ABC radio (Australia); “The Science Show” tricks of the trade.

Regular readers of WUWT will likely recall the interview with Bob Ward of 2/Oct/2010, which resulted in strong ridicule of the ABC, that went viral on websites in Australia and around the world, such as at the UK Guardian and WUWT [1].   I raised a complaint to the ABC, including the listing of seven such websites, but it was rejected for reasons which are arguably based on strange and selective interpretations of their self-regulating Editorial Policies.  (I continue with enquiries, but the wheels grind slowly).  Here is ONE aspect of that rejection, where the “complaints unit” refused to admit that most listeners to the show were arguably misled.  It resulted in insult and innuendo against Professor Bob Carter, whom was a guest writer at WUWT recently.  Now seems a good time for a review of that one aspect.  (Caution; this is in Oz English)

(1)  The closing remark in the broadcast was:

Robyn Williams: “Bob Ward is policy director of the Grantham Institute of the LSE. [London School of economics]  We invited Professor Carter to comment on those remarks but he declined. You can however read Ward’s critique and Professor Carter’s recent reply on our Science Show website…”

In fact, Professor Bob Carter declined an offer to a separate telephone interview, after the unheard interview of Ward.  Instead, he strategically Emailed an already published reply based on previous experience with the PR-man-Ward’s assault on an oldish 2008 paper [2].  The following Email extracts refer, the first being from the producer David Fisher on 24/Sep/2010:

“…We’re broadcasting Mr Ward’s interview 2nd October. Ideally we would do a phone interview with you before end of Thursday 30th September and include this in our program of Oct 2.  If you would like to respond, please call me and we’ll make an arrangement. 

Here is part of Professor Carter’s reply of 26/Sep:

 “…Mr Ward has a long history as a tireless public relations manager for the cause of global warming alarmism, and…   …If you wish to quote me regarding Mr Ward’s views of my work, then please use the attached response to the extended essay that he published recently in the EAP Journal.

Meanwhile, on matters that are more strictly scientific [2], I remain happy to discuss issues with Robyn at any time. For instance, perhaps he might like to interview me regarding my recently published book, for which I attach a selection of review comments?” [3]

Thus, Professor Carter’s comments were supplied in writing, well before the requested cut-off date of 30/Sep.  However, they were not used on the show, but were offered to the listeners on the website, which is arguably obtuse and inconvenient for most radio audiences.  

(2) Now compare the experience of journalist Andrew Bolt:

Mr Bolt is also sceptical of the hypothesis of catastrophic AGW.  His interview by journalist Robyn Williams followed unheard criticisms from Professor Jeff Severinghaus beforehand, wherein Bolt innocently thought it all to be nothing new, and answered to what he did know.  To elaborate, here in part is what Williams wrote separately in an essay in Cosmos

Williams: “…I duly brought back [the Jeff Severinghaus] interview to be broadcast on ABC Radio and, silly fellow that I am, thought Bolt might appreciate being given a right of reply…”

Amongst other things, it seems that Williams was deeply hurt when Bolt had the audacity to ask if Williams really thought that sea levels could rise by 100 metres this century.  (which was under discussion, and the answer was yes).  But sorry, I digress, and here is part of what Bolt later wrote in response to “being given a right of reply”, my underlining added:

Bolt: “This seems a bit underhand.       Robyn Williams, host of the ABC’s Science Show, asked me on to answer criticisms he said Professor Jeff Severinghaus had made of my reporting of his study. That was fine. Although Williams didn’t tell me exactly what Severinghaus had said (in an interview immediately preceding mine), I got the chance to put my case – that nothing I’d written contradicted what his study of ice core samples said.  So I appreciate having been given a chance to respond.  But that wasn’t all Severinghaus accused me of…”

The whole article; “Answering Williams’ shameless slur” is interesting reading, including gems like Severinghaus writing to the Brisbane Sunday Mail in error, and it was this paper that failed to respond. (not Bolt’s Herald Sun in Melbourne, where it should have been addressed).

(3) Now to Williams’ concluding allegation; “We invited Professor Carter to comment on those remarks but he declined”:

In my Email of 14 December to the ABC “Complaints Unit” , (AKA ‘Audience and Consumer Affairs’ or A&CA), I wrote in part:

“…For instance, to take one point; it doesn’t really matter what YOUR new interpretation of professor Carter being invited onto the show means. What counts is what the LISTENER hears and comprehends. The INNUENDO to the listener was that Bob Carter was invited and declined, which is hardly fair…”

A&CA ignored that comment, and to elaborate; when I refer to “THEIR new interpretation”, if we go back to their Email of 8/November, they seemed to parallel the very point I was making about audience perception:

…I [Kirstin McLiesh, dept Head] note that Professor Carter was asked on to the show to respond to the criticisms made of his views and others by Bob Ward.  Professor Carter declined, as Robyn Williams noted during the broadcast…

…In my view, the invitation made to Professor Carter to appear on the program, and the publication of his paper and response on the program website, indicate that the program was seeking to present its audience with a diversity of views on this subject…

…(notwithstanding Professor Carter declining the invitation to appear on the [2] October program)…   

But then, on 13/Dec, after consideration of the Email exchange I supplied to A&CA as in (1) above, they changed tune and wrote in part, precisely what the radio listeners could not be expected to know:

We regret you have misinterpreted Robyn William’s explanation of the invitation to Professor Carter in the program.  The request to him to take part in a pre-recorded interview is what was meant by “inviting” him onto the program. We feel our use of this term  also may have mislead you but this is a standard way of describing a request for someone to participate in a pre-recorded show on the ABC. 

 [some extra padding deleted]

In the course of the interview, which also would have been pre-recorded, Robyn Williams would* have verbally put the criticisms Bob Ward made of Professor Carter to him in the form of questions or statements.  This is a fairly standard journalistic practice and should not be considered a sinister or underhand  approach. Furthermore, I [Claire Morgan, for McLiesh] do not believe that there is anything untoward in the manner in which the material provided by Professor Carter was handled by the Science Show team.  It was posted onto the website and it was referred to on air. 

*I suggest they should have said ’might’ rather than ‘would’, going by the experience of Andrew Bolt in (1) above!   And, it is relevant to know that something A&CA as an “independent group” admit to is that they seek advice on complaints from the affected department, which is quite likely to include advice framed in self-interest. 


[1]  WUWT website, (Watts Up With That), was recently voted “Best Science Website” in the 2011 Bloggies Awards. 

[2]  See biography and impressive scientific publication record etc: Robert (Bob) M. Carter  Please click the buttons at the base of the page! See transcript and audio on Bob Ward interview here  Note that the introduction by Williams starts with:  “Bob Ward says those who seek to reinterpret the science of climate change often have minimal publication records…”  I wonder if Williams and Ward are aware that Bob Carter is an active scientist and has been an author in some 100 research papers and much more.   (click those buttons on his website!).  However, these scant commentators have the gall to clarion that the learned professor is incompetent!

 [3]  It’s a tad off topic, but it is interesting to note, re 2nd  Email in (1), that Professor Carter’s proposal to discuss his acclaimed book was declined, yet recently the “Science Show” did two full 1-hour jobs on Tim Flannery’s and then Naomi Oreskes’ new books, oh, and also a nice chat with David Suzuki, all three of whom have a very different take than the professor.  Of course, this a is typical attitude as seen in other mainstream media and the so-called consensus.


About Bob Fernley-Jones

I'm a retired mechanical engineer, and I guess that because in my science, any bad assumptions can get people killed, I have an abhorrence of many things that are perpetrated by academics in some areas of science. In the case of so-called climate science, the culture and bias in some media is also repugnant to me. I'm hoping that the ABC will improve its self regulating policies and culture to eliminate bias, and this website is under development towards that end. (if necessary).


  1. ABC Australia…. Some strange policies. | Bobfjones's Blog - 02/24/2011

    […]  See also:  ABC radio (Australia); “The Science Show” tricks of the trade 2”:   […]

  2. ABC radio, Australia…. Misleading “Science” ….. No 3. | Bobfjones's Blog - 03/01/2011

    […] (1) For more information on Williams’ rather interesting exchanges with Andrew Bolt, see here, part [2]: […]

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