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Mar 2, 2010

Balance without judgement: your ABC

The ABC continues its habit of "balancing" mainstream climate science with the views of bloggers and professional denialists rather than climate scientists.

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Yesterday the ABC’s Drum site published a piece by Alan Moran attacking mainstream climate science. It was the first of what is promised to be a week of pieces “commissioned from noted writers on the sceptic side of the climate science debate”, apparently prompted by that site’s publication last week of a five-part article by Clive Hamilton on the campaign being waged against mainstream science by climate denialists.

Moran is obviously entitled to his views regardless of whether they are easily shown to be false. The question is more why they were given a run on The Drum without some basic fact-checking or balance. Moran’s article did not “balance” those of Clive Hamilton, who wrote on a specific aspect of the climate change debate in which he is professionally involved. Moran can at least claim – unlike Tom Switzer – that he has expertise on climate scepticism, having been working on the issue for the IPA for some time, including speaking at international conferences.

But yesterday, while he began on the issue of the public credibility of climate science, he quickly drifted onto climate science itself, and he isn’t a climate scientist.

This is a further example of the ABC’s balance without judgement on the issue of climate science. Out of an editorial concern for balance, the ABC gives time not to experts who are in a position to offer credible scepticism about aspects of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis, but to bloggers and right-wing commentators. The rollcall of Drum sceptics this week says it all: none of Alan Moran, Tom Switzer, Bob Carter and Jo Nova are climate scientists.

Moran’s piece is comprehensive in its listing of sceptic and denialist claims. A number of them were recycled by Tom Switzer in the second climate denialist piece today.  They’re worth going through in detail to illustrate how thin the climate denialist case is when checked against the evidence.

Moran: “The leaking of emails in October last year from the premier global centre of climatic panic, the Climate Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia, provided evidence that scientists leading the charge on climate change were keen to avoid scrutiny.”

As is now clear to anyone who has considered the emails themselves in their context, there is no “evidence” of any scientists avoiding scrutiny, only of scientists deeply unhappy with the constant efforts of denialists to waste their time and discredit them.  The now-famous “trick” to “hide the decline” refers a technique of plotting actual data alongside reconstructed data, and the “decline” refers to the decline in the reliability of temperature data from tree rings. Kevin Trenberth’s “travesty” that “we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment” relates to his paper on global energy accounting and how there’s as yet no explanation for how natural variability accounts for rising heat levels.

Moran: “[Mistakes] started back in 2003, when Canadian researchers McIntyre & McKitrick undertook statistical analysis of Professor Michael Mann’s “hockey stick”. Representing a one thousand year temperature trend, the “hockey stick” with its upward trajectory in the 20th century appeared to refute previous thinking… McIntyre & McKitrick deflated the statistics behind the “hockey stick”…”

Wrong. The US Congress requested the National Research Council to investigate the issue. It found some minor flaws in Mann et al’s work but concluded “it can be said with a high level of confidence that global mean surface temperature was higher during the last few decades of the 20th century than during any comparable period during the preceding four centuries… less confidence can be placed in large-scale surface temperature reconstructions for the period from A.D. 900 to 1600.”

Presently available proxy evidence indicates that temperatures at many, but not all, individual locations were higher during the past 25 years than during any period of comparable length since A.D. 900.” The “hockey stick” has since been confirmed repeatedly by data from a variety of sources such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Moran: “We have seen the evidence of imminent Himalayan glacier retreat refuted in spite of sneering attacks on the questioners by the IPCC head, Rajenda Pachauri.”

The IPCC process indeed failed on this claim – and not just or even primarily because the claim was included in the first place (the original text is actually self-contradictory) but because the IPCC editors did not act on numerous comments by climate scientists (and even the Japanese Government) at the time that the claim was not backed up.  However, there is considerable peer reviewed evidence that glaciers are in retreat in the Himalayas, China and Tibet, and in at least one case the rate of retreat is accelerating.

Moran: “We have seen evidence that the Amazon rain forests disappearance is exaggerated…”

Wrong.  This derives from the claim that an IPCC statement was sourced from a WWF document. In fact the WWF drew on peer-reviewed literature on critically-low levels of soil moisture in the Amazon.  The IPCC statement that 40% of the Amazon is under threat from a small reduction in rainfall is backed by peer-reviewed literature.

Moran: “…that half of the Netherlands is not, after all, facing oceanic inundation…”

The 2007 IPCC report said 55% of the Netherlands was below sea level, based on advice from the Dutch Environment Assessment Agency.  The Dutch subsequently altered their advice to say that 26% of the country is below sea level and another 29% is susceptible to river flooding.

Moran: “…and that hurricanes are not increasing in intensity or frequency.”

Wrong.  Climate change has not been clearly linked by climate scientists to increasing hurricane frequency but there is a suggested link made by climate scientists between climate change and hurricane intensity. There is peer-reviewed evidence of hurricanes gaining in wind speed since the 1970s.

Moran: “Warming itself has appeared to have stopped, perhaps temporarily, a fact that even the defrocked high priest of the rising temperature trend, CRU’s Professor Phil Jones, has been forced to concede.”

Wrong, and Moran’s IPA colleague John Roskam who was busted claiming this last week.  This is what Jones said – asked if there had been no statistically-significant global warming in the last 15 years, Jones said:

“Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.”

Interviewer: How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

Phil Jones: “I’m 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 – there’s evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.”

Contrary to Moran’s statement that “there is no new data about climate trends”, the end – or at least faux, media end – of the 00s decade enabled NASA to conclude that 2009 was the second hottest year on record – just shy of either 2005 or 1998, depending on your data set.  And the decade was the hottest ever, beating the 1990s, and the 1980s.

Moran: “And the IPCC estimated climate trend prior to 1980, which predates accurate satellite based records, is also under a new assault because crucial data has disappeared and many claim records are contaminated by local warming.”

Wrong again.  Peer-reviewed evidence shows no noteworthy impact of factors such as urban warming, and NASA adjusts its data to remove any impact anyway – although a large minority of readings show urban records are cooler than rural records because many monitoring units are located in parks.

Moran can’t even get the rhetorical stuff right. “There are no new findings about… the likelihood of people in rich countries contracting heat induced dengue fever.” Which would come as a shock to Singapore, which is dealing with a significant rise in dengue fever as temperatures have risen over the last decade and earlier, and to Taiwan or for that matter Florida, which last year saw the return of dengue fever for the first time in fifty years.

If the ABC wanted to provide genuine balance on the issue, it could invite contributions from Roger Pielke, a climate scientist who has criticised the IPCC, particularly on the important of CO2 in global warming. Or ask Australia’s Garth Partridge about whether anthropogenic impacts are large enough to significantly affect climate. Ask George Kukla about how much human activity accounts for the current warming. Ask John Christy about over-reliance on modeling. Or ask scientists who welcome global warming, believing it will provide net benefits to humanity, including increased plant growth.

It’s not hard to find credentialed climate scientists, with credibility amongst their peers, who dispute elements of the AGW hypothesis.

Instead, the ABC asks the same group of conservatives and professional denialists, none of whom have expertise in climate science and whose work involves serving up the cream of the denialist blogosphere, despite their claims being repeatedly shown to be wrong. Their views, with errors intact, now come with the ABC logo, giving it a credibility it didn’t previously have – just like Chris Monckton’s falsehoods and distortions went uncorrected during his extensive airtime on the ABC recently.

Balance without judgement isn’t balance at all.

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