
“Al Gore’s presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate.”

The judge did identify statements that had political implications he felt needed qualification in the guidance notes for teachers, and ordered that both qualifications on the science and the political implications should be included in the notes. Al Gore was not involved in the case, was not prosecuted, and because the trial was not a criminal case, there was no jury, and no guilty verdict was handed down.

The Context

The vilification of Al Gore is best understood in the context of personalisation. When opponents attack something abstract – like science – the public may not associate with the argument. By giving a name and a face and a set of behavioural characteristics – being a rich politician, for example – it is easy to create a fictional enemy through inference and association. Al Gore is a successful politician who presented a film, his training and experience suitable to the task. To invoke Gore is a way to obfuscate about climate science, for which Gore has neither responsibility, claim nor blame.

Footnote: this post was written for SkepticalScience as part of an ongoing project to add ‘basic’ rebuttals of common climate change denial arguments. References for all statements can be found in the intermediate discussion “Is Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth accurate?”.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2010 2:49 pm

    Good summary, thanks. Was this for Skeptical Science? (perhaps John needs a sceptic argument: “Gore is fat”).

    Ah, it’s already there (under the slightly less imaginative title “Al Gore got it wrong”).

  2. Graham Wayne permalink*
    October 6, 2010 3:06 pm

    Sorry Byron – forgot to put in the ‘standard text’ – which would also explain why I’m writing about this so long after the event.

  3. October 6, 2010 3:43 pm

    Even stranger, how did a lorry driver afford to take the Secretary of State for Education to the High Court? Turns out our school governor’s boss is the man behind the Scientific Alliance. Who in turn take their money from Exxon. More asymmetry for you.

  4. October 6, 2010 4:48 pm

    hengist – I hadn’t heard that. Thanks. More astroturfing.

  5. Graham Wayne permalink*
    October 6, 2010 5:35 pm

    I had seen queries asking how he could afford the £60K minimum needed to get into the high court, but I didn’t know about his boss. Funny how deniers never mentioned it 😉

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