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George South | 11:41 UK time, Friday, 25 July 2008

The web. It's a great place to find out new things, challenge one's preconceptions and expose urban myths and untruths. And the sheer number of citizen journalists and bloggers makes it trivially easy to point out shoddy reporting.

Or, perhaps not. The blogosphere can also seem like an echo chamber where those with non-mainstream beliefs can find like-minded souls, and tune out opposing ideas. As Charlie Brooker found out last week after attacking 9/11 conspiracy theorists on Comment is Free, the internet is the natural home for 'truthers'; his post attracted more comments than any other in the history of the site .

Few issues polarise people as much as the reality of man-made global warming. On Monday, Ofcom's long-awaited judgement on Channel 4's The Great Global Warming Swindle was published. You can read the report itself here. So what was the verdict? Over to the blogs:

Ok, so they weren't quick but they got there in the end. The TV regulators have finally came out and said that the 'Documentary' the 'Great Global Warming Swindle' was not up to scratch. In fact, they said a lot more than that but in language that wasn't quite as direct as it might have been. Michael Greenwell
Great Global Warming Swindle Cleared How shoddy is the case for global warming theory than 37 professors between them cannot convince Ofcom of a single uncorrected error in The Great Global Warming Swindle? In all, this witchhunt against The Great Global Warming Swindle has failed utterly to discredit it, discrediting instead the accusers. Andrew Bolt
Ofcom rules that The Great Global Warming Swindle was biased and unfair (...) It was unfair to the IPCC, David King, and Carl Wunsch and breached a requirement of impartiality about global warming policy. The complaint is a thorough demolition of all the falsehoods in the Swindle... Deltoid
None of the complaints alleging lack of due impartiality in the science portion (sections 1-4) was upheld. Not one. The only bone thrown to the complainants was a finding that there had not been due impartiality in the portion talking about Africa - an issue that Bob Ward and the Myles Allen 37 didn't even mention. A humiliating defeat ... for the professors ...it's hard to imagine a more thorough stuffing of the complainants. They were lucky they didn't have to pay costs. Climate Audit
Overall: C4 gets stuffed on this one, with most of the complaints upheld. Stoat
OfCom's key finding, after their minor technical criticisms, is devastating. The film "Did not mislead audiences so as to cause harm or offence". But the main thrust of the complainants was that Channel 4 had misled audiences. The OfCom verdict amounts almost to an endorsement of the film. Straight Talking

Confused? In some ways, the online coverage of the Ofcom verdict is reflective of the larger climate change debate. Such a mixed and heavily caveated report lends itself to multiple interpretations. In the wider scientific skirmishes over climate change, the exact same observations and facts about, for example, levels of sea ice and historical CO2 levels have been used to draw quite different conclusions. How can this be?

Dr Patrick Leman is a Reader in Psychology at the University of London. He told us that the same piece of evidence can be used by different people to support very different accounts of events. People tend to consider new information to be more plausible if it confirms their pre-existing beliefs - a phenomenon known as confirmation bias - and the nature of the web can be to amplify and exaggerate this bias. Here's an extended version of the interview we recorded earlier.


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