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.”
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.
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.
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.
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?
THE Australian newspaper has run a free advertisement today for the coal industry in the form of an op-ed column by a leading industry figure that says that coal is one of the best things ever.
And no I’m not exaggerating.
New South Wales Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee, a former advisor to several high-ranking Liberal Party politicians including the now Prime Minister Tony Abbott, writes in The Australian that coal is “one of the greatest overall products in history” and is just totally awesome (he didn’t use the word awesome, that was me).
Galilee’s column is the latest repetition of the industry’s favourite PR line that coal can end global poverty.
Tony Abbott, the environment minister Greg Hunt and the Treasurer Joe Hockey have all used this coal industry line in recent weeks.
I’ve written about the industry’s attempt to lobby the G20 for The Guardian and looked at Hockey’s recent contribution for DeSmogBlog. You should go and read those pieces because they are among the greatest overall products blogs in history.
In The Australian, Galilee uses the issue of indoor air pollution in developing countries to try and push his case that coal is super-awesome and is an entirely ethical investment for people to make. He writes:
Affordable and reliable, coal-driven energy is the best answer to global poverty. Almost three billion people have no access to electricity. For these people, “clean energy” means not having to cook their food or heat their homes using gathered wood or animal dung. Cooking in this way emits black soot, damaging air quality inside homes, with associated health problems and millions of premature deaths each year.
Cooking indoors over an open fire or with a crappy stove is a major health problem. The World Health Organization says about three billion people in the world are cooking and heating their homes like this, and it’s responsible for about four million deaths annually.
Here’s the “key fact” as it is presented on the WHO’s information page about health and indoor air pollution, which refers to the burning of wood and animal dung. But see if you can spot the key detail that Galilee studiously left out.
Around 3 billion people cook and heat their homes using open fires and simple stoves burning biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal.
That’s right. The burning of coal indoors in the developing world is actually a part of this environmental health problem. Perhaps Galilee thought that this fact might muddy his argument somewhat? Best to leave it out.
But actually, the immediate solution for people dying and suffering from indoor air-pollution is not to hook them up to a coal-fired power generator, but to provide those people with an efficient cooking and heating stove that reduces exposure to harmful pollutants – regardless of the fuel they use.
Clean, efficient, durable, safe, and affordable stoves are – along with clean fuels and other products like chimneys and heat retention cookers – central to most solutions to the health, environmental, and other risks inherent in cooking with fire.
Galilee’s argument is disingenuous. The problem of indoor air pollution is not really the fuel at all – whether that be dung or wood or coal – but the way that it is being burned.
Later, Galilee has a brief moment of pragmatism when he writes that a “full range of energy sources” will be needed to meet the rising demand for energy in developing countries. He writes:
All have their impacts and risks, including coal. Hydro requires the building of dams to harness rivers. Solar and wind need large scale manufacturing processes, steel, chemicals and other inputs, as well as back-up power systems, and large land areas for panels and turbines. Oil and gas have impacts, as does nuclear.
They do all have their impacts, but those impacts don’t all become equal just by putting them in the same paragraph. Anyone thinking climate change yet? The World Bank is:
Climate change is a fundamental threat to development in our lifetime. If we do not confront climate change, we will not end poverty
Galilee has to somehow work out how his totally awesome product can end poverty at the same time as being the chief contributor to the greenhouse gas emissions that are a “fundamental threat to development in our lifetime”.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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”.
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.
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.
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.
IF you were a newspaper editor, who would you accept as a commentator on climate change science and the role of the media?
Perhaps a climate scientist? Maybe a journalist, editor or media academic? Maybe someone who has researched either of these fields?
If you’re The Australian newspaper, where more than half the comment columns are sceptical of the dangers of human-caused climate change, then apparently a professor of medicine specialising in Inflammatory Bowel Disease will do the trick.
So it’s hardly surprising that the column from earlier this week, written by Professor Tim Florin of the University of Queensland, should be littered with errors and misrepresentations.
He then goes on to accuse The Guardian of engaging in censorship and that the newspaper, together with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is only “subtly different” from the kind of thing that went on in Stalinist Russia.
Florin appears to have been sparked into his diatribe by a piece I wrote recently on my Planet Oz blog, where I discussed a recent decision by the LA Times to file in the rubbish bin any letters from readers claiming there’s no evidence that humans cause climate change.
In the very first line of the column, Florin writes:
LAST month, The Guardian’s Graham Readfearn lamented that “wrongheaded and simplistic views on climate denialism are a regular feature on the letters page of many newspapers”, including The Australian.
But here’s the thing. That sentence – the one in quote marks – appears nowhere in my original story. I didn’t say that views on “climate denialism” appeared in letters. What I actually wrote, after providing an example of a letter in The Australian from a climate science denier, was this
Wrongheaded and simplistic views like this are a regular feature on the letters page of The Australian newspaper and no doubt hundreds of other newspapers around the world where readers respond to stories about climate change.
Doctoring quotes which change the meaning of what was originally written is considered very bad form in journalism. But then, Florin’s not a journalist, so how would he know? At least he left a second quote alone, where I asked an open-ended question about whether or not newspapers had a responsibility to keep pseudo-science off its pages.
Here are some things which Florin then goes on to pontificate on, from his lofty position as an expert on neither of the subjects he is writing about.
The Guardian should be leading discussion, not playing the censorship card.
The Guardian should desist from using “denier” when describing those people who disagree with the current paradigm as broadcast by itself, the IPCC and other media outlets.
Had Florin checked, he might have found that since writing my original Planet Oz blog, The Guardian’s Letters editor Nigel Willmott has actually addressed the issue of publishing letters from people who deny the evidence of human-caused climate change. There is no blanket ban, but rather a sensible editorial policy. He said:
So I would be unhappy about an absolute ban on those who might be grouped together as climate change deniers, but would need to see a strong case to run anything from them (and know something about what commercial interests they might be linked to).
The Sydney Morning Herald‘s Letters editors Julie Lewis and Marc McEvoy have also since outlined their views on publishing letters from people who deny the existence of evidence. They wrote
Climate change deniers or sceptics are free to express opinions and political views on our page but not to misrepresent facts. This applies to all our contributors on any subject. On that basis, a letter that says, “there is no sign humans have caused climate change” would not make the grade for our page.
Florin then goes on to attack the concept of a scientific consensus on climate change, claiming that “consensus is not the way that the scientific method works” and that “consensus is anathema to the scientific method”. This is a common argument from climate change sceptics.
Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society (founded in 1660), tackled it in conversation with climate science denier and blogger James Delingpole. When Delingpole tried to tell Sir Paul Nurse that “science has never been about consensus”, Nurse responded that consensus was just simply “the position of the experts at the time.” He then offered an analogy:
Say you had cancer and you went to be treated – there would be a consensual position on your treatment and it is very likely that you would follow that consensual treatment because you would trust the clinical scientists there. Now the analogy is that you could say you had done your research into it and I disagree with that consensual position – but that would be a very unusual position for you to take. I think sometimes the consensual position can be criticised when in fact it is most likely to be the correct position.
Florin then offers a list of “reputable climate scientists” who he says disagree with the “IPCC paradigm”. Included in the list are Nigel Calder (not a climate scientist, but a journalist), Freeman Dyson (not a climate scientist, but a physicist) and Stephen McIntyre (not a climate scientist, but does have 30 years in the mining industry).
Florin also lists another Ivar Giaever, who isn’t a climate scientist. Giaever did win a Nobel prize in Physics, even though Florin says he won the laureate for “chemistry”.
Also on the list is atmospheric physicist Professor Richard Lindzen, who is Jewish.
I mention this only because Florin complains that when I and others use the term “denier” to describe – well – people who deny the existence of evidence, that in fact this is being done to make some comparison with Holocaust denial.
This, from a writer who only a few sentences earlier had said the IPCC and The Guardian were only “subtly different” to the ideologically driven anti-science approach adopted by Joseph Stalin in the early to mid-20th century.
Lindzen isn’t quite so concerned with the term “denier”. When asked in a BBC interview about such labels, Lindzen said:
I actually like denier. That’s closer than sceptic.
Later on, Florin claims that the IPCC “has little to say ” on the scientific question of whether the rate of climate change is increasing. It is hard to understand how anyone who had read the most recent IPCC reports could come to this conclusion. Here are a few statements from the latest IPCC Summary for Policy Makers (SPM)
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.
Each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850.
Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. It is very likely that the number of cold days and nights has decreased and the number of warm days and nights has increased on the global scale. It is likely that the frequency of heat waves has increased in large parts of Europe, Asia and Australia. There are likely more land regions where the number of heavy precipitation events has increased than where it has decreased.
The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence).
Florin also asks “is a significant portion of climate change determined by human activity?” The answer, according to the studies which were reviewed by the IPCC, is that pretty much all of the warming observed since the 1950s was caused by human emissions. Here it is in IPCC speak:
The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period.
Florin also states confidently that computer modelling cited by the IPCC “has consistently grossly overestimated its (CO2) effect on warming”.
This illustration from the SPM shows how computer models reconstruct the 20th century climate. Notice how the actual measurements (the black lines) sit “grossly” somewhere in the middle of the model estimates.
You might also notice the blue parts. This shows that when you remove human influences from the models, they fail to recreate the warming.
Florin’s column is, of course, just one in a long line of stories published in Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. Australia newspapers which misrepresent what the actual science says on climate change.
Research from Wendy Bacon, Professorial Fellow at the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism at Sydney’s University of Technology, has found that just over half of all the comment articles published in The Australian either reject or suggest there is legitimate doubt about the central consensus of climate science.
Professor Florin has decided to venture into the realm of climate change science and journalism to offer a poorly informed opinion.
I suspect if a climate scientist or a journalist wandered into his surgery rooms and started to offer advice about gastroenterology, he’d rightly tell them to shove it somewhere.
IN a column this week in The Australian, writer Gary Johns tried to argue that the science of human-caused climate change was “contentious”, that climate change might not be that bad and that we shouldn’t bother to cut down on emissions.
The Australian newspaper has a record for favouring climate science denialism and contrarianism above genuine expertise.
Columns and coverage like this come along in the pages of the Rupert Murdoch-owned press with such regularity that you might think [blush] that they’ve got some kind of an agenda. Honestly, you could really think that.
In the latest column – “Let’s get realistic about reducing carbon emissions” – Johns writes approvingly of a project called the Nongovernmental Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) while finding disparaging remarks about the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But in one section of Johns’ column, he quotes and paraphrases Professor Richard Muller, a respected American physicist who was once sceptical of human-caused climate change.
As reported in The Guardian and elsewhere, a couple of years ago Muller led a team based at the University of California which analysed more than 14 million temperature readings from 44,455 measuring sites from around the world going back to the mid 18th century.
Professor Muller found the world had warmed by 1.5C in the last 50 years and that burning fossil fuels and other human industrial processes were “almost entirely” the cause.
I emailed Professor Muller about the column to ask if he felt his words had been fairly represented.
I IMAGINE only a small percentage of people reading this have had any journalism training, but don’t let that stop you from pondering the following ethical question.
If you read a newspaper story that included a direct quote from someone – let’s say, for instance, UK climate scientist Dr David Viner – would it be acceptable to put quotation marks on the headline of that story and claim it was a quote from Dr Viner? You can have a minute to think about it.
It might help you to know that the headline was not written by the reporter who interviewed Dr Viner and wrote the story, and certainly not by Dr Viner himself. In short, a third person – a sub-editor – wrote the headline.
You don’t need a minute? Of course not: it would be unprofessional, unethical and factually wrong to pass off a sub-editor’s made-up words as Dr Viner’s.
The Australian newspaper has just published a column from UK-based climate science mangler and anti-wind farm activist James Delingpole that tries to argue that Australia’s recent unprecedented heatwave and hottest month on record wasn’t all that hot and that global warming “alarmists” should be answering to a court with the power to issue a death sentence (no, I don’t exaggerate, but we’ll get to that at the end).
In the story, Delingpole says that Dr Viner had “famously declared” in 2000 that “Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past”.
The reporter, Charles Onians, quoted Dr Viner as saying that within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”. Note the absence of quote marks on the time frame being within a few years – they were Onians’s words, just as the headline was the sub-editor’s.
So Dr Viner’s actual prediction was that at some point in the future snow could become “a very rare and exciting event”. As well, the story paraphrases him as adding an important qualifier – that heavy snow will return occasionally and catch people unprepared. But Delingpole leaves this bit out.
Delingpole then uses the non-quote that Dr Viner didn’t say as a launchpad to ridicule him. “Viner has since become a legend in his own lunchtime, frequently quoted on the internet, sometimes having his name joshingly used as a synonym for snow. This isn’t because he got his prediction right, of course. It’s because, like Flannery, he got it so spectacularly, hilariously, hopelessly wrong.”
Hopelessly wrong, Mr Delingpole? What, like hopelessly attributing a quote to someone who never said it?
Delingpole is of course “reporting” from an unseasonably cold and recently snowbound United Kingdom, which the BBC reports has just experienced its second coldest March since records began.
Delingpole also says in the column that Australia’s recent record-breaking summer heatwave wasn’t that hot. “The thermometers were higher when the First Fleet arrived in the Sydney summer of 1790-91,” writes Delingpole, presumably having travelled back in time to check that the First Fleet thermometer was positioned within something resembling a Stevenson screen to ensure sunlight or incorrect air flow didn’t corrupt the reading.
It’s possible that Delingpole based his statement from this guest blog post by Australian MP Craig Kelly on Watts Up With That, where Kelly wrote that on December 27th 1790 one of these First Fleet thermometers near Observatory Hill in Sydney recorded a temperature of 42.8C.
It’s a shame that Delingpole didn’t check this figure. Four days after Kelly wrote that story, Sydney recorded its hottest day ever with 45.8C at Observatory Hill on 18 January – a full three degrees hotter than Kelly’s favoured First Fleet thermometer. Even The Australian reported it.
But in any case, Australia’s recent record breaking heatwave wasn’t a heatwave confined to one temperature reading in one place. As a Bureau of Meteorology special climate statement pointed out, “maximum temperatures over the period 1–18 January have been 6 °C or more above normal over a wide area of interior central and southern Australia and 45 °C has been reached at least once during the event over 46.9 per cent of Australia.”
In that story in May last year, Delingpole quoted an un-named sheep farmer as saying that the wind farm industry was “bloody well near a pedophile ring. They’re f . . king our families and knowingly doing so”.
The APC said this was “highly offensive” and “the level of offensiveness is so high that it outweighs the very strong public interest in freedom of speech”.
But rather than heed the blunt-toothed press council’s finding, Delingpole was given more space by The Australian to respond. He wrote: “I stand by every word of the piece – especially the bit about pedophiles. I would concede that the analogy may be somewhat offensive to the pedophile community.”
How could even Delingpole top this statement for offensiveness? He has a prime contender at the bottom of his most recent column, where he writes: “The climate alarmist industry has some very tough questions to answer: preferably in the defendant’s dock in a court of law, before a judge wearing a black cap.”
To those not au fait with the traditions of the English courts, black caps were only worn by judges when handing out death sentences.
By continuing to publish such low-grade and offensive polemics, in my view the only things hanging limp from the gallows are The Australian‘s credibility on climate change and its professional standards.