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‘Considerable concern’: Oz in hot water over climate denial errors

The Press Council has handed down an adverse ruling against The Australian for a front-page article published in September last year that relied on a rapidly debunked Daily Mail story claiming the IPCC had revised down the rate of global warming since 1951.

The Press Council has handed down an adverse ruling against The Australian for a front-page article published in September last year that relied on a rapidly debunked Daily Mail story claiming the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had revised down the rate of global warming since 1951.

In highly unusual language for the Press Council, it says it is a matter of “considerable concern” that The Australian delayed in acknowledging its errors. Asked to explain the strong language, Press Council executive director John Pender told Crikey ”the initial error was very serious and prominent, was repeated unequivocally in a later editorial, and was not corrected with sufficient speed, clarity and prominence”.

In a September 16 article, since changed online but archived here on the Media Watch website, The Australian environment editor Graham Lloyd rehashed a British story published a week before the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC was released that claimed the report update would say the true figure of warming since 1951 had been 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade, and not the 0.2 degrees Celsius claimed in previous reports.

The Oz’s piece continued:

Last week, the IPCC was forced to deny it was locked in crisis talks as reports intensified that scientists were preparing to revise down the speed at which climate change is happening and its likely impact.

It is believed the IPCC draft report will still conclude there is now greater confidence that climate change is real, humans are having a major impact and that the world will continue to warm catastrophically unless drastic action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts would include big rises in the sea level, floods, droughts and the disappearance of the Arctic icecap.

But claimed contradictions in the report have led to calls for the IPCC report process to be scrapped.”

These reports were wrong. The Daily Mail got its numbers wrong, and The Australian repeated the error, as Media Watch and The Guardian pointed out last year. The long-term trend in the IPCC report is 0.13 degrees of global warming a decade, and has been for some time — there was no retreat from higher figures.

The piece prompted a fierce and rapid reaction from Australia’s scientific community, including from University of Melbourne climate change expert Professor David Karoly, who through the Australian Science Media Centre released a statement the next day slamming the report. He also sent a letter to The Australian, which was published, next to an editorial slamming the IPCC for not being scientific enough.

Four days after the original article was published, the heading online was softened to “Doubts over IPCC’s global warming rates”. A clarification was also added: “In fact, the new rate of 0.12C every decade is almost the same as the IPCC’s 2007 figure of 0.13C every decade over the 50 years to 2005.” The next weekend, a correction was issued in The Weekend Australian, providing the same information.

Cameron Byers complained to the Press Council that this was not enough, saying the original article was unbalanced and that Karoly’s letter should have been given more prominence. The Press Council has agreed on both counts. The adjudication reads:

The Council welcomes the acknowledgements of error and expressions of regret which the publication eventually made to it. But they should have been made very much earlier, and made directly to the publication’s readers in a frank and specific manner. It is a matter of considerable concern that this approach was not adopted.”

Given Professor Karoly’s expertise and the importance of the issue, his letter should have triggered a prompt and thorough investigation by the publication. Instead, the error was repeated in an editorial on the page opposite his letter. Moreover, his letter was published below other letters which assumed the original article was true and under a collective heading which reflected their views, rather than his correction.

The Council considers the gravity of the erroneous claim, and its repetition without qualification in the editorial, required a correction which was more substantial, and much more prominent than a single paragraph in the lower half of page 2.”

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has slammed the verdict on his blog, saying it demonstrates how the Press Council is being unwittingly used to distort the global warming debate.

What the Press Council does not do, to my knowledge, is correct equally mistaken reports which falsely claim unprecedented warming - false reports which haven’t been corrected as fully, either, as The Australian corrected its own.

He gives the example of the aforementioned Karoly, who had a paper withdrawn from publication after errors were found in its data.

Crikey asked Karoly whether he had any comment about today’s adjudication. He got back to us after deadline to say he was pleased about it. “It demonstrates the risks of basing an editorial the following day in The Australian on this erroneous article when they had already been alerted to these errors by my letter,” he said.

However, he added, “it is disappointing that it took more than 10 months for the Press Council to adjudicate on this matter. It appears to be straightforward.”

The Australian’s editors declined to comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this article said the rate of warming in question was 0.12 degrees Celsius per year. In fact, as both the Oz and the IPCC claim, the number in contention is “per decade”. Crikey also misstated the long-term trend in the IPCC report — it’s 0.13 degrees per decade and not 1.3 degrees per decade. Crikey apologises for the errors, and is glad the earth is not warming as fast as feared.

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  • 1
    Scott
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    I think Crikey needs to go to the Press Council as well due to the errors in this article.

    Error 1.

    Report of the IPCC was released that claimed the report update would say the true figure of warming since 1951 had been 0.12 degrees Celsius per year, and not the 0.2 degrees Celsius claimed in previous reports.”

    I believe you mean 0.12 degrees Celsius per decade.

    Error 2.

    The long-term trend in the IPCC report is 1.3 degrees of global warming a year, and has been for some time — there was no retreat from higher figures.”

    Again, I believe you mean 0.13 degrees of global warming per decade, or 0.013 degrees a year.

  • 2
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    To be fair, it’s not as though “The Bludger” is an actual “news”-paper though, is it? It’s more a political pamphleteer?

  • 3
    klewso
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the Mail quoted “The Bludger’s” smoking “research”?

  • 4
    JohnB
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    C”mon, Crikey.

    Fix your errors. Please live up to the standards that you demand from others.

    Scott’s comment is almost 3/4 of an hour old.

  • 5
    Myriam Robin
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi John B. I was out to lunch.

    Scott - thanks for pointing that out. Writing up a correction now.

  • 6
    Scott
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Error 2 is yet to be fixed.

  • 7
    Pete from Sydney
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Very quick to point out others errors Crikey…error is still there

  • 8
    Myriam Robin
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Scott and Pete. Can you quote exactly what hasn’t been fixed? I ask because the bits Scott quoted earlier have been fixed, and I’ve read through the piece and can’t see anywhere else it’s wrong.

  • 9
    Scott
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    It’s fine now. Cheers

  • 10
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    I do think that the Australian article, probably gives a textbook illustration of how the terms ‘deny’ and ‘denial’ are constantly misused. From their story, we have:
    “Last week, the IPCC was forced to deny it was locked in crisis talks as reports intensified that scientists were preparing to revise down the speed at which climate change is happening and its likely impact.”
    I suspect the process behind these words would’ve been something along the lines of. One of their climate change denying journalists, asked the IPCC to comment on claims that are highly likely to be rubbish. The IPCC then confirmed that the claims were rubbish. Therefore those untrustworthy IPCC people, are sneakily denying something, that all are our right thinking readers know to be true.

  • 11
    Buddy
    Posted Thursday, 24 July 2014 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    I think for the sake of sanity we should all agree to just simply ignore whatever Bolt says.. Anywhere .. And quoting him in whatever context just encourages him.

  • 12
    Tamas Calderwood
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    ” Crikey apologises for the errors, and is glad the earth is not warming as fast as feared.”

    You can say that again: just 0.05C per decade for the past 15 years, according to IPCC AR5. Not that you’d read about that in Crikey…

  • 13
    drsmithy
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    You can say that again: just 0.05C per decade for the past 15 years, according to IPCC AR5.

    You need to update your copy & paste bank, Tamas. The year you’re cherry-picking is 1998, which is now 16 years ago, not 15.

  • 14
    Andrew Dolt
    Posted Friday, 25 July 2014 at 10:44 pm | Permalink

    Did I just hear the zombie invasion warning siren? Yep, Tamas is lurching back, dragging along his dead and rotting ideas. And here I was thinking that, with no brains left after years of bashing his head against a wall of solid facts, he had finally quietened down.

  • 15
    The Old Bill
    Posted Saturday, 26 July 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    @MYRIAM ROBIN
    Some salient advice for your journalistic future Myriam.
    Never back down. Please visit Miranda Devine’s blog
    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/mirandadevine/index.php/dailytelegraph/comments/carbon_tax_ding_dong_the_big_climate_con_is_dead/
    for an example of how to dispassionately comment on climate change and the latest climate change figures.

    On a more important point, the figures of actual climate change are alarming and the world is warming as fast as feared. It’s just average Joe doesn’t understand the ramifications of 0.13C per decade and what it really means to weather patterns. This could be because they only read the Australian or the Telegraph. (Crikey should continue to worry.)

  • 16
    klewso
    Posted Saturday, 26 July 2014 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    There’s a record in the crack.

  • 17
    Liamj
    Posted Tuesday, 29 July 2014 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    What is particularly pathetic is that Graham Lloyd took the factoid and the spin from the Daily Mail. What is going on at News Corpse if they can’t even make their own lies up? Proves that really all they are getting paid for is their lack of integrity.

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