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Apr 26, 2012

Hamilton: ABC’s latest climate change doco another PR victory for doubters

Because it falls for the deniers’ tactic of doubt-mongering, ABC TV’s I Can Change Your Mind … About Climate Change is a victory for climate denial even before it goes to air .

The strategy of doubt-mongering has been highly effective for climate deniers at exploiting the media’s practice of presenting “two sides” to controversial issues. The media have an ethical commitment to provide “balance” and stories are more interesting if there is a conflict to report, whether that conflict is real or manufactured.

Which is why ABC TV’s I Can Change Your Mind … About Climate Change is yet another victory for climate denial even before it goes to air this Thursday. The documentary pits former Liberal senator Nick Minchin, who famously claimed that climate science is a communist plot, against youthful climate change activist Anna Rose, and just like 2007’s The Great Global Warming Swindle, the ABC will air a special panel devoted to the program entitled Q&A: The Climate Debate to discuss the documentary after it airs.

Minchin and Rose will be joined by mining magnate Clive Palmer, chief executive of the CSIRO Dr Megan Clark and social researcher and writer Rebecca Huntley.

The premise of the film, commissioned by the ABC, and the accompanying panel, suggests that there is a genuine debate about climate science. But as there is in fact no debate in the scientific literature about the main propositions of climate science, the ABC is hoodwinking its viewers.

If there were a real debate among scientists, then the climate deniers would be publishing their counter-evidence in the professional scientific journals. But they are not, because they do not have evidence that will stand up to scrutiny.

So they set out to do something else, to create the impression in the public mind that there is a serious debate among scientists about global warming. To do so they must shift the terrain away from the scientific journals and into the popular media, where they do not have to face the scrutiny of experts.

It’s certain that when asked last year to participate in the program, Minchin grabbed the chance with two hands. His denialist comrades have been patting him on the back ever since.

Several well-qualified scientists could see the program for what it was and refused the invitation to “debate” Minchin. But has Rose, who has been widely and rightly praised for co-founding the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, undone much of her good work by allowing herself to be enticed onto the television screen? Rose has written a book about the experience and she has told The Sydney Morning Herald, “I went into it with an open mind – but I answer the questions about climate change based on the science.

The ABC will argue that in presenting “both sides” viewers will be able to make up their own minds. For issues such as euthanasia, capital punishment or conflict in the Middle East, that is legitimate. But the subject of this debate is a complex body of science that only those with advanced training in a relevant discipline can properly understand and assess.

Would the ABC commission a program titled I Can Change Your Mind on … the Theory of Relativity? Is its next program I Can Change Your Mind on … Evolution in which an unqualified creationist debates the evidence with an unqualified “believer” in evolution?

Yet in this case — where the stakes are enormous, no less than the survival of the civilised world — the ABC takes the view that climate science is a fun topic for debate and has pitched against each other two people with zero expertise and no authority.

When the program goes to air, the bevy of deniers at the Lavoisier Group, the Institute of Public Affairs, and the Skeptics Party will be shouting “Sucked in ABC”. And they will have good reason to celebrate.

The ABC knows all of this. I and others have pointed it out many times. Scholars such as Naomi Oreskes have exposed the tactics of the climate deniers with a mass of documentary evidence.

Yet the ABC persists with the charade of “providing balance”. Some news organisations abroad have decided they will no longer fall for the doubt-mongering ruse. Professional pride now prevents editors and journalists from being manipulated by the denial machine.

The BBC would not air a program such as this. In the United States, National Public Radio has revised its ethics handbook. “Our goal,” it states, “is not … to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.”

When it reports on questions such as climate science its aim is not the spurious fairness of presenting “both sides”; instead NPR commits itself to be “fair to the truth”.

“To be fair to the truth.” Once we simply expected that of the national broadcaster. This latest program tells us that the truth no longer carries so much weight at the ABC, not when it comes to climate science.

*Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra.

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87 thoughts on “Hamilton: ABC’s latest climate change doco another PR victory for doubters

  1. Peter Ormonde

    Balance? That means giving knuckle scrapers and wishful thinkers equal time apparently.

    Imagine trying to change Nick Minchin’s mind on anything at all. Even he can’t change his mind. So I feel that poor Rose was set up from the start really.

    Still it’s a chance to get the facts out – to expose the sort of irrational notions and praying underneath the skeptic/denial position – which I’m sure Nick does most eloquently.

    I can’t bear to watch Q & A at the best of times … so much contrived “balance” it distorts the public debate … as if anyone could take a Blot or a Devine seriously enough to give them oxygen.

  2. Jimmy

    Great article. When you look at the panel the debate is resolved before they even opeen their mouths, the CSIRO on the side of climate change and Clive Palmer & Nick Minchin against, only one qualified opinion.

  3. Michael

    I agree with you @CLIVE
    Any opportunity provided for the sensible majority to debunk your bullshit cannot be good for your business.
    Ignore, them, pretend they don’t exist & pray to Gaia that the cheques keep coming.

  4. Frank Campbell

    Crikey true to form- privileging this shallow, repetitive propagandist yet again.

    No mention on this website that James Lovelock disembarked at Cork from the ideological Titanic of climate millenarianism:

    “(Lovelock) previously painted some of the direst visions of the effects of climate change. In 2006, in an article in the U.K.’s Independent newspaper, he wrote that “before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.”

    and

    “It will also reflect his new opinion that global warming has not occurred as he had expected.
    “The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened,” Lovelock said.

    “The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now,” he said.

    “The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.

    He pointed to Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers” as other examples of “alarmist” forecasts of the future.”

  5. Jimmy

    Frank – Let’s look at the quotes you have posted – ““The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium” & “carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” So thee climate has warmed since 2000, on top of considerable warming in the previous decades and carbon dioxide is rising.

    When you consider all credible scientists are predicting a 2 degree rise as being too much how does “not vey much” impact the climate and what is it’s quantity.

  6. Simon Mansfield

    Jimmy – go read the full interview with Lovelock on MSNBC

    http:// worldnews.msnbc.msn. com/_news/2012/04/23/11144098-gaia-scientist-james-lovelock-i-was-alarmist-about-climate-change?lite

    Remove the white spaces.

    But like NASA’s James Hansen – Lovelock backs nuclear power as the key solution for baseload power – which makes him politically incorrect.

  7. Simon Mansfield

    The really scary thing about Hamilton is that he teaches public ethics despite being a fully badged member of the “Thought Police” .

    I’m guessing Madlands is a play on Gaslands making it a bad title for many reasons.

  8. Jimmy

    SImon Mansfield – That would be the interview where he says the climate is still warming just not as fast as he orginally predicted.

    His original predictions were extreme, to say that the worst case scenario isn’t going to happen so we don’t need to worry is naive. There are a lot of negative consequences of slower than expected warming before we get to virtual extinction.

  9. Think Big

    I see Frank Campbell is regurgitating the latest denialist talking point. There is a concerted push by the denialists before the carbon-price comes into effect because after that all their scaremongering will be exposed as overblown.

    Lovelock is now 92 and was always a contrarian. His previous views didn’t represent the maintream opinion on climate-science anyway. I’m surprised Frank and Simon didn’t mention the vox-pop of retired NASA administrators and technicians – maybe that was last months meme to be discarded when the reality of their true level of expertise in climate-science was uncovered.

  10. Jimmy

    Think Big- From the interview all it seemed that he was doing was moving from his original extreme position to a more mainstream one anyway, he says he isn’t a denier, he says global warming is happening just not as fast as he originally thought, and he says humans can make a difference, hardly seems to be jumping of the Titanic as Frank claims.

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