Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Case study in alarmist reporting

ABC's "commercial arm", Fairfax provided an interesting headline this morning:

Revealed: 80cm sea rise warningThe report included these paragraphs:

The world is on track to become up to five degrees hotter, and sea levels could rise more than 80 centimetres this century, according to a leaked draft of a landmark climate change report prepared for the UN.

There is now a 95 per cent likelihood human greenhouse gas emissions are driving changes being observed globally, which in recent weeks have included extraordinary heatwaves in Asia and Alaska.

That degree of certainty has been revised up from 90 per cent in the last report in 2007, 66 per cent in 2001, and just over 50 in 1995. A sea level rise of up to 82 centimetres, which would have serious impacts on coastal cities everywhere, is now ''unequivocal'', Reuters reported.

We sent the following Letter:
It seems that SMH reporters have misrepresented IPCC report findings (Revealed: 80cm sea rise warning, 20/8). The draft IPCC report provides a wide range of figures for various climate indices. For sea level rise the IPCC draft report indicates a potential rise between 29 to 80cm. Such a modest rise is well within society's capacity to adapt and does not constitute an end to world as we know it.

SMH's defensive letters editor Julie Lewis provided the following reply (some how I don't think they will publish my call for integrity in reporting):

Dear Marc,
The report says 80cm is much more probable than 29cm, and also that not all ice melt is factored into the models, so the reality could be considerably higher than 80cm this century. Within that context, saying it "could" rise "up to 80cm" is accurate, and reasonably conservative.

to which we responded:

Thanks Julie,
Your reporters appear to have based their story on a secondary source quoting Reuters, not the actual draft report. Did they actually base the report on the original source or did they just quote a secondary source?

Here is the relevant text from the IPCC AR5 draft released last year. In contrast to your claim there is no weighting between the different scenarios. Unless your reporters can quote the relevant section from the actual document it seems my criticism stands. 

Global Mean Sea Level Rise Projections
It is very likely that the rate of global mean sea level rise during the 21st century will exceed the rate observed during 1971–2010 for all RCP scenarios. For the period 2081 to 2100, compared to 1986 to 2005, global mean sea level rise is likely to be in the range 0.29–0.55 m for RCP2.6, 0.36–0.63 m for RCP4.5, 0.37–0.64 m for RCP6.0, and 0.48–0.82 m (0.56–0.96 m by 2100 with a rate of rise 8–15 mm yr–1 over the last decade of the 21st century) for RCP8.5. Unlike in the AR4, these projections include a contribution from changes in ice-sheet outflow, for which the central projection is 0.11 m. There is only medium confidence in these ranges of projected global mean sea level rise, because there is only medium confidence in the likely range of projected contributions from models of ice sheet dynamics, and because there is no consensus about the reliability of semi-empirical models, which give higher projections than process-based models. Larger values cannot be excluded, but current scientific understanding is insufficient for evaluating their probability. [13.5.1, Table 13.5, Figures 13.8 and 13.9]

For a blog post at ABC NEWS Watch can you please confirm your reporters did not see the draft report referred to, instead basing their story on a rehash of the Reuters article. 

"Journalist" Julie goes on to defend use of secondary sources over primary:
Our reporters have based their report on a number of sources. We stand by our story.

Our riposte:
A number of sources but not the primary source! 
And this passes for journalism at SMH!

Sad that activist reporters at Fairfax like their ABC counterparts only provide half the story. ignoring the other side because it does not agree with a fixed world view. Little wonder that Fairfax is increasingly irrelevant when its reporters are not up to basic journalism.

ABC take a predictable alarmist line with their report on the leaked draft:
UN climate change draft report finds it is 95 per cent likely that global warming is caused by humans

It's always sensationalism over rational reporting at the ABC.

UPDATE 2. Letters page of the 21/8 replete with one sided commentary including this outright misrepresentation: "An 80-centimetre rise in sea levels could, among other things, reduce the width of all beaches by 80 metres. Goodbye, Bondi!" 
What a joke!!
In days long since past letters editors favoured a variety of view points. It seems the Herald with its one eyed reporters heads buried deep in the sand no longer tolerate discussion and debate.


  1. IPCC temperature predictions have all been grossly overestimated. The real world figures are below all the predictions, especially the wild "hockey stick" scenario on which the hysteria is based. Sticking to the line of doom and gloom in spite of the evidence refuting the dire predictions should be getting us all very suspicious of the true motives of the IPCC and its parent body, the UN.

  2. Sigh. I also wondered how Reuters had become the authority worth quoting rather than the source article. Will this madness never end?


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