January 06, 2010 | Graham

Confirmation bias rams Japanese

Just how incompetent can a journalist be and still retain their job? I’ve yet to work it out, but it is no wonder that members of my profession are held in much the same regard as used car salesmen, based on the competence of their work.
I’ve been listening to reports all afternoon that the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru rammed the Sea Shepherds’ Ady Gil while it was stationary. This report ought to have been regarded with suspicion. First, the Sea Shepherds have a deserved reputation for dishonesty and dangerous and illegal tactics. Second, the Ady Gil was alleged to have been stationary at the time.
Ships are rarely stationary at sea. They are stationary in harbour, and when they are broken down. They are stationary when transferring passengers or goods from another ship. So what was the Ady Gil doing stationary anywhere near the Shonan Maru?
Well, looking at the footage that you can download from the Cetacean Research Institute website, or view on The Associated Press’s the Adi Gil wasn’t stationary at all.
What you see is in the first place the Adi Gil maintaining it’s position close to the Shonan Maru using minimal throttle. Then you see the Adi Gil accelerate into the path of the Shonan Maru as it gets closer. Sea Shepherds claim that the Adi Gil was in reverse when hit. It may have been, but this was after it put itself in front of the Shonan Maru.
That journalists represent this as the Japanese ramming the Sea Sheperds is a result of clever manipulation by the Sea Shepherds. One wonders how much longer the Japanese will continue to retain their current NZ publicity agent, who hasn’t taken a trick as long as I’ve been watching this issue.
But journalists aren’t supposed to allow themselves to be manipulated. That they do is evidence of just how strong confirmation bias is. Journalists have bought the story “Sea Shepherds good, Japanese bad” and can’t write it any other way.
This bias was on display earlier today when Fairfax newspapers ran a story saying that the Japanese had hired planes in Australia to track the Sea Shepherds. Instead of asking why the Sea Shepherds were allowed to use Australian ports to carry out acts of piracy in the Antarctic without hindrance (or surveillance) from the Australian government, the news stories, and the government response, condemned the Japanese.
It doesn’t matter whether one thinks whaling is wrong or not. If it is to be stopped it should be stopped legally. Encouraging vigilantes to do the work of government by breaking the law is no solution.
Imagine if the Sea Shepherds were heading to the Timor Sea not to stop whaling, but to stop the arrival of illegal immigrants, by attempting to damage boats. What would the media narrative be then?
The test of a society is how well it treats the interests of those least deserving of its protection. In the case of Japanese whaling we do not come up well. It is also the test of a society how well it values truth. Again, based on this incident, we do not value truth highly.
When faced with a story that everyone else is writing, even if it is contradicted by the facts, most journalists will climb on board. No wonder newspaper sales are falling and parliamentary government has become so bad.

Posted by Graham at 11:32 pm | Comments (23) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Of course, if you only look at one side of the story you’re only going to see one side of the story. Video taken from the Bob Barker shows the Shonan Maru deliberately turn starboard toward the Ady Gil, ram it, and then turn to port away from the Ady Gil, all the while firing its water cannon at Ady Gil crewmembers who were obviously no longer a threat to anyone. And of course, the Japanese failed to respond to the Ady Gil’s SOS.

    Comment by Dave Phillips — January 7, 2010 @ 2:20 am

  2. Hi Dave,
    I’ve just reviewed that video, and anyone can do that at http://media.seashepherd2.org/video/2010-01-06_Ady_Gil_ramming.wmv.
    Looks to me like the Shonan Maru is turning to starboard. I can’t see why, but it also looks as though the Ady Gil is moving into its way at the same time.
    We know from the other video that the Adi Gil does in fact accelerate into the path of the Shonan Maru, which is confirmed by this one.
    This completely contradicts the Sea Shepherd story that the Ady Gil was stationary when it was rammed by the Shonan Maru. It also contradicts the claim that the Shonan Maru “deliberately” rammed the Adi Gil.
    Looks to me like the Japanese may have been trying to intimidate the Adi Gil, which is understandable given the Sea Shepherds’ tactics over the summer.
    This video doesn’t alter the fact that the journalists reporting on this did not act prudently, or competently. When you know that both sides will have video you should withold judgement until you see it.
    We now know that the Sea Shepherd original claims were wrong, and we also know that we need a better explanation from the Japanese as to why their ship was holding the course that it was.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 7, 2010 @ 10:10 am

  3. I’ve uploaded the ICR’s footage to YouTube here, and another YouTube user has made a split-screen video of footage from both the ICR and Sea Shepherd here.
    Looking at the footage it does seem to me like the Japanese vessel was trying to ram the Adi Gil, although questions also need to be asked about the Adi Gil’s provocative behaviour and why it was so close to the Japanese ship in the first place.
    And yes, the media coverage of this has been appalling. The ABC News report had five statements from Sea Shepherd and one line from the Japanese Fisheries Agency saying it was “investigating the incident”. The ABC had not a single word from the Institute for Cetacean Research, who claimed that the Adi Gil had been “attacking” the Japanese boats for two hours (pdf file). If the ramming of the Adi Gil was deliberate this would not justify it in my opinion, but it would certainly give the lie to claims by Sea Shepherd that the ramming was an “unprovoked attack”
    The ABC journalist who wrote this report was acting as the propaganda arm of Sea Shepherd.

    Comment by David Jackmanson — January 7, 2010 @ 10:36 am

  4. I love the title of your post! How true.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 7, 2010 @ 11:08 am

  5. Turns out the Sea Shepherd boat Adi Gil wasn’t sunk after all. TVNZ reports it’s tied up to another Sea Shepherd boat and salvage is possible.
    The ABC reported yesterday, as fact, that the Adi Gil had been sunk. They’ve now changed the headline of their story without admitting it.

    Comment by David Jackmanson — January 7, 2010 @ 12:24 pm

  6. SBS 2 broadcasts Japanese NHK television twice a day. The next is at 1625 hours AEST- just ten minutes away.

    Comment by clink — January 7, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

  7. I actually think this piece, the comments here, those on many YouTube sites showing the two videos and many of the other blog posts (including my own I suppose) all demonstrate “confirmation bias”. Perhaps it can be used as a case study for psychology students.
    Personally, I can’t see how anyone can see the video footage taken from the Bob Barker and not see a blatant, undeniable example of a massive ship turning sharply starboard directly towards a small one nearby, running smack back into it and then turning away again.
    But obviously some people see something very different – almost inevitably people who also have a bias against Sea Shepherd and/or towards the whalers. My view (or bias) is obviously in the other direction – (although I have questioned the consistency of beliefs of some who oppose whaling and queried some of Sea Shepherd’s tactics in the past.)
    Two other points:
    – I think it is clear that the Ady Gil was stationary (in the sense that it was not under propulsion) until perhaps the very last second or two, when they presumably realised they were going to be struck and tried to get the hell out of the way. (and while it is the fastest boat of its type in the world, they do need a bit more than a second or two to actually get moving/accelerate)
    (The idea that some have suggested that the Sea Shepherd boat deliberately went in front of the Japanese vessel to generate propaganda/publicity is just too silly to bother responding to).
    – Secondly, the accusations of “illegality” (let alone even more loaded terms like “piracy”) are not as clear cut as might be assumed.
    One of the reasons so many people who would normally run a hundred miles from the sort of tactics the Sea Shepherd employs have some sympathy for their (almost) ‘whatever it takes’ approach is that (a) the Japanese whalers have blatantly mocked international laws against such a level of commercial whaling for years by running the laughable ‘scientific whaling’ line – they would be better to have just withdrawn from the relevant Convention rather than rub peoples’ faces in it in such a way (even go so far as to name the whale industry lobbyists the “Institute for Cetacean Research”! – perhaps they were just showing sense of humour) and (b) the whaling has continued despite an Australian court ruling declaring (at least some of) it illegal under Australian law. Recent expansion of the whaling to take a small number of a species recognised as endangered breaches both Australian and (a different) international law.
    People are more likely to support more extreme action when the law (and governments) have been shown to be powerless/useless. It has been unwise for successive Australian governments to create the impressive that there is something they can directly do about this (such as by declaring a ‘Whale Sanctuary’ in waters where Australia’s claim is not formally recognised internationally), if it is actually the case that there really is nothing meaningful or helpful that can be done by the Australian government through legal processes.
    In addition, piracy is an explicit legal offence in a wide range of jurisdictions and contexts. There is ample video and other evidence of a whole host of Sea Shepherd’s actions over a long period of time – included plenty of footage taken by the whalers – so it’s not as though there is a shortage of material to back up a prosecution. But as far as I know, Sea Shepherd has never been convicted of any offence – certainly not in the Southern Ocean – and certainly not of piracy (even though ironically they use a skull and crossbones flag). In that context, while people can question the ethics or wisdom of their actions or tactics, it is another thing again to call them illegal. Particularly given that charges of deceit and illegality are just as easily applicable to the whalers.
    In short – there are a lot of pots accusing many kettles of blackness. And a bunch of people supporting the pot while others are supporting the kettle.

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — January 7, 2010 @ 3:32 pm

  8. Well said.
    Suppose Sea Shepard tried shining high-power lasers or throwing butyric acid at a Sydney ferry. They’d be called terrorists and justifiably so.

    Comment by Martin — January 7, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

  9. Well said.
    Suppose Sea Shepard tried shining high-power lasers or throwing butyric acid at a Sydney ferry. They’d be called terrorists and justifiably so.
    Both sides are wankers.

    Comment by Martin — January 7, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

  10. I agree 100% comment re journalists in this country. Some of the comments and observations they make, make me wonder how much intelligence they have and how much investigation and analysis they do. Just watched the 10 news and Hugh Rimington’s comments and analysis makes me wonder what planet he is on.

    Comment by Julie — January 7, 2010 @ 5:20 pm

  11. Andrew, my original concern was the unquestioning assumption that the Japanese had rammed a stationary vessel. It is clear from both footages that the Adi Gil was not stationary at the time of impact but accelerating into the path of the other ship. Before that it had been under power but moving very slowly. You can see that from the wake at the rear. So the original Sea Shepherd claim was wrong. Given their past behaviour there should have been a strong suspicion that they were being deceptive.
    Now that we have some footage the behaviour of the two vessels raises some issues. Why was the Adi Gil sitting there under minimal power waiting for the Japanese ship to pass? That is not normal ship behaviour, although it is what motor cars do! Could it have been that they were waiting for the Japanese to pass so they could try to foul the propeller?
    In which case, if you were the Japanese captain you might have thought to go so close to them that it disrupted their plan. The Japanese has their water canon running all the time suggesting this was not something that was at the beginning of an engagement, but somewhere in the middle.
    And why does the Adi Gil accelerate _into_ the path of the Shonan Maru? If they hadn’t done that, would they have been hit at all? The boat is worth $2M. If the funds that are raised from this incident are in excess of $2M, then I’m not sure why you dismiss the possibility of it being a publicity stunt.
    Then there is the issue that we were also told the Adi Gil had been sunk, when in fact the Shepherd activists knew at the time it hadn’t.
    I checked out the definition of piracy, and according to the UN definition I think the Sea Shepherds’ activity fits the definition as it is violent, criminal, and committed against another vessel.
    I should also say I’m not in favour of the Japanese whaling. But I am in favour of accurate reporting, and people obeying the law.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 7, 2010 @ 9:22 pm

  12. Graham, I still don’t think the footage shows that at all, but I suppose that’s half the point.
    And whilst ascertaining who is at fault, I think this can also distract from some potentially more significant wider issues which will flow out of the direction the whole whaling thing now seems to inexorably heading.
    (although arguing about ‘fault’ in a circumstance such as this – even though I know I’m right 🙂 – where both sides had already spent at least week countering each others tactics in very confrontational ways is probably a bit redundant. The resources both sides have deployed this year to use against each are quite extraordinary – and the financial cost of this is in itself part of Sea Shepherd’s tactics, although with the Japanese government now all but directly resourcing the whalers, I think that might also be a battle that in the end they will find hard to win.)

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — January 7, 2010 @ 9:31 pm

  13. I’ve just been reading the comments over at LP http://larvatusprodeo.net/2010/01/07/sea-shepherd-and-the-icr-play-chicken-over-whaling/. Someone called MarkL does a pretty thorough analysis of the law at 5:58 last night. I think his conclusion is that the Adi-Gil probably had no business being where it was.
    If confirmation bias were the basis of most people’s positions, then I would think that LP would be heavily against the Japanese. On balance I think the commenters are pro the Japanese captain.
    Reading the comments I think the commenters tend to be in two groups – those who’ve never been to sea in anything larger than a boogie board, and those who have and have paid some attention.
    The videos completely contradict the Sea Shepherd version of the story. There is no way that the Shonan Maru just started-up from 75 metres away and rammed the Adi-Gil.
    Much more likely that the Adi-Gil was buzzing the ship and deliberately put itself in the position where it was ultimately hit.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 8, 2010 @ 7:10 am

  14. I don’t even particularly assess the comments thread that way Graham, but it doesn’t really matter. I think most people think the Sea Shepherd tactics are extreme and understand something like this was likely to happen, but they also are very sick of the nose-thumbing/bird-flicking from the whalers and the apparent impotence/double-speak from our government.
    However, even though a major collision was always possible, the reason this has sparked such interest is that for a lot of people, it looks like this is a case of a bloody big ship turning and deliberately running over a very small one. Perhaps it was just a case of miscalculations (on both sides), combined with the confusion of high power water spray and the nausea-inducing Long Range Acoustic Device going off – combined with the fact these facts have been out there and at each other since before Christmas, which may create a greater propensity for a bit of ‘sea rage’. My main point is that it will heat up the issue even more – maybe this will help force the issue in the long run, maybe it will create wider uglier problems.
    While I don’t think anyone has a pre-meditated intent to injure people, there are dangerous tactics deployed. (perhaps a bit like an extreme sports version of protest or hunting – no one specifically wants to get hurt, but its dangerous enough)
    A lot of the comments (in many other places rather than here) seem to suggest that many people don’t really know how the whalers and Sea Shepherd folks have been operating or the various actions/tactics and technology deploy, or how long they have been doing this. They also suggest many people don’t realise that Australia’s claim to these waters is not recognised by most nations (they are not actively opposing it, but they don’t recognise it).

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — January 8, 2010 @ 10:55 am

  15. sorry, that should have read “those FOLKS have been out there and at each other since before Christmas”, not “these facts”

    Comment by Andrew Bartlett — January 8, 2010 @ 11:02 am

  16. DOES the Ady Gil have jet propulsion? And if so is it possible the skipper of Ady Gil panicked and had the buckets in the wrong position

    Comment by greg — January 8, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  17. For some reason Graham Young is acting as an apologist for a clear premeditated and deliberate collision by the Japanese captain in defiance of international maritime law.
    It’s something that may eventually be adjudicated in an international legal jurisdiction or via an insurance claim (would Lloyds of London ever insure a Sea Shepherd vessel?), but I don’t think calling black white is useful at this stage unless Graham is angling for the job of counsel defending the Japanese.
    In such a court, any previous acts of provocation or harassment by the Ady Gil might be taken into account as mitigation, but the act of collision itself and the clear intent behind it is unlawful. I wouldn’t trust Graham Young to be the adjudicator in such a proceeding, but then, he never will be.
    Similar to someone provoking a worker who then ‘goes postal’, is the act of going postal any less illegal?

    Comment by Sean — January 9, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

  18. There is a need for more verification before media coverage, and good point about not supporting vigilantes, regardless of their specific task. Our gov should be stronger against whaling, but boats have to play by the law of the sea.

    Comment by ronda jambe — January 9, 2010 @ 1:03 pm

  19. I’m quite amazed here at the lack of perspective in terms of the direction of our humanity.We are more concerned with the well being of whales than the direction of our humanity in terms of a meaningful existence.
    Obama in the USA has retained Bush’s Patriot Act and now endorsed an new presidential order called “preventative dention”,whereby anyone suspected of being a terrorist can be incarcerated indefinately.The Patriot Act enables Obama to suspend the constitution and enact martial law.
    The whales won’t have any recourse under a totalitariarn World Govt that recognises no individual rights.

    Comment by ARJAY — January 10, 2010 @ 11:50 pm

  20. Graham – just before you go and join Inwood in shilling for the Japanese ‘researchers’ I suggest you take your own advice and fact check before you write.
    For instance, here http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,26574937-954,00.html
    I could give other links but hey – why should I do your work for you.
    Want Mr Inwood’s email? He doesn’t have many clients but I think you’d fit in real well with his outfit.
    You really a journalist? No wonder you’re held in the same regard as a used car salesman – and that’s belittling many fine salesman.

    Comment by Sammy Ringer — January 11, 2010 @ 2:43 pm

  21. Sammy, the fresh footage from Sea Shepherd is interesting. Why did it take so long for them to release it? And why does it appear to contradict the contemporaneous and quickly released visuals from the Japanese ship that show that at no time was the Adi Gil not under power, and that it surged into the path of the Japanese ship?
    Interesting that viewed from this angle there does not appear to be any radical change of course by the Japanese, suggesting that the Bob Barker footage may have owed something to optical illusion.
    Talking about shilling, any ideas how much additional money has moved into Sea Shepherd coffers as a result of this “accident”. How many times does it cover the loss of the boat?
    I’ve consistently suggested that the Japanese may be at fault in this incident (unlike the previous collisions I’ve reported on), but that the original story propagated by the media was wrong. I haven’t seen anything to change that analysis.

    Comment by Graham Young — January 12, 2010 @ 9:32 am

  22. Graham – I’ve looked at as much footage as I can find and it all shows the same thing – the Ady Gil sitting motionless hundreds of metres from the Japanese ship that moves towards it and then changes course to ram it.
    Funny how the eye can see different things.
    You find something suspicious in their not releasing the footage earlier? You think maybe it’s not kosher?
    Whatever the merits of the Japanese case, turning towards a stationery boat and purposefully ramming it is attempted murder.
    And as for the Ady Gil seeming to fire up her engines – I think I might have too, if I had a ruddy great boat steaming towards me.

    Comment by Sammy Ringer — January 12, 2010 @ 4:07 pm

  23. It helps if you view the footage very slowly or frame by frame. The ICR video clearly shows at what point the Ady Gil does go into full-ahead, but very quickly it is caught by the Shonan Maru and is carried along at the same rate. In all, it covers about a boat length before contact.
    The same footage also shows the point at which the Ady Gil finds reverse.
    In 2006, Graham accused the greenpeace ship, ‘Arctic Sunrise’ of ramming the ‘Nisshin Maru. It seems he still believes it. The ‘Shonan Maru’ has performed the very same manoevre as did the ‘NM’; a hard turn to starboard at full speed, followed by a hard turn to port as an encore. The ‘Arctic Sunrise’ was caught twice by this action.
    The ‘Ady Gil’ was sunk.

    Comment by CLink — January 12, 2010 @ 4:55 pm

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