Saturday, July 31, 2010

Science literacy: ABC's Doh Doh Doh

Doh Doh Doh
Update: see ABC reply below
ABC's report "Science literacy at risk of extinction" covers the results of a survey of science literacy in Australia based on responses to a number of science questions. Looking at the missing science news stories listed below it seems ABC has not been doing the cause of empiricism* any favours. It even confuses "3 out of 10" with "1 out of 3" - close but no cigar. An embarrassing mistake to make in a story about science literacy.

The questions and some of the comments from the survey appear below. The complete survey results can be found HERE.
Q1: How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun?
(Men, younger people, and those with higher education levels were more likely to know the correct answer)
Q2: Is the following statement true or false? The earliest humans lived at the same time as dinosaurs.
(Australians aged 45-64 years and people with less education are the most likely to think that humans lived during the time of the dinosaurs)
Q3: What percentage of the Earth’s surface is covered by water?
(People with a university education were more likely to say the percentage of the Earth’s surface covered with water is 70%.)
Q4: What percentage of the Earth’s water is fresh water?
(Men are more likely to think that the percentage of fresh water on Earth is 3% (16% versus 9% of women), as are those with a university education (17% compared with 12% or fewer of people with less education). The small number of correct answers suggest that most Australians do not know how much of the Earth’s water is fresh.)
Q5: Do you think that evolution is occurring?
(Men, people aged 18-24 years and people with higher education levels are more likely to think that evolution is occurring. )
Q6: Do you think that humans are influencing the evolution of other species?
(Most Australians, regardless of gender, age or education level believe that humans are influencing the evolution of other species,)
Q7: In your opinion, how important is science education to the Australian economy?
(Australians view science education as important for the economy, but men, people aged over 65 years and people with university qualifications are more likely to think that science education is absolutely essential.)
The survey summary states:
Whilst the majority of Australians disagreed, three in ten people said that they believe the earliest humans coexisted with the dinosaurs.
Nevertheless, the results of this survey show that most Australians are aware of many basic scientific facts. For example:

  • Around two thirds (61%) know it takes one year for the Earth to travel around the Sun;
  • Around seven in ten (71%) believe evolution is currently occurring;
  • Around three quarters (77%) believe humans are influencing the evolution of other species; and
  • Around three quarters (74%) think that between 70% and 80% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water.

However, around three quarters of Australians overestimate the proportion of the Earth’s water that is fresh, with 77% of respondents believing the proportion is 4% or more.
Younger Australians, those with higher levels of education, and men where somewhat more likely to answer each of the questions correctly.
Results also show that most respondents believe that science education is “absolutely essential” (42%) or “very important” (38%) to the Australian economy.
In particular, people aged over 65 years were likely to emphasize the value of science education, with one in two (50%) stating that it is “absolutely essential” for the Australian economy.

ABC's missing stories
Missing News: Nothing "unprecedented" in melting ice
Missing News: Climate models are an each way bet
Missing News: Oxburgh Inquiry-science was not the subject of our study
Missing News: Where's Watts Up With That
Missing News: Palaeoproterozoic fossils push back the age for multicellular life.
Missing News: Urban Heat Island effect at Laverton, VICTORIA
Missing News: Butterfly claims debunked
More missing news: No depth to ABC coverage of Oxburgh Report
Missing News - Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation accounts for changes in Swiss Glaciers
Missing News on Polar Bears
Missing News - Royal Society to revise climate message
Missing News: Cretaceous Extinctions: Evidence Overlooked
ABC miss the scoop for the poop
Missing News: ABC receives Gold Walkley for climate change reporting
Missing News - Study falsifies IPCC: Climate has low sensitivity to CO2
Missing News: More Curry for IPCC
Missing News: Homeopathy-no effects beyond placebo
Missing News: Wind contributing to Arctic sea ice loss, study finds
Missing News: Wong 'fully duped" according to climate researcher
 More missing News: World may not be warming
Missing News: Censorship at AGU: scientists denied the right of reply
Missing News: Medieval Warm Period similar to Modern Warm Period
Missing News: No change in Global Tropical storm days due to Global Warming - Report
More missing news: UAE accused of misleading UK Parliament
Jones' BBC Interview missing in action-reports no warming since 1995

(*Empiricism in the philosophy of science emphasizes those aspects of scientific knowledge that are closely related to evidence, especially as discovered in experiments. It is a fundamental part of the scientific method that all hypotheses and theories must be tested against observations of the natural world, rather than resting solely ona priori reasoningintuition, or revelation. Hence, science is considered to be methodologically empirical in nature....via wikipedia)

ABC reply received 2 September, 2010
I refer to your email of 30 July 2010 regarding a caption accompanying the News Online item ‘Science literacy at risk of extinction’, published the same day.

You are of course correct that the values ‘3 in 10’ and ‘one third’ are not equivalent.  ABC News have explained that picture captions, like headlines, try to capture the essence of a story in just a few words, and this is what occurred in this instance.  While we don’t believe it to be a significant error, in view of the story’s focus on scientific literacy, ABC News have decided to amend the caption to read ‘Nearly a third of people surveyed believed humans walked the Earth with dinosaurs’.
Yours sincerely,
Head, Audience and Consumer Affairs    


Friday, July 30, 2010

Update: Nothing "unprecedented" in melting ice

The Wilkins Ice Shelf in Antarctica
(British Antarctic Survey)
We questioned the ABC about the appropriateness of using the photo (shown above) to accompany ABC's report titled "Climategate scientists cleared by British inquiry". The photo shows ice shelves in the Antarctic? Surely a photo of Phil Jones would be more appropriate, or perhaps a shot of the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit? How about the cover of Andrew Montford's book The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science. Especially given that recent research shows that current ice levels in Antarctica are not unprecedented (see "Reduced ice extent on the western Antarctic Peninsula at 700–970 cal. yr B.P." published in Geology. July 2010, v. 38, no. 7. referred to in our missing news post Nothing unprecedented in melting ice)  AND current sea ice levels around the Antarctic are at record high levels as confirmed by the graph below from the recent NOAA State of the Climate report. Surprisingly this fact was not covered in ABC's "extensive" coverage of this NOAA report. NOAA indicate: During June 2010, the Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent reached its largest extent on record for June, 8.3 percent above the 1979–2000 average. This is the eighth consecutive June with above-average Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent. Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent for June has increased at an average rate of 1.4 percent per decade.
June's Southern Hemisphere Sea Ice extent
Here's the guts of ABC's reply, received 29 July, 2010:
On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs do not agree the image was inappropriate. The image depicted ice shelves in Antarctica; one of the issues that have been raised as part of the ongoing debates around climate change. While noting your concerns, we believe the image was appropriate to accompany a story that reported on the outcome of an inquiry into the quality of research on climate change, prompted by the leaked emails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit.
Accordingly, while noting your concerns, Audience and Consumer Affairs are satisfied the image accompanying the article was in keeping with section 5.2.2(c) of the ABC's Editorial Policies. Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been conveyed to ABC News management.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

ABC "screams" sensationalism in climate report coverage

Tea kettle with boiling water on black background Royalty Free Stock Photo
ABC HEADLINE: "Climate check-up 'screams world is warming'" by Lisa Millar posted News Online 29 July 2010. Based on the AM report 2009 one of the hottest years in Australia's history broadcast the same day. Also discussed on AM Breakfast under the banner "Global warming 'undeniable': US government report
Update-also covered on The World Today with the added gloss of "survey results"...Survey Says act now on emissions. Hmmm "survey results, Hmmm "Survey
AM, Radio national Breakfast, News Online, the World Today...almost a full house and not one  alternative view point on the significance of the rise!

ABC REPORTED: ABC covered the release of a recent US based report from the
US National Oceani
and Atmospheric Association that indicates the world has warmed. The ABC report(s) include the following statements:
"The list of last year's extreme weather events includes a flood in Brazil that left 376,000 people homeless, heavy rainfall in England that damaged 1,500 properties and three intense heat waves in Australia, one of them coinciding with the Victorian bushfires that killed 173 people." News Online
The scientists say the warming is due to greenhouse gases and while there were signs of human fingerprints, the report was not designed to attribute blame. AM
Maximum temperatures were generally above normal throughout Australia, adding up to the second hottest year since temperature started being record in 1910. News Online
It added up to the second hottest year since temperature started being record in 1910. AM

THE COMPLAINT: The signs of warming are undeniable, the world is warming. But so what, it has warmed by similar amounts in the recent past and at similar rates. Take the Medieval Warm Period as an example, or even the warm period in the 1930-1940s. There is no wonder that weather records are being broken when more and more weather stations are being affected by siting issues such as the Urban Heat Island effect or regional land use changes. 
This complaint has two parts, the first deals with a factual error,  the second with a lack of inquiry by ABC reporters. 

Factual Error-Section 5.2.2 (c): ABC state that temperature records started being recorded in 1910. This is incorrect the earliest weather observations date back the First Fleet and Australian Colonies maintained their own weather stations until the Bureau of Meteorology was established in 1908-refer to ABC report  BOM celebrates 100 years. Readings up to 1905 include Victoria's highest record temperature at Mildura in January 1906.
Lack of inquiry- section 5.2.2 (f) :
Once again ABC journalists show a lack of scepticism in dealing with climate news and ABC News has failed in its duty under section 5.2.2 (f) of its editorial policies, in not serving the public by throughly questioning information provided. Here are a few questions ABC reporters could have asked:

1. The list of extreme events looks quite devastating but what of earlier weather based catastrophes. What about the 1887 flood of the Huang He (Yellow) River in China that killed between 900,000 to 2,000,000, or the 1931 Huang He flood that killed an estimated 1,000,000 to 4,000,000?  What about droughts in India in 1900 that killed between 250,000 and 3.25 million, droughts in the Soviet Union in the early 1920s in which over 5 million perished from starvation? What about the 1936 heatwave to in the USA that killed 4000, or the remarkable storms that caused severe damage in Perth in 1905? Is the NOAA mixing up weather and climate? 
2. Global Ice:The NOAA's report states: During June 2010, the Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent reached its largest extent on record for June, 8.3 percent above the 1979–2000 average. This is the eighth consecutive June with above-average Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent. Southern Hemisphere sea ice extent for June has increased at an average rate of 1.4 percent per decade. Why is the extent of Antarctic sea ice at record levels when the world is at its warmest in 150 years?
3.  You say that warming is due to greenhouse gases but provide no evidence that this is the case. An alternate theory suggests the natural flux of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation may the cause of the recent warming. Would you care to explain why NOAA rule out the PDO and other natural factors to explain recent warming and why you focus on CO2?

OUTCOME: ABC reply received 22 September

Thank you for your email of 29 July.
In keeping with ABC complaint handling provisions, your concerns have been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit which is separate to and independent of program making areas within the Corporation. Audience & Consumer Affairs has assessed the ABC News Online report “Climate check-up ‘screams world is warming’” and the AM report on which it was based, “2009 one of the hottest years in Australia’s History”, published and broadcast respectively on 29 July,  against the accuracy provisions for news and current affairs content outlined in Section 3.2 of the Code of Practice, which is available online at:
During the AM report, Lisa Millar reported that increasing maximum temperatures in Australian states and regions, “added up to the second hottest year since temperatures started being recorded in 1910”. Similarly, ABC Online stated that “Maximum temperatures were generally above normal throughout Australia, adding up to the second hottest year since temperature started being recorded in 1910”.
In the context of the reports, the statement regarding the date at which temperatures were first recorded was made with reference to maximum temperature increases. It was not intended to indicate the point at which ALL weather observations were first made in Australia, but rather to establish a frame of reference for its comparison of annual maximum temperatures in Australia. ABC News has confirmed that, according to the US National Climatic Data Centre’s representative, Deke Arndt,  “Dates such as this are more associated with the date at which temperature observing stations became widespread enough so that a meaningful national temperature could be constructed. Temperatures were certainly observed prior to this date, but too sparsely for nationwide value”. Further reference to widespread temperature observation from 1910 can be found on the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s website at: 
Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the statement “... since temperature started being recorded in 1910” was accurate within the immediate context of maximum temperature recordings, and in keeping with the ABC’s standards for accuracy. In respect of your second complaint that ABC journalists failed to comply with Section 5.2.2(f) of the Editorial Policies, and with reference to the lines of inquiry suggested by you in your complaint, ABC News advises that “while there are scientists and other organisations who do not accept that man-made climate change is occurring, this story was not about that debate, but about the release of new research”. Audience & Consumer Affairs is satisfied that the decision to report these findings was based on news values, and that the coverage of these findings served the public interest.

Nonetheless, please be assured that your comments have been brought to the attention of News Management.

Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

COMMENT: The opposite of sceptic is unsceptic, or gullible. How can the public be confident in news reports provided by unsceptical journalists.

UPDATE: UHI at Laverton - Minister responds

Top: population growth around Laverton based on ABS statistics. 
Bottom: Laverton Mean temperature based on BOM records  
Note sharp rise in both after 2000
(click to enlarge)
We raised the issue of the Urban Heat Island effect at Laverton in a letter to the Hon. Peter Garrett Minister for Environmental Protection, Heritage and the Arts, following ABC's belated discovery of UHI. Part of Hon. P Garrett's brief is looking after Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM). The content of the letter can be viewed at the Watts Up With That post titled "More weather BoM’s in Oz". The temperature data at Laverton was also discussed in this Watts Up With That post "Before one has data". Today we received a response from the Minister written on his behalf by Dr Greg Ayers Director of the Bureau of Meteorology.

The letter is shown below. Click on the image for a larger version.

BOM indicates it last looked at Laverton in 2003. Based on the graphs above we suggest BOM should complete its review of Laverton as a matter of urgency. In the meantime we have requested BOM supply the names of surrounding rural stations used in its comparison so that an independent audit of UHI at Laverton can be undertaken. As BOM appears to have closed most of its rural stations surrounding Laverton and as many of the remaining stations have their own data quality problems (see below) we are left to wonder which sites BOM have left to compare Laverton with? 
The published literature appears to disagree with BOM's letter. Torok et al demonstrate:
1. Based on the relationship between UHI and population in this paper UHI at Laverton can be estimated at about 5.18 degrees over rural temperatures.
2. Torok  et al state "It is possible that the measured Melbourne UHI is a slight underestimate, as measurements across the urban-rural boundary were not continued far into the rural area." 

Torok, Morris, Skinner, and Plummer. “Urban heat island features of southeast Australian towns”  in  Australian Meteorological Magazine  50 (2001): 1-13)

As stated it clear the hard yards have not been done in measuring UHI at this site. BOM may want to look at its method of measuring UHI given the rapid growth around Laverton. 
More on this as it arises.

By the way Ken Stewart has recently completed an audit of BOM's High Quality Temperature Site Network, finding that:
  • Problems with the High Quality data include:
  • It has been subjectively and manually adjusted.
  • The methodology used is not uniformly followed, or else is not as described.
  • Urban sites, sites with poor comparative data, and sites with short records have been included.
  • Large quantities of data are not available, and have been filled in with estimates.
  • The adjustments are not equally positive and negative, and have produced a major impact on the Australian temperature record.
  • The adjustments produce a trend in mean temperatures that is roughly a quarter of a degree Celsius greater than the raw data does.
  • The warming bias in the temperature trend is over 40%, and in the anomaly trend is 50%.
  • The trend published by BOM is 66.67% greater than that of the raw data.
  • The High Quality data does NOT give an accurate record of Australian temperatures over the last 100 years.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Free ads for ALP

ABC HEADLINE: "Unions launch ads against WorkChoices" News online posted July 28, 2010
ABC REPORTED: ABC covered the launch of the ACTU's election advertising campaign. The ABC notes "Labor's closest friend and confidant, the unions, have launched their advertising campaign promising to do their best to see that Tony Abbott is not elected as the next prime minister."
THE COMPLAINT: Factual error: the Unions are not only Labor's "best Friend" they are members of the ALP.
Lack of Balance: Will ABC also be providing free advertising to members of the Liberal Party?
OUTCOME: Pending
COMMENT: Seems like the ALP has friends in the right places.

ICRP Decision: ABC Online News Report

ICRP Decision: ABC Online News Report

The Independent Complaints Review Panel (ICRP) has upheld a complaint made against an ABC Online news report published on October 19, 2009. The report titled “Turnbull still stinks with voters” outlined the results of a Newspoll taken earlier that week.

The complainant claimed the report’s headline was an inappropriate way to refer to the then Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull. 
In its report, the Panel states “this headline was not an impartial summary of the body of the report. It had a superadded political slant, which rendered it an inaccurate, unfair and biased statement.” The Panel found the report to be in breach of section 5.2.1 and 5.2.2 of the ABC’s Editorial Policies.
More at ABC's Media Release
The full report available HERE

Investigations at "The Drum"

COMMENT: ABC promotes "The Drum" as "analysis and views on issues of the day" however with its "investigation" into expenses of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott titled  How the taxpayer helped Tony Abbott flog Battlelines it appears to have crossed over into the realm of actual "News". Is this an opinion piece or a news story? In publishing this at The Drum (opinion) is ABC attempted to subvert its own editorial policy that provides stricter rules on facts for "News" items than for "opinion" pieces? Is this part of an internal power struggle within Auntie? Has ABC News missed so many of the big stories that ABC's agony Aunt "The Drum" now see fit to fill the gap? Is The Drum now so embarrassed by the performance of ABC News service that it now provides its own? Will The Drum now insist on going 24/7 with its ground breaking opinion pieces? 
So many questions, so few answers.

Update - Pacific Islands story wrong journal quoted

ABC have replied to our request they amend a report titled "Pacific islands growing, not sinking" posted ABC News Online 3/6/2010 to provide the correct primary source. The report covered recent research that indicates that many low-lying Pacific islands are growing, not sinking, as claimed by the IPCC. In its report the ABC suggests the findings were published in New Scientist magazine "The findings, published in the magazine New Scientist". As we demonstrated in our complaint the findings were actually published in the journal Global and Planetary Change. The journal article is by Andrew Webb and Paul Kench and is titled "The dynamic response of reef islands to sea level rise: evidence from multi-decadal analysis of island change in the central pacific". The DOI is
ABC's statement about the source of the work is misleading, especially in the context of publication of peer reviewed science. We have asked ABC Complaints Review Executive to review the complaint lest we end up with secondary sources being made to appear as primary in future ABC reports. Based on ABC's assessment below the following statement would be considered passable:
"Findings published in the Sydney Morning Herald suggest that..."
"Recent research published in Womens Day..."
"Research published in the National Inquirer finds..."

We have suggested once again ABC correctly attribute the source of the research findings and amend their report.

The full reply appears below...
Received 27/7/2010
Thank you for your email of 3 June concerning the ABC News Online article “Pacific islands growing, not sinking” published that day. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding.
In keeping with ABC complaint handling procedures, your concerns have been considered by Audience and Consumer Affairs, a unit separate to and independent from ABC program areas. In light of your concerns, we have assessed the sentence of the article to which you refer against the ABC’s editorial requirement for accuracy in news and current affairs content, as outlined in section 5.2.2(c) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies: In the interests of procedural fairness, we have also sought and considered material from ABC News.
The story reported that new research had identified that many low-lying Pacific islands are growing, not sinking, challenging the view that Pacific islands are sinking due to rising sea levels associated with climate change. As you point out, the story referred to the findings as having been published in the magazine New Scientist. New Scientist is a weekly science magazine and website providing coverage of recent developments in science and technology, and it published a story about the research and its findings:
On review, Audience and Consumer Affairs do not agree the article’s reference to the findings having been published in New Scientist magazine was inaccurate. As noted above, details of the research and its findings were published in New Scientist. While we appreciate that the full research paper was published in the peer-reviewed journal to which you refer, and this may be of interest to some readers, we are satisfied that reference to the findings being published in New Scientist magazine was accurate and in keeping with section 5.2.2(c) of the ABC’s Editorial Policies.
Notwithstanding this, please be assured that your comments have been noted and conveyed to ABC News management. Thank you again for taking the time to write, and for your interest in the ABC. For your reference, a copy of the ABC Code of Practice is available at:

Yours sincerely
Audience & Consumer Affairs

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ABC News 24 a black hole

COMMENT: According to The Australian  ABC pledges improvements to 24-hour news

Prior to News 24, ABC News Radio was already providing an effective 24 hour news service, and it was always possible for important breaking news to be broadcast on ABC1 by interrupting into scheduled programming. In creating ABC News 24, not only did ABC duplicate services already satisfactorily provided by the private sector, it duplicated its own internal services with no marked improvement. ABC have now generated a singularity in its Ultimo head quarters that threatens to suck the rest of the organisation in with it.
We have shown ABC News already does less with more, and now by spreading itself more and more thinly with is News 24 channel it has succeeded in undermining the quality of its own product.
Based on its performance to date we suggest scrapping it and sinking the funds into more investigative journalism. Perhaps Auntie can start with an investigation into its own Groupthink culture.

in the MSM

The Media Diary Blog in Yesterday's Australian caught our eye...
More people say less
IN January, Melbourne-based media commentator Margaret Simons ruffled feathers when she said the ABC, with 900 journalists, doesn’t break much news. The Australian said much the same in a fiery editorial on Saturday.
But how to quantify such a thing? Another media commentator, Marc Hendrickx, has had a go on his website, ABC News Watch. He says the total number of stories posted in the ABC new archive for June 2010 was 6666 (compared with 7230 in 2003, and 7999 in 2007). By contrast, the number of staff in 2003 was 766, compared with about 942 today. He says: “Productivity is at a record low of just 7.07 stories per staff member for the month (compared with 9.4 stories per month in 2003).”
See the results of the Productivity Survey HERE