Catalyst- still deceptive

An update on my recent post about Catalyst.

Most viewers (myself included) would not have realised that the “330 months since February 1985 of above average temperatures” reference had nothing to do with Australia, but was in fact based on an as yet unpublished paper by Dr Mark Howden of the CSIRO, who seems to have obtained his data from the NCDC.  (Unpublished? So not yet peer-reviewed?  Tut-tut, ABC!)  As it is not yet published, we can’t access it or check Dr Howden’s methods and calculations, so the 1:100,000 chance of having 330 months in a row of above average temperature not being caused by the greenhouse effect seems a bit odd. 2 to the power of 330 is somewhat more than 100,000!

Whatever.  I’m sure it’s very interesting.  But that had nothing to do with the stated subject of the program, which was “Taking Australia’s Temperature”.  It appeared to be thrown in as a late filler.  Perhaps there was no deliberate deception planned, however to include that claim without clarifying that it was not Australian data but global data resulted in at least one viewer (me) being misled.

But let’s have a closer look at this claim, seeing as it has been raised.  Yes the world has warmed, and so has Australia, over the last 100 or so years, somewhere between 0.4 and 0.7 degrees Celsius.  Thanks to Chris Gillham, here is a graph of the NCDC data, from 1880.

I’ve marked in the period between 1944 and 1976, when there was a distinct cooling period.

And this is the monthly data since 1985.

Warming?  Of course.  Continuously?  No.  The warming has definitely slowed, plateaued, or possibly even reversed since 2001-2002.

Yet every month of this data series is above the average for the 20th Century, which apparently was reached at the beginning of 1985, so Dr Howden and the CSIRO are technically correct.

But let’s look at some completely different data.

This is a graph of the Australian share index, courtesy of the ASX.

In spite of the 1987 crash, the Asian bust, the GFC, every point since 1985 is above the value then.

Another example.  Imagine driving from say Brisbane to western Queensland.  The average altitude of Australia is 330m.  Half way up the Toowoomba Range you pass this altitude.  Past Toowoomba, driving across the fairly flat Darling Downs, be warned that every kilometre is above the average altitude.  So when you reach Roma we can say that for more than 300 kilometres every kilometre has been above the average altitude.  (OK, there are a few dips when you get close to Roma, but let’s homogenise them.)  Scarey hey!

The point?  The world has been warming since the mid 19th century.  In a warming climate a point will eventually be reached where despite cooling episodes, every data point will be above the average.  The little exercise with the wine bottles in Catalyst proves absolutely nothing, especially not about Australia’s temperature.

Oh, and by the way, the poor birds dropping dead in mid flight from the heat.  The presenters failed to report that this is nothing new, and was documented in newspapers many times before World war II:- – 1896 – 1899 – 1913 – 1924 – 1929

The trouble is, some people believe the mis-information spread by the BOM, the CSIRO, and the ABC.

5 Responses to “Catalyst- still deceptive”

  1. John (in Oz) Says:

    You did not mention how you obtained the info about the unpublished paper. Did the ABC contact you? If so, can we see their response, please?

  2. waclimate Says:

    It would be interesting to know how many hours or weeks of BoM staff time and budget were required for research, graphic and web production of “Information prepared for the ABC Catalyst program”.

    These fairly elaborate BoM/Catalyst pages don’t provide further enlightenment re the source of the program’s odds ratio section about 330 consecutive months above the “average” since Feb 85.

    Catalyst sources it to a submitted 2012 CSIRO paper ( but there’s little doubt the 330 months refer to the August global anomaly data from the National Climatic Data Center in the US –

    NCDC monthly data land and ocean –

    It’s appalling that Catalyst failed to tell its audience the data refers to global rather than Australian temps.

    The script was “… since February 1985, we have had 330 months in a row of above-average temperatures”. Why wasn’t it “… since February 1985, the world has had 330 months in a row of above-average temperatures”? What editing constraint prevented such a simple rewording to (partly) clarify what they’re talking about?

    The combination of odds for consecutive monthly temperatures with odds of human influence was misleading, as was the wording that suggested the global (pseudo Australian) data was consecutively increasing since 1985.

    As Ken has demonstrated, Catalyst also failed to source or present Australian data which doesn’t show 330 consecutive months above “average”, and failed to mention that their unnamed global data source shows flat anomalies for the past 15 years (debatable whether the flat shift began 1997 or 2001, according to the NCDC charts above).

    Like Ken, my comment submission to the Catalyst blog got nowhere. If it’s not a technical glitch, it would be remarkable for a “landmark” special about one of society’s most controversial topics to only allow about 14 hours of public comment – mostly nighttime.

    A point made in my unpublished comment relates to the Catalyst claim that we (Australia or the world?) have had 330 months in a row above average (332 now).

    Ken’s national charts (home page) suggest zero research or fact-checking by the ABC but it’s also worth looking at WA, aka the western half of the country. Below are the most recent BoM official mean WA temps for the previous 12 months based on observations from all available years at all stations with records beyond 30 years:

    Sep 2011 – 19.6C / 0.1C above average
    Oct 2011 – 23.4C / 0.2C above average
    Nov 2011 – 25.3C / 0.6C below average
    Dec 2011 – 27.9C / 0.1C below average
    Jan 2012 – 27.8C / 0.9C below average
    Feb 2012 – 27.9C / 0.2C below average
    Mar 2012 – 25.4C – 1.2C below average
    Apr 2012 – 23.2C / long-term average
    May 2012 – 18.8C – 0.1C below average
    Jun 2012 – 15.8C / 0.1C below average
    Jul 2012 – 14.3C / 0.7C below average
    Aug 2012 – 17.7C – 1.1C above average

    Averaged across WA, the year was .25C below the long term mean. Similar in the eastern states. (

    Instead of wasting valuable program time on tenuous evidence such as dead birds, why couldn’t they have included 25 seconds for something such as:

    “Human influences apart from C02 include the accuracy of temperature adjustments or lack of adjustments for urban heat influence, thermometer siting, temperature scales, data rounding, automatic weather stations, screen size, paint and other issues under debate. Natural variables include shifts in ocean oscillations, earth’s orbit and tilt, volcanoes, sunspots and numerous other forces not yet fully understood.”

    That’s all. Just two fact-packed sentences to let viewers know the BoM’s research and temperature records (and what looks like production of the program itself) should not be considered sacred.

    Taking Australia’s Temperature was an AGW promo with misleading evidence and presentation, and there’s a BBC whiff about how the ABC and BoM executives collaborated to allow such a sloppy shock production to be broadcast.

  3. Chris Gillham Says:

    P.S … I’ve checked all the examples of warming temperatures in Taking Australia’s Temperature and most are either demonstrably wrong or highly dubious.

    Taking Catalyst’s Temperature at dissects the numerous inaccuracies in this landmark ABC climate program made in collaboration with the experts at the BoM.

    I’m not sure if I’d prefer the cause to be bias or incompetence.

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