Monday, February 15, 2010

Climate time line or time lie - a response

ABC NEW WATCH has received the following reply from ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs regarding errors in the ABC's Climate time line. There continue to be some major issues surrounding potential bias with this feature that will be explored further with the ABC. For now here's what the ABC had to say. The questions can be found in our post Climate time line or time lie? Our comments to the answers below are in italics. Attention is drawn to the Ordovician Ice age, Roman Warm Period and NIPCC that remain missing in action, The Medieval Warm Period that remains poorly referenced, and Al Gore's movie that remains un-corrected by a British judge. 

The Timeline can be found HERE with updated entries. Note that there is no indication that the timeline has been corrected.


Thank you for your emails of 17 December 2009 and 10 and 24 January 2010. I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.

Your concerns regarding the ABC Science website 'A Journey through Climate History' have now been investigated by Audience & Consumer Affairs. We have received and considered information from ABC Innovation, the division responsible for the website, and assessed each of the timeline entries referred to in your emails against the applicable editorial standard, section 7.4.2 of the ABC's Editorial Policies (, which states, in part, as follows:

"7.4.2 Factual content requires accuracy.
(a) Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context."

We have concluded that several entries in the timeline did not adhere to this standard. Each of these entries has now been corrected. I will address each of the points raised in your emails below, using your numbering system (however, please note that as two of your points were both numbered 5, these have been renumbered to 5a and 5b):

1. We acknowledge that the placement of the Huronian Ice Age at 2.7 billion years ago in the timeline, and the statement that it was "from 2.7 to 2.3 Billion Years ago", were inaccurate. It has been moved to 2.4 billion years ago, and the description now reads "from 2.4 to 2.1 Billion Years ago".

2. We acknowledge that the placement of the event 'First life on Earth' at 2 billion years ago in the timeline, and the reference in the entry to primitive, one-celled creatures having appeared "about 3 billion years ago" were inaccurate. The event has remained at the same place in the timeline but has been amended and now refers to 'First modern cells', the emergence of eukaryotes.

3. We acknowledge that the reference to a Cryogenian Ice Age having occurred from 850 to 630 million years ago was inaccurate. I understand this range of years referred to the Cryogenian period rather than the ice ages which occurred during the period. The event has been moved in the timeline to 750 million years ago, when the first ice age phase is thought to have begun, and the event description has been amended to include reference to the two ice age phases during the period.

4. I understand 'A Journey through Climate History' is not intended as an exhaustive timeline of every single climatic event in Earth's history. I am advised that the Ordovician ice age was not included in the timeline due to its relative brevity, and not because of any 'inconvenient truth', as you suggest. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the omission of this ice age from the timeline was inconsistent with the ABC's editorial standards.

While brief the Ordovician Ice Age is of great significance in the current debate as the Ice Age is thought to have occurred at a time when CO2 levels were as high 4000 ppm. Its "relative brevity" is irrelevant  and it should be included to provide readers with a better picture of the role of CO2 on climate. See

5a. The timeline entry on the Carboniferous period does not state that all Australian coal deposits currently exploited are Carboniferous in age. Although it refers to the swamps of the Carboniferous forming "the origin of coal", this does not imply that all coal originated during the period. Audience & Consumer Affairs considers that the entry is consistent with the editorial requirements for accuracy.

Currently contains a missing apostrophe in "weve"

5b. Once again, as with point 4, it is relevant to note that it is not the intention of the website to provide an exhaustive timeline of all historical climatic events. I understand ABC Innovation considers that it was acceptable to include the most recent warm period, the Medieval Warm Period, and not include the Roman Warm Period. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe this omission was inconsistent with relevant editorial standards.

Roman Warm Period coincided with the height of the Roman Empire. This is as relevant than other historical events in the timeline.

6. We acknowledge that the placement of the Medieval Warm Period at 700 AD in the timeline was inaccurate and inconsistent with the event description, which refers to the period "between AD 800 1300". It has been moved to 800.

We also acknowledge that the statement in the entry, "the idea that it was a global phenomenon is now discredited and it is suspected that the average global temperature could have been slightly cooler than in the early 20th century" overstated the certainty of the current understanding of the Medieval Warm Period. The entry has been amended to reflect the current level of uncertainty as to whether the phenomenon was global, based on IPCC reports.

The timeline continues to promote references that bias one side of the debate of the extent of the Medieval Warm Period. Where is a reference to CO2science's  Medieval Warm Period Project?

7. As spelling errors do not amount to inaccuracies, this aspect of your complaint has not been investigated. However, I understand the error to which you refer has been corrected. Additionally, I understand ABC Innovation has corrected several other spelling errors elsewhere in the timeline.

8. Although the 2009 CO2 Level entry does not specifically explain that the measurements are of dry air, it is important to recognise that the website is aimed at the general public, and is not required to explain all subjects in extensive detail. The editorial requirement for accuracy requires that factual content be accurate and in context; that is, assertions of fact must be accurate and must provide sufficient context so as not to mislead audiences. In this case, the entry stated what the CO2 level was and where it had been measured, and provided some information about the Mauna Loa Observatory. A link to the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) was also provided, enabling interested users to find out more about how Mauna Loa Observatory CO2 measurements are taken, including the following:

"Most people assume that we measure the concentration of CO2 in air, and in communicating with the general public we frequently use that word because it is familiar. The quantity we actually determine is accurately described by the chemical term "mole fraction", defined as the number of carbon dioxide molecules in a given number of molecules of air, after removal of water vapor."

Taking into account the abbreviated nature of information within the context of the timeline, the information and context provided in the entry, and the fact that the ESRL link was provided for interested users, Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the C02 measurements were misrepresented.

9. I note your comment that the source of the claim that the Northeast and Northwest Passages were open in 2008 for the first time in 125,000 years appeared to be a newspaper report in the Scotland Herald, and that the quoted NASA Earth Observatory source made no claim as to the 125,000 year time span. I am advised by ABC Innovation that the source of the statement was neither the Scotland Herald report nor the NASA Earth Observatory website; the latter, being listed in the 'Links to more information' section of the entry, was not intended to be construed as the source of the information in the entry. Rather, I understand the source of the 125,000 year figure was the following article on the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center (NERSC) website:

We acknowledge that the figure is disputed and that stating it as fact was inconsistent with the editorial standard for accuracy. The entry has been amended to reflect the uncertainty as to the last time the passages have both been navigable at the same time, and to reflect the speculative nature of the 125,000 year figure.

I note your statement that both passages have been open simultaneously several times in recent history. I understand the intended meaning of 'open' within the context of the entry was that the passages were fully navigable and sufficiently free of ice that commercial shipping was possible. Regarding your reference to Roald Amundsen's navigation of the Northwest Passage, while this was the first transit of the Northwest Passage by ship, it took three years to complete and was certainly not a commercial shipping operation. Regarding your reference to the Northeast Passage being open for shipping since 1934, I believe you may in fact be referring to the Northern Sea Route, which is a portion of the Northeast Passage, from Kara Gate to the Bering Strait. Details of the two routes, including a map, is available in the Arctic Council's 'Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment 2009 Report':

On the basis of the information and references you have provided, we are unable to agree that both passages have been open simultaneously several times in recent history. However, if you wish to provide additional information to substantiate your claims, we will be happy to investigate this point further.

10. We do not believe it was necessary for the timeline entry on An Inconvenient Truth to mention the errors found in the Dimmock case in the UK. The entry described the film as "controversial", ensuring that users are aware that it was subject to controversy. It is relevant to note that a link was provided to the Wikipedia page about the film, which discusses the Dimmock case at some length. On review, we are satisfied that the entry was consistent with the editorial standard for accuracy.

Note the way The Great Global Warming Swindle is treated for comparison. ABC do not stop at merely mentioning it was controversial but go into great detail about the subsequent Ofcom inquiry. Any reasonable consideration of these two popular documentaries would treat them equally.

11. Once again, the timeline is not intended to be exhaustive and does not contain every climate-related event in human history. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe the omission of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report to which you refer was inconsistent with relevant editorial standards.

Omissions are just as significant as inclusions. The overall impression is that the producers of the timeline are biased by not including mention of the NIPCC report.

12. Audience & Consumer Affairs considers that the statement "the IPCC confirms that global temperature has risen 0.6 degrees C over the last century" is an accurate summary of one of the key findings of the IPCC's Third Assessment Report. Furthermore, we do not believe the report's use of the 'hockey stick graph' should have precluded it from being listed in the timeline.

Our question was poorly formulated and has been revised to: Why was there no mention or explanation of the  controversial Hockey Stick Graph included in text relating to release of IPCC's third assessment report?

13. We acknowledge that the statement to which you refer did not adhere to the editorial standard for accuracy. It has been amended to be more specific, noting that 2005 is now the warmest year on record according to NASA, and that a 2002 coral bleaching event caused more destruction to the Great Barrier Reef than the 1998 event.

Finally, I note your query as to the costs involved in producing 'A Journey through Climate History'. We are not in a position to provide this information. You may be interested in the ABC Annual Reports, which include general expenditure details:

The latest PDF version is dated 28 October 2008- so not much use.

Please be assured, each of the matters you have raised has been brought to the attention of ABC Innovation management and staff involved in the production of the website. Thank you for your interest in the website and for assisting in its improvement.

Yours sincerely

ABC Audience & Consumer Affair


  1. Oksanna has left a new comment on your post "Climate time line or time lie - a response":

    Point 9: The ABC time line still does not clarify that it is the first time that 'both' passages have 'at the same time' been navigable in recent memory. Indeed the current entry makes it appear that it is the first time either passage has been navigable. Viewers of that entry are thus still in the dark about what actually happened i.e. that the Russians have using the northeast passage since the mid-thirties. The response erroneously says the Northern Sea Route is a part of the Northeast Passage, when it seems that either the converse is the case, the passage is the arctic circle part of the whole arctic-sea route, or more likely, that the two terms are interchangeably used, with the passage term being the older term. The ABC response erroneously muddled the issue for no reason except perhaps to make it look as though the ABCWatch had got it wrong. In fact, the Northern Sea Route continues from the arctic regions, way down the eastern Pacific Coast to South Korea in the temperate zone. So, if anything, the ABC editorial response was unnecessarily misleading and viewers of the timeline are still being mislead on this very point - the Northeast Passage (the term the timeline itself still uses) was only navigable from 2008, a "Paleo-Event", says the timeline. But it's wrong, and on this point still is, a time-lie.

  2. Oksanna, sorry had a fat finger moment, hence the post under the wrong name. Thanks for the comment.


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