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This is not journalism, Wendy Carlisle

Posted By Joanne Nova On July 20, 2011 @ 6:03 pm In Global Warming,Media-matters | Comments Disabled

Background Briefing ABC Radio National July 17th

I’m sure Wendy Carlisle thinks she’s helping Australia.

The awarded writer who calls herself a science journalist, breaks laws of reason, makes a litany of careless errors, ambushes interviewees with false claims, and devoutly stares past hundreds of peer reviewed references as if they don’t exist. Yes, Anything but the evidence!

She thinks hunting through resumes of retired scientists is a good way to inform us about the need for a Carbon (sic) Tax.

It’s a wake up call ladies and gentlemen. This is the state of “science” at your ABC where polite discussion and meaningful research has been replaced with tabloid guttertalk.

The ABC is not part of the problem, it IS the problem. It’s not just that we spent $1 billion last year on the ABC — the real cost of the propaganda-machine disguised as “impartial reporting” is the billions of dollars we have already malinvested due to the ABC’s inability to provide rigorous and relevant science reporting, and the multi-billions more we are about to waste.

The nation is about to undergo a massive economic shift, transforming jobs and lives in a quest to prevent bad weather 50 years from now. It’s an idea so stupid, so uneconomic, and so politically insane that it’s utterly predictable that hundreds of unpaid whistle-blowers are rising up in patriotic duty to protect their country and the good name of science.

And the ABC is attacking them.

No wonder the public is angry. The ABC will report irrelevant minor and incorrect minutae of people who were not even on the Monckton tour, but can’t find ten minutes to explain the independent scientist’s arguments. Who would have thought they’d be so scared of the science? And since the odd fifty percent of Australians are unconvinced about the need to act on CO2, you’d think it would be a priority — you know, to explain how those silly skeptics are wrong.

The institution supposedly serves the people. So you’d think that if science was being exaggerated and exploited, and giant financial institutions stood to make billions based on the scare, that “our” ABC would be right there, digging for the truth, and worth every penny. Instead they sent Wendy Carlisle out on a muckraking venture of character assassination. She went out of her way, across the street, and practically hid in a nuclear bunker to avoid any evidence that mattered.

What’s the saying? You can lead them to water but you can’t make them think.

It’s all about the reasoning — stupid

Are Monckton and the other skeptics paid PR agents, true cranks, or citizens saviors come to rescue the nation from corruption and greed? How would we know? The only way to tell is to look at the evidence… that is, not the evidence for other endeavors by other people on other topics in other countries, but to go direct to the source, and look at the scientific evidence they refer too. [eg here, here and here & here too.]

Monckton, Evans, and Nova (yes, me) made dozens of references to peer reviewed papers, model predictions, and faulty measuring equipment, and Carlisle ignored all of them despite attending our talks (and twice). During a lengthy pre tour phone interview she asked me to email references to her, and I did. Though I might as well have written them in Arabic. The “scientific evidence” Carlisle managed to eke out of three weeks of research and squeeze into her long interview consisted of a couple of largely irrelevant points about polar bears and sea level rise that she thought she could show were wrong, except they weren’t (see below):

  1. Monckton did not make a mistake about the IPCC prediction of sea level rise. The 6 cm IPCC prediction he quotes applies to sea level rise due to melting ice sheets. It’s not the same as the total sea level rise predicted due to all causes, that Wendy quotes. Monckton did not exaggerate. Al Gore did, 100 fold.
  2. Did those four bears drown in a storm or not? Monckton refers to Monnett and Gleason, 2006. Let’s quote that paper: “Our observation suggest that polar bears swimming in open waters near Kaktovik drowned during a period of high winds and correspondingly rough sea conditions… No other deleterious environmental conditions were present…” Furthermore, The Justice of the UK High Court agrees with Monckton.  Thus Ms Carlisle misconstrued the evidence in order to claim that “Lord Monckton miscontrues the evidence”. Projection anyone? (Thanks to nocarbontax.com for both these points.)

So while skeptics get their information from NOAA, NASA, Vostok and Greenland ice cores, and peer reviewed papers, Wendy Carlisle seems to have got hers from  places like DeSmog –  a professional smear site written by a PR group with paid marketing staff, who market renewable energy firms in their other jobs for Hoggan and Associates. They push the bounds of slander and libel, to cherry pick any tenuous word association to smear and attack scientists who’ve worked for decades at the peak of their fields.

She thinks this is “research”.

Read on for the real story on Tim Ball, Fred Singer, the ambush interview, and the dismal record in logic and reason.

Analysis by “Strategies”: The reasoning  that buries itself

ABC staff have been so under-trained in logic and reasoning that they can’t recognize an irrational swamp like Naomi Oreskes arguments. Oreskes long ago tossed Aristotelian thought into the  bin, and opted instead for the bogus form of “argumentum ad strategatem”. It goes like this: if Naomi can speculate that there is “a strategy” (other than seeking the truth) in any statement, then that person making the statement is doing it for the wrong reasons, and the statement must be wrong. She forgets that people trying to get the truth out also use “strategies”. (What do you do when there are real doubts? Speak randomly?) Yea and verily, our national debate is reduced to inanities. How easy it is to mock anyone who points out any quantum of uncertainty. Did News of the World Hack Phones? How could you say that you Doubt-monger(!!!): “that’s just what the tobacco institute did too – seeded doubt”. Never mind that some doubts are real.

It’s a multipurpose fog factor, any debate can be reduced to meaninglessness with the handy nonsense of Oreskes. (Did I mention “Tobacco”?) Suddenly no one can question anything “official” without being accused of “seeding doubt” like evil tobacco corporations.

It works both ways though. The Queen of the Merchants of Doubt is Naomi Oreskes herself. She seeds doubts about scientist’s reputations and the whistle-blowers credibility. While skeptics raise doubts about the evidence, the useful idiots raise doubts about “character” — also known as ad hominem attacks.

Carlisle also read from the Oreske’s playbook and baited me repeatedly to say I wanted science settled in the “townhall debate”. I want policies debated at town halls (and everywhere else), and if the policy is based on highly complex, wildly uncertain science, then the science needs to be explained in town halls, on TVs, radios and everywhere else too. But according to Oreskes, that’s a “strategy” too — to get science out of peer review and into town halls. But figure how things work in Oreskes’ world: if any policy can be labeled “scientific”, then voters don’t get to decide which party has the best plan  — because it “ought” be settled via the elitist, anonymous, unpaid, manipulated “peer review” system, and only government paid and ticketed participants are allowed at that forum.  (And you pleb-citizens had better feel good about that.)

The elitist attitude that science only belongs to a select few, is rather totalitarian when “science” is used as the weapon in policy that affects the whole population.

It sounds twee, but science belongs to all of us.

Shouldn’t ABC science reporting start with logic and reason?

What is science without reasoning? Answer: It’s not science. Indeed, reasoning is so important to science than it outranks the sacred tenet of evidence. Without good reasoning, we can have all the evidence in the world but fail to make sense of it.

Argument from authority is a well known fallacy. Yet everything Wendy Carslisle says is based on the assumption that the government science is right. How do I know? I asked her, and she couldn’t name any experimental evidence to support her unshakable faith, only that essentially she trusts the agencies. Argumentum ad verecundiam. If only she understood why that was so woefully inadequate.

The whole culture of the ABC is such that if there was something wrong with government science, the ABC would be the last to find out. They’d be too busy attacking unpaid whistleblowers, oblivious to the circular reasoning:  “We know the government is right, because their scientists are the authority. Why are they the authority? Because the government pays them to be.”

Wendy’s world boils down to “government scientists: good; independent scientists: bad”

Another kindergarten fallacy is an ad hominem attack, which Wendy Carlisle appeared not to understand at all. She was aghast that Tim Ball was not a professor or a published climatologist (which is misinformed in any case, see his doctorate in climatology here, and CV here) and that I was associated with him (well yes, barely). She used that question of “character” as a way of dismissing all the arguments all the skeptics make. I pointed out that his biography tells us nothing about our climate. Any six year old would recognize that you can’t understand how much the world will warm by studying a man’s Curriculum Vitae. She snorted and simply denied it was an ad hom. How can you reason with that?

She reported on Tim Ball at length in her program despite the fact that he was 14,000 kilometers away from the Monckton tour and had virtually nothing to do with it.

When 22 peer reviewed papers equals “0″, and climatology wasn’t climatology

  1. Carlisle said “Professor Timothy Ball has never published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal on the topic of human contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.” And neither has Ross Garnaut. But Ball has published at least 22 peer reviewed papers on climate science, and he got a doctorate in climatology back in 1982. (That’s 22 more papers and a more relevant doctorate than Tim Flannery) Didn’t she feel the public ought to know that? It’s true — possibly Alan Jones introduction of him, was too enthusiastic, but climate modelers who can’t produce any working prediction are introduced as “eminent experts” all the time, and Garnaut — a paid government agent– is introduced as “independent”. Let’s get a grip.
  2. Tim Ball says he worked in Climatology at the University of Winnipeg. Tim is retired, and is being hounded and attacked to the point where he is facing law suits and launching them in return, and has already forced the Calgary Herald to issue a retraction for a slanderous article. In that bullying climate, someone at the University of Winnipeg has written a three line email saying We have never had a Climatology program. Awkwardly for them, Marc Hendrickx found an archived webpage showing indeed that the University had at least three courses in Climatology. Rewriting history is an old “strategy”. But Carlisle assumed that fans of warming wouldn’t do that, and failed to check her sources. This international petty obsession with Tim Balls exact title from 1982-1996 shows how successful Ball’s arguments are. The attacks are mindless: perforce, does the exact nomenclature of extinct courses validate climate models and invalidate Ball’s arguments? Who are the ABC kidding? It was not only wrong, but meaningless too. [Note in the interview both Ball and Carlisle refer to "a department" but in the written links it's referred to as a "course" or "program"?]

Who are the cranks here?

What matters to the world right now, is climate sensitivity. What “Background Briefing” think you need to know are stories about tobacco funding 20 years ago on a different question, in a different country, by a different speaker. If  you find a cause and effect link there, do tell us. Rush to tell Wendy. She needs you.

Carlisle blindly used the standard Oreskes incantation — here’s the chain: Monckton advises a group called SPPI, which Carlisle claims is run by Fred Singer (it isn’t), and 20 years ago Fred Singer wrote a report saying that smoking doesn’t cause cancer (he didn’t), and Singer was paid by Phillip Morris (he wasn’t), so therefore Monckton’s arguments about climate can be dismissed without a glance. Got it?

What really happened in this irrelevant chain of events?

  1. Bob Ferguson founded and runs the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), which Monckton advises. Ferguson explains that Fred Singer is not and has never been involved with running SPPI. Singer runs an entirely different group SEPP.
  2. Fred Singer has never claimed smoking doesn’t cause cancer. Instead he was commissioned to write a report for a group about the statistics on  passive smoking (note the word “passive”) and Singer, who doesn’t like cigarettes, but likes the scientific method, felt compelled to point out that the passive smoking study only met the 90th Confidence Interval, not the time honored standard of the 95th, and that the relative risk due to passive smoking was so small that the studies were not statistically significant. He did that work for a group who, he found out later, had got some funding from a tobacco company. (Incidentally, does that mean that now, the new bar for independent scientists is they cannot accept funding from any company or group without first investigating all that organization’s complete and historical sources of funding. How does that help advance scientific knowledge? Best to get all your funding from the government eh?)

Singer was attacked for doing his job, he was scientifically correct, he didn’t take money from Phillip Morris, and in thanks, is degraded with statements verging on outright lies from the ABC.

Singer was attacked for doing his job, he was scientifically correct, he didn’t take money from Phillip Morris, and in thanks, is degraded with statements verging on outright lies from the ABC.

But like dog biscuits to cult members, sloppy reasoning and research feeds the hounds the misinformation they need so they can keep yapping and Feeling Superior about acting like a dog, and barking at the enemy.* Knowing that the word “tobacco” is involved anywhere in the chain means they don’t have to discuss skeptical scientific arguments. Handy way to shut down debate.

Stooping to ambush Wes Allen with the deception about Singer

Wes Allen wrote a whole book about Tim Flannery’s mistakes: The Weather Makers Re-examined. Instead of giving the Australian public an insight into how riddled with errors Flannery’s books were, Wendy cornered Allen with an egregious distortion about Fred Singer instead. She told Wes that “Fred Singer… was one of those scientists to cast doubt on the link between smoking and cancer…” and asked Wes, who is a G.P., how he felt about that, effectively twisting the knife to put Wes on the back foot and get Wes to look silly trying to defend it, or to attack a fellow skeptic. But since Singer didn’t ever say that, it was a mindless ambush which was never going to help the public learn anything useful about our planned Carbon Tax.

Thus the mud keeps spreading, courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.

Lies by omission

So Wendy Carlisle “science journalist” spoke to everyone in the room except the expert in modeling who detailed the evidence of why the climate models are wrong.

When the answer didn’t help Wendy paint skeptics as paid hacks, she kept that information from the public. She grilled me too about David Evans’** and my investments, our conflicts of interest, and where our money comes from, but since we are clean as a whistle (actually cleaner than she could possibly guess) she didn’t broadcast my answer, possibly because it wouldn’t do for the Australian public to know that a major skeptic (or two) have no skeletons in the closet and are acting voluntarily out of a sense of patriotic duty and professional concern. It’s just another way to show that Wendy was not there to help Australians understand what drives the skeptics, but to advocate a government policy. Her strategy is to ask questions but only report the answers that make skeptics appear bad –  a hallmark of propaganda, not journalism.

More pointedly, Wendy sat through Dr David Evans’ presentation twice, but assiduously avoided interviewing him. It could have been that his PhD from Stanford didn’t lend itself to mocking, or that his DeSmog attack pages are so weak, or maybe it was his background with the Department of Climate Change, but even Wendy realized that interviewing him would score no easy hits.

So Wendy Carlisle “science journalist” spoke to everyone in the room except the expert in modeling who detailed the evidence of why the climate models are wrong. Hello, anyone want to deny 28 million radiosondes? I have just the teacher for you…

This women worked hard not to get the truth.

Double standards anyone?

Wendy Carlisle told me she wished I would publish my arguments in the peer reviewed literature. But I am just a messenger as is she. If I had to get “peer reviewed” so did she.  Where were her publications?

Insisting that your critics jump through “peer review” is another way to silence dissent, and rather than being the mark of a rigorous science writer it’s a symptom of a lazy mind — one that’s waiting for someone else to find the holes in the arguments of those they want to dismiss.

And of course –  if there’s a problem in the peer review system itself, we all know which media institution will be the last to find it.

Other errors in the Carlisle “briefing”.

  1. There was no scientist called “Ben Singer”. Carlisle presumably meant Ben Santer. And far from Fred Singer hounding him, it was Fred Singer who was slandered by Al Gore’s staffers, Justin Lancaster. Fred Singer was viciously attacked with an outrageous falsehood, so he took Al Gore’s team to court, and in the face of the evidence, they settled and apologized.
  2. For the record, the answer to the question Wendy asked, “Who organized Monckton’s tour?”, is that thanks are mostly due to the Climate Sceptics party — which runs on a shoestring, offered no money in speaking fees, paid for discounted air fares, and yet gets lumped in Wendy’s description as if it were a large industrial player.

Oh the irony, Wendy was the only person paid to be in the room on the Monckton tour, and yet the unpaid citizens speak the truth, while the paid one tosses untruths, errors and innuendo.


The net effect of pieces like Carlisle’s is to stop people listening to the other side of a policy debate. And it works. Ask almost anyone working at or informed by, the ABC, to briefly outline the skeptic’s position and our main two or three arguments. They can’t. Simply no idea. They are clueless that most of the projected warming comes from water vapor, and simply look bewildered when it is pointed out to them that skeptics agree that CO2 causes warming but that debate is really over the magnitude and direction of feedbacks.

This is why this kind of work is worse than just a nullity. People have been spouting unreason since time began, but when nonsense is given the formal approval of taxpayer funded “expert journalists”, suddenly the batty views of wild innuendo take on a life they don’t deserve. The ABC is actively making it harder for the community to sort through the mud and get to what matters because it’s propagating the mud. This is why the crowd is getting so angry. “Our” ABC is obviously “their ABC”.  And they are working against the taxpayer. It’s time for it to stop.

It’s not reporting. It’s disguised PR. When Carlisle had evidence the skeptics have no financial interest and that this is a genuine grassroots movement she withheld it. When she had the chance to add in spurious slurs against distantly connected people she took every opportunity. She could have written about the science, but chose not too. The devastating missing hot spot argument was put to her five times, and the list of peer reviewed papers was sent to her (at her request), but at the end of it all she said “you don’t use much peer reviewed science”.

(And just who are the deniers?)

Carlisle actively ignores the Black Hole in the Room, known as the Banksters financial interest in a trading scheme.  Has she asked Tim Flannery about the Panasonic funding, his position with Siemens (who sell desalination plants), or his vested interests? Did she ask Malcolm Turnbull about his past at Goldman Sachs or that his HIH case was settled by a payment of an undisclosed amount thanks to Goldman Sachs who also stand to benefit from carbon trading?

This kind of one-sided reporting is merely a rubber stamp of government press releases or worse, rubber stamping something lower: a PR activist’s outrageous deception.

As Christopher Monckton says: How do you spell Pravda in Australian?

A. B. C.

* Apologies to our canine friends who don’t deserve the comparison.

** Yes, Dr David Evans and I are married :-) . Thanks.


Some of Joanne’s favourite posts are on the art of Science Communication

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