Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ABC casts more heat rather than light on CSIRO climate snapshot report

25/7/2010-Note see post  UPDATE: CSIRO shed a little light. for a response from CSIRO.
In a speech for the 2010 Manning Clark Lecture former ABC investigative reporter Chris Masters said  "I can think of no more conspicuous failure of contemporary media than in the treatment of Global Warming. Time again you see the objective is to cast heat rather than light. It is another subject that is to be exploited rather than explained."

Once again ABC casts heat rather than light in its news reporting about a release by the CSIRO of a brief new report outlining a 'snapshot' of the state of the climate.

ABC HEADLINE: "CSIRO boss says climate change is real" broadcast Radio National AM, 15/3/2010, and associated report on ABC online "CSIRO chief defends climate science" posted 15/3/2010. 

ABC REPORTED: ABC environmental reporter Sarah Clarke interviewed CSIRO chief Dr Megan Clark about the release of a new joint CSIRO/BMR report "State of the Climate". 

THE COMPLAINT:ABC reporter Sarah Clark did not ask any specific questions of Dr Megan Clark about the contents of CSIRO's new report. Dr Clark's opinions were left unchallenged by the ABC reporter. ABC NEWS WATCH thought the job of journalists was to ask questions rather than broadcast opinion unfettered by sceptical inquiry. Chris Masters seems to agree stating: "Opinions are dangerous without an underpinning of facts.". Indeed the ABC's own editorial policies seem to back us up. Section 5.2.2 (f) states: Be questioning. Serve the public interest by investigating issues affecting society and individuals.
Can ABC please explain why questions specific to the contents of the CSIRO report were not asked? 
As the ABC failed to ask any questions about the CSIRO report ABC NEWS WATCH sent this list of 7 questions (below) to the CSIRO Communications Manager Ben Creagh. If we get a response the answers will be posted here. We also forwarded a copy of these questions to Dr Clark.


1. CSIRO State of the Climate (http://www.csiro.gov.au/resources/State-of-the-Climate.html) claims to be sourced from peer reviewed articles, however the actual references are not cited. Can CSIRO provide the peer reviewed references it used in the preparation of this document such that it might be subject to independent scrutiny by independent scientists.
2. The charts showing temperature, rainfall and hot and cold day maximums do not show data prior to 1960. BMR claims to have been observing and reporting on weather in Australia for over 100 years. Indeed Dr Megan Clark states that "we are very blessed in this country to have some very, very robust data and very long-term [data]." Why did CSIRO and BMR  not use its complete set of "very, very robust data and very long-term [data]" in depicting changes in these parameters? Does omitting an earlier period of warming between 1910 and 1940 for which BMR has records affect the resulting charts? What would be the effect of including this data on the charts presented in CSIRO's snapshot?  Can CSIRO provide the public with updated charts showing the effect of including the full set of records?
3. Climate models for eastern Australian show conflicting results with both an increase and decrease in projected rainfall. Why has the CSIRO focused on model results that show a decrease for this report? For a summary of model results that show a range of projections see: "Assessment of rainfall simulations from global climate models and implications for climate change impact on runoff studies" by CSIRO scientists F.H.S. Chiew, D.G.C. Kirono, D. Kent and J. Vaze http://www.mssanz.org.au/modsim09/I13/chiew.pdf
4. Assuming current rates of sea level rise (3mm.year) continue providing a net increase of 300 mm for the 21st century can CSIRO comment on why this constitutes a cause for major concern?
5. In regard to Ocean acidification. Given that ph levels will remain above a neutral point of 7. Is it not more correct to say that oceans may become "less alkaline" rather than "more acidic".
6. CSIRO points out the obvious in indicating that climate change is real. The real issues to Australian society surrounds whether anthropogenic change will be dangerous. As recent peer reviewed publications (eg. Lindzen, R. S., and Y.-S. Choi, 2009- On the determination of climate feedbacks from ERBE data, Geophys. Res. Lett., 36, L16705, doi:10.1029/) indicate that IPCC climate models have overstated the climate's sensitivity to CO2 increases. Can the CSIRO comment on the certainty behind predictions of future impacts of climate on human populations?
7 Dr Clarke describes the Australian dataset as "robust" , however in allegedly leaked documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia a programmer named "Harry" describes the Australian temperature dataset in the following way."I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seem to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. There are hundreds if not thousands of pairs of dummy stations, one with no WMO and one with, usually overlapping and with the same station name and very similar coordinates. I know it could be old and new stations, but why such large overlaps if that’s the case? Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight… So, we can have a proper result, but only by including a load of garbage!"
"getting seriously fed up with the state of the Australian data"
Why does CRU programmer "Harry" describe the Australian temperature database as "poor" and compare it to garbage? Doesn't this contradict your assertion that the data is robust?

OUTCOME25/7/2010-Note see post  UPDATE: CSIRO shed a little light. for a response from CSIRO.
ABC's response received 10/9/2010

I refer to your email of 25 July 2010 regarding an item broadcast on AM on 15 March, ‘CSIRO boss says climate change is real’, and a related News Online story published the same day, ‘CSIRO chief defends climate science’.
In keeping with ABC editorial standards for impartiality, judgements about news and current affairs coverage must be based on news values.  In this case, the reporter judged that the primary news value in this story was Dr Megan Clarke’s strong statements about the reality of climate change and her defence of climate science.  The reporter asked three questions in the AM interview, two of which raised the doubts put forward by climate change sceptics and sought a response.  While I note that you have characterised your contact as a complaint and specifically identified section 5.2.2(f) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies as relevant, nothing in the ABC’s editorial standards prescribes that a particular line of questioning be taken in interviews.  It was entirely open to ABC News to conduct this interview in the way that it did, and no breach of ABC editorial standards has been committed.
As you are aware, ABC editorial standards are available here - http://abc.net.au/corp/pubs/edpols.htm.

Yours sincerely,
Head, Audience and Consumer Affairs

COMMENT: Given the soft approach of the reporter we are left wondering if a better title might be Environmental 'spokesperson', rather than journalist? We understand Chris Masters now offers a course in investigative journalism, perhaps the ABC should book some places?


  1. As this article is dated 16Mar2010 and it is now 23July, isn't it time that a response was demanded or, if it has been received, placed on this web page for all to see?

  2. John,
    Sorry poor failing to link this to the response. See the post titled UPDATE: CSIRO shed a little light for the CSIRO reply. We will send ABC a reminder.



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