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300,000 Dollars And Three Years To Produce A Paper That Lasted Three Weeks

The paper might have been scientifically invalid, but it was a box-office success. The headlines were everywhere

“1000 years of climate data confirms Australia’s warming” said the press release fromUniversity of Melbourne. It  was picked up by  The Guardian: “Australasia has hottest 60 years in a millennium, scientists find”; The Age and  The Australian led with “Warming since 1950 ‘unprecedented’. The story was on ABC 24 and ABC news where Gergis proclaimed:” there are no other warm periods in the last 1000 years that match the warming experienced in Australasia since 1950.” It was all over the ABC including ABC Radio National, and they were “95% certain“!  On ABC AM, “the last five decades years in Australia have been the warmest. ” Plus there were pages in Science Alert, Campus Daily Eco news,  The ConversationReal Climate* and Think Progress.

Blog review is where the real science gets tested

Skeptics have been looking through the paper, and three weeks after it was published a team at Climate Audit uncovered a problem so significant that the authors announced that this paper is “on hold”. It has been withdrawn from the American Meteorological Society website. Bishop Hill has probably the best summary of what this means, and how it unfolded.

When Steve McIntyre asked for the full data, she refused. Gergis has an activist past which she has recently tried to hide. She was proud to mention in her biography that her data has been requested from 16 nations: So requests from Tunisia, Cuba, and Brazil are OK; but Canada — not so much. Apparently she didn’t appreciate his expertise with statistics and told him to get the data himself from the original authors, and added ” This is commonly referred to as ‘research’. We will not be entertaining any further correspondence on the matter. “

Will any of these media outlets update their news?

(The Uni Melb news feed is here).

On AM, David Karoly raved about how the study was strong because it relied more on observations not modeling (it is getting to them that skeptics keep pointing out they have no empirical evidence), and claimed he had “high confidence” in the results. (Is that the same kind of high confidence he has in future predictions of warming?)

MATTHEW CARNEY: Professor Karoly says the strength of the study is that it’s relied more on direct observations and measurements than climate modelling.

DAVID KAROLY: Nothing is absolutely certain in science but we say with very high confidence because we have repeated the analysis alone for the uncertainties that the warming in the last 50 years is very unusual and cannot, very likely cannot be explained by natural climate variability alone.

How concerned are they with accuracy? Are all these media outlets happy to leave their readers or viewers with the impression that these results are robust, reliable, and strong? In truth, even before this paper was withdrawn, before it was promoted, investigative reporters had plenty to wonder about.

Did any journalist really ask any hard questions to start with?

Let’s not bother to get into the point that the results of crunching the data 3000 different ways means their “confidence” came from models, not from the 27 proxies, most of which didn’t cover the full 1000 years, or the Australian mainland either.

The litany, the message went on and on and on in the media and apart from Adam Morton in The Age,  most investigative journalists never thought to ask the question “How much warmer are we now than 1000 years ago” because if they had, Gergis would have had to say “by a tenth of a degree”. (That much eh?) Technically it was 0.09C.

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