Friday, June 29, 2012

Science journalist conference

Interesting post on Bishop Hill on the recent UK Conference of Science Journalists by Doug Keenan.

 "The 2012 UK Conference of Science Journalists was held on June 25th. The programme is available on the UKCSJ web site. I attended two of the sessions: the first was a session was entitled “What can journalists do to uncover scientific misconduct?”; the second was the plenary at the end. What follows is my perspective on those sessions." Doug concludes..."For me, the take-home message from the conference is that a large majority of science journalists are extremely naive about scientists. The naivety is so extreme that I suspect it must be partially willful." I think a number of ABC reporters fall into that space. I'm all for cheerleading the scientific method but ignoring its corruption is tantamount to dereliction of duty.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Missing News: Another flawed paper

Some commentary this week on a number of blogs about some informal work by "amateur" climate scientist Nic Lewis. Nic is one of the authors of a study that identified methodological problems in a paper on Antarctic warming that the ABC gave quite a deal of coverage to. They did not cover Nic's published work.

The story, while not in the published scientific press (yet?), seems worth someone looking into in more detail. Somehow we doubt ABC will take the initiative on this one.

The following from Judy Curry's site Climate Etc:
Questioning the Forest et al. (2006) sensitivity study
Re:  Data inconsistencies in Forest, Stone and Sokolov (2006)  GRL paper 2005GL023977 ‘Estimated PDFs of climate system properties including natural and anthropogenic forcings
"If I am right, then correct processing of the data used in Forest 2006 would lead to the conclusion that equilibrium climate sensitivity (to a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere) is close to 1°C, not 3°C, implying that likely future warming has been grossly overestimated by the IPCC. "

Press power by the bucket load

Gerard Henderson in today's Sydney Morning Herald...
  Power of the press a lot less muscular than some imagine
 "This lack of self-awareness is perhaps greater within the ABC. Some ABC journalists express concern about the possibility of a lack of diversity within Fairfax Media under Rinehart's possible influence without recognising that the ABC does not have one conservative presenter for any of its significant programs. It has one presenter who boasts about his support for the left and another on the left who declares that she is an activist. Yet no conservatives, activist or otherwise. The ABC managing director, Mark Scott, talks about the commercial media's "market failure". However, for the ABC, market success amounts to going to Canberra and getting a bucket-load of taxpayers' money. Meanwhile the ABC's uninhibited move into online news and opinion projects a market distortion into attempts by Fairfax Media and News Limited to move more of their products online. Which suggests that the ABC is a much greater threat to the private sector media than Rinehart or any other potential investor."

Gerard Henderson is the executive director of the Sydney Institute.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Missing Voices: Garth Paltridge

Garth Paltridge, former chief research scientist with the CSIRO division of atmospheric research in the Fin Review. Doubt we shall see this re-posted on ABC's The Drum.

Science held hostage in climate debate

The broad theory of man-made global warming is acceptable in the purely qualitative sense. If humans continue to fill the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, there can be little doubt that the average temperature of the world will increase above what it would have been otherwise. The argument about the science is, and always has been, whether the increase would be big enough to be noticed among all the other natural variations of climate. The economic and social argument is whether the increase, even if it were noticeable, would change the overall welfare of mankind for the worse.

Missing News: McKitrick on climate models

Nothing thus far on the ABC about this new research paper by Ross McKitrick:
McKitrick, Ross R. and Lise Tole (2012) “Evaluating Explanatory Models of the Spatial Pattern of Surface Climate Trends using Model Selection and Bayesian Averaging Methods” Climate Dynamics, 2012, DOI: 10.1007/s00382-012-1418-9

Ross has a series of articles in the Financial Post outlining the findings:
Junk Science Week: Climate models fail reality test
"Just how good are climate models at predicting regional patterns of climate change? I had occasion to survey this literature as part of a recently completed research project on the subject. The simple summary is that, with few exceptions, climate models not only fail to do better than random numbers, in some cases they are actually worse."

Climate reality check
"The three climate models consistently identified as having explanatory power were from China, Russia and a U.S. lab called NCAR. Climate models from Norway, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Japan and the U.K., as well as American models from Princeton and two U.S. government labs (NASA and NOAA), failed to exhibit any explanatory power for the spatial pattern of surface temperature trends in any test, alone or in any combination."

Friday, June 22, 2012

Missing News: Lindzen on sensitivity

Roger Peilke Snr covers the publication of a new paper by atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen:
New Paper “Climate Physics, Feedbacks, And Reductionism (And When Does Reductionism go Too Far?)” By Dick Lindzen

Don't expect to see it on our ABC.

The concluding remarks read
This paper considers approaches to estimating climate sensitivity involving the basic physics of the feedback processes rather than attempting to estimate climate sensitivity from time series of temperature. The latter have to assume a perfect knowledge of all sources of climate variability —something generally absent. The results of a variety of independent approaches all point to relatively low sensitivities. We also note that when climate change is due to regional and seasonal forcing, the concept of one dimensional climate sensitivity may, in fact, be inappropriate. Finally, it should be noted that I have not followed the common practice of considering the feedback factor to be the sum of separate feedback factors from water vapor, clouds, etc. The reason for this is that these feedback factors are not really independent. For example, in fig. 2, we refer to a characteristic emission level that is one optical depth into the atmosphere. For regions with upper level cirrus, this level is strongly related to the cloud optical depth (in the infrared), while for cloud-free regions the level is determined by water vapor. However, as shown by Rondanelli and Lindzen [30], and Horvath and Soden [31], the area covered by upper level cirrus is both highly variable and temperature dependent. The water vapor feedback is dependent not only on changes in water vapor but also on the area of cloud-free regions. It, therefore, cannot readily be disentangled from the cloud feedback.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

ABC's Gergis update - a poor excuse for journalism

It seems ABC's total coverage of important news of the withdrawal of a scientific paper following the discovery of errors in its methodology uncovered by Climate Audit is as follows:

Editor's Note: Since this story was originally broadcast, errors have been identified in aspects of the data processing which may affect the results of this study. As a result, publication has been delayed and the research has been withdrawn from online publication. Professor Karoly says the data will be recalculated, peer reviewed and published in due course.

If not for our request of an update even this meagre offering would not have been undertaken. However mainstream, actual coverage of this important news by the ABC remains MISSING. One wonders if it plans to use editorial notes as a reporting tool for other important stories. Perhaps the following is an example of what we can expect from ABC news in the near future (you'll have to read the fine print). Perhaps this would save on costs?
Coverage of the withdrawal of the paper in other news outlets included the following:
Sydney Morning Herald/ The Age: Climate warming study put on hold
The Australian: Climate paper flawed, Blog scrutiny forces reappraisal
New York Times Dot Earth: Australian Warming, Hockey Sticks and Open Review

In contrast here are the ABC reports that announced the publication of the erroneous study back in May. Something does not appear to add up. But who are we to expect balance from the ABC?
5 major reports
AM 1000 years of climate data points to a warming Australia
Radio Australia Climate study shows Australia hotter
Radio National Breakfast 1,000 YEARS OF AUSTRALIAN CLIMATE DATA CONFIRMS 'UNPRECEDENTED' WARMING (this one yet to contain the update)
Not to mention an appearances on ABC News 24 and ABC Local radio

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Gergis Updates MIA

The Australian provide more detail on the withdrawal of the paper by Gergis et al trumpeted so loudly by the ABC.

Blog scrutiny forces reappraisal
... Mr McIntyre said: "If public policy is to be based on academic articles, the academics cannot claim intellectual property rights over their data but must permit close examination of their data." 
Link for more (sub required)

Meanwhile, the only indication we can find thus far on the ABC (after the story broke almost two weeks ago) is a brief mention buried in a transcript on The Science Show that fails to credit the work done by Climate Audit in exposing the errors. You will need to click the transcript link to read the following:

Editor's Note: Since this story was originally broadcast, errors have been identified in aspects of the data processing which may affect the results of this study. As a result, publication has been delayed and the research has been withdrawn from online publication. Professor David Karoly of the research team says the data will be recalculated, peer reviewed and published in due course.

This is simply not good enough! The ABC should be ashamed of the low standard of its coverage on this issue.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Small trip on the tightrope of history


A 23-year-old Italian woman, Maria Spelterina was the only woman to cross the Niagara gorge on a tightrope. In 1876, she walked backwards, put a paper bag over her head, and wore peach baskets on her feet to inject some drama into her crossings - note the lack of a safety harness source.

ABC borrow a report from AFP/Reuters about Nik Wallenda's recent tightrope walk across Niagara Falls (with a safety harness) that includes the following statement:

"Since the Great Blondin took his high-wire walk, a ban has been in place on similar stunts over the famed falls. Wallenda waged a two-year crusade to convince U.S. and Canadian officials to let him try the feat."

The Great Blondin, (Charles Blondin or  Jean-Fran├žois Gravelet) crossed the Niagara River on a tight rope below the falls in June 1859 (see a contemporary, report in the Sydney Morning Herald HERE). Contrary to ABC's report, there were a number of other tightrope walks over the Niagara Gorge since Blondin's and the "ban*" has in fact been in place, not since Blondin's walk in 1859 but according the Niagara Parks Commission since July 1896 when James Hardy, crossed the gorge on a wire.

ABC's neglect in picking up and re-producing errors in the AFP/Reuters piece compounded when this February 2012 report with the photo above is taken into account: Maria Spelterini walks a tightrope over the Niagara Gorge. The date quite clear in that caption. But then we know ABC News has a disregard for historical accuracy.

*The Niagara Parks Commission stateNPC has ruled that it will consider proposals by stunting professionals no more than once in a generation, or approximately once every 20 years, as a way to pay tribute to the stunting history that helped make Niagara Falls a top global tourism destination.
The Niagara Parks Commission prohibits stunting on all of its properties under the authority granted under Regulations of the Niagara Parks Act. Stunting now carries a maximum fine of $10,000.

Update 12/7/2012: From ABC
Dear Mr Hendrickx,
Thank you for alerting us to the error in the agency copy.
This has since been corrected.

Kind regards,
Stuart Watt
National Editor
ABC News Online

Score +1



Saturday, June 16, 2012

Cracking ABC's chamber of secrets-review requested

Our request for a review of ABC's recent decision to withhold internal (non-program) correspondence requested under FOI that related to complaints about its misleading  and erroneous coverage of purported ANU death threats has been sent to the Information Commissioner.

Given it is successful we would expect ABC to provide a reasonable cost estimate for delivery of the documents. However based on the amount requested by ANU  to comply with the release of documents requested under FOI by Simon Turnhil, it seems ABC will have another card to play in their attempts to avoid public scrutiny and accountability.

Sinking islands: Part 3 Down the memory hole

ACMA reply to a complaint about an ABC report that omitted key historical information. Based on ACMA's finding it seems ABC have carte blanche to throw important historical facts and context down the memory hole.

A number of low lying islands in Torres Strait are prone to inundation during king tides and storms. No surprise, that's what happens when your front door is only a few feet above the high tide mark. In the late 1940s the islands of Saibai and Boigu near the PNG coast were evacuated following tidal erosion caused by summer storms. The islanders were resettled on Cape YorkFor some reason ABC chose not to include this critical historical information in a report broadcast by The World Today in January titled "Fears Islanders may soon be forced out of their homes". In their alarming report the ABC claimed:
"The rise in sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events in the region make the islands at this time of the year particularly vulnerable."
While we agreed the islands are vulnerable to inundation, the historical information makes it clear that the vulnerability is not new, and does not arise as a consequence of any change in local or global climate, as ABC's report would have us believe.

Our complaint to the ABC about the missing information critical to placing the recent inundations into historical context was rejected (see earlier posts HERE and HERE and HERE) and we applied to ACMA for a review contending that:
The report failed to include reference to previous devastating inundation of the islands that occurred in 1948 that was so extreme that it resulted in the evacuation of islanders to the Queensland mainland... This information appears highly relevant to the report and l suggest it is highly remise of the ABC to have omitted mention of it in their report. This is especially so, given the facts surrounding the 1948 inundation and evacuation could have been conveyed so simply... 
The audience would rely on ABC‘s reporters to include all the relevant information. including reference to previous similar events of relevance (such as the previous inundation and resulting evacuation in 1948). If the audience put weight on the claimed reputation of The Worid Today as a comprehensive current affairs program it may have been lead to the false conclusion that no such previous events existed. 

As such, through the omission of critical, relevant historical information, that constitutes a lack of accurate reporting, it is my contention that AEC has mislead its audience. This is in breach of its Code of [Practice] standard 2.2...

ACMA's Kathleen Silleri ruled in favour of the ABC finding:
"The ACMA notes the complainant’s concerns that the reporter could have provided more specific historical context, such as citing the occurrence of a flood of significant magnitude to the islands in 1948.3 However, it is the ACMA’s view that previous flooding was referred to, either directly or indirectly, and that the matters covered in the interview were appropriate given the duration of the report (3 min 11 sec) and the nature of the report. The ACMA does not consider the lack of any direct reference to the previous inundation in 1948 materially misleading. 
The ACMA considers the ordinary reasonable listener would have concluded the program was, on the whole, concerned with the current issue of funding for restoration of island seawalls and the consequences of the seawalls not being repaired as a matter of urgency. The ACMA is satisfied that the presentation of factual content would not have misled the ordinary reasonable listener when presented in context."

What a weird media landscape we currently reside in, where a self described  "comprehensive current affairs program" can send key facts to the furnace and get away with it.

ACMA: as effective in upholding journalistic standards at the ABC, as a wet sponge is at fending off hungry lions.

ACMA's Investigation Report No. 2787 should be able from their website soon (ed. why does it take so long???)

Friday, June 15, 2012

ABC Groupthink dissected

An excellent Media Watch Dog this week in which ABC's Groupthink explored on a number of levels. A must read....

This is delusion.
Mark Scott claims to have delivered “diversity and impartiality” within the ABC.   Yet the public broadcaster has not one political conservative as a presenter or a producer or an editor of any of the ABC’s major programs or publications.  Not one. That’s why the ABC can be said to stand for Anyone But Conservatives.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Blog review beats peer review

A few weeks ago ABC breathlessly reported on a new paper...
AM 1000 years of climate data points to a warming Australia
Radio Australia Climate study shows Australia hotter

Seems the authors of that study are now wearing some egg on their faces as the paper is withdrawn from publication following the identification of errors by Steve McInyre and others.  See Climate Audit for more details.
Bloggers: 1 Peer reviewers: NIL

An issue has been identified in the processing of the data used in the study, “Evidence of unusual late 20th century warming from an Australasian temperature reconstruction spanning the last millennium” by Joelle Gergis, Raphael Neukom, Stephen Phipps, Ailie Gallant and David Karoly, accepted for publication in the Journal of Climate.
We are currently reviewing the data and results.

We have requested ABC update their news.

UPDATE: ABC reply: Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 9:17 AM
Thanks for bringing this to my attention.

Clearly, given that we have reported on the study, we would want to be across any material changes to it. I have brought this to the attention of the reporters who filed the original pieces, so that we can track the process and take account of any updated or changed information.

Alan Sunderland

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Cracking ABC's chamber of secrets

The ABC is one of the only parts of the public sector that is virtually unaccountable to parliament and the public. It is not responsible to its minister, large parts of its operations are exempt from FOI and its governing board rules with a wet sponge. 

Back in 2010 we tried to open ABC's chamber of secrets through an FOI request for internal correspondence about ABC's faulty climate timeline. It didn't succeed thanks to provisions in the act that render aspects of the ABC exempt from FOI.

As Chris Merritt reports in today's Australian newspaper (ABC tries again on death threats report)
we are having another crack at ABC's chamber of secrets, with an FOI request regarding internal correspondence related to complaints about its faulty reporting about death threats at ANU. ABC have responded with their standard line that the correspondence is exempt: from ABC's head of corporate governance Judith Maude received June 5, 2012:
I refer to your email of 30 May 2012 in which you sought access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act). Specifically, you have requested access to “copies of email communications or phone records between ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs Mark Maley and ABC News between the period 9:21 pm 10/05/12 and 11am on May 11, 2012.  Specifically communications purportedly dealing with a complaint I submitted to ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs on May 10 at 21:12”.
The documents you have sought access to are outside the scope of the FOI Act.
Under section 7(2) and Part 2 of Schedule II of the FOI Act, the ABC is exempt from the operation of the Act in relation to documents that relate “to its program material and datacasting content”. The Federal Court of Australia considered the scope of this exclusion in Australian Broadcasting Corporation v The University of Technology, Sydney [2006] FCA964, and decided that the exclusion applies to “program material” (such as scripts and tapes) as well as any document that has a “direct or indirect relationship to program material”.
I am satisfied that the documents you have described would have a direct relationship with the ABC’s program material such that they fall outside the operation of the FOI Act.
If you are dissatisfied with this decision you can apply for Internal or Information Commissioner (IC) Review. You do not have to apply for Internal Review before seeking IC Review. Information about your review rights is attached.

The FOI will initially be expanded to request all correspondence between ABC News and ABC Audience and Consumer Affairs relating to ABC's two erroneous reports (FOI emails reveal abuse of climate scientists and Climate scientist abuse emails released) rather than just the narrow window we initially requested. We will inevitably receive another letter like the above which will then be passed onto the Information Commissioner for review. In our opinion, internal correspondence about complaints do not constitute "Program Material". They are an important part of ABC's governance and accountability provisions and should be open to public scrutiny. We shall see what the information commissioner thinks of it.

Here's what Sen John Faulkner had to say about changes to FOI made by the government in early 2009:
"Sen Faulkner will be taking steps outside of the legislative process, sending personal letters to agency heads, which will highlight the need to embrace the new “pro-disclosure” culture.
These changes will help to create “a shift from the culture of secrecy we saw under the last Government to one of openness and transparency,” he said."

It appears none of those letters found their way to the ABC.

In the meantime we are still waiting for that brave whistle, who might blow some of the dust hiding our Aunty's light.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

More Death Threat corrections-or are they updates?

Twelve months after they first covered purported death threats to climate scientists at ANU, the ABC get around to making an editorial comment on that article...(preserved here just it case it disappears)

UPDATE (June 4 2012):  Following  the release  of specific emails under Freedom of Information request, climate change sceptics have claimed that the released emails contradict suggestions that any death threats were received, but a spokesperson for the ANU says the university is standing by its claims that death threats were received. Questions have also been raised about whether one of the released emails did, in fact, constitute a threat to use a gun, with a person involved in the kangaroo culling program claiming the comments were made by him, and were in no way intended as a threat. The specific emails released under FOI were found by the Privacy Commissioner to contain abuse, but not overt threats.

We raised the issue of the wording with ABC's Alan Sunderland who offered this response:

Dear Marc,
I note that it was an update, not a correction.
The reference to "climate change sceptics" was not specifically a reference to you at all, but to the response from a range of sources.
I think the broad term is accurate in its use. I am aware of the sensitivity and level of contest around the use of terms like "climate change deniers", but I have always considered "sceptic" to be a neutral and accurate description to cover the broad range of views among those who question what they see as the "consensus" view. The Macquarie defines a sceptic as " someone who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be knowledge.", which I think is appropriate in the circumstances.

Score one for the climate sceptics, who it seems include the Privacy Commissioner. ABC News yet to formally report on the Commissioners findings. All reference to the Privacy Commissions findings on documents requested by ACM's Simon Turnill contained in corrections, editorial comments or in Mediawatch waffle. As Harry Hoo says "Amazing".

Simon at ACM points out that those ANU death threats are yet to be released.

Score +1

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Cyclone forecast a BOM - Part 2

Cyclone tracks in Australia region July 2010-June 2011 (11 tropical cyclones in total)

BOM's 2010-2011 tropical cyclone forecast: 20-22 cyclones forecast with a high level of confidence.
BOM Summary: Above average tropical cyclone activity expected for the Australian region  (98% chance!)
Season outcome:  11 actual cyclones. 

We previously looked at the BOM's woeful 2011-2012 tropical cyclone forecast.  ABC provided some coverage of the original forecast (Here and Here)  but didn't think it newsworthy to cover the outcome of that forecast. Remember for the 2011-2012 cyclone season Australia's premier meteorological institute predicted an 80% chance that cyclones would exceed the long term average (12). The actual number of cyclones (8) was 33% below the long term average. Missed it by that much!

Looking to see if previous forecasts were any better, we turned our attention to the 2010-2011 season. This covered the time interval July 2010 to June 2011.

Here was BOM's 2010-2011 forecast (alternate site HERE)

Seasonal Outlook for Tropical Cyclones

Summary: Above average tropical cyclone activity expected for the Australian region
The outlook suggests that the coming tropical cyclone season is likely to have
  • a higher than average number of tropical cyclones over the full Australian region,
  • a higher than average number of tropical cyclones in the Western region,
  • an average to above average number of tropical cyclones in the Northern region,
  • a higher than average number of tropical cyclones in the Eastern region.
For the full Australian region, there is a high degree of confidence that the total number of tropical cyclones will be above average (see Table 1). The forecast values from the two models (20-22) are significantly higher than the long-term average value of 12.
Table 1 Forecast values for the 2010/11 Seasonal Outlook for Tropical Cyclones (TCs) for the four main tropical cyclone regions and the northwest WA sub-region (105°E to 130°E).
RegionChance of more TCs than averageLikely number of TCs (average number)Confidence (LEPS skill1)
Australian region98%20-22 (12)High (46%)
Western region93%11-12 (7)High (31%)
Northern region67%5 (4)Low (3%)
Eastern region87%6-7 (4)Moderate (21%)
Northwest WA75%7-8 (6)Low (7%)
The likely number of tropical cyclones is indicative only. It is expected that the total number of tropical cyclones will be in the vicinity of the values listed, and not necessarily within the given range. The values are the most likely number of tropical cyclones forecast by two models.
Regional features
  • The largest increase in tropical cyclone numbers is expected to occur in the Western region, where 11-12 tropical cyclones are forecast (4-5 more than the average value of 7 tropical cyclones).
  • For the Northern region, an average to higher than average number of tropical cyclones is expected with 5 tropical cyclones being forecast (the average value is 4 tropical cyclones). However, as the statistical model used to produce this forecast has low skill in this region, this prediction should be used with some caution.
  • The Eastern region is expected to experience a higher than average number of tropical cyclones, with about 6-7 tropical cyclones being forecast (the average value is 4 tropical cyclones).
  • The outlook for tropical cyclones in the area from 105°E to 130°E, where tropical cyclones can impact upon coastal WA communities, shows a 75% chance of above average tropical cyclone numbers for the 2010/11 season. However, forecast confidence for this region is relatively low.
This outlook covers the period from July 2010 to June 2011. Most tropical cyclones in the Southern Hemisphere occur from November until April.
So how did they go?
The cyclone tracks for season 2010-2011 are overlain on BOM's regional map at the top of the page. These are derived from reports from the Darwin Regional Specialised Meterological Centre (links to monthly reports below). It seems BOM did worse in 2010-2011. For the 2010-2011 cyclone season Australia's premier meteorological institute predicted a 98% chance that cyclones would exceed the long term average (12). The actual number of cyclones (11) was below the long term average. Missed it by that much! Perhaps the media can exhibit a little more scepticism when the next forecast is made. We look forward to the following questions being posed when the next seasonal outlook is made:
So how did your last two seasonal forecasts go? 

Links to monthly BOM reports.
July-September No cyclones in Australian region 
October 2010 1 tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) Anngrek
November 2010 0 tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) 
December 2010 2 tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) Abele, Tasha
January 2011  5 tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) Vince, Bianca, Yasi, Anthony, Zelia
February 2011 2 tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) Carlos, Dianne
March 2011 0 tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) 
April 2011 1  tropical cyclone in Australia region (5°S-40°S, 90°E-160°E) Errol
May-June, 2011 No cyclones in Australian region 

Total cyclones Australia region July 2010-June 2011: 11

Coverage also at Wikipedia: 2010–11 Australian region cyclone season