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Australia: What Would Change Your Mind on Climate?

The scenario is simple. A wily conservative ex-politician and a young climate activist visit their ‘experts’ around the globe together. It’s a futile and inevitably failed attempt to change each other’s mind.

The ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) showed a double-header on 26 April 2012: the resulting documentary I Can Change Your Mind, followed by a Q&A panel session. You can also watch both programs on ABC iView till 10 May 2012.

In a post-show post on the ABC’s Drum, Anna Rose of the AYCC (Australian Youth Climate Coalition) shares her doubts about the approach:

Debating those who reject the science of climate change is a risky business. Was it worth it?

…Some people told me that I was naive to think I could ‘win’ the argument; that the whole idea of the show played into the denialists’ strategy of framing the science as disputed (when there actually isn't any reasonable doubt left) and that it was just an opportunity for Nick to place figures opposing the science into the mainstream media.

You can’t say she wasn’t warned. Graham Readfern had offered Anna his opinion beforehand:

…in my view the show’s format was flawed in that it would put non-peer-reviewed, pseudo science conducted by largely unqualified non-experts alongside decades of genuine peer reviewed scientific research. It might make for engaging telly, but it creates a false sense of balance.
If I were a climate sceptic activist or a fossil fuel lobbyist designing a format for a TV show, this show is what I’d probably come up with.

Twitter brought out the beast in many. Try searching ‘Anna Rose’, ‘Nick Minchin’ or #changeyourmind if you don’t mind personal attacks.

This exchange between Gavid Dwyer and Stu Moffat captures the combative tone of the whole exercise:

@gdfollow:

#qanda Anna Rose's expert Prof Muller hid research showing global warming has stopped. http://ow.ly/1LgkpS #auspol #pmlive #agenda

@stu_moffat:

@Gdfollow #qanda What rubbish! Looking at one 5-10 year graph of surface temps and saying that climate change has stopped is just ignorant!

@Gdfollow:

@stu_moffatt I agree. But if it's ok for Anna rose to sprout horrible unproven non science based rubbish to get point across so can I

@MrDenmore, who regularly blogs about the media at The Failed Estate, compared the show with another Aussie TV program about asylum seekers:

The SBS doco ‘Go Back to Where You Came From” was about challenging ignorance; the ABC's #changeyourmind #qanda is about legitimising it

The blogosphere have also been vocal. Quite a few were live-blogging. Simon of Australian Climate Madness gave up after detecting what he saw as ABC bias by using a pro-climate action scientist in the audience:

APPALLING BIAS to allow Matthew England act as Q&A's “appointed” climate scientist – WTF? Where's Lindzen for balance?

OK, sick of this now. ABC has abandoned any pretence of impartiality. Going offline. *fume*

Roger Jones of Understanding Climate Risk is aware that it’s easy to see what you believe:

What’s the wrap? I think this doco showed how important people’s values and prior assumptions are in influencing the way we view evidence.

He seems to prove his own observation in the next sentence:

I don’t think Q&A achieved all that much but I was glad Matt England was there to clarify a few things.

Loon Pond refused to watch the program but takes Nick Minchin to task about his follow up newspaper article:

Minchin presents himself as open-minded and willing to learn, but all you get in the piece is a repetition by rote of a few talking points, a mish-mash of ignorance and misinformation, all designed to reinforce the bee in Minchin's bonnet.

Tory Maguire, editor of News Limited’s online blogsite The Punch, has her own doubts about human nature:

Not only did they not change each others’ minds, it’s doubtful they would have changed anyone else’s minds either.

Climate researcher Ian McHugh seemed to agree at Crikey:

The sum total of useful commentary on ABC’s stultifying I Can Change Your Mind About Climate …was five minutes of British scientist and author Ben Goldacre. That the most edifying moments in the program included his admission that he’d rather slam his cock in a door than “debate” climate change probably tells those of you who missed it most of what you need to know.

Not everyone was as cynical. In the end Anna Rose Above it, according to Drillvoice:

In all, last night was some great programming. It was challenging, but Anna rose to it. Australia’s soft sceptics were exposed to a likeable, effective climate communicator. Australia’s climate-concerned were exposed to likeable, effective climate communication.

Wake Up 2 The Lies isn’t fooled:

Finally someone stands up to the Australian Youth Climate Coalition Cult and says what a lot of Australians have wanted to say. Climate Depot’s Marc Morano’s fantastic rant from the ABC’s documentary “Can I Change Your Mind About Climate”

Over at The Conversation, Astrophysics professor Michael Ahsley isn't a Morano fan:

Morano is a master of the Gish Gallop, spewing out a rapid-fire string of arguments – sea level is dropping, polar bear populations are increasing, temperatures are going down – which are impossible to refute on the spot in a television debate.

The ABC, as our national broadcaster, is supposed to help us to form our views by presenting competing ideas. Many feel that giving equal time to the small percentage of scientists and commentators who are climate sceptics, delayers or deniers provides unwarranted weight to their arguments not true balance. Academic Stephan Lewandowsky argues:

What would it take for a documentary to provide a properly balanced perspective on climate science? Simple: Anna Rose should have had 97 scientists in her corner to balance Minchin's sole climate scientist. Because 97 out of 100 actual experts know that the climate is changing due to human greenhouse emissions. Two are undecided and one in 100 opposes the mainstream science.

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