Thursday, April 15, 2010

Whitewashing the whitewash

Update: Reply received 9 June 2010 -see below
ABC HEADLINE:  "Second inquiry clears Climategate scientists" ABC online 15 April,2010
ABC REPORTED: ABC post a Reuters report ("Inquiry clears climate scientists in email row") about results of the Oxburgh Inquiry into British Climate Scientists from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The first sentence is changed to begin with "Another inquiry..."
THE COMPLAINT: Section 5.2.2 (f) of ABC's Editorial Policy states: Be questioning. Serve the public interest by investigating issues affecting society and individuals.
ABC has failed in its duty to serve the public interest in its coverage of the Oxburgh Inquiry by not reporting on:
1. Affiliations of members of the Assessment Panel that are indicative of strong conflict of interest.
Chair: Prof Ron Oxburgh FRS (Lord Oxburgh of Liverpool): Honorary President of the UK Carbon Capture and Storage Association  and member of Climate Change Capitals advisory board. Lord Oxburgh has stated: "You can't slip a piece of paper between David King [the government's chief science adviser who said climate change was a bigger threat than terrorism] and me on this position.Guardian 17 June, 2004.
Prof Kerry Emanuel, Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Co-author on a paper with Climategate scientist Michael Mann.
Prof Lisa Graumlich, University of Arizona. Co-author of a paper with Malcolm Hughes published in the proceedings of a NATO workshop – edited by Phil Jones, whose scientific output was the subject of the panel's inquiry. Malcolm Hughes has published with Michael Mann and Phil Jones (Mann, M.E.,Raymond S. Bradley, Malcolm K. Hughes, and Philip D. Jones (1998). "Global Temperature Patterns". Science 280: 2027.)

2. Content of the report compared to the aims of the inquiry, which were to provide "an independent assessment of CRU's key publications in the areas which have been most subject to comment." (CRU press release 22 March, 2010). The list of references is just 11 CRU papers, five on tree rings, six on CRUTEM. Notably missing from the “sample” are key papers on 1000-year reconstructions: for instance:
Jones, P. D., K. R. Briffa, T. P. Barnett, and S. F. B. Tett, High-resolution palaeclimatic records for the last millennium: Interpretation, integration and camparison with General Circulation Model control-run temperatures, The Holocene, 8, 455– 471, 1998. 
Mann M. E. and Jones, P. D., 2003. Global surface temperatures over the past two millennia GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH LETTERS, VOL. 30, NO. 15, 1820, doi:10.1029/2003GL017814, 2003 
Jones and Mann 2004.
Mann M. E. and Jones, P. D., 2004.CLIMATE OVER PAST MILLENNIA. Reviews of Geophysics, 42

As Steve McIntyre indicates:
Update 9.40 am.
The Daily Telegraph reports:
"Professor Hand did say that “inappropriate methods” were used by a separate university to draw up the infamous “hockey stick” graph showing the rise in global temperatures over more than 1,000 years."
Uh, memo to Oxburgh. CRU produced its own hockey stick graphs in Jones et al 1998, Mann and Jones 2003, for example. For some reason, Oxburgh and his associates regrettably neglected to consider these articles.

3. No analysis of the reports brevity (5 pages) or speed of production: 3 weeks from announcement to report; and whether this constitutes an appropriate response to the serious allegations raised by the Climategate emails or a "Whitewash".

4. Failure to elaborate on criticism in the report about the Unit's handling of statistics made by Prof David Hand,for instance as reported by New Scientist.

The report fails to live up to ABC's commitment for quality journalism.

Here's how the UK Telegraph covered the same story:  'Hockey stick' graph was exaggerated
with commentary by Gerard Warner "Climategate: CRU whiter than – er – whitewash, as world laughs at AGW scam apologists"

OUTCOME:reply received 9 June 2010

Thank you for your email of 15 April concerning the ABC News Online story “Second inquiry clears Climategate scientists”, published that day. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.

In keeping with ABC complaint handling procedures, your concerns have been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit separate to and independent from ABC program areas. In light of your concerns, we have assessed the story against provision 5.2.2(f) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies, which requires staff be questioning in news and current affairs content and serve the public interest by investigating issues affecting society and individuals. In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.

The story in question highlighted the fact that the inquiry set up by University of East Anglia to investigate the methods used by the Climatic Research Unit had cleared the Unit of wrongdoing, finding no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice. The story also reported that the inquiry had been critical of the way the Unit had handled statistics and recommended that it work with professional statisticians in future. Criticism of the inquiry was also cited, with the inclusion of comments from the Director of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Dr Benny Peiser, who described the inquiry as “rushed and superficial” and suggested the panel had not done a proper job.

ABC News have advised that they considered the focus of the story, which was from wire agency partner Reuters, to be newsworthy and in the public interest. They note that one of the main allegations made against the Climatic Research Unit was the dishonest use of scientific data; accordingly, ABC News consider it was reasonable for this aspect to be highlighted in a story that focussed on the inquiry panel’s findings. This matter was itself highlighted in both the introduction and conclusion of the panel’s report:

ABC News does acknowledge that the story could have provided some details about the credentials of those appointed to the panel, and the range of reports and publications considered by the inquiry. However, they do not consider that, in the context of a story that focussed on the report’s findings, this was absolutely necessary or constituted a serious omission. Instead, ABC News believe the story presented a fair account of the panel’s findings, as outlined in its report dated 12 April, and some of the criticisms of the inquiry made by others.

In respect to the other coverage of the story to which you refer, ABC News acknowledges that the UK’s Telegraph newspaper chose to highlight a different aspect of the story, concentrating on the panel’s criticism of the Unit’s use of statistical tools and methods. ABC News appreciate that this is also a legitimate line of coverage, and believes this demonstrates that different journalists will focus on different news points in the same story. As noted above, the panel’s criticisms of the Unit’s statistical methodology was mentioned in the story published by the ABC.

You also refer to articles published online by the Telegraph newspaper and New Scientist magazine that reported on criticisms expressed by Professor David Hand about papers by other parties, including a 1998 paper by Professor Mann of Pennsylvania State University that included the “hockey stick” graph. This was not part of the inquiry or panel report about the Climatic Research Unit to which the ABC story pertained. Accordingly, ABC News do not consider it was necessary or relevant to mention in the story.

The other articles to which you refer, by Telegraph commentator Gerald Warner and the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Stephen McIntyre, were online blog entries providing commentary and opinion on the story rather than news reportage. Again, we note that the ABC’s online news story in question included comments critical of the inquiry, including those of the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s Director, Dr Peiser.

On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied that the ABC News Online story, “Second inquiry clears Climategate scientists”, was in keeping with the relevant ABC editorial standards. We believe the story was newsworthy and provided a fair and accurate account of the inquiry panel’s findings, which was the focus of the story. While we note you believe other aspects of the story, or related matters covered by other media outlets, should have been included, we cannot agree that their omission constituted a breach of provision 5.2.2(f) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been noted by ABC News.

Finally, it is worth noting that ABC News Online is not a dedicated climate change journal, but a general news services. While ABC News Online endeavours to provide coverage of climate change on a newsworthy basis, this does not mean, nor require, that all stories or perspectives will be reported. As you may appreciate, coverage and publications presented by other outlets and organisations, particularly those with specialist interests and audiences such as New Scientist and the Global Warming Policy Foundation, would no doubt reflect their editorial scope and focus.

Thank you again for taking the time to write. For your reference, copies of the ABC’s Code of Practice and Editorial Policies are available at:

Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

COMMENT: Lack of questioning by the media assists in whitewashing the whitewash.

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