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Complainant Name:
Sir John Houghton

Clauses Noted: 1

Publication: The Sunday Telegraph


Sir John Houghton, former Chief Executive of the Met Office and former Co-Chair of the Scientific Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, complained to the Press Complaints Commission that the newspaper had quoted from comments he had made in a 1995 article in an incomplete and misleading way.


The complaint was resolved when the PCC negotiated the publication of the following letter from the complainant in the newspaper and on its website:

SIR - Over the past few years, my name has mistakenly been associated with the quotation: "Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen." I have never made this statement. Despite my efforts to lay to rest this misquotation, some commentators have continued to use it, among them Christopher Booker. In an article (Comment, February 20) Mr Booker purports to set the record straight, but cannot resist taking a parting shot. He goes on to suggest that 15 years ago I had expressed the same sentiment in different phrasing. This is not so.

What I said, in reference to the reactive nature of policymaking, was: "If we want a good environmental policy in the future, we'll have to have a disaster. It's like safety on public transport. The only way humans will act is if there's been an accident."

I was not suggesting that it is ethical for the scientific community to misrepresent evidence. My point was that policy reacts to experience: actual adverse events shock people and thereby bring about change. I have categorically never promoted the view that scientists should manipulate data to provoke a policy response.

Sir John Houghton FRS

Chairman, Scientific Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1988-2002

Aberdyfi, Gwynedd

Date Published: 16/09/2010

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