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.
The story, a reprint from the Sunday Times’ Jonathan Leake, is just the kind of editorialised-opinion-disguised-as-news which The Australian has become known for whenever it reports about climate change.
Let’s have a quick look through the piece, because obviously we’ve all got nothing better to do.
THE world’s climate has cooled during last year and this year, temperature data from Britain’s Met Office reveals — just before this year’s talks on cutting global greenhouse gas emissions.
The figures show that, although global temperatures are still well above the long-term average, they have fallen since the record seen in 2010. The findings could prove politically sensitive, coming ahead of the UN’s climate summit in Doha, Qatar, where the global system for regulating greenhouse gas emissions faces collapse.
The threat comes because the Kyoto Treaty, under which developed nations pledged to cut their carbon emissions, expires at the end of this year. Doha is seen as the last hope of securing an extension.
In such a febrile situation, any data casting doubt on climate scientists’ predictions is potentially explosive.
The findings could prove politically sensitive? Any data casting doubt on climate scientists’ predictions?
I would challenge Jonathan Leake to find any climate scientist who has “predicted” in the peer reviewed literature (or anywhere else for that matter) that global temperatures will rise uniformly year upon year. This only becomes “politically sensitive” if the politicians in question accept this sort of spoon-fed misrepresentation of the science.
Given that 2012 will probably end up as another year in the top ten warmest years ever recorded (something the Met Office predicted back in January) , actually reinforces what the climate scientists have been “predicting” rather than casting doubt on them.
Not only that, but the expert from the UK’s Met Office which Leake quotes, Peter Stott, even spells out for Leake why the strawman argument he went on to insert into his story is wrong.
However, it is such a short period that it is scientifically meaningless. Climate change can only be measured over decades — and the records show that the world has warmed by 0.75C over the past century.
Also in the story, Leake says
The World Meteorological Organisation, which oversees the publication of climate trend data from the four main global centres, including the British Met Office, has been strongly criticised for its policy of releasing such data just before the UN’s key annual summits.
Because of course, it would be much better for policy makers and global leaders not to have the latest information available to them from their major agencies when they enter major international climate summits.
This excellent graphic from Skeptical Science demonstrates just how ridiculous these arguments, from the likes of Jonathan Leake and The Australian , actually are and why it’s a misrepresentation of what’s actually happening in the world.
IMAGINE coming in to work and opening your inbox to read an email asking you to “kill yourself” before another note reads “I hope someone puts a bullet between your eyes”.
How about another email where the sender describes themselves as a “one man swat team” telling you to “back the FUck off” or they will “smack the living shit out of you”.
Another emailer says “I’d kill you in a second if given the chance” and another writes that you have been “blacklisted” and that “your children and family will know because we know where you live… expect us at your door to say hello.”
This is not an imaginary scenario, but is instead a sample from the inbox of climate scientist Professor Phil Jones, of the University of East Anglia in the UK, as revealed following a Freedom of Information request realised yesterday.
Professor Jones wasn’t alone in the halls of the university. The FOI reveals how a presumably US-based emailer warned that if Prof Acton, the university’s vice-chancellor, was to ever travel to America that “we will have plans for you as well. If you bring your family, all the merrier.”
Remarkably, these examples (the full release is here on a pdf) are not the worst, nor are they the nastiest. What’s more, they provide an insight – whether we want it or not – of the campaign against Professor Jones which at one point, caused him to consider suicide in the wake of the non-scandal that was Climategate.
The climate sceptic blog Bishop Hill was equally disgusted at the most recent release of emails, suggesting that “there are several messages in there that seem to me to be criminal”.
In the pages of The Australian newspaper, commentators and journalists have editorialised this issue to suggest the threats are overblown.
In one recent story, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell even went as far as to claim that he, too, had received death threats about climate change. “These climate scientists need to harden up,” he told one of his own reporters, who presumably didn’t ask his boss for any evidence.
But even if Chris Mitchell has received abuse over his newspaper’s warped coverage of climate science, the point is that climate scientists such as Phil Jones are not editors of newspapers. They are scientists. Chris Mitchell chose to be part of the public discourse and is engaged in it daily. Professor Phil Jones didn’t.
What is now clear is that climate scientists around the world are being subjected to a vicious and hate-filled campaign of intimidation. These are individuals who have chosen to devote their lives to enabling the world to understand how the planet works and the risks of artificially changing the composition of its atmosphere and oceans.
The focus of journalists and commentators so far has been on the content of the emails and on the scientists on the receiving end.
The situation mirrors that of “climategate” where almost three years of police investigations have so far failed to reveal who orchestrated the unlawful hacking and release of University of East Anglia emails.
Yet while we know the names of the some of the scientists being targeted and harassed, we are always spared the identities of those who are responsible for compiling the hate and then clicking the “send” button.
Isn’t it now time the nature of the inquiry turned to the campaign’s perpetrators, rather than the victims?
UPDATE: A version of this blog has been posted on DeSmogBlog, with some added detail.
In The Australian newspaper today, writer Chris Kenny clambers on to an arthritic hobby horse (and then climbs down to step into a glass house) to accuse the Australian Broadcasting Corporation of being “jaundiced and counter-productive” on its coverage of climate change.
Someone should give Kenny a job on a stone fruit orchard, such is his ability to pick cherries.
Attempting to justify his argument, Kenny picks through a random selection of stories and issues to suggest the ABC is biased. For example:
When the ABC broadcast Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth* there was plenty of attendant publicity, sympathetic coverage and acclaim. But when it broadcast another side of the debate, The Great Global Warming Swindle, the ABC issued a disclaimer and followed it with an interview and panel discussion, largely debunking the program.
The ABC showed the Great Global Warming Swindle more than four years ago. The reason the program was “largely debunked” was because… well.. it has been largely debunked!
Kenny criticises the ABC for apparently lauding environmental scientist Tim Flannery “as an honest broker”. Yet The Australian regularly turns to “experts” on climate science or policy who have a clear and stated ideological or industry view (step forward, the Institute for Public Affairs, the Australian Coal Association and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association).
HIS choice of the Gershwin song “It Ain’t Necessarily So” was unfortunate, if not a little ironic.
In an opinion article published in The Australian, professional climate change denier Christopher Monckton tried his hardest to convince readers that “thoughtful” politicians were beginning to ask “privately, quietly” if a supposed climate crisis was not “necessarily so”.
They were beginning to ask the “Gershwin question” mused Monckton, referring to the song in the 1935 musical Porgy and Bess – a song delivered, ironically, by the musical’s drug dealing character Sportin’ Life.
An addiction to a drug can be a terrible and debilitating experience and just as it is in the case of The Australian‘s apparent addiction to climate denial, it can be degrading, embarrassing and professionally damaging.
Christopher Monckton is one of the world’s most charismatic climate deniers, yet he has no qualifications at all in climate science. Among his beliefs are that the UN is attempting to create a world government and young climate campaigners are like Hitler youth. Others have also examined Monckton’s creative CV.
This lack of genuine expertise and tendency towards conspiracy theories don’t in themselves deny Monckton the right to an opinion, but the thrust of his views have been roundly rejected by practically every climate scientist currently researching and publishing in peer-reviewed journals.
Over and over, scientists working in the field and opening their own research to the rigours of peer review (which Monckton has never done) have gone to great lengths to debunk Monckton’s “analysis” of climate change (small selection of examples here, many here and here). They have explained his persistent misrepresentations and errors in calculations, but still Monckton repeats them and still – after alarm bells have been ringing for half a decade – The Australian provides him a forum. Continue reading “Is The Australian addicted to Monckton’s denial?”