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Catalyst – raising public awareness of science, or promoting big-government science instead?

The global warming segment on the ABC last night marks a new direction for the Catalyst ABC Science-unit. In the past, their method of dealing with skeptics was to pretend they didn’t exist (see the transcript of July 2013), but apparently they’ve realized they are losing the war. Is this the first time they’ve acknowledged that there is a skeptical view, and that there are questions to answer? Could be.  Perhaps it does hurt when they are repeatedly caught putting forward a biased one-sided point of view. They even interviewed Garth Paltridge and Judith Curry, with a moment of Christopher Monckton and Maurice Newman, too. But don’t get too excited. While the shift is a slight win for skeptics, there is no sign that Catalyst are any less biased, better informed or more aware of what the scientific method is. It is just a shift in PR tactics.

Anja Taylor still didn’t ask hard questions or do her research properly. Catalyst viewers would be almost as much in the dark as they were before. It is as if the point of the show was training for the ABC faithful to answer the dreaded skeptics.  Because even though skeptics were no longer completely ignored, in the end they’re still the kind of people that  “hacked” and stole things, they “seized” and “misinterpreted” information, and as Matthew England says in the last word, skeptics are “obsessed” and “they’re wrong”. (This from the man who calls the IPCC 1990 predictions “very accurate” when it is written in black and white that every mainstream dataset came in below the lowest possible estimate. When will the ABC or Matthew England right that wrong?)

Catalyst is still covering up the mistakes, errors and uncertainties with the best kind of advertising tax money can buy – -the kind of advertising that looks (in a shallow way) like it is independent reporting.

The ABC science unit almost admitted there was a pause, but in the end it was just the usual list of excuses. There was  “natural variability”, a solar slowdown, a few volcanoes, aerosols in China and the downside of the PDO. There was some pause-denial as the bottom line. “From the data he’s been analysing, Dr Trenberth sees a planet heating up just as fast as ever.”

Spot the contradiction, the missing heat is in the ocean, it’s hard to measure and we know skeptics are wrong…?

In total, aerosols and solar activity are thought to account for about 20% of the pause, but the biggest contender for where the rest of the heat is going is the one that’s hardest to measure. The oceans absorb a whopping 93% of the world’s excess heat.

Dr Kevin Trenberth
I’ve been working with the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, and they have developed an ocean-monitoring system that synthesizes all of the information – sea-level measurements, the measurements from the floats, sensors that are measuring sea-surface temperature and so on – and that we’ve found is that after about 1999, a lot more heat is going deeper into the ocean. And this is unprecedented. Is this just a consequence of the change in the observing system or is it real? And I think we have good reason to believe that at some of this is real.

Questions Anja Taylor could have asked but didn’t:

1. Precise ocean measurements only started in 2003 with the ARGO buoys, so isn’t it meaningless to say that the warming of the ocean below the surface is “unprecedented”? The last time the PDO shifted like this the temperature of the ocean was measured by a few boats with buckets. How would we know whether that shift was any different to this one?

2. Even if we call the ARGO buoys “precise”, they only have one thermometer for every 250,000 cubic kilometers of ocean. The changes in temperature we are looking for are in the order of one hundredth of a degree. Surely no scientist would claim that this data was remotely precise enough to make claims with any certainty at this stage? Why are we imposing billion dollar costs on Australian households based on data that is so uncertain?

3. The IPCC states it is 95% confident, yet they are relying on very short period of climate data with large uncertainties, and models which are proven to be wrong. Isn’t that misleading?

Taylor also could’ve pointed out that “internal variability” is not scientifically a force like radiation. Instead it’s a coverall term for modeler ignorance, the leftover after the effects of all the bits they think they know —  natural cycles. It would be equally true to say it means “we don’t know what is going on”.

Trenberth admits there were “quite substantial discrepancies”

Apparently it’s OK for a scientist to admit there were substantial discrepancies in the past that they concealed, as long as they have an answer to them now. But these discrepancies occurred during years when the same scientists were calling skeptics “deniers” and were telling the public there was no debate. What politician would get away with admitting they had hidden and denied a budget discrepancy for years, but it was alright because they had excuses now?

Taylor seems to think concealing the model failure was fine.  Trenberth admits there was a time when they couldn’t account for the missing energy, but he said he’s found it now, and she believes him. Given that he was not publicly honest then, why is he credible now?

Dr Kevin Trenberth Given that there’s an energy imbalance, where does that energy go? How much has gone into the oceans? How much has gone into melting Arctic sea ice? Warming the atmosphere, warming up the land, changing evaporation and therefore changing clouds which can also change the brightness of the planet. And when we first did this, there was some quite substantial discrepancies that in some years we can’t account for where the energy has gone.

Where were the press releases at the time, announcing that skeptics might be right and the climate scientists had doubts? The answer is that there is one kind of scientist who only ever announces something is missing when they are telling us they’ve found it — and that’s the unskeptical kind.

Perhaps it works for gullible journalists who have a personal position rather than an open mind?

Taylor invited Matthew England to offer us his latest excuse for the pause — “extra winds”. If she had done two minutes of Googling she would have found this post, which pretty much lays out all the mistakes and assumptions built into his weak excuse and the questions she ought be asking Prof England.

  1. If the PDO can cool the Earth, it must be able to warm the Earth too. Exactly how much of the previous warming that you said was CO2 should now be attributed to the Pacific Ocean?
  2. You say these winds are unprecedented in the records, but you even admit in the paper that these records are short, and there are few observations before the satellite era starting in 1979. Given that the PDO is 60 years long, isn’t it misleading to call a particular reading “unprecedented” when we don’t even have records for one entire natural cycle?
  3. Haven’t skeptics been saying for years that the PDO affects the climate and the models were exaggerating?
  4. Perhaps the trade-winds are affecting the climate. But what drives the trade-winds? The models can’t predict the trade-winds until they understand what drives them. If it turns out to be cloud cover changes, or lunar orbits, or solar magnetic effects, cosmic ray effects, or all of the above… that means there is another whole factor or lots of them that the models did not include. Every warming factor added to the models reduces the power of CO2 as a driver. How much does this reduce your future projections by? (Or your future job prospects?)

The bottom line for Catalyst is that there is no pause and warming is coming

Global Prophets for science?

What that means is we’re currently in the phase before the next global temperature jump.

Professor Matthew England
There will be warming out of this hiatus at some point in time – whether it’s this or in five years’ time, there’s gonna be warming – and unfortunately, what we’re seeing in the models is that the warming out of the hiatus is gonna be rapid, regardless of when that hiatus ends.

If the world cools instead, as solar-based theories predict, will Catalyst admit they were wrong?

Catalyst: inaccurate, and in denial of the data?

NARRATION: But a small minority of scientists disagree.

Catalyst could have said a small minority of (certified) climate scientists disagree, but they didn’t. They said “scientists” implying scientists in general — yet survey after survey shows that two-thirds of geoscientists and engineers, 48% of meteorologists and many other hard scientists, and by the thousands, absolutely do not agree.

These kinds of careless, repeated errors could be easily checked in a few minutes with an Internet search. Is it just confirmation bias or is it PR? Whatever it is, it’s not investigative reporting.

Climategate still hurts: hide the travesty

Anja Taylor was keen to take another opportunity to remind everyone of how unimportant it was.  Indeed the  Trenberth Climategate quote was so unimportant and misunderstood they spent four paragraphs discussing it without telling the audience what the quote was. Don’t mention the travesty!

Among the Many hacked emails in the 2009 Climategate scandal was one from Dr Kevin Trenberth to a colleague. Sceptics seized on one particular sentence as written proof that climate scientists were involved in a large-scale cover-up.

Dr Kevin Trenberth
It was picked up as me saying that there was no global warming, somehow or the other, and completely misinterpreted and it just propagated all over the place – it was amazing to see.

Let’s do that quote in full, so the ABC viewers could decide for themselves.

“The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.”

The definition of travesty: ˈtravɪsti (noun)  a false, absurd, or distorted representation of something.

Anja Taylor describes this instead as “frustration” and the word “travesty” is never said. ABC viewers might be surprised to find the ABC covering up admissions of false, absurd, or distorted representations. Blog readers won’t be.

Instead of reporting the facts, Taylor reported  guesses and speculation, saying that the emails were “hacked” — something the Norfolk police tried to find evidence for, but couldn’t. The only person who knows is FOIA, and they explained they were whistleblowing, which is legally protected in the UK. Other scientific “facts” Catalyst reported included the odd meteorological event they called a “climate conspiracy storm”. (Apparently that’s what you call it when scientists accurately quote leaked emails of other scientists admitting their research is a “travesty”.)

Is it raising public awareness of science, or promoting big-government science instead?

Catalyst seemingly has no interest or curiosity in discussing the real scientific questions that matter, not even when they are reporting what scientists as a profession are thinking and asking. If Catalyst was there to serve the public, or the science community at large, they would not discuss Climategate emails and hide the words they were supposedly discussing. They would not praise scientists who admit they were privately in doubt while they were publicly “certain”. Nor would they accept weak post hoc answers that depend on single thermometer correctly measuring 250,000 cubic kilometers of ocean, and models that we know are wrong.

Probably lazy reporters are just serving their own personal whims, which are genuinely held but based on dinner-party discussions and fashionable trendiness rather than on logic and hard evidence. Whim-based reporting is not what the ABC was chartered to do. Nor was it supposed to just be a mouthpiece for government dependent officials to promote government dependent work.

Have Catalyst ever served the public by seriously investigating the value or success of taxpayer funded grants? Has Catalyst ever questioned whether a particular ARC grant was misused, or irrelevant, wasted, or one-sided research? Whatever the intent, the outcome is to act as paid PR for ARC-funded scientists, to help them convince the public that their taxes are well spent. “Give me more money”. “Vote for big government”.

After decades of being almost entirely reliant on public funds would anyone be surprised if ABC employees personal views don’t tend to be skeptical of government funding? There’s a kind of natural selection at work. The base-aim of most publicly funded bodies must surely be to justify more public funding. Any co-dependent on government funding is a friend indeed. The needier, the better.

The one recent time Catalyst questioned a consensus they were hounded for it. It’s hardly a surprise they take the safe big-government policy position on science.

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h/t to Matt, Chris, J.J., Peter, & John

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