The Age beats The Oz for balanced climate reporting

Balance - today, at least

UPDATE: The Australian prints an update here (not, however, by science writer Leigh Dayton, who couldn’t bring herself to acknowledge the problem even existed).

For today, at least, The Age’s Adam Morton gets the guernsey for climate reporting (yes, you did read that correctly), for acknowledging the problems with the recent Gergis et al paper (see here, here, here, and here).

Morton, like the majority of environmental journalists, is a (self-selected?) believer in the magnitude and dangers of AGW, but today has shown a welcome streak of balance:

A WIDELY reported study that found the past half-century in Australasia was very likely the warmest in a millennium has been ”put on hold” after a mistake was found in the paper.

Led by scientists from the University of Melbourne, the study involved analysis of palaeoclimatic data from tree rings, coral and ice cores to give what was described as the most complete climate record of the region over the past 1000 years.

It was peer-reviewed and published online by the Journal of Climate in May, but was removed from the website last week at the authors’ request after the discovery of a ”data processing issue” that could affect the results.

Study co-author and climate science professor David Karoly said one of the five authors found the method of analysis outlined in the paper differed to that actually used.

The Climate Audit blog – run by Canadian Steve McIntyre, who has challenged the validity of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions – claimed credit for finding the issue with the paper. Professor Karoly said the authors uncovered the problem before Climate Audit blogged about it.

He said the data and results were being reviewed. (source)

Disappointingly, however, The Australian, which has usually been far more balanced in its reporting of climate matters, is so far refusing to publish anything about the developments. When contacted by ACM about the discovery of the problem, suggesting that a similar article to Morton’s be published in the Oz, science writer Leigh Dayton responded:

“I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

A curious answer, given the fact that the paper’s authors themselves have acknowledged the issues with the data processing. It’s an indisputable fact that the paper is on hold pending correction, and not a matter of opinion over which one can choose to agree or disagree.

It is likely that the conclusions of the paper will be substantially similar after the review, but in any event, readers of The Australian, who, like readers of The Age, were informed of the fairly sensational claims of the original paper, should also be informed of this important development.


  1. Kevin R. Lohse says:

    “It was peer-reviewed and published online by the Journal of Climate in May,” Just what use is peer review if it misses obvious errors which result in the paper being withdrawn? Increasingly “Cloud Review” online is proving far more effective at validating research than the old pals act, and previously prestigious titles are losing credibility hand over fist through sheer incompetence and a failure to maintain a critical distance from their contributors

  2. So Leigh Dayton wants to disagree about a FACT.
    How enlightened…

  3. Leigh Dayton also a true believer in the cause. Don’t expect her to pour clear water into those muddied waters.

  4. Sean McHugh says:

    The Australian is now reporting it. Better late than never. Note that the report isn’t by Leigh Dayton, the one described as their science writer. No surprises there.

    Climate paper flawed

    by: Bernard Lane
    From: The Australian
    June 13, 2012 12:00AM

    A PIONEERING paper on climate change has been put on hold after a mix-up in its methodology was identified.

    Though mentioning Steve McIntyre, it gives no credit to him for finding the problem and instead credits the hockey climate team. That probably isn’t the writer’s fault, but the fault of the spin he was given.

  5. Streetcred says:

    Ohh ! Leigh !! It’s about the children. /sarc

    Pull your head out of your dark nether region and report the truth of the failure of this ‘research’ paper … you are part of the hype so you also need to be part of the correction. Call yourself a journalist ? [snip] is more like it.

  6. Baldrick says:

    You’d be lucky to get any sort of concession from Leigh Dayton. Her CV should explain why, after working for David Suzuki, the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC … enough said!

    Still, as @Sean McHugh has pointed out above, at least The Australian has printed a corrected piece, albeit NOT from their ‘science’ reporter.

  7. Sean McHugh says:

    Andrew Rivkin, of the New York Times’ blog Dot Earth, is normally considered as being warmist friendly. He has updated the Gergis et al’s hockey stick revelation:

    June 11, 2012, 6:12 pm
    Australian Warming, Hockey Sticks and Open Review

    A much-cited study (paper here) concluded last month that the extent of warming in Australia in recent decades was so great compared to climate variations in the last millennium that it had to be mainly the result of warming from the human-driven buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
    . . . . . . . . . . . .
    My unfavorite would be “IT’S OFFICIAL: Australia is warming and it is your fault,” in the Herald Sun. This is a classic case of what I’ve been calling “single-study syndrome,” the bias in the news process toward the “front-page thought” and tendency to forget that science is a herky-jerky process.
    . . . . . . . . . . . .
    While the blogosphere comes with lots of noise, it also is providing a second level of review — after the initial round of closed peer review during the publication process — that in the end is making tough, emerging fields of science better than they would otherwise be.

    . . . . . . . . . . . .
    He also quotes the following:

    so if this paper turns out to be fatally flawed, it would need to be retracted and not simply disappear. Despite the often contentious debates that erupt over climate change science, we’ve seen only one other retraction in the field since we launched in August 2010, when Edward Wegman was forced to retract a paper for plagiarism.

    Credit goes to Andrew Rivikin; more shame goes to Leigh Dayton of The Australian.

  8. Confusious says:

    As Lenin said: “Forces of Revolution must control media through infiltration”. So not surprised at all finding Watermelon Party comrade Leigh Dayton deployed by The Australian as their scientist in house…..
    Should be sacked and so the ALP mole who hired her!

  9. sillyoldbugger says:

    Adam Morton: “It is likely that the conclusions of the paper will be substantially similar after the review”.
    Is he able to make that presumption because he has detailed knowledge of the data processing error involved and its impact on the (limited) dataset used; or is he simply recognising that the authors will “adjust” the data to get the result they/he want/s?

    [REPLY – That was my comment, not Adam’s]

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