updated 4/25/2007 10:36:18 AM ET 2007-04-25T14:36:18

A group of British climate scientists has demanded that a production company change a documentary critical of the theory that global warming is caused by greenhouse gases before it is released on DVD.

An open letter sent Tuesday by 38 scientists, including the former heads of Britain's academy of sciences and Britain's weather office, has called on Wag TV, the maker of "The Great Global Warming Swindle," to remove what it called "major misrepresentations" from the film — a demand its director said was tantamount to censorship.

"Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements," said Bob Ward, the former spokesman for the Royal Society, Britain's academy of science, and one of the letter's signatories. "Somebody has to stand up for the public interest here."

The documentary, which first aired on Channel 4 in March, argues that man-made emissions have only a marginal impact on the world's climate, and that instead, climate change can better be explained by changing patterns of solar activity.

Ward said the film's director, Mark Durkin, made a "long catalog of fundamental and profound mistakes" — including the claim that volcanoes produce more carbon dioxide than humans, and that the Earth's atmosphere was warmer during the Middle Ages than it is today.

The scientists do not want the DVD released without edits to remove the material they object to — something Ward said would fatally weaken the film's argument.

"The fact is that it's a very convincing program, and if you're not very aware of the science you wouldn't necessarily see what the errors are," he said. "But the errors are huge. ... Without those errors in, he doesn't have a story."

Ward has also complained to Britain's media regulator, which said it was investigating the matter. British broadcast law demands impartiality on matters of major political and industrial controversy — and penalties can be imposed for misrepresentations of fact.

Durkin called the letter "loathsome."

"This is a contemptible, weasel-worded attempt to gag scientific criticism, and it won't work," he said. "I don't believe they're interested in quality control when it comes to the reporting of science — so long as it's on their side."

Durkin acknowledged two of the errors highlighted by the scientists — including the claim about volcanic emissions — but he described those changes as minor and said they would be corrected in the expanded DVD release.

"They're trying to go through with a sort of nit-comb and trying desperately to find stuff they can sling at the film," he said. "They have no impact on the substance of the argument at all."

The decision to broadcast Durkin's documentary — billed as "the definitive response to Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth'" — on Channel 4 was an unusual move in a country where the role of man-made carbon emissions in heating the globe is largely taken for granted and politicians regularly spar over which party has the greenest environmental policy.

Gore, for his part, has been hired as an adviser to the British government, which plans to send copies of his film to schools all around England.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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