Hard News by Russell Brown


Shonky scepticism

There are some important announcements further down today's post, but first: well, I guess I might download and watch the UK Channel 4 programme The Great Global Warming Swindle in its entirety, but it would be more out of interest than in the expectation of a serious sceptical argument about climate change.

The programme has excited lots of right-wing bloggers, some of whom have even pirated the video.

They have dutifully ignored the fact that the programme's main hypothesis - the solar radiation theory - is not widely supported by scientists working in the area and that, indeed, quite a few of its scientific claims are extremely dubious.

Since the programme aired in Britain it was emerged that one of its onscreen experts, Dr. Tim Ball, described as a Climatologist and Professor Emeritus of Geography at the University of Winnipeg, is in fact nothing of the kind (his academic career ended in 1995, he is paid by oil and gas industry interests and he was never granted an Emeritus professorship), and the university has previously requested that he cease presenting himself as such.

And then there's this:

But now the programme - and the channel - is facing a serious challenge to its own credibility after one of the most distinguished scientists that it featured said his views had been "grossly distorted" by the film, and made it clear that he believed human pollution did warm the climate.

Professor Carl Wunsch, professor of physical oceanography at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said he had been "completely misrepresented" by the programme, and "totally misled" on its content. He added that he is considering making a formal complaint.

None of this should surprise anyone who knows anything about the programme's producer, Martin Durkin. In 1997, Durkin, who is associated with an eccentric Marxist organisation, made a series for Channel 4 called Against Nature, which mounted a bitter attack on environmentalists. After receiving a flurry of complaints, Britain's TV regulator required Channel 4 to broadcast an apology after finding that:

"Comparison of the unedited and edited transcripts confirmed that the editing of the interviews with [the environmentalists who contributed] had indeed distorted or misrepresented their known views. It was also found that the production company had misled them... as to the format, subject matter and purpose of these programs."

In 1998, Durkin shopped the BBC a prop for a documentary claiming that silicone breast implants were beneficial to women's health. The Beeb commissioned research that found that Durkin had ignored a large body of evidence that didn't fit his case. Channel 4's Exquinox strand aired the programme instead, but not before Durkin's expert researcher walked away, declaring that "my research was being ignored. The published research had been construed to give an impression that's not the case. I don't know how that programme got passed. The only consolation for me was that I'm really glad I didn't put my name to it."

In his latest programme, Durkin has already had to 'fess up to misrepresenting data in some truly remarkable ways:

The programme-makers labelled the source of the world temperature data as "Nasa" but when we inquired about where we could find this information, we received an email through Wag TV's PR consultant saying that the graph was drawn from a 1998 diagram published in an obscure journal called Medical Sentinel. The authors of the paper are well-known climate sceptics who were funded by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and the George C Marshall Institute, a right-wing Washington think-tank.

However, there are no diagrams in the paper that accurately compare with the C4 graph. The nearest comparison is a diagram of "terrestrial northern hemisphere" temperatures - which refers only to data gathered by weather stations in the top one third of the globe.

However, further inquiries revealed that the C4 graph was based on a diagram in another paper produced as part of a "petition project" by the same group of climate sceptics. This diagram was itself based on long out-of-date information on terrestrial temperatures compiled by Nasa scientists.

However, crucially, the axis along the bottom of the graph has been distorted in the C4 version of the graph, which made it look like the information was up-to-date when in fact the data ended in the early 1980s.

Mr Durkin admitted that his graphics team had extended the time axis along the bottom of the graph to the year 2000. "There was a fluff there," he said.

If Mr Durkin had gone directly to the Nasa website he could have got the most up-to-date data. This would have demonstrated that the amount of global warming since 1975, as monitored by terrestrial weather stations around the world, has been greater than that between 1900 and 1940 - although that would have undermined his argument.

"The original Nasa data was very wiggly-lined and we wanted the simplest line we could find," Mr Durkin said.

Um, wow.

In the Daily Telegraph, Janet Daley sniffed at greenies who sought to suppress the debate on the issue. Well, yes. The recent threats made by fringe greenies against climate change sceptics are an outrage. I've certainly disagreed with some of the people Durkin has criticised in the past, notably over the GM issue. And there could have been considerable merit in a measured work of scepticism. But when the sceptical lobby has to rely on a kind of weird cult polemic to advance its arguments, you know it's in trouble.

Anyway, some announcements: Martha, Sue and co. open their Craft 2.0 exhibition at the New Dowse on Saturday from 11am-4pm. Says Martha: "There are goodie bags for the first 200 people thru the door at 11, and bands, and lots of somewhat fabulously crafted things: undies, badges, clothing, art ..."


In a similar spirit, the actually quite famous Wellington Flickr group has been the leap into the real world with an exhibition called Online to On the Wall. It's at the Paramount Theatre until March 28.

Anyone who loved 95bFM's Downbeat show - or who just treasures the sweet reggae music - will want to be aware of a benefit for the show's former co-host and all-round friendly big ted, Big Matt. He's currently battling gastric cancer, and his friends have rallied round to stage a benefit gig at Galatos on Friday March 23, to help Matt and his family. If you can't make the show but would still like to contribute, you can email Mike Wells (aka Yardboy) at m.swells (at) xtra.co.nz for info.

And finally, now's a good time to clear something up. The Clean are very kindly playing a short set (like, three songs) at the benefit for our kids (and other kids on the autistic spectrum) organised by my friends this coming Monday night (as are Mr Knox and SJD, while the Stinkster and some guy called DJ russb trouble the decks) but it's not a Clean gig. If you want to see a proper Clean gig, you'll need to go see them at the Studio on Saturday night, or make the trip up to the Sawmill on Sunday. Buy a ticket. See you on Saturday then.

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