Global warming and ‘climate change’ in the press

By November 4, 2013Other

I listened last week to an astonishingly ignorant radio interview of a professor of journalism who had measured the proportion of news stories in the Australian press that dealt with ‘climate change’ between 2011 and 2012 in the same three-month periods, and had discovered not only that the numbers declined over the period but that the proportion that seemed sceptical in tone had risen. ‘Quite extraordinary’, said the professor, and went on to say that scientists and journalists were both seekers after the truth, and when 97.4 per cent of scientists said that human beings were caused climate change, and they (the scientists) are truthful, why would newspapers be saying in effect that ‘climate change’ was a matter of open debate?

The interviewer asked whether or not that meant the press was ‘dismissive of the science’ and then, getting agreement, asked why it could be so. The professor then seemed to me to launch into an attack on Andrew Bolt, and argue that despite the (Murdoch) papers’ saying that they ‘accepted the science’, they were covertly allowing Bolt to lead a campaign against the science. She praised the Fairfax papers for refusing to publish sceptical letters, and finished with the plaint that Australia didn’t have a media consensus that reflected the scientific consensus.

I think I’ve reported the exchange faithfully, and you can hear it all here for yourself. Yes, of course it was the ABC. The idea that the media should practise a ‘consensus’, and refuse to publish sceptical letters on any subject that depart from the consensus, strikes me as a monstrous position for someone in journalism to put forward. And the blinding ignorance both of the interviewer and the professor about ‘the science’ was a tribute to what I am increasingly calling ‘the religion of climate change’. If you believe in it, it doesn’t matter what the facts or evidence are.

The fabled 97.4 per cent of scientists who represent the fabled ‘consensus’ has been ripped apart again and again. The paper by Lewandowsky that put it forward is one of the most embarrassing pieces of social science I have seen published, and I wrote about it here. Don’t they know anything about its (lack of) substance? And both need to know that the question is not whether human activity has any effect on the climate of the planet, but whether or not the effect is discernible, unprecedented, and potentially dangerous — matters about which there is no settled science.

But I thought it might be worth pointing out that no one needs to do the sort of study that the professor undertook. Much of it has already been undertaken, and by a number of different bodies. The graph below is an example of one such, undertaken by a group in the University of Colorado at Boulder. If you go to its website you can run a similar graph just on Australia, which is very similar to the line here portraying Oceania.



What it tells you is that there have been two high points for ‘climate change’ in the media. The first was when the IPCC published its 4th Assessment Report in 2007. The second was when the Copenhagen Conference was held, at the end of 2009. The two blips for Oceania alone I would put down to drought and then flood. At the very end of the graph you can see a little rise, presumably occasioned by the release of the 5th Assessment Report of the IPCC. My guess is that will quickly drop from sight. Incidentally, you can see another compilation, this time of press, blogs and related media, here.

There is no need to demonise Andrew Bolt. He doesn’t have to do anything other than pick up the fact that interest in ‘climate change’ has declined. Why has it declined? Because there has been a long pause in the warming, the models that portrayed doom have been shown to run too hot (they give too much weight to the power of carbon dioxide), and people are tired of paying too much for energy when there is no obvious reason to do so. ‘Climate change’ has had its day, and won’t recover unless there is a marked return to rapidly rising temperature, and even if that occurs, people will be wary. There has been far too much of boys crying ‘wolf!’

All in all, it’s time for a new scare, and a requiem for dear old Climate Change, as I wrote on Saturday. Maybe water will be the next scare, and I’ll write about that possibility in a day or two.

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Peter Lang says:

    I think I’ve reported the exchange faithfully, and you can hear it all here for yourself. Yes, of course it was the ABC. The idea that the media should practise a ‘consensus’, and refuse to publish sceptical letters on any subject that depart from the consensus, strikes me as a monstrous position for someone in journalism to put forward.

    So, Don, what would you suggest the Abbott government should do about bias in the publicly funded media? And when – i.e. during this term or the next term of government?

  • dlb says:

    The 97% paper by Cook and Lewandowsky has certainly been a master stroke for their side. They have gullible academics and media eating out of their hand.

    • dlb says:

      My apologies to Prof Lewandowski who was not an author on this paper. I was getting confused with the “conspiracist ideation” paper they co-authored.

  • Col Kurtz says:

    Good on ya Don – about time someone took it up to the Transcendental Brother- (and Sister)-hood of the Climate Change Consensus. “Astonishingly Ignorant” just about sums it up. The religion of climate change indeed – with ‘the professor’ (I’m not sure you should have spared her blushes, Bolta didn’t) and the likes of Clive Hamilton playing the parts of Torquemada and Bernardo Gui. Keep it up.

    (From somenone who used to work with you at ASTEC and the like, and so knows what real science policy is about)

  • D and M says:

    Well done Don… keep fighting the good fight…

  • Joe says:

    Good post. It is indeed a religion. It requires blind faith, paying tithes, and refusal to see the evidence against it.

  • The Promethean says:

    Don, thanks – you may be right about some of the religious aspects to this argument (unlike those who believe in unlimited growth with no consequences apparently?) but your discussion seems mainly to be simplistic nonsense to me and I do think you have listened to the interview with a preconceived and jaundiced view, perhaps understandable given you seem fed up with the ‘debate’.

    For example, you start off with an over the top claim of ‘astonishingly ignorant’ when the facts you recite afterwards seem quite straightforward and in no way to support that epithet.

    You then claim the journalist ‘praised’ the Fairfax papers for not publishing the letters – as I heard it, she merely notes that this is what Fairfax has done, though I accept you may have taken this as implied – so I’m not sure you have reported this faithfully in all aspects (apart from your ramping up the language with phrases like ‘monstrous position’ and ‘blinding ignorance’).

    I agree with you that the media should not just practise a consensus but you exaggerate this point in terms of what Bacon was really saying and then you don’t seem to get the point that the reporting, and apparently largely led by one man – I note you don’t question this analysis, is so highly skewed relative to what the bulk of scientists best understand the situation to be (regardless of the quality of the 97.4% figure or the particular study at hand, are you challenging that this is what most of the informed scientists think?), that it is demonstrably unbalanced and yet you don’t seem to ask why this might be the case and even entertain the idea that a campaign might actually be being waged, not necessarily ‘covertly’ but condoned nevertheless.

    In relation to what the science says, which is where you use the ‘blinding ignorance’ putdown, this is not what the interview was about; it was about how the topic is covered in the media relative to what most scientists seem to think (despite your rant you don’t seem to really question this; you just try to undermine any credibility it might have).

    Your real purpose seems to have been just wanting another go at doubting whether climate change is real or not (in the ways you suggests it matters) not addressing what the interview, and the report behind it, was actually about.

    • Don Aitkin says:


      It’s hard to reply to you because I have since been in communication with Wendy Bacon herself, and have now read the reports she has authored. She seemed relatively uninterested in the interview (at least that was my take on her correspondence with me) but felt that I should not have written anything without reading the report. I read it. and was no more impressed.

      It seemed to me in the interview, and in the report, that Professor Bacon took for granted a whole lot that is to me quite open to question, or is just plain wrong. There’s such a lot, but let me give one example, with my numbers.

      ‘In 2013 the political debate continues, while (1) climate scientists warn that (2) time is running out to act on global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just published its fifth report. (3) Scientists have found (4) with 95% confidence that (5) human greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming. (6) Evidence grows of the damaging impacts of climate change, including melting ice, sea level rise and extreme weather events. (IPCC, 2013). (7) Australia itself is threatened by more extreme hot weather and bushfires, an accelerating loss of species and flooding of coastal communities. (8) Small neighbouring countries in the Pacific such as Kiribati are threatened with inundation and lack of fresh water.’

      To which I respond:

      (1) Which scientists? I can think of one or two scientists who have said that time is running out, but that’s all. Those who like that phrase are nearly always politicians, and of course it is a political statement, not a scientific one.

      (2) That ‘time is running out’ has been said by politicians and activists repeatedly since the 1990s, and one or two have said that it is already too late. Yet there has been no rise in temperature, on average, in 17 years.

      (3) Which scientists? If the ones connected with writing the SPM and WG1 in the 5th AR, they are only a few scientists, even in the climate field.

      (4) That confidence-level statement is simply bogus. It means that a group in a room asked themselves what they thought, and tried to express their agreement with each other that way. In statistics a 95 per cent confidence level has an altogether more substantial meaning — the measurement is within two standard deviations of the mean.

      (5) In fact the IPCC says, and I would agree, that human activity has had some effect in global warming. It doesn’t at all say that it was the only cause, and it plainly isn’t, otherwise there could not have been a 17-year ‘hiatus’ (the IPCC’s word) in warming.

      (6) ‘Evidence’ of damaging evidence isn’t growing — what grows are assertions. Ice has been melting since the early to middle 19th century, sea-level rises have been occurring for thousands of years, and the IPCC itself has said (in its 2012 report that mentioned in the paper) that there is no observational evidence that connects global warming to extreme weather events. Yes, it’s possible that there will be a change in the speed of these processes, but there is no ‘evidence’ to that effect so far.

      (7) Australia is not ‘threatened’ except in the projections of GCMs, while the models themselves have been unable to predict temperature change, and even the modellers warn that the GCMs have a very limited application to regions.

      (8) Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives are no more threatened by inundation now than they were fifty years ago, while the loss of fresh water has nothing whatever to do with ‘climate change’, but is probably connected with over-drawing on the aquifers as more and more people come as tourists.

      That is what I meant by ‘ignorant’. If you are going to write about the press coverage of climate change it would be a help to have some accurate knowledge.

      Now to your email. I’ll pass up ‘simplistic nonsense’, since you don’t say where you found it.

      I did not write down the text of the interview, though I listened to it twice. In any case, both in that interview and certainly in the report, it is hard to doubt that Professor Bacon approves of the Fairfax press stance and feels that other newspapers ought to have followed suit.

      I don’t think that Andrew Bolt ‘leads’ the press reporting of ‘climate change’. As I see it, people write about it from their own perspectives.

      ‘The bulk of the scientists’ — where do you get that summation from? There is not a shred of evidence that the ‘bulk of the scientists’ believe anything one way or the other. The work on consensus that has been done, by Cook, Anderegg and others, which she cites in her report, will not sustain any such statement. Theirs is dreadful social science, or it might be kinder to say that these papers are far too slight and poorly constructed to be used as the basis for anything. If I knew who ‘most of the informed scientists’ were I might be able to hazard a guess as to what they thought. What you seem to seem to be saying is that those of the orthodoxy support the orthodoxy.

      As I pointed out, there are abundant measures of the decline in media interest in global warming; her work there was unnecessary. Deciding on whether or not articles in the Australian press rejected the science or supported it implies that Professor Bacon knows ‘the science’. It is plain that she simply takes for granted what the orthodoxy says (ie. the IPCC reports) and subjects none of it to any critical examination whatever. This is surely bad social science and a poor example to journalism students.

      Sorry this is so long!

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