ABC radio’s so-called “Science Show”: licence to mislead the public, Part 1.

DRAFT 4,  21/11:  Guest post by Bob Fernley-Jones (AKA Bob_FJ)

This review covers a process that took over a year:

  • In August 2010, the “Science Show” ran an interview concerning a newly launched AAS booklet on climate change.  There were five claims made which were all false; for instance, that the recent drought in Victoria was unprecedented.  However, rainfall records from our own BOM, (an obvious place to check), and historical records etc, clearly contradict this. (graphs & photos follow).
  • I made a formal complaint to ABC Consumer Affairs, in October 2010, however, they failed to respond within the mandated period. 
  • I tried again with a different approach via the Chairman of the Board, requesting a formal apology on errors of fact.  Again, there was no satisfactory response.  
  • I then appealed to the ACMA, (Australian Communications & Media Authority) for resolution, and about 6 months later, they responded, with a 29 page report.  The ACMA ruled that there was no breach of the Code of Practice, other than the ABC failing to process the two complaints within the statutory 60 days x2.  
  • An alarming aspect is that the “Science Show” presenter definitely knew that the claim concerning CO2 in ice-cores was very misleading. (see link to summary under line 3 at end below, showing proof).  Furthermore, at best he was at least incompetent as an investigative journalist on the other four.  What is more, the show is pre-recorded with ability to delete edit or add qualifications before going to air.

It seems that the “Science Show” is permitted to knowingly broadcast false information, but first of all, see the five complaints below line 1:

~~~1~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

{3} The science of climate change. From “The Science Show of 21, August, 2010

The Australian Academy of Science has produced a booklet summarising our [= their?] understanding of climate science. The aim is to provide the public with an authoritative source of information from those who work in the field.

Here, italicised, are extracts of some of the seemingly more cogent points in the transcript. (The programme only covered the first few out of seven Q & A’s contained in the actual booklet) :

a) “…The blue dots here are all measurements, they match up almost perfectly [? see footnote 1] with the ice core record, so we have a record going back here 2,000 years but overall 800,000 years to show us that past history. And this level of CO2 we have now at over 380 parts per million is greater than any concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere for 800,000 years…”

Comment: It is true that ancient ice-cores contain entrapped air bubbles which when chemically analysed give a proxy inference of varying CO2 levels that are lower than those actually measured in recent decades. However, there was no mention of the parallel proxies whereby air temperatures at the time of deposition were also inferred via gaseous isotopes analysis. Putting aside some controversy about the accuracy of these two types of proxy, there are nevertheless abundant scientific papers giving that past temperatures were a response to changing CO2, showing significant lag*. (That is to say: whenever CO2 levels rose, it was some hundreds of years later when the air temperature then followed upwards, and vice versa). This was not mentioned, and it very strongly contradicts the conclusions made in the programme. It gets into the highly controversial estimations of various feedbacks and CO2 sinks, that are claimed by “the consensus”. (and that are assumed in the various ensembles of climate prediction models that are the main basis for IPCC opinion on the potential magnitude of AGW)

*For example, check out ‘Caillon et al 2003‘: http://icebubbles.ucsd.edu/Publications/CaillonTermIII.pdf There are a swag of other studies describing lags of differing magnitudes, and in different ways, but they are all broadly in agreement. Here is a good summary of the various papers: http://www.co2science.org/articles/V6/N26/EDIT.php

b) “…Another way that indicates that there is a cause and effect relationship between rising greenhouse gases and the current observed rise in temperatures is that if we look for alternative explanations we’re very hard pressed to find any…”

Comment: Well, putting aside the vague language; they must also be “very hard pressed” to find an explanation for the longer warming period of similar strength between about 1910 and 1940. That was before there was any significant increase in CO2, so it must have been caused by something other than CO2 increase. So why should the recent warming period be any different?  The temperature curve below is up and down in about a 60-year cycle, and is clearly lacking of any correlation with steadily increasing CO2 which only got going after about 1940:

There was no mention of (non CO2) natural cycles, or the remarkable match between temperature and the PDO cycle of about 60-years. (and also the smoothed ENSO cycle of about 60-years). For an example in this ever increasing discussion, see:

http://www.drroyspencer.com/research-articles/global-warming-as-a-natural-response/   And:

http://www.drroyspencer.com/2010/06/update-on-the-role-of-the-pacific-decadal-oscillation-in-global-warming/

c) “…Certainly the Sun won’t account for this rise. The Sun’s output [he means of sunlight?] over the last few decades has been trending in the wrong direction to account for that increase…”

Comment:  There is no mention that there has been a plateau in warming over the past decade or so. (BTW; professor Phil Jones of UEA has agreed in an interview, that warming has not been statistically significant over the last 15 years).

There was also no mention of OTHER seemingly important solar outputs or of the ongoing massive “CLOUD” experiment at CERN:

“The CLOUD experiment [at start-up] involves an interdisciplinary team of scientists from 18 institutes in 9 countries, comprised of atmospheric physicists, solar physicists, and cosmic-ray and particle physicists“.

http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/research/CLOUD-en.html

http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1180849

More: if you Google: ‘cern cloud‘.

(and don’t forget the “Maunder Minimum’ when sunspot activity was at a sustained low)

d) “…but one of the projections of climate models is that we see a band of drying across the southern part of the continent, in south Western Australia and Victoria and extending roughly up to the latitude of the ACT. That is a predicted consequence of climate change…”

Comment: Oh really? Please study these rainfall graphs published by our BOM. See footnote [2] concerning the extent of the Murray-Darling Basin.

clip_image004

Or, how about this first photo: “Dry river bed of the Murray river at Myall near Kerang, Victoria, 1914. During the Federation drought it stopped flowing for about 6 months.” Or, secondly, upstream at Mildura; camels crossing. Nowadays of course, this is the realm of houseboats, and summer deaths in boating and water sports reportedly exceed those on the roads in the region.

clip_image005

And, on a more romantic but highly relevant note, check out that magnificent poem of 1904 by Dorothea MacKellar, describing horrible drought, a decade before those photos. (the first verse compares England)

http://www.lancescoular.com/my-country-by-dorothea-mackellar.html

The following graph is currently showing improved Victorian regional water reserves in the past eight years through to end of October 2010. That was before the big rains and floods in November-December.   Melbourne storages are also at the highest level in 5 years.

clip_image007     

e) “…We also see wettening trends in the north and those, as Ian showed a moment ago, have been observed in the records over the last 50 years in particular. So while there is a lot of uncertainty around rainfall projections, there is some evidence that climate changes are being manifested in Australian rainfall patterns already…”

Comment: And there is some evidence that there is nothing unusual in monsoonal rainfall volatility in the last 50 years up north:

clip_image009

Footnotes:

[1] See http://www.warwickhughes.com/icecore/zjmar07.pdf   jump to Fig. 2 (a) & (b)

[2] For a map of the Murray-darling Basin, see: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/change/about/rain_timeseries.shtml

[3] Please note that I am NOT seeking adjudication on any of the science: The complaint is that the programme supported only the OPINIONS of “the consensus”, and some of the science employed to support those opinions, or doubtful interpretations of the data. However, there is much highly credible science that highlights great uncertainty, or is contradictory, but which had no mention. Thus, “The Science Show” was misleading to the public, which amounts to bad journalism.

Consideration should also be given to the recent policy changes made by the BBC, which should result in fairer presentation of both sides of the science over there. (together with increasing awareness of the problem in various institutions and publications etc, since about November 2009)

Bob Fernley-Jones. (professional engineer retired….. Melbourne)

~~~2~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is the original complaint Email to the ACMA:

From: BobFJ   Sent: Thursday, May 19, 2011 9:42 AM

To: broadcasting@acma.gov.au Cc: ABC Corporate_Affairs10 ; Angela Peters

Subject: ABC Radio National “Science Show” complaint

I made a complaint to A&CA about five errors or misrepresentations in a single show.  However, despite many related Email exchanges, (see below), they failed to give a ruling within 60 days, whilst apologising for an oversight on their part.  I then asked for an apology to be broadcast, citing the reasons to the Chairman, and in turn he referred it back to A&CA.  However, for a second time, there is no satisfactory response after 60 days.

The original complaint (referred to as No.3) is contained in the attached MS Word file, where the five claims are shown to be false according to known facts and highly authoritative data.   A&CA advised referral to the Science Unit for comment on two separate occasions, but an oversight was the only explanation given.  A transcript  and audio of the original problem broadcast is here, and I’ve been unable to find any balancing programme, on any ABC network.

I thus complain to you that sections 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4 of the Code of Practice, have been violated.  (prior to the Code revision of 13/April).

Related Email correspondence follows, showing for instance that the presenter, a long experienced science journalist, definitely knew that the first claim was misleading, whilst the other four could not survive the most elementary investigative check.  (and it seems most unlikely that he didn’t know the latter were suspect).  I’m also advised that the show is pre-recorded with capability for editing before going to air.

 Yours sincerely,

Bob Fernley-Jones,  (engineer retired)

~~~3~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To see the extensive Email correspondence prior to this with the ABC, click here, but ignore the first one which is a repeat of the above.  However, it is about 4,500 words long, and this summary of the basic points is easier going.

~~~FINALLY~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ACMA report I currently have is in non-editable/ non-copyable PDF form, and some of the conclusions I find are stunning, such as that the facts under line 1 above, where not facts but opinion, and therefore did not need to meet the ABC’s requirement for accuracy.  The report should appear soon on their website here, and that should better enable Part 2 to be drafted.

Incidentally, I see that someone appealed to ACMA on the infamous Bob Ward interview on the “Science Show” and that it too was unsuccessful.  (Click on case 2530 for their report)

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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).

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