Column in The Australian calls climate denialist Malcolm Roberts a “complete nutter”. A glitch in the matrix?

I’ve written plenty of stories over the years having a go at the way Rupert Murdoch’s loss-making newspaper The Australian covers climate science.

So it would be a bit churlish if I didn’t point out when its coverage is, shall we say, a little more mainstream.

But first, some context. Continue reading “Column in The Australian calls climate denialist Malcolm Roberts a “complete nutter”. A glitch in the matrix?”


More sophistry from The Australian on coral reef science in wake of Great Barrier Reef bleaching

Lizard071 - May 2016
Bleached and algae covered coral at Lizard Island, Great Barrier Reef, May 2016: Credit: XL Catlin Seaview Survey

If you’ve been reading The Australian recently, you might think that coral reef science is in some kind of crisis.

The Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper has been attempting to spin the worst coral bleaching event in the reef’s recorded history as a beat-up by environmentalists and high-profile scientists.

It isn’t.

The latest instalment came earlier today from the newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd, under the print headline “The bleaching of parts of the reef is dividing the scientific world” and online under the headline “Great barrier battleground over coral bleaching.”

Lloyd seems to be trying to construct a narrative that the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and the subsequent death of about a quarter of all the corals has opened some sort of schism among scientists.

The bleaching, writes Lloyd, has “unleashed long-simmering tensions over the quality of reef research.”

This is, in my view, bollocks [sorry kids].

Lloyd includes three individuals to back up his claims. They have two things in common. Continue reading “More sophistry from The Australian on coral reef science in wake of Great Barrier Reef bleaching”


Were historical pictures of reef degradation really misused, as The Australian newspaper claimed?

Coral death at Lizard island after the 2016 mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef: Credit XL Catlin Seaview Survey
Coral death at Lizard island after the 2016 mass bleaching event on the Great Barrier Reef: Credit XL Catlin Seaview Survey

The Australian published a convoluted story this weekend about the Great Barrier Reef and the claims of a scientist over some old pictures.

Remembering for a minute the reef has just gone through its worst bleaching event on record leading to the death of a quarter of the corals – a huge and historic deal that will impact the reef for the rest of our lifetimes.

I’ve written a few stories about that recently – including this piece looking at a recent dodgy editorial in The Australian.

But anyway, over the weekend The Australian published a story about Professor Peter Ridd, of James Cook University, who had apparently been disciplined for criticising colleagues and the the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) for using some old pictures of reef near Stone Island to show how coral cover had declined over time.

According to Graham Lloyd, The Australian’s environment editor, Ridd said the pictures – from between 1890 and 2012 – didn’t show for sure the reefs were declining. Scientists needed to be more sceptical, he said.

For kicking up a stink, Ridd was reportedly almost fired.

The Australian also reported that Ridd had sent scientists out to check on the reef in question – valiantly displaying the kind of scientific skepticism that was so lacking in others. Some areas were OK, The Australian said.

But the story seems to me to be built on two supremely flaky arguments. Continue reading “Were historical pictures of reef degradation really misused, as The Australian newspaper claimed?”


The faulty science of the Climate Hustle documentary

One of the United States’ most visible climate science denialists, Marc Morano, has a new movie coming out that he claims will “rock the climate debate”.  It won’t.

What it will do, though, is apparently rehash some old climate science denial talking points.

Hiding away on the website of the documentary’s producers was a segment destined for the film.  The segment put some slick graphics to the old myth that because carbon dioxide is only a small part of the atmosphere, that it couldn’t have an effect on the climate.

So I asked some leading climate scientists to look at it, and then produced a bit of a critique of my own.

I’ve written a few pieces now about the documentary for DeSmog – how it’ll reheat old denialist tricks, how there’s a particular religious zeal behind the director and how the premiere was skilfully stage managed when even the red carpet was fake.

Anyway, here’s the vid. UPDATE: Marc Morano has contacted DeSmog to say the clip was not in the final version of the film.  I’ve clarified this in the YouTube clip and the clarification also appears on the DeSmog story that went with it.  I also apologise. The clip was on the public website of Climate Hustle’s production company, CDR Communications (screenshot here) , and was marked “Climate Hustle”. As of right now, 7 Jan 2016, the clip remains there. I should say also, that Mr Morano and CFACT executive director Craig Rucker both told me outside their Paris screening that they would have welcomed me to see the film, but that it was full.  People in the screening later told myself and DeSmog editor Brendan DeMelle that the theatre was in fact only about 70 per cent full.


The Australian misreports study on influence of sun on global warming

lloyd ice age
The p5 story in The Australian. Chances of story about climate science being wrong are on the rise if they appear in The Australian.

If you read The Australian newspaper the other day, you might be forgiven for thinking a new study into the amount of energy coming from the sun had found that the chances of the world experiencing another “little ice age” had gone up.

You might think that because that’s what the newspaper’s environment editor wrote.

Here are the first two paragraphs, under the headline “Chances of little ice age on the rise“.

The sun’s power is weakening at its fastest rate in 9300 years, doubling the odds of a return to little ice age conditions by mid-century, according to research by the British Met Office.

The chance of a repeat of conditions that last occurred between 1645 and 1715 when London’s Thames River regularly froze over and became the scene of winter fairs, was now rated at between 15 and 20 per cent, up from 10 per cent in 2010.

The big problem with these two sentences, is that the study did not look at the chances of the world, or even parts of the world, “returning to little ice age conditions”.

Rather, the study referred to the chances of the sun having a prolonged period of low solar activity similar to a period known as the Maunder Minimum, which coincided with the Little Ice Age but might not necessarily have actually caused it.

The study was published in Nature Communications and amazingly (or not surprisingly if you have followed much of Lloyd’s work over the years) it doesn’t even mention the Little Ice Age.  So what does it say?

Continue reading “The Australian misreports study on influence of sun on global warming”


What The Australian edited out of their report linking fossil fuel burning to climate extremes

Please see update below before you read the post below.

The Associated Press is one of the world’s biggest and oldest news agency’s providing copy to papers and media websites all over the world.

Earlier this week they filed a report about a special edition of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Association which carried 22 studies looking at the link between 16 extreme weather events around the world and human-caused climate change.

I’ve written about five of the studies that looked at Australia’s record hot year of 2013 for my Planet Oz blog on The Guardian.

But anyway, back to AP, which ran a news story about the special edition earlier this week.  The AP report had 19 paragraphs. Paragraphs eight, nine and 10 read like this.

The report seeks to find how much and how man-made warming has influenced the weather, said NOAA research meteorologist Martin Hoerling, an editor of the report.

The influence on Australia’s hottest year in more than a century is glaring, the report’s editors said.

“It’s almost impossible” to explain Australia’s hot 2013 without climate change, said Peter Stott of the United Kingdom’s meteorology office, another report editor.

Now you might know (because I’ve written a fair bit on it) that The Australian newspaper has been on a bit of a mission of late to publish the non-peer-reviewed musings of a climate science denialist who claims Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology has been fiddling its temperature record to show warming.

It just happens to be the same temperature dataset that BoM used to declare 2013 the hottest year on record and the same record that shows Australia has warmed almost a degree in the last 100 years or so (it’s not the only data set that shows this and it’s not the only analysis that shows this either).

So when The Australian ran the Associated Press story about the studies it decided to leave out a few paragraphs. See if you can guess some of them. Go on, I dare you. I double dare you. I double denial dare you to guess.

OK, I’ll tell you.

They left out those three paragraphs above, two of which were the only ones exclusively discussing Australia.

You might think those paragraphs would be the ones most relevant to readers in Australia, seeing as they are the bits talking about Australia, and The Australian is published in Australia (the clue is in the masthead).

But what do I know?

UPDATE: OK – I owe someone an apology.  My criticism was unwarranted (on this occasion) but I’ve kept the post as is rather than delete it, just to show I’m able to eat humble pie when required. Seth Borenstein from Associated Press says that The Australian ran an earlier take of his AP story before the comments from scientists were added.



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.


Maurice Newman’s flight of climate denialist fantasy takes off from Cobar Airport

Maurice Newman

Maurice Newman, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s pick as chairman of his business advisory panel,  is back with yet more conspiratorial climate science denial in The Australian.

Where else?

It’s full of the usual stuff about climate change zealots, global warming having stopped (it hasn’t) and how sceptics are being victimised.

But I just want to look at one point Maurice Newman makes.

In the op-ed, he says this:

We learn from a voluntary independent auditor, Ken Stewart, that after analysing 84 out of 104 Bureau of Meteorology sites, the effect of adjustments made to create the official Australian temper­ature record is an increase in the warming trend for minima of 66.6 per cent and 13 per cent for maxima… The data included 30 years of temperatures from Cobar airport from 1962, despite it not opening until 1993. Always, the trend is to warming.

The official Australia temperature record that Newman is referring to is called ACORN-SAT  – it stands for the Australian Climate Observations Reference Network and is maintained and managed by the Bureau of Meteorology.

When Newman says “the data included 30 years of temperatures from Cobar airport” it can’t have, because the Cobar Airport monitoring station is not part of ACORN-SAT as anyone armed with an internet search engine can find out.

The BoM even has a document describing each of the sites that make up ACORN-SAT. The document describes the site at Cobar included in the ACORN-SAT.

Easy mistake to make though, no, if you’re not intimate with this particular central New South Wales town ? Not really. BoM says in the document:

There is a separate site (048237) at the airport which is not used in ACORN-SAT.


Elsewhere in Newman’s op-ed he also flails at people who “resort to authority” and “personal abuse”.

Newman then resorts to the authority of a scientist who claims there’s more evidence for creationism than there is for evolution and who says people who used the term “denier” to describe people who deny science should themselves be described as “global warming Nazis“.

Maybe instead Newman could have resorted to the authority of the BoM who could at least have pointed him at the intertubes?



Cut and paste qualifiers for your climate and science stories

The ABC reports that US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Indonesians that human-caused climate change could threaten their “entire way of life”.

Kerry called the science “unequivocal” and told the audience: “We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists … and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific fact.”

This statement struck me to be a little ironic, given that the ABC story also contained this sentence:

Despite evidence that human activities that emit carbon dioxide contribute to climate change, some sceptics believe a rise in global temperatures is due to natural variability or other non-human factors.

Aside from pointing out that those “sceptics” aren’t really sceptics, I wonder for how long editors will continue to think that the presence of extreme fringe beliefs backed by hunches and conspiracy theories deserve the insertion of little qualifiers in stories.

Despite overwhelming evidence that something is happening, there are some people who think it isn’t and so until every last corner of the internet has been scoured for contrarians we’ll continue to point out that those people are still around.

I wonder too why such qualifiers are not always  extended to other stories?  I mean, where would you stop? I’ve fashioned a few other examples which editors can feel free to cut and paste as they wish.

Despite evidence that the Earth is basically a sphere, some sceptics believe that the globe is either flat or some other shape because if the Earth really is spinning, how come centrifugal force hasn’t thrown us all off into outer space, eh?

Despite evidence that Santa Claus isn’t real, there are some people who believe that he absolutely is because he, like, so is, because they get presents under the tree once a year and the fact we live in a seventh floor flat with no chimney doesn’t matter because he SO has a magic key that lets you get through any door. And he can stop time.

Despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines reduce the prevalence of a number of very nasty diseases, some people think that all those diseases mystically went away and so it’s OK not to subject their children to injections, which hurt a bit and are therefore cruel.

Despite evidence that human activities that emit carbon dioxide contribute to climate change, some sceptics believe that the earth’s climate is controlled by god or that it has something to do with magnetism.

Despite evidence that smoking causes cancer and heart disease, some sceptics believe there is evidence that people have lived to be really really old after smoking five packs a day for sodding decades – just ask my wheezy Uncle Dave about this.

Despite evidence that animals and plants have evolved over hundreds of millions of years, some sceptics think that a god put them there and that, in any case, how can they have evolved over millions of years when the Earth is only a few thousands years old, which is totally science.

Despite evidence that massive oil slicks can be damaging to birds, some sceptics believe the birds have doused themselves in crude through choice as they go through a dark and introspective “Emo” phase.

Despite evidence that astrology lacks any basic mechanism, some people think that today is their day to shine, just be careful not to let the opportunity drift away after that recent run of bad luck. Today’s fate colour is: mauve.

Despite evidence that rapid melting of ice sheets contributes to rising sea levels, some sceptics believe they are not melting and even if they are, this effect can be offset by simply asking people to build more swimming pools to store the extra water in.

Despite evidence that NASA did land a few dudes on the moon once, some sceptics believe the whole shebang was a hoax cooked up in a studio. And while we’re at it, Elvis is so alive.


Future of Science Journalism

The 2014 Australian Science Communicators Conference. From left, Ian Townsend, Leigh Dayton, me, Jenni Metcalfe: Picture courtesy of Corey Watts

I TOOK part in a cracking panel discussion earlier this month at the 2014 Australian Science Communicators national conference in Brisbane.

I joined former science editor on The Australian, Leigh Dayton, ABC Background Briefing’s Ian Townsend and Jenni Metcalfe, of science communication agency Econnect , for a chat/argument about the future of science journalism.

ABC Radio National host Natasha Mitchell was the moderator.

You can’t argue that mainstream journalism is going through a bit of a crisis at the moment – or at least the way its funded is.

As newsrooms shrink, so do the number of specialist journalists.  It leaves a lovely gaping hole ripe for exploitation by PR, think tanks and the like.

I shared my thoughts on the challenges journalists face when scientific issues like climate change become politicised and how just being a conduit for the opinions of others doesn’t always cut it.

Listen to the whole metaphorical shooting match below and, below that, a Storify of reaction to the panel.

Thanks to Bianca Nogrady and Sarah Keenihan for putting the panel together. Continue reading “Future of Science Journalism”