TV3 needs to take stock

Keisha Castle-HughesTV3 news hit one of its lows last night.  Reporter and presenter Samantha Hayes was in Aitutaki in the Cook Islands for the visit of Greenpeace’s ship the Esmeralda on its Pacific climate impact tour, with Sign On ambassador Keisha Castle Hughes on board [Greenpeace release]. I was watching the news item with interest when I thought I heard the reporter saying “while the science is far from settled…”.  Since my hearing is not reliable I checked on the TV3 news website.  I had heard aright.  Here is the full sentence: “While the science is far from settled, Greenpeace is convinced that Aitutaki is on the front line of climate change.”

I shot off an angry comment to TV3 without too much reflection.  I’ve been wondering since how a news programme as significant as TV3’s could think it proper to include a caveat like that in the middle of their report, and decided to write a post on it.  As I was under way an email arrived from the producer John Hale in reply to my comment.  It answered my wondering. He referred to the significant body of informed opinion that disagrees with my position, and went on to say that 3news is not a vehicle for either lobby, but is expected to be balanced, fair and accurate.  So there it is.  The 3news team are still labouring under the impression that there is a serious scientific debate about the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and they must reflect that in their reporting. 

One wonders how much longer journalists will carry on with this misapprehension, which is really just ignorance, not to say intellectual laziness.  Is there no one in the news team there who has done enough reading to be aware of the overwhelming weight of scientific opinion?  Do they perhaps just rely on web searches which obligingly produce any number of denialist websites? 

It is a sobering reminder of how successful the denialist movement has been in muddying the issue, and of how vulnerable journalism is to their tactics.  I can apppreciate the pressure journalists may feel under, but I am impatient at the failure of major news organisations to develop enough independent understanding to know when they are being deceived.  For heaven’s sake, I think, do some reading, or at least take seriously the information that the world’s major scientific bodies endorse the findings of climate science.  Does 3news regard them as a lobby to be set alongside the NZ Climate Science Coalition?   Or does it just not know anything about the world of science?  It needs to take stock of itself in this matter.

[Gareth adds: TV3 could — and should — take a leaf out of the BBC’s book. In this careful and nuanced consideration of how notions of balance apply to this issue, BBC correspondents Roger Harrabin and Richard Black explain:

Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC it makes sense for us to focus our coverage on the consensus that climate change is happening, is serious, but is manageable if tackled urgently.
We do not need consistently to ‘balance’ the reports of the IPCC. When we broadcast outlying views we should make sure we do not over represent them and we should keep a rough balance of views from either side of the IPCC. If we do not, we will distort the issue and risk misleading or confusing our audience.

That was written in 2007.]

31 thoughts on “TV3 needs to take stock”

  1. I heard that and was taken aback too. I was charitable and decided that they had meant it wasn’t clear that Aitutaki in particular was being affected (yet) but your correspondence has put paid to that idea.

    If it didn’t matter so much it would be funny to note just how like creationists the denialsts are. For them to win all they have to do is create the impression of a debate (make some fancy sounding organizations, have meetings, make a list of vaguely credentialed deniers…) so journos, who instinctively want to present the other side, add so called balance and the lay-reader gets think perhaps the scientists isn’t quite so settled and (perhaps) the politicians can get away with inaction for another round.

  2. News article on Wall St. Journal site:
    with an Aussie connection.

    The first few paragraphs give the outline of the article:
    Steve Fielding recently asked the Obama administration to reassure him on the science of man-made global warming. When the administration proved unhelpful, Mr. Fielding decided to vote against climate-change legislation.

    If you haven’t heard of this politician, it’s because he’s a member of the Australian Senate. As the U.S. House of Representatives prepares to pass a climate-change bill, the Australian Parliament is preparing to kill its own country’s carbon-emissions scheme. Why? A growing number of Australian politicians, scientists and citizens once again doubt the science of human-caused global warming.

    Among the many reasons President Barack Obama and the Democratic majority are so intent on quickly jamming a cap-and-trade system through Congress is because the global warming tide is again shifting. It turns out Al Gore and the United Nations (with an assist from the media), did a little too vociferous a job smearing anyone who disagreed with them as “deniers.” The backlash has brought the scientific debate roaring back to life in Australia, Europe, Japan and even, if less reported, the U.S.

    In April, the Polish Academy of Sciences published a document challenging man-made global warming. In the Czech Republic, where President Vaclav Klaus remains a leading skeptic, today only 11% of the population believes humans play a role. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to tap Claude Allegre to lead the country’s new ministry of industry and innovation. Twenty years ago Mr. Allegre was among the first to trill about man-made global warming, but the geochemist has since recanted. New Zealand last year elected a new government, which immediately suspended the country’s weeks-old cap-and-trade program.

    The number of skeptics, far from shrinking, is swelling. Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe now counts more than 700 scientists who disagree with the U.N. — 13 times the number who authored the U.N.’s 2007 climate summary for policymakers. Joanne Simpson, the world’s first woman to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, expressed relief upon her retirement last year that she was finally free to speak “frankly” of her nonbelief. Dr. Kiminori Itoh, a Japanese environmental physical chemist who contributed to a U.N. climate report, dubs man-made warming “the worst scientific scandal in history.” Norway’s Ivar Giaever, Nobel Prize winner for physics, decries it as the “new religion.” A group of 54 noted physicists, led by Princeton’s Will Happer, is demanding the American Physical Society revise its position that the science is settled. (Both Nature and Science magazines have refused to run the physicists’ open letter.)

    The collapse of the “consensus” has been driven by reality. The inconvenient truth is that the earth’s temperatures have flat-lined since 2001, despite growing concentrations of C02. Peer-reviewed research has debunked doomsday scenarios about the polar ice caps, hurricanes, malaria, extinctions, rising oceans. A global financial crisis has politicians taking a harder look at the science that would require them to hamstring their economies to rein in carbon.

    Credit for Australia’s own era of renewed enlightenment goes to Dr. Ian Plimer, a well-known Australian geologist. Earlier this year he published “Heaven and Earth,” a damning critique of the “evidence” underpinning man-made global warming. The book is already in its fifth printing. So compelling is it that Paul Sheehan, a noted Australian columnist — and ardent global warming believer — in April humbly pronounced it “an evidence-based attack on conformity and orthodoxy, including my own, and a reminder to respect informed dissent and beware of ideology subverting evidence.” Australian polls have shown a sharp uptick in public skepticism; the press is back to questioning scientific dogma; blogs are having a field day.

    … And it goes on.

    I just love to see the press attack “scientific dogma” – when they were so happy to say that global warming was a “fringe idea” that was “outside the consensus of scientists” when it was still being debated.

    The comments from the readers is even more fun – one fellow stated that the eco-crazies ought to be “put down” a common expression for what you do with a rabid dog…

    I would be happy to see a point by point argument against this article…

    1. I think I’ll leave that to someone in the US… 😉

      You might want to check the comments to the top post (Bubkes) at RealClimate, as that WSJ article has certainly been mentioned there.

      But I have say to that it’s difficult to do a point by point rebuttal of wishful thinking…

      1. Thanks, Gareth.

        Had a look at RealClimate too, and there was one interesting article written by one of the moderators, expressing frustration at the kind of tactics used by the denialist community – exasperation at the amount of time spent arguing at the same old tired arguments, instead of reporting on the science, and trying to figure out what is the most useful course…



  3. Did KCH manage to discover the mystery isles that have been evacuated to NZ as a result of GW, that Gore revealed in the Inconvenient Truth?

  4. Let us assume that Al Gore was wrong on the island evacuation issue (I think that he certainly overstated the point). Does that invalidate the conclusions of the IPCC or the more recent Copenhagen conference?

    No it doesn’t.

    At most it proves that Al Gore made a mistake in his documentary. One which did not invalidate the film’s general conclusions or its overall representation of the science at the time it was made.

    For that matter neither does his personal energy usage habits or his political afflitations (all of which are irrelevant).

    I still await some science from these so called climate science skeptics.

  5. I too heard that comment and nearly fell out of my chair in disgust! I also wrote an angry email to TV3 asking them to consider reading the science before they made such stupid comments. Contrasting this was the excellent interview by Chris Laidlaw on Sunday Morning with Robert Watson, Chief Scientific Advisor in the UK Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs. I referred TV3 to that interview, suggesting that it was a far more informative and fact based piece of journalism and a model for them for the future.

  6. Lol. So much anger, over what? Is the science really settled?

    Well if you show us the paper Gareth that proves global warming is anthropogenic, hypothesis testing the null to lower than 0.05, then …..

    1. How many planets do you have to spare for the experiment, R2?

      The onus is really on you. We understand the physics of greenhouse gases – have done for 150 years. We can see atmospheric CO2 increasing and know where it came from, and we observe the planet getting warmer. So, please, explain why the basic physics is wrong.

      I won’t hold my breath.

  7. Lol again. Gareth……

    I take your comments to mean no such paper exists. When backed into a corner the boxer comes out swinging.

    How many planets do I have? How can I prove it?

    You seem to have missed the STAT101 lesson on null hypothesis. Yes CO2 reflects radiation. Yes CO2 has increased. The connection with climate is not proven. The lack of connection is also not proven. Since neither is proven, the null hypothesis can not be rejected.

    The null hypothesis is of course that there is no relationship. You have said the science is settled, not me. You must prove, to a 95% hypothesis test, that the null hypothesis is not true. This hasn’t been done. The science is not settled, so stop whining to TV3.

      1. Nice. You miss the point.

        “Best available evidence” does not equal “Science is settled”.

        Read the thread again. Never do I say AGW is false. I say it isn’t proven. And the science is not settled. I feel the channel 3 comment was justified. Whether one or the other is better is irrelevant.

        Random question: is that Carl Schortz in that photo?

        1. R2, there is no point you are making which I am missing. The scientific consensus has long been achieved – the major peer reviewed science journals in the world are unanimous on this. I used to think that style of argument could hold weight, too – then I read Spencer Weart’s book The Discovery of Global Warming and saw just how robust the AGW science really is.

          And no, I’ve never heard of that person.

  8. And you seem to have missed out basic physics. We are not testing statistical probabilities. We have a chain of physical relationships, predicted by theory (to the quantum level), observed in practice.

    You assert otherwise. Where’s the proof of that? You need damn good evidence before the rest of the world tries to rewrite basic physics…

  9. You are upset someone said the science is not settled. The scientific way to prove a theory is to do a hypothesis test. This has not been done. Ergo the science isn’t settled.

    Do not confuse this with the debate for global action etc, you can admit the science is not settled.

    1. For the nth time…
      “The science”, in the sense of understanding the drivers of change, the measured existence of change, and the likely future course of change, is settled. We know who dunnit, and we know that if we do nothing it will be extremely damaging.
      “The science” in the sense of having a perfect understanding of the climate system is not “settled” and never will be, because perfect knowledge of such a complex system is neither obtainable on reasonable timescales, or even necessary.
      We act on the basis of imperfect knowledge all the time, and this time, we know enough to act.
      The concern in this case is that a major media organisation has not taken the time or trouble to familiarise itself with the balance of understanding on this issue, and so misrepresents it in a way that misleads the public. That isn’t fair, balanced, or accurate, and so they deserve the criticism they’re receiving here.

      1. Robert Watson puts a figure of greater than 90% confidence on the climate system science. I think this is where R2 is making his point. (ie it’s not yet at the 95% confidence level!) I’m sure Robert Watson didn’t pull that figure out of his hat R2. So yes the climate system is maybe not settled to the “almost certain” that R2 demands, but it is stretching a very long bow to say that it is “far from settled” – “Highly likely” does not equal “far from settled”.
        Your argument that this certainty is beyond the point stands.

  10. R2 – the outcome of a null hypothesis significance test tells us the chance that we are wrong to reject the null hypothesis – it doesn’t provide ‘proof’ of any (specific) alternative hypothesis.

    In any event, null hypothesis significance testing, although a useful tool in many branches of science, isn’t some magical method for establishing cause and effect relationships. To do that you need to do experiments – and often as not in the physical sciences you don’t need much in the way of ‘stats’ to tell you what those experiments show.

  11. “3news is not a vehicle for either lobby, but is expected to be balanced, fair and accurate”

    Interesting. The statement that the science is far from settled is straight from the denialists’ song sheet. Not a vehicle for either lobby, huh?

  12. R2 I refer you to Robert Watsons interview with Chris Laidlaw available on podcast at He actually raises the issue of probabilities there. But then you probably don’t want to know what a past chairman of the IPPC says.

  13. Gareth, Macro, Stephen, (again for the nth time also)

    Listened to the interview, also saw him speak on Friday in Wellington.

    He says no doubt CO2 has been influenced, no doubt temperature has changed, and “the scientists would now would say it is greater than 90% confidence” (former leader of the IPCC). I agree but would add, ‘some’ before the word scientists.

    This thread is not about more or less likely, this issue is the phrase “the science is settled” (or “while the science is far from settled”).

    In essence Gareth and others are claiming here that the science is proven beyond 95%. This is out of line with Robert Watson. Robert Watson’s comments are also an opinion. Although he is a prominent person he can not settle the science by making statements on Radio NZ. Studies need to be done to prove this before this comment can be made.

    And like Gareth says, ““The science” in the sense of having a perfect understanding of the climate system is not “settled” and never will be, because perfect knowledge of such a complex system is neither obtainable on reasonable timescales, or even necessary.”

    I agree. The debate to act / not act is separate. But don’t rubbish others for saying the science is “far from settled” when you have in essence agreed with that opinion Gareth!

  14. R2, you lack a sufficient grasp of the science to back that up. You are in any event wrong.

    nd, just to note that the piece you quoted was not a news article. It was an op-ed, and isn’t anything to worry about since it’s clear to U.S. opinion leaders that the WSJ editorial page just preaches to the wingnut faithful.

    1. Marco: Am I being pedantic? This post is criticising journalists who say the science is not settled. Maybe this post is padantic and I am simply trying to keep the author honest? This post is justified by a link to Wikipedia. Settled does not mean “we know enough to act”, as Gareth put it in his comment. And “Given the weight of opinion building up around the IPCC” as Gareth quotes the BBC – sorry science and opinion are not the same.

      Sorry if I am being pedantic. But there is a big difference to me.

      I am not trying to say the whole thing is fake, but it is obvious to TV3 news and the rest of the country the science is “far from settled”.

      Steve Bloom: You are confused like usual. The quotes was from
      a) radio interview Macro directed me to with Robert Watson (DEFRA, former IPCC chairman)
      b) Gareths comments from this post.

      Not Wall Street Journal. Which according to you is a wingnut paper? I guess you justify your world view by disregarding everyone who disagrees with you as a wingnut (Gareth prefers the term Crank). What ever helps you sleep.

  15. “it is obvious to TV3 news and the rest of the country the science is ‘far from settled’. ”

    R2D2, all that is obvious to TV3 is that some groups deny the science of global warming. From this they draw the conclusion that the science is far from settled. They have offered me no indication that anyone in their news team has acquainted themselves with the science. You sneer at my Wikipedia link. I don’t know why. It was there to indicate the enormous weight of scientific opinion, against which TV3 are apparently happy to set denialist views which have simply not been able to establish themselves in the scientific mainstream.

    Some of your comments express surprise that we should be angry about the matter. It’s simple really. I said in my reply to John Hale: “This is much more than a matter of opinion so far as I am concerned. It is a life-and-death sort of question. Certainly well beyond an interesting debate.”

    By the way, is it necessary to your arguments that my honesty should be so frequently impugned? I can assure you there is no knowing dishonesty in what I write.

  16. How distracting from the real issues. How silly to continue to argue against science when it is clear to so many that we humans actually have an effect on the world, that that effect is often deleterious, and that there are actually many quite simple things that we can do to prevent ill effects.

    The real debate is what next. We humans are very clever at analysis of what is happening, not so clever at what to do about it. R2, you are continuing a line of argument that you must find at least a little boring by now, unless you are actually getting paid by the word. Surely you could dedicate some of your verbosity to the area of solutions, so that we can get along without pooping in each other’s nests quite so much…

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