Saturday, May 17, 2008

Graham Young vs Robyn Williams and Others

Graham Young is the former vice-president and campaign chairman of the Queensland Liberal Party. As chief editor and the publisher of On Line Opinion, he is using his pulpit to rail against bullying.

If it happened in a school yard or in a cyber chat room, and the protagonists were two 15-year-old school girls, it might have hit the front pages of a tabloid.


In a world where we're all supposed to be nice to each other, it's the ultimate crime.

That's the charge. The main defendant is Robyn Williams.

For bullying is what ABC Science Broadcaster Robyn Williams does to respected academic and former Vice-Chancellor of Canberra University, Don Aitkin, in his introduction to Aitkin’s Ockham’s Razor broadcast on April 27. There ought to be widespread outrage, particularly as Williams is a journalist with ethical and professional obligations who works for a publicly-funded broadcaster with duties of impartiality.

Graham has problem a problem with the way Robyn Williams introduced Professor Don Aitkin on his show.

“I have, on the other hand, had her father Nigel Lawson on the 'Science Show', talking about innovation or some such, with his usual flair and penetrating intelligence. Not a science-trained man, but economics is near enough, isn't it, and he was Thatcher's Chancellor of the Exchequer (or Treasurer).

“Now Lord Lawson has brought out a book on climate called 'An Appeal to Reason'. Here's the first paragraph of a review in this week's 'Spectator' magazine:

“'When there is so much data suggesting the world's climate is heating up', goes the review, 'some may find it presumptuous of Nigel Lawson, who is not a scientist and has undertaken no original research, to hope to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. Would we take seriously an appraisal of his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer written by someone whose only expertise was in oceanography?'

“Well the same could apply to Professor Don Aitkin, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Canberra, a political scientist and like Lawson, a journalist. Professor Aitkin gave a lecture on climate to the Planning Institute of Australia, 'A Cool Look at Global Warming'. That was a couple of weeks ago, and I thought you might like to hear some of his thoughts, recast for 'Ockham's Razor'. Though nine out of 10 Australians are said to be alarmed at climate change, 10 per cent think differently, and Professor Aitkin is one of them.”


It's not a kind introduction, but hey, if Graham wants "a world where we're all supposed to be nice to each other", he's too idealistic to be campaign manager for the Queensland Liberals. This could shed light on why they are out of power — but that's unkind).

But would you call it bullying? Not in the context. There's no 'nice' in scientific reasoning. It's not an objective of scientific method. If I were to front up on a science show defending a controversial, non-expert opinion on global warming, I would expect vigorous questioning.

Not Graham Young, who only see "viscious" "intimidation". (Italics, mine)

This is fairly vicious stuff, not the least because it is delivered against someone who has earned the right to intellectual respect over a long and fruitful career. Of course, the point of the put-down isn’t to intimidate Aitkin - too late for that, he’s about to do a two-part broadcast on the issue - it is to intimidate anyone of lesser stature and guts who might want to hold a public opinion on the issue.

It's nice that he's risen to the defence of Aitkin, but as Aitkin says, in the follow-up interview two weeks later, that he had received more love mail than hate mail from the show.

I gave a public address on this subject a few weeks ago, which was picked up in the daily newspapers, the text of the address was put on one newspaper's website, and a vigorous correspondence developed. In all, I received, well, 150 or so communications. The majority of them were positive. The negative ones fell mostly into one or other of two groups: either I was trespassing on someone else's patch, that is, only scientists are allowed to talk about these issues, and I am not a scientist; or I was a 'denier', someone who, in spite of the authority of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, and the weight of scientific opinion, was persisting in error.

No complaints of of bullying reported, though. So what did William say that was so bullying to a former university chancellor?

...Williams himself fails the test he sets Aitkin.

He isn’t a climate scientist, he’s a science broadcaster with an honours degree in biology. The chances are that he has no formal training in physics, the key to understanding climate science. So, on his own bad reasoning, he is precluded from commenting on the area.

Robyn Williams didn't preclude Aitkin from commenting in the area, he gave him two shows! Williams put his subject in context in his introduction, and this is really what galls Young.

His statistic that 90 per cent of Australians are alarmed at climate change is also suspect. It derives from polling carried out by The Climate Institute of Australia, apparently the offspring of Clive Hamilton’s Australia Institute (what SourceWatch would call an “Astroturf/industry front group” if it was from the right).

The poll was apparently of 1,005 people conducted online between March 7-11 and the actual question is not available in the report (PDF 493KB). While according to the report the data was “weighted by age, sex and location to ensure representativeness” it is in fact impossible to do this using an online survey - you can weight, but you can’t ensure. All online surveying carries a bias towards the “left” of politics, and judged on other Australian online polling samples this is somewhere in the order of 10 per cent.

Actually, this figure consistently shows up in surveys, here's one commissioned by WorldPublicOpinion.Org:

Australia most global warming aware. No, really!

Disclaimer: Shameless self-promo.

No really, 92% of Australians are 'in favor of measures to combat global warming'. That's 9 out of 10 to me.

Since Graham is right to take a critical look at the methodology behind the Climate Institute survey. Let's do that, properly.

About this report

The Climate Institute has commissioned both qualitative and quantitative market research on the attitudes of the Australian community to climate change and climate change solutions since early 2007. This paper summarises research by Auspoll (formerly the Australian Research Group) and draws on broader market research on public opinion on climate change.

The data discussed in this report was primarily obtained using a sample of 1,005 interviews conducted online between Friday 7 March and Tuesday 11 March 2008.

Interviews were conducted online with Australian residents aged 18 and above. Sample selection took place in such a way as to produce a sample roughly proportional with the population distribution. Data was weighted by age, sex and location to ensure representativeness.

Further, qualitative research was gathered from various focus group in 2007 and most recently conducted by Auspoll on behalf of The Climate Institute in Sydney (Hurstville and Parramatta) and Brisbane on 11, 12 and 18 March respectively.

Further data was collected from the following sources:

• Surveys conducted by Auspoll on behalf of The Climate Institute online using a representative sample of 1,215 Australians from Tuesday 4 March to Thursday 6 March 2008. Similar polls in March, August and November 2007.
• Exit poll conducted by Auspoll on behalf of The Climate Institute during the 2007 Federal election in eight key marginal seats in New South Wales (Bennelong, Wentworth, Lindsay, Eden Monaro), Queensland (Petrie, Bowman) and South Australia (Makin, Sturt). The poll was conducted online using a representative
sample of 984 voters and was conducted from 6pm on Saturday 24 November until Tuesday 27 November.
• Published polls drawn from an array of sources, including the CSIRO, the Lowy Institute, Newspoll, AC Nielsen, Galaxy Polls, Google Trends and telephone polls conducted by Winston Sustainable Research Strategies
This report marks the second of the Climate Institute’s annual updates on public attitudes to climate change and climate change solutions.

Graham's 'poll', diminished to 'apparently of 1,005 people conducted online' turns out to be 1,005 interviews conducted online; plus, qualitative research was gathered from various focus group (sic); plus, surveys conducted online by Auspoll of 1,215 Australians; plus, election exit polls of a sample of 984 voters; and published polls drawn from an array of sources. That's over 3,204 interviews. Over 3 times the sample size that drives up Graham's blood pressure. Better that nobody tell him why Labor won the election, and ratified Kyoto as their first act of government.

Having identified bullying as the ultimate crime in Graham's nice world, he feels released to devote the rest of his article to wind-milling into Williams.

He regularly indulges in queen bee behaviour....Seems his quality control only works in one direction, and if your one of teacher's pets you'll get a pat on the head...Williams appears to have picked-up the campaigning bug early in life. His father was a public servant and Marxist who sold socialist newspapers on the street. ... excitement of going on anti-nuclear marches. Fascinated by prestige and fame, he also recalls with relish that Bertrand Russell used to phone friends of his....Obviously the fascination with prestige intrudes into and distorts his journalism. It also appears to distort his CV.

And then turns his sight on John Quiggin and Tim Lambert who apparently, 'are web activists who practice brown-shirt tactics on any who question what they define as the global warming orthodoxy.' Quiggy uses 'smear', and ensures 'that global warming sceptics are presented in the worst light' on Wikipedia, where he is an editor. Lambert's 'bullying' charge seems to consist of sticking to the science, and arguing for better 'n Graham can argue against:

Lambert, through his blog Deltoid promulgates whatever the current orthodoxy happens to be, but he does not restrict himself to his blog, frequently diving into comment threads on other online publications. And once you have Lambert on your thread, he sticks closer than a tick, hoping to suck the lifeblood out of the argument until you give up.

So after flailing away at Williams, Quiggin and Lambert, you'd think that Graham would have satisfied his desire for vengeance for the ruining of his nice world.


I’ll be writing to the ABC. Time to get this ball rolling.

Well, bully for you.

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Anonymous said...


"All online surveying carries a bias towards the `left' of politics, and judged on other Australian online polling samples this is somewhere in the order of 10 per cent."

Did the Climate Institute ever "bully" Young or his buddies, so that Young could be justified to launch such attacks in response? I'm hypothesizing that perhaps Young's dog was harmed by the Climate Institute in the distant past...

-- bi, International Journal of Inactivism

Unknown said...


Random question regarding AGW:

Pray tell, how does Man-made carbon cause climate change... on Jupiter???? Or Mars?

Just wondering....

Just wondering.... seems kind of strange. :)

Anonymous said...

A random answer...