Category Archives: Here we go again with fake a scandal

News Ltd kicking more sand in the public’s face: just why are Murdoch’s papers recycling the old “CFCs not CO2″ zombie climate myth?

The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd

The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd

Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, which controls 70% of the Australian print media, are without doubt doing the Australian public a great disservice with their constant stream of climate disinformation.

It is not enough for News Limited to shape the narrative as “believers versus sceptics”, thus creating a sense of false balance. They take it a step further by willfully distorting the public’s perception about the causes of climate change while simultaneously undermining their trust in the scientific community.

Recent evidence of this can be seen across News Limited publications and websites these past two days.

Nearly every organ of Murdoch’s Australian media empire has been actively pushing the discredited theory that CFCs are to blame for warming (not CO2). Here is the audit trail:

  • The story first appeared in The Australian by Graham Lloyd on Monday 3 June (see here)
  • It then made it onto Andrew Bolt’s blog on 7:27pm the same day (see here)
  • A reference was made on Piers Ackerman’s blog on 4 June at 12:45 am (see at the end of the article)
  • Reference to it was published in the Cut and Paste section of The Australian today.

Note how the same message is weaved into different articles across multiple platforms?

Clearly the intent is to hit the broadest number of readers across all demographics: from the tabloid pages of the Herald Sun to the faux-paper-of-note pretensions of The Australian aimed at a more “elite” audience. Note they all appear within a day of each other.

Note also that in last night’s Q&A program, Senator Cory Bernardi referenced this News Limited generated fiction.

Cause and effect clearly demonstrated on national television.

Based on the uniformity of the message, tone and content it is clear the voice of the independent journalist is irrelevant at News Limited.

What matters is the message and broadcasting it on all frequencies to a mass audience. The resurrection of the “CFCs not CO2″ myth is but a single example of propagating misinformation over a broad spectrum (News Limited papers and web platforms).

And the message is simple.

Climate change isn’t happening, don’t trust the scientists.

I’m not going to address the science, but simply direct readers to the refutation at Climate Science Watch. I also note Crikey have picked up on the errors contained in Graham Lloyd’s article as well (pay wall sorry).

However, upon reflection something has been missing in both my comments and Crikey’s analysis.

And it is not about focussing on the minutia of the debate, which this whole episode is merely another tedious example.

It’s time to consider the bigger picture.

The desperate last phases of the climate debate: throwing sand in our faces

When somebody is losing a fight, and they feel the tide of victory flowing against them they’ll resort to increasingly desperate tactics.

Consider the final moment of many films where the hero and villain square off to fight. Shots, punches and kicks are exchanged as the fortunes of both protagonists ebb and flow.

But there comes a moment when both protagonists and the audience recognise the villain is in the throes of their final and inevitable defeat.

What does the villain do?

They grab a handful of sand or dirt and throw it into the face of their opponent.

It’s a sign of desperation, a feint intended to stem defeat by distracting and irritating their opponent. Sometimes it works, but generally it signals they have nothing left to fight with but dirty tricks. The message to the audience is clear: “They are deceitful, even in their last moments”.

It’s a trope used countless times. In fact, my daughter’s favourite film The Lion King contains it. In the final confrontation between Scar, who has usurped the throne and Simba (the rightful heir to the title of Lion King) the villain scatters burning ash in latter’s eyes in a final act of defiance.

Which is exactly what News Limited is doing, they are throwing sand in the face of the public and scientists in desperation.

Welcome to this new phase in the climate debate.

In raising long discredited “zombie” climate myths News Limited is reaching for sand to throw in all our eyes.

One can see why this would be the case. Public acceptance of the science is overwhelming; most accept humanity has changed the planet. Did we forget to mention 97% of climate scientists accept the science?

Everyone but the climate sceptics recognise their increasing irrelevance and what is clearly the death throes of their movement.

But they have one more trick to play, one last desperate gamble…

They’re clutching for a handful of sand to cast into the faces of their opponents.

Lose the debate and lose the kingdom: for Murdoch the climate debate is about one thing, can you guess?

For the owner of News Limited and his army of minions the trajectory of public opinion must be troubling. So they are throwing everything at it.

Misinformation and zombie climate myths are their sand. But why? That is a question worth asking.

Murdoch is desperate to continue setting the political and social agenda within Australia and the English-speaking world. News Corporation is the agency of his will; they are his legions of flying monkeys.

Here is something we may not have considered in speculating over News Limited’s role in the climate debate.

Why is it that Fox News, The Australian, The Wall Street Journal and all other organs of the Murdoch empire are unanimous in their contempt for the science? Consider this…

The climate debate, from Murdoch’s perspective, is as much about forestalling action as it is about Rupert Murdoch.

It is about Murdoch’s king making and opinion making abilities. It’s about his power. It is about how much he has, and how effectively he can wield it.

It is about how media power shapes the conversations we have in political debates, around the proverbial water cooler and over the BBQ on a Sunday afternoon.

How much does it say about the power of Murdoch and News Limited (which fervently believes it can shape the tone of all political conversation within our nation) that it can no longer control the debate or public perception on climate?

What does it mean when public opinion slips from the control of the opinion makers?

Lose the ability to shape the debate, and you lose the kingdom.

All empires are fictions and all power is perceived.

This is especially the case today with the internet reshaping the media, rendering the traditional gatekeepers less relevant than they once were.

A king-maker who has built his empire on public perception, mass entertainment and sports broadcasting understands this intuitively.

From the Tampa Affair, the denial of the Stolen Generations and the climate debate, Murdoch has sought to shape our nation and values for decades.

Does it come as a surprise that public respect for the media in Australia is at all-time low? This is not a coincidence, nor some chance correlation.

News Limited’s reporting on climate change is at odds with people’s everyday experiences of a changing planet. Should you believe Andrew Bolt or the evidence of your home burning to the ground over Australia’s “Angry Summer”?

Remember how the Carbon Tax was going to be the ruin of us all?

The disconnect between what News Limited wants the public to believe, and what the public experiences is growing further apart. A crisis of credibility is engulfing News Limited, and they’ve failed to recognise it.

And their response to this growing disconnect?

The recycling of this old zombie climate myth (CFCs not CO2), a desperate attempt to throw sand in our faces. The whole CFC meme of the past few days is merely to distract the public with an irrelevant fact, while also enraging activists and scientists with its stupidity.

It is as if Murdoch has thrown sand in our eyes and is screaming in our faces: “See, see! I still set the agenda!”

How much time and energy will we expand on countering the “CFC not CO2″ zombie myth one more time?

Stop focussing on the sand in your eyes, irritating as that may be.

Look at who is throwing the sand.

Advice to the scientific community: well, not that “you” asked

At the heart of scientific practice is error reduction: detecting, and correcting errors. Both your own and that of your peers. It is a valid means to ensure research results support theories; that theories reflect the actual state of the world.

However, in the climate debate a focus on error reduction – for example correcting people or journalists on the “CFCs not CO2″ issue – is counter productive.

We will forever be chasing down errors, and attempting to correct people’s misconceptions. It is a rabbit hole we have spent too much time dwelling  in – chasing down a misconception here and another piece of disinformation there.

We are Red Queens, forever running as fast as we can in a vain attempt to merely stay in the same place.

Yes, we can catch one error and force a correction printed in the pages of The Australian. We can get the Australian Press Council to issue a statement against the likes of Andrew Bolt. But in that time, ten thousand errors have flown from the pages and blogs of News Limited.

We catch an error and declare it victory. Time to consider the bigger picture.

Think of the climate debate like this…

Until recently we thought the universe was the solar system with the Earth at its centre. Then we thought the universe was no more than our home galaxy, The Milky Way.

Our perception was stunted, limited to the local.

Then Hubble took his famous images of red shifted objects…

… and the Universe exploded into view, revealing its immensity and majesty. Our view of the universe and ourselves was profoundly changed.

We need to think about the climate debate in this manner: broader, deeper and more sophisticated.

No more error correction please: turn your big brains to more profound questions.

Back to Murdoch, the King Lear of the Anthropocene.

The King Lear of our time: Murdoch

To return to the film The Lion King (no really!) you may be surprised to learn it is loosely based upon Hamlet. Shakespeare’s tale is a cautionary one about those who usurp thrones and marriage beds, and the tragic consequences of those actions.

But I’m reminded of another of Shakespeare’s plays when I consider Murdoch and his need to control the climate debate in our politics and in our private conversations.

King Lear, the dying king who divides his kingdom among his ambitious children. It is a decision that begins a chain reaction of events ending in ruin.

Murdoch is that monarch whose time is coming to an end; he is the king who divides the state among his children. Like Lear, it is his selfish, ego driven decisions that precipitates the ruin of all.

King Murdoch – the Lear of the early twenty-first century – would rather let our planet burn then admit he no longer sets the agenda on the climate debate, nor countenance being wrong.

Rub the sand from your eyes, ask why it has been thrown.

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[A few errors in first draft got through, fixed]

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Of ice ages, the view from nowhere and the value of one’s soul: Graham Lloyd, The Australian and the repackaging of fringe science

Not long ago Hollywood rediscovered the disaster genre, delivering to the movie viewers a spate of gloriously visualised, but implausible apocalyptic visions. As examples of the zeitgeist they’re fascinating examples of our existential fears made real.  

In what lovers of the genre call “disaster porn” the CGI wizards of Hollywood treated us to a variety of end time scenarios: from giant meteorites in the execrable Armageddon (1998); global pandemics in Outbreak (1995) and I am Legend (2007); the Godzilla inspired monster of Cloverfield (2008); the New Age eschatology implied by ending of the Mayan Long Count calendar in the film 2012 (made in 2009); to the current most-favoured harbingers of the apocalypse, the zombies of The Walking Dead.

My favourite of this genre has to be The Day After Tomorrow (2004), a film which imagines the globe caught in the grip of a sudden ice age which descends over a series of days rather than the millennia it normally takes. The film chronicles a series of extreme weather events, precursors to the Northern Hemisphere being blanketed in ice.

The film treats us to a touching father-son reconciliation, a trite love story and lots of ice.

Pure bunk of course – however scientists have long resigned themselves to the fact that Hollywood will choose spectacle over fact. Most of us can discern fact from film fantasy. But sadly, not all of us can make such distinctions.

Point in case The Australian’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, who recently published an article containing “facts” about as plausible as the script as The Day After Tomorrow.

According to Graham there is serious scientific debate about a coming ice age. No really, he argues such.

An ice age cometh: we’re about to enter a 30 year cooling period?

In an article titled Emissions debate heats up while experts warn of a coming ice age (May 4 2013), Lloyd rips his facts straight from the big screen and pages of fringe science blogs to suggest there is some debate over an imminent ice age:

In Russia, one of the world’s leading solar physicists, Habibullo Abdussamatov, says the planet is well on the way to another deep freeze. Abdussamatov is the head of space research at the Russian Academy of Sciences Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in St Petersburg, and director of the Russian segment of the International Space Station.

In an interview with Principia Scientific International, Abdussamatov said results of research from the ISS had indicated a decline in total solar irradiance, which was having a dramatic effect on the global climate.

Data indicated the onset of a mini ice age.

If true, then all this fuss over global warming is actually distracting us from the actual (and in Graham’s view equally plausible) threat of an imminent ice age.

The impressively credentialed Habibullo Abdussamatov seems uniquely qualified to put forward such an argument. That is until one starts digging as Abdussamatov seems to hold some very strange views.

Abdussamatov: does not believe in any greenhouse effect

Abdussamatov is a vocal sceptic of global warming within the parallel universe the deniers inhabit, but as far as the science community is concerned he is relatively obscure.

He is not a leading solar physicist: this is merely another example of the old sceptic tactic of inflating the reputation and achievements of “experts” such as Abdussamatov. In fact, a quick search of the internet will find he has been making the same claims for several years.

His most unusual claim is that the greenhouse effect does not exist at all. In a 2007 article published on Canada.com (website of Canadian newspaper publisher Postmedia Network) Abdussamatov is quoted as saying:

Dr. Abdussamatov goes further, debunking the very notion of a greenhouse effect. “Ascribing ‘greenhouse’ effect properties to the Earth’s atmosphere is not scientifically substantiated,” he maintains. “Heated greenhouse gases, which become lighter as a result of expansion, ascend to the atmosphere only to give the absorbed heat away.”

Such a claim would be news to the scientific community to say the least.

Actually, it is almost impossible to convey just how absurd his proposition is – it is the scientific equivalent of arguing the sun still goes around the Earth. His view of the behaviour of CO2 molecules in the atmosphere is pure fantasy without a shred of evidence.

Even the most extreme sceptics – Jo Nova, Lord Monckton and Anthony Watts – don’t subscribe to this view.

They acknowledge the greenhouse effect: they argue a doubling of CO2 will have a negligible impact on global temperatures. According to them, the heat trapping potential of increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have been overstated by the scientific community.

Thus Abdussamatov would be considered fringe even by their standards – which is saying a lot. If that is not bad enough, things go from bad to worse in Lloyd’s article.

Graham Lloyd plagiarizing content: word for word his article mimics a 2007 article from Canada Free Press

The practice of using material word-for-word without attribution or acknowledging the source is generally frowned upon by journalists. 

The more cynical call it plagiarism. Sadly, Lloyd appears to be engaged in this very activity.

Lloyd attributes the following quotes to Abdussamatov (italics mine):

Abdussamatov said there had been five deep cold periods in the past 1000 years – in 1030, 1315, 1500, 1680 and 1805.

 He said another cool period was due and would come about regardless of whether industrialised countries put a cap on their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Mars has global warming – but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” Abdussamatov said.

“These parallel global warmings – observed simultaneously on Mars and on the Earth – can only be a consequence of the effect of the same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

 Abdussamatov said a new “little ice age” would start this or next year and hit a low around 2040, with a deep freeze that would last for the rest of the century.

The quotes Lloyd use mimic word-for-word quotes in the aforementioned 2007 article (italics):

Mars has global warming, but without a greenhouse and without the participation of Martians,” he told me. “These parallel global warmings — observed simultaneously on Mars and on Earth — can only be a straightline consequence of the effect of the one same factor: a long-time change in solar irradiance.”

Lloyd has merely broken the later paragraph up and substituted some words.

Perhaps Lloyd was sloppy, or merely forgot to correctly attribute his sources. We all make mistakes.

The more cynical of us would call it plagiarism.   

False balance: Lloyd’s view from nowhere is really the view from the fringes

Lloyd is a practitioner of the journalistic style of “the view from nowhere”.

He tries to eschew any editorialising in order to present “both sides of the debate” so that the informed reader can make up their own mind.

In reality, Lloyd’s view from nowhere is the view from the fringes of the scientific community: more specifically the view of a crank, Abdussamatov.

Lloyd elevates Abdussamatov to the level of one the world’s “leading solar physicists” and a voice we should be paying attention too. Lloyd frames the article in such a way to imply there is some debate amongst the scientific community that an ice age may very well be immanent.

Let’s be clear: there’s no debate: there are no concerns about a mini-ice age.

What we have is the spectacle of The Australian plucking fringe beliefs from the sceptic blogosphere and given them credibility.

The real story that needs to be told is not that of scientists debating about scenarios reminiscent of The Day After Tomorrow.

The real story that needs to be told is just how partisan The Australian has become on the issue of climate change.

Lloyd’s article smells of desperation: it is the feeble clutching for facts in order to deny reality.

The planet is warming; climate change is real; humanity is the architect of this warming.

We all have a choice: one can accept reality or live in denial. Lloyd seems to have made his choice: he is a nowhere man living in an alternative reality of facts made to suit the opinions of Editor Chris Mitchell and owner Rupert Murdoch.

But what is cost of this?

Not only to Lloyd and the reputation of The Australian as a news source – but to us, the general public who needs to be informed? We may shake our heads at the antics of Lloyd, but ultimately it is a grossly misinformed public who suffers most.

At least Lloyd gets paid for his efforts: I guess I gain some satisfaction in correcting his falsehoods.

But again – at what cost?

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

Graham Lloyd and The Australian: rapidly fading credibility

It says a lot about the quality of a newspaper when their Environment Editor is either a) unable to distinguish fringe beliefs from actual science or b) happy to publish such tripe if it undermines the scientific consensus on global warming.

Over the years we’ve witnessed The Australian publish some appalling misinformation on climate change: this without doubt is the nadir of their reporting on climate change.

For a paper which likes to think of itself as the “voice of the nation” this is an appalling lapse in journalistic standards.

We – the reading public – have a right to expect better than this. This is the very impulse that motivated me to start this blog. We are all ill-served by the mainstream media if this is the best they have to offer.

Perhaps there is a circle in Hell for once good journalists who have turned away from the ethics of the profession: if so it must be full of News Limited journalists who felt compelled – or were coerced – to publish pieces such as Lloyd’s.

For good reason many of us are exhausted auditing the self-proclaimed auditors of science. We’ve been engaged in this activity for over thirty years when the “debate” first emerged.

I believe there is a more important question to address: the question of why. Of why elements of the media – who have the power to shape public opinion and debate – have granted themselves permission to distort the truth and mislead the public.

All the wealth and power one might gain is not worth the price of one’s soul.

[Note: see also Graham Readfearn's piece on the same topic - what can I say? Great minds think alike. Readfearn does some great detective work on finding all the sources Lloyd uses.]

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[Disclaimer: This article contains both original research and some elements of satire. Every effort is made to ensure the validity of the claims made by the blog's author. ]

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War on the IPCC: on that leaked IPCC draft document

I’m not going to claim any prescience but some time ago I suggested the denial machine would begin its war on the credibility of the IPCC and its fifth assessment report due to be released in 2013.

In the past few days we’ve just witnessed the opening salvo in the denial machines attempt to undermine public confidence in the IPCC.

For those not up to speed, this is what transpired:

  • late last week climate sceptic blogger Alec Rawls got hold of draft versions of the IPCCs upcoming fifth report
  • Rawls breathlessly announced to the world that that IPCC admitted that “enhanced solar forcing” was the cause of recent warming.

In other words, Rawls claims the IPCC is admitting it’s the sun and not human activities – none of which is true. Journalist and blogger Graham Readfearn provides a good summary of what happened:

  • Rawls registered himself as a reviewer via online form – something any member of the public can do – obtained copies of the draft documents and leaked them to the internet
  • Rawls has misread, misinterpreted and cherry-picked the draft report.

There is an irony in this, as the actual conclusions of the draft report confirm that human influence on the climate is undeniable and is deeply concerning (for further commentary I’d also suggest the following article on The Conversation).

Of course all the usual suspects amongst the denial movement are salivating over the leaked documents. Sceptic blogger Anthony Watts is calls it “game changing” while Daily Telegraph blogger James Delingpole claims the IPCC has just admitted the “jigs up”.

None of which is true of course – they’ve merely cherry picked a single paragraph from the leaked document in order to mislead the public.

While it is impossible to know what motivated Rawls to sign up as a reviewer of the latest IPCC report, I’m going to make the assumption he did so with less than honourable intentions.

Weather he acted alone or in concert makes little difference – Rawls abused the process and undermined the IPCCs attempts to make itself more transparent.

All I can say is expect much more of these kind of tactics over the coming months.

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