Friday, May 14, 2010

Warmer planet to stress humans: a missing retort

Update reply received July 2, 2010-see outcome below
ABC's science unit appears to be relish its role as a cheerleader for climate and environmental alarmism. Its coverage of science and environmental issues, typically promotes alarm over pragmatism, science fiction over science fact with the resulting news stories being little more than publicity pieces for panic. The recent report "Warmer planet to stress humans: study" published online and promoted as "Best of ABC" is a case in point.
The article fails the test of critical journalism by not asking any of the tough questions, challenging opinions or providing alternative views; it is essentially a vehicle for the report authors to promote their alarmist view of climate change.  The study has now been found to be scientifically flawed by Roger Pielke Snr in his post "Comments On The Scientifically Flawed Study “Researchers Find Future Temperatures Could Exceed Livable Limits” By Sherwood and Huber 2010"
In his conclusion Roger Pielke Snr states: "The Sherwood and Huber paper is just a model sensitivity study, not a verifiable prediction. Moreover, not only is it scientifically flawed, but the dissemination of a press release illusrates that this is really not a science study. The funding of such a study by the National Science Foundation (whose predictions cannot be verified) illustrates another failure by the NSF to properly support climate science."

We request the ABC science unit follow up their puff piece with an interview with Roger Peilke Snr to provide a balanced perspective on the issue. Perhaps a Lateline interview involving Roger Pielke Snr and report authors Sherwood and Huber would provide the opportunity to put some flesh back on the skeleton of ABC science journalism?

OUTCOME: Received from ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs 2 July, 2010.
Thank you for your email regarding the ABC Science story 'Warmer planet to stress humans: study', published on 4 May. I am sorry for the delay in responding to you.

Your concerns about this story have been investigated by Audience & Consumer Affairs. The story has been assessed against the applicable editorial standard, section 5.2.2(e) of the ABC's Editorial Policies (, which states as follows:

"Be balanced. Balance will be sought but may not always be achieved within a single program or publication; it will be achieved as soon as reasonably practicable and in an appropriate manner. It is not essential to give all sides equal time. As far as possible, present principal relevant views on matters of importance."

The story reported on the results of the peer-reviewed study 'An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress', published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). It summarised several newsworthy aspects of the study and provided the views of one of its authors, Professor Steven Sherwood.

The study looked at the possible impacts of remote scenarios of global warming in coming centuries, and argued that heat stress would impose a limit on the ability of humans to adapt and survive in such scenarios. It was not a study of the likelihood of extreme global warming scenarios taking place; rather, it focused on the specific issue of heat stress in extreme scenarios.

While we note your reference to the blog post 'Comments On The Scientifically Flawed Study "Researchers Find Future Temperatures Could Exceed Livable Limits" By Sherwood and Huber 2010' by Roger Pielke Sr., it does not appear that the study has engendered a significant level of debate within the scientific community.

Given the remoteness of the scenarios considered in the study, the very specific nature of the subject matter, and the lack of subsequent debate over the study's findings, Audience & Consumer Affairs considers that the principal relevant views necessary for the story to canvas, at the time of publication, were those of the study's authors. Audience & Consumer Affairs does not believe it was necessary for the story to include a broader range of perspectives in order to meet the editorial standard for balance. Accordingly, on review of the story, we are satisfied that it was consistent with this standard.

The blog post to which you refer has been brought to the attention of relevant staff in ABC Innovation. I am advised that they found the post interesting and I understand they have undertaken to ask some other climate scientists for their thoughts on it. As you would understand, it was not possible for ABC Innovation to consider Dr Pielke's analysis of the study at the time the story was written and published, as the blog post was not published until 13 May. However, it remains open for ABC Innovation to present other viewpoints in future reports, should further developments in this area of science occur.

While Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the story adhered to section 5.2.2(e) of the Editorial Policies, please be assured that your comments have been noted and conveyed to relevant ABC Innovation staff. Thank you for taking the time to write.

Yours sincerely
ABC Audience & Consumer Affairs


Thankyou for your Reply.
Can you please ask ABC Innovation how they assessed that the study by Dr Pielke Snr has not "engendered a significant level of debate within the scientific community". I was under the impression based on previous correspondance with ABC AUdience and Consumer Affiars that ABC Innovation lacked the necessary scientific skills to undertake such an assessment. Was this judgement in fact based on the amount of coverage of Dr Pielke's study in the media?
If so does ABC Innovation now judge the value of scientific reports simply by the level of media interest, rather than the quality of the research?
To clarify, my statement "it does not appear that the study has engendered a significant level of debate within the scientific community" was in reference to the study 'An adaptability limit to climate change due to heat stress', not the blog post by Roger Pielke Sr. ABC Innovation did not assess that Dr Pielke's blog post had not engendered a significant level of debate within the scientific community; rather, as I stated, they advised that they found the post interesting and have undertaken to ask other climate scientists about it.

Perhaps ABC Innovation can take the time to discuss the article with Dr Pielke Snr. Afterall ABC based their report 'Warmer planet to stress humans: study' solely on discussion with the author of that study and did not seek comments from other climate scientists. It would seem ABC Innovation use different standards of "Balance" to suite their own preconceived notion of what the science should say. Has ABC Innovation taken recent statements on "Groupthink" by Chairman Maurice Newman into account in providing its audience with balanced news coverage?
Thank you for your further email. Your additional comments are noted and will be conveyed to ABC Innovation.

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