Extracts from Ofcom Complaint, by Category

Misrepresentation of
Carl Wunsch’s Views

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Comment 54: Use of selective editing to misrepresent Wunsch on ocean reservoirs / Comment 94: Use of selective editing to misrepresent what Wunsch said about modelling

Key to colour-coded commentary text

Bright red text: Actual falsification of data, and/or misrepresentation of the views of a contributor to the programme

Dark red text: Narration, or on-screen graphics, or an accumulation of consecutive interviewee statements that taken together amount to narration; which are either factually inaccurate, or apparently intentionally misleading, or are an attempt to give the impression that a contentious opinion is a fact.

Blue text: Interviewee is either factually inaccurate, apparently intentionally misleading, or expresses an opinion as if it were a fact without context being provided to make it clear that its an opinion.

[This section was considered by both the the Fairness and Standards Divisions of Ofcom.]

[Professor Carl Wunsch, Dept of Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology]

The ocean is the major reservoir into which carbon dioxide goes when it comes out of the atmosphere, or from which it is readmitted to the atmosphere. If you heat the surface of the ocean, it tends to emit carbon dioxide. So similarly, if you cool the ocean surface, the ocean can dissolve more carbon dioxide.

[Comment 54: Wunsch has since clarified these remarks, saying that … I was trying to explain that warming the ocean was dangerous because it could potentially release so much CO2. That was used to make the point that most of the CO2 in the ocean is natural and so not a human caused problem. (http://tinyurl.com/2abj44). The context provided by the narration therefore misrepresents Wunschs point in a deeply misleading way.

See also Wunschs response at: http://tinyurl.com/2fcfnh, in which he writes: my intent was to explain that warming the ocean could be dangerous, because it is such a gigantic reservoir of carbon. By its placement in the film, it appears that I am saying that since carbon dioxide exists in the ocean in such large quantities, human influence must not be very important – diametrically opposite to the point I was making – which is that global warming is both real and threatening. ]

(In breach of the 2003 Communications Act Section 265, Ofcom 5.7, 7.2, 7.3, 7.6, 7.9)


Models predict what the temperature might be in 50 or a 100 years time. It is one of their peculiar features, that long range climate forecasts are only proved wrong long after people have forgotten about them. As a result, there is a danger, according to Professor Carl Wunsch, that modellers will be less concerned in producing a forecast that is accurate than one that is interesting.

[Prof Carl Wunsch]

Even within the scientific community, you see, its a problem. If I run a complicated model and I do something to it, like melt a lot of ice into the ocean and nothing happens, its not likely to get printed. But if I run the same model and I adjust it in such a way that something dramatic happens to the ocean circulation, like the heat transport turns off, it will be published. People will say: this is very exciting, it will even get picked up by the media. So there is a bias, theres a very powerful bias within the media and within the science community itself, towards results which are dramatisable. The Earth freezes over – thats a much more interesting story than saying: well, you know, it fluctuates around, sometimes the mass flux goes up by 10 percent, sometimes it goes down by 20 percent, but eventually it comes back. Well, you know, which would you do a story on? That, thats what its about.

[Comment 94: Wunsch has subsequently stated (see: http://tinyurl.com/2abj44) that:

The part of the program where Im discussing models was changed by cutting. I believe that I tried to explain that models were essential to understanding climate change, but that I was doubtful about their predictive skill when run out for long periods into the future. I did also say, as shown, that there was a natural bias toward modeling results that were dramatic rather than ones that seemed to show little or slow change. Again, I thought I was appearing in a program whose goal was to show how complicated climate change is and how all the subtleties are lost.

Finally, and this did not appear at all in the film, I said that there were some threats that were much more concrete and already present than was a new ice age in the UK by shutting off the Gulf Stream. In particular, I mentioned the ongoing threat of sea level rise, and of mega droughts in the US midwest which I said worried me, among other things. None of this got in.

Although it is fair to report Wunschs criticisms of models, and of media coverage of global warming, it shows a clear bias on the part of the film makers, and profoundly misrepresents Wunschs views, to have edited out his statement that models [are] essential to understanding climate change; as well as editing out the concerns he expressed about the threats to be expected from future climate change.]

(In breach of the 2003 Communications Act Section 265, Ofcom 5.7, 7.2, 7.3, 7.6, 7.9)