Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

Reading the latest delusionist nonsense at the Oz (from William Kininmonth) I was surprised, to put it mildly, to find myself quoted as an authority for the proposition that

mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs

Readers may recall that what I actually wrote in the Fin last week was

While most media outlets give at least some space to these conspiracy theorists, the central role has been played by The Australian. Not only its opinion columnists (with a handful of honorable exceptions) and its editorials, but even its news reporting is dominated by the idea that mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs, publishing their findings not in the peer-reviewed literature but through blogs, thinktanks and vanity presses

Interestingly, not even the keenest delusionists in the comments thread managed to construe this as a suggestion that amateur climate ‘science’ was actually a serious threat to the real thing. I’ll be interested to see how they manage to endorse or excuse Kininmonth here, and if any of them are actually willing to admit that one of their seemingly more reputable authorities (unlike the usual run of drama critics, dotty peers, retired mining executives and so on, Kininmonth has held an impressive range of positions and even, though mostly in the distant past, published some real peer-reviewed research ) has either been deliberately doctoring quotes or is incapable of basic comprehension.

In the spirit of sceptical inquiry, I’m not jumping to conclusions about the Oz itself on this one. Opinion editors rarely fact check their columnists, and on one memorable occasion back in the Tom Switzer era, reader Terje Peterson managed to elicit a correction from Janet Albrechtsen after a team effort here demonstrated that one of her columns was based on a misreading of statistics.

In the hope of a double, I’ve written to the Oz, asking for a correction in the following terms:

In “Cold facts dispel theories on warming” William Kininmonth attributed to John Quiggin the claim that “mainstream science is on the verge of being overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs” . Quiggin does not hold this view, and the article in question referred to such claims, propagated by Kininmonth and others in the pages of The Australian, as displaying “a large dose of delusion.”

So, we’ll see what they have to say. Either way, anyone who thought Kininmonth deserved to be taken more seriously than, say, Lord Monckton > , will have to think again.

Update Wednesday’s Fin ran a letter from Kininmonth with the same doctored quote. Of course, there is almost no factchecking of letters, so I don’t blame the Fin for this and, if I can make some space, I can always reply in my next column. This is a reminder that the Oz still has time to redeem itself by running a correction. No word yet on this.

84 thoughts on “Oz meltdown: Quiggin edition

  1. Sean G:

    Bear in mind this is entirely off the top of my head, but I think that’s more instructive than running to a reference – what a typical accepter of climate science would say to that.

    At the shortest range, catastrophic wildfires can result from various causes – both removing carbon sinks and producing particulates – And there are brown clouds of pollution that have variable effects.

    There are predictable catastrophic events such as big volcanic eruptions – which both cool the Earth with clouds and particulates and also add GHGs to the air, promoting long-term warming provided the CO2 etc. is enough to outlast the effects of particulates. Now we’re moving into the longer short range.

    A lot of short-range effects are man-made and a lot aren’t.

    There are cycles of weather, mostly involved with cyclical changes in ocean currents. Those are on a quite variable range, often around 30 years, say. The largest example is the ENSO.

    There are cycles of solar output, on an 11-year cycle causally and, in the case of some phenomena, a 22-year cycle because some of the differences don’t involve real changes in energy.

    At the other end of the scale, there are the Milankovic cycles, 3 of them, and their interaction (they’re on various schedules, so only when they intersect in certain ways do you get outsized warming or cooling, and the Northern Hemisphere is more important than the Southern for a glaciation.) is itself a cycle of tens of thousands of years.

    At the midrange there are several phenomena also. Solar output variations of the cycle often happen at an intermediate level – which is why they’re a candidate when you’re looking for other reasons besides deforestation, changing albedo, or GHGs for a midrange climate change. But the main one is still GHGs in the industrial era onward.

    In the human world there are particulates – most of which cool the Earth, but the black, large sooty particles of which help warm it due to albedo. Then there are greenhouse gases, mainly C02 and methane, which warm the planet – without greenhouse gases at all, we’d be cold, though not as cold as Mars. With the amount of greenhouse gases on Venus, we’d be a lifeless hot world, but not as hot as Venus.

    Nor are all these independent. A glaciation can start because first the Milankovic cycles are right, plus you’ve had the coincident equivalent of a giant La Nina, and the Northern Hemisphere starts icing up, turns white, reflects more light, cools the oceans, they start soaking up more C02, the C02 is no longer thick enough to intercept escaping radiation so it goes out into the stratosphere then into space, etc. etc.

    Warming from a positive feedback cycle initiated by man-made causes is warming caused by man. that would include increased water in the air in some cases, the sea absorbing less C02, carbon sinks dying off, plant cover dying. there are any number of positive feedback cycles out there that are just as important as the feeding of excess C02 and methane into the system to begin with.

    As a summary, since there aren’t any outsized changes in solar cycles lately, and other mid-range factors have more or less been balancing out, it’s fair to say that on the scale of centuries since the late 18th, most climate change has been man-made, and most climate change that’s warming has been caused by man.

    Do bear in mind too that weather is not climate and vice versa.

  2. I’m just gobsmacked at the blatant dishonesty The Australian has demonstrated. This is a new low, even for them.

    Is it worth sooling Media Watch onto them?

  3. There was a great photo of Rupert in yesterday’s Fin — he looked like Davros from Dr Who.

    Soes this mean that the Murdoch Press commentariat really are daleks?

  4. The Australian ought to have its name revoked and replaced by The Adulteration. Its always worth sooling media watch on to them. They get away with lies far more often than media watch gets to expose them. Media watch needs a show dedicated entirely to the Australian.

  5. just read it all as humour, ha ha ha

    a killing joke so to speak …

    “Of course certain situations cannot be judged if certain things are not known, and judgements born of ignorance, made about whole nations, work in the most terrible way.
    Today so very much is born out of ignorance.
    This is, as a matter of fact, caused by that black magic — I have described it like this on other occasions too — known today as journalism.
    It is a kind of black magic, and there was a certain truth in the way folk legend felt the inventors of the art of printing — with all the perspectives this opens up — to be black magicians.”
    R. Steiner 1917

  6. who do reckon is making the decisions at the Oz to publish all this denialist stuff. Is it coming from the editor in chief Chris Mitchell or their op-ed editor Rebecca Weissner. I’ve seen Rebecca on Q&A on two occasions and frankly she’s not particularly bright.

  7. Depending on their pet topics, all the papers are as bad as each other. John Howard once gave a speech in which he acknowledged that some people might feel that the monarchy was anachronistic. The Age dropped this attribution to those others and put the quotation in his own mouth, then gave it a headline that went even further in that direction.

    It got worse. Some months later another Age article repeated that faulty “concession” of Howard’s. I pointed out the error in an email, and got a reply from an editor citing their own earlier piece in support. When I pointed out that they had cooked that too, citing the Herald-Sun’s accurate report of the speech, they simply didn’t reply.

  8. William Kininmonth also managed to get a quarter page letter (I kid you not) published in yesterday’s Fin Review with the title “Ideology, not science, drives global change policy.”

    Eminent economist John Quiggin claims that the findings of mainstream science are about to be overturned by the efforts of a group of dedicated amateurs (Opinion, April 23). This elevates the anthropogenic global warming debate to the realms of surrealism. …

    I suppose the Letters Editor at the Fin Review couldn’t resist the opportunity to report the controversy rather than the facts. Or perhaps he’s angling for a job at The Australian.

    I think Prof. Quiggin underestimates the pervasiveness of climate change denialism in the media. The release of Ian Plimer’s book was met in the SMH with a chrous of halleljuahs from: Paul Sheehan, Miranda Devine and Michael Duffy (on his ABC Radio National program Counterpoint).

    Taking a lead from Ian Plimer, we’ve had Piers Ackermann, Tim Blair, and Andrew Bolt.

    The climate change denialists are relentless and repetitive in their advocacy, intimately tied as it is to their ideology.

    If you’re a member of the public, whom do you believe? On the one hand you have columnists across the entire spectrum of the print media, who still refer to themselves as journalists, and appear on the ABC, alternately writing weekly columns, asserting that AGW is at best fraud, or worse a conspiracy. On the other hand you have an occasional news story, reporting scientific findings and quoting using the carefully phrased and caveat-strewn language of the scientists.

  9. PML, you’ve made this point before, and a little Googling suggests you are overstating your case. What Howard said, it seems was the following

    one argument – and I acknowledge a strong one’ in favour of an Australian republic: ‘That the symbolism of Australia sharing its legal head of state with a number of other nations has become an anachronism and is no longer appropriate for an Australian nation about to enter the 21st century.

    That’s stronger than “some people might feel:, and consistent with Howard’s attempts to have the PM and not the GG or Queen fulfil functions associated with the Head of State.

  10. Jon#31

    Re the repeated publishing of denialist rubbish by the Australian. What also cant be disregarded is cost cutting, using journalists as mere lackeys to cobble something together from the barrage of media releases they get sent every day (rather than to allocate resources to journalists to investigate further and make an informed article). The higher the quality, the higher the cost. That hasnt deterred media moguls who have their heart in the business in the past however these days in the Australia major media publications its a rarity (in general its one word – Murdered).

    Behind that we cant ignore the well funded propagandist organisations (like the CIA and IPA) who’s major objective is to gain publication and seek to convert people’s opinions towards an alliance associated with conservative political parties to a) get their business interests served by seeking removal of regulation b) to promote the political careers of those sympathetic to their business objectives.

    ie there is a payoff to business in the bombardment of media organisations with private media releases. Combine that with a lazy or excessively frugal media organisation and anything goes as long as it keeps rolling in by email each day. Its cheap, its fast, and if its sensational or non factual who cares – it sells.

    There is only one remedy – dont buy the stupid paper.

  11. Thought it’s not a climate point, the coldest day at one location in April in Australia this year is somewhat offset by record hot days in 28 locations in Australia this year.


    Globally, there have been more record hot days than cold for the last 6 years.


    To stress again, this is about weather, not climate, but some might find the above links handy to reply to the single data-point weather nuts.

  12. Tony, I don’t enter into disputes about management decisions here. If you’re not satisfied with the service, you can get a free refund on the way out. If you have a comment on Kininmonth’s quote mining, feel free to post. Trolling diversions onto other topics will not be published – JQ

  13. JQ, I was paraphrasing as I don’t have the sources to hand. Nevertheless, it is my distinct recollection that the Age’s version omitted John Howard arm’s length description of that view and misrepesented him as holding it himself – then relied on their previous misrepresentation again later.

    If you wish I will try to find the variant transcripts provided by each newspaper on the internet, if they are still around. Googling for what Howard actually said isn’t enough; what matters for this issue is the Age’s selective editing to suit its own agenda.

  14. Tony G#38
    The Australian is a major source of disinformation. This is pretty well acknowledged and in the post so what is your point? To suppport an d perpetuate the lies of the vanity presses and extremist political stink tanks?

  15. Marion,

    Thanks for the response. Do you have any book suggestions that I can get to improve my knowledge of this area?

  16. Thought it’s not a climate point, the coldest day at one location in April in Australia this year is somewhat offset by record hot days in 28 locations in Australia this year.

    One thing worth pointing out about records in southern Australia is that the hot records are determined by air that comes from central Australia while the cold records are determined by air that comes from around the Antarctic circle and East Antarctica.

    Central Australia is warming relatively fast with global warming, so we expect the extreme hot records to keep being broken on a regular basis. However, East Antarctica and the ocean near it have warmed very little with global warming so it still retains the ability to generate record cold air, albeit not as often as the record highs from central Australian air.

    The bottom line is we will keep getting both hot and cold new records with the observed proviso that there will be a lot more hot records than cold records.

  17. John, if I may ask Marion Delgado if she is suggesting that there is no causal relationship between Urban Heat Island (UHI) and the artificial heat and carbon being released into the urban atmosphere by combustive processes from vehicles and industrial activity.

  18. Thanks for your reply, Chris. I’ll check that out.

    Or to put it in broader terms, the globe has warmed over the last hundred years (as have all the continents excepting perhaps Antarctica, I believe). With that in mind, it’s not too hard to see why there would be more record-breaking hot days than cold in recent years at various locations within a large region.

    Again, although it’s a meteorological, not a climatological argument, I like to point out to uncritical critics who focus on the weather, that there were more record breaking hot days than cold around the globe during *relatively* cool 2008. But I think it gets thorny trying to make a climatic argument from such statistics – I’m only replying within the (inadequate) parameters given.

    Still learning after studying the matter amateurishly for a scant 3 years – I’m still limited to broad observations and may always be.

  19. Alice @36

    There is only one remedy – dont buy the stupid paper.

    That’s what I’ve done. I’m not a financial type, but I buy the Australian Financial Review. Despite its narrow focus, I find it a much better paper than the other “quality” dailies in Sydney. Unlike the Wall Street Journal, it’s opinion pages haven’t devolved to wingnut central. Go figure.

    I left The Australian, or rather The Australian left me, years ago. I use to buy the SMH, but with the current batch of columnists, not to mention the most recent set of opinion page editors (no Peak Oil, Climate Change, or pro public transport articles, thanks very much), I decided that the only protest available was to withhold my daily $1.40. I don’t think anyone at Fairfax has noticed. 🙂

  20. Re Alice @ 41,

    Is your post about my post @ 39 the one on about the gianni quote @ 33?

    I can’t tell because JQ is up to his old antics of censoring the AGW dissenters. On my page it shows he has block my post @ 38, one rallying to the support of scepticked who got bumped at post 18, My second post @ 39 is showing “Your comment is awaiting moderation”

    I’m presuming you are on about my post@ 39 which links to the Herald Sun not the Australian (refuting the asserting in this post that only ‘The Australian’ is sceptical, when in fact the bulk of the Australian population is sceptical). It also indicates record cold weather, something most sane people don’t associate with warming, but which AGW proponents do.

  21. # 32 P.M.Lawrence Says: April 30th, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    Deepending on their pet topics, all the papers are as bad as each other.

    When I pointed out that they had cooked that too, citing the Herald-Sun’s accurate report of the speech, they simply didn’t reply.

    Too right.

    Probably Obama will do something significant about climate change in the run-up to the 2012 election. I predict that the Australian will then perform an astonishing back-flip on this issue. With faces no doubt unblushing and no hint of remorse for previous misdeeds.

    Journalists, far from being independent and courageous crusaders after truth, are mostly tragic victims of prevailing fashions in their particular beat, paper or demographic. Each paper has its sacred cows, with stringent tabus enforced against profaners. Evelyn Waugh mercilessly lampooned that trait in Scoop.

    If anything the media-academia complex is even more narrow-minded nowadays. Especially given the fixing of politically correct blinkers, the pressure to flog life-style ornaments in the supplements and the cringe-inducing status-one upsmanship that metro broadsheets exude out of every pore.

    Press bonnet-bees, being essentially ideological hood ornaments, are particularly susceptible to this kind of treatment. Although the Australian has sunk to a new low in their coverage of the Climate Wars. Most business pages took the bosses side in the Class War by endlessly hyping the talents of rock-star CEOs and Master of the Universe fianciers. Whilst never missing a chance to put the boot into unions. How’s that working out now?

    The Age in es[ecially, and Left-liberals in general, have been shamelessly biased in their coverage of the Culture Wars. Just today the Age published a blatant falsehood in order to flog some life into its dying hobby-horse.

    It has long been clear that a majority of Australians want a republic.

    In fact support for the republic peaked about 15 years ago, when Keating was shoving his elitist views down everyones throats. A Morgan poll, published in May 2008 and taken after the stacking of the republic committee in the2020 conference, concluded that the republic was an issue with minority support:

    In early May 45% (down 6% since Feb. 2005) believe Australia should become a Republic with an elected President, while 42% (up 2%) support Australia remaining a Monarchy and 13% (up 4%) are undecided — according to a special Morgan Poll of Australians taken last weekend (May 3/4, 2008).
    Support for a Republic with an elected President is the lowest since (then) Prime Minister Paul Keating raised the issue nearly 15 years ago in December 1993.

    I got particular malicious pleasure out of this mordant aside from the poll-master.

    Gary Morgan says:

    “What would please the Monarchists is 64% of those aged 14-17 say Australia should remain a Monarchy, with 23% supporting a Republic and 13% undecided.”

    Most people, particularly the media-academia complex, are more interested in playing for their team rather than pursuing the truth. And they are quite happy to swap teams when it suits because, lets face it, they “just want to be on the side thats winning”.

  22. Gianni – well you are one and I am another. The Australian only enrages me with the BS and I dont like being enraged at breakfast. As for the nodding dogs like Piers, Miranda, Albrechtson, Henderson (slightly less nodding but nodding less is still nodding)and that silly Peter Saunders from CIS who pops up for uncaring pieces in other news articles – I just dont read them. I see the names and tune out. Their pieces are seriously so boring and so predictable you could read the first line and write the rest yourself – there is never anything new in those pieces so I dont read them and I just get half a “news” paper and not a whole one.
    Wonder what the advertisers think? Do they think they are getting value for money? Amazing – but then I spy another full page 40% sale at DJs and that doesnt do it for me either any more (….ie up to 40% on two percent of the products).

    Its truly woeful – even on weekends.

  23. John, many would agree with Tim Lambert’s conclusion that the science is missing from Ian Plimer’s “Heaven and Earth”.

  24. it simply is not news reporting in any real sense of the term,
    it is pushing an agenda on almost everything

    and to say as an answer, well dont buy it then is stupid and misses the point …

    dont forget – pushers of the free choice bandwagon – that murdoch through organs like the australian has the power to propel nations to war,
    next time you choose to see the Australian in humorous terms consider the iraqi body count

    You have got to admit that Rupert Murdoch is one canny press tycoon because he has an unerring ability to choose editors across the world who think just like him. How else can we explain the extraordinary unity of thought in his newspaper empire about the need to make war on Iraq? After an exhaustive survey of the highest-selling and most influential papers across the world owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation, it is clear that all are singing from the same hymn sheet.

    Murdoch is chairman and chief executive of News Corp which owns more than 175 titles on three continents, publishes 40 million papers a week and dominates the newspaper markets in Britain, Australia and New Zealand. His television reach is greater still, but broadcasting – even when less regulated than in Britain – is not so plainly partisan. It is newspapers which set the agenda.

    …in a pro-American fervour which is echoed in virtually every Murdoch publication, it urged Blair on Friday to “stick with the friend you can trust through and through – America”.

    How lucky can Murdoch get! He hires 175 editors and, by remarkable coincidence, they all seem to love the nation which their boss has chosen as his own. The papers he owns in the country of his birth, Australia, are noticeably more muted than the New York Post and the Sun. But it doesn’t require a semiologist to see that the leader-writers are attempting to break down stubborn public opinion: some 39% of Australians oppose a war, even with UN backing, while 76% oppose a war unless there is full-hearted international support.

    Even so, the insistent message on the editorial pages of the five largest Murdoch papers in the main Australian cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide – is that Bush is pursuing the right path. These papers show their colours by giving unswerving support to the rabidly pro-American prime minister John Howard, who has sent troops to the Middle East, and heaping scorn on the opposition leader, Simon Crean, for what the Melbourne Herald Sun calls “political opportunism” in opposing war.

    Murdoch’s national title, the Australian, is regarded as more sober than the city papers, and it’s true that many of its leading articles are masterpieces of fence-sitting waffle. But that isn’t true of the latest crop and there cannot be any doubt where its editor, Michael Stutchbury, stands. The daily slogan, “Countdown to war”, suggests that the paper is cheerleading the inevitability of an invasion, as did one of its more militant leaders two weeks ago. “Twelve years of defiance by Hussein show that the old policies of containment no longer work”, said the editorial. “Appeasement is not an option when it comes to dealing with Hussein…Failure to disarm Hussein would make the world a much more dangerous place.” On Saturday, the paper called on readers to “accept that the US is not the aggressor on the world stage, and that the real threat to the safety of the Australian people comes from Baghdad and Pyongyang”, and took a sideswipe at anti-war demonstrators.


    now multiply that damage by any silly number you like when you consider what he is trying to do in terms of the future of the biosphere

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