One of the favourite tactics employed by the Australian in its war on science is quote mining. See, for example, Kininmonth’s effort this week. Not surprisingly the Australian‘s Cut and Paste column is a big on quote mining. For example

Environment Minister Peter Garrett, on ABC1’s Lateline on Monday, forecasts sea level rises of 6m:

TONY Jones: The report of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research will be released today.

It says that in west Antarctica the attribution of ice lost to human-driven warming is now strong, and it warns that a number of climate influences could amplify this ice loss and accelerate future sea level rises. The most scary thing it says is the upper level of those rises in global sea level could be as much as 6m – 6m – by the end of the century.

Garrett: Look, I haven’t seen that report yet, Tony, but I don’t think there’s any doubt those kinds of projections and scenarios are consistent with what the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change brought forward over the last couple of years. And as more scientists do more work on potential climate change impacts, we’re likely to be presented with these kinds of scenarios.

Note that Cut and Paste misrepresents Garrett — he did not forecast a 6m sea level rise, merely that a 6m rise was consistent with the IPCC reports. Cut and Paste proceeds to manufacture a gotcha by quote mining the IPCC report:

What the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet predicts:

GLOBAL sea level is projected to rise during the 21st century at a greater rate than during 1961 to 2003.

Under the IPCC Special Report on Emission Scenarios A1B scenario, by the mid-2090s, for instance, global sea level reaches 0.22 to 0.44m above 1990 levels, and is rising at about 4mm (a year).

Cut and Paste did not quote the part of the paragraph which was about the thing that Jones asked Garrett about:

An important uncertainty relates to whether discharge of ice from the ice sheets will continue to increase as a consequence of accelerated ice flow, as has been observed in recent years. This would add to the amount of sea level rise, but quantitative projections of how much it would add cannot be made with confidence, owing to limited understanding of the relevant processes

While the Summary for Policy Makers says about sea level rise:

Larger values cannot be excluded, but understanding of
these effects is too limited to assess their likelihood or
provide a best estimate or an upper bound for sea level
rise.

and

If a negative surface mass balance were
sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually
complete elimination of the Greenland Ice Sheet and
a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m.
The corresponding future temperatures in Greenland
are comparable to those inferred for the last interglacial
period 125,000 years ago, when palaeoclimatic
information suggests reductions of polar land ice extent
and 4 to 6 m of sea level rise.

So the IPCC report does not rule out a 6m rise this century. (Though they imply that it is more likely to take millenia to rise that much).

But did the SCAR report say that a 6m rise was possible this century?

Well, the first thing to note is that it is a draft report and we really should wait for the final version before discussing it, but chapter 5 does say:

Rates of sea level rise at least twenty times the current 3.1 mm/yr sustained over more than a century have been measured for the transition to the current warm period following the termination of the last ice age and during some of the warmer intervals of the last ice age. Until improved predictive capability is achieved, this can be regarded as a reasonable upper bound of Antarctica’s potential contribution to global sea level. This maximum rate (62 mm/yr) would lead to a 6-meter sea level rise by 2100, but such rates occurred when there was considerably more ice on the planet.

This isn’t entirely clear – although it says that 6m is reasonable upper bound, the last sentence says that it must be less than that. Oh well, it’s only a draft.

Now Cut and Paste is limited by having to quote people, but if you are a news reporter for the Australian you have the freedom to make things up. Greg Roberts wrote this:

Revealed: Antarctic ice growing, not shrinking

Ice is expanding in much of Antarctica, contrary to the widespread public belief that global warming is melting the continental ice cap. …

Last week, federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said experts predicted sea level rises of up to 6m from Antarctic melting by 2100, but the worst case scenario foreshadowed by the SCAR report was a 1.25m rise.

Mr Garrett insisted global warming was causing ice losses throughout Antarctica. “I don’t think there’s any doubt it is contributing to what we’ve seen both on the Wilkins shelf and more generally in Antarctica,” he said.

Dr Allison said there was not any evidence of significant change in the mass of ice shelves in east Antarctica nor any indication that its ice cap was melting. “The only significant calvings in Antarctica have been in the west,” he said. And he cautioned that calvings of the magnitude seen recently in west Antarctica might not be unusual.

And that story led to another Cut and Paste column

Peter Garrett, on ABC1’s Lateline on April 6, has sea levels rising way over his head, aided and abetted by Tony Jones

JONES: Here is something that is new: the report of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. The most scary thing it says is the upper level of those rises in global sea level could be as much as 6m – 6m – by the end of the century.

Garrett: Look, I haven’t seen that report yet, Tony, but I don’t think there’s any doubt those kinds of projections and scenarios are consistent with what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brought forward over the last couple of years. And as more scientists do more work on potential climate change impacts, we’re likely to be presented with these kinds of scenarios.

Ian Allison, glaciologist, head of the Australian Antarctic Division’s Ice, Ocean, Atmosphere and Climate Program, on the ABC’s Radio National Breakfast yesterday:

FRAN Kelly: Peter Garrett said last week that Antarctic melting could see sea level rises of up to 6m by 2100. Does that tally with your research?

Allison: That figure of 6m was taken out of an unfinished report by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. It was quoted as a potential upper limit based on what’s happened in the past. I don’t personally believe that’s a realistic upper level. I think the upper level over the next century, and I’m not saying this is what actually is going to happen, the upper level over the next century is less than 2m.

But if you listen to all of what Allison said, you will find that Cut and Paste left out some rather important stuff.

Fran Kelly: Today, some positive news. Rather than melting, the science shows that ice is expanding in much of Antarctica and that in parts is getting thicker. …

Ian Allison: We have now new evidence that confirms that on average we are losing ice from both Greenland and Antarctica which is contributing to sea level …

Kelly: … but you found something that suggests its perhaps not as rapid a melt as we once thought. Can you tell us about what you’ve found, the difference in the East and West in Antarctica.

Allison: … In East Antarctica there might be a slight increase due to increased snowfall. … on average West Antarctica is losing more ice that the East is gaining

Kelly: but we can say … that the East is thickening?

Allison: … it’s close to being in balance or gaining a bit. …

Allison: The Wilkins shelf [collapse] is related to warming …

Kelly had been seriously misled by Roberts’ story and Allison had to set the record straight. The fact that Antarctica is losing mass does not appear anywhere in Roberts’ story and the story is carefully written to create the impression that Antarctica is gaining mass. The person who compiled Cut and Paste must have listened to the whole interview and learned this, but rather than correct the misinformation in Roberts’ article by quoting that part of the interview, chose to go for another gotcha on the same Garrett quote as in previous Cut and Paste.

Greg Roberts and Cut and Paste are not interested in informing their readers. Instead they see themsleves as advocates for the position that global warming isn’t happening.

Comments

  1. #1 Roger Jones
    May 3, 2009

    For a long time I have bought the dead tree version of the Saturday Australian, mainly to keep up with this sort of rubbish, but have now boycotted it because they continue to act maliciously and with intent.
    Asked to comment on this story by the Australian Science Media Centre (along with a host of other scientists), I dug up the draft report and read the same things Tim just quoted.
    This newspaper is officially Teh Evil.

  2. #2 Jon
    May 3, 2009

    You should send your post to Media Watch. The Australian’s cut and past section is a disgraceful distortion of news reporting to fit in with the predetermined conservatives viewpoints of its editors.

  3. #3 Andrew
    May 4, 2009

    I also am officially boycotting the Australian as a response to their almost incomprehensible behaviour on this issue. That article about hubris was the final straw.

    I also note they are now giving away copies of their rag in foyers of office buildings. Perhaps they should change the name to “The climate denial freesheet”

  4. #4 George D
    May 4, 2009

    I’d send the entire paper to media watch, but yes, this column is particularly bad. And since they’ve deliberately misrepresented a politician rather than a scientist, they’ll have a harder time pretending confusion.

  5. #5 Jimmy Nightingale
    May 4, 2009

    They are getting what they wanted.

    ETS put back a year:

    http://business.smh.com.au/business/rudd-delays-emissions-trading-20090504-arz1.html

    Very disappointing, although not very surprising. And Turnbull isn’t going to support the amended scheme either:

    http://www.smh.com.au/national/turnbull-wont-back-amended-emissions-scheme-20090504-asbw.html

    And that is even less surprising.

    As flawed as the ETS was, it would have been a start. Once delayed, it is just a small step to it being delayed either further or put on hold indefinitely.

  6. #6 Gaz
    May 4, 2009

    At least proponents of a carbon tax will get to try out their idea for a year. That’s what unlimited permits at a fixed price for the first year means.

  7. #7 bruced
    May 4, 2009

    Maybe the level of science shown by the The Aus was why Merck decided to place their phoney Elsevier journal, “The Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine” in this part of the world. (If you haven’t seen this, Google the journal name). With the likes of Plimer and Carter displaying their in-depth understanding of statistics and scholarships, Merck probably thought they were safe to put it in this end of the world

  8. #8 Chris O'Neill
    May 4, 2009

    I noticed the sentence:

    Dr Allison said there was not any evidence of significant change in the mass of ice shelves in east Antarctica nor any indication that its ice cap was melting. “The only significant calvings in Antarctica have been in the west,” he said. And he cautioned that calvings of the magnitude seen recently in west Antarctica might not be unusual.

    was carefully constructed to avoid mentioning the West Antarctic ice cap while mentioning everything that doesn’t necessarily mean there is substantial ice loss.

  9. #9 kent
    May 4, 2009

    War on science 37,36,35, wow, three wars in such a short time. What you accuse others of is what you have been doing for years. Good for the goose, good for the gander. Payback is a b*tch, or the truth will set you free but first will cause you great pain. I feel your pain with a smile on my face. Governments are backing off from the AGW ride because the science does not support it. Kyoto’s riding into oblivion as we enter the cooling cycle.

  10. #10 Bernard J.
    May 4, 2009

    Kent.

    Do you have something coherent to say?

    Or are you attempting irony in the Socratic tradition? If so, take a leaf from [Lars' book](http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2009/05/ian_plimer_can_not_recall_wher.php#comment-1608647) – he’s much better at it than you.

  11. #11 Chris O'Neill
    May 4, 2009

    kent:

    What you accuse others of is what you have been doing for years.

    We wouldn’t expect you to know the difference kent because evidence is a concept that you have yet to become acquainted with.

  12. #12 kent
    May 4, 2009

    Chris,

    “We wouldn’t expect you to know the difference kent because evidence is a concept that you have yet to become acquainted with.”

    In my assessment of realilty I deal with evidence all the time.

    Bernard, Oh look war # 38 You are loosing the battle because you ignore science, or rather are ignorant of it.

  13. #13 Greg Roberts
    May 5, 2009

    As a journalist with The Australian who has copped some flak on this, I’ll dip my toe in.

    Firstly, I’m not a global warming sceptic. I wrote on Monday that warming could be responsible for declining populations of penguins and elephant seals. There are plenty of similar examples on the public record.

    Secondly, by quoting lines such as this from the IPCC report, Tim is guilty of the same kind of selective distortion that he accuses me and others of:

    “If a negative surface mass balance were sustained for millennia, that would lead to virtually complete elimination of the Greenland Ice Sheet and a resulting contribution to sea level rise of about 7 m. The corresponding future temperatures in Greenland are comparable to those inferred for the last interglacial period 125,000 years ago, when palaeoclimatic information suggests reductions of polar land ice extent and 4 to 6 m of sea level rise.”

    Of course, this statement is not vaguely indicative of the IPCC believing sea levels could rise by 6m as a result of ice melting in Antarctica (or anywhere), and to suggest as much is dishonest. Ditto for the other quotations from the report.

    Finally, all that happened is that I visited Antarctica very recently and came back fascinated with the knowledge that East Antarctica was cooling somewhat compared to West Antarctica.I didn’t know that; nor did anyone I talked to. That’s how this series of stories came about. I don’t always agree with my editors but there is no conspiracy here – no evil plot to undo the world.

    I’ve learned a thing or two about how the witches must have felt awhile back.

  14. #14 Tim Lambert
    May 5, 2009

    Ahh, Greg, glad you dropped by. I hope you can answer some questions for my next post.

    In [your most recent story](http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25416631-11949,00.html) that somehow manages to omit mentioning that Antarctica is losing ice mass you allege:

    >THE Bureau of Metereology has backed down from a claim that temperatures at Australia’s three bases in Antarctica have been warming over the past three decades.

    >A senior bureau climatologist had accused The Weekend Australian of manufacturing a report that temperatures were cooling in East Antarctica, where Australia’s Mawson, Davis and Casey bases are located.

    Where and when did he make this accusation and this claim?

  15. #15 Tim Lambert
    May 5, 2009

    Oh, and Greg, do you accept that, contrary to your repeated claims, the draft SCAR report says that 6m is a reasonable upper bound to sea level rise this century?

  16. #16 Jimmy Nightingale
    May 5, 2009

    Re #13.

    When you wrote, “Firstly, I am not a global warming sceptic”, you may have meant to write, “Firstly, I am not a journalist”. Deliberate omissions such as Tim mentioned in #14 and #15 above show that you intended to change the tenor of the article to claim something different than reality. A journalist might put their own touch to a story, but not their own touch to the facts.

  17. Greg Roberts writes:

    I’ve learned a thing or two about how the witches must have felt awhile back.

    You don’t know jack shit about it or you wouldn’t make such a stupid, mindless comparison. Nobody has arrested and tortured you. You’re not sentenced to be burned at the stake. You got criticized for writing a lousy, biased story. Well live with it, pal. Nobody owes you a free ride on what you write. It isn’t persecuting you to point out that you blew things big-time with a stupid article.