ABC chair Newman out of line on climate change

ABC chair Maurice Newman, who is not a climate scientist or even any kind of scientist at all, is pleased to hear more non-scientists talking about climate science. I reckon that apart from being a tool he’s way out of line.

He clearly has no clue about how the ABC, as the national broadcaster, should be helping the public understand this complex issue. And by speaking directly to staff about how they should be covering a specific highly-political issue he’s undermining the role of managing director Mark Scott.

Yesterday Newman (pictured) told ABC staff that the scientific consensus on climate change and anthropogenic global warming was “conventional wisdom” and “group think”.

Judging by the ABC News report, Newman’s speech was riddled with contradictions. He contrasts “wisdom and consensus” with “other points of view”, as if he does understand that there are those with actual knowledge of the field, versus those who just have an opinion.

But later…

“I’m not a scientist and I’m like anybody else in the public, I have to listen to all points of view and then make judgements when we’re asked to vote on particular policies.”

No, Newman, you don’t listen to “all points of view”. You only listen to those who know what they’re talking about.

If I need medical advice, I might seek a second opinion from another doctor, maybe a specialist. But I don’t seek out the views of a kitchenhand, a hairdresser and an architect. For “balance”.

Similarly, if I’m after an understanding of climate science, I ask climate scientists. If I’m the national broadcaster, then I find a good science broadcaster who can turn the complex jargon into a clear narrative. That’s what broadcasters do, and maybe Robyn Williams or one of his colleagues is up for the job.

Climate change is one of the most important issues facing us globally. Even if you still “have an open mind” and are “waiting for proof either way” — and what would that proof have to look like, Mr Newman? — you owe it to Australians to present a clear, reasoned perspective. And that’s not about “balancing” properly-developed scientific knowledge with every swivel-eyed serial fabricator with a media profile.

You owe it to Australians to have the ABC weigh up the validity of these points of view and present the best consensus you can — not just dump an unsorted mess onto the public’s laps and expect them to sort it out.

Yes, the ABC and its staff should be free to say, in their own voices, that some opinions are wrong. They shouldn’t live in fear of being branded “biased” simply for applying rational analysis. That the ABC has become so cowed through endless political attacks is disturbing. As its Chair you should be encouraging greater boldness, not this enfeebled “balance through mindlessness”.

It is outrageous that you’re suggesting we waste more of the public’s time and money on these self-promoting fuckwits. Their little repertoire of cherry-picked factoids has been comprehensively debunked so many times already, and our climate scientists have better things to be doing with their time.

Even if you have doubts, the risk analysis is so simple even a merchant banker and “close personal friend of John Howard” could understand it. If you don’t get it in that 10-minute video, try the follow-up.

The risk of not acting on real climate change vastly outweighs the risk of having spent money on addressing climate change which then turns out to be false — because the worst that’ll happen is we end up with a safer, more efficient society anyway.

Or if an amateur video isn’t your thing, try today’s piece in The Drum, Climate debate: opinion vs evidence, where Stephan Lewandowsky explains why your notion of “balance” is just plain wrong.

And once you’ve done that, Mr Newman, butt out. Directing the ABC’s staff is the Managing Director’s job, not yours. Your job is to somehow move beyond the blatantly political nature of your appointment and ensure the proper corporate governance of the ABC. For all Australians, not just your old mates at the Australian Stock Exchange.

[Update 9.30am: I’ve just discovered that there were more of Maurice Newman’s comments on last night’s edition of PM.]

30 Replies to “ABC chair Newman out of line on climate change”

  1. I’d love to comment on that, but I work for the ABC and therefore have no opinion.


  2. I referred to Lord Christopher Monckton there as a “serial fabricator”. I take that back. The correct word is “liar”.

    “Self-promoting liar,” in fact.

    I’ve just been reading about his 1999 invention, the Eternity puzzle, and how he’d offered a £1 million prize to whoever solved it first. He didn’t expect anyone to win within his 3-year deadline, but someone did.

    The puzzle’s inventor said at the time that the earlier-than-expected discovery had forced him to sell his 67-room house to pay the prize. In 2006 he revealed that the benefits from the sales had more than covered the prize, that he was going to sell the house anyway, and that he had made up the story to boost up sales.


  3. No, Newman, you don’t listen to “all points of view”. You only listen to those who know what they’re talking about.

    Does that mean we don’t get to hear from Barnyard anymore? That’d be a real shame. He’s the funniest thing in the daily news since the Bomber squeezing into fighter planes.

  4. I’ve just discovered that there were more of Maurice Newman’s comments on last night’s edition of PM

    @Simon Rumble: Senator Barnaby Joyce is the perfect example of why parliamentary democracy is the finest system of government there is. I’ll hear nothing said against him. Especially not the sort of comment from someone who works on The Hill who reckons “the problem with the Senate is that the balance of power is held by a raving lunatic”.

  5. The myth of news balance continues. The idea that both sides of a story have to be given equal weight prevents news from ever presenting ‘truth’ and merely results in a mess of opinion from which the viewer has to draw their own ‘truth’ based on their own prejudices.

    As Nick Davies describes in his brilliant book Flat Earth News

    “Neutrality requires the journalist to become invisible, to refrain deliberately (under threat of discipline) from expressing the judgements which are essential for journalism. Neutrality requires the packaging of conflicting claims, which is precisely the opposite of truth-telling. If two men go to mow a meadow and one comes back and say ‘The job’s done’ and the other comes back and says ‘We never cut a single blade of grass’, neutrality requires the journalist to report a controversy surrounding the state of the meadow, to throw together both men’s claims and shove it out to the world with an implicit sign over the top declaring, ‘We don’t know what’s happening — you decide.'”

    This is why so many media outlets felt required to give Monckton such press coverage, despite any research showing what a politically motivated and inaccurate charlatan he is.

  6. The following media release has just been issued by Friends of the ABC (Vic):

    ABC Chairman Maurice Newman must Explain

    “ABC Chairman Maurice Newman’s criticism of the media’s coverage of global warming is extraordinary and inappropriate,” said Glenys Stradijot, a spokesperson for Friends of the ABC (Vic).

    “Mr Newman is entitled to his personal views on controversial matters. But his expression of them while he remains head of the ABC damages public confidence in the national broadcaster’s independence.

    “Just as worrying, Mr Newman’s comments look to be an attempt to influence ABC programming to be more favourable to global warming scepticism.”

    Should problems arise with the ABC’s reporting on any matter, it is the managing director who should raise them with staff. The MD is the editor-in-chief and responsible for the ABC’s journalistic standards, not the chairman.

    “Mr Newman needs to explain why he took the step of criticising the media’s coverage of global warming and why he addressed that criticism to ABC staff.

    “It is difficult not to consider Mr Newman’s comments in the light of him being a former director of the right-wing Centre for Independent Studies. Together, they most certainly highlight the importance of legislation presently before the Parliament for a new transparent and merit-based process for appointing the chair and members of the ABC Board,” said Glenys Stradijot.


  7. “ABC chair Maurice Newman, who is not a climate scientist”

    Tim Flannery isn’t either!

    1. Neither am I a climate scientist, but any science student or reasonably educated member of the public can, for example, read Plimer’s book or listen to Monckton and by simple tests see they are full of c..p.

      One shouldn’t unquestioningly accept what Flannery says, but as a scientist he should be used to assessing the validity of a scientific concept and potentially rephrasing it for public consumption. If you read a bit of the climate change science that is out there, from reliable authors, a picture should begin to emerge. Newman should be capable of that.

  8. Thanks Stilgherrian for this article.

    I’m gobsmacked how this situation can arise.

    He’s not stupid, so why not get an undergraduate-level textbook on atmospheric physics?

    He’s not without influence or access, why not ring the Chief Scientist and ask for a rundown?

    Is it some sort of statement that’s a password for entry to some political club? I got nothing — it has to be up there with asking for balance on asbestos, lead fuel, tobacco, HIV/AIDS etc etc.

  9. The ABC lathers their shows with non-climate scientists, including Flannery, Wong, Garrett, Lord Stern and other economist et al, but you don’t seem to be concerned about that!

    At least Monckton has the honesty to say don’t believe him — do the research.

    As for ringing the Chief Scientist as suggested by DaveMcRae — she was a passionate advocate but now appears not to be so passionate.

    What is being missed here by all AGW proponents is not who is right, only time will tell, but the fact that only one side of the debate for years had been given sufficient air time until ClimateGate.

    Yes, the ABC can show you where they have had Monckton and Plimer on, but add up the number of times a ‘sceptic’ was given air time, and indeed uninterrupted air time, compared to AGW proponents.

    Further, in the interests of balance, when will the ABC called Flannery to account for his plethora of failed catastrophic predictions? I will bet you a free dinner they won’t!

    Perhaps this is what Newman was referring to when he discussed balance?

  10. I’d seriously play, but I’m heading out to dinner soon. 🙂

    What I would add is that scepticism is at the heart of all good science. The mere fact that the IPCC ordered an independent investigation into itself today should prove to some extent that the science isn’t settled, and that scepticism from ALL directions is a positive on the road to obtaining the factual truth.

    Any good scientist will tell you that. ABC journalists on the other hand: not a hope in hell. Side note, it should be of little surprise that it’s the same journalists who also get up at conferences who say that journalism is dying and there’s no future in new media either.

    Last thing: I happen to be a strong believer in evolution for example, but if you follow the study there you’ll know that science is constantly revising evolution based on new evidence. Why the hell wouldn’t the same apply to the theory of AGW?

  11. I find myself conflicted. On the one hand agreeing with many of the measures that have been initiated by the Climate Change campaign. Most of which would never have happened by now (or ever) without it. I believe that moving to an environmentally sustainable society/economy is a necessity and the quicker the better. On the other hand I remain unconvinced by the conclusions reached from the available scientific data. I guess that makes me an agnostic too. That the media needs to present viewpoints as unassailable truths is bad enough. That they are doing so on this critically important issue is abysmal. There are no truths in science, only our ever-changing understanding of the facts.

  12. A lot of this comes down to do you believe that tens of thousands of scientists are plotting a one world government by using the most heinous of methods peer reviewed science as the most ardent of deniers would have you believe or not.

    There is a lot of the science still to be settled, like the study of evolution the science is in a constant state of refinement, but that is not to say that the underlying fact of evolution is not in dispute.

    The details on climate change as more and more data comes in are not if, but when, not these were the worst case scenarios, but these are new outcomes.

    Five or ten years of study doesn’t fit into a soundbite, nor does long and often very dry technical documentation fit into the news cycle. Something that the deniers are exploiting.

    We no longer thing that smoking is good for you yet big business spent years denying it one sound bite at a time.

    We all live on this little rock floating in space, perhaps if we stopped and thought about that for a change we might be able to do something.

  13. That’s a pretty dopey set of remarks from the Friends of the ABC. Newman hasn’t been a director of the Centre for Independent Stufdies for about 15 years as far as I know. More recently he was Chancellor of Macquarie University where Tim Flannery is or was a Professor. What an interesting conspiracy. Who needs ‘Friends’ like that.

  14. Having just read the actual speech I’m pissed off with the ABC News report for failing to distinguish between Newman’s speech and his comments in the PM interview. The latter focussed entirely on the climate change aspects of his speech and ignored the rest of the important themes — even when Newman tried rather obviously to broaden the debate.

    I feel like I’ve been misled.

    Now in responding to comments to far — and thank you all — I won’t drill down into the minutiae of climate science itself. The point here is about the ABC Chair’s role in editorial direction and the reportage of scientific issues. There’s enough re-hashing of the “Is climate change real or a myth?” debate over in the comments to Eric Beecher’s Crikey piece. And I’ve already had a go over there.

    One bit I will repeat here, though:

    “Balance” isn’t about giving equal time to every opinion, whatever its level of validity. Balance is about fairness and honesty.

    A journalist’s job isn’t just repeating whatever everyone wants to say on an issue in equal measure. When I was taught the craft of radio in the early ’80s, “he said she said” reportage was derided as “tape recorder journalism”. OK for beginners, perhaps, but not for a serious practitioner.

    A journalist’s job is to uncover the truth and inform us. And if, after analysing the facts and applying reason, a journalist finds that what someone’s saying is just plain wrong, or looks dubious, they should have the independence to say so, not live in fear of being called “biased”.

    Mainstream media is truly appalling at reporting on science. It only makes it if it’s “miracle cure” or “impending doom” or controversy. Which is why we’ve heard about the IPCC review following a truly magnificent cock-up — which is great, that’s science in action actively fixing problems instead of the political process of trying to cover them up — but we don’t hear about the continual, incremental tweaks to climate change or evolutionary biology or, indeed, anything else.

    Science is also an interlocking framework of fact, evidence, hypothesis and so on. Things don’t get to be science unless they’re supported by several strands of evidence. Which is why some of Climategate doesn’t really matter. The vast web of climate science doesn’t rest sole on one team’s set of data.

    @Daremo: I’m not concerned with the specific people you list speaking on the issue, provided they’re not saying they’re analysing the science.

    (However you’re not warranted to make assumptions generally about people I may or may not approve of. Because I happen not to mention things outside the scope of the article you just can’t assume.)

    In the case of Lord Stern and other economists, they’re perfectly entitled to make economic predications based on what the climatologists tell them is their best estimate. It’s their job, in fact. But they shouldn’t judge the science, merely starting their comments with “If this is science is true, then X will happen economically.”

    Similarly, Wong and Garrett, being the responsible Government ministers, are entitled to discuss this from a policy viewpoint, weighing up the economic, social and other evidence to determine what’s best overall. But again, they shouldn’t be judging the science. And they should adapt their policies when the science changes.

    As for Flannery, I haven’t read anything he’s written so I can’t judge. I suppose that as a palaeontologist he should have an understanding of how the estimated climate change will affect life. But, as I say, I don’t really know.

    @Everyone else: Thats enough of my voice for the moment.

    1. Thanks again for highlighting this.

      Ben Goldacre in his book Bad Science (concerned mostly with CAM delusion and lack of public education in accessing health scams) asks why science/tech is written for dummies in the press and TV. He argues that business section isn’t toned down to nearly the same extent, and sport is not dumbed down at all, a level, not a low level, of understanding of the games is assumed, and sometimes sport has the most accurate and detailed statistical analysis of all the presses sections.

  15. i just wish the ABC would go back to reading the news.

    and let the well known people on certain issues e.g. scientists and the likes re an issue write commentary . Fed up with abc reporters commenting on everything.

    We are old and enough and big enough to make up our own minds.

    In fact i hardly listen or watch the currant affairs on the abc it has got so bad.

    and as for the drum gee cannnot even look there any more. .never thoughti would see the day when i dont even turn on the radio to listen to them I think they have lost their loyal base some time ago the young people are too busy through the day and only look at headlines us oldies think its changed too much so dont bother.

    i prefer the inderpent sites like crickey these days and watch question time now that is really where you find out what going on.

    The good old days of good solid headlines and news seem to be a thing of the past.

    so have given up even trying to work them out.

    it not our abc any more its their abc.

  16. Oh, FFS! When are going to build and deploy the B Ark?

    Douglas Adams created an expectation about our future that is more painful in its non arrival to reality than the promise of a jet pack.

  17. @mary: And even if the ABC did just “read the news”, there’s still the question of what is the news on any particular day. he process of selecting which stories to cover creates a certain view of the world — that some events are more important than others.

    Only this week, for example, there seems to be more attention given to a baby elephant in Sydney than so many other important issues.

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’d like to be informed about what’s happening in the world and how it’ll affect me and our future, not entertained with cute animal stories.

    I hardly watch TV any more, or listen to the radio for that matter. I choose from the vast amount of material online.

    @sylmobile: This is the future. Welcome to it.

  18. The Fellowship of the Round Table are discussing a related topic “Peak Oil” “Is this the end of civilisation as we know it?” in the Jubilee Room Parliament House Macquarie Street at 6pm on Wednesday.

    I even got a brief mention on Lee Rhiannon’s blog as being “Acting Secretary”!

    I have been promoted to Secretary which pays twice as much as “Acting Secretary” — twice nothing is still nothing!

    She also managed to sneak my video of her onto her blog. How it ended up there I’m not sure.


    Peak Oil is a fact. Climate change is a theory !

    Gordon Moyes is coming along as he believes that when God created the Garden of Eden he had no plans for petrochemicals!

    (sorry for the plug)

  19. @stilgherrian regarding climate change being a theory.

    There is no doubt that climate change from the point of view of the planet is a fact. The planet has gone through ice ages and various climatic events in the billion years of it’s history and it’s also a fact that the slight tilt the Earth makes with regards to the sun changes the climate quite remarkably. This phenonema is known as the “seasons”.

    When it comes to mankind and the influence of the industrial revolution and it’s products on climate change then we’re into the area of theory (as no doubt Tony Abbott can explain).

    As I understand it the major gas that influences “the greenhouse effect” is water vapour over which mankind has very little control. The second is methane from farting cows and third carbon based petrochemicals and fossil fuels.

    (There is an argument that petrochemicals are not fossil fuels and that oil as we know it isn’t the product of fossilisation).

    Petroleum (name literally means “rock oil”) replaced whale oil which was used prior to the industrial revolution for a variety of purposes. When “rock oil” was first discovered it was used as a replacement for whale oil which was becoming scarce. It was a product that was in abundance.

    How much mankind’s use of “rock oil” and other carbon based fuels such as coal have influenced climate change is I believe a matter for debate.

    “rock oil” has become the primary component of many things and much that we take for granted such as pesticides and fertiliser for agriculture and plastics will need deep consideration when “peak oil” takes hold (2023 is a prediction by Shell to it’s employees).

    How much of the CPRS is a reaction to “peak oil” rather than climate change is something I’ve been deliberating on.

    There’s an interesting film about how Cuba dealt with the oil crisis when the Soviet Union collapsed. Their primary source of oil disappeared and they couldn’t get it from the United States which has already reached it’s “peak” with regards to oil production.

    What will the moslem hordes do when they run out of oil – or to be more precise when the cost of extraction becomes marginal with respect to revenue ?


  20. Addendum regarding my comment “There’s an interesting film about how Cuba dealt with the oil crisis when the Soviety Union collapsed”.

    “When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba’s economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80 percent – people were desperate. This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look into the Cuban culture during this economic crisis, which they call “The Special Period.” The film opens with a short history of Peak Oil, a term for the time in our history when world oil production will reach its all-time peak and begin to decline forever. Cuba, the only country that has faced such a crisis – the massive reduction of fossil fuels – is an example of options and hope.”


  21. “Peak Oil is a fact”

    Sydney civil engineer MATT MUSHALIK takes a cool, rational, look at the world’s rapidly-approaching energy crisis ( 10 May 2005 )

    “Peak Oil is a proven physical reality, not a theory which can be argued about in an endless debating competition. The first peak to happen was in the US in 1970.”

    BTW: Matt Mushalik booked into the Fellowship of the Round Table forum (to be held Wednesday) this evening.

    There’s one simple question. If the world is running out of fossil fuels (as it is) then why is the world concerned about the polluting effects of substances that in the future will be in limited supply ?

    And wasn’t Tony Abbott more concerned about an ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme) which produces a trade in negotiable instruments rather than a CPRS ? The bureacracy surrounding trading rights to pollute is an enormous cost to the country (IMHO that is).


  22. The Rev the Hon Gordon Moyes MLC AC (as expressed this morning)


    For those in the audience who may still harbour any doubts about the urgency of the issue of peak oil I will quote the former US Energy Secretary, Dr James Schlesinger, who in 2006 addressed the “Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas”(ASPO) in Ireland with this comment:

    “The peakists have won … to the peakists I say, you can declare victory. You are no longer the beleaguered small minority of voices crying in the wilderness. You are now mainstream. ”

    In other words, the issue of peak oil is no longer up for debate, no longer controversial, no longer considered alarmist, and has been accepted as valid by scientists worldwide.



  23. @Bob Bain: Rev Moyes’ comments are further proof, if any was needed, that people simply are not divided into two political tribes, The Left and The Right, with a locked-in set of beliefs for each. There’s probably a lot that Moyes and I would disagree about. However we seem to agree that there’s little doubt Peak Oil is a reality we need to deal with.

    One thing I will quibble about, though. I wouldn’t say that “the issue of Peak Oil is no longer up for debate”. If some significant new evidence appeared that contradicted what we currently know, then that evidence would need to be evaluated. If it stood up to scrutiny, the concept of Peak Oil would need to be revisited in light of that new evidence. that’s how Science works.

    Mind you, we’ve strayed an awfully long way from the role of the ABC Chair…

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