Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ABC Counterpoint the New Science show

ABC's The Science show recently featured an interview with Bob Ward, a Spin doctor working for the Grantham Institute, in which Ward made unsubstantiated comments about a number of climate scientists including Bob Carter, Richard Lindzen and Ian Plimer. Ward is not a climate scientist. We sent a complaint Slander on the Science Show. Based on ABC's response (below) it seems that if you want to hear science and opinion that challenges the mainstream you will be better off tuning into ABC's Counterpoint than The Robyn Williams hour.

Here's an independent assessment of Mr Ward's recent research by journalist Graham Young, under the title

Why you should be careful dealing with Bob Ward, Director of Communications for the Grantham Institute

Here's ABC's reply, received 10/11/2010:

Thank you for your emails regarding the 2 October broadcast of The Science Show.

As you would be aware, your concerns have been referred to Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the ABC.  You would also know that we have the role, under the ABC's Editorial Policies (  of examining the compliance of material, about which a complaint has been made, against the relevant editorial standards.  In the course of these examinations, we seek and consider material provided by the relevant Division, in this case, ABC Radio.

Radio National’s Science Show is classified by the ABC as a topical and factual program.  As such, it must adhere to the guidelines set out in section 7 of the Editorial Policies.  These state, in part:

“7.1 Through its topical and factual content the ABC reflects a wide range of audience interests, beliefs and perspectives, presented in a wide variety of formats and styles. This content includes for example:
7.1.1 specialist topics such as arts, children’s, education, entertainment, history, Indigenous, lifestyle, natural history, religion, science and sports.”


“7.4 Staff must also observe the following principles:
7.4.1 The ABC is committed to impartiality: where topical and factual content deals with a matter of contention or public debate, a diversity of principal relevant perspectives should be demonstrated across a network or platform in an appropriate timeframe.
7.4.2 Factual content requires accuracy. (a) Every reasonable effort must be made to ensure that factual content is accurate and in context."

While we note your view on the credentials of  Bob Ward to speak on the subject matter, our role in Audience and Consumer Affairs is to assess whether  the interview complied with the relevant editorial requirements outlined above.  The first point we must consider is whether Bob Ward can be regarded as a “principal relevant perspective” for the purposes of the discussion.  We understand from ABC Radio that Mr Ward was invited on to the program to discuss his views on the quality of climate sceptics' publications as this is a subject of his research.  Given his position as Policy and Communications Director for the Grantham Institute, a group lead by Lord Nicholas Stern which is based in the London School of Economics, and his ability to strongly and coherently argue his views, we are satisfied that he constitutes a “principal relevant perspective” on this matter.  We note that Robyn Williams did state that Mr Ward’s position at the Grantham Institute was as Policy Director, in the program.  His full title was included on the website.  

During the interview, Mr Ward expressed views on the quality of some climate research which were clearly contentious and as you are aware he was particularly critical of a paper authored by Professor Bob Carter.  We note that Professor Carter was asked on to the show to respond to the criticisms made of his views and others by Bob Ward and that he declined, as Robyn Williams noted during the broadcast. Nevertheless the program has published on its website links to the initial paper published by Professor Carter, Mr Ward's critique of the paper, and Professor Carter's written response to the claims made by Bob Ward (  In our view, the invitation made to Professor Carter to appear on the program, and the publication of his paper and response on the program website, indicate that the program was seeking to present its audience with a diversity of views on this subject.  We should note that the ABC’s  policies do not require that all those criticised during an interview in topical and factual content have a right of reply or that their views need to be represented in order for the standard of impartiality to be achieved.

We should also explain that for topical and factual content like the Science Show, the relevant impartiality standard requires that a diversity of principal relevant views be demonstrated across the network in a reasonable timeframe.  In this case, the network is Radio National.  In considering whether Radio National has met this standard (notwithstanding Professor Carter declining the invitation to appear on the 3 October program), we note that the views of so-called  climate sceptics have been featured across a range of Radio National programs in an appropriate time frame.  In our view, these broadcasts provide the required diversity of views to augment those expressed by Mr Ward on 2 October, and taken as a whole, this coverage satisfies the impartiality requirements.  By way of example, UK politician and lobbyist Lord Christopher Monckton appeared twice on the network during his recent visit to Australia, in the Counterpoint program ( and on Radio National Breakfast ( Counterpoint has also featured  Professor Aynsely Kellow, from the  School of Government at the  University of Tasmania discussing the  IPCC review (   Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Richard Lindzen, who Bob Ward critiqued in the Science Show on 2 October has also appeared on Counterpoint discussing his views on flawed climate science  ( as has Australian Jennifer Marohasy ( More recently, Professor Ian Plimer was interviewed on the Counterpoint program of 18 October discussing the Royal Society and its updated guide on climate change ( 

Nevertheless, please be assured that your views have been noted by Radio National and the Science Show team.

For  your reference, the ABC Code of Practice summarises the major principles which guide ABC content and is available here -

Thank you again for taking the time to write.

Yours sincerely
Audience and Consumer Affairs

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