Doomed Planet

As wrong as ABC

Letter to Catalyst: “A program on science has a particular duty to ensure that misstatements about the scientific facts made on programs, or included  on web sites, are corrected. Your program on the Antarctic has already led a prominent journalist to erroneously accept the presentation in your program.”

Quadrant Online published on April 27 my assessment that, despite the growing revelations of extensive flaws in the basic science and in the measurement of temperatures used to back that science, the believers in the dangerous global warming thesis are fighting-back. In Australia at least they retain support for government action from many leading media commentators and editorialists. The supposed independent role of the media has not resulted to date in any shifts in opinion there. 

This was exemplified in an article on 1 May  by The Australian’s editor at large, Paul Kelly, on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s decision to postpone the introduction of an emissions trading scheme. There Kelly referred to the research undertaken by Garnaut et al and to Rudd’s decision being made “despite science suggesting the problem is worsening and polls showing the public wants action”. 

Also on May 1 my attention was drawn by an article in The Age by its national editor, Tony Wright, to an assessment on the ABC TV science program “Catalyst” of 29 April. That program, which followed a journey of two of its reporters to Antarctica that must have cost a considerable sum, was praised by Wright as an example of the “sort of frontier-blazing journalism that the great newspapers and magazines of the past tackled with gusto”. The ABC, he explained, “remains the last of the nation’s media organisations that are able (thanks to a guaranteed publicly funded budget) and prepared to set forth on such exotic pursuits”.  

The natural attraction of exotic pursuits led me to delve into the Catalyst web site. This encouraged me to send a email to Dr Graham Phillips, who appears to be the leader of what are described as “a powerful team of specialist science journalists”. The email, which (with a minor adjustment to the penultimate paragraph) has been copied to three members of the ABC board, follows.  

Dr Graham Phillips 
Catalyst Program
ABC TV 

4 May 2010 

Dear Dr Phillips 

I am emailing you in regard to the program you and your team at Catalyst ran on 29 April on the Antarctic, arising from which your web site concludes that “warmer oceans and higher temperatures are causing significant changes in the world’s ice sheets”. I note in particular an extraordinary comment in the transcript by palaeontologist Dr Paul Willis (who went to West Antarctica) that “for each decade for the last fifty years, air surface temperatures [in the Antarctic Peninsula] have gone up by half a degree Celsius … and large chunks of this region are breaking away” (emphasis added). The commentator who went to East Antarctica (Mark Horstman), who seemed to draw on analysis by well-known climate alarmist Dr James Hansen, did express surprise at the apparent thinning of that section of the ice sheet but concluded that “it’s a warming ocean that’s driving the changes in the ice sheet”. 

In short, the program suggested that the sea and air temperatures of Antarctica have been rising for some time, that the continent’s glaciers are melting faster and that the ice-sheets upon the continent are in increasing danger of slipping into the sea. If that were to happen to a significant extent, sea levels would rise. 

Your web site on the program contains two graphs in supposed support. One shows the changes in average global temperature and CO 2 concentration levels in the atmosphere over the past 150 years and the other shows such changes over the past 800 thousand years. 

I suggest that your program needs to take a much closer look at the facts relating to the claims made in the statements by the commentators and relating to the implications presumably intended to be drawn from the graphs. 

First, data published by the National Snow and Ice Data Centre  at the University of Colorado shows that the total sea ice area in the Antarctic has been increasing and recently reached record levels. As for land ice, I am advised that it is impossible to tell with current technology whether Antarctic ice sheets are growing or shrinking. True, break offs of sections of the Antarctic ice sheet do occur but are not unusual. You will be aware that the Antarctic Peninsula represents a very small fraction of Antarctica. 

Second, satellite data covering the past thirty years show a distinct cooling of the Antarctic region (see Spencer and Christy data from 1979 -2010, University of Alabama at Huntsville, which show -0.05 +/- 0.04 degrees centigrade). The annual mean temperatures at Davis station show no significant change over the period since 1970. Also, the new system of measuring sea temperatures started in 2004 shows a slight downward movement in global sea temperatures. 

Third, the graph showing data from ice cores is the Al Gore trick of overlaying temperature and CO2 on a scale that obscures the 200 to 800 year delay in CO2 rising after the temperature rise. This analysis (sic) of course provides no evidence that CO2 emissions cause increases in temperatures – rather the opposite. It is quite misleading to display the graph without explaining what it shows. 

Fourth, although the graph of temperature and CO2 concentration levels over the past 150 years shows increases in both, it is also lacking in evidence of a causal relationship. There are significant periods when temperatures  are relatively stable while CO2 concentration levels increase, including from 1939 to 1977, which was a rapid period of economic growth in the world (although a small section of that period shows no increase in CO2). You will also be aware that the Great Pacific Climate Shift in 1976-77 (a natural change) caused an increase in temperatures of about 0.6 of a degree. Contrary to projections made in some quarters, temperatures have also been relatively stable since 1997. 

There is a lot more that one could say about global warming. I understand that Mr Horstman interviewed Mr William Kininmonth, former Deputy Head of the Bureau of Meteorology, in late  2004 but Catalyst took nothing from the interview. May I suggest that, particularly in view of the revelations since then of errors in both the science and temperature measurements by the IPCC and some other institutions which analyse changes in climate, the time has come for another Catalyst program to focus on scientific facts by drawing on his expertise to present an accurate picture of the science. 

I think a program on science has a particular duty to ensure that misstatements about the scientific facts made on programs, or included  on web sites, are corrected. Your program on the Antarctic has already led a prominent journalist (Tony Wright of The Age) to erroneously accept the presentation in your program. I have already drawn his attention to some of the incorrect sections but will forward him and some others a copy of this letter so that they are now better informed. 

Yours sincerely
Des Moore
Director,
Institute for Private Enterprise

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