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« Nature Climate Change | Main | Report on the Purdue forum »
Thursday
Nov042010

Where did they go wrong?

Margot O'Neill, a journalist for Australia's ABC, looks back over the history of the reporting of climate science and wonders where it all went wrong.

Previously, media coverage of sceptics had focused almost exclusively on whether or not they believe in anthropogenic climate change, but that is likely to change, the journalists say, because there are many different kinds of sceptics and a range of other debates. Some say they wished they had engaged credible sceptics earlier.

H/T Jiminy in the comments.

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Reader Comments (23)

Don't mention the "G" word
Fresh from a sabbatical studying climate change reporting at the University of Oxford, the ABC's Margot O'Neill somehow manages to string 1200 words together about the Media's coverage on the subject without any mention of the ABC's own woeful performance that ABC Chairman Maurice Newman described as "GROUPTHINK". Seems like someone didn't get the memo! It also seems with the absence of any introspection on Margot's behalf that more tax payers money has been wasted for no improvement in performance, or will Margot be providing a refund?

For link see the original post at ABC News Watch: http://abcnewswatch.blogspot.com/2010/11/dont-mention-g-word.html

Nov 4, 2010 at 8:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterMarcH

It's patently obvious that the journos are still believers; slightly chastened believers perhaps. But they will still keep pushing the message until hell freezes over.

Nov 4, 2010 at 8:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Nice to to get a peep under the stone...

I think you can see that Climategate landed on the Enviro desks and everyone just wanted it to go away quietly. Those pesky blogs...

Just on practical issues, inter Desk rivalry would have played a factor, with the budgets for Copenhagen and the like, the subject of comments from other Desks. And I am guessing those effects are reflected in subsequent budgets.

As to the lady author of the article, she reminds of Socialist Economics Lecturers in ex-Communist countries (I have met a few.) She would give a balanced lecture (really) on Capitalism, given to a hall of students who are all wearing Levi's, discussing the latest foreign music, some with Walkman's, organising their summer work permits for vegetable picking in Scotland. At the end of the lecture it was mandtory to say "and of course superior Socialism will prevail over Capitalism".

She gave the lecture with her eyes and ears "closed" to what was happening before her very eyes.

Nov 4, 2010 at 8:24 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

There must be a lot of environmental journalists out there who are wondering just how safe their job is. Without the "frisson" of a regular "we are all going to die" meme, enviro journalism becomes a bit dull. Biodiversity does not seem to be cutting it. Ocean acidification? Hardly very sexy....once you have run one article, you have covered the subject... They have been beating the "Arctic Ice Death Spiral" story like an old rug but those polar bears refuse to lie down and die. The whole basis of news is that it should be something, well, NEW. Climate change was wonderful for that. Every week some study or other would come out to suggest that climate change might be going to cause more warts etc and a new headline would be born. Not only that, but the stories wrote themselves from the press release.
The idea that climate change might be something that has happened throughout all time and might only be very marginally or not at all connected to mankind's activities puts all of these stories into a "So what?" category.
The wholesale abandonment of the crusade by most of the political class must be a bit of a shocker for the poor journos as well.
When editors start casting a beady eye about and wondering where to apply the axe ... their basilisk gaze may very well alight on the overstuffed environmental department.
I rarely have a good word to say about Monbiot but he was as least honest about his sense of betrayal when the CRU emails were released. I had no idea it was shared by the rest of the grisley crew. Bad cess to them for keeping it to themselves.

Nov 4, 2010 at 9:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage

Australia ABC! Probably beats the BBC for bias and bent reporting!

"and to mass biodiversity loss"

and there is the new AGW as reported by Dellingpole! They have seen the demise and now need a new tack. Brush up on Biology guys!

Nov 4, 2010 at 9:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete Hayes

"It's patently obvious that the journos are still believers"

Yes Phillip, but it appears their Editors have seen the light, be it financial or the realization that the consensus was a fairy story. The Editors do not want to look fools so the chances of some jurno getting past them seem to be getting less.

Nov 4, 2010 at 9:59 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete Hayes

@Jack Savage

Have you noticed that the Guardian is the last bastion of the Church of AGW? I did a quick trawl of all the "quality" media the other day, and the graun is the only one still beating the drum - the articles in the Earth/Environment sections of the rest are on other subjects, many of them trivial ones, e.g. Torygraph Earth section has an item entitled "England's favourite house", about a Country Life competition for the public to vote for their favourite country house.

Even the BBC seems to have dropped the AGW agenda - yesterday there wasn't a single item in their Sci/Environment section on climate change.

Nov 4, 2010 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Here's a piece from The Australian that explores some of the things about ABC's climate coverage that Margot forgot to mention....

Aunty is mistaken but not malicious
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/aunty-is-mistaken-but-not-malicious/story-e6frg6zo-1225921441996

Nov 4, 2010 at 10:39 AM | Unregistered CommenterMarcH

@Turning Tide

'Have you noticed that the Guardian is the last bastion of the Church of AGW?'

Ummm..the Torygraph runs it a pretty close second.

Its two 'environmental correspondents' are Geoffrey Lean who has CAGW imprinted in his DNA, and Louise Gray who probably wouldn't understand it if you explained it to her. But she is very good at cutting and pasting Greenpeace and WWF press releases and claiming them as her original work.

Sadly her memory can be poor, and any individual release is likely to be recycled a second time in six or twelve months and presented s her new work once more. Her readers are sharper eyed and often delight in pointing this out, But she, and her editor, remain unabashed.

I have given up paying for the print edition because of the tosh these two 'journos' churn out.

Nov 4, 2010 at 10:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

@Latimer Alder

Oh, yeah - Lean and Gray - but then the Telegraph also has Delingpole, who is worth 10 of each of them at least. And it's hilarious the way the former two get completely shredded in the comments every time they pop their little heads over the parapet. They must be either very thck skinned or phenomenally well paid to take that sort of abuse.

Nov 4, 2010 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Oops just put this in the Judith Curry thread by mistake....


The environmentalist journalists still believe, see last sentence, but it's all the editors fault now.

From ABC:
"It's the editors, stupid
Probably the most important reaction to the UEA hacking for journalists was in their own newsrooms, among their own editors who are the gatekeepers controlling if your work appears and how prominently. While some UK surveys show no dramatic loss of credibility for climate scientists with the public, here's how some senior journalists described what it was like in their newsrooms after hacking:

"dirty looks"
"sense of betrayal"

thought we'd "gone native"

"you told me the science was settled - and it isn't!"


"Climate-gate was extremely damaging in many ways. It gave the impression that journalists had been duped. I think in the end it was mountains out of mole-hills but it looked really bad," said a print journalist.


Other journalists agree. Even reporters at The Guardian, which especially targets environmental reporting, complain that it's difficult to get a run. Another UK broadcast journalist said he was warned that putting climate change on prime time would risk losing a million viewers."

Nov 4, 2010 at 11:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterBarry Woods

Just love this sentence by Margot O'Neill, "If the scientists and 'insurance companies' are right, it (climate change) will produce increasing horror temperature, drought and precipitation events as well as more natural catastrophes."

That made me laugh at the stupidity of it all.

There goes our premiums - up - up - up.

Nov 4, 2010 at 11:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterMac

Among the replies to that article, this comment from a Tony is worth repeating:

Margot, after all your alarmist reporting, you had to go to school to learn about scientific scepticism. It's a pity they didn't teach the scientific method as well.

You were quite happy to publish scare stories about the ineviyable ice free arctic, yet never mention the flimsy assumptions upon which these predictions are made.

Didn't you know the PR ambush prior to Copenhagen was a political tactic? Just because the alarmism may fit your world view, where was your journalistic integrity to question a claim, or call for factual evidence?

And now you act stunned that Climategate has had such a significant impact? When you and the ABC chose to ignore the story at the time. Were you and the ABC ignorant? in denial? or afraid to publicse doubt?

It's disappointing that your closing comments show you haven't learnt much.

Let the scare continue....

I suggest you read Judith Curry's blog to learn how the climate science community really operates.

I also left a reply asking whether climategate had anything to do with the sudden re-discovery that 'science is never settled', but it hasn't appeared yet.

Nov 4, 2010 at 12:31 PM | Unregistered CommentersHx

Many newspapers are losing audience and money. Viewership of TV news is declining as well. Operational cuts and innovative changes become necessary to retain both readership/viewership and advertisers/sponsors. If you look at recent polls in the US, people just do not consider "climate change" to be a significant problem compared to other more pressing problems. Global warming has lost its sensational glow as more and more people are beginning to realize that it was just a scheme to tax energy, and that promises of green jobs was just a myth (except in Kalifornia, the bankrupt welfare state). Couple that with the anti-big government movement" expressed in the current election, and "climate change" will very rapidly move to the dust bin. Another cold winter and it will become a non-issue, limited to the environmental fringe movement.

Nov 4, 2010 at 12:39 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrCrinum

Concerning Latimer Adler's and Turning Tide's 's comments regarding the coverage of the Church of AGW in the Telegraph, I'm more and more convinced that Loiuse Gray is a complete work of fiction modelled on the work of Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth in 1984. If you recall, when rewriting an edition of the Times, Smith created an entirely fictitious hero who (I think) died fighting for Big Brother. Similarly Louise is so spectacularly on-messsage with Greenpeace, WWF etc it is inconceivable that any real person could be so credulous and incompetent and still claim to be a "journalist".

Nov 4, 2010 at 12:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

@ Umbongo:

At the age of three Comrade Ogilvy had refused all toys except a drum, a
sub-machine gun, and a model helicopter. At six--a year early, by a special
relaxation of the rules--he had joined the Spies, at nine he had been a
troop leader. At eleven he had denounced his uncle to the Thought Police
after overhearing a conversation which appeared to him to have criminal
tendencies. At seventeen he had been a district organizer of the Junior
Anti-Sex League. At nineteen he had designed a hand-grenade which had
been adopted by the Ministry of Peace and which, at its first trial, had
killed thirty-one Eurasian prisoners in one burst. At twenty-three he had
perished in action. Pursued by enemy jet planes while flying over the
Indian Ocean with important despatches, he had weighted his body with his
machine gun and leapt out of the helicopter into deep water, despatches
and all--an end, said Big Brother, which it was impossible to contemplate
without feelings of envy. Big Brother added a few remarks on the purity
and single-mindedness of Comrade Ogilvy's life. He was a total abstainer
and a nonsmoker, had no recreations except a daily hour in the gymnasium,
and had taken a vow of celibacy, believing marriage and the care of a
family to be incompatible with a twenty-four-hour-a-day devotion to duty.
He had no subjects of conversation except the principles of Ingsoc, and
no aim in life except the defeat of the Eurasian enemy and the hunting-down
of spies, saboteurs, thought-criminals, and traitors generally.

Winston debated with himself whether to award Comrade Ogilvy the Order of
Conspicuous Merit: in the end he decided against it because of the
unnecessary cross-referencing that it would entail.

Nov 4, 2010 at 2:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

Probably the most intellectaully dishonest thing the ecofascists do, and still do at the Gruaniad, is to conflate all forms of scepticism together and argue that in effect if they can debunk one they've debunked them all.

There are of course many strands of scepticism:

1/ Those who don't believe the climate is changing at all
2/ Those who think it is, but that it's either beneficial or trivial
3/ Those who think it is and that it's not beneficial, but that it cannot be stopped
4/ Those who think it's not beneficial, but the money spent on stopping it would be better spent differently
5/ Those who think that the climate has changed and it's not beneficial, but it may change back
6/ Those who think any of the above but that human CO2 isn't the main factor
7/ Those who think any of the above but who think that you can't make accurate enough predictions about the future to worry
8/ Those who think the future can pay for any consequences because they'll be richer
9/ Those who recognise a religion when they see it
10/ Those who think the economic case for mitigation does not stack up
11/ and so on.

A common ecofascist tactic is to conflate those who adhere to 1/, a fringe position, with everyone else who's a sceptic based on thr other 9 (and there are more nunaces than that). They then can claim - in effect - that anyone who is a sceptic by reason of 7/ is a science-denying loony, so they've won.

That has largely been the basis on which they claimed "the science is settled".

Nov 4, 2010 at 2:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

@Justice4Rinka

Yup - and a new strand that's creeping in - presumably influenced by recent US politics - is equating climate scepticism with creationism, then taking the leap that because creationism is utterly indefensible, scientifically speaking, then so is climate scepticism. I guess if they can redefine peer review, they can redefine logic too!

Nov 4, 2010 at 4:49 PM | Unregistered CommenterTurning Tide

Justice4Rinka

Many thanks - old age is obviously getting to me. How could I forget Comrade Ogilvy's name? However, his mindset as imagined by Orwell via Winston and that of the ineffable Louise (on the evidence of her published work) appear uncannily similar.

Nov 4, 2010 at 5:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterUmbongo

Insurance companies ... back in 2005 Richard Lindzen remarks on how Munich Re jumped to blame AGW for the Asian tsunami. Insurance companies are keen to play up AGW as a cause of natural disasters so as to have people with deep pockets - fossil fuel providers - to sue to recoup their own losses.

Nov 4, 2010 at 5:54 PM | Unregistered CommenterO'Geary

@ turningtide - yes, there's actually a name for that aberration: it's called the argument from analogy. Watches are complicated and have to be designed. Life is complicated, so it must have been designed too.

It's an interesting one because it can be handled dishonestly in both directions. As well as dishonestly asserting that sceptics are analogous to creationists, you can claim to have defeated an argument from analogy against you even if all you have done is pointed to a discrepant detail in the analogy.

For example, if you point out that climatism requires faith and thus resembles a religion, a climatist will retort that there is no wedding ritual in climatism, so it's not a religion. As they've rebutted an element of your analogy, their entire argument must be sound.

The common strand in this is that climatists are reliant on spurious associations both to make their case and to rebut the case made by others.

I wonder if there's a good book about apocalyptic millenarianism?

Nov 4, 2010 at 6:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

quote "Given the underlying science has been exonerated in successive inquiries"

what..? when??
Very funny piece..satire perhaps..

Nov 4, 2010 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered Commentermike

Good book about apocalyptic millennarianism in the past is

Norman Cohn, The Pursuit of The Millennium (Pimlico 2004).

Nov 4, 2010 at 7:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger

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