Category Archives: Blogging

Reminder: Community and discussion guidelines

Dear all,

I’ve had some feedback about the quality of the comments section on the blog. While I’m a strong proponent of freedom of speech, I’m also mindful WtD has gained a larger audience – the quality of the comments can detract readers enjoyment of articles and their discussion with others.

For this reason I would like to remind all contributors to this blog about the community and discussion guidelines. In particular the following:

When making any claim (scientific or otherwise) provide references (links if possible) for others to evaluate your argument/s – repeated failure to do so may result in disciplinary action. 

Avoid “Gish Gallops”: long posts with multiple claims not supported by evidence – repeated failure to do so may result in disciplinary action

While we are all entitled to express our opinions, we aren’t entitled to our own facts. As Media Watch presenter Andrew Brown once said “To put it bluntly, there’s evidence, and there’s bulldust.”

I’m not going to single out individuals at this point – however I will be monitoring comments very closely and where necessary apply the three strike rule (see guidelines).

Please feel free to send me your thoughts at watchthedeniers_@_gmail.com

Tagged

Travel again…(brief break to blogging)

Dear all, I have to travel for work again – this time I’m lucky enough to be visiting the US (Seattle).  I’ll put up a few links to some interesting articles I’ve been reading for your reading enjoyment prior to my departure. Approval for comments may be slower than usual.

Cheers
Mike @ WtD

 

Great new climate blog: Climate Wars by roymustard

In case you’ve not seen Climate Wars yet, do yourself a favor and check out Roymustard’s blog. He’s been doing some great work, as well as popping into the WtD comments section and linking (thanks!)

A recent post on Bob Carter’s dodging forecasting is worth the read:

In fact, it looks as though Bob Carter, who claims to accept no funding, is actually paid $20,000 a year by the Heartland Institute and who squeals that honestly revealing your funding is “outdated”, just cherrypicks whatever random year that suits whatever his opinion is that day. There’s little methodology to Carter’s work, except that he obsesses over the IPCC… 

Embarrassingly, Carter co-authored that paper on which John McLean based his humiliating and infamous “2011 will be the coolest year since 1956″ prediction.

Carter’s prediction depicted as a graph: 

As Roy so eloquently put it: hahahahaha

Scepticism damaging the conservative political brand: Aussie media becoming alert to the paranoid style of climate sceptics

One of the better sites focussed on the economic and business aspects of climate change is Climate Spectator. Apart from some great coverage on business, climate change policy and the energy industry, they also publish thought provoking opinion pieces.

Thus I’d like to point readers to a great piece by Tristan Edis titled The Mad Monk and Monckton’s mates. To my mind it is indicative of mainstream media (MSM) now understand the fact that Monckton and many climate sceptics are – to put it ever so politely – barking mad.

Edis notes in somewhat amazed fashion Monckton’s connection to the political fringe: 

“So why was a person who made their name questioning global warming invited to launch such a party?  Because Monckton dreams up many of the stories that feed these people’s sense of paranoia and victim hood. Monckton’s beef is not so much with the science of global warming; it’s with the liberal-left agenda more generally. In a January article in WND Weekly, he labels Obama a communist that will bankrupt America within a matter of a few years, claims he has faked his birthplace and confidently predicts will be jailed in five years time. He rails against Obama for allowing “unfettered immigration”, “baby-butchering”, gay marriage, and being “soft on Islam” (whatever that means – presumably nothing to do with executing Osama Bin Laden).”

For many of us, this isn’t new. More importantly, Edis notes by associating itself with Monckton, the conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) have hurt their brand:

“A number of individuals and groups that are influential within the Liberal Party and its membership have embraced and championed Monckton’s views on climate change.  These include the Institute of Public Affairs, Andrew Bolt, Hugh Morgan, and Gina Rinehart.  Cory Bernardi, who was one of the key backers of the coup against Malcolm Turnbull that installed Tony Abbott, expresses views and is involved in organisations which are closely linked to Monckton and websites like WND Weekly.

The Liberal Party needs to guard themselves against being infiltrated by this kind of extremist nonsense. Abbott was persuaded to meet Monckton back in 2010 just a day after releasing their climate change policy. This was a mistake…”

Let me reiterate that point: climate change scepticism is damaging the conservative “brand”. It may have had a political utility at one point, but no longer. Let’s not forget the cash thrown at conservative politicians by the fossil fuel industry – one wonders if that influenced their views on the science:

Fossil fuel lobby: Campaign donations anyone?

Conservative politician/s: Oh, that’s lovely innit! Thanks, but is there a catch?

During the last American election the Republicans ran on a platform that included the explicit denial of climate change. Readers may recall the events of November 2012 and how that strategy worked out… hint it didn’t go well for the Republicans.

Still, I can appreciate why those in the MSM may have baulked on reporting the actual world view climate change deniers – who are neither sceptical or dispassionate on climate change, but fringe dwelling conspiracy theorists.

Firstly, News Limited owns 70% of the news print market in Australia and has been championing the views of extremists like Monckton for years. Not many journalists, in an industry in considerable turmoil and declining job security, are going to take on editors such as Chris Mitchell at The Australian – or the Sun King himself, Murdoch – who push the sceptic agenda.

Secondly, if my experience is anything to go by, once you start pointing out the obvious connection to conspiracy culture and start criticising said beliefs it brings out an army of angry, embittered trolls. Your inbox and article/website comes under sustained assault.

Fun? Well suffice to say over the years I’ve developed a very thick skin.

Thirdly, much of the activities of these climate sceptics and conspiracy theorists happen on the fringe: you have to know where to look in the very dark corners of the internet. Sites such as World Net Daily (heck even Jo Nova’s blog) aren’t exactly choice online destinations for mainstream Australia.

But crucially it takes time to become attuned to what sceptics are saying – as in what they are really saying.  

When deniers like Monckton reference “Agenda 21” the phrase and its connotations will go over the heads of the MSM and average punter. But to those attuned to the world views of conspiracy culture, the phrase “Agenda 21” is a reference to the “sceptics” belief in a coming New World Order, black helicopters, death camps for pensioners and micro-chips embedded into the skulls of every living person on the planet.

At this point it is safe to say Monckton’s down under tour is a damp squib, fizzing out like firecracker under a torrent of indifference. In previous years he enjoyed far more attention, getting gigs on the ABC, Channel 7, televised debates at the National Press Club, radio chats with disgraced shock-jock Alan Jones and huge support from conservative columnists and News Limited. All of which seems to have evaporated.

If you want a picture of Monckton 2013 Australian tour, imagine a doddery, elderly crank standing in an empty lecture theatre muttering aloud “Good lord, where did all my good friends go?”

Tagged , , , , ,

Brief break: Australia Day weekend

Dear all, I’ll be away for the Australia Day Weekend: taking some time to explore Victoria’s countryside and do some mountain bike riding.

Cheer Mike @ WtD

Money quotes and ripe cherries: can scientists avoid having their research “cherry picked” by climate sceptics?

 cherrypicking

Every  day there are dozens of new research papers on climate change related matters published, monthly there are thousands of them. In addition to the peer reviewed literature hundreds if not thousands of white papers, articles and blog posts are produced by the science community on climate change.

And while this cornucopia knowledge can be overwhelming even for the most dedicated reader on the topic, it represents a rich field of opportunity for those who wish to mischaracterise the work of scientists.

We are of course talking about the practice of cherry picking: selecting data and quotes from the vast sea of climate change related informaiton and reproducing it out of context. In doing so, opponents to mainstream science hope to cast doubt on the scientific consensus and undermine the public’s trust in scientists by taking their words out of context.

Two recent examples illustrate the practice of cherry picking by sceptics. In addition some suggestions are made to avoid or mitigate this tactic.

The Australian: no link between sea level rise and global warming?

The first example is that of The Australian’s misleading coverage of recent research on sea level rise. Environment Editor Graham Lloyd wrote a series of articles implying that there was no link between sea level rise and global warming during the 20th century.

Lloyd referenced the paper Twentieth-century global-mean sea-level rise: is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? and seized upon by the following sentence in the abstract:

“Semi-empirical methods for projecting GMSLR (global mean sea level rise) depend on the existence of a relationship between global climate change and the rate of GMSLR, but the implication of our closure of the budget is that such a relationship is weak or absent during the 20th century.

A reading of the entire paper suggests no such thing. As Graham Readfearn pointed out it was merely an attempt to “murder a scientific paper” by cherry picking a single sentence. Indeed one of the papers authors, John Church stated the article produced by Lloyd was misleading.

Fortunately in this case The Australian was forced acknowledge the article was factually incorrect, even going so far to issue a rare correction.

Did NASA scientist James Hansen really admit global warming “stalled”?

The second and most recent example is provided by sceptical blogger Anthony Watts (Watts up with that?).

Watts cherry picked a quote form a recent paper by noted NASA scientist James Hansen, implying Hanesen recently admitted there has been no global warming for the last 16 years:

Dr. James Hansen and Reto Ruedy of NASA GISS have written a paper (non peer reviewed) with a remarkable admission in it. It is titled Global Temperature Update Through 2012.

Here is the money quote, which pretty much ends the caterwauling from naysayers about global temperature being stalled for the last decade.

The five-year mean global temperature has been flat for the last decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slow down in the growth rate of net climate forcing.

Gosh, I thought Hansen had claimed that “climate forcings” had overwhelmed natural variability?

A simple check of the original source demonstrates the clumsy manner in which Watt’s has cherry picked the quote to turn it into a “money quote” about stalled global temperatures. Here is the sentence in context (relevant quote underlined):

Global surface temperature in 2012 was +0.56°C (1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 base period average, despite much of the year being affected by a strong La Nina. Global temperature thus continues at a high level that is sufficient to cause a substantial increase in the frequency of extreme warm anomalies. The 5-year mean global temperature has been flat for a decade, which we interpret as a combination of natural variability and a slowdown in the growth rate of the net climate forcing.

An update through 2012 of our global analysis (Fig. 1) reveals 2012 as having practically the same temperature as 2011, significantly lower than the maximum reached in 2010. These short-term global fluctuations are associated principally with natural oscillations of tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures summarized in the Nino index in the lower part of the figure. 2012 is nominally the 9th warmest year, but it is indistinguishable in rank with several other years, as shown by the error estimate for comparing nearby years. Note that the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998.

The long-term warming trend, including continual warming since the mid-1970s, has been conclusively associated with the predominant global climate forcing, human-made greenhouse gases, which began to grow substantially early in the 20th century.

As can be seen Watts has merely lifted a single sentence to mischaracterise the paper. Hansen and Ruedy do provide the appropriate context, highlighting the fact that “the 10 warmest years in the record all occurred since 1998”.

So in this charged environment what can the scientific community do to mitigate such abuses?

Don’t give them cherries

Real Climate noted the sentence in the Church et.al. sceptics seized upon was “awkwardly phrased”. However the Hansen and Ruedy paper is well written, clear and when seen in context the cherry picked sentence makes perfect sense.

For this reason scientists should not berate themselves for seeing their own words used against them.

A first step – and not to slight the authors of the paper on sea level rise – would be to avoid giving sceptics the oppurtunity to pick low-hanging fruit (it is acknowledged the vast majority of scientists are indeed very careful).

However, Watts unintentionally reveals the mindset of climate sceptics by referring to the sentence he lifted from the Hansen/Ruedy paper as a “money quote”.

Sceptics such as Watts are not engaged in reading the scientific literature in an intellectually honest way: they are hunting for anomalies. Regardless of how much caution a scientist may take, it is inevitable sceptics will cherry pick the literature in order to cast doubt on the science.

Stopping the lie before goes around the world: rapid response and press council complaints

To quote Mark Twain “a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.” But once the lie has taken flight how should we respond?

Rapidly, calmly and with the facts.

The recent example of The Australian being forced to issue a rare correction offers a salient lesson in dealing not only with the claims of climate sceptics, but with blunting a potent “meme”.

Sites such as Skeptical Science, Real Climate, DeSmogBlog, The Conversation and Climate Progress are all excellent platforms for countering misinformation. Were possible, getting corrections published in the mainstream media is worth pursuing. That includes authoring articles or writing letters to the editor. Even jumping into the forum comments might help undo some of the damage.

Nor should individuals and scientists be afraid to take their concerns to regulatory bodies such as the Australian Press Council (PAC) to tackle misinformation that appears in the mainstream media (MSM).

A member of the public is free to lodge a complaint; however doing so is not a trivial matter. It is vital to review the guidelines for making a complaint.

While sceptics often cry “censorship” when they find themselves corrected, it is vital to counter their misinformation.

Tagged , , , ,

Burning eucalyptus: Gippsland fires shroud Victoria in a haze of smoke

Stepping out the front door of my apartment block this morning I immediately took note of a scent familiar to many Australians: the acrid tang of burning eucalypts that invades ones nostrils and tickles the back of the throat.

The streets were shrouded in that familiar, and yet haunting, greyish blue haze.

You know when it’s a big one: hundreds of kilometres away you know what kind of beast it is. Out there, in the east it rages.

Perhaps all mega fires have this same smell, but for me the smell of burning eucalypt forests is a quintessentially Australian experience. Words are barely adequate to capture the scale of these fires.

“Yeah, it’s a big one mate…”

For me it conjures memories of catastrophic fires, when whole towns are wiped out and far too many innocent lives are lost.

Even though I was in my very early teens, I vividly recall the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

Those fires came after a prolonged El Niño, record drought and severe heat wave. I remember the dead, brown lawns and the dust storm that presaged Ash Wednesday as it rolled across Melbourne’s suburbs.

Standing in the school yard, playing cricket with mates an unfamiliar rain began to fall: black shoot and fire blackened leaves, carried by the same winds fuelling the firestorm.

Perhaps my memory betrays me, but I recall those charred and partially burnt leaves twirling and spinning, hitting the asphalt like small black daggers.

The current Gippsland fire has burnt more the 59,000 hectares and destroyed homes. At least one person is dead.

And there is that smell: of burning eucalyptus.

Goodbye 2012 and hello 2013: life, the universe and blogging

Dear all,

Many thanks to the readers of this blog for your continued patronage. I hope all readers – regardless of their views on climate – enjoy the holiday break while spending time with loved ones. Be kind to yourself and others.

I’ll be taking a short break to recharge – but I’d also like to share some thoughts on the direction of WtD and what you will expect from early January 2013.

On January 21 2013 Watching the Deniers will reach its third anniversary. Three years! Wow, time flies right?

I certainly plan to keep the blog running for the forseeable future as I’m happy with the modest success it has enjoyed so far. When I started I thought I’d keep it up for a year at best. I never imagined it would be three years, nor did I ever expect the level of recognition WtD has achieved. I’m planning to branch out in new ways and I’m delighted to share those plans.

In which the author of the blog discusses the future of the blog

I’ve been making some important changes in my personal life in order to spend more time writing. After almost three years of trying to fit my writing around a full-time job, single parenthood, friendships and a new relationship I’ve decided to scale back my career and work part-time.

While numbers aren’t what drive me, this blog nets a reasonable volume of traffic on a monthly basis – enough to make me consider a career as a writer, commentator and/or researcher.

I admit came to this topic as a novice, lacking qualifications in both science and journalism. However blogging has been an invaluable apprenticeship. It has forced me to write nearly every day for the last three years. However the most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is that time equals quality.

I can’t realise my ambitions for this blog and what I hope to say by working full-time and juggling my other commitments. Something has to give…

And so, after an extensive period of reflection I’ve decided to scale back my career in the corporate world and make a leap of faith.

Watching the Deniers has been a labour of love and in many ways a chronicle of my life these past three years. Becoming a climate blogger has been one of the most rewarding intellectual experiences fo my life – I “see” the world differently.

But in order to realise my ambitions as a writer I have to make that leap of faith: and that is exactly what I’ve done. I’m giving up some income, professional status and lifestyle while happily down-shifting. These are sacrifices I’m happily making in order to realise my ambition of becoming a (semi) professional writer and commentator on climate change and environmental issues.

I believe this extra time will enrich the content of this blog and other projects.

And much of this is due to you – the reader. To this day I’m amazed that anyone takes the time to read my words. This has given me enormous confidence to start new a new phase in my life. Indeed, this blog has taught me an a valuable lesson: “I have something worth saying.”

For that I thank you all.

Next year: WtD video, social media and focus on conspiracy culture

So what to expect from next year?

Firstly WtD videos!

I’ve been experimenting with video technology for some time. I’m excited to be branching out in this manner. At this point I plan to release a short video on a fortnightly basis. I’ve already created several videos which I’m comfortable releasing. I hope readers will also enjoy the videos as much as they do the blog posts.

Secondly, I’m going to bring the focus back to examining the claims of sceptics and conspiracy culture. Over the last year the content of the blog has ranged widely – maybe too much. I feel its time to refocus efforts on the claims of the sceptics and conspiracy theories. I feel that is a niche worth exploring and there is still insufficient commentary from the media and academia on this topic.

Thirdly I’m going to try to spend more effort using social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. My experiments to date with Twitter have been successful and I feel I can build on this.

And so in closing…

Thanks for reading WtD and your support over the years.

I’ll see you all in early 2013.

All the best.

Mike @ WtD

Tagged , , ,

Brief break @ WtD

Dear all, I’m wont be posting for a week due to work commitments. I’m also finalising major posts and wish to concentrate on those and recharge the batteries.

Back soon – but you can follow me on Twitter where I frequently link to interesting climate related news.

Mike

Have “old media” failed us? Yes. Yes they have.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave an impassioned speech in Parliament the other day on misogyny which caused the world’s media to pay attention. However the Australian media seemed inattentive or unaware of its importance.

I don’t agree with every decision of the current Labor government, and remain disappointed on a number of fronts. But it was a brilliant performance: the PM clearly spoke with conviction and passion – something that has been lacking for some time.

Within minutes of her speech, people in my work were talking positively about it. Tweeters and social media took to it with gusto and shared it around the world.

That’s how powerful her words were.

This public and social media response prompted journalist Jacqueline Maley to ask the question “did mainstream media get it wrong?”

The bubble of the Canberra press gallery has been decisively popped this week. 

After Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s scorching oration against Opposition leader Tony Abbott on Tuesday, the gallery, those of us writing and broadcasting in the so called ‘mainstream-media’, came to a general consensus: sure, Gillard had given a great speech, but it was founded on hypocrisy. Many of the nation’s premier political commentators focused on this fact – that the speech was made trying to save the political career of Peter Slipper, himself accused of disrespect to women. 

But as the press gallery pundits (mostly middle-aged men, it must be noted) scribbled and spoke, something very different was happening on the internet and in the community…

Yes.

Yes, mainstream media has got it wrong.

On this issue and so many others.

I believe this: on one of the most important issues of the 21st century – environmental collapse – the media has not merely ignored the problem, but have mislead the public.

When future histories are written, the myopia and subsequent collapse of public trust in the “old media” (radio, newspaper and television) will be related to this failure to inform.

“Old media” should have helped educate our society about the risk of climate change.

Instead, print, radio and television either ignored the issue or facilitated denial.

When I began this blog I was an avid reader and watcher of “old media”.

Now?

I rarely depend on those sources for news – except to critique the gross mischaracterization of science.

As a blogger and commentator I don’t “live off” the hard work of old media and hard-working journalists.

I go direct to the sources; I bypass the gate keepers who for far too long have got it wrong.

I’ll go to the science, and scientific community. I’ll turn to other informed bloggers and commentators outside the media. Thanks to the Internet, information and facts are readily available. As an individual passionate about finding out about the world around me, I ignore “old media”.

The old media is dead.

Long live the new media.

%d bloggers like this: