It will come as no surprise that politicians like to stretch the truth or cherry-pick evidence to support their point or policy. But in the internet age misinformed ministers are more likely to get caught out. Here are a few examples:
Abortion and breast cancer
What Eric Abetz said: "I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer."
The Project, 7/8/2014
What the science says: A review of 53 studies undertaken in 16 countries on more than 80,000 women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer found ‘‘pregnancies that end as a spontaneous or induced abortion do not increase a woman's risk of developing breast cancer.’’
What Eric Abetz later said: Let me make this point very, very clear: at no stage have I made a link between abortion and breast cancer and there's a very simple reason I have never made such a claim and that is: I am not qualified to do so. I will leave that to the medical experts to determine as to what the body of opinion is.
ABC AM 8/8/2014
Great Barrier Reef and dredging
What Environment Minister Greg Hunt said: ‘‘All of the scientific advice I've received is that not only will that have a minimal outcome, a minimal impact, but in fact we will have improved water quality with the toughest conditions for the net benefit Australia's ever had.’’
ABC 7:30 11/12/2013
What the science says: A world-first survey examining the effect of dredging on coral reefs found double the amount of diseased coral at reefs nearby dredging sites.
Joe Pollock, the study's leader from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, said dredging increased water turbidity, meaning there was less light for corals to photosynthesise. Dredging also increased the level of sediment falling on coral that could interfere with their feeding.
''Just like in any other organism, it seems that chronic stress can lead to increased levels of disease in corals,'' said Mr Pollock
The study was conducted near Barrow Island, off the West Australian coast, close to where 7 million cubic metres of silt and sand was dredged.
PLoS One 17/7/2014
Protecting swimmers from shark attacks by deploying drum lines off Western Australia
What Tony Abbott said: "Look, it's a State issue but what Colin [Barnett, WA premier] is doing has been done successfully off the coast of Queensland for decades," Mr Abbott said. "I think they've had only one fatal shark attack since they started."
The West Australian 3/3/2014
What the science says: Analysis of the Queensland drum line program by Professor Jessica Meeuwig, the director of the Centre for Marine Future found:
- Shark-related fatalities in Queensland have declined in both areas with and without drum lines, with the steepest rates of decline before their installation.
- The effectiveness of drum lines is difficult to evaluate, as the rates of attacks before and after their deployment are both very low. Moreover, 83% of drum lines are deployed at locations where a fatal attack has never occurred.
- The ecological cost of drum lines is high, with 97% of sharks caught since 2001 considered to be at some level of conservation risk, and 89% caught in areas where no fatalities have occurred.
The Conversation 21/2/2014
The link between extreme weather events such as bushfires and climate change
What Tony Abbott said: ‘‘I’m not one of those people who runs around and says every time there’s a fire or a flood, that proves climate change is getting worse. Australia has had fires and floods since the beginning of time. We’ve had much bigger floods and fires than the ones we’ve recently experienced. You can hardly say they were the result of anthropic [sic] global warming.
The Washington Post, 25/10/2013
What the science says: Recent climate extremes experienced in Australia have been more severe and produced more severe impacts than suggested by conventional climate scenarios and impact models. Analysis of recent Australian climate change shows that Australia has warmed in two episodes: 1968–73 and 1994–97 with little change in between. Rainfall decreased rapidly by 85mm or 12 percent in south west WA in 1968 and increased rapidly by 22 percent in northern Australia in 1973.
The greatest risk with rapid climate change is with changing extreme events such as heat stress, fires, floods and storm events. Rapid climate change can changes these extremes rapidly, and has already done so for heat and fire risk in south east Australia.
Valuing adaptation under rapid change report, National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, 2013
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