Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Weather whisperers say one thing, ABC says another

Update: 14 July 2010-see below
A little while ago (see HERE) we pointed out that local Inuit knowledge was important in recognising that Polar Bears sometimes eat each other. As Inuits are around to witness Polar Bears a lot more than tourists and passing scientists, it makes some sense to listen to what they are saying. ABC now report on a recent study (lead by the aptly named Betsy Weatherhead - a scientist from the University of Colorado) that has used Inuit Knowledge to suggest that the weather has been "ogianaktook" (phonetic) or less predictable over the past 15 or 20. 

The study titled "Changes in weather persistence: Insight from Inuit knowledge" was published online in the journal Global Environmental Change. The abstract reads:
Since the 1990s, local residents from around the Arctic have reported changes in weather predictability. Examination of environmental measurements have not, until now, helped describe what the local inhabitants have been reporting, in part because prior studies did not focus directly on the persistence aspect of weather. Here we show that there is evidence of changes in persistence in weather over the last two decades for Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada. Hourly data indicate that for local spring, the persistence of temperature has changed dramatically in the last 15 years with some years showing a strong drop in day-to-day persistence in the local spring afternoons, somewhat at odds with changes in persistence on a more global scale. Changes in daily persistence may have implications for human health, agriculture, and ecosystems worldwide. More importantly, the approach of merging indigenous knowledge with scientific methods may offer unexpected benefits for both.

ABC's headline however reads: "Inuit knowledge reveals warming effects". The study is about Inuit knowledge of weather persistence, not warming or cooling. The emphasis is on unpredictability in weather over the past 15 years (which hardly covers half a climate cycle). Hence we lodge a complaint on the grounds that the report headline lacks factual accuracy and breaks ABC editorial policy. We request the ABC amend the headline and we provide the following title for ABC to consider:  "Inuit weather whisperers say weather less predictable-study"
The ABC appear to have found out about the article through a press release from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, issued on the 7th of April, 2010 (seems like ABC were a little slow off the mark with this one).

ABC Audience and Consumer affairs reply: 13 July

Thank you for your further email regarding The World Today.  Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.

Your complaint has been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit separate to and independent from ABC program areas.

I am advised by ABC News management that the reporter discussed the findings of the paper "Changes in weather persistence: Insight from Inuit knowledge" with the researcher Betsy Weatherhead from the University of Colorado, prior to The World Today interview of 26 April.  I understand that Dr Weatherhead confirmed that the research reflected a link between global warming and weather predictability.  In light of your complaint, the reporter has since confirmed with Dr Weatherhead that the description of the research in the story is accurate.

With regard to your concern that the first paragraph of the story constitutes an 'editorial opinion and not a factual statement', I would point out that the statement is clearly attributed to Dr Weatherhead:  "A scientist from the University of Colorado says that local knowledge from the Inuit in Canada has revealed important new information about how global warming is affecting weather in the Arctic."  This is not the editorial opinion of the ABC; we are merely reporting the views of Dr Weatherhead.

Audience and Consumer Affairs notes that the issue of global warming was referred to during the interview, and that the research itself states that: "Inspired by the observations and knowledge shared by Inuit around weather variability and predictability, this paper looks at another dimension to change that we might experience with the increase in greenhouse gases: changes in the character of weather."

On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the report is in keeping with the ABC's editorial standards for accuracy; the story was based on the research findings from the University of Colorado, which were clarified with the researcher before the item went to air.  The claims made by Dr Weatherhead are correctly attributed throughout, and she is properly credentialed to speak to the subject at hand.

Nonetheless, please be assured that your concerns are noted and have been brought to the attention of ABC News.  For your reference, the ABC's Code of Practice is available at:

Yours sincerely
Audience and Consumer Affairs

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