Shenanigans by the ABC

Tricky editing made us appear to say things contrary to what we actually said.

Lying-by-omission removed our data, our main arguments, and our best answers.

The Context

The ABC is the big taxpayer-funded broadcaster in Australia, like the BBC in Britain or the CBC in Canada. It‘s the largest media empire in the country.

In October 2011 the ABC interviewed David and Joanne for part of a documentary called I Can Change Your Mind. Climate activist Anna Rose and skeptical ex-Senator Nick Minchin visited various players in the debate. Nick nominated us as his first stop, so they come to our house in Perth. The documentary was made for the ABC by Smith and Nasht. The documentary was broadcast in April 2012 by the ABC, followed immediately by a Q&A program about the documentary.

Normally we avoid ABC TV because of its open hostility towards skeptics. Our main motivation for going on the show was to get across three facts to a hitherto unsuspecting public: (1) water vapor feedbacks and not carbon dioxide cause most of the predicted warming, (2) according to observations, said feedbacks were not in fact occurring (aka the “missing hotspot”), and (3) the climate models were failing badly at temperature prediction. We also added perverse thermometer siting as evidence of establishment chicanery, because it is such an easy issue to explain with a few photographs.

We printed clear, simple graphs of air and ocean temperatures, the missing hotspot, and some photos of farcical thermometer locations, on big A3 cards. We intended to hold them up near our faces during the conversation. However the producer Max Bourke, who chatted to us before the interview when they were bringing their equipment into our house and before Anna and Nick arrived (so that part is not on our film of them), assured us they would show the evidence. They didn't want us holding up the graphs next to our heads. Max (an ex-engineer) seemed to appreciate that the evidence was important, because he filmed us twice presenting those graphs, once during the interview with Anna and Nick and once again separately.

We expected a hostile interview and hostile editing. A recent BBC interview of James Delingpole had been excruciatingly unfair in editing, showing him only in a hypoglycemic tongue-tied moment and omitting the other three hours of cogent arguments. So we arranged for our friend Barry Corke to film the interview from the moment Anna and Nick walked in until the moment they left. We knew we needed the full unedited copy and we were proved entirely right (we recommend all skeptics have a friendly camera in every interview). When push came to shove in the editing booth, the ABC preferred to risk their credibility in order to prevent viewers finding out certain facts about global warming.

The Bias and the Lies

First, David presented four items of data during the interview to show that the carbon dioxide theory is faulty:

  1. Air temperatures—models overestimated surface warming. Comparison with oldest IPCC prediction, from 1990.
  2. Ocean temperatures—models overestimated ocean warming.
  3. Missing hotspot—models predict a pattern of atmospheric warming that is responsible for most of the warming in the models. It is entirely missing from copious weather balloon measurements.
  4. Outgoing radiation—Models predict decreasing radiation to space with surface warming, but satellite measurements show the opposite.

We also presented photographs of corrupt thermometers, as evidence of a cover-up to conceal the failure of the climate models.

Of the four items of data, the ABC only broadcast one oblique shot of the ocean warming graph. All references to the other three items were omitted. (So much for our A3 cards of data from NASA and so on.)

The whole point of this show was to change people‘s minds. Given the centrality of this data to whether carbon dioxide is the culprit, isn't the ABC lying by omission? Mysteriously enough, the data we presented in the interview has never appeared on the ABC (as far as we know, and we've been looking out for years). It‘s either religious zealotry or ABC policy to keep its viewers in the dark. (Don‘t laugh, they do actually debate whether they need ”balance“ and whether it‘s wrong to show dissenting views.) Some facts are too hot for them.

Too complex? It's not as though viewers cannot understand temperature graphs, or comparisons with predictions. The theory water vapor (or humidity) amplifying things is pretty simple, and if the predicted fingerprint of extra water vapor is missing then it‘s pretty obvious the theory is awry.

Time? The segment of the broadcast with us was 251 seconds, yet the ABC found time to spend 105 seconds of that introducing us ("loopy" and "paranoid"), including 37 seconds discussing us filming them—which demonstrates what the ABC thinks the viewers should know. The show also found time for many trivial comments in other segments, that surely rank behind crucial exculpatory data in terms of significance.

If carbon dioxide was on trial, the omissions alone show that this ABC documentary was more propaganda than an honest attempt to inform.

Second, there's the tricky editing (at about 4:30 in the video of what went to air, below). The ABC broadcast David as saying: “Anna, second bit of evidence that shows the climate models are fundamentally flawed. Half the world’s thermometers, official thermometers for measuring global warming, ...[several sentences about corrupt thermometers].”

Trouble is, he said “Anna, second bit of evidence that shows the climate models are fundamentally flawed. Most of the heat in the climate is contained in the oceans...[several sentences about ocean temperatures]” at 25 minutes into the interview, and “Half the world’s thermometers, official thermometers for measuring global warming,...” at 43 minutes. This is TV, so there is more than just the soundtrack. The ABC broadcast David saying “Anna, second bit of evidence that shows the climate models are fundamentally flawed” while the picture is of David's hand pointing to a photograph of a corrupt thermometer at an airport. But when David said those words, he was actually pointing at the graph of ocean temperatures. Hmmm.

So the ABC unambiguously broadcast David indicating that the corrupt thermometers were evidence that the climate models are fundamentally flawed. But David never said that, and it is contrary to what he actually said. It doesn’t even make sense, because corrupt thermometers could not be evidence either for or against the carbon dioxide theory—which makes him seem confused and undermines his credibility. The ABC subtly turned the data David presented into gobbledy-gook by tricky editing.

Third, Joanne runs the third biggest climate skeptic website in the world and the biggest in Australia, and the TV crew had come all this way. Yet here is the total of what the ABC broadcast of her during the interview: “Carbon dioxide” “There‘s some small immeasurable amount.” “The data says –”. “(Laughs)” “The planet is not going to be destroyed.” Just 18 words, and nothing serious. In fact she made plenty of good points in the interview—guess the ABC didn’t want the audience to hear them. No gotchas, perhaps? Not an older white man perhaps? Joanne's “success” was to beat Anna on every single point and be almost entirely edited out.

Fourth, on the Q&A program broadcast immediately after the documentary, Nick Minchin pointed out at 35 minutes that warming had basically “paused” since about 1998, so there is a major problem with the carbon dioxide argument—we’ve had rising carbon dioxide but not the commensurate rise in temperature that the IPCC predicted. At this point host Tony Jones threw to climate scientist Matthew England, who just happened to be miked up in the audience, and England said Nick‘s point was “not true” and that the IPCC’s “projections of 1990 have borne out very accurately”.

But the IPCC in 1990 predicted warming of 0.2 to 0.5 °C per decade over the next few decades—whereas in reality we've had at most 0.17°C per decade since then. This is not a matter of interpretation or ambiguity; it is simply a matter of downloading the temperature series from any of the five major global temperature datasets and comparing them to the Summary for Policy Makers in the First Assessment Report of the IPCC in 1990 (p. xi, and Figure 8 on p. xxii): “under the IPCC Business-as-Usual ... a rate of increase of global mean temperature during the next century of about 0.3°C per decade (with an uncertainty range of 0.2°C to 0.5°C per decade) ... This will result in a likely increase in global mean temperature of about 1°C above the present value by 2025...”.

We had presented this as our very first data item in the interview, so Nick Minchin was familiar with it. Here is what we showed the ABC during the interview (left), and an updated version (right), neither of which the ABC showed its viewers:

Surface temperatures from 1990 vs IPCC Prediction, in late 2011 Surface temperatures from 1990 vs IPCC Prediction, in 2014

Instead viewers heard climate scientist England say climate models were “very accurate”—even though they were mathematical failures, falling outside the widest bounds. Nick Minchin was made to look like an ignorant amateur, even though he was entirely correct. Well done Mr Jones. (Are we allowed to mention Jones' salary here? Or his paid connection with the warming industry?)

This is a critical lie about climate change. On the one hand the ABC squashed the truth in its editing, while on the other it propagated the lie in its studio. See the look on Nick's face (below) as England says his piece—he knows what is going on but is powerless to stop it. Tony Jones and Matthew England owe Nick Minchin an apology.

(England later tried to defend himself by saying "the projected warming at the start of the century will be slower than the more rapid climb at the end of the Century". No, see the IPCC’s Figure 8 quoted above—it shows a straight temperature rise from 2000 to 2100, not much steeper than 1990 to 2000—or simply divide the 1°C by 2025 by 3.5 decades, for a projected average warming of 0.286°C per decade from 1990 to 2025. Not enough of a curve there to excuse England’s “very accurately”. He then tries to muddy the water by noting that the UAH temperature record is of tropospheric temperatures. But UAH is near-uniformly regarded as effectively measuring surface warming (or underestimates it slightly because the air above the surface warms even faster than the surface), and anyway the second graph above shows the HadCrut surface thermometers warmed even more slowly. Notice England’s resort to intimidating complexity, forcing us to try everyone’s patience by now answering each of his blustery points? Typical of this debate.)

Concluding Remarks

The ABC broadcast bore little resemblance to what happened, and more to Soviet-style propaganda. The editors went to great trouble to rearrange sentences and images to create the impression that skeptics couldn’t make a decent argument and had little thought behind their case. It allowed commentators to declare the bloggers had nothing much of value—just kitchen “science”. Look at the evidence below, and judge for yourself.

In some ways this interview worked out well for us in the end. We got the video proof that there was not even the pretense of impartial editing. The ABC’s fishing trip to discredit skeptics didn’t come up with a big gaffe, no mistake to wave. Instead after four hours in our house the ABC had to edit Joanne down to 18 non-sequential words, rearrange David’s words, and carefully omit many references to actual data. It must have taken them hours.

Anna wrote a book about the documentary and went on a 100 day book tour, which included many friendly interviews on the ABC and a meeting with Prime Minister Gillard.

Joanne blogged on the ABC, extraordinary editing, and bias.

Finally, notice in the ABC broadcast that Anna asked for a guarantee that we wouldn’t selectively edit our film footage, and we gave her that guarantee. Oh the irony! And the ABC even broadcast it! How in your face and arrogant of the ABC, who were presumably confident that something like this web page will never get significant traction. As the first comment here says, "If ever there is an enquiry into whether the ABC should be closed or drastically over-hauled this should be exhibit 1."

The Evidence

Here is what the ABC aired (transcript):

To see the whole rollicking real-time to and fro of both sides doing their best, watch the video in full. It's a rare event. (transcript) YouTube »

The Q&A program about the documentary (see around 36:30 minutes for Climate Scientist Matthew England's contribution). Q&A »