DomPost denier debacle: science has the last word

The Dominion Post, which blotted its editorial copybook last week by publishing a factually incorrect and highly misleading opinion piece by climate denialists, has today published a heavyweight reply by three of NZ’s top climate scientists — David Wratt, Andy Reisinger and Jim Renwick ((David Wratt is an Emeritus Climate Scientist at NIWA, an Adjunct Professor in the NZ Climate Change Research Institute at Victoria University, and a Vice Chair of Working Group 1 of the IPCC. Andy Reisinger is Deputy Director (International) of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre and served as coordinating lead author in the most recent IPCC report. James Renwick is a Professor of Physical Geography at Victoria University of Wellington and served as a Lead Author on the last two IPCC Reports.)). Headed “Human role in climate change is clear”, the article is clear about climate reality:

Human influence on the climate system is clear and growing, and impacts are evident on all continents. If left unchecked, climate change will increase the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.

We do have options to reduce risks by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to some climate change, but time is running short if we want to limit changes to manageable levels. Ignoring or misconstruing the overwhelming evidence is not a responsible risk management strategy.

It’s not clear whether the DomPost plans any further response to the rubbish they printed from Bryan Leyland and Bob Carter, but the editorial team at the newspaper would do well to reflect on the approach to the subject adopted by Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, introducing an important new series of features in that paper:

For the purposes of our coming coverage, we will assume that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change and its likely effects is overwhelming. We will leave the skeptics and deniers to waste their time challenging the science. The mainstream argument has moved on to the politics and economics.

Precisely. Rusbridger — who is retiring after 20 years as editor — wants his newspaper to do justice…

…to this huge, overshadowing, overwhelming issue of how climate change will probably, within the lifetime of our children, cause untold havoc and stress to our species.
So, in the time left to me as editor, I thought I would try to harness the Guardian’s best resources to describe what is happening and what — if we do nothing — is almost certain to occur, a future that one distinguished scientist has termed as “incompatible with any reasonable characterisation of an organised, equitable and civilised global community”.

That’s what a real newspaper does: takes on the big issues. If the Dominion Post wants to be more than a Noddy book newspaper publishing rubbish from the intellectual heirs to Big Ears, it’s high time it took a sensible approach to the climate debate, and followed Rusbridger’s lead.

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25 ways the DomPost failed its readers by publishing Leyland and Carter’s climate crap

Carter with his Flat Earth society peers
Carter with his Flat Earth society peers
The Dominion Post, the newspaper of record for New Zealand’s capital city, today gave great prominence to an opinion piece by high profile climate denialists Bob Carter and Bryan Leyland titled Hypothetical global warming: scepticism needed ((On page A7 – opposite the leader. Not currently available on the web, but a scan has been posted on Twitter — see this comment below.)). It’s a “Gish Gallop” of untruths, half-truths and misrepresentations — a piece so riddled with deliberate errors and gross misrepresentations that it beggars belief that any quality newspaper would give it space.

I will deal with the factual errors in a moment, but the DomPost‘s lack of editorial judgement extends well beyond any failure to fact check the article. Carter and Leyland’s expertise on the issue is misrepresented. The newspaper’s readers are not given a true picture of their “standing”. They are in fact paid/sponsored propagandists, way out on the crank fringes. Here’s how Carter is credited.

Professor Bob Carter is an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of NZ. His expertise is in geology and paleoclimatology — deducing past climates from geological records. He has written several books on climate change.

All of that is true ((Except perhaps for the professorship. Carter has no current academic affiliation that I know of, so I wonder why the DomPost is granting him that status? Surely he wouldn’t have misrepresented himself to the paper?)), but it is far from a full picture. In fact, Carter has been a propagandist against action on climate change since the 1990s, with a history of paid work with and for far-right wing organisations in Australia and the USA – including being paid by the notorious Heartland Institute in the US to produce shoddy pseudo-academic publications. In the right wing Australian journal Quadrant, where links to right wing organisations obviously play well, Carter’s credit runs like this:

Bob Carter is an Emeritus Fellow of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and Chief Science Advisor to the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC).

The IPA campaigns against climate action, and Carter recently starred in its Climate: Change the facts tour around Australia promoting a new propaganda pamphlet. As an adviser to the ICSC — a group attempting to promote climate denial around the world, he works to:

“…directly educate the public about what science, engineering and economics are really concluding about climate change and the downside of misguided plans (e.g., wind turbines, “carbon sequestration”, etc.) to “solve the crisis”. This includes newspaper articles, letters to the editor, radio and TV interviews, public presentations, regular postings on our, and others’, Web sites and use of all forms of popular social media.”

In other words, Carter and Leyland managed to con the DomPost into playing along with their propaganda campaign.

The DomPost credits Leyland thus:

Bryan Leyland is an engineer specialising in renewable energy. He is an accredited reviewer for the IPCC and has contributed several articles on renewable energy technologies to overseas publications.

In fact, Leyland has a long track record of activism against action to reduce carbon emissions. He was a founder member of the NZ Climate Science Coalition and a trustee of the NZ Climate Science Education Trust — formed to bring a court action against NIWA’s handling of the national temperature record. When the case was lost, the trust was folded so that Leyland and his fellow trustees could avoid paying $90,000 of court-ordered costs.

Leyland is notorious in NZ media circles for his attempts to push climate denial. It beggars belief that the DomPost did not know about his track record, and went ahead with publishing an article under his name without prominently noting his role as an activist.

As propagandists, the product that Leyland and Carter are pushing is doubt — a tactic first used by the tobacco industry, but since refined by fossil fuel interests keen to avoid emissions cuts. Leyland and Carter “win” every time a mainstream media outlet gives their views credence by giving them prominence. Newspapers do not regularly provide platforms for cranks, but that is exactly what Leyland and Carter are, as we shall see in a moment.

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Danger Dedekind! Heartbreak Ahead (still wrong, still digging, NZ still warming fast)

Over last weekend, my post criticising the new paper by Chris de Freitas, Manfred “Bob” Dedekind and Barry Brill that claims warming in New Zealand’s temperature records is only one third of that calculated by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) attracted a flurry of attempted ripostes at Richard Treadgold’s Climate Conversation blog. One — by Bob Dedekind — sets out to be a rebuttal of my original post. Sadly for Bob and his co-authors, he has only managed to dig himself into an even deeper hole.

For the sake of the record, therefore, I have taken the time and trouble to deal with each of his points in detail. The results of my researches do not make pretty reading for De Freitas, Dedekind, Brill, or the editorial team, reviewers and publishers of Environmental Modelling and Assessment.

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TVNZ pushes Leyland’s climate lies

In an appalling lapse of editorial judgement, TVNZ has given notorious Climate “Science” Coalition propagandist Bryan Leyland four minutes of airtime this morning [TVNZ page removed: but available here.] to rubbish the work of the IPCC. Yes, that’s right, the nation’s public broadcaster presented a man way out on the crank fringe who has made a late-life career out climate denial, against one of the largest scientific undertakings of all time — the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report. The IPCC, lest we forget, warned yesterday that world faces “severe, pervasive and irreversible” damage from climate change unless we cut emissions steeply.

Leyland was allowed to lie about about computer models and modellers, present a shonky graph, claim that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was a “huge benefit” to agriculture, and completely misrepresent the scientific consensus on the reality of warming. The presenter, Rawdon Christie, did try a little scripted pushback early in the piece, but was woefully underprepared to deal with a Leyland obviously gleeful at his opportunity to spout nonsense to the nation.

Here a list of Leyland’s lies, roughly transcribed from the video:

“Everything’s based on computer models – they’re programmed to show warming”

No they’re not. One of the oldest climate lies on the block, and Leyland uses it shamelessly. Worse, he’s allowed to get away with it by a woefully underprepared presenter.

Models predicted warming and it hasn’t happened [with graphic ((Leyland’s shonky graph:

TVNZLeyland

It appears to be a thinly-disguised and uncredited reworking of a graph that first appeared in the Wall Street Journal in February of this year, accompanying an op-ed piece by John Christy — itself a tidying up of a long-debunked graph created by Roy Spencer.))]

Warming continues: ice melts, sea levels rise and oceans warm

No indications of rate increase in sea level rise

Sea level rise has accelerated, and is expected to accelerate further as warming continues and ice sheets disintegrate.

Computer modellers are a small group — everyone else just goes along with them.

Absolute nonsense. This is a childish and overtly conspiracist misrepresentation of reality.

We’re entering a cooling period.

Another piece of wild nonsense from Leyland, betraying his parlous relationship with reality, and allowed to pass unchallenged by the presenter.

Increasing CO2 has been a huge benefit to plant growth — “not doing us any harm”

More completely made-up nonsense, allowed to pass unchallenged by Christie.

None of this is unexpected from Leyland. He has a long track record of persuading the more gullible NZ media to give him a platform to mislead, misrepresent and play fast and loose with the facts. TVNZ must have been aware of his notoriety, which makes their decision to present him on screen as “a renewable energy expert” grossly misleading and very likely a breach of broadcasting standards ((Should you wish to make a complaint against the programme, you may do so here.)).

But the biggest editorial lapse of all was the decision to put him on the show at all. Leyland is a lonely man out on the crank fringes of climate denial. To suggest that he has any sort of valid view on the reality of climate change — to set him up against the work of thousands of scientists around the world and the entire NZ scientific community — was outrageous. Climate change is far too serious an issue for the planet for a responsible broadcaster to play silly false balance games. They must broadcast an immediate correction and apology, and in future treat the issue with the seriousness it deserves.

[Update 5pm: It appears TVNZ have pulled the video of Leyland’s interview and the accompanying news story from their site in response to the many formal and informal complaints they have received. However the full interview can be seen (for the time being, at least) on Youtube. And the TVNZ News Facebook post about Leyland’s interview is still there.]

NZ cranks finally publish an NZ temperature series – but their paper’s stuffed with errors

You can’t teach old dogs new tricks, it seems — certainly not if they’re gnawing a much loved old bone at the time. The lads from the NZ Climate Science Coalition — yes, the same boys who tried to sue NIWA over the New Zealand temperature record and lost, and who then folded a trust to avoid paying court-ordered costs — have finally found a learned journal gullible enough to accept and publish their shonky reworking of NZ’s temperature record. Earlier this month Environmental Modelling and Assessment published A Reanalysis of Long-Term Surface Air Temperature Trends in New Zealand by CR de Freitas & MO Dedekind & BE Brill (DOI 10.1007/s10666-014-9429-z).

My attention was drawn to dFDB 2014 by an NZCSC press release, and yesterday Richard Treadgold, the man who kicked off the whole sad affair five years ago, posted a disingenuous and misleading article about the paper at his blog. As you might expect given the authors, the paper does not call for an upward revision in the amount of warming NZ has experienced over the last century. The abstract concludes with the following:

Current New Zealand century-long climatology based on 1981 methods produces a trend of 0.91 °C per century. Our analysis, which uses updated measurement techniques and corrects for shelter-contaminated data, produces a trend of 0.28 °C per century.

As you might also expect, given the authors and their respective track records, the paper is riddled with schoolboy howlers and outright misrepresentations. It would probably never have seen the light of day without the assistance of Chris “Pal Reviewde Freitas and his undoubted ability to steer tosh to publication.

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