Complaint to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation regarding Plimer’s “Legislative Time Bomb” piece

I have submitted an online complaint to the Autralian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), concerning Ian Plimer’s outrageous and misleading opinion piece, entitled “Legislative Time Bomb”.

Here is the full text of the complaint:

Ian Plimer’s opinion piece, entitled “Legislative time bomb” contains several egregious factual errors. Plimer has the right to express his opinions, no matter how cretinous or ill-informed they may be, but his propagation of obvious falsehoods is unacceptable. ABC has a duty to correct any clear errors of fact, even in an opinion piece.

There are at least two passages that require such immediate correction.

Plimer states: “Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day.”

The first part of this statement seems to refer to the rise in CO2 concentration in the atmosphere from 280 to 385 parts per million (100 ppm = 1 part in 10,000). But there is no evidence whatsover that outgassing from a single volcano, even a primordial super-volcano, has ever achieved such a massive output of CO2 in a day. If Plimer can not provide a reasonable bona fide reference or source for this statement, ABC must afix a correction advising that the statement is utterly without foundation.

Plimer also writes the following: “Since 1850, there has been temperature increase (1860-1880, 1910-1940, 1976-1998) and decrease (1880-1910, 1940-1976,1998-present) and the rate of the three periods of temperature increase has been the same.”

The three recognized global temperature data series come from NASA, HadCRU and NOAA. The estimated linear trend for each monthly data series, expressed in degrees celsius per decade, is higher in 1976-1998 versus 1910-1940, as seen in this table:

Period NASA HadCRU NOAA
1910-1940 +0.124 +0.156 +0.126
1976-1998 +0.167 +0.173 +0.170
Differences +0.04 +0.02 +0.04

1976-2009 +0.168 +0.167 +0.170

Moreover, the final row shows near identical trends for 1976-2009 as for 1976-1998, contradicting Plimer’s claim of cooling in recent years.

This is not to suggest that there are no other errors. Indeed, the entire piece contains not a single sentence free of error or misleading information. But, at the very least, I trust you will append the appropriate official corrections to Plimer’s opinion piece as soon as possible. And ABC should consider apologizing for publishing such a clearly biased and misleading commentary.

As usual, Tamino has an excellent discussion of the “volcanic cough” howler. The second point I raised should be obvious, but here are charts of the two periods in question:

Global 1910-1940

Global 1976-2009

The higher trends in the period 1976-1998 are obvious, especially in NOAA and NASA series. As well, the near identical trends for 1976-2009 (shown as dashed lines) can also be seen.

To ABC’s credit, they do appear to have a complete and clear complaints process. However, even though the facts would appear to support an unavoidable finding in favour of this complaint, the available statistics suggest an uphill battle. In 2008, a scant 3% of all complaints were upheld (487 out of 16,601 submitted).

Of course, Plimer’s piece comes at a time of great political sensitivity in Australia, as the Australian Senate has just voted down the Rudd government’s climate change bill aiming to regulate greenhouse gases. It also coincides with Plimer’s pointed refusal to answer basic questions about his various claims and their sources, as he ducks and weaves in his ongoing shadow boxing match with George Monbiot.

Plimer’s latest travesty should also be seen in the context of a concerted public relations campaign by the Australian Climate Science Coalition, and its parent organization, the Australian Environment Foundation, a campaign that is politically motivated and clearly aimed at derailing greenhouse gas regulation in Australia. I’ll be returning to the subject of these organizations and their recent actions soon.

Meanwhile, it is noteworthy that the ABC opinion piece is Plimer’s first for the broadcaster’s “Unleashed” series. After this disgraceful performance, I trust it will also be his last.

[Update, August 17: I should clarify that Plimer is a scientific advisor to the Australian Climate Science Coalition, as well as a past  associate of the Institute of Public Affairs (which in turn spawned the Australian Environment Foundation).]

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18 responses to “Complaint to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation regarding Plimer’s “Legislative Time Bomb” piece

  1. I have also e-mailed them with a request to write up a formal rebuttal piece, but I’m not really familiar with the process and am not anticipating a favorable reply.

    [DC: I would not be surprised to see a rebuttal piece from one of the prominent Australian climate scientists. That's the least ABC should do, and I'm fairly confident they will.

    But I also feel they need to acknowledge Plimer's factual errors. I consider that a litmus test of journalistic ethics, a test that the National Post here in Canada has failed miserably time and time again. On the other hand, the Edmonton Journal ran two corrections of a Lorne Gunter piece after repeated insistence from me and others. And I'm sure the Journal will think twice before letting him write about climate change again.]

  2. Chris, Plimer’s statement that:

    “Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere.”

    if read grammatically, says that humans have added ‘just’ one part of CO2 for every 10,000 parts of CO2 in the atmosphere. This is worse than your (in my opinion overly-generous!) interpretation that he has slyly attempted to confuse CO2 with the total gas composition of the atmosphere.

    Nevertheless, whether you are correct, or whether the grammatical interpretation is, Plimer is being unprofessional. He is either playing cute with meanings, or he is an outright liar.

    I know where I would put my money.

  3. Billy Bob Hall

    Hey guys, it’s only an opinion piece. No need to stress. That’s my opinion anyway.

    If ole Ian is wrong, and many say he is, then ‘it will all come out in the wash’ :-)
    No need too get too detailed with it.

    ‘There are sadistic scientists who hurry to hunt down errors instead of establishing the truth.’ – Marie Curie

    [DC: It's not just about "opinion". It's also about ethical standards in journalism. Why is ABC permitting the propagation of clearly false and misleading information? And why don't they do some real reporting, by investigating the Australian organizations dedicated to perpetrating disinformation about climate change, with anonymous funding from fossil fuel companies and others opposed to regulation of greenhouse gases? Now that would certainly be a good start at "establishing the truth".

    I'm willing to bet that behind the scenes the journalists at ABC are furious that some bone-headed manager with a hidden agenda has once again allowed anti-AGW propaganda to spew forth on ABC. At least the last time (the broadcast of the execrable Great Global Warming Swindle), the journalists got to fight back by subjecting filmmaker Martin Durkin to a scathing interrogation afterwards, where he was exposed as a reprehensible propagandist. And not a very skilled one at that.

    As for Plimer: "Everything he wrote is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."
    - Paraphrase of Mary McCarthy]

  4. I have received a reply from Catherine Taylor of ABC. It doesn’t appear that they want to put up a rebuttal article on the basis that they want to move away from the climate change issue for a little while. Apparently they’ve had quite a few recent articles on the topic (with Plimer’s being the only one on the “denial” side) but she simply recommended to leave objections in the comments forum.

  5. It is not just an opinion piece. Dr. Plimer is making claims that should be substantiated. Because he is identified by ABC as an academic, he is representing the academic community. What I wonder is whether anyone has complained to the head of the School of Civil, Environmental & Mining Engineering at the U. of Adelaide. My faculty encourages members to share our knowledge with the public through articles such as these, but if the dean of my faculty saw unsubstantiated stuff like this coming from any of the faculty members or grad students, he’d raise hell.


    [DC: You raise an interesting point. But sometimes professors are given remarkable latitude in that regard, especially if their fame exceeds that of the university they are employed by. It's also clear that certain disciplines are more welcoming of contrarian views on climate science, even if unsupported by the facts. Plimer is far from the only contrarian geologist out there.

    Anyway, I'm still reeling from the revelation that ABC thinks it's perfectly acceptable for "opinion" pieces, even those written by a putative expert scientist, to have clear factual errors, and to leave them uncorrected or even unrebutted (aside from comments of course).]

  6. It’s not the first time Unleashed have uncritically promoted Plimer and his book.

  7. “Over the past 250 years, humans have added just one part of CO2 in 10,000 to the atmosphere. One volcanic cough can do this in a day.”

    But, no volcano did such, at any time within the past 250 years.

    So, Plimer is conceding that volcanoes have nothing to do with the current climate trend.
    Furthermore, he’s conceding that his volcanoes argument is completely irrelevant.

    Plimer has only irrelevancies to offer.

  8. Pingback: Ian Plimer and the lie that won’t go away « Deep Climate

  9. If the science of AGW is sound what`s the fuss, Ian is only one scientist following a lost cause, isn`t he, or is he the bearer of truth.

    [DC: The issue is media complaisance and a lack of ethical standards in journalism. ABC knowingly permitted Plimer to spew obvious falsehoods concerning the most serious environmental issue facing humanity. This is unacceptable, especially since the Plimer used those falsehoods to explicitly attack pending Australian GHG emissions trading legislation (ETS) and attempt to influence public opinion on the matter.]

  10. You guys are classic. Indignant, hurt and offended that ABC has given a sceptic some air time.

    Actually, watching ABC as our regular TV, as I do, it is evident that the corporation, and particularly Kerry O’Brien (7:30 Report) and Tony Jones (Lateline and Q&A) are very effective advocates for those who are concerned about AGW.

    You don’t often see the ABC draw atttention to the weaknesses in the work of Al Gore, Michael Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Eric Steig, Dr Phil Jones, James Hansen, Gavin Schmidt, James Annan et al. Further, they give Senator Penny Wong much more airtime than the counter view from Senator Steve Fielding.

    The ABC has played an important role in the framing of the debate in Australia, and in creating the current polarised political environment.

    I think you might find that they are giving Ian Plimer some time to fulfil their obligations to be “balanced”. I’ll bet that they are being criticised for being on “your” side.

    [DC: Obvious falsehoods, such as those propagated by Plimer, have no place in legitimate debate. But I am not opposed to Plimer having access to the airwaves, as long as he is properly challenged on his factual errors, as he was by Tony Jones on LateLine. (See “Ian Plimer, ABC and the lie that won’t go away”.

    Of course, Plimer also needs to be questioned on his association with the mysteriously-funded Australian Climate Science Coalition and its progenitor, the Australian Environment Foundation. But that’s a story for another time.]

  11. So, where’s the middle chart, from 1940 to 1976? Too inconvenient to post?

    The planet’s temperature isn’t much different today than it was thirty years ago:

    If 30 years of increasing CO2 can’t make the globe warmer, then CO2 has such an insignificant effect that it can be completely disregarded.

    That’s what the planet itself is clearly telling anyone who will listen.

    You’re just not listening.

    [DC: Regarding the “cooling” period 1940-1976, you raise a good point – but not in Plimer’s favour. The cooling was much less than claimed in Plimer’s bogus chart, which appeared to be from Martin Durkin’s error-filled film “The Great Global Warming Swindle. See Tim Lambert’s excellent post, “The Science is missing from Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth“.

    As for cherrypicking a year, or a particular month, or other bogus analysis to argue for the “disappearance” of global warming, I refer to you this post. The UAH temperature record is clearly rising over the period 1979-2009, albeit a little slower than all the other temperature series.
    Also, I can’t help but notice you posted the UAH temperature chart to June, 2009, and not July, 2009. Not so coincidentally, July was 0.41 deg C warmer than June. Enough said.]

  12. I don’t know, Pilmer may exaggerate a little, but compared to the lie that AGW proponents adhere to, i.e. that “the science is settled”, this is a storm in a teacup.

    [DC: “Exaggerate a little?” Come off it. Plimer’s the one who’s spreading falsehoods, as is perfectly clear to all but the most rabid anti-AGW believers.

    The rest of your comment is off-topic and has been redirected to the Open Thread per Comment Policy. ]

  13. If we’re talking about the ABC having a “duty to correct any clear errors of fact, even in an opinion piece”, then why have they not mentioned anything about Chief AGW Alarmist, Al Gore’s movie, AIT being found by a British Judge to contain 9 errors? Yet the film is still worshipped as Gospel Truth by those of The Faith.

    Regards;
    Jeff

    [DC: AIT could use a couple of small clarifications or clarification, but that’s nothing beside the myriad whoppers in Plimer’s piece. The British judgment you refer to did have some mild criticism of the film, but found it essentially correct and faithful to the current state of scientific knowledge. That same judge likened anti-AGW proponents’ views to crackpot views such as lunar composition of “green cheese”.

    And I’m not even sure ABC broadcast AIT, but they did air Martin Durkin’s abysmal and error-filled Great Global Warming Swindle.

    Rest off-topic and conatins dubious links, and has been reposted on Open Thread per Comment policy]

  14. Funny how rabid warmers like you only complain about journalistic ethics (an oxymoron?) when it’s your ox being gored. Gore, Mann, Jones, Stern, et. al. can tell all the whoppers they like with no objection from the likes of you, but any hint of hyperbole on the part of CO2 doubters and you are beside yourself with indignation.

    [DC: There are plenty of ethical journalists. For example, Tony Jones of ABC LateLine has done an admirable job of holding the contrarians to account, and exposing the deceptions of the likes of Plimer and Martin Durkin. Too bad ABC decided to do an end run and ran Plimer in a venue where he could go unchallenged.

    The rest of your rant is off-topic and has been reposted to Unthreaded.]

  15. Pingback: Bulls are but inflated frogs « Greenfyre’s

  16. Pingback: ABC claims Ian Plimer is “a legitimate voice” « Deep Climate

  17. Derek Roylance

    [Deleted - off topic (not even about climate change)!]

  18. Pingback: Round and round we go with Lindzen, Motl and Jones « Deep Climate