When journalism fails!

Piers Akerman, the conservative journalist from the Daily telegraph, with his extensive (sic) background in science is now an expert on … climate science! More so, apparently, than the Australian of the year Professor Tim Flannery or Australian Federation Fellow, Professor David Karoly. Just have a look at the latest contribution to his blog — a response to the ABC showing of the BBC production “The Climate Change Swindle“. Not that Ackerman hasn’t been wrong before.

Apparently Akerman knows something that scientists from the best academies in the world don’t know, and that is that climate change is bunk. Do not get me wrong here: true skeptic arguments make important contributions to the debate on global warming and climate change. This is actually the way science works – by continually criticizing its ideas, and by thereby improving its accuracy and veracity. However, it doesn’t work via the spin journalism that Ackerman propagates. If you have a look at what Akerman writes about climate change, you will see that he spends an inordinate amount of time attacking the personalities of scientists (which I’m not really that interested in) and spends little time verifying the ‘facts’ that he spews out.

There are probably two reasons for this. Either he doesn’t understand the facts (I actually think this is the case) or he is in cahoots with those people that don’t want us to recognise the inherent challenges ahead when it comes to climate change. Just look at his handling of the facts yesterday. In his rant, he triumphs at one point “one such unhelpful note was sounded by researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville, who have found that the threat of Great Barrier Reef corals may have been exaggerated.”

Now, if Piers had actually read the paper from these scientists (or indeed understood it), he would have realised that they actually concluded that “the extra heat-resistance at corals maintained by shuffling (1 – 1.5°C) may be insufficient to help these populations keep up with the predicted increases in average tropical sea temperatures over the next hundred years.” (Mieog et al. 2007, Coral Reefs). In short, after exploring a mechanism that might make corals tough when it comes to climate change, it looks like it wont make them tougher (see my previous post on this issue). Given we are likely to see changes of greater than 2-4°C over the next century (from IPCC not Akerman!), they are quite right to be skeptical.

There is no magic bullet here – and a far cry from the bs provided by Ackerman. In fact, due to the poor reporting by Ackerman and the media in general, the senior author of this paper, Dr. Madeleine Van Oppen, has spent some time yesterday trying to correct the record arising from the misconceptions and spin. This is a waste of a good scientist’s time, and our tax resources!

What is frightfully obvious about Piers’ reporting is that he is more interested in promoting a story about bumbling scientists in an evil conspiracy than reporting and commenting on the truth. Unfortunately, a sad reflection on what newspapers more and more think is an ‘honest debate’. His tendency to attack personalities rather than the issue at hand strongly implies his lack of ability to address the real facts and issues. See how he joins Andrew Bolt and others in deliberately muddying the issues. This is not journalism, it’s just spin.

“What we do know is that the Earth has been hotter and colder that it is today, without any man-made carbon dioxide emissions contributing to the equation… It is also claimed by some scientists that Earth may actually be entering a period of global cooling, not warming, right now. We just don’t know enough about the science to make that determination right now.”



Sadly, Akerman continues to astound with quite what he doesn’t know about the science. Who is “we”, Piers? Fortunately some people who read Akerman’s blog (such as Matthew from Canberra) see the forest for the trees:


This whole blog is a troll, isn’t it? You’re a kite. Sorry. I just don’t believe that someone who can clearly read books believes half of the rubbish you publish. You’re on the take

Don’t just take my word for it (or any other blogger’s for that matter – Marohasy included) – read the science and form your own opinion. I put this post out to Akerman and look forward to his response in debating the science at hand… that is, if he can!



7 thoughts on “When journalism fails!

  1. Some of my favourite comments from the very people that frequent Piers blog:

    “Do you have any qualifications in the field of climatology or science. Do you have any qualifications in any field ?”

    “I can accept your position as a political analyst ( albeit very one sided ) but your venture into the field of science shows you up to be embarrassingly ignorant !”

    “Poor Old Piers. So predictable and tired. There’s no more sting in the tail. One just can’t be critical of major issues just for the sake of being contraversial and expect to stir the emotions. The problem with this sad little man is that we all expect his lack of objectivity, there’s nothing hiding in the shadows anymore.”

    “One great thing is that we may have found a cure for insomnia. Sorry Piers but you appear desperate for attention, nothing else.”

    “How predictable Piers. Taking your naive readers on a journey of irrelevant anecdotes and non-arguments when it comes to climate change.”

    “you need to go back to school to study basic chemistry before you bother writing another column like this one….”

    Poor Piers. I’m sure I should endeavor to present a balanced view, but it’s just too entertaining.

    The really sad part is comments like “Chloe of Perth”:

    “This has show has factual problems, Mr Gores effort did as well. Doesnt change my mind that GW is unproven. But watching and hearing t.v presenters force one way or the other is annoying amatuerish at best”

    I wonder how much of the general public she speaks for (and on what evidence she has made up her mind that global warming is unproven?!@?!)

  2. Yes, Thomas, great question. What qualifications does Piers Ackerman actually have? Not that I am fixated on qualifications – but now that he has throw that stone, it seems fair to ask where he gets his superior ‘knowledge’.

  3. Piers responds:
    “I respond by referring to the original paper: “the extra heat-resistance at corals maintained by shuffling (1 – 1.5°C) may be insufficient to help these populations keep up with the predicted increases in average tropical sea temperatures over the next hundred years.” (Mieog et al. 2007, Coral Reefs). Note the qualification “may” in the above sentence. Further, the article was about the appalling manner in which the ABC conducted itself. It was not a complete examination of the issue.” Piers Akerman; Wed 18 Jul 07 (09:00pm).

    I guess that little “may” is a lot to build you arguments around! You made it sound like a certainty! I also take issue with your interpretation that Tony Jones was unfair. All he did was finally ask the pointed questions of the pseudo-skeptics and to point out the ‘creative’, false presentation of data (e.g. Medieval warming period and today’s temperatures, e.g. solar and temperature graph) to the film maker. If you really are worth your salt Piers, that should concern you more than a few tough questions from Tony.

  4. It’s sad, with so little reputable science refuting the causes and effects of climate change today, media outlets are going to even greater lengths than before to present some semblance of the “journalistic balance” often decried by experts on climate change in the past. A few years ago, it was easier to find someone who would refute, erroneously or not, evidence for climate change or impacts of climate change. Now, with so few dissenting voices, some reporters will instead pick up on any sentence in a paper that just might indicate contrary evidence. That seems to be the case with this poor coverage of the Mieog article.

    We dealt with this a bit after our PNAS paper on coral bleaching in the Caribbean came out earlier this year; people swarmed to the conclusion that 1.5C of adaptation could “buy us” 40-50 years, ignoring that our full conclusion that even in the unlikely even such adaptation happened and did not results in any serious decline in coral cover, unmitigated climate change would still eventually present an existential threat to coral reefs.

  5. i wouldn’t bother wasting energy criticising the comments of mr ackerman, particularly when he is at his foaming-at-the-mouth best. via his extreme bias, he discredits himself far better than anyone else could. besides, his usual response to criticism is name-calling. one only needs to peruse his blog for a few minutes to understand this. he is a (bad) political commentator at best, and anyone who listens to what he has to say on important, science-based issues probably deserves to be fooled.

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