The Australian's War on Science 54: selective quotations

To their credit The Australian has published an article by David McKnight:

On climate issues The Australian still gives voice to a global PR campaign largely originated by the oil and coal companies of the US. On this score genuinely sceptical journalism is missing in action. Instead, an ideological sympathy with climate sceptics has been concealed behind a fig leaf of supposed balance.

But what shines through in the attitude of the newspaper is its lack of intellectual and moral seriousness in dealing with the consequences of climate change.

To their discredit they simultaneously published an anonymous attack on McKnight, claiming his piece was based on "selective quotations" and then proceeding with a particularly dishonest selective quotation:

Professor McKnight writes that "as the scientific evidence for climate change strengthened, the newspaper's attitude went in the opposite direction".

But in a letter to The Australian in October, Royal Society vice-president John Pethica wrote: "The science remains the same, as do the uncertainties. Indeed, the purpose of the new guide is to help people understand what is well-established and what is still uncertain. There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the main cause of the global warming that has taken place over the past half-century. The warming trend is expected to continue, but the sizes of future temperature increases are still subject to uncertainty."

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter:

In your coverage of our newly published Climate change: a summary of the science ("Top science body cools on global warming", 2/10) your correspondents suggest that the society has changed its position on climate change. This is simply not true.

There is no greater uncertainty about future temperature increases now than the Royal Society had previously indicated.

That's right, Pethica, like McKnight, was correcting The Australian's biased coverage of climate change. He was not saying that the evidence had not strengthened. The Australian also selectively quoted McKnight. Putting the quote back into context:

As Lloyd showed, it is possible to find editorials in 1997 in The Australian under then editor-in-chief David Armstrong that accepted the science on climate change. But after that period, The Australian took a different direction. This is paradoxical. As the scientific evidence for climate change strengthened, the newspaper's attitude went in the opposite direction.

It is certainly true that the scientific evidence has strengthened since 1997. The Australian tried to make it look like McKnight was talking about the changes since the previous Royal Society report came out in 2007.

The Australian also claims that McKnight used a "flawed analysis":

Associate Professor McKnight claims a March 2007 feature on cyclical sunspot activity recycled a "discredited theory" and a "long discarded sceptical claim".

Yet in September, Britain's respected scientific body, the Royal Society, published a landmark review of the latest developments in climate science in which it said variations in solar energy were an area of continuing discussion. "Natural forcing due to sustained variations in the energy emitted by the Sun over the past 150 years is estimated to be small," the society found.

"However, direct observations of the energy emitted by the Sun only became available in the 1970s and estimates over longer periods rely on observations of changes in other characteristics of the Sun.

"A number of mechanisms have been proposed that could reduce or amplify the effect of solar variations; these remain areas of active research."

Which doesn't contradict McKnight at all. The solar theory advanced in that March 2007 feature is discredited. The Royal Society is saying that it is possible that we might find evidence for some other solar theory one day.

That March 2007 piece was mentioned in The Australian's War on Science VI (ah, memories!). Looking for the solar theory in that piece we find this:

Franks points to new modelling which has measured changes in the Earth's albedo or reflectance, driven mainly by cloud formation. The paper by a team of geophysicists reported an unexplained decline in cloud cover until 1998, which caused the Earth to absorb more heat from the atmosphere.

This resulted in increases in incoming solar radiation more than 10 times bigger than the same effect attributed to greenhouse gases.

Sound familiar? Yes, it's the same misunderstanding of Pinker (2005) that Monckton popularized. Pinker herself has explained what is wrong.

The feature in The Australian was written by Matthew Warren, The Australian's environment reporter at the time, who is now chief executive of the Clean Energy Council and a widely respected authority on the climate change debate.

I don't think that Warren is "widely respected" outside of the carbon lobby. Paddy Manning writes:

Then on May 9, 2007, apparently at the urging of son James, Murdoch announced News Corp would go carbon neutral by 2010. ...

This put The Australian in a quandary. Mitchell's then 2IC, Michael Stutchbury, was still freely describing climate change as "bullshit" and joked after the announcement, "What would the Murdochs know?" (He is now the paper's economics editor.)

What did The Australian do? In late 2006 Matthew Warren, former PR for the NSW Minerals Council, was appointed - get this - environment reporter. His standard line was how difficult, how expensive, measures to combat global warming would be. He practically never quoted the environment movement or its representatives. (He now runs business group the Clean Energy Council, which is meant to promote renewable energy but has been taken over by the carbon lobby.)

Matthew Warren's reporting has been a major part of The Australian's war on science. See, for example, his confusing climate sensitivity with projected warming, his verballing of Rajendra Pachauri and his creative accounting to make solar power look bad.

The Australian finishes with "Professor McKnight ... worked on the now defunct communist weekly newspaper Tribune." Ah, of course, he's a commie! Oddly enough, The Australian never describes frequent columnist Frank Furedi as "founder of the Revolutionary Communist Party".


More like this

Perhaps the recent heat on Chris Mitchell opened the door for McKnight's piece. Once they realised everything McKnight had detailed against them over the last decade checked out,they must have regretted allowing publication,and could only come up with that feeble editorial response.

MediaWatch will have rich pickings with which to start the 2011 season.

In lieu of MediaWatch investigating the Oz's WoS, your careful documentation of their atrocious science reporting is sterling work, Tim. McKnight and Pethica both have grounds to be very displeased with the editorial shenanigans of the country's most tabloid broadsheet.

By Bernard J. (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink


Please keep the bunsen burner turned up against the Oz's tricks.

Funny you should mention the CEC. I was having a conversation with a friend about the CEC today

[makes mental note to never take up career as professional liar in order to avoid Tim Lambert's meticulous eviscerations].

Keep nailing the bastards, Tim.

You deserve a medal, Tim, for your continued diligence in hunting down and putting the nonsense stories out of our collective misery. Odd how the nonsense stories coalesce about the Australian newspaper but I guess that is how black holes work...

Keep it up, Tim.

By Donald Oats (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

I see the Australian is up to its old tricks this morning. Under the letters column titled 'McNight resorts to big oil canard, there are four denialist letters including, of course, the lead letter. There is one lone and excellent letter by Allan Thomas who notes that 'on a simple count - about 80 % of the letters to the editor are pro the sceptic'. Has the letters editor no sense of irony?…

Here's a good quote;

"It's easy for people in an air-conditioned room to continue with the policies of destruction of Mother Earth. We need instead to put ourselves in the shoes of families in Bolivia and worldwide that lack water and food and suffer misery and hunger. People here in Cancún have no idea what it is like to be a victim of climate change."

Despite the claims of deniers who say global warming is a myth, the climate is changing dramatically in Bolivia and other Andean countries, Morales insists. "The lakes are drying. There is drought. Millions of fish are dying in the Amazon basin of frost."…

And the Oz is ramping up the rhetoric again today:

Cancun looms as a monumental failure…

The usual stuff about the massive carbon footprint involved in getting the delegates together and the irony of choosing Cancun, an area at risk from rising sea levels, as the venue for this meeting.

And Lomborg's latest - Cancun ignores energy efficiency paradox…

Some good points, combined with the usual conclusion - It's all too hard, anything that we will do won't make a difference, so it is better to do nothing.

By Jimmy Nightingale (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink


Lomborg quoting the EE paradox has legs but its one of those self fulfilling belief things that economists like to pontificate about when what it boils down to if you find your self with bit of change in your pocket because you have saved some money then you spend it. Fair enough, but you couple that saving to something like retiring carbon you've given yourself a reason not to spend it.

But I'm sure Jeveon's paradox et al will be trotted out more and more as a reason not to save energy and lots of economists will want to pontificate on it.

I can imagine Mitchell and his lickspittle crew sitting there thinking they have cleverly countered McNight with their childish editing. These people are seriously twisted.

By Monkeywrench (not verified) on 12 Dec 2010 #permalink

That's fascinating,clippo. Your link arrives at a blank page,and when I navigated through the Tele's site,I found the headline,dated 10/12/10...and a blank page. Moncky's probably had a dummy-spit and demanded a withdrawal!

I'm sorry that happened to you - I've re-tried the link and it was okay for me. It is actually a link to Louise Gray's teleghraph blog I think. So, ..... if you did a search for here on the DT site, that might locate it.

I'm just off to bed now - but I'll look in tomorrow am and if needed, cut & paste some of it.

By clippo uk (not verified) on 13 Dec 2010 #permalink

This is first rate journalistic analysis and comment. I've tried to find a flaw in your reporting of this unfolding story, and can't. If only "The Australian" attempted a comparable standard. Their anonymous attack piece on McKnight's article, and in particular the timing of it, shows the paper up as touchy, defensive and incapable of accepting criticism. With the ceaseless and transparent quote mining, well, they're simply embarrassing themselves.
Still a 'serious' newspaper? Not on this evidence.

[Philip S said: "Still a 'serious' newspaper? Not on this evidence".](…)

Rupe had hoped that by acquiring the ownership of certain flagship global titles, the social gravitas they had built up over generations would rub off on him - that he would become them.

Instead, like Midas in reverse but at a more remarkable speed, he's turned them into exactly the same quality of alchemic sh!t that his inner soul is constructed from, with all the implied integrity.

Speaking of Australian newspapers, recent opinion columns, and global warming denialists, can I hijack this topic just a wee smidge to re-emphasise what a complete and utter moron Sydney Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Blair is?

It's not an ad-hominem. I'm just stating a well established fact. I know he tries to be funny, in a weird right-wing-whacko sort of way, but he comes across as unusually unintelligent. Proof that keyboard typing and sentence construction by themselves require infinitesimal amounts of brain power.

Phew. Glad I got that off my chest! I feel better now.

Re #18.

According to Wikipedia, Tim Blair cut his journalistic teeth at the now closed Truth newspaper in Melbourne. He is also a Collingwood supporter.

Says it all really.

By Jimmy Nightingale (not verified) on 13 Dec 2010 #permalink

I thought Tim Blair was an alter ego of Andrew Blot, created so that AB had someone to feel superior to? Slainte

Is old glass jaw still around?

Please don't disparage him, timmeh is very sensitive and you may cause him immeasurable hurt.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

SHE SAYS..........HE SAID..........Joanne Nova's Dec 18 response in The Australian, to David McKnight:

So "sharp" is McKnight's analysis that he calls the independent unfunded scientists "a global PR campaign originating from coal and oil companies," but all the while...

THE David Mcknight's Dec 11 editorial in The Australian:

On climate issues, The Australian still gives voice to a global PR campaign largely originated by the oil and coal companes of the U.S.

By Same Ordinary Fool (not verified) on 18 Dec 2010 #permalink

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.

But they left out the first two sentences of Pethica's letter...


Nice shot, Tim.