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

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