According to Esther Enkin, the current Ombudsman of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), she “has a mandate to determine whether information content the CBC has produced fully respects CBC's journalism policy.”
With that thought in mind, let’s consider whether Enkin did her job concerning a complaint I lodged on February 27 about the way in which CBC radio covered a recent public opinion poll about climate change. Here is the background.
In an apparent attempt to provide cover for the federal/provincial global warming summit last week in Vancouver, a study authored by researchers from University of Montreal and three American universities was released on February 15. Entitled “The Distribution of Climate Change Public Opinion in Canada,” the study was reported on at about 10:00 am on February 22 by CBC on their web site.
However, Australian science presenter Jo Nova pointed out that apparently the CBC later edited both the headline and the story to make it more politically correct (see the CBC's explanation for those changes here).
As Nova points out, at first the CBC headline read, “Climate change: Majority of Canadians don’t believe it’s caused by humans,” with appropriate text to support this conclusion.
But, as Nova writes:
“The original message revealed a sacred truth that must not be spoken. How would most Canadians feel about being forced to pay money to change the weather if they knew most other Canadians also thought it was a waste of billions?”
So, after the survey researchers complained, the headline was changed to “Canadians divided over human role in climate change, study suggests,” and significant parts of the piece rewritten, presumably to give more of the message needed by politicians meeting in Vancouver.
So it appears our national broadcaster acted as a cheerleader for the global warming crusade. Nothing unusual about that.
What was different this time, however, was that, about mid-day on February 22, Adam Stroud, Associate Producer of Toronto-based CBC Syndicated Audio, reached out to me -- someone who vehemently opposes the CBC’s belief that the science of climate change is “settled” in favour of alarmism -- to comment on the meaning of the poll.
Stroud apparently did not know of my position and wanted local CBC radio show hosts across Canada to speak with me about where scientists and educators were “falling short” in popularizing the point of view CBC holds dear.
I was also asked to discuss how they could do better “in informing the public on climate change.”
It did not seem to occur to Stroud that many Canadians are skeptical of the CBC’s stance because, as is well demonstrated by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), it is not supported by the science.
NIPCC does not pull its punches, concluding in its November 2015 report “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming”:
“Probably the most widely repeated claim in the debate over global warming is that ‘97% of scientists agree’ that climate change is man-made and dangerous,” the authors write. “This claim is not only false, but its presence in the debate is an insult to science.”
(Note: Joe Bast, CEO of the Heartland Institute, the publishers of the NIPCC, discussed this valuable report on line on March 9, 2016 here.)
I accepted Stroud’s request, only to have him drop me later when one of the researchers of the original poll became available for the interview. (Or was is because he discovered my position on the issue?)
Hoping (naively it appears) for fair coverage of the survey, I nevertheless sent Stroud information to help CBC interviewers properly quiz the survey researcher. I explained:
The first question in the poll is a trick that should be exposed by CBC interviewers, I suggest. It was:
“From what you’ve read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past four decades?”
Besides the fact that temperatures do not quote get warmer unquote; they increase (or decrease); picking the last four decades is deceptive. All scientists on both sides of the debate agree it has generally warmed in the past 40 years. However, in the last 19 years, temperatures have generally stayed stable, with the variation generally staying within the uncertainty (see attached). The answer to the question, is it getting warmer entirely depends on the time interval chosen.
In this video, Professor Carter shows that it has warmed since 16,000 years ago
He shows it has cooled since 10,000 years ago
He shows it has cooled in the last 2,000 years
He shows it has neither warmed nor cooled since 700 years ago
He shows it has warmed in the past 40 years
But not in the last 8 years (now 19 actually)
But, Prof. Carter also shows, the last two temperature intervals are not statistically significant and “absolutely not unusual.“
So Carter concludes, “Is it warming or not - it depends on the time interval chosen.“
I suggest the CBC point this out to the researchers. Alternatively, I would be happy to discuss this on air.”
Stroud responded, “Thanks for that. We'll look into this further.”
I next sent the following to Stroud to illustrate how the poll was highly flawed:
They did not ask the most important question for the policy debate:
“Do you believe that emissions of carbon dioxide from human activities are causing dangerous global warming and other problematic climate change?”
The fact that a respondent believes the Earth is getting warmer or not is irrelevant to the climate policy debate. It is only if that warming (or cooling) is considered in any way dangerous that it would be worth carbon dioxide taxes or other means to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
It is also important to call it what it really is, namely carbon dioxide. The primary greenhouse gas is actually water vapour and no one is speaking about reducing our emissions of water vapour. If we were, then we should be draining our reservoirs as far more water evaporates when it is held high above sea level in large surface area lakes than if it were allowed to drain naturally to the ocean.
The above points, in addition to their uneducated reference to warming temperatures, makes me think the researchers really do not know the basics of the topic they are polling. I find this often with pollsters on the climate issue.
I am free to speak about this on air if you like.
Stroud did not respond.
Nor, according to the producer of CBC Vancouver’s On the Coast radio program, did he transfer any of the information I provided to CBC Vancouver (or, most likely, to any other local radio show host across Canada).
Consequently, On the Coast did not have the material needed to properly investigate the relevance (or lack thereof) of the survey to the federal/provincial meeting about to occur in that city.
On the Coast radio show host Chris Brown merely had a friendly talk with the author (listen to the interview at the 48:35 mark here), devoid of any skeptical inquiry.
I e-mailed Stroud, Brown and the On The Coast producer:
“It was many hours before the interview on On the Coast so it is very poor that Adam did not share this with you. Adam, why did you not do this? It could have given Mr. Brown the information he needed to conduct a proper, inquiring interview instead of simply a cheer leading session with the highly activist professor from CA.”
No one responded so, on February 27, I complained to Ombudsman Enkin, about the situation. She replied that she had “no say in day-to-day decision-making” concerning CBC programming and described her mandate as above.
So, I sent to Enkin samples of where On the Coast’s coverage of the climate survey violated CBC's journalism policy and asked her:
“Are you saying then that, in your opinion, the situation I described below adequately fulfills the standards laid out in CBC's journalism policy? A quick glace at CBC's journalism policy shows many places, a small sampling of which I list below, where the situation described in the e-mails below clearly violates CBC's journalism policy. Are you saying that, in your professional judgement as CBC Ombudsman, these standards were indeed followed in the circumstances I describe?”
Enkin did not answer my questions and again asked me to explain my concerns.
“Editorial judgement about what research is done or who is approached is generally beyond the mandate of this office,” she concluded.
So, I wrote to her:
“If you want to just focus on one of these policy violations, I suggest you take the following:
Science and Health
Implications and validity of results of scientific research
We take care to understand properly and reflect the true implications of medical or scientific study results that we obtain, especially those involving statistical data.
The CBC Vancouver interview obviously did not "reflect the true implications" of the research and did not raise any of the problems with the work that I sent to CBC Toronto (since CBC Toronto did not share the information with CBC Vancouver even though they had many hours to do so).
Back and forth it went, Enkin asking for me to explain my concerns, me explaining them and then her asking again. I eventually gave up.
The whole e-mail thread may be viewed here.
So what readers think? Is the CBC Ombudsman doing her job or not?
(Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition. The NIPCC reports may be viewed at climatechangereconsidered.org.