Weekend Australian: ABC's climate 'death threats' report undermined

Australian graphic (Click to enlarge)

Chris Merritt, Legal Editor, writes today in the Weekend Australian of the ABC’s failure to correct their report of 4 June 2011, which claimed that ANU scientists had received “death threats” in the six months prior to the report:

THE accuracy of the ABC’s reporting on climate change has been called into question by an activist who uncovered documentary evidence that undermines one of the national broadcaster’s most sensational reports on the subject.

Climate change blogger Simon Turnill told The Weekend Australian the contents of 11 emails he uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act were at odds with last year’s ABC report that death threats had been made against climate scientists at the Australian National University.

Then, when the ABC reported on the contents of those emails after they were uncovered, it did so in a manner that he regarded as being incomplete. The ABC neglected to include the key fact that there was no evidence in those emails of death threats at ANU, contrary to previous ABC reports. Mr Turnill said he was disappointed but not surprised because he believed the ABC’s approach to climate change “toes the consensus line” and anyone who challenged the orthodoxy received short shrift.

The original ABC article read:

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks. (source)

But instead of conceding that there were no death threats to ANU scientists in the period referred to in the original story, the ABC merely repeated the claim that the emails contained abuse, conveniently forgetting that the original article referred specifically to “death threats”:

The Australian National University has released a series of abusive and threatening emails which were sent to its climate change scientists.

The 11 emails to members of the university’s Climate Change Institute have been made public after a Freedom of Information request. (source)

In reality, only 2 of the 11 emails were seriously abusive (of the crank “f*ck you” variety), with the majority containing language that could simply be viewed as passionate disagreement. Not one single email contained a “death threat”. The ABC has not clarified or corrected the following claim either, which appears in the same article:

One email, dated June 2, 2010, describes a threat to use a gun against an academic because a conference participant reportedly disagreed with the climate change research.

It has subsequently been revealed that the discussion in question related to kangaroo culling in the ACT, and the claim that it was a “threat to use a gun against an academic” is fiction. [Also, why was this email even included in the ANU’s FoI release? It occurred well before the six month period in question – Ed]

The Weekend Australian also reports that ABC’s Media Watch intends to report on the matter on Monday:

While accepting Mr Pilgrim’s findings that the 11 emails did not contain any death threats, Media Watch supervising producer Amy Donaldson asks how this newspaper could conclude that other alleged threats outlined in The Canberra Times had also been debunked.

While The Australian’s reporting had focused on Mr Turnill’s FOI investigation, Ms Donaldson asked why this newspaper had not approached other climate scientists. The parameters of Mr Turnill’s FOI request had been heavily influenced by the six-month timeframe used in the original ABC report asserting that there had been death threats at ANU.

Late yesterday, this newspaper sent questions of its own to Media Watch seeking a response from presenter Jonathan Holmes on whether he saw his role as defending climate change orthodoxy? Holmes replied: “No. The program’s role is to apply accepted journalistic standards to the output of the Australian mainstream media.”

Sounds all very reasonable. But, unfortunately, we know for a fact that Holmes is a believer in catastrophic man-made climate change, and has written about News Limited’s coverage of the issue in the past:

The evidence for climate change, since then [2007], has only got stronger. The reasons for taking precautionary action have only become more compelling. Of course News Ltd can’t, on its own, affect the global climate by reducing its carbon footprint, and nor can Australia. But if every company, and every nation, acted – or refrained from acting – on the basis of that logic, the chances of eventually stabilising global temperatures at less than catastrophic levels would be reduced to zero.

You have to be an alert and habitual reader to notice that week after week, year after year, The Australian and The Weekend Australian massage their news coverage and grossly unbalance their opinion pages so as to send the message that the existence of human-induced climate change is highly debatable, and that any action by Australia to reduce its emissions would be economically ruinous and politically foolish. (source)

And thankfully, Weekend editor Nick Cater spells it out:

“Media Watch’s flaw is that it is vulnerable to capture by its presenters’ pet obsession. Jonathan Holmes has taken a neutral stance on most issues, but on climate change he has clearly fallen victim to ABC group think.”

One has to ask, who benefits from this “death threat” story anyway? And who suffers? Clearly, the climate scientists who are portrayed as the victims of this campaign will be viewed sympathetically, whilst the story also helpfully demonises anyone who questions the consensus view on climate as a crackpot who would go to the extreme measures of sending death threats to silence debate.

Last week’s Media Watch headline reads “Sensational stories invite serious scrutiny”. I wonder if the ABC’s sensational (and inaccurate) story of death threats at ANU will receive the same treatment?

Weekend Australian, p3, 19 May 2012

ANU scientists just can't help making fools of themselves

Bad hair day?

UPDATE: Jo Nova posts a timely reminder of her online debate with Glikson here.

Apart from the ubiquitous Will Steffen, the other “big name” at the ANU Climate Change Institute is (warmist, naturally) Andrew Glikson (see here for previous form).

Glikson, who is clearly annoyed that Steffen gets all the limelight, has decided to make a complete and utter twit of himself by writing a huffy letter to Richard Bean, the writer of the climate change play currently showing in Melbourne, The Heretic, in terms that can only be regarded by any normally balanced individual as deeply comic (my emphasis):

Dear Mr Richard Bean

As an Earth and paleo-climate scientist of some 45 years-long experience and more than 150 peer-reviewed publications, I suggest the show “The Heretic”, which I have not seen but about which I have read, can only lead to trivialization and further denial of what the scientific world regards as the greatest threat humanity and nature are facing.

I suggest the show plays into the hands of those who support the use of the thin terrestrial atmosphere (breathable thickness of less than 10 km) for further carbon emission on top of the 350 billion tons of carbon already emitted since the 18th century and >150 billion tons carbon released by land clearing, fires etc.. As shown in my enclosed paper, the pace of CO2 rise over the last 40 years, recently reaching >2 ppm CO2/year, has now exceeded any recorded for the last 65 million years, while the atmospheric level of 394 ppm CO2 is now near that of the warm Pliocene era some 3 million years-ago. Our empirical evidence is based on direct observations of the atmosphere-ocean-cryosphere system by the world’s climate monitoring bodies – including NOAA, NASA, NSIDC, Hadley-MET, Tyndale, Potsdam, CSIRO, BOM and other.

Opinion and “belief” are no substitute for evidence. Those who doubt the basic laws of nature and empirical data are always welcome to submit research to peer review journals where their papers will be treated the same as any other. In so far as their propositions are upheld, anyone who is able to demonstrate as if:

  1. The Earth’s climate is not warming, or
  2. The anthropogenic release of >500 billion tons of carbon since the 18th century is not the primary factor responsible for global warming

is bound to receive the highest accolades.

I wonder whether such a show, if concerned with denial of the holocaust of world war II, would have been conceived?

I suggest that, given the threat of anthropogenic global warming to the terrestrial climate and to marine ecosystems, a theatric show making mockery of the gravity of the climate issue for future generations can only be seriously mistaken.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Glikson
Earth and paleo-climate scientist
Australian National University

They really have no idea, do they? How utterly embarrassing for Glikson, ANU and Australia.

Thanks to Bishop Hill.

ANU's Will Steffen speaks on "death threat" emails

FOI request

UPDATE 3: Anthony at Watts Up? posts on this again (many thanks!):

Quote of the week – Death by Coochey coup

UPDATE 2: Will Steffen speaks again on ABC’s The World Today (link):

“Well I think that newspaper headline you’ve got there in front of me called ‘Climate of Fear’ could actually be turned around to describe what happens in some cases to climate scientists and our staff. 

But there’ve also been direct aggressive and threatening events, physically threatening events to some of my staff. But there were a couple of incidents there which my staff interpreted as being threatening and I think they had very good reason to do so. 

I took a whole range of pieces of evidence – email, non-email and so on – to our security people at ANU (Australian National University) who are experts in the field and asked their advice. And their advice obviously taking a rather conservative position to ensure our safety, which is appropriate, that we move to much more secure quarters, which we have.”

“A rather conservative position”… Note how the ABC is once again cozying up to the alarmists and showing not a hint of critical questioning of anything Steffen says. 

UPDATE: Alan Jones’ comment this morning is again on the death threat emails. Listen here.

They don’t learn do they? ANU’s Professor Will Steffen, the Gillard government’s alarmist in chief, was given a free kick to plug the Climate Commission’s latest doom and gloom report (video here). I’m not even going to bother going into it, because, well, life’s too short. What was more interesting was the response of Steffen to a very gentle question by the interviewer about the “death threat” emails:

Interviewer: Have you ever received a threatening email? Have you received a death threat in your work in the climate change area?

Steffen: It’s certainly a matter of perception there – I believe I have in terms of some very threatening actions to staff and to myself personally. They weren’t via email though and they weren’t during the period under question, so we certainly took the action we thought was appropriate. My number one concern was the safety and wellbeing of my staff and it wasn’t an isolated incident it was a number of incidents that were coupled with very threatening emails. I took all of this to experts on security, I’m not an expert on security, so I had to go to our own people to interpret what was going on. Their expert judgment was we needed to take some measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of my staff and that was my number one priority.

Interviewer: You certainly got the impression you and your staff were under direct threat?

Steffen: I certainly got the impression I was and my staff were the recipients of some fairly aggressive actions in person.

So the threats were suddenly not by email, and they weren’t during the period in question, i.e six months before the story broke. So what did the ABC write again?

Several of Australia’s top climate change scientists at the Australian National University have been subjected to a campaign of death threats, forcing the university to tighten security.

Several of the scientists in Canberra have been moved to a more secure location after receiving the threats over their research.

Vice-chancellor Professor Ian Young says the scientists have received large numbers of emails, including death threats and abusive phone calls, threatening to attack the academics in the street if they continue their research.

He says it has been happening for the past six months and the situation has worsened significantly in recent weeks.

So according to the ABC, there were plenty of threats by email, and within the six months prior to the story, completely contradicting what Steffen said on the ABC this morning. Who’s right?

ANU: Kangaroo cull discussion turned to 'threat of physical violence'

FOI request

UPDATE 1: Andrew Bolt has a lengthy article here (paywalled):

“Perfect Climate for Hollow Threats

IT was just too convenient, which is why some of us smelled a rat the day the story broke. It was June last year, and here’s the start of a Canberra Times story that went around the world.

“Australia’s leading climate change scientists are being targeted by a vicious, unrelenting email campaign that has resulted in police investigations of death threats.”

UPDATE 2: Tim Blair has more here.

UPDATE 3: Scans of The Australian article and Tim Blair’s article added below.

The Australian, which is doing a brilliant job of covering this story (thank you Christian), reports on page 2 the innocent discussion of kangaroo culling which top climate scientists at ANU decided to regard as a “death threat”:

SECOND-HAND accounts of a casual chat about Canberra’s regular kangaroo culls over dinner at an Australian National University forum on climate change turned the talk into a “serious threat of physical violence” against ANU researchers, one of the participants in the conversation believes.

The Australian revealed this month that 10 of 11 documents found in the wake of a Freedom of Information request lodged with the ANU after reports in Fairfax Media and on the ABC of “death threats” against climate scientists at the university were found by the Privacy Commissioner not to “contain threats to kill or threats of harm”.

An 11th, the commissioner ruled, “could be regarded as intimidating and at its highest perhaps alluding to a threat”. But he added: “I consider the danger to life or physical safety in this case to be only a possibility, not a real chance.”

The email says: “Looks like we’ve had our first serious threat of physical violence.”

A climate sceptic taking part in a deliberative democracy project on climate change in May 2010, it continues, “showed other participants his gun licence and explained to them how good a sniper he is”.

Retired Canberra public servant and 20-year kangaroo culler John Coochey believes he is the kangaroo culler referred to.

Mr Coochey took part in the first day of the project.

At a dinner for participants, he says, he was approached by the ACT’s then commissioner for sustainability and the environment, Maxine Cooper, whom he knew over matters to do with kangaroo culling, a vexed issue in Canberra.

Dr Cooper, Mr Coochey says, asked how he had gone in the annual accreditation test cullers are required to pass.

“I answered that I had top-gunned it with a perfect score,” he told The Australian.  “I also showed her my new culling – not firearms – licence.”

Mr Coochey says he realised some fellow participants might have been disquieted by kangaroo shooting, so he “made small talk” about the marksmanship expertise needed to gain the licence.

“This has now been portrayed as ‘showing a firearms licence and boasting about my ability as a sniper’,” he complained yesterday. (source)

But for our brave climate experts, it’s back to business as usual, as commenter OhSmeg reports the ABC is already on to the rehabilitation process, interviewing Will Steffen on ABC Breakfast this morning, spruiking yet more alarmist projections (widely reported in Fairfax*, surprise!) for the end of the world due to a tiny increase in a harmless trace gas.

Funnier still however, is that he allegedly blamed the overreaction to the emails on “security experts”. Have yet to see the video of this exchange but will post when it becomes available.

*Fairfax inadvertently captions a photo of Flannery with the term “climate activist” – at least they’re finally honest about that. Impartial my foot.

The Australian, p2, 14 May 2012 (click to enlarge)

Tim Blair, Daily Telegraph, p13, 14 May 2012 (click to enlarge)

ANU: more on the "gun licence" email

FOI request

With 10 of the 11 emails released by the ANU containing no threats, there has been considerable focus on the 11th, a third hand report of an alleged “threat” at an off-campus event, referred to as the “Deliberative democracy project”.

ACM commenter “mondo” was a participant at said project, referred to in Document 5. Click here to download the zip file if you haven’t done so already.

To give it its full title, which is (rather worryingly) Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance (“DDGG”) [who said anyone who mentions global governance is a conspiracy theorist? – Ed], part of the ANU, the unit describes itself thus:

Deliberative democracy is one of the major growth areas in contemporary political theory and social science, and ANU claims what is possibly the world’s largest concentration of deliberative democracy scholars. Many of the world’s leading deliberative democrats have spent time with us. The ‘Global Governance’ in our title emphasises research directions that encompass transnational democracy and democratisation, though research on democratic theory, local and national deliberation, and the micropolitics of deliberative forums also flourishes.

One of the projects of the DDGG was entitled “Climate Change & the Public Sphere” has a web site here with rather paltry information. It appears the intention of the project was to subject some volunteers to some alarming projections of possible climate change between now and 2100, asking them at each stage to answer a number of identical questions – presumably to show how they would be more willing to accept the alarmist scenarios when presented with this kind of information. The final research paper from the project appears to be this one.

The project took place on 28/29 May 2010, which ties in with the date the ANU email was sent (2 June 2010). That ANU email (document 5), which is claimed to be a veiled “death threat”, states :

Looks like we’ve had our first serious threat of physical violence. It has come from a participant in [redacted] deliberative democracy project last weekend. One of the participants left early after he too exception to my talk about climate science. [redacted] exact words were: 

“Moreover, before he left, he came to the Fri dinner and showed other participants his gun licence and explained to them how good a sniper he is. Because he didn’t attend day 2 he will not be allowed to attend the final day. I will be notifying security to be on hand in case he turns up and causes a problem.” 

I think the final day is this weekend but I am not sure. Anyway, I’ve asked [redacted] to brief the VC and the head of security ASAP. The latter will determine whether this should go to the AFP or not.

But in the meantime, we should be careful about anyone we don’t know who approaches our offices. 

Commenter John Coochey admits to being the person in question in a comment posted on ACM (and at other blogs – with my emphasis):

I feel I can now throw some light on the matter. The document viewed as most “threatening” referred to an alleged Deliberation at the ANU about climate change in the Canberra region at which one person “made a death threat” (sic) by showing his gun licence and boasting about his skill as a sniper.. Only two people dropped out of the conference only one of those who did so attended the even meal. Me. I am certainly the one who is alleged to show someone their gun licence. That is not true while at the evening meal (of poor quality) comments moved to eating game meat and I was approached by the Commissioner for the Environment ACT, Dr Maxine Cooper who recognized me as someone involved in the kangaroo culling program in the ACT. She politely asked if she could sit at the vacant seat next to me and asked if I had past the recent licence test – not easy. I replied yes and showed her my current licence. I also impressed on any one interested the high standard of marksmanship necessary to allay any cruelty concerns. I might add that earlier in the day I had challenged two speakers to comment on a letter in the Canberra Times that claimed that temperatures had not increased in the Canberra area for decades. They were unable to do so, having not apparently checked the record despite the the “Deliberation” (conference) supposed to be about rising temperatures in the Canberra region. As all daytime conversations were recorded (we all signed waivers to allow this) this can easily be checked.

Mondo has now followed up by admitting to being the second “sceptic” to pull out of the project (my emphasis):

I was the other sceptic who left on the first day – the “stressed” one. You might have seen my comments at Catallaxy, Bishop Hill and Andrew Bolt on this. In case you haven’t this is what I said:

“I was the first sceptic referred to in the updates – the one that was “stressed”. That is a correct description. What I was stressed about was the incredibly manipulative way in which the so-called “forum” was conducted.

For example, Messrs Steffen and his team delivered presentations on various aspects of climate change. We were not allowed to ask questions, or to challenge the multifarious false statements made. Instead, we broke out into groups, with the idea that a group could ask a question. Of course, each group was dominated by “warmists”, and the lone sceptic in each group was a) abused, b) derided, c) not listened to.

The result was that Steffen and co were presented with soft questions that were based largely on ill-informed views, convenient to the organisers.

It is true that I was feeling stressed. But the reason was because while this was billed as an open-ranging discussion, in fact it was a tightly choreographed, manipulative discussion designed to capture an outcome favourable to the warmists. In no way was it a fair discussion.

All this soon became clear to me, and it was evident to me that it was fruitless and pointless to stay. I explained my issue to the organiser, and then left.

I met John Coochey at the forum. He is a knowledgeable and capable person, and I trust his account of the events relating to his gun license.

In fact, one of the aspects that I was annoyed about was that the forum had been billed as a “Citizen’s Jury” which implied that there would be opportunity for the “jury” to hear both sides, to cross-examine witnesses etc. Instead it was a tightly choreographed, controlled presentation of weak arguments from one side, with no opportunity (effectively) to ask questions.

So now we have two independent accounts of events at the Deliberative  Democracy weekend. Unsurprisingly, with Will Steffen as one of the presenters, Mondo was rightly annoyed at the blatant propagandising of the climate debate according to the IPCC and the sceptics, in typical form, abused and ignored. So how was this comment so wildly misinterpreted by the project’s organisers that it turned into a “death threat”? Did they actually make any enquiries, or just take the email report of the exchange at face value?

Media Watch investigating ABC and Fairfax over ANU claims

Death threat?

UPDATE 2 (15 May 2012): Media Watch don’t touch the story – perhaps next week.

UPDATE: As Marc reports in the comments, the ABC appears utterly oblivious to any of this, still parroting the same line:

“They include an email describing a physical threat to use a gun against an academic because the conference participant reportedly disagreed with the climate change research.” (source)

This is turning into the story that keeps on giving. After yesterday’s revelation that the one possible “threat” was actually an innocent discussion about culling kangaroos, now Legal Affairs editor Chris Merritt writes in The Weekend Australian:

Media Watch eyes climate scientist death threat claims

AFTER triggering a global news event with reports about death threats against climate scientists, the ABC and Fairfax Media are under investigation by Media Watch after a central plank supporting their reports was found to be non-existent.

Before the flaws in their reports were revealed, their versions of the truth had been picked up by Britain’s The Guardian and the scientific journal Nature.

The critical error in their reports, which has been revealed by The Australian, is that emails held by the Australian National University that were supposed to outline death threats against climate scientists have been independently assessed as containing no death threats.

Those emails were made public on Tuesday after a long Freedom of Information campaign by blogger Simon Turnill.

But when ABC radio chose to report on the affair yesterday, it did not reveal that the ABC had reported on June 5 last year that ANU climate scientists “have been targeted by death threats”.

Others who gave credence to the “death threats” story were Lateline presenter Tony Jones, who asked Chief Scientist Ian Chubb on June 22 last year whether he was worried that scientists were receiving death threats.

“Oh, absolutely,” Professor Chubb replied. “I mean, I think it’s appalling.”

Media Watch executive producer Lin Buckfield said yesterday one of her program’s researchers was examining reports on the affair that had been carried by The Australian, ABC news, Lateline and The Canberra Times. “If through our inquiries we decide that an item is warranted, we will proceed accordingly,” she said.

Click to enlarge

UPDATE: Cut & Paste (humorous editorial section) focusses on the same story here:

Click to enlarge

The report goes on to claim that the Canberra Times‘ reporting of the threats at ANU was “in tatters”, as were the associated reports by the ABC. It also correctly states that the ABC,

“focused on the abuse – not the fact that they provide documentary evidence that the ABC produced flawed reports that have not been corrected.”

The full article is here.

Quote of the Day: Ian Young, ANU Vice Chancellor

Ian Young

The ABC reports on the release of the death threat emails and quotes the ANU Vice Chancellor:

“My view is the more we discuss these things in public – these are emotive issues – the more you tend to beat the whole issue up.

“We had issues, we dealt with them we believe in an appropriate way and we don’t want to make more of it than that.” (source)

Then please explain why you chose to release the story to the media in the first place?


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