The Australian Newspaper’s War On The Bureau of Meteorology

In the space of a two weeks, The Australian newspaper has published 10 stories attacking the Bureau of Meteorology with claims the government agency has been fiddling its temperature data to show more warming than actually exists.

BoM scientists have been doing this, according to the chief protagonist of the story climate sceptic Jennifer Marohasy, because it fits more neatly with the narrative that the world is warming.

It’s a conspiracy.

Now ten stories is a lot of reading, so allow me to summarise what’s been going on for you.

The Australian newspaper has published the claims of climate science sceptics that government scientists are fiddling temperature data with the express purpose of making things appear warmer than they are and that BoM is being secretive.

The Australian newspaper doesn’t tell readers that almost every single claim being made has been discussed at length in previous journal papers and technical reports, published or written by BoM, leaving only the thinly veiled suggestion of a conspiracy, which nobody has any evidence for because it’s not there.

As I’ve explained before, Marohasy is a former free market think tank researcher who is now at Central Queensland University with her work paid for by the foundation of a climate science sceptic.

None of the claims made by Marohasy have been published in a peer reviewed journal, despite the fact that since January she has found time to write repeatedly to government ministers, has spoken at the Sydney Institute and flown to a conference for climate sceptics in Las Vegas – all the while making the same accusations.

Lloyd’s reporting, some of it branded “Exclusive”, has been full of curiosities (I’ve documented a few in a previous post and on The Guardian) some of which give the reader the impression that there’s more to a particular aspect of the story than there actually is.

For example, he has used quotes and reported speech to suggest that BoM has not published particular details about methods used in its ACORN-SAT temperature series, when, as I demonstrated here, it clearly has.

In Lloyd’s first story on 23 August headlined Heat is on over weather bureau revising record, Lloyd wrote that: “In correspondence, Marohasy was told by NASA the Amberley data was adjusted to take account of historic temperature records at nearby stations.”

The idea that Marohasy has been communicating with NASA lends an air of credibility.

But it turns out that the extent of that “correspondence” was an exchange that Marohasy had on Twitter with Gavin Schmidt, who is the director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies but who’s Twitter feed isn’t an official NASA account.

During the exchange, Schmidt told Marohasy: “Assuming change => ‘corruption’ w/o need to deal w/inhomogenieties is simply posturing”.

This part of the non-existent “NASA correspondence” didn’t make it into Lloyd’s story.

Few are following Lloyd’s story, although there was some support from the cat whisperer Ken Ring with a post on his Yahoo NZ blog.

Much of Lloyd’s content appears to be being prompted by claims from climate sceptic bloggers.  If this is The Australian’s modus operandi, then Graham Lloyd could publish an entire newspaper every day based on unfounded and repeated claims of climate sceptics that are made on denialist blogs.

One of those bloggers, Perth-based JoNova, even says as much in a blog post that appeared an hour after The Australian published its latest story. Nova wrote:

Behind the scenes emails are abuzz among the independent BOM audit team at the moment, and it’s remarkable how quickly they are being converted into the media stories.

Emails from climate science sceptics being converted into stories for the Murdoch-owned News Corp Australia’s flagship newspaper.  Cutting edge stuff eh?

In the latest story – Bureau of Meteorology ‘adding mistakes’ with data modelling – Lloyd bases his article on quotes from David Stockwell, who we are told is a “widely published expert” who “has been recognised by the US government as ‘outstanding’ in his academic field.”

Lloyd doesn’t say that this acknowledgment, according to Stockwell’s LinkedIn profile, was given by the US Immigration Service, perhaps because then readers might wonder why this is relevant?

And “widely published” where, exactly?  In some leading journals?  Science perhaps? Nature maybe? And published about what?

Stockwell’s Google Scholar page lists many publications, but those relevant to temperature and climate change appear to have been mostly published either by Stockwell himself, or the journal Energy and Environment.

Energy and Environment is known as the go-to journal for climate science sceptics and has an editorial board that is stacked with contrarians.

One of those is Dr Benny Peiser, the head of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a UK-based climate science denialist group which recently restructured to enable it to engage in political lobbying after complaints about its activities were made to the UK’s Charities Commission. Peiser is a former co-editor of the journal.

There’s no mention either of Stockwell’s role, alongside Marohasy, as a contributing author and/or reviewer for a Heartland Institute project – the NIPCC report.  Stockwell’s affiliation as an adjunct researcher at Central Queensland University, where Marohasy also works, is left out too.

Heartland, for those that don’t know, is a free market think tank in the US that once ran an infamous billboard campaign with a picture of terrorist and murder Ted “unabomber” Kaczynski beside the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do You?”. Heartland told us:

This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.that suggested people who accepted the science of global warming

Perhaps readers might heavily discount Stockwell if they knew this information?

In Lloyd’s article, Stockwell calls for an audit of the BoM’s temperature record. That’s not new either – Stockwell was saying practically the same thing back in 2012.

But what’s particularly interesting about Lloyd’s coverage is just how many of the complaints made by sceptics in his stories have already been addressed by BoM.

BoM has outlined in a technical report on its website how the homogenisation technique it employs has impacted on the observed warming since the beginning of the last century to the tune of about 0.2C.  Overall, Australia has warmed by 0.9C since 1910.

If BoM is trying to hide things, it’s plainly not doing it very well.

Professor Neville Nicholls of Monash University, who worked at BoM for 35 years with responsibility for making the temperature records more robust, has pointed out that temperature stations historically move or the conditions around them change (vegetation grows, for example, or buildings go up or come down) and this can artificially change the temperature readings. He told me on Planet Oz:

Are we supposed to just ignore that? A scientist can’t ignore those effects. It’s not science to just go ahead and plot that raw data.

In a response of sorts, Nicholls has written a story for The Conversation where he points out how easy it is for anyone to take a look at the raw data because it is all still available on the BoM website.

A retired scientist Bill Johnstone entered the comments section of Nicholl’s story.  Johnston was quoted in an earlier Lloyd that claimed one of the temperature sites – Rutherglen – had never moved, even though its data had been through a homogenisation process at BoM.

Marohasy called for “heads to roll” and claimed she had evidence that the temperature station there had “never been moved”. In The Australian, Johnston was quoted to support Marohasy’s claim because Johnston had worked at the place in question.

But on The Conversation, Johnstone wrote that in fact he only worked at Rutherglen on and off for a few years at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s. It seems he wasn’t even based there.

I’m aware that the bureau has documentary evidence that the Rutherglen site moved sometime before the 1970s.  So Marohasy is calling for people to be sacked based partly on the word of a retired scientist who worked there four decades after the period in question.

Again in today’s story, BoM makes clear that it has a policy of not commenting on scientific claims made about its work that are published outside the peer reviewed literature.

Graham Lloyd and his happy band of climate denialist cheerleaders and content providers seem to want the science to be carried out on blogs instead.

Here, for the record, is the extent of the coverage so far.

August 23 – Heat is on over weather bureau revising records (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

August 26 – ‘Amateurs’ challenging Bureau of Meteorology climate figures (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

August 27 – Climate records contradict Bureau of Meteorology (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

August 29 – Bureau of Meteorology told to be more transparent (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

August 29 – Groupthink reigns in climate change research (Maurice Newman, The Australian)

August 30 – Weatherman’s records detail heat that ‘didn’t happen’ (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

August 30 – Distorting the data on our changeable climate (Adelaide Advertiser, The Australian’s Chris Kenny)

September 2 – Bureau of Meteorology defended over temperature records by climate scientists (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

September 3 – Heat off Bourke after Bureau of Meteorology revision (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

September 4 – ‘More time’ to find Rutherglen temperature record (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

September 5 – Bureau of Meteorology ‘adding mistakes’ with data modelling (Graham Lloyd, The Australian)

No doubt there’ll be more to come. I’ll try and keep the list updated.

UPDATE: BoM has released a second media statement in response to the attacks from The Australian. It includes the graph below that shows what happens when you overlay the “homegenised” data and “unhomogenised” data. It’s a graph that rips a considerable chunk of guts from the Marohasy’s central argument.

Average temperatures in Australia from 1910 through 2013 using temperature readings that have been both homogenised (red) and unhomogenised (blue).
Average temperatures in Australia from 1910 through 2013 using temperature readings that have been both homogenised (red) and unhomogenised (blue).
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Author: Graham

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

8 thoughts on “The Australian Newspaper’s War On The Bureau of Meteorology”

  1. The funny thing about this. Actually, its not that funny. Is that the numerous factual errors and spin from the Australian will go un-commented by the deniers. Like most of the stuff that they make up on the spot and that subsequently gets proved as rubbish, they just leave it and keep on walking.

    Opposing this, expect this and other comment threads to include those same people pointing to some supposed discrepancy in the description of a thermometer in Woomera as a smoking gun that ‘demands a response from the Bureau’.

    The intellectual equivalent of ‘oooh look over there, a squirrel!’.

    All of it based on a base assumption of a nefarious conspiracy that renders all scientific bodies as untrustworthy.

  2. In Lloyd’s latest article he claims
    “The bureau has defended the Rutherglen temperature adjustment despite the official record and a former employee confirming the thermometer site had never been moved.”

    Presumably he means “skeptic” Bill Johnston who as you note is not a former employee although he had done some work at the site. When Johnston was asked about this claim in the comments of Neville Nicholls article, he refused to backup Lloyd and Marohasy’s claim about the site not being moved and eventually acknowledged that it likely had.

    Given Lloyd’s articles are behind a paywall, I doubt he is concerned that his stories are a full of obvious nonsense and in some cases outright lies. His stories are designed to gee up the climate tinfoil hatters no doubt demoralised by the laughter that greeted Maurice “global cooling” Newman’s risible drivel published in the same paper.

  3. The only deniers these days are those who deny the pause or deny the data has been “sexed up” to show warming.

    Or perhaps they are linked? Because isn’t it strange that from the time sceptics started scrutinising these figures and/or we had independent verification by satellite, the warming went away!

  4. Mike Haseler, I used to think that debating people like you was the right thing to do and that presenting facts to you might change your mind or amend your argument. Now I know that ad hominem is the right way to go with people like you: you’re an idiot.

  5. “Pause”? the Denialati believe that a short, cherry picked period, – commencing from the abnormally (and worryingly) high global temperature caused by an El Niño – in which there is warming but it is not significantly significant, is something to hang a scientific hat on?

    Desperation and stupidity led by a couple of attention-seeking snake oil sales women – check out Morahasy requesting that, if you find Jo Nova’s blog-busking entertaining, please give her money so she can take a holiday with the kids.

    Meanwhile diligent and honest scientists are being criticized and defamed.

  6. Mike Haseler not to be outdone by The Australian ramps up the conspiracy by suggesting that all warming has been “sexed up”. That of course would involve a massive conspiracy by meteorological agencies across national borders and since the warming trend is almost identical in the raw data, the complicity of the thousands of people who have recorded the temperatures over the last century.
    http://www.bom.gov.au/announcements/media_releases/ho/20140905.shtml

    A much more plausible explanation is that Scottish Sceptic (sic) is wearing his tinfoil hat too tight and it has cut off blood flow to his brain.

  7. Gotta love that response from BoM. It comes down to “If we’d be fiddling with the data record, surely we could do better than the others, no?”

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