Climate change conspiracy theories and the ABC radio interview with John Cook that never was

a radio
A radio yesterday, which didn’t broadcast an interview with University of Queensland climate change communication fellow John Cook

In the space of six days, The Australian newspaper has published five news stories and an opinion piece attacking the credibility of the Australian government’s weather and climate agency, the Bureau of Meteorology.

I’ve covered the guts of the early stories over on my Planet Oz blog for The Guardian.

But the core of it is that Dr Jennifer Marohasy, a former Institute of Public Affairs free market think tankerer, is claiming that the BoM has, in her words, “corrupted the official temperature record so it more closely accords with the theory of anthropogenic global warming”.

Marohasy is a researcher at Central Queensland University with her work funded by another climate change “sceptic”.

She has has not published her analysis in any journal, yet The Australian’s Graham Lloyd has deemed the claims of a climate science sceptic on blogs worthy enough of five news pieces.

I just want to deal with his latest story, that comments on the BoM’s process of transparency.  The story includes this bit:

The bureau has been under fire for not making publicly available the methodology used for homogenisation.

Michael Asten from the School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University said confidence in BOM’s data would increase “if and when BOM publishes or supplies its homogenisation algorithms, a step which would be quite consistent with existing ­requirements of the better peer-reviewed journals.’’

BOM said its methods had been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals but did not say where or in what form.

This claim is – oh what’s the word – bollocks (sorry kids).

algo bom
Click to engorge this algorithm

Here is a page on the BoM’s website which goes to great lengths to provide information on how the agency deals with the data from its hundreds of temperature stations.

What’s more, it appears neither Lloyd or Asten are prepared to actually look at the peer reviewed literature where the “homogenisation algorithms” are hidden away in plain sight – or at least in the sight of anyone interested enough to want to look for it.

Here, in the peer reviewed journal International Journal of Climatology, is a paper from BoM’s Blair Trewin discussing the methodology and the mathematical tools (algorithms) that the bureau has used as part of their method to construct their high quality data set, the ACORN-SAT.

If you really don’t believe me, here is grab passage on the right from the actual paper in question.. you likely won’t understand it, but this matters not. It’s the details of the algorithm in a journal, linked to from the BoM website, that some people apparently can’t see.

I argued in my Guardian post that Marohasy and, by extension, Graham Lloyd were spreading little more than a conspiracy theory.

I say this because what’s necessary for Marohasy’s claim that “corrupted the official temperature record so it more closely accords with the theory of anthropogenic global warming” is important to dwell on.

For her claim to be true, she needs evidence that lots of scientists have got together – perhaps under a tree or in a secret bunker somewhere – and hatched a plan to throw away all of their scientific integrity and just fiddle the numbers.

Marohasy has no evidence for this happening whatsoever and so is left with innuendo.

Marohasy gave an interview with ABC Goulburn Murray where she discussed her claims. But part way through the interview the line goes dead. She called back and continued the interview, continuing her claims of a “cover up”.

Marohasy has written about this on her blog.

I was cut-off, before I got to explain too much.

I waited, assuming the line had dropped out. But after no one phoned me back I rang back myself. I phoned ABC Goulburn Murray and was put on hold. Guess whom Bronwen (O’Shea) was now interviewing?

Answer: the infamous John Cook, a faux sceptic from the University of Queensland.

Mr Cook was telling Bronwen that the temperature record for Rutherglen had to be corrected because it was different from everywhere else.

Now for those that don’t know, John Cook is the founder of the Skeptical Science website and the Climate Communication Fellow at the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute.

Another sceptic blogger JoNova also commented on the ABC interview with Cook.

“We’re looking forward to seeing John Cook explain that on his blog,” she wrote.

One commenter said:

The plug would have been pulled by the Producer (the person who sits in the glass box and fiddles with the knobs and sliders), who obviously panicked when the interview, based on the Producer’s questions, did not go according to plan.

Making the second mistake, of asking John Cook to say anything sensible, was the icing on the cake, that hopefully will cost the Producer their job (although I doubt it).

On Marohasy’s blog, another commenter wondered:

John Cook gets media dispensation everywhere. One can’t imagine why; his consensus paper is drivel; and did he really say this:

“Mr Cook was telling Bronwen that the temperature record for Rutherglen had to be corrected because it was different from everywhere else.”

One can only hope it is different from everywhere else; that’s the point; even the AGW scientists [sic] admit to great regional variation; or at least they use to; who knows what they are saying.

One also wonders whether Cook rang in and Jennifer was shunted to give way to this VIP [sic] or whether the ABC rang him?

Well, I was keen to know if John Cook had been looking at the issue of temperature records. I called John to ask him about his ABC interview.

The conversation went something like this.

Me: How was the interview on ABC Goulburn Murray?

John: What interview…?

That’s right. John Cook was not interviewed by ABC Goulburn Murray and he has apparently never met or spoken to the host in question, Bronwen O’Shea.

John even offered an alibi! He was with his mum and before anyone asks, no I’ve not called John Cook’s mum to verify that the person she was with that morning was actually John Cook, her son.

Just to be doubly sure, I asked the ABC for a response.

I was told that they did not interview John Cook, but did have a talkback caller who came on the line after the phone dropped out and this was “David from Sandy Creek” which… well… sort of sounds like John Cook… but not much!

Cook is the bête noire of climate sceptics due to his research showing 97 per cent of climate science papers agree it’s caused by humans. Cook apparently looms so large in the minds of some sceptics that they hear him when he’s not even there.

The sixth story in The Australian comes from Maurice Newman, the Prime Minister’s top business advisor, headlined Groupthink reigns in climate research.

Newman’s piece is the usual bilge but it does include this specific claim about the United States, where Newman hints that the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also fiddles its temperature data.

Now, 1998 is the hottest on record in the US.

Actually no.  The hottest year for continental United States was 2012, smashing the previous hottest year – 1998 – by a whole degree fahrenheit.

You’re shocked by these errors aren’t you? Shocked I say.

Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

13 thoughts on “Climate change conspiracy theories and the ABC radio interview with John Cook that never was”

  1. It was a bad leap by Dr Marohasy who must have been misinformed with regards the caller who came on after she was cut off in the interview. The explanation is now that the caller mentioned John Cook and his Blog, but I’m not sure whether the caller suggested the explanation posited – that Rutherglen was adjusted to homogenise it with other local sites was mentioned at SkepticalScience. It was an explanation certainly offered earlier by BOM.

    I have read the published peer reviewed paper on BOM methodology, but that is not evidence the methodology was either applied, or applied correctly.

    A builder can refer you to the appropriate building codes, and say that his building complies with the codes. But that is not proof that it does. Deliberate short cuts or accidental mistakes can be made. That is why we still have building inspectors to make sure buildings actually comply with the code.

    What BOM hasn’t supplied for scrutiny is the detailed information showing how any of the 112 stations in the ACORN data set were adjusted or homogenised. It should be a simple matter to do this. Instead when specific issued have been raised about certain sites, most recently Amberley and Rutherglen, spokes people for BOM, or other authorities such as Dr David Karoly have ‘suggested’ that the adjustments were made because the temperature station was moved and/or it was homogenised with local stations.

    When those possibilities have been checked out, they have been found wanting. With experienced senior past BOM employees asserting the station wasn’t moved in the case of Amberley, and BOM’s own data showing that in the case of Rutherglen the stations raw record is consistent with other nearby stations.

    That it why it is easy to conclude that there could be a deliberate attempt to artificially warm the data, or simply a deliberate cover up of errors where the methodology hasn’t been correctly applied or the results checked.

    The BOM could resolve all these issues simply by releasing the data and adjustment details for all 112 stations in the ACORN data series. Why don’t they?

  2. Anyone wondering who Michael Asten from the School of Earth Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University is should read this article from Michael Ashley, Professor of Astrophysics at UNSW Australia.
    Ashley’s article from 2011 documents Asten’s role as a climate science misinformer for The Australian.

    Asten misrepresented the work of climate researcher Paul Pearson to the extent that Pearson and his co-authors wrote to The Australian. Ashley goes on to document the errors in another three of Asten’s opeds for The Australian.

    1. Thanks MikeH – I was actually the one who wrote to Pearson asking him what he thought of Asten’s column, way back when I was a blogger at News Ltd!

  3. James – your entire attempt to sound reasonable can’t hide the fact that you believe the Bureau to be involved in a conspiracy to manipulate climate data. Something you likely also believe of NASA.

    Your comparison with the building industry is fatuous. The Bom have made methods, code, adjusted data and raw data all available. If you actually knew what you were doing, then you could easily compare the raw and the adjusted data, and Graham’s guardian post showed a plot from Bom showing a whole lot of different data sets showing the same warming trend for Australia. SO the nefarious accusations from you must run very deep, into global warming conspiracy territory.

    In terms of the Bom not providing other stuff – have you actually asked, or are you just repeating the error prone Marohasy’s BS? But, well I’m curious, you said that you have read the paper, and that providing the adjustments should be simple.

    Can you explain how the algorithms work now that you have read the paper? It looks like they use a distributional adjustment to daily data. This would indicate that the adjustments are some sort of array rather than a straight shift. The array would make sense, but its more difficult to work out how you would provide a comparison adjustment for two sets of data that have been combined.

    The stupid way to do that comparison would be to simply bootstrap the two timeseries together – pretend that they are a continuous set of data, and then provide a comparison with the properly combined data. That would tell you nothing, unless you believed that you could simply bootstrap the data together in the first place, which seems to be the brightest scientific idea of people like Marohasy.

    Rather, the best way to compare the impact would be to do what the Bom did, and compare spatially interpolated trends from both adjusted and unadjusted data. Which seems to be what they have on their release.

    Alas, I fear that you have not actually read the paper – have switched your argument from, “they haven’t released their methods” to “they haven’t released the data” – both false.

    I think I can summarise your position as roughly thus. I don’t like the Bom – they are part of a global conspiracy – I would would like to criticize their methods, but I don’t actually have the skills to reproduce their work, so I would like the Bom to stop whatever it is that they do and provide to me whatever I want to feed my fantasies.

    As for them being caught out by Marohasy can you show me where she has published her critique of their work in a scientific journal? Or is being a keystone cop pointing fingers part of scientific discourse these days?

  4. OK I must have exceeded size limits. I will try to edit:
    Cores, I do not believe the Moon Landing was faked – but I do believe Stephan Lewandowsky’s methodology and analysis was an embarrassment to his University. That is another matter.

    I have a Masters in economics specialising in econometrics so no problem with following the BOM paper.

    I am also an investor. We don’t take public companies word for it that they apply best practice governance and accounting – they must be audited. People make mistakes, people commit fraud, and people have barrows to push.

    BOM has become politicised. Climate division is headed by Dr David Jones who famously wrote in a Climategate exposed email to Phil Jones in Sep 2007:

    “Fortunately in Australia our sceptics are rather scientifically incompetent. It is also easier for us in that we have a policy of providing any complainer with every single station observation when they question our data (this usually snows them) and the Australian data is in pretty good order anyway.
    Truth be know, climate change here is now running so rampant that we don’t need meteorological data to see it. Almost everyone of our cities is on the verge of running out of water and our largest irrigation system (the Murray Darling Basin is on the verge of collapse – across NSW farmer have received a 0% allocation of water for the coming summer and in Victoria they currently have 5% allocations – numbers that will just about see the
    death of our fruit, citrus, vine and dairy industries if we don’t get good spring rain).
    The odd things is that even when we see average rainfall our runoffs are far below average, which seems to be a direct result of warmer temperatures. Recent polls show that Australians now rate climate change as a greater threat than world terrorism.”

    In other words he tries to hide data from ‘complainers’ and was making incredibly alarmist and inaccurate predictions about Australia’s climate.

    Australian taxpayers have over $10bn in mothballed desal plants because of BOM advice like this. In NSW alone dams are at over 85% capacity and the State pays over $500K/day to not produce water from their desal plant.

    With ACORN-SAT we are talking about 112 stations. It is not a big ask to make the decisions and calculations for every station available for scrutiny. Any truly inquiring mind would ask why it isn’t available.

    I have corresponded multiple times with BOM and also with the Federal Government in an attempt to gain access to the information.

  5. Thanks for confirming that you have a conspiracy theory when it comes to the BoM. That you don’t believe the moon landing to be fake is irrelevant. Your post makes it plain enough to anyone reading it.

    I notice the the Australian has comparison for Bourke homogenised versus Bourke with multiple sites bolted together. How did they manage to do that when BoM doesn’t give out their data?

    Your rant about policy is also noted, in that your evaluation of the science necessarily includes its political implications. I guess that is why economics isn’t a real science.

    Perhaps you can show us this correspondence that you have had with BoM where they refuse to give you something.

    And, rather unsurprisingly, you fail to give a reference for the peer reviewed study Marohasy has made into homogenised temperatures. If you want to go on a witch hunt, shouldn’t you need evidence that is published. Why hasn’t she published her work?

    Any truly inquiring mind would ask why it isn’t available.

  6. Oh, and its good that you had no problem with the paper. I’m a bit slow.

    So what would the adjustment to daily temperatures using their technique look like? I am having trouble picturing it.

  7. And for the record, if you posit a conspiracy theory, then you are a conspiracy theorist.

    You are basically accusing BoM of manipulating data, and NASA and NOAA and everyone else. And they have done this through multiple generations of research, while protecting scientists that you believe to be crooked. All of them.

    If you have an alternative explanation of how multiple different analyses and raw data give the same results using methods that rely on falsely manipulating data, let us know what it is.

  8. by James on August 29, 2014 – 3:55 pm: “It was a bad leap by Dr Marohasy”

    So bad and about a fact so easily verified that it should set alarm bells ringing in any reasonable person. That it doesn’t tells it’s own story.

    by James on August 29, 2014 – 3:55 pm: “I have read the published peer reviewed paper on BOM methodology, but that is not evidence the methodology was either applied, or applied correctly”

    No paper in any scientific discipline is evidence that the methodology was applied or applied correctly, but it does give people the tools and information required to verify if it was. Dr Marohasy has forgone verification in favour of innuendo and insinuation.

    by James on August 30, 2014 – 9:50 pm: “Any truly inquiring mind would ask why it isn’t available”

    Any competent inquiring mind would find that it is.

  9. So James says Dr Jones’s e-mail shows he ‘tries to hide data from “complainers”‘ – by providing all of it, as ‘the Australian data is in pretty good order anyway’. And James says Dr Jones makes ‘incredibly alarmist and inaccurate predictions’ by describing, in Sep 2007, the then current water shortages and the immediate implications for the coming summer. Yet Dr Jones’s e-mail says only that when we get more normal rain we are getting reduced runoff: a plain fact on what we know at present.

    James goes beyond conspiracy theory to plain falsehood, as I read his post.

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