Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change.”

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"Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change.”"

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The Australian is the country’s biggest-selling national newspaper.  It is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which “also owns the sole dailies in Brisbane, Adelaide, Hobart and Darwin and the most popular metropolitan dailies in Sydney and Melbourne.”

Michael Ashley investigates the national paper’s “seriously warped” op-ed policy in this extended excerpt.

[R]eality becomes so distorted that The Australian was able to state earlier this month, “it is in keeping with this newspaper’s rationalist pedigree that we have long accepted the peer-reviewed science on anthropogenic climate change,” while at the same time engaging in a campaign to misrepresent and distort climate science.

Other editorials have made it clear that The Australian believes it is treating its readers as mature adults who should be able to make up their own minds based on arguments from “both sides” of the debate.

The problem is that on one side of the debate you have 97% of the world’s published climate scientists and the world’s major scientific organisations, and on the other side you have fools.

Excuse my bluntness, but it is past time to acknowledge that the science underpinning anthropogenic climate change is rock solid. The sceptics have had the time and opportunity to come with up a convincing case, but their best efforts read like arguments that NASA faked the moon landing.

My colleagues working in the climate sciences have largely given up trying to correct the constant stream of misinformation from The Australian, in frustration.

The Australian’s anti-science campaign takes many forms.

One is the inflation of the credentials of their fake experts. For example, OpEd writer and member of the Outdoor Recreation Party Jon Jenkins was referred to as an “Adjunct Professor”. Bond University wrote to The Australian informing them that this was not true.

Howard Brady was called a “climate change researcher from Macquarie University”; in fact, Brady is a 70 year-old retiree who has published just seven scientific papers (on Antarctic sediments, not climate), the most recent one in 1983, following which he worked for 17 years in the oil industry. Macquarie University contacted The Australian to set the record straight.

In neither of these cases did The Australian publish a retraction or clarification.

Another tactic is to accept opinion pieces on science from unqualified sources. When I contacted The Australian’s opinion editor late last year to express dismay at their bias, I was given the example of Michael Asten, a part-time professorial fellow in the school of geosciences at Monash University, Melbourne, as someone who was well-qualified to comment.

So I did some investigation into Asten and his four OpEds in The Australian over the past two years.

A quick check of Asten’s peer-reviewed publications shows that while he appears to be your go-to guy if you have electromagnetic interference problems with your fluxgate magnetometer, he hasn’t published anything remotely related to climate science. He is, however, well-connected with the mining and coal industries.

In his first OpEd (“Climate claims fail science test”, December 9, 2009), Asten wrote “recent results published by top scientists cast doubt on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s theory” and he showcased the work that Pearson et al published in the top journal Nature.

But Asten misrepresented the findings in the Nature paper. Don’t just take my word for it— Paul Pearson and his co-authors wrote to The Australian saying “Professor Michael Asten has misrepresented our recent research by suggesting that it casts doubt on the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global warming”.

They added, “We would like to take this opportunity to add our voices to the strong and steady message that the world scientific community is delivering to the Copenhagen negotiators — the greenhouse problem is real, imminent and potentially devastating for the planet, its life, and human civilization. Fortunately it is still not too late to avert the catastrophe.”

You would think you couldn’t ask for a clearer statement than that, but Asten went on to argue in his second opinion piece (“More evidence CO₂ not culprit”, December 29, 2009) that he used data in Pearson’s paper to arrive at a different conclusion from Pearson himself.

So, Asten, with no expertise in the field, is using a paper published in Nature to argue the opposite of what the paper actually says.

He then spins this as “top scientists cast doubt” on the IPCC. Gobsmacking.

In Asten’s third article (“CSIRO should establish if there was medieval warming Down-Under”, 13 May 2010) he asserts that if the medieval warm period was a global phenomenon, then “warming during the past century should be seen as predominantly natural climate change rather than driven by man-made carbon emissions.”

This is bunkum. The effect of man-made carbon dioxide is clear from multiple independent lines of evidence.

In his fourth OpEd (“Political interference will cripple climate debate”, 17 Dec 2010), Asten compares models of sea-level rise from a peer-reviewed paper by Jevrejeva et al, with observations of the sea-level by Riva et al, finding a factor of five difference.

Asten interprets this as a serious discrepancy in climate predictions that the CSIRO was withholding from the Government. He also describes how compliant scientists were intimately involved in the formulation of Nazi racial policy, and outspoken academics were removed by the Gestapo.

But once again, Asten misunderstands the science. The Riva et al paper wasn’t an observation of the total sea-level rise at all, just an estimate of the contribution from melting ice. The Nazi stuff is simply bizarre.

You would think The Australian, if it had any editorial integrity, would have called a halt to Asten’s ready access to the opinion pages after serious flaws were found with each of his contributions. But the lure of publishing an opinion supporting their editorial bias, from an apparently reputable source, was just too strong to resist.

I have singled out Asten in this article, but the same applies to every one of the climate contrarians that are repeatedly given exposure in The Australian.

For example, Bob Carter has claimed “temperature records confirm that cooling is under way” – no they don’t.

Ian Plimer says “To argue that human additions to atmospheric CO2, a trace gas in the atmosphere, changes climate requires an abandonment of all we know about history, archaeology, geology, solar physics, chemistry and astronomy” – this statement is just absurd.

Christopher Monckton has repeatedly misinterpreted scientific papers; and William Kininmonth states “the likely extent of global temperature rise from a doubling of carbon dioxide is less than 1°C” – this is a factor of three below our best estimates.

None of these people has made any impact whatsoever with their arguments in the peer-reviewed literature — they just aren’t contributing to any real scientific debate. The only place that they can publish their junk science is in outlets such as The Australian, where they are welcomed with open arms.

And if you think the bias in The Australian only affects its choice of OpEd pieces, wait till you read Tim Lambert’s examination of news reporting in his article later in this series for The Conversation.

So, when The Australian claims in its editorials to support the peer-reviewed science, it is really just an insurance clause for when the tide inevitably turns against their campaign of misinformation.

The Murdoch media empire has cost humanity perhaps one or two decades of time in the battle against climate change. Each lost decade greatly increases the eventual economic costs, the devastation to our ecosystems, and the suffering of future generations….

Read the real science, ask the real experts.

The editors sitting around the table in that meeting room in Surry Hills need to reflect on their culpability.

Michael Ashley is Professor of Astrophysics at University of New South Wales. He is a matchmaker for the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, the aim of which is to connect journalists and government officials with experts in climate science.  At UNSW, Michael has taught several undergraduate courses of relevance to climate science, e.g., remote-sensing of atmospheric and ocean properties; absorption of radiation by atoms and molecules; stellar structure and evolution. He also teaches a First Year Advanced Science course that explores the physics of climate change.

This is part of the Media and Democracy series of “The Conversation.”

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42 Responses to Scientist: “The Murdoch Media Empire Has Cost Humanity Perhaps One or Two Decades in Battle Against Climate Change.”

  1. Michael says:

    I think it’s a mistake to characterise this as a debate between scientists and fools.

    Yea, sure, some deniers are deluded idiots who actually believe the lies they tell.

    But I think many of the professional deniers are intelligent people who understand the science perfectly well. They lie cynically about it because they are paid to do so by vested interests – and isn’t the strategy working well?

    • Leif says:

      I agree Michael, I see no alternative but to call them malicious criminals of the first order. Humanity will suffer dearly because of there efforts.

    • George Ennis says:

      I agree. I think that many of them are hoping that they will be able to retreat behind their walls to protect themselves from the effects of climate change.

      • Morgan Sheridan says:

        Of course those hopes will be utterly futile. They’ve ‘cut off their noses to spite their faces.’

    • Joan Savage says:

      Some retirees, or low-productivity academics, are vulnerable to the charms of a press interview that might refurbish self esteem. They do it for free. It’s pathetic to see them trotted out by the press.

    • Shaheer says:

      I hope these fools live to a ripe old age so that justice can be dealt before they die.

    • JimmyB says:

      I think that idea hit me in the head like a ton of bricks a couple years ago when I read this: wattsupwiththat.com/2009/04/17/the-antarctic-wilkins-ice-shelf-collapse-media-recycles-photos-and-storylines-from-previous-years.

      Either Anthony Watts is so [snip] that he doesn’t know the difference between an ice shelf and sea ice or he is a [snip] and a [snip].

    • JimmyB says:

      I have to throw this in a well in defense of the “many of these guys are just idiots” argument.

      I visit to WUWT has a poll published today to guess what the minimum arctic sea ice extent is going to be for this year.

      So far approximately one third of the responders have submitted an answer that has already been exceeded.

      That’s basically about as dumb as calling a coin flip wrong after watching it land.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I agree. The denialist industry heavies, sucking from the teat of Rightwing money, mainly fossil fuel, are, in my opinion, as cynical and evil a bunch of liars and distorters as one could imagine. Some, I believe, are egomaniacal cranks, deluded grandiosely as to their powers, others are plainly dementing and many are hard, hard Right ideologues who oppose climate science because they see it emanating from the Left. Many of the original denialists, as Oreskes pointed out, based their obsession on a belief that all criticism of capitalism was Communist inspired, and the current denialists frequently slip into this mode, particularly when they label Greens as ‘water-melons’. But one fact that we must never forget is that what these creatures are doing is evil, and their behaviour is monstrously wicked. This is no ‘difference of opinion’ between reasonable people. It is truth versus lies, distortions and misrepresentation, with the fate of billions resting in the balance. Unless we really wake up to the true nature of the enemy and treat them appropriately, with a steady determination to oppose them and win, then our species will shortly be decimated.

  2. Jeffrey Davis says:

    I, too, believe that mostly the deniers know the score about AGW. The earth, because of the policies they advance, in 50-60 years will be vastly less hospitable. So, why lie? Easy, they’ll be dead by then. They simply don’t care.

    • JudyAlias says:

      Yes, they will be dead, J.D., but their children won’t. The “they just don’t care” argument doesn’t hold with humans’ drive to ensure that their genetic material survives. The only way this makes sense is if they believe that all of mankind will cease to exist, a view held by those who believe in the “Rapture”. It will become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

      • Satcomguy says:

        Judy, I think that the strength of the drive you’re talking about varies among individuals, just as it does for all other drives. I’m suer that the people who actually know that they are peddling BS that will cause this catastrophe are those that are making a personal gain off it. If their greed does not consciously outweigh their desire to see that their children have a real future, then I think that they somehow believe that whatever wealth it brings them will shield them from the consequences.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    Lately in the US, Fox News commentators have been testing out a new stance that climate change is occurring and from carbon emissions, e.g. Lou Dobbs’ wrap up of the Roy Spencer interview.
    The face-saving editorial in the Australian (August 9, 2011) looks like it is part of what might be a larger sea-change, without Newscorp wanting to look back and admit culpability in shaping policy, or for that matter, misrepresentation of sources.

    • Lou Grinzo says:

      I’ve been speculating for years about when and how the high-profile and/or high-volume deniers would start to backpeddle. We’ve already seen some of them shift positions, from “it’s not happening” to “it’s happening but not serious” (as in the rash of recent “debates” about climate sensitivity).

      Eventually they will have to step away from the whole stinking mess of their prior claims. My guess is they’ll resort to the ultimate act of media chutzpah and claim that they got it wrong because those lazy scientists didn’t make a sufficiently compelling case.

      (I apologize for any exploding head syndrome the above might have caused.)

  4. Fantastic article that does a Romm-quality expose of the pro-carbon-pollution bullhunky being sold by The Australian bosses. A lot of work and research went into this article. Many thanks.

    I also agree with other comments that denier spokespeople are mostly not fools. I think we climate hawks have misunderestimated them just like we did with GWBush. They have been very adroit at their FUD messaging, and like the Australian leadership, they know exactly what they are doing. Full culpability.

    These professional delayers won’t be able to escape the weight of their actions by claiming to be naive and good-intentioned. Especially with the well documented exposes like this one.

  5. “Surely it’s time for climate-change deniers to have their opinions forcibly tattooed on their bodies.” wrote Richard Glover in the Sydney Morning Herald

    [JR: Dumb and insensitive idea, even if it was offered semi-humorously and even if he quickly apologized for it. Yes, the great moral tragedy of our time is climate inaction -- and the deniers are witting or unwitting agents of the fossil-fuel-funded disinformation campaign whose ultimate result, if successful, will be the destruction of modern civilization as we know it. So I fully understand the frustration people have with the deniers. But it will have to be karma -- seeing that their lies and ignorance and greed have ruined the lives of their own children and give them children and the people they care about -- that delivers their comeuppance, though sadly at the expense of billions of people needlessly suffering.]

  6. Petteri Karvinen says:

    Perhaps there is an universal law that 3% of scientists are fools in any branch of natural science: biology, medicine, chemistry etc. It would be interesting to compare climate science to other natural sciences in that respect.

  7. Chris Winter says:

    As Michael says in comment #1, the people who are spreading these lies and distortions in various media — like Patrick Michaels, Ian Plimer, Christopher Monckton, Timothy Ball, and others — understand very well what the truth is. Their actions are directed some private goal, whether preserving some religious or ideological perspective of their own, helping to preserve the revenues of fossil fuel companies, or simply selling more newspapers.

    That is why, in my web pages on climate change, I take care to separate these “Denialists” from the “deniers” (lower-case “d”) who merely misunderstand the science. They too may be motivated by a desire to protect their livelihood or some belief system, but they do not make a career out of proselytizing in support of that end. Their misunderstanding arises in part from a flawed education in science, which certain of our nation’s schools can be depended on to deliver, and from continuing inadequate reporting of science in mainstream media over the past few decades.

    This misunderstanding is not monolithic. Some deny the facts of climate change, others of evolution, still others of medical science, especially the efficacy of vaccines. (Still other delusions may be found.) The form it takes depends on individual character and circumstances. But the common thread is an undeveloped ability for critical thinking — what the late Carl Sagan called a “baloney detector.” The best remedy for their problem, therefore, is to explain the truth to them. This often requires great patience; but true deniers deserve no less.

    For Denialists, on the other hand, there must be an end of patience. As Michael Ashley says in his post here, their actions are destructive, and not just of our chances to alleviate harmful climate change. The habit of dogmatic thinking their tactics foster harms the whole process of intellectual inquiry on which democracy depends. Their falsehoods must be confronted and exposed in every medium where they appear. It is a formidable task, but a vital one.

    • Adam says:

      When you talk about actions being directed to a private goal, do you recognize the hypocrisy? Look up who stands to benefit most from Cap and Trade, expanded EPA, and government subsidies of alternative energies. Seriously, apply the same semi-critical thinking to the other side for a bit.

      • Fluck says:

        Really, Adam? The thousands upon thousands of scientists who debate scientific issues in scientific journals that have all agreed that humans are having a deleterious effect on the environment have some selfish motivation?

        Either you sell your soul to spread deception, misinformation and derail sensible debates for Murdoch’s empire, or it has simply warped your ability to perceive truth. The only thing most of these people has to gain is credibility, and that’s exactly what they risk when they make these claims.

        Even in the nearly impossible case that thousands of climate scientists have a selfish interest in promoting this message, there should still be absolutely no debate about whether we continue to subsidise and prop up the dying oil industry while we run out of fuel, or whether we support the development of alternative sources of energy that has less effect on the environment.

        I’m sorry, but your comment is absurdly silly and I wouldn’t be surprised if you had your own selfish interest in contributing that kind of intellectual vacuousness to debates on this topic, simply to interfere with and derail them.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Fluck, Adam is just engaging in projection, a diversionary tactic favoured by the Right, who seem actually to believe that everyone is driven, like them, by greed and egomania.

      • dan p says:

        I hear marine biologists, paleontologists, astrophysicists, chemists, and the US military will all make a mint off of cap & trade and expanded EPA powers. I feel pretty dumb for not cashing in myself.

        • Mal says:

          This is just silly trolling. Exactly how do these people stand to make huge amounts of money out of cap and trade and an expanded EPA capacity? Citations, please.

      • kermit says:

        Adam – “…who stands to benefit most from Cap and Trade, expanded EPA, and government subsidies of alternative energies[?]”

        Why, everybody does, Adam. Are you so confused that you do not understand what we are saying? Let me clarify: civilization, and possibly the very survival of our species, is in great peril. Everybody loses if we do not take immediate and effective action.

      • Chris Winter says:

        Two things, Adam:

        1) If the push for climate-change mitigation really were a conspiracy to grab wealth or power, as you imply, anyone who could expose either the conspirators or the false evidence of climate change would have the world at their feet. But don’t hold your breath waiting for that, because there’s no such conspiracy.

        2) If you bother to run the numbers, you’ll see no scientists are getting rich from grants. As for subsidies, alternative energy gets a fraction of the amounts going to the oil-drilling industry, which is immensely profitable right now and has been for several years. Yet Republicans in Congress want to cut subsidies for the former but leave oil subsidies alone. What was that about hypocrisy again?

  8. Doug Bostrom says:

    Asten: Asten’s peer-reviewed publications shows that while he appears to be your go-to guy if you have electromagnetic interference problems with your fluxgate magnetometer

    Indispensable advice if you’re concerned with directional drilling. :-)

    There’s no reason to be sanguine about a change in attitude about science. The new methodology is elimination, killing entire agencies that happen to gather the “wrong” kind of data. Read the PR tea leaves in the US to see the developing curve.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      You’re right Doug. A New Dark Age is dawning, in the USA and the other Western countries infected with the disease of Rightwing obscurantism. To quote Churchill, we are in danger of seeing the world ‘..sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science’. Unfortunately things will not be protracted but grossly abbreviated by a denialist victory, and the ‘perverted science’ is the ‘faith-based science’ of the Right, that denies everything, a priori, that does not fit itself into the market fundamentalist economic religion. The Right has become used, over centuries, to ordering people about, to pillaging and destroying in pursuit of greed, that when they face obdurate resistance, from the likes of the laws of physics and chemistry, it has sent them bonkers. Reality, it turns out, is just another ‘Communist plot’. From here on they get nastier and nastier, particularly as reality peels off layers not sufficiently ideologically correct….

  9. This is an ethical lapse on Murdoch’s part.

    And now that we spot it, this is a social shortcoming that we failed stop him.

  10. Norm says:

    Where can I find more detailed information about the climate science? I would like to understand it better. Until now i’ve been finding it hard to ‘wade’ my way through the nonsense proposed by the ‘Denialists’ trying to find some hard evidence. Riddle me this though, when we have the ‘worst summer storm for 100 years’ and ‘worst heat wave for 100 years’, what was it that was happening 100 years ago and why weren’t people concerned then?

    [JR: Go to Skeptical Science. It is designed for you. Often the phrase, "worst in 100 years" means it is the worst in the permanent record-keeping. The reality is that we are seeing once in a century storms hitting every few years now even in the same place.]

  11. Alex says:

    If I want to read some local news I will reach the courier mail (news corp). If I want real Australian news I will read the Age (fairfax). If I want to see what is really going on, I will head to the social sphere (reddit) which aggregates world news quite effectively. News corp has slid down that slippery slope of late. There was a day where the Australian was the pinnacle of Australian national news. Those days are gone …

  12. Pythagoras says:

    Two items to add to the discussion. First, Rupert Murdoch was in 1997 a member of the board of directors of the Charles Koch founded CATO Institute.

    See here:
    http://proamlib.blogspot.com/2011/02/cato-institute-koch-brothers-rupert.html

    Known AGW denier/skeptic CATO’s Patrick Michaels is a frequent contributor to FOX News. So if Murdoch had remained on CATO’s board, Michaels likely would have been considered as a biased FOX contributor.

    Certainly from a philosophical perspective, we can conclude that Murdoch is aligned with the aims of the CATO. One can also surmise how Murdoch may have come to the conclusion that a more lasting relationship with CATO might have compromised his media business and weakened its leverage at shaping public opinion.

    Second, FOX is most definitely softening the stance on AGW. Bill Nye is getting airtime without the usual interruptions.

    See Joe’s posting:
    http://thinkprogress.org/romm/2008/06/15/202780/bill-nye-confused-science-guy/

    FOX’s Bob Beckel appears to be have been given the task as the rational commentator on AGW on multiple FOX News programs.

    Beckel on The Five, Aug 30, 2011:
    “…I happen to believe on a serious note that global warming is in the only real, it’s changed the dynamics of the planet. It’s caused a lot of these things, like a lot of the natural disasters and people do get bummed out as a result of that. There are lasting post- traumatic stress syndrome from it. And it is a serious illness. And for you guys can laugh it off is a grave mistake.”

    See this clip from yesterday on The Five:
    http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/the-five/transcript/report-climate-change-linked-mental-illness

    Andy Levy on Red Eye’s Halftime Report August 31 debunks comments that cosmic rays can cause cloud formation affecting global warming. See here:
    http://video.foxnews.com/v/1135840360001/
    [BTW, if you click the link the on-line advertisement is from "America Natural Gas Association (ANGA)" which of itself is an interesting development.]

    One wonders whether there is a conscious decision by FOX to gradually moderate its views. Perhaps Huntsman’s message is gaining traction with the conservative messengers.

    • Mond from Oz says:

      I agree that Murdoch media may be shifting ground. After all, the main game must be regime change, in the US and (if we count at all) here. Now that this is almost certain, could be time to embrace reality.

      But Rupert himself is the one man in this world who could do most to protect this world. His reach and power are immense.

      And yet he is an old man with his end in sight, and no doubt a sense that (post NOTW)he may be at, or even passing the zenith of his influence.

      So as he contemplates his grandchildren, what is the likelihood that he may go out in a blaze of well-earned repute by speaking truth to his own power?

      (and BTW, we can be sure that posts here and elsewhere are collated, abstracted, and brought to his attention. So, Rupert, may I wish you a good day?)

    • Susan Anderson says:

      Thanks for the detail, that’s helpful.

      My wishful thinking bump wants the CRU hack to be traced back to Murdoch. What a hope!

  13. Kyle says:

    “When you’re young, you look at television and think – There’s a conspiracy. The networks have conspired to dumb us down. But when you get a little older, you realize that’s not true. The networks are in business to give people exactly what they want. That’s a far more depressing thought.” – Steve Jobs

  14. Jadan says:

    Maybe I need to reread 1984, but I thought they were actually at war with other countries. The country the protagonist was in was actually bombing its own populace?

  15. Mark says:

    Upvotes for everyone in this threadlet. Very profound read and I’m glad I read to the end. Love both authors by the way and I totally agree we’re getting both barrels.

  16. Ciaran says:

    The cartoon says it all for me…

  17. reset says:

    i predict the australian will start printing a majority of sensible climate change articles approximately a week after the LNP gain office at the next election. right in time for them to manufacture public support for whatever ridiculous climate policy they will bring in (my moneys on an ets). regime change is right now their only goal, to do this effectively they need to undermine the governments core policies at every turn (climate change policy is one of them), maintaining the ire of the those with dull intellectual proclivities.

  18. liberal says:

    Reset is right. Tony Abbott will introduce Australia’s first carbon tax. He will make the point that he didn’t want to do it but now the evidence is clear he had no choice. He will assure everyone that no matter what the circumstances his carbon tax will be lower than Labor’s proposed tax.

  19. Elmer Gantry says:

    Perhaps it is now time that citizens stop feeding the news media giants such as Murdoch — it is well past time to stop allowing sales tax exemptions on advertising (print, broadcast, and cable) and newspaper sales!