Mild scepticism mixed with hopeful anticipation are jostling emotions whenever I see ABC TV’s current promotion for its new show, Question Everything, coming soon to a loungeroom near you. Why mild scepticism? Because a recent experience with a complaint I made to the ABC about inaccuracy led me to the sad conclusion that it is not prepared to question itself. Once the ABC has set its hive mind to a position on an issue, there’s no budging it. It has been prepared to question others, but not itself. My experience was that the national broadcaster is more interested in putting walls around its reputation than truly questioning whether one of its assertions could possibly be wrong. No room for self-doubt at the ABC.
One the other hand, why the hopeful anticipation? Fact is I’ve been an ABC snob most of my life, still watch it and, while there are interesting programs, the degree of my snobbery is waning. At 6:00pm I watch a commercial channel’s news and find it informative. Possibly afflicted with an entrenched prejudice that the ABC TV News is the real news I then flick over to Auntie at 7pm. It’s interesting to compare the differences: minor points of illustrative detail left out of the ABC version, significant events not reported, the alleged public mood presented by five-second vox pop sound bites from people in the street. Against the background of my fading allegiance, I still cling to the idea that ABC can mend its ways and exercise more rigour in its presentation of some issues. Maybe Question Everything is our and mine great hope fulfilled.
I am so hopeful about this new opportunity for rigour, that I ask the ABC to deeply challenge – deeply question – an ever-present meme that arises whenever the Great Barrier Reef is mentioned. Be it on the news, a current affairs program, a panel discussion or a science report, the idea goes undisputed that both sea level and surface temperature are rapidly rising. It is the accepted narrative, so deeply accepted that it is not worth the effort to question it. Maybe in the brave new world of questioning everything, ABC could be the one to question it.
Questioning in this way would fit the spirit of the Royal Society of London’s famous motto, ‘Nullius in verba’ or ‘take nobody’s word for it’. It is surely the mood to which the ABC is alluding in choosing this particular program title. Yes, question everything – even the things that are widely believed in the general community and even the things that prestigious scientific institutions may solemnly announce as truth. Question everything – a great challenge for the ABC.
My challenge to ABC is to question the issues of sea level rise and sea surface temperatures in the Great Barrier Reef. Readers of Quadrant may recall a previous article on this topic in which I pointed out that the sea surface temperature record taken at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) wharf at Cape Ferguson, near Townsville, does not show a rising temperature trend in its 29.5 year collection of data. It doesn’t show a rising trend and most certainly anything that could be described as ‘rapidly’. Australian government data collected and published by the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), as well as data analysis by former NSW Department of Natural Resources senior research scientist Dr Bill Johnston, were provided in my earlier article to show that the data does not support the belief in rapidly rising sea surface temperatures.
Well, for the purpose of the ABC challenge, things have moved on from the original Quadrant article, with Johnston set to release a series of papers I’m tempted to describe as blockbusters. What they have to say about the alleged rise of sea level and surface temperature on the Great Barrier Reef refutes much of what the ABC has accepted and publicised without question. Johnson’s detailed analysis shows that there has been no significant sea level rise on the Townsville coast and no increase in sea surface temperature since the earliest scientific measurements, dating as far back to 1871, were recorded by a scientific expedition to observe a solar eclipse from Cape Sidmouth on the north Queensland coast. The readings were taken on both the voyage up to the Cape and the return to Sydney.
Temperatures of the East Australian Current, which flows south from Cairns, vary with the month of the year and the latitudes at which the temperatures are taken. Once the 1871 data from the seaborne scientific expedition are compared with the AIMS data and other sources from today, and are correlated with the relevant latitude and time of year, the readings are the same. No difference — zip, nil, zero, nothing, no change.
The detailed papers will be published on the website www.bomwatch.com.au and my challenge to the ABC on the noble call to ‘Question Everything’ is threefold. Firstly, to ask itself where this belief came from?’ Was it merely intuitive? Was it from raw data? What is the benchmark? Is it a reflection of an underlying belief that all things are getting worse? Was it from projections and models about the future?
Secondly, to question those organisations and institutions that claim sea level and sea surface temperatures in the Great Barrier Reef are rising and rising rapidly.
Thirdly, to challenge the papers which Bomwatch will shortly publish. If they are false, flawed or simply wrong, please present these conclusions in reasoned and detailed argument based on actual data and sound statistical methods. The complete method of analysis, data, tables of information are all shown in the papers.
Let’s look to the day when my diminished faith in the ABC begins to grow again.
Dr Bill Johnston is a former NSW Department of Natural Resources senior research scientist and weather observer. email@example.com
To view the graphs and tables of the sea level and temperature data in full visit http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/projects/abslmp/data/monthly.shtml
For more information about climate of the GBR visit http://www.bomwatch.com.au