The Listener joins the attack

“…serious and growing questions over the standards and credibility of the international body whose job it is to determine the scientific truths about climate change.” 

The Listener is not going to be left out.  Ruth Laugesen writes in the current issue that “probes by a variety of international media have uncovered a smattering of poorly based and even shonky assertions” in the IPCC reports.  By the time she comes to list them later in her article they have become “potential inaccuracies”. The list is familiar enough.  First is the Himalayan glacier melt rate, which has been acknowledged by the IPCC as a regrettable error.  Of the other four, two track back to Jonathan Leake at the Sunday Times – dubbed Amazongate and Africagate – and both have been shown up as lacking any substance by Tim Lambert here and here. Another refers to the mistaken statement that 55% of the Netherlands is below sea level when the correct figure is 26%, yet Laugesen acknowledges that this relied on a figure supplied by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. The remaining item concerns the reliability of data from weather stations in East China used in a research paper by Phil Jones and others published in Nature in 1990. Jones has reasonably responded to the accusation of fraud here.


Against the massive and impressive IPCC reports these are all matters of negligible substance, as anyone who has cast an eye over the reports would immediately recognise.  Only one of them reveals a clear failure to observe the processes and standards expected of the IPCC authors.  It is absurd to suggest that they add up to serious and growing questions.  All they add up to is a demonstration of how savagely determined climate change deniers are to cast doubts on climate science by whatever means they can find.  Is it too much to ask that a staff writer for the Listener treat her “international media” with more caution?  Journalists around the world seem to be engaged in an operation where you simply pass on something you have read about climate science in another publication without feeling the need to check on its initial reliability.  The more this happpens the more the story becomes entrenched. And the longer the public is left thinking there may be some deep uncertainty about human-caused climate change. The abdication of intellectual responsibility is alarming.

And it’s not only journalists who are letting the public down. Depressingly, and I wish I could add surprisingly, Climate Change Minister Nick Smith when questioned by Laugesen has chosen not to deny the notion that the IPCC report is untrustworthy.  “It does raise questions – if those parts of the report have mistakes in them, what about the rest of the report?…The reality is that governments respond to the mood of the public. And the fact that there are errors in the IPCC report is of concern.”

He says that the errors will be one reason for the government being “a bit more cautious” on climate change policy.  How much more cautious can the government get without giving up on the issue altogether?  If Smith is taking his lead from the mood of the public he should not be occupying the post of Climate Change Minister.  He has access to expert scientific advice.  He should be telling the public how serious the situation is, not letting their mood be determined by superficial journalism.

He even has the nerve to advise the 16 NZ scientists involved in the IPCC process that “it is better to pursue quality than quantity.”

Thankfully Laugesen includes comments from NIWA’s chief climate scientist, David Wratt, NZ’s representative on the 31-member IPCC governing bureau.  He introduces a note of sanity into the article. One hopes the Listener readership is sophisticated enough to see with whom the truth lies, but journalists certainly aren’t making it easy.

30 thoughts on “The Listener joins the attack”

  1. It’s tempting to make up a list of errors in the Listener and play that back at them! 🙂

    You’d like to think that they’d defend themselves with something like, “we make the odd error, but the overall standing is high.”

  2. “If Smith is taking his lead from the mood of the public he should not be occupying the post of Climate Change Minister. He has access to expert scientific advice.”

    Interesting insight. Remind me again, is the mood of the public important in a democratic society?

    “He should be telling the public how serious the situation is”

    If the public do not agree with the policy the Minister should tell them why it is good for them and do it anyway?

    “Not letting their mood be determined by superficial journalism.”

    The Minister should not let journalism determine public mood?? I think there is precedent for this attitude, Goebbels can offer you some good quotes here.

    Gareth likes using song lyrics in posts, and I enjoy this aspect of his writing, so here is one for you, “Let you true colours shine”, you have certainly done that in this passage!

  3. C3P0, I thought it was the job of elected leaders to lead, rather than pander to the ill-informed and the ignorant.

    Meanwhile, its just another 21st century day, as residents of Madeira drown in liquid mud from an unprecedented weather bomb and Washington digs out from record snowfalls – two more signs that the atmosphere can now hold more water than it could last century.

    Why do you think that is, C3P0?

      1. C3P0, your comment is a transparent attempt to introduce a straw man argument.

        Of course weather extremes have occurred throughout history, but it is the long-term trend that is against us now; here is a well-balanced article from the UK Met Office on the topic:

        “extreme events arise when natural variations in the weather and climate combine with long-term climate change.”

        1. Rob, please, you are the one that claimed the Madeira ‘weather bomb’ was ‘unprecedented’. All I am asking is that you show just a little bit of evidence for this claim. I am sorry this troubles you.

          Interesting link you post, the first sentance explains exactly what you are doing;

          “News headlines vie for attention and it is easy for scientists to grab this attention by linking climate change to the latest extreme weather event or apocalyptic prediction.”

          I simply took your words literally, googled ‘1910 natural disasters’ and looked at what I could find. If many of these events happened today you would blame them on ‘climate change’.

          1. Like it or not though C3P0 this is going to be where the climate change debate is won for those who support the AGW argument.
            It’s always been just a matter of time…(and, unfortunately, lives).
            A bit more thought going into what we’ll do when that happens would profit us all many time more than the continued arguing over an inevitability.

            1. But human survival is not; we are behaving like children playing with a box of matches in a fireworks factory, and our descendants will have to live (or die) with the inevitable consequences.

          2. I simply took your words literally

            You mean, you interpreted them in a particular way which you could then negate. That’s called making a straw-man argument. But weather events in the Carribean or Ohio in 1910 are in no way a precedent to this event.

            Madeira’s floods were “the worst floods to hit any part of Portugal in a century“. It’s probably safe to say that the rainfall observed is unprecedented on that particular island in recorded history.

            Oh wait, what am I saying? Of course this event has a precedent. Why, just three weeks ago in ‘nearby’ Tenerife. Well done for spotting the flaw C3P0! Contributing to the debate as always.

            1. Sorry C3P0, I confess to being extremely limited where the technicalities are concerned, relying on Gareth for instructions when I move outside the narrow range of normal operation. What is the message of the picture, by the way?

            2. Well, to me the suggested inference is clear – that floods in Northernmost Western Europe in the past, that they serve as a precedent to the floods in an island off the coast of Africa. Hey, they’re both officially Europe, right?

              There is little doubting that this is an unusual weather pattern. From Wikipedia:

              These storms have been bolstered by an unusually strong temperature contrast of the sea surface across the Atlantic Ocean. Abnormally warm waters have been widespread off West Africa whereas relatively cold surface waters have stretched between western Europe and the southeastern United States.

              I think though if you compared the rate of rainfall between these two events that you could see that there is a large difference between them.

              But that’s OK, if you look back and widely far enough, you can justify any conclusion. That seems to be the point of Soon et al (2003)

            3. Sam, Rob said 100 years, so weent back exactly 100 years. That is not ‘look[ing] back widely far enough’.

              There are plenty of worse floods I could find if I did that. My point is any given year in history has had extreme weather events occur somewhere in the world. Obviously not in the same location everytime.

  4. C3P0 You’re welcome to see my true colours. It is my view that the public is not hearing what science is saying. They are not hearing it partly because denialism is working hard to stifle the message. If you’re wanting to throw accusations of propaganda around that’s your target. They are also not hearing it partly because a good number of journalists don’t seem to be up to the task of communicating it. And partly because a good number of politicians are too pusillanimous to pass on the message or unwilling to take the effort to understand it. And perhaps partly because they understandably don’t want to hear it. You may be happy to be guided by public opinion polls under such circumstances, but I’m not, and I’ll keep sounding the alarm.

    For your information, anti-fascism has been one of the guiding principles of my life from my now distant youth.

  5. “He [Nick Smith] has access to expert scientific advice”.

    I have a letter from the Hon gentleman in which he assures me his expert advice comes from the IPCC. But, if they’ve got it wrong, then he is obviously being subjected to bad and inexpert advice.

    How is he to know who is right, when the IPCC is being criticised? Ask Hot Topic? Or the NZ members of IPCC?

  6. Australis. The IPCC haven’t got it wrong, as I tried to make clear in my post. Their report of the immense amount of science that had been done up until their close-off time is sound and overwhelming. The criticisms that are being given such an airing by elements of the media are minor and in many cases without basis. Smith ought to know this. And if he can’t see it for himself there are plenty of scientists to hand in New Zealand to explain it. His counterpart in the UK, Ed Miliband, has been quite explicit: ” I think it would be wrong that when a mistake is made it’s somehow used to undermine the overwhelming picture that’s there” Smith could and should have said something like that to the Listener.

  7. RealClimate says it best:


    It won’t have escaped many of our readers’ notice that there has been what can only be described as a media frenzy (mostly in the UK) with regards to climate change in recent weeks. The coverage has contained more bad reporting, misrepresentation and confusion on the subject than we have seen in such a short time anywhere. While the UK newspaper scene is uniquely competitive (especially compared to the US with over half a dozen national dailies selling in the same market), and historically there have been equally frenzied bouts of mis-reporting in the past on topics as diverse as pit bulls, vaccines and child abductions, there is something new in this mess that is worth discussing. And that has been a huge shift in the Overton window for climate change.

    In any public discussion there are bounds which people who want to be thought of as having respectable ideas tend to stay between. This is most easily seen in health care debates. In the US, promotion of a National Health Service as in the UK or a single-payer system as in Canada is so far outside the bounds of normal health care politics, that these options are only ever brought up by ‘cranks’ (sigh). Meanwhile in the UK, discussions of health care delivery solutions outside of the NHS framework are never heard in the mainstream media. This limit on scope of the public debate has been called the Overton window.

    The window does not have to remain static. Pressure groups and politicians can try and shift the bounds deliberately, or sometimes they are shifted by events. That seems to have been the case in the climate discussion. Prior to the email hack at CRU there had long been a pretty widespread avoidance of ‘global warming is a hoax’ proponents in serious discussions on the subject. The sceptics that were interviewed tended to be the slightly more sensible kind – people who did actually realise that CO2 was a greenhouse gas for instance. But the GW hoaxers were generally derided, or used as punchlines for jokes. This is not because they didn’t exist and weren’t continually making baseless accusations against scientists (they did and they were), but rather that their claims were self-evidently ridiculous and therefore not worth airing.

    However, since the emails were released, and despite the fact that there is no evidence within them to support any of these claims of fraud and fabrication, the UK media has opened itself so wide to the spectrum of thought on climate that the GW hoaxers have now suddenly find themselves well within the mainstream. Nothing has changed the self-evidently ridiculousness of their arguments, but their presence at the media table has meant that the more reasonable critics seem far more centrist than they did a few months ago.

    A few examples: Monckton being quoted as a ‘prominent climate sceptic’ on the front page of the New York Times this week (Wow!); The Guardian digging up baseless fraud accusations against a scientist at SUNY that had already been investigated and dismissed; The Sunday Times ignoring experts telling them the IPCC was right in favor of the anti-IPCC meme of the day; The Daily Mail making up quotes that fit their GW hoaxer narrative; The Daily Express breathlessly proclaiming the whole thing a ‘climate con’; The Sunday Times (again) dredging up unfounded accusations of corruption in the surface temperature data sets. All of these stories are based on the worst kind of oft-rebunked nonsense and they serve to make the more subtle kind of scepticism pushed by Lomborg et al seem almost erudite.

    Perhaps this is driven by editors demanding that reporters come up with something new (to them) that fits into an anti-climate science theme that they are attempting to stoke. Or perhaps it is driven by the journalists desperate to maintain their scoop by pretending to their editors that this nonsense hasn’t been debunked a hundred times already? Who knows? All of these bad decisions made easier when all of the actually sensible people, or people who know anything about the subject at all, are being assailed on all sides, and aren’t necessarily keen to find the time to explain, once again, that yes, the world is warming.

    So what is likely to happen now? As the various panels and reports on the CRU affair conclude, it is highly likely (almost certain in fact) that no-one will conclude that there has been any fraud, fabrication or scientific misconduct (since there hasn’t been). Eventually, people will realise (again) that the GW hoaxers are indeed cranks, and the mainstream window on their rants will close. In the meantime, huge amounts of misinformation, sprinkled liberally with plenty of disinformation, will be spread and public understanding on the issue will likely decline. As the history of the topic has shown, public attention to climate change comes and goes and this is likely to be seen as the latest bump on that ride.

    1. In answer to your more recent comment Rob (above) I’m increasingly of the view that we need to take a longer viewpoint on the issue. Yep the kids are playing with matches in the fireworks factory and yep it’s unlikely to end well.
      Sometimes it happens; just as C3P0 says the weather does (thanks for that one – personally I tend to think “weather” exists in the “now” and thereby doesn’t actually “happen” and therefore isn’t at all inevitable).
      Haven’t you already proven to your own satisfaction that telling them not to isn’t stopping them?
      Shouldn’t we be laying the groundwork for what happens after pendulum of opinion swings back? At some point there is going to be a catastrophic, probably AGW assisted, weather event that will make any IPCC report totally irrelevant. Thats when you teach the kids (remaining) not to play with matches.

      1. Maybe, but it could well be too late by then – not unlike waiting for Hitler to invade Poland, when you and your family are Polish Jews.

        Better to raise the alarm early and often, if the alternative is a one-way trip to the ovens.

        1. A perfectly good analogy; and that’s what happened to those who raised the alarm “early and often” and most of those that did not. Some however saw the big picture and moved; albeit most could not. Regardless we hope there was some learning involved.
          I think my point is, using the same analogy, thank those who built the UK’s coastal radar whilst others spoke of both warnings and peace in our time. At the end of the day that’s what saved the day.

  8. Rob, yes, realclimate has been good on this. See also this post:

    “Overall then, the IPCC assessment reports reflect the state of scientific knowledge very well. There have been a few isolated errors, and these have been acknowledged and corrected. What is seriously amiss is something else: the public perception of the IPCC, and of climate science in general, has been massively distorted by the recent media storm. All of these various “gates” – Climategate, Amazongate, Seagate, Africagate, etc., do not represent scandals of the IPCC or of climate science. Rather, they are the embarrassing battle-cries of a media scandal, in which a few journalists have misled the public with grossly overblown or entirely fabricated pseudogates, and many others have naively and willingly followed along without seeing through the scam. It is not up to us as climate scientists to clear up this mess – it is up to the media world itself to put this right again…”

  9. C3P0, before you get too excited about the latest piece of savagery from the Wall Street Journal, may I remind you of what I reported economist Jeffrey Sachs as saying about that publication’s editorial pages? In the article I reported he makes no fewer than three references to them.

    ” The authors [of the forthcoming book by Oreskes and Conway] show that the same group of mischief-makers, given a platform by the free-market ideologues of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, has consistently tried to confuse the public and discredit the scientists whose insights are helping to save the world from unintended environmental harm.”

    A little later:
    “But then I recalled that this line of attack — charging a scientific conspiracy to drum up “business” for science — was almost identical to that used by The Wall Street Journal and others in the past, when they fought controls on tobacco, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoke, and other dangerous pollutants. In other words, their arguments were systematic and contrived, not at all original to the circumstances.”

    And finally:
    “When the emails and the IPCC error were brought to light, editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal launched a vicious campaign describing climate science as a hoax and a conspiracy.”

    You may be impressed by the Wall Street Journal, but this latest piece that you have seized on is just another example of how right Sachs has got it. It is the same mix of grossly inflated and often baseless claims that is doing the rounds I describe in this current post, and it is in the servicve of big money as this clear giveaway sentence from it makes all too apparent: “…3,000 pages that now turn out to be less scientific truth than political cover for sweeping economic regulations.”

  10. Denialofascism is even worse in the US, where the crazies own guns and make our home-grown cranks appear gentlemanly in comparison.

    How long will it be before the rabid right is calling for the execution of climate scientists, as they have long done for doctors providing abortion services?

    “Fast forward to December 2009, when I gave a talk at the Progressive Forum in Houston Texas. The organizers there felt it necessary that I have a police escort between my hotel and the forum where I spoke. Days earlier bloggers reported that I was probably the hacker who broke into East Anglia computers and stole e-mails. Their rationale: I was not implicated in any of the pirated e-mails, so I must have eliminated incriminating messages before releasing the hacked e- mails. The next day another popular blog concluded that I deserved capital punishment”.
    – Dr. James Hansen

  11. Which raises a point I made to the head of the carboNZero programme recently which was the rapidly increasing politicizing of climate change. In line with earlier comments of mine on this blog we are witnessing the continued deterioration of “communication” and as a result can expect to experience increasing difficulty establishing public consensus. Tie that in with your own coments on Nick Smith recently and you’ll understand why this is so very serious; and likely to end badly.

Leave a Reply