Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Update: GENE WARS MULTIMEDIA SPECIAL - errors included

ABC have finally replied to our complaint regarding problems with its "multimedia presentation "Gene Wars".  Looking over the response they have largely missed the point but we are now mindful that ABC consider this to be a  "multimedia presentation, not a scientific research paper". So I guess the factual transgressions, omissions and lack of balance are okay then? And they call this journalism!

1. The "infographic" titled "Corporate Control" includes a graph on the right hand size that incorrectly portrays the number of multinational companies in the market for genetic material. This gives a misleading impression that only 10 companies are involved. The source paper Public biotech 2007—the numbers by Stacy Lawrence & Riku Lähteenmäki ( Nature Biotechnology Volume 26 No 7 pp. 753-762) in Table 7 lists 429 public biotech companies. This hardly constitutes a "handful". The graph only considers sales and does not examine other factors such as research expenditure, employees or operating income. Considering employees shows more workers are employed by mid, small and micro-capitalised companies than by 10 large capitalised companies. The graphic should be amended to indicate the total number of companies involved.
2. The "infographic" titled "Food for thought" indicates 1405 patents for drought-resistant genes between 1994 and 2009. The source cited is Patent Lens. We are unable to replicate the number of patents claimed in the graph. A full text search of the words "drought-resistant" at Patent Lens yields 913 US patents granted. Does the ABC's graph include granted patents only or does it also include applications? Are the patents limited to the USA or other countries also included. In the accompanying report "Future of Food now a global battle" the number of patents is suggested to be "over 900".
Can ABC clarify the method used to establish the number of patents and print this along side the graphic, so that users can repeat the results?
3. As 7.00pm 13 April, 2010 the video slide show titled "Multimedia: In the lab" was not functioning. UPDATE 14 April 8:40 am: This presentation now appears to be working.
4. The presentation focuses on drought resistant genes, however future climate change may bring more rainfall to some regions. Future climate change will result in winners and losers as climate varies regionally. This aspect was not covered in the report and as such it lacks balance.
OUTCOME: Received 29 June 2010
Thank you for your email of 13 April concerning the ABC News Online special presentation “Gene Wars: the race to own our food”. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.

In keeping with ABC complaint handling procedures, your concerns have been investigated by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit separate to and independent from ABC program areas. In light of your concerns, we have reviewed the content to which you refer and assessed it against the ABC’s editorial requirements for accuracy and balance in news and current affairs content, as outlined in sections 5.2.2(c) and (e) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News. As your complaint raises a number of specific concerns, I will respond to each in turn, below.

On the basis of your description in point one, we believe you are referring to the “Corporate Control” graph on the left hand side of the “Corporate Control” page, rather than either of the two graphs on the right hand side: ABC News have advised that the graph is intended to show that the worldwide market for genetic material is dominated by the three biggest players – Amgen, Genentech and Monsanto. They note that the graph does not claim to show every company with a stake in the market for genetic material, and clearly shows that the graph is measuring these companies by sales rather than any other metric.

On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs do not agree that the graph is misleading. We believe the labelling of the graph, and the particular type of graph used, made clear that this was not a full graphical representation of every company involved in the market, but rather an illustration that the market was dominated by a “handful”, namely three, companies. The fact that this analysis was based on sales, as opposed to research expenditure, employees or operating income, was also made clear, with the graph indicating it was based on “2007 Sales (US$ millions)”. Accordingly, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the graphic was presented in sufficient context to enable the audience to understand its content, in keeping with the ABC’s editorial requirement for accuracy in news and current affairs content.

In respect to your questions about the “Biotech boom” graphic that appears on the “Food for thought” page, ABC News have explained that they worked with Dr Richard Jefferson from Patent Lens to determine the most appropriate way to search the data. I understand that the search conducted was for granted patents in the US, Europe and Australia, using the search terms “seq id”, which identifies patents relating to genes, and “drought”. ABC News have advised that the figures shown in the graph reflect that search and, as the caption states, is intended to highlight a broad trend rather than be specific down to the last patent application. ABC News understand that the data held by Patent Lens is dynamic, and can change in view of factors such as many patent applications being confidential until granted.

On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs consider the graphic was appropriately labelled and captioned, indicating the source of the data and the fact it was showing a “broader trend”. We do not consider it necessary that the graph be accompanied by the specific search criteria used “so users can repeat the results”, as you suggest; the infographic is part of an online multimedia presentation, not a scientific research paper. Accordingly, in this context, we consider the trend graph noting its source provided sufficient context to meet the ABC’s editorial provisions for accuracy in news and current affairs content.

You also refer to the number of patents cited in the article titled “Future of food now a global battle”. The article specifically refers to “the largest private and public seed, biotech and agrichemical companies and institutions” having been granted “at least 900 patents”. I understand this differs from the “Biotech boom” graphic, which is not specific to companies or institutions of a particular size. ABC News have advised that the figure in the article was based on information provided by several sources, including UK Food Ethics Council trustee Geoff Tansey and the Australian National University’s Dr Luigi Palombi, as well as searches of the Patent Lens data.  On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs consider the use of these sources constituted reasonable efforts in the in the circumstances to ensure accuracy, as required by section 5.2.2(c) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies.

We note your view that the presentation lacks balance because it focussed on drought-resistant genes, despite IPCC projections of future climate change indicating some regions will be less affected by drought. ABC News have advised that the Gene Wars presentation is not about climate change science, but rather the future of food production in view of the patents held by companies on genetic material, and the intellectual property issues associated with that subject. They note that this is made clear in the text on the front page of the presentation ( and in the scope of the articles, infographics and multimedia presentations for Gene Wars.

I should explain that the ABC’s editorial standard for balance is based on the principle of fair representation of views, with the ABC’s Editorial Policies requiring the presentation of “principal relevant views on matters of importance” over time. In the case of Gene Wars, the matter of importance being explored was the investment in intellectual property rights over biological material and the potential of these rights to impact on food crop research and development, and therefore food production, in the future. On this front, ABC News note that the presentation featured a range of relevant views, including: Monsanto Australia’s Peter O’Keefe, Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan, UK Food Ethics Council trustee Geoff Tansey, farmers John and Jan Baxter, Professor Richard Trethowan from the University of Sydney’s Plant Breeding Institute, CSIRO scientist Dr TJ Higgins, molecular biologist and researcher Dr Richard Jefferson, and the United Nationals Special Rapporteur on the right to food Olivier de Schutter.

On review, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the Gene Wars presentation was in keeping with the ABC’s editorial standards for balance, having presented a range of principal relevant views on the matter of importance that was the subject of the story. Nonetheless, please be assured that your concerns and comments about this, and the other aspects of Gene Wars that were of concern to you, have been noted and brought to the attention of both ABC News management and the reporters involved. I should also add that, in respect to point three of your complaint, ABC News have confirmed that there was a temporary problem with the ‘Multimedia: In the lab’ video file; this was fixed on the day the presentation was launched and is now fully functional.

We again regret the delay in responding to your concerns on this matter. While Audience and Consumer Affairs have not upheld the substantive aspects of your complaint, we have found the ABC’s handling of your concerns to be in breach of the complaint handling provisions outlined in the ABC’s Editorial Policies, which require the ABC provide a response within 60 days. We regret that this did not occur in this instance and wish to assure you that this has been duly noted by both Audience and Consumer Affairs and ABC News management.

Thank you again for taking the time to write, and for your interest in the ABC. For your reference, a copy of the ABC Code of Practice is available at:

Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

COMMENT: Graphics should be properly labelled with precise source data and meaningful descriptions. Parameters used to mine third party data should be provided to allow results to be repeated.

ABC News fails to deliver

COMMENT: The Australian's Janet Albrechtsen, a former ABC board member, pans ABC News' failures in covering recent events in Canberra in an opinion piece in today's Australian newspaper.
ABC News Watch have demonstrated ABC are doing less with more with their news division (just look at the graph on the right for the declining coverage). How they propose operating a 24 Hour news service that only runs from 9 to 5 is beyond us.

From The Australian...

Sky shames the ABC

AN agile commercial operator showed how it should be done.
The question is whether the ABC will look at its failings or focus only on its successes.
As a former director, I found it endlessly frustrating to hit the wall of ABC suspicion where legitimate, thoughtful criticism is invariably waved away as the ravings of ideological opponents. Yet, the ABC will grow stronger by responding to criticism that is aimed at making it better. It will cement its legitimacy if it can spot its own flaws rather than wait for others to point them out.
After Wednesday, is the ABC asking itself whether it has the energy and team spirit that kicks in so readily at its poor cable cousin at Sky? Does it understand the urgency of 24-hour news, where mistakes will be made and quickly corrected? Or will the monolithic ABC, even with a 24-hour news channel, fall victim to its culture of bureaucratic paralysis and infighting between fiefdoms?
Last weekend on SBS, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was asked what he did on Wednesday night. He recalled "getting all these phone calls from journalists asking 'What's happening? What are you doing?'." He replied: "Well, I'm sitting in my office all alone watching Sky News like you are." What a disgrace that the federal minister who funds the ABC could not get the story from our national broadcaster. for the complete article click HERE

Note also comments in The Australian's editorial...
"The ABC's flat-footedness on the biggest news night of the year provides little confidence that it is ready to use its forthcoming 24-hour news channel to break news. What the public does not need are more programs in which ABC journalists interview other ABC journalists or recycle stories from good programs such as Foreign Correspondent. Even Aunty's flagship current affairs radio program AM began yesterday by regurgitating the comments of politicians Bill Shorten, Barnaby Joyce and actress Magda Szubanski from Q and A 12 hours earlier. Nor do Australians need any more spurious analysis such as that of Barrie Cassidy and Fran Kelly on Insiders in February, claiming erroneously that Dennis Shanahan's interpretation of Newspoll results was unfair to Mr Rudd. It begs the question why the ABC should be allowed to take on another taxpayer-funded channel when the corporation plainly cannot manage the ones it already has."

Update: Groupthink culture is hard at work cherry picking the news for you

ABC have provided some replies to complaints about science news stories that reveal an insight into the manner its news editors choose the science news it feeds its audience, paid for by Australian taxes. It appears editors simply pick the stories that reflect their own personal bias. For an organisation doing less with more it comes as no surprise but provides further evidence that Maurice Newman's Groupthink culture is hard at work.

Here's the gist: On one hand ABC are happy promoting the unpublished and unsubstantiated  "opinions" of a scientist who erroneously suggests Australia's uranium has found its way to the Antarctic. And on the other it fails to report on concerns raised by another scientist published in a respected science journal about a study that erroneously suggested a link between butterfly emergence and global warming.

ABC's response to the complaint about the missing story about the Debunked Butterfly paper HERE.
Reply from ABC CRE to the complaint about the Erroneous Uranium report HERE. (Note that we still await a response from the Minister on how Australia's Uranium found its way to the Antarctic.)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Update: Oz Uranium from Uranus

ABC CRE have replied to our complaint regarding its unsubstantiated report claiming Australian Uranium was found in Antarctica. While ABC is happy reporting on un-substantiated opinions it happily lets published science fall through the gaps. Guess that happens when Group think culture dominates.

Here's ABC CRE's reply (received 28 June 2010). Note we stall await a comment from the Resources Minister.

A request for review was received by the ABC on 4 June 2010 and referred to the Complaints Review Executive (CRE) on 7 June 2010. The complainant was advised that the CRE would aim to complete the review by 5 July 2010.
On 3 May 2010 ABC News Online posted a report – “Australian uranium dust found in Antarctic ice”.
On 3 May 2010 the complainant wrote that: “The headline overstates the certainty of the proposition made by the researcher. It also fails to take into account alternate sources of the uranium mines and new uranium discoveries in Chile and Argentina. As such the report lacks balance and contains factual errors”.
Audience & Consumer Affairs (A&CA) responded on 4 June 2010 and advised the complainant that ABC News accepted that the headline to the report “overstated the certainty that uranium dust found in Antarctica came from Australia”. Accordingly the headline was changed to “Uranium in Antarctic ice may be from Australia” with an Editor’s note appended to the story. A&CA noted the headline did not meet the ABC’s standards for accuracy in news and current affairs content. However AC&A were satisfied that the story was in keeping with the ABC’s standards for balance. The brief story reported the views of Dr Ricardo Jana based on the findings of scientists and therefore AC&A did not believe that further perspectives were required in order to meet the requirements of the ABC’s Editorial Policies. On 4 June 2010 the complainant requested a review by the CRE.
Basis of Assessment
Stories appearing on ABC News Online are categorised as News and Current Affairs content and must meet editorial standards set out in section 5 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies.Given the nature of the concerns raised I have assessed the complaint with a focus on the following sections:
Section 5.2.2 (c) Be accurate
(i) Every reasonable effort, in the circumstances, must be made to ensure that the factual content of news and current affairs is accurate and in context
(ii) The ABC will not hesitate to admit and correct a significant error when it has been established that one has been made
Section 5.2.2 (e) 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 principle relevant views on matters of importance.
I have reviewed the material specified by the complainant, read the correspondence with A&CA and investigated the use of Agency copy, in this case AFP, by ABC News. As noted by A&CA ABC News has corrected the headline which concerned the complainant, with an Editor’s note dated 18 May:
“The headline on this story was amended to make it clear that the traces of uranium found in Antarctica may have been from Australia, rather than presenting it as a fact.”
Accordingly in relation to the headline, the requirement of Section 5.2.2 (c)(ii) has been met.
However the complaint is still concerned about the substance of the story, copy for which had been provided by the independent international news service AFP. The context of the story was a summary of opinion by a Chilean researcher, and as such it accurately reported his theories, but without stating they were
undisputed facts. The ABC’s Editorial Policies note that balance may not always be achieved within a single program or publication, rather as soon as reasonably practicable, and it is not essential to give all sides equal time.In this case the Chilean researcher represented the findings of scientists for whom he provided the “principle relevant viewpoint” at that time, and his credentials were noted in the story. The substance of the story was based on the news value of the theories being put forward at that time. My enquiries with ABC News indicated that further enquiries have been made about the story. Accordingly it is still open for other viewpoints to be represented in future reports, in the context of appropriate news values and ongoing
scientific research and commentary.
Having assessed the content and the concerns of the complainant I consider that the requirements of the ABC’s Editorial Policies were met. Therefore the complaint is not upheld.

28 June 2010

Update 1/7/2010
ABC News Online, 3 May 2010
Summary published: Tuesday 29, June 2010
Complaint: An online reader complained that a report ‘Australian uranium dust found in Antarctic ice’ contained factual errors and lacked balance.
Finding: Upheld against 5.2.2 (c) ABC Editorial Policies (revised 1 March 2009)
Audience and Consumer Affairs response: The headline to the report did not meet the ABC’s standards for accuracy in news and current affairs content as it overstated the certainty that uranium dust found in Antarctica came from Australia. The headline was changed to ‘Uranium in Antarctic ice may be from Australia’ and an Editor’s Note was appended to the story to clarify the amendment. The complainant’s concerns about balance were not upheld.

Monday, June 28, 2010

ABC NEWS productivity at record low

With less than 3 days to go till the end of the month ABC News productivity has fallen to a record low dipping below 2009 levels. We'll be examining the fall out in a series of special posts once the final figures are in. With figures like these it's hard to hide the decline.

From the vault - Pachauri: an official, not a scientist-FACT

Thursday, March 25 2010

Rajendra Pachauri

News Online
On February 7, in a story about the Head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ABC incorrectly reported he was a “climate scientist”. In fact, Mr Pachauri is an official, not a scientist.

Embattled climate official pens racy novel

"From the Vault" - digging up past corrections and clarifications from the ABC archives

Friday, June 25, 2010

Productivity death spiral - Auntie, please explain

Dear Audience and Consumer Affairs,
I refer to a number of posts regarding falling productivity of ABC news featured on the ABC NEWS WATCH site:
Despite a significant increase in staff numbers over recent years ABC News do not appear to be as productive in the number of stories reported over previous years. 
Can ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs please explain the falling figures? 
How is it possible for ABC to do less with more?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Missing News: Urban Heat Island effect at Laverton, VICTORIA

ABC finally discovers the Urban Heat Island Effect with this story that reports on a paper that uses climate models to forecast alarming future urban temperatures.

The UHI effect has a significant impact on temperature and is derived from man-made changes in the energy balance in urban centres, to the point where sites that are affected are not useful for monitoring climate unless they are adjusted. The bias arises as a direct result of two different but associated processes. The first involves direct heating of the air surrounding an instrument from vehicle emissions, air-conditioning, industry etc. The second involves land surface changes that include changes over time due to human influence in albedo (change in vegetation for instance), thermal aerodynamic properties (buildings that change air flow around a site), hydrology (affects evaporation) and morphology of the surface.

You'd think that Australia's Bureau of Meteorology would take steps to ensure station weather stations potentially affected by UHI were removed from its climate reference network. It seems that based on a letter featured on Watts up with that, that BOM has ignored investigating potential UHI for at least one of these "High Quality" stations. How many others are out there? Will the ABC investigate?

Note that as of 12:20pm 24 June 2010 AEST the post at WUWT shows a photo of Laverton Western Australia. The weather station in question is Laverton Victoria, not Western Australia. The station is indicated by the place mark in the image below (upper middle). While the local siting may be reasonable, the affect of encroaching development remains un-accounted for.
(Update: WUWT provide a corection and more analysis of Laverton data HERE)

Figure below is a comparison of temperature as recorded at BOM's Laverton station and population growth for the Laverton area. The recent increase in temperature trends appears linked to a rapid increase in population.

Out of interest the Mean Max temp for Laverton Western Australia appears to have dropped since the late 1970s. You can compare temperature data at BOM's climate data site:

Laverton WA Station ID 12045 covers 1900-1970-mean max temp over this period is about 27.45 C.
Laverton AERO Station ID 12305 covers 1990-2010 with a mean temp of 26.8 C.  Gross cooling of about 0.65 C - WUWT!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dancing promo sends ABC news credibility into death spiral

With a promo for Channel Seven's Dancing with the Stars titled "Pammy to waltz under Aussie stars" the credibility of ABC news follows its productivity in a death spiral.
Can ABC save its self before it's too late?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Missing News: Butterfly claims debunked

The following complaint has been sent to ABC Audience and Consumer affairs.

Biology Letters have published a comment critical of the butterfly study by Kearney et al that was featured by ABC News and ABC Science. This comment demonstrates serious flaws in the methodology of the study that mean the results are not supported by the data. In other words the study has been de-bunked. ABC provided extensive coverage of the original story but has not yet reported on the damaging critique. I request ABC news provide coverage such that ABC consumers are not mislead.

The comment at Biology Letters can be found here:

UPDATE ABC reply received 29 June 2010:

Thank you for your email of 18 June.

I understand the Biology Letters journal website has published an eLetter you wrote in response to the study 'Early emergence in a butterfly causally linked to anthropogenic warming', which was the subject of the ABC Science story 'Butterflies 'fly early as planet warms''. Your request for coverage of your eLetter has been noted and conveyed to relevant staff in ABC Innovation. I am advised that ABC Innovation plans to watch with interest for any response from the authors of the study or the journal.

While you have not disputed the accuracy of the ABC Science story, I understand you believe it is necessary to provide coverage of the publication of your eLetter to ensure that ABC consumers are not misled. On the subject of new information becoming available which may have an impact on the accuracy of online content, sections 4.3.2-4 of the ABC's Editorial Policies state as follows:

"4.3.2 Online corrections: The ABC acknowledges that the archival nature of the online medium raises a number of specific issues in terms of the need to provide editorial correction or clarifications. The ABC publishes its online stories in good faith and believes them to be a true and accurate report of events at the time of publication.
4.3.3 However, the ABC also accepts that from time to time new information is made available which may have an impact on the accuracy of the original content. This may require the inclusion of additional information or a correction. On some occasions the removal of a report from ABC Online may be the appropriate course of action.
4.3.4 The ABC will correct online reports where the relevant editorial manager decides there is a need to present additional information which may not have been available at the time of publication or which may have been overlooked."

Audience & Consumer Affairs sought comment from ABC Innovation on whether the division considers that the publication of your eLetter warrants the inclusion of additional information or a correction to the story. I am advised that ABC Innovation considers that your concerns about the methodology used in the study are best left to the normal processes of scientific review, processes which are yet to play out. ABC Innovation considers that there is no error in the story that requires correction.

Audience & Consumer Affairs notes that Biology Letters has not withdrawn the study or substantially amended its conclusions, and neither the journal nor the study's authors appear to have responded to your concerns about the study's methodology. At this point, the only change from the state of affairs at the time of the story's publication is that an eLetter critical of the study has been published on the journal's website, having been reviewed for suitability and relevance by the journal's editor but not subject to any process of peer review. Having regard to these circumstances, as well as the content of the study, your eLetter, and the story, Audience & Consumer Affairs finds ABC Innovation's position on this matter acceptable and considers that the requirements of sections 4.3.2-4 of the Editorial Policies have been met.

Nonetheless, 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

From the vault - Sometimes they are so trivial!

ABC News Online, 27 January 2009 Summary published: Friday 06, March 2009
Complaint: An online reader pointed out that the Brisbane suburb of Forest Lake was incorrectly described as “south of Brisbane."
Audience and Consumer Affairs response: The ABC acknowledged that Forest Lake is a suburb in Brisbane’s south-west.
COMMENT: This one appears trivial but it still took over a month to sort out."From the Vault" - digging up past corrections and clarifications from the ABC archives.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

ABC News: Productivity at record low-no news by 2035.

An alarming trend has appeared in our survey of ABC News productivity. With June just past the half way mark ABC News output is at record lows (see chart below), and our earlier predictions that ABC will have zero weekday news output by 2067 look a little optimistic. Based on the current 2010 data ABC News will in fact reach zero output in 2035! This is a full 32 years earlier than previously predicted.  The models now indicate a clear link between increases in ABC news staff and falling ABC News output. The only way to reverse the trend is for a reduction in ABC News staff numbers to at least pre-2003 levels. 
Returning ABC News productivity represents the greatest moral challenge our nation has faced. 
In order to undertake this great moral challenge we propose initiating an ABC Corporate-wide Personnel Retirement Scheme or CPRS. There is no other way to return productivity to previous levels, and based on the trends we must act now and act fast. The CPRS will begin the process of reducing alarming ABC News staff numbers and help prepare all Australians for a future in which there will be zero ABC News output.  A CPRS levy will need to be placed on the Australian public to help fund the retirement packages of ABC news staff. However the public can help in other ways; for instance by reducing their consumption of ABC content. More sustainable alternate sources of news are available. 
An ABC free lifestyle is attainable, and based on the long terms trends this is something we will all need to get used to eventually if ABC News productivity continues to plummet. Know that the earlier we prepare the better off we will be.

Note that the figures are actually worse than presented as we have not adjusted for actual 2010 staff numbers. These numbers will be available later in the year when ABC releases its annual report. We will update the charts and predictions to take actual staff numbers into account when this is available. It looks grim.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Crap Whale Report, only 8 months late

ABC report on a study that suggests Sperm whale poo soaks up more CO2 than the whales emit...only 8 months after it was covered by Science News on October 17, 2009.

We'd comment on the actual study if it were available, but as of 4 pm 16 June the journal in question, Proceedings of the Royal Society B (for biology) has no mention of it. Perhaps the press release was a little premature?

UPDATE 19:42  16 June 2010: the article is now available HERE . A sperm whale could swim through the logic holes in this paper based on calculations, that don't add up, and should have remained on the back of the envelope. Now if someone actually got their hands dirty on this one it might be a little more robust. Kleenex anyone?

ABC NEWS apparently doing less with more ...later.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Butterflies 'fly early as planet warms...then again probably not

ABC provided extensive coverage (see HERE) of a Biology Letters paper titled "Early emergence in a butterfly causally linked to anthropogenic warming" in March. A comment challenging the claims of the paper has now been published online by Biology Letters. Will ABC now update their coverage?

The comment includes the following statements:
"I have obtained the same data used in this study as Kearney et al. and am unable to confirm the results for the historical observation data. I count 239 observations made in Oct-Dec from 1942 to 2009. The annual data show a wide range of earliest observation dates (Figure 1), and at face value the use of 5 year or 10 year averages appears to be a convenient statistical method that hides the very wide spread of observation dates."
"Using this "opportunistic" data to establish emergence is like dating a volcanic eruption based on collection dates of samples housed in a museum. The historical trends identified simply reflect variation in the time collectors have ventured out to observe and collect butterflies. "
"There remains considerable temporal bias in the data, with over 50% of total observations post dating 1990. There is also a considerable bias in observation locations, with the vast majority collected in Melbourne's east and none in the vicinity of Laverton, the weather station that was used to characterise temperature change over the whole of the study area (Figure 2)."
"The paper does not mention well documented Urban Heat Island effects over Melbourne that encompasses Laverton that have clearly affected temperature at this station over the period of study (see Morri and Simmonds, 2000 and Torok et al., 2001). Close examination of other stations in the study area shows a wide variety of temperature trends (Figure 2). It seems the authors have chosen one station that favours their theory without adequately explaining why others should be rejected. "
"Based on these points, I believe that the authors' conclusions remain unsupported by the data presented."

Copies of figures that accompany the Biology Letters comment appear below. 
Figure 2 below. Location of H.Merope observations (black dots)-note concentration east of Melbourne CBD and absence of observations near Laverton. Extent of urban development around Melbourne indicated by pink shading. Creeks and rivers shown as blue lines. Topographic contours at 50 m intervals (brown lines) provide an indication of topographic variability over study area, marked by the black outline. Selected  weather stations shown as red squares with corresponding historical April-October mean temperature  readings obtained from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology shown around the outside-note variation in temperature trends across the study area, including some negative.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

From the vault - deep sea coral! WTF?

News Online – 6 October 2007
The complaint
An online news reader pointed out that a report about deep-sea mining on the Papua New
Guinea sea floor was accompanied by an image of a coral reef, which had clearly been taken
in relatively shallow water. However, the news report indicated that the mining would be at a
depth of nearly 2 kilometres under water.
The ABC accepted that the photo was misleading and it was removed from the story.
"From the Vault" - digging up past corrections and clarifications from the ABC archives.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Update: whitewashing the whitewash-stains left to fester

ABC provide a reply to our complaint about their reporting of the results of the Oxburgh Inquiry into the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. The outcome of the inquiry has been discussed extensively on the internet. Climate Audit has provided in-depth coverage in a number of posts including the following:

Lord Oxburgh of Globe International to Report

Comments by Climate scientist Dr Judith Curry are particularly damning:
"When I first read the report, I thought I was reading the executive summary and proceeded to look for the details; well, there weren’t any."
"And I was concerned that the report explicitly did not address the key issues that had been raised by the skeptics. … I recall reading this statement from one of the blogs, which seems especially apt: the fire department receives report of a fire in the kitchen; upon investigating the living room, they declare that there is no fire in the house."

In its reply ABC states: "
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."

Something must be seriously wrong with ABC's nose for news when the backgrounds of those appointed to the panel are somehow not considered relevant or a serious omission to the story. ABC have form on this having missed important political connections between a Climate policy unit and the Australian Labour Party. A point brought to ABC's attention by this blog (Climateworks for ALP).

ABC has an annual budget close to 1 billion dollars. It has over 900 staff in its news division yet it is trumped by a humble Canadian Blogger when it comes to providing news coverage. Sadly 
ABC continues to do less with more.

Here is ABC's response in full (received 9 June 2010). It's a pity they didn't spend similar time on investigating and reporting the actual story. 

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

From the vault - who says Australian manufactures can't compete.

The World Today-Local Radio News – 23 July and 24 July 2007
The complaint

A listener complained that two reports inaccurately claimed that the Camry engine factory at Altona in Victoria produces one hundred million Camry engines a year.
The ABC agreed with the listener. The online transcript of the The World Today story was corrected to read 100 thousand engines per year and an Editor’s Note added to explain the change.

"From the Vault" - digging up past corrections and clarifications from the ABC archives

Monday, June 7, 2010

Update: Facts toasted in Rio Roast

ABC have replied to a follow up inquiry we made in April about its toasted Rio Roast story. We asked ABC if they would be running AFP's amended story. ABC replied in the negative, noting the story had been removed from its website.
AFP did indeed end up providing a correction with the following editor's note added to its story...
Editor's note (April 12 2010): The headline of the article was changed from "32 killed as heatwave roasts Rio", also a sentence was removed in which an incorrect temperature for Rio de Janeiro was recorded.

A copy of AFP's amended article can be found HERE.

Here's ABCs reply, received 2 June 2010:
Thank you for your email of 13 April. Please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in responding.
In respect to your question, ABC News have advised that they will not be running the AFP amended story about the heatwave in Rio given that the original story was published a considerable time ago. As noted in my previous response, the original story has been removed from the ABC's website.
Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Productivity Survey: slow start to 2010

ABC News appear to be having a slow start to June 2010 with total stories well below June 2008, despite higher staff levels.
Productivity index so far for June 2010 (stories divided by staff) also well below the 2007-2009 average. Perhaps reflecting too much focus on opinion pieces and not enough on hard news? (Graph updated 6/6/2010).