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Jul 24, 2008

Andrew Bolt: master of climate misrepresentation

Andrew Bolt's seven graphs that refute climate change amount to a little less than not much, writes Michael James.

This communication concerns some misinformation that Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has been publicising since late last week. Bolt claims his “seven graphs” from reputable sources prove conclusively that the world is cooling not warming and Arctic ice is not thinning.

He first presented it in his blog last Thursday and then on Insiders on ABC on Sunday he heavily promoted it and aggressively challenged Annabel Crabb to dispute these findings, all, of course, to attack the government’s Green Paper and Garnaut Report. Then on Monday he ran another related story as a follow up (Arctic Ice) and Tuesday another follow up. Being something of an agnostic on the topic myself I thought it was worth looking at, but was then appalled at how he has totally misinterpreted the graphs he presents.

Without even verifying the source or content of these graphs but just taking them at face value, I believe that any scientist or reasonably intelligent person would agree with my statements. If a scientist presented this at a conference he would be laughed at or met by stunned, embarassed silence. Let’s look at Bolt’s graphs…

Andrew Bolt apparently is basing his argument — that the world really is cooling rather than warming — on a short blip in the data around January 2008. But the logical comparison is shown by the blue ovals which very roughly centre on the average for the time periods (note the ovals are identical in size); it is obvious the recent period is up to 0.3 degrees warmer. In his graph 2, the same data is plotted but now extending back to 1979 — it shows even more clearly the average warming over the period 1999-2007. Note that in this second graph which extends to June 2008 the January 2008 low-point is less obvious!

This is Andrew Bolt’s second graph that he uses to try to claim the world is cooling rather than warming. He does this by using a blip of data spanning a tiny sliver of time as represented on these graphs (the descending line to the far right, which looks like the recurrent low point also seen in the 2004 and 2006 periods). But taking an average over the recent decade and the 1979-1997 periods a five year-old could tell Bolt that the former is obviously higher than the latter. Ignoring or correcting for the volcanic eruption (1992) or the El Nino (1998) events does not change this picture significantly. This may well not be enough to support a global warming hypothesis but it very unambiguously does not support a recent cooling.

This is Andrew Bolt’s third graph that he uses to try to claim the sea-level is falling rather than rising! Given the impressive upward trendline over 15 years (I have not checked its origin or veracity) it is deeply mysterious how he comes to this conclusion. Is it that he interprets the incomplete 2008 data showing a downward blip (which I have highlighted in red, with questions marks)? Bolt needs to stick to journalism or something that doesn’t require any kind of logical interpretative skills.

Andrew Bolt bases his erroneous claim that Arctic sea ice is not thinning on two weeks of the most recent data for 2008 (highlighted in red on graph) and only in comparison to the same period in 2007; in fact the data confirm it is thinning. The US laboratory that provided this graph also claims: “According to scientific measurements, Arctic sea ice has declined dramatically over at least the past thirty years, with the most extreme decline seen in the summer melt season.” So, should we make broad sweeping conclusions from 2 weeks’ data or from yearly, or 20 years (1979-2000) or 30 years of data? 

I posted a comment in response to Bolt’s article (mine is one amongst over 500 comments from mostly appallingly ignorant ranters) — but of course I couldn’t post the graphs.

I think it is important that loud polemicists like Bolt spouting distorted nonsense need a counterbalance in the media.

Michael James is a Senior Research Fellow and Director for the Genome Variation Laboratory at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research. He is speaking as an individual and not on behalf of his institute.

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17 thoughts on “Andrew Bolt: master of climate misrepresentation

  1. Peter

    The story here is not that Andrew Bolt is a half wit, that’s well and truly accepted, but rather how he manages to get so much space in newspapers and time on television. It’s easy to get space in the Herald Sun by slavish, sycophantic devotion to the ideology of Murdoch and Bolt is particularly good at that. How he gets airtime for his absurd views on a program like the ABC’ s Insiders is a major cause for concern. This program parades itself as a serious review of public affairs, yet presents an endless conga line of smug antagonists like Bolt, Piers Akerman etc, smug though is the house style for this program. Bolt and his ilk contribute nothing of objective substance to any debate, they merely muddy the waters in true propaganda fashion. Yet The Insiders gives Bolt credibility with his appearances on a supposedly serious show. That, not Bolt’s absurd views on climate change, is the real tragedy.

  2. JamesK

    Venise, He was not overly “meek” when he upturned the money-changers tables! Besides lots of right wingers are meek and lots/maybe most left wingers are far from it. But JC is neither meek nor left wing! He fervently supports Peter Costello and He has hinted that you are in for a damascene conversion to the Liberal cause in the not to distant future……..

  3. Denny

    JamesK you are as interesting as a cow farting

  4. JamesK

    ooh!…almost forgot…and the world class Ayn Rand who was the brains behind Peter Costello

  5. Venise Alstergren#6

    JameswK: The man who wrote The Ballad of Redding Gaol was no right-winger. And, being Gay he naturally adored royalty. But after the conservative elements of society did him over he produced his master-piece. A right-wing writer to have written that poem? Give over! You make da Vinci and Michaelangelo sound like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

    Come on fair crack of the whip. I said WORLD CLASS. Hence Ayn Rand could’nt make the grade in a fit. Then you come up with a list of columnists. Crikey! Did you mention Auberon Waugh? I’m more familiar with his brother, Evelyn, who was a better writer. IMO, (in my opinion). I should have mentioned great movie producers. People feel more comfortable discussing movies than art.

    Peter Costello has got brains? Well he’s kept them well hidden. I’ll ignore the little rant about being a ghost-writer, which is mis -quoting me anyway.

    Finally, to help you on your way by offering neither, a writer, painter, or movie producer. He was, however, the greatest left wing radical in history. Drum roll: Dum dum , dum, dum, rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Jesus Christ! And if you contest that one you will show that you haven’t even studied the history of the two religions you owe your allegiance to. !Inshallah!

    Cheers. V.

  6. paul

    Hi JamesK, sorry if I didn’t argue my position more fully for you. Andrew Bolt is not a scientist, and the commentary he gives shows this fairly conclusively. His arguments are along the lines of “the price of petrol went down last week, so all this scare mongering about rising petrol prices are a swindle”.
    Climate is by definition long term trends in large scale weather patterns, looking at the last couple of years is foolish.
    I also object to your continual ‘queensland scientist’ quotes, this guy is a real scientist. Look on ScienceDirect or Web of Science and you can quickly find links to peer reviewed research that he has done. I suppose this never crossed your mind because it seems like a very simple thing to do.

  7. Mark P

    People please, In the the words of the wisest of all, Mr T.

    Get some nuts.

  8. JamesK

    Okok….. I admit it! : I am Andrew Bolt’s secret ghost writer…..he’s really quite nice once you get to know him.

  9. Venise Alstergren

    JamesK: You claim to have cornered the market on religion (I refer to you being a Zionist Catholic). Yet you insult the name of Christ. By calling him right -wing is like calling the Pope a Muslim. JC, apart from being a prophet, was one of the world’s greatest left-wing philosophers. Imagine, at the height of the Roman Empire a skinny and bearded (Roman men seldom went unshaven) man in not very clean clothes, appears out of nowhere, and tells everyone “That the meek shall inherent the earth” , and that all men were created equal (I’ve forgotten the actual quote) He must have been hypnotic, because his message reached the Roman upper-classes. Can you imagine all the roman ladies being outraged and the men trying to pretend he didn’t exist. It would have been like telling the socially aware, ladies of Toorak, in the 1950s that the monarchy was irrelevant and QEII’s family were social misfits; what we call today a dysfunctional family, and that Robert Menzies was a member of the DLP.
    Not content with that little effort he strides off and does a conjuring trick with bread and fishes. The same man then goes rushing off to the money-lenders and does them over. James, try to look at this story in human terms, not religious ones. It’s a great story and great history. But to call him right-wing is sacrilegious.

  10. Venise Alstergren#5

    JamesK: No wonder I didnt believe you, it wasn’t you at all.
    Michael indented his paragraph after writing ‘JamesK’ making it look as if you were suddenly rescinding your previous comments.
    Many apologies to Michael. Your comments were spot on. I wish I could plead having had a few too many glasses of wine. But I can’t. Once again I am deeply sorry, and apologize unreservedly.

    JamesK: If it wasn’t for your superior literary style I’d think that you wrote Andrews comments for him. Why do all right-wing commentators sound as if they all went to a lack of charm and/or variety school? Speaking of writers; did you see Bolt’s unreasoned attack on Australian writers whom he perceives to be left wing? It’s truly hilarious. He condemns a heap of writers whose opinions are different to his. Before saying that all left-wing writers sound the same. Has Bolt got Alzheimer’s Syndrome? I mean, doesn’t Bolt sound a treeny bit like all the other right-wing scribes?

    I would like to ask Andrew to list 15 world famous writers who espoused right-wing views. Please don’t quote me Ayn Rand. She is not world-class. 15 too many? Try 10. Whilst you are about it, name 15 famous right-wing artists. JamesK, you should tell Andrew that arch-conservatism and art-be that literature or other art forms-are almost mutually exclusive. Right-wingism does not create. It deadens.
    I’ll kick off your art list by claiming Michaelanglo and Leonardo da Vinci as being left wing. The more I think about it the more difficult your task becomes.

    Good luck.