Bryan Lawrence : Channel Four Shame

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Channel Four Shame

I didn't see the C4 programme, and hadn't planned on commenting on it here, but last night while I was watching the kiwis take another step towards the World Cup, my wife was on the phone to a teaching colleague: Apparently this colleague had seen the programme and had found it "pretty convincing", and worse from my point of view it was a common position! She had discussed it with other colleagues who had also found it convincing - science teachers all! So I spent further into the sleep bank and wrote most of this last night.

I don't blame them, one doesn't expect the mainstream "believable" media to be that poor: while TV is not refereed literature, in the UK at least one expects a level of integrity in "factual" or "discussion" pieces1. But I digress, this post is not supposed to be a diatribe, I wanted to write something that could be accessible to a teacher, with some links to folk who had seen the programme and had made some cogent responses.

So, remembering that I didn't see this programme, let me start with a comment about the contenders: on the one side we have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (representing thousands of active scientists, most of whom are not directly funded by any government, but are simply assembled by governments), and a handful of disaffected, often out of touch, or simply misled and misquoted, individuals orchestrated by an individual with form on misleading the public:

Martin Durkin, for his part, achieved notoriety when his previous series on the environment for the channel, called Against Nature , was roundly condemned by the Independent Television Commission for misleading contributors on the purpose of the programmes, and for editing four interviewees in a way that "distorted or mispresented their known views". Channel 4 was forced to issue a humiliating apology. But it seems to have forgiven Mr Durkin and sees no need to make special checks on the accuracy of the programme.

Now this isn't about weight of numbers alone, the point is this that there really is no significant argument amongst active scientists about this, climate change is real, happening now, and rather more rapidly than we hitherto expected (although that's not to say the potential impacts aren't overstated here and there), but C4 felt the need to make a "there's my Johnny, the only one in the entire army marching in step" kind of programme. This is a classic situation where a few amateur voices who can't get anything peer reviewed have a take on things that is purported to be as valid as that which results from peer review! What nonsense!

OK, so the two key links you want addressing the programme itself are

And this is a blog entry I link to above (for the benefit of anyone who prints this out), on amateurism and peer review:

OK, and here's my summary and interpretation of their key points, along with some other bits and bobs.

  • Met Office: The bottom line is that temperature and CO2 are linked.

    • Bryan adds, blimey, even Arrenhius a hundred years ago understood that. (You may be interested in what the American Institute of Physics thinks, it's only their government who is out of step!.

    • Real Climate implies they made a big deal out of CO2 not matching the temperature record over the 20th C. Apparently the graph they showed had been doctored (see below), and the very good explanation (suphate aerosol) for the discrepancy is well known, so the programme makers were lying by omission.

    • C4 was also upset that Temperature leads CO2 by 800 years in the ice cores. Which as Real Climate put it is basically correct, but irrelevant since the reason for that understood.

  • Met Office:The bottom line is that observations are now consistent with increased warming through the troposphere.

    • The troposphere should warm faster than the surface, say the models and basic theory. And Real Climate implies they claimed the data didn't agree with that. But it does! Unless you want to use data with known errors that have since been fixed (and the folk on this programme knew that perfectly well).

  • Apparentlly they tried blaming cosmic rays as well, in passing, so I'll address that in passing too: See my blog entry on that house of cards. The Met Office again: The bottom line is, even if cosmic rays have a detectable effect on climate (and this remains unproven), measured solar activity over the last few decades has not significantly changed and cannot explain the continued warming trend. In contrast, increases in CO2 are well measured and its warming effect is well quantified. It offers the most plausible explanation of most of the recent warming and future increases ... changes in solar activity do affect global temperatures. However, what research also shows is that increased greenhouse gas concentrations have a much greater effect than changes in the Sun?s energy over the last 50 years.

So let's wrap up with two more quotes:

  • Met Office:

    The bottom line is that current models enable us to attribute the causes of past climate change and predict the main features of the future climate with a high degree of confidence. We now need to provide more regional detail and more complete analysis of extreme events.

  • William Connelly:

    ... it means they have "touched up" pretty well all the graphs they've used (the solar one omitted the recent data; the 400y solar "filled in" some missing data that was missing for a good reason). Swindle indeed!

(Update, 2 May 2007: See also this list of issues and their open letter and make sure you check out the signatories.)

1: I for one will never bother watching channel four for "news" again, entertainment yes, but facts no! (ret).

Categories: climate environment

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Comments (2)

Allan Doyle on Saturday 31 March, 2007:

Ha. In *our* country we don't need the TV studios to mess up the facts. We have government officials to do that...

Bryan on Monday 02 April, 2007:

The thing that's common to both of these is the naive expectation that they wouldn't get caught! I think in the case of C4, they probably don't care (it's "entertainment" afterall ... as long as no one finds a reason to sue), but you would think someone in a federal agency would know that a) people watch what you do, and b) governments change ...

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This page last modified Wednesday 02 May, 2007
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