The BBC, the UN, and climate bullying
Grab an umbrella: it's global wetting, now...
Andrew's Mailbag It's been a fascinating week for climate reporting and the BBC. On Tuesday, an astonished Jeremy Paxman was heard asking Global Warming advocate Chris Rapley on Newsnight to confirm that the Earth's temperature hasn't risen this century.
(No, Rapley agreed, it hasn't. But clearly, from the amazed look on his face, nobody had ever thought to fill Paxo in on this minor detail - until now).
Last week we described the hurried amendments made to a BBC News Online story about global warming, and this ran round the internet like a contagion, prompting widespread commentary on US TV - and universal ridicule for the corporation.
The Beeb's Roger Harrabin had noted remarks made by the chief of the UN weather quango, concluding that "...this would mean global temperatures have not risen since 1998, prompting some to question climate change theory".
Big mistake, Roger.
Harrabin initially stood by his words, but shortly after an eco-warrior made a threat to humiliate him before the Court of The Hive Mind ("I am about to send your comments to others for their contribution, unless you request I do not. They are likely to want to post your comments on forums/fora, so please indicate if you do not want this to happen. You may appear in an unfavourable light") the story was severely edited.
We've a couple of updates for you.
Firstly, Ms Abbess (who declined to respond to our request for comment) wasn't alone in demanding - and getting - changes to the story. The UN's World Meteorological Organisation - a parent of the IPCC - was also in touch. It shared its statement with us about the BBC's report. And here it is:
"Just wanted to point out a few other outlets that fixed their story, including Fox, after we approached them," their PR mailed us.
[Fox - Mail] "So you know, BBC and Roger Harrabin's TV piece that accompanied the text story was accurate and informed, and at the same time we found Mr Harrabin very willing to resolve any factual issues in his story. I would urge anyone to read his story as it appears now."
This is a little unusual. In the shadowy world of "media influencers", PRs rarely crow about journalists being compliant. Even when PRs score a total victory and force a complete about-face, it's still not considered good manners to gloat - unless the intention is to humiliate the hack or hackette.
Roger Harrabin has also posted a statement on the BBC News Online's Editors Blog, which you can read here.
The comments make for interesting reading. One points out that the changes demanded (and made) by the WMO simply obfuscate the issue. The WMO throws in lots of detail about predictions of hotness, which sort of, kind of, obscure the (empirical) fact that things aren't getting hotter at all.
(I warned in my earlier article about drawing too many conclusions from this). But another writes - "...it may be more productive to think of likely impacts of climate change in terms of wetter/dryer rather than a simple warmer/cooler."
So perhaps global wettening/drying is replacing global warming?
Anyway, here's a selection of your letters - which are strongly (but not completely) critical of the BBC's actions:
So the BBC gives up reporting facts. I think we already knew that. Almost every BBC 'science' or 'news' programme these days give a global warning, er, warning.
What are AGW people afraid of, exactly? That the world may not actually be warming, and we're all going to... live?
"She argued that anyone who doubts the scientific orthodoxy is not qualified to hold an opinion."
Is it just me or is this a really scary statement? Because you don't believe the existing theory you're automatically dismissed as irrelevant. How many pioneers of new theories who turned out to be correct would have ended up on the scrapheap?
What it really means is "I'm a fanatic and therefore any dissenting opinion is ill-informed and just plain wrong".
Here's an opening line I'll treasure for a long time:
Your work often reminds me of masturbation. Great pleasure in the reading is swiftly followed by a depressing, hollow feeling as I think about the context.
The story here is the old one of specialism beating generalism; an arrow pricking a well-rounded balloon. SIFs win because they are interested in only that single issue. The rest of us in the middle ground don't stand a chance; our concern about rampant carbon cultism one day is replaced by worries about privacy the next, and so on. We also have jobs to hold down, families and friends to enjoy and a modicum of perspective which prevents us from getting too hot under the collar (ahem.)
On a slight tangent, you were right to call them carbon cultists a few months ago. Environmentalism does have all the hallmarks of a religious movement: the absolute conviction of its adherents, the zealotry that brooks no difference of opinion, the proselytising, the guilt and even the promise of a better life in the future. It has high priests, an international movement, factions and sects and the occasional martyr. We don't stand a chance.
Keep it up.
Very interesting the way an article author would change something without even being given suitable reference material to back up some crazed nut’s blogging viewpoint.
I’ve written to the BBC before over poorly researched articles, and by providing a bunch of well researched references to them, they have changed the story immediately (never in global warming stories – although I have written to the BBC about the bias of those stories). Politically, the BBC is required to be impartial, but in recent years it has decided that global warming is happening and it is going to be catastrophic. As such they seem to have a strong editorial bias towards that – which I kind of hope this article (both before and after versions to be honest) helps to change. Of course the main reason for this as far as I can see is that the BBC has lost its balls following the Gilligan/Hutton farce. Whether that is because of a government conspiracy where they have been told at a high level to watch it or the charter gets it – or whether it’s just a large corporation getting tighter editorial controls as a result of the unfair kicking they received in Hutton – I don’t know – but something is afoot that’s for sure.
[name withheld on request]
It irks me that so many people seem to be talking about the "scientific consensus", as if truth was a matter of democracy. It wasn't so long ago that the "scientific consensus" was that the Earth was flat... It didn't make it true.
I hope you noticed the dissenting replies posted since, Andrew?
I accept the idea of climate change and have done for some time now. That's the reason I often feel embarrassed by people like Jo, who seem to think just because we have an axe to grind that makes it OK to try and change reality to suit our world view.
I hope you can rest assured sure, most Greens are more like me. We want to know the truth and we want to feel we can't rely on open minded scientists.
I used to believe the news about AGW and was delighted when Kyoto was introduced.
But the circular reasoning used by environmentalists broke my support. I'm no scientist, but I can feel when people are talking in a closed minded and dogmatic way; I could no longer trust what they said.
Phrases like "emerging truth" are typical of this "magical" thinking. Meanwhile, in the real world, it will be true when it's true.
I now pay far more attention to the skeptics than I ever did. And I'm saddened that other environmental issues like chemical pollution are getting little attention.
I guess the emergence of so much magical thinking within supposedly serious debate (and not just around the witch doctor's fire), has been due to, frankly, people with lesser minds trying to use the Precautionary Principle... The principle is in itself a good idea, but the problem though, and I don't wish to sound arrogant by saying "lesser minds", is that it needs to be used in conjunction with the Law of Unintended Consequences, and "lesser minds" seem to be oblivious to it.
By all means be cautious, but also and especially, be cautious about what you're so sure is the right course of action, for the unintended consequences will bite you in the ass and make you wish you'd done nothing at all.
So basically, if you're off-message in the climate-change department in anyway, you'll be harangued by some damned self-righteous blogging hero until revert back to "The TRUTH"...
You Reg boys better watch yourselves, renounce your heretical ways and return to the "Global Warming is Irrefutable Fact" lobby, sharpish.
[name withheld on request]
Who the hell is Jo Abbess Why are the BBC willing to bow down to a blogging non-entity? If I'd known it was that easy to get the BBC to change their mind, Doctor Who would never have been cancelled in the first place! I’ll get my scarf…
That's the darkest corner of this episode, since no evidence was offered by Ms Abbess.
I would query Ms. Abbess scientific credentials. With what authority is she calling the Beeb to line? I have my doubts, given her strident opinion "It would be better if you did not quote the sceptics. Their voice is heard everywhere, on every channel. They are deliberately obstructing the emergence of the truth." That and the fact that it appears that she has just accused the head of the WMO of being a climate sceptic.
Perhaps a deportation to 1478 would be in order? After all, nobody expects the spanish inqusition.
The Abbess/Harrabin exchange epitomizes one of the reasons I had given up on following the climate exchange debate. There's very little science in the exchange, it's more a debate (ok, browbeating) over belief systems.
The other frustration with the field was that the two key theories, CO2 (and greenhouse gases) and solar activity (and an interesting link to cosmic rays) _were_ both calling for warming. Over the last year its looking as though the next solar cycle will be weak, some forecasts say the the one after that will be even weaker.
Suddenly the two theories are calling for opposite effects and climatology is interesting again. Evidence is already showing up that says things are changing, the list is growing weekly! There is hope that we might even see rational scientific dialog come to the field. It will take longer for the news media to lose their bias - this exchange really shows the problem.
Other stories show we have a long way to go. Most recently Antarctic sea ice is running a million sq km above average, see http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.365.south.jpg but the news stories talk about a 400 sq km piece of ice shelf on the Antarctic peninsula breaking up. Both stories need to be reported!
Andrew: There was an interesting piece in The Australian today (09Apr08) on just this "Blog Bully's" strident nonsense (report here with the full transcript of the speech here here [PDF]). In it Professor Don Aitkin argues (quite cogently IMHO) that the Global Warming debate has gone from reasoned scientific argument to quasi-religious "authoritative truth" voiced by "scientist-activists" who will brook no counter-argument. Interesting stuff.
It's not all one way traffic, though.
Precautionary Principle Evoked
“Global warming 'dips this year'” is an oxymoron and the BBC should jump on examples of bad English. The article itself reports an assumption of a reversal of a trend but only by reference to the continuing La Nina and is just as dubious as the opposite with the El Niño. It is bad science.
My view about the issue is this: There are those who, from the evidence they see say there is global warming. There are those who do not. Whether there is global warming or not is irrelevant because if we wait for the evidence to be confirmed it will be too late to do anything about it. Therefore we must act now upon the available evidence. Otherwise we may all have to become boat people. Regards
On the other hand...
Visiting a beach the other day the sea level was much higher when leaving than arriving, about 2 metres in 3 hours ! This proves that global warming and rising sea levels are the truth. Some local was spouting rubbish about tides but what would they know not being a proper environmental scientist.
Pretty conclusive I'd say Jon.