Beatin’ the heat

by Bryan Walker on April 20, 2010

It was a happy experience to open the Waikato Times last week and see across from the editorial page the profile of scientist Jim Salinger under the headline Salinger doesn’t feel critics’ heat.  The articlewas based on an interview with Salinger, who was visiting Hamilton to speak to Forest and Bird’s AGM about research on climate change since the 2007 IPCC report.

It opened with the recognition that in recent months Salinger has had to stave off repeated criticism of his work by the likes of Rodney Hide and the Climate Science Coalition.  Even his decades-old PhD thesis has come under fire.

Salinger explains that when he did his thesis he simply wanted to work out what was happening with New Zealand climate.

“In those days we weren’t considering the greenhouse effect, and I thought ‘this is an interesting topic, see if New Zealand’s climate has changed’.”

He discovered the climate was warming slowly, and he’s confident that if Niwa rechecks his work using modern techniques they’ll come up with the same conclusions.

About the attacks, he chuckles slightly and says:

“Science is about facts, not beliefs. I like to look at the facts and see what they say – if people want to attack me as a person, that has nothing to do with my science. It doesn’t worry me.

“…This whole group are trying to accuse me, and my overseas scientific colleagues, of fraud.

“Well, there is going to have to be a hell of a lot of people involved in this “fraud’…They’re trying to say the International Panel on Climate Change is a fraudulent activity, and in fact it’s a very thorough process.”

The theft of the UEA emails he sees as a deliberate attempt to discredit the scientists and the science. After outlining the basics of the evidence of warming, and along the way defending the peer-review system, he summarises that his concern is whether the planet will be fit for survival by humans as a species.

I reflected when reading the article that it is sad that the mainstream science Salinger represents should have to be presented to Waikato Times readers as a response to the ignorant and despicable attacks mounted on New Zealand climate scientists by the ACT party and the Climate Science Coalition.  The interviewing journalist Jeff Neems did a good job of ensuring that the science showed through clearly, but as a society we are apparently not yet ready to regard it as news enough in itself that leading scientists are greatly alarmed at what they are discovering about the effect of greenhouse gases on the climate. Had the Times not recently reported the attacks of Hide and company I imagine it is likely that Salinger would have slipped in and out of Hamilton virtually unnoticed except by those attending the Forest and Bird AGM.

I don’t mean to attack the Waikato Times particularly.  It has a better record in these matters than many New Zealand papers. But the press as a whole should have been doing much more than it has in focusing public attention on the seriousness of the issue. The science Jim Salinger represents shouldn’t have to depend on the campaigning of Greenpeace to get media attention. He and others who work in the climate science field should be reported regularly and seriously. His wondering whether the planet will remain fit for human survival is not idle. It’s a serious science-based concern and the public should know that many leading scientists have such a level of concern. Hide and his companions strike at the foundations of intellectual regard on which the functioning of society depends. Our newspapers should be strengthening those foundations.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

RW1 April 20, 2010 at 10:47 am

I have known Jim Salinger for many years now, and have a great deal of respect for him. That's more than I can say about the ragtag collection of ignorant buffoons who attack climate science here and elsewhere, and in particular the vulgar and obnoxious Rodney Hide who has jumped on their bandwagon.

Carol C April 20, 2010 at 9:51 am

I studied climate under Jim Salinger at Victoria University. He was, and still is, a very unassuming man with an obvious passion for his subject. It's outrageous that people with little or no scientific knowledge get more press than those who know their subject thoroughly and have a genuine concern for how climate change is affecting the planet and the human race. I'm glad to see that the Waikato Times took the time to interview him.

I still remember the first sentence of the first lecture I heard from Jim – "This is a cloud." (accompanied by a slide of a cloud) To this day I don't know if he was pulling our legs or simply starting at the beginning.

Gareth April 20, 2010 at 10:27 am

Pulling your leg, definitely.

nommopilot April 20, 2010 at 11:32 am

of course because it wasn't a cloud, it was a slide projection of a representation of a cloud </magritte>

dappledwater April 20, 2010 at 11:54 am

Shame that NIWA shafted Jim, I'm sure he would have a far better job than the current regime there, who seem very quiet on the matter.

Steve Wrathall April 21, 2010 at 12:42 am

"But the press as a whole should have been doing much more than it has in focusing public attention on the seriousness of the issue. Jim Salinger shouldn’t have to go to Greenpeace to gain attention. He and others who work in the climate science field should be reported regularly and seriously. "

Translation: Oh no, the media are no longer letting themselves be bullied into falling in line with the alarmist agenda. They now railise how much BS is behind the global energy rationing plan and are calling you on it.

Why should ethical journalists allow themselves to be dictated to by those whose ethics are as follows:
"If you think that Saiers is in the greenhouse skeptics camp, then, if we can find documentary evidence of this, we could go through official AGU channels to get him ousted."
"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is !"

Bryan Walker April 21, 2010 at 1:28 am

I wondered how long it would take you to make one of your lightning raids Steve. If you snooped around anyone for long enough listening to their informal private conversations you'd no doubt find selected material for questioning their ethics. I don't think ethical revulsion explains journalism's failure to report the concerns of climate scientists adequately – just a lack of application and a naive confusion in the face of the denialist campaigns.

cindybax April 21, 2010 at 3:23 am

"he shouldn't have to go to Greenpeace to gain attention" – erm – where did you get that from Bryan?

Did it occur to you that Greenpeace might have gone to him? While you were using this to make a point, I would like to counter the image you conjured up of Jim running off to Greenpeace to get media because that simply demeans him.

Besides that bit of weirdness, good points made here. Note Peter Griffin at sciblogs yesterday lamenting the fact that no New Zealand journalist covered the CRU Inquiry outcome.

Waiting for TNVZ7's media watch tonight. should be good.

Bryan Walker April 21, 2010 at 3:43 am

I've obviously worded that loosely if that is the impression I've given. It's certainly not what I thought I was saying. What I meant is that the science he represents shouldn't have to depend on the campaigning of Greenpeace to get media attention. I was pleased that Greenpeace secured his support, and it certainly didn't occur to me that he did the seeking.

cindybax April 21, 2010 at 4:17 am

right – good one, thanks for that clarification Bryan as it does read like that.

But I do agree with the wider point. if there's no "conflict" often the media wno't cover, even if it's serious science. That "he-said-she-said" conflict journalism is taught in NZ journalism schools and needs to be addressed at source. There are so few science writers in mainstream NZ media today and the "environment round" often goes to the youngest reporter in the newsroom.

Jim always had a great relationship with the media – possibly one reason the Powers that Be at NIWA shut him down?

Bryan Walker April 21, 2010 at 6:45 am

Cindy, I've edited the text to make it clear what I meant.

cindybax April 21, 2010 at 8:23 am

cheers Bryan

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