Write a letter to The Age or SMH expressing doubt about global-warming theories and your missive will very soon meet the sharp end of an editor’s spike as a matter of editorial policy. In Geelong, by contrast, a free suburban weekly actually believes in free speech and open debate
To the ranks of the world’s great newspaper editors — Ben “Watergate” Bradlee of The Washington Post and my late, respected and feared ex-boss Graham Perkin of The Age spring immediately to mind– we must now add Tony Galpin of the Geelong Independent, the local rag delivered free every week to 80,000 residents of Victoria’s second-largest city.
Galpin is not yet a synonym for editorial guts, but he deserves to be. He’s happy to give a fair go in his news and letters pages to both believers in climate change’s imminent global catastrophe and to sceptics. In rejecting demands from a certain Dr Ray Black, a former environmental teacher at Geelong’s Gordon TAFE, that sceptics be banned from the newspaper’s news and letters pages he has set an example that shames his counterparts at The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and ABC.
The global controversy over censoring sceptics in the media (which I’ll get to to in due course) has been playing out in miniature in Geelong (pop 200,000). The distinguishing feature is the Independent‘s refusal to buckle under pressure and toe the warmist line by spiking all other views.
Editor Galpin says,
“I publish Dr Ray Black saying that [local sceptic] Alan Barron should be banned from my pages. I have published others who feel sensitive about suppression of free speech.
“I was away and came back to read personal emails asking that I ban sceptics to help save the planet. My job is not to save the planet, it’s to make the Letters page attractive for our readers. The next day was the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, and that confirmed to me that my policy is right.
“I’ve had floods of letters on all sides of this controversy, way too many to publish. Many claims on both sides have not been borne out by the facts. The debate is far from over. If our local sceptics write in with new observations that defy the theory and models, I’m happy to give them a run, and also give a run to those who can refute the sceptics.
“I mix with ordinary people around here, and some of them say that anyone wanting to shut their opponents up must have poor arguments or are perhaps closet totalitarians. I have noticed that some of those wanting bans, also make claims about Murdoch plots and Big Oil conspiracies.”
Galpin ran a half-page news piece in his January 23 edition under the headline, “Free speech our burning issue – Local temperatures flare over calls to silence sceptics” accompanied by a heap of pro and con letters to editor.
There has been long-running ferment in Geelong over global warming claims. In early 2013, Black accepted sceptic Barron’s challenge to debate in the Gordon Institute’s auditorium, which was then booked and the coming encounter advertised. One day before the scheduled event, on May 1, 2014, the Institute withdrew its permission to use the auditorium, giving no reason.
Black told Quadrant Online he imagined the TAFE had decided it was unwise and/or politically inexpedient to allow the debate. He and Barron attended the auditorium to apologise to the handful of people unaware of the cancellation who showed up, after which everyone moved to the café and had a discussion there.
Sceptic Barron, a retired tax official, says that Black told him immediately after the venue was withdrawn that Barron had no right to push anti-science views on impressionable students Black was teaching to be environmentally responsible. Black says he has since decided against having any debate because, whereas he would be explaining the pure and clear science, the other side would be pushing unscientific and organised denialism.
Quadrant Online emailed the Gordon Institute’s CEO, Lisa Line, as follows:
…A day before the debate was to be held, Dr Black says Gordon Institute withdrew permission for the use of the auditorium, forcing cancellation of the debate, and causing some embarrassment all round.
Is it correct that Gordon did that cancellation?
If so, why?
Ms Line’s spokeswoman came back with a reply so ridiculous that I have no option but to paste it here as a case study in gobbledegook:
Thank you for your email.
As a leading vocational education and training provider, The Gordon is focused on providing a broad range of positive and engaging learning experiences to its students through industry excursions, scholarships, access to industry experts and use of the latest industry specific equipment and technology.
On occasion, the Institute may host seminars or workshops of interest to our students and also to the general public. We have a very strong reputation for supporting community initiatives in the Geelong region over many years. A relevant example is the Climate Reality Project hosted by the Institute as part of a broader Geelong event in 2012. It was run by a local business peak body in conjunction with other community-based partners.
In relation to your enquiry, the event did not proceed due to timing issues and careful consideration about the allocation of resources during a time of significant change for the Institute and the VET sector as a whole.
Black says that the body of climate misinformation is originating from Big Oil and Big Coal and the Heartland Institute in US. To put that claim in perspective, Heartland in 2011 spent about USD1.5m on sceptic advocacy. WWF’s annual revenue, by contrast, is about USD700m a year. Sceptic Barron claims he has not yet received any funding from major oil or coal companies for his global warming sceptic advocacy in Geelong.
Black’s Melbourne University PhD is in biomedical engineering.
Samples of Black’s former teaching style still on-line include his 2010 video case study of an environmentally-conscious student mother who was requiring her two children to have a lights-off Earth Hour every Saturday. In the course of putting her family on a meat-free diet five days a week, she says they gained health and she lost 20kg.
Black said his student’s on-going Earth Hour on Saturdays was her idea, not his.
For the Independent’s story, Black posed for a picture (below) against the seven-metre cliff fronting Western Beach, which he said would be topped by rising seas over time because of climate change. He was drawing a long bow, as the IPCC’s mid-point estimate for sea level rise by 2100 is in the range of 40-to-75 centimetres.
The Independent quoted Black saying, perversely, that Barron was “hijacking” the public’s “inalienable right to free speech”.
The story then quoted Barron: “The Bureau of Meteorology homogenises figures, climate modelling all depends on the parameters you use, and data can be manipulated. There’s been no heating in the stratosphere recently and the idea we should panic about CO2 is complete and utter nonsense.”
Black told Quadrant Online, “Many in Geelong have written to me agreeing that sceptic letters should not be published. Many would have been horrified at the idea of a campaign via the newspapers to minimise the health risks of smoking. I put climate denial in the same category. I am from a democratic country and we value free speech, but this denial is orchestrated.”
Dr Black, asked whether non-consensus scientists such as Dr Judith Curry of Alabama University should also have their critical views banned, said there would always be outliers. “We have them in this country, people well educated and trained and holding chairs in geology, like Robert Carter and Ian Plimer. I am not sure whether to ban them; I might be interested in what they have to say.”
Asked about the halt to atmospheric warming of between 14 and 18 years, depending on which set of figures you consult, he said the extra heat was going into the oceans and that it was not possible to explain recent global warming except by CO2 increases. “The modelling is in line with the reality,” he insisted.
Quadrant Online referred him to the 5th IPCC report, which said that 111 of 114 “runs” of the climate models had over-estimated actual warming. He replied that this was just hair-splitting as the planet was now holding more heat.
Asked from where he got his quote that 97% of climate scientists backed the consensus, he said, “In a number of surveys.” He seemed not to be specifically aware of the Cook and Nuccitelli paper — now comprehensively debunked — which is the latest cock-and-bull study to present the 97% figure, but said that if the activist researchers had arrived at that figure they must be correct. A man of many catastrophic proccupations, Dr Black went on to alert Quadrant Online to numerous other threats to the planet, from deforestation to ocean acidification and the “potential wholesale collapse of the earth’s ecosystem”.
As I remarked earlier, the Geelong censorship fracas is a microcosm of the global fracas, and in this respect The Geelong Independent’s editor’s stand contrasts with that of Sydney Morning Herald Editor-in-Chief Darren Goodsir, who advised in October, 2013, that (reading between the lines) global warming sceptics needn’t bother writing in. The SMH took its cue and wording from the Los Angeles Times, which presented a sleazy, straw-man argument that only “factually accurate” letters would be published. Therefore, the two papers said, they wouldn’t publish ‘deniers’ who said humans hadn’t caused any climate change.
Well duh — of course humans have caused SOME climate change. The sceptic case, broadly, is that humans have not caused MOST of the past 50 years’ warming (the IPCC assertion) and that forecasts that human-caused warming will fry the planet by 2100 (as claimed by official climate models) are based on bad science and bad arithmetic.
In case anyone missed the point, the SMH illustrated its bromide with a Photoshopped depiction of a city enveloped by scorched earth in a sea of orange heat, with the, ahem, factually-accurate (sarcasm alert) caption: “Five degrees hotter… our climate in 90 years.”
Fairfax fact-checking doesn’t extend to NASA claims last month that 2014 was the hottest year on record, which even the space agency belatedly admitted was only 38% likely to be correct.
The Los Angeles Times’ bar against sceptics brought other green totalitarians out of the woodwork, via a petition addressed to newspapers the world over:
“We do not see letters published asserting that we didn’t land on the moon, or that tobacco smoking is not linked to lung cancer. It’s my hope that soon we will no longer see climate denier letters published in newspapers. Thank you so much for your consideration.”
At least a dozen US newspapers followed the lead of the Los Angeles Times (and SMH), to the delight of journalism academia, as expressed by Columbia University’s Todd Gitlin, professor of journalism and sociology:
“I think the policy is healthy — if they tailor it properly, that is, if it’s properly discriminating — I think it should actually be emulated by the other papers.”
(editor’s note: To get a glimpse of how they teach journalism at Columbia, read this piece by Liar’s Poker author Michael Lewis, who sat in on classes and left less than impressed. In Australia, a sheepskin from Columbia J-School figures prominently in the CVs of quite a few newsroom stars, which may well explain why circulations are witnessing Himalayan declines.)
Graham Lloyd, The Australian’s environment writer, has the toughest gig in Australian journalism, as he is fearlessly running both sides of the global warming debate. Bravo, Lloyd.
Meanwhile, in the US a new academic study of environment reporters and their methods has found the practice of ignoring sceptics “was largely supported by their managers and editors. In fact, one reporter’s news organization had recently developed an explicit editorial policy discouraging reporters from quoting climate change deniers in environment or science coverage.”
Similarly, the university- and taxpayer-funded Conversation blog, run by ex-Age editor Andrew Jaspan, warned a year ago that sceptics’ input via comments threads will not be published. The rationale was that in discussing policy responses to predictions of catastrophic global warming, comments saying such predictions are exaggerated are “off-topic”. Again, Jaspan’s people use the straw-man term “denial of climate change”, as if sceptics argue that climate has never changed.
The once-respected BBC, in its campaign to keep sceptics off its airwaves, was caught telling lies of a kind shocking even in the ‘climate science’ arena. In 2007 it announced that, as a result of a “high level” seminar with “some of the best scientific experts”, it had decided the weight of evidence justified blocking sceptics from being given an airing on Britain’s national broadcaster. The Beeb also resolved as policy that the green mantra should be washed through all BBC programming, even comedy and drama.
Challenged about who the ‘best scientific experts’ were, the BBC fought for five years in the courts, at vast taxpayer expense, to avoid naming them. Eventually a sceptic discovered their names via a loose web link, and the 28-strong group turned out to hail mainly from Greenpeace and similar activist fronts, with only three scientists present.
The BBC saga continues. Last July, it paired warmist Brian Hoskins with sceptic Nigel Lawson in discussion on man-made warming and recent UK floods. This drew a barrage of warmist complaints that Lawson should not have been heard — gripes the BBC upheld, responding bizarrely, that “Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modeling…” The same month, the BBC sent 200 of its journos to workshops to train them against ‘false balance’ on global warming.
The ABC handles sceptics as one would funnelwebs. When, in 2007, it ran the sceptics’ Great Global Warming Swindle film, it bracketed the documentary with ‘health warnings’ and hostile interviews. As The Age’s reviewer put it, “Rarely, if ever, has a documentary shown on the ABC been surrounded by such an elaborate buffer zone.”
But it was quite OK for Robyn Williams, compere of Radio National’s Science Show, to liken sceptics to paedophiles and crack pushers.
The ABC last year, in response to an edict from Chairman Jim Spigelman, set up an audit panel to review its science (especially climate) coverage, headed by warming catastrophist Fiona Stanley AC and featuring such science experts as retired Media Watch host Jonathan Holmes, who frequently takes umbrage with Quadrant Online and once explained that his disdain for climate scepticism is based on no greater grasp of the subject than “the climate scientists I know tell me it is drivel“.
There has been no output so far from the Spigelman-appointed panel. Don’t expect much.
Tony Thomas blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com