NZ Herald’s turn to offer propaganda as opinion – De Freitas’ links to cranks hidden from readers

by Gareth on September 12, 2012

The new “compactNZ Herald has taken a downmarket tabloid approach to informing its readers by running an opinion piece about the recent courtroom defeat for NZ’s climate cranks by prominent climate sceptic and Auckland University geographer Chris de Freitas, without explaining de Freitas’ long history of association with the cranks he’s defending. In the article, de Freitas overstates the uncertainties associated with temperature records, even going so far as to imply that the warming trend over the last hundred years might be “indistinguishable from zero”1. He also overplays the importance of temperature series to policy-makers — a line straight out of crank litigant Barry Brill’s playbook, and self-evident nonsense.

Despite this transparent partiality, the opinion editors at the Herald credit him like this:

Chris de Freitas is an associate professor in the School of Environment at the University of Auckland.

But, as the Herald opinion team well know, de Freitas is much, much more than a mere associate professor in the School of Environment. He has a track record of activism against action on climate change that stretches back two decades. Here, for the poor misled readers of the new Herald‘s opinion pages is a handy, cut-out-and-keep guide to de Freitas’ long history of climate denial activism.

This long list is far from complete — not least because it doesn’t include all the sceptic nonsense he’s presented as opinion at the NZ Herald and National Business Review over the years3, but it should serve to give a flavour of the man that Herald readers might think was a humble and respectable geographer at the University of Auckland.

The Herald has no excuse for failing to explain de Freitas’ interests in this issue, and should print a clarification as soon as possible. Carrying a good piece by Brian Rudman may “balance” CdF’s effort in some eyes, but the paper really needs to do better. What next? An opinion piece criticising the Labour party by prime minister John Key, where he is described as “a retired banker”?

[Updated 13/9 to add CEI link, and CdF's publication record.]

  1. “Temperature trends detected are small, usually just a few tenths of one degree Celsius over 100 years, a rate that is exceeded by the data’s standard error. Statistically this means the trend is indistinguishable from zero.” []
  2. It didn’t. []
  3. A rough count suggests that since 1990 he has published around 77 opinion
    pieces about climate change – with 32 in NBR and 27 in the Herald – partial publication record here. []

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Ian Forrester September 13, 2012 at 3:03 am

CdF has a brother who is a geologist active in the Alberta Oil patch. The two brothers were instrumental in setting up Fiends of Science in Calgary.

Shaquita September 15, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Is this the beginning of another malicious and vindictive attack on Chris de Freitas? It shouldn’t be too much trouble as you can just regurgitate the spiteful, vitriolic and downright nasty comments from your previous campaigns against him.
In the past you have demanded that he be sacked from his position as associate professor at University of Auckland.
Personally, I find Chris’ small articles guarded and carefully crafted to not cause controversy. As such, they lack interest so it seems your intimidation has worked and he is now too afraid to say what
he really thinks. Rather like speaking out about islam.
Not surprising as Global Warming is the New Religion.

bill September 15, 2012 at 10:43 pm


Richard Christie September 16, 2012 at 11:40 am

Yes Bill, but some compassion please.
It must be truly awful. I’ve sometimes wondered how empty some academics must feel when, as the twilight of their career looms, they begin to realise that they’ve backed the wrong horse over their entire working life.
A lifetime of work consigned to the trash basket of history. All that effort amounting to mere dust.

Thomas September 16, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Well, even for Chris there is still that “road to Damascus” possibility if he would recognize the evidence before us for what it is, and the probable welcome back to the real world that that might entail.

In fact within that he could make a rather powerful impact on the entire discussion given his personal and his families hinge pin status to a not insignificant part of the core of the denier circus. So it is really up to him to choose: sticking with his current track and experience what Richard expressed, or do what good scientists do: change his position at the weight of the evidence and be recognized for that.

Even Einstein defended positions for a long while that became later untenable. His ability to walk away from a wrong assumption and reconsider was part of his strength.

John Mashey September 17, 2012 at 4:44 am

Actually, I think it takes more than this.
If someone has been determinedly wrong for decades on such a topic, and suddenly reverses themselves by declaring “intellectual bankruptcy” do they suddenly become credible?
Or must they earn their way back to zero first by spending years doing useful work?

However, I think it is a moot point. I think those most active in climate anti-science will stay so to the end. Can you name any such who have publicly said “I goofed, I was really wrong for decades?” I study this stuff, and I can’t think of any offhand.

George September 17, 2012 at 7:33 am

Richard Muller — sort of?

Thomas September 17, 2012 at 7:37 am

Agreed, Chris’ ‘Damascene Conversion’ is rather unlikely to happen. But I think if it did it would contribute to us being able to leave the silly games behind and move towards real mitigation at such a critical time.

John Mashey September 17, 2012 at 7:41 am

Yes, I considered him as possible example, except as far as I know, he hasn’t ever retracted the comment about climate scientists, as per MIT Tech review.

Thomas September 16, 2012 at 8:00 am

Shaquita, you got that religion analogy backwards: The denial of observations and their logical implications, that is the hallmark of religion. It always has been that way!

Chris’ small articles were indeed carefully crafted to cause controversy. And o’dear, what might he ‘really’ think? Shudder….

Meanwhile, in the real world: The full impact of the 2012 warming and drought is becoming more horrendous by the day:

Rob Taylor September 16, 2012 at 1:55 am

Thank you for your comments, Mrs. de Freitas.
Hasn’t your boy done well for himself… he’s even in Wikipedia!

SimonP September 17, 2012 at 12:49 pm

To give the all new tabloid Herald some credit, their editorial today was pretty damning.

andyS September 17, 2012 at 1:55 pm

The editorial in the Herald claims that the “sceptics” have better PR than the “scientists”, yet they fail to mention that NIWA have engaged the PR firm Network PR to handle their affairs.

So where is the evidence that sceptics have better PR? What channels did they use, other than Richard Treadgold’s blog?

cyclone September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm

Andy S. You aren’t intersted in evidence. Stop pretending and f*** off.

[Pas devant les enfants, s'il vous plait. GR]]

Gareth September 17, 2012 at 3:05 pm

The High Court? Effectively guaranteeing themselves media coverage.

But in fact the whole apparatus of denial is run as a PR operation by US think tanks such as the Heartland Institute. If it was about science, they’d be doing research a and getting it published. But…

mustakissa September 17, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Having better PR resources doesn’t mean using them. In this case, they should have listened. Listening to legal resources would have been even better :-)

Andy, in criminal detection it is called the M.O., modus operandi. Obviously all somewhat skilled denialist debaters appearing in public have attended the same School of Denialist Rhetoric. Wherever it is and whoever is running it.

Mike Palin September 17, 2012 at 5:38 pm

I would not glory it that editorial. The NZH has it all wrong. First, the contrarians aren’t using a “professional communications approach”, they’re loudmouth idiots in an age when anybody gets a turn on stage. Second, if the court had ruled in their favour it would have meant absolutely nothing! Lawyers, judges, and juries and science are two mutually exclusive spheres. The fact that the NZH mention the CdF “opinion piece” (of what?) is proof that all they’re interested in is feeding the (apparent) conflict. At least the hardcopy could be used for fish-wrap.

bill September 17, 2012 at 1:57 pm

It could hardly have failed more comprehensively.

Ouch! No doubt the NZCBC* still imagines they’re winning, or they’re just about to, honestly, really, don’t listen to everyone else but us, it just isn’t trooooooo, etc…. though.

Speaking of which – seen these? Still wow!

*NZ Confirmation Bias Coalition

bill September 17, 2012 at 2:50 pm
cindy September 17, 2012 at 6:59 pm

I’ve heard from a number of sources inside the paper that the NZ Herald editors get harangued on the phone by the deniers. Perhaps we had all better start calling the editors like these guys do?

Incidentally, the NY Times ran an interesting piece on He-said-she-said journalism today. I’d like the Herald editors to read this.

But today’s editorial is finally getting around to something halfway decent. If they really want someone to comment on climate science in their columns, why don’t they go to Auckland Uni and find a *real* climate scientist to do it?

SimonP September 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm

Hassling the Herald editor would be pretty counter-productive. The septics might get more traction through the Fairfax media, now that Gina Rinehart is on the board and determined to manipulate editorial content.

Thomas September 18, 2012 at 6:14 am

“Septics” … one of the rare coincidences when spell checker malfunctions provide fortuitous enhancements to the original…. ;-)

andyS September 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm

“Septic” is cockney rhyming slang for American
Septic Tank = Yank, get it?

cindy September 18, 2012 at 4:51 pm

@simonP – well, I’ve heard on very good authority that that’s exactly what the sceptics all do – they harangue the editors until they run a denier piece. Editors have specifically said they run these pieces just to shut them up.

Rob Taylor September 18, 2012 at 6:00 pm

One hopes that the High Court result will help editors see these people for who they really are: the dim, deluded and dyspeptic, like the poster on Climate Conversation who had this “explanation” for the observed rise in global temperatures:

Ignorance is acceptable, Rob. Science progresses steadily, but not all things are known.

Rob Taylor September 20, 2012 at 12:51 pm

Newsflash! The reality-challenged “Bob D.”, who made the above comment on Treadgold’s blog, turns out to be none other than M. O. Dedekind, the NZCSET’s “statistical expert”!

The fun starts here:

andyS September 20, 2012 at 1:01 pm

“Newsflash” only for those who are so slow that they didn’t figure this out months ago

Richard Christie September 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Andy Scrase, you well know how sock puppets and aliases can mask identity, for a while at least.

andyS September 20, 2012 at 5:07 pm

Richard Christie
Bob was not trying to hide his identity, neither am I

[Snip. GR]

John Mashey September 18, 2012 at 5:26 pm

See What to do about poor science reporting,
(Sorry for formatting: the old SciBlogs was broken badly when it got taken over.)

It does little good to complain about the press on blogs. If you want something to get better, you have to engage, but do not expect overnight miracles. Some people here understand this.

Tony September 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

Not to be outdone, another myopic written by none other than our favourite expert Ken Ring:

Unlike Chris DeF who is knowlingly mischievous, I suspect that in Ken Ring it is just a case of dum and dummer.

Thomas September 21, 2012 at 8:02 pm

… read the comments under Kens writ…. Ken sure is the Pied Piper of the dumb brigade… :-?

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