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Quis custodiet ipsos fact chuckers?

26 Jan 2022 | News Roundup

We cannot help feeling flattered that the mighty fact-checkers at AFP have come after us because “A video viewed tens of thousands of times on social media claims that satellite data showed no net global warming for the past seven years”, which they admit is true then X out lest it lead to unauthorized thoughts. Fact-checked for telling no lies. We made the big time. Now if we could just get Greta Thunberg to denounce us for telling inconvenient truths.

In these days of cancel culture, Facebook predictably responded by downgrading our post without doing any independent research. But as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. And since we’re not exactly shy about our opinions and turnabout is fair play, we decided to fact-check the fact check.

It’s not looking good, folks. For starters, they objected to our saying “Satellite data show no net warming for the past seven years, something impossible to reconcile with the simplistic ‘more CO2 equals more heat’ equation”, which it is. So Facts 1, AFP 0. Then they whine that “It seems there’s been no boring, old-fashioned ‘the temperature actually went up’ warming for nearly seven years now, since January of 2015. Or to be more precise, no net warming,’ says the presenter in the video. ‘There was a temperature spike in 2020 because of an El Niño, as there was in 2016. But the best satellite data say that the ups and downs typical of real-world climate have left us no warmer now than before anyone had declared an emergency.’” Again it’s all true and they make no effort to rebut it; instead they confirm it by producing a chart of the UAH data confirming our claim.

So what’s the problem? Well, see, “The claims come as governments around the world race to address what scientists claim is a growing crisis that could have far-reaching impacts around the world if not addressed.” So we’re bad people for saying there’s no crisis and governments should think twice even as governments around the world panic, refuse to think twice and race to trash the economy. Scientists say.

We won’t address the turgid repetition. But saying everyone should act as if it’s happening, even if it’s not, is not a fact check. It’s an opinion check. As for that “scientists claim”, well, it’s not true for reasons we detail elsewhere.

Undeterred, they continue “Broader global data show that the video is misleading: to measure how the gases released by the burning of fossil fuels are causing the planet to heat, climatologists measure temperature trends going back decades. Data going back to 1850 track how the planet has warmed since humans started burning carbon fuels during the Industrial Revolution.” Even if true it would not be relevant to the claim that there has been no warming over seven years. But it’s not.

For starters, humans did not start burning carbon fuels during the Industrial Revolution. Also whoever wrote this smear job ought to have Googled “When was the Industrial Revolution?” and gotten, oh, say, 1760 not 1850. Facts, you know. Ideally AFP, being a news outlet, would employ people who already knew something about James Watt, for instance that his first working engine was created the same year Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations (1776) and at the same University of Glasgow. It’s kind of a famous fact. Also that Watt’s engine ran on coal, also used in the previous “Newcomen engine” on which Watt improved, which was invented in 1712. But that wasn’t when people started burning carbon fuels. In fact Wikipedia, after the ritual denunciation of it as global warming hell, says coal has been in use as fuel since at least 1000 BC, not since 1850. Dang.

Undeterred, these gasbags hiss on that “In a report last year by more than 200 scientists from 66 countries, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius since the 1850-1900 period due to humans burning fossil fuels, driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of weather disasters.” You didn’t read the report, did you?

If you had, you’d know it does not say the temperature increase is “due to humans burning fossil fuels”. It thinks it was probably partly due to it. And it is agnostic on trends in weather disasters. So your fact-check is a mishmash of clichés, insults and faulty reasoning. What it lacks is facts.

It also muddles the record with statements like “The European Union’s climate monitoring service reported on January 10 that the past seven years were the hottest on record. A report on January 13 from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showed that the nine years spanning 2013-2021 all rank among the 10 hottest on record.” But what does “on record” mean?

If it means “in the thermometer era”, the statements are still untrue unless you “adjust” the 1930s data to make that decade cooler than the very recent past so you can claim the very recent past was hotter than the 1930s. Which would be cheating. (And yes, the NOAA is cheating, so as fact-checkers AFP should object.) There’s also the awkward fact that the record based on proxies goes back 500 million years and virtually all of them were hotter than today. But these are mere facts, and we’re fact-checking here.

Including saying “The video report ‘cherry picks seven years’ of data, Freja Vamborg, a senior climate scientist at the Copernicus Climate Change Service, told AFP in a video call. ‘It is always misleading to just show a cutout of data without talking about the data that comes before it,’ she said.” Now here their problem is logic not facts. We said there had been no warming in the last seven years, so using the last seven years to demonstrate is only cherry-picking in the sense that people selling cherries go and get them from cherry trees on purpose. To do otherwise would be false advertising.

AFP also got Clare Nullis, “a media officer at the World Meteorological Organization”, to heckle us by email, further inflating our sense of self-importance: “Rather than taking just six or seven years, we need to look at long term trends. Since the 1980s each decade has been warmer than the previous one” so “It’s misleading to say there has been ‘no net warming’ for seven years” just because, you know, there’s been no net warming for seven years or some dang thing. Besides, AFP adds, “The WMO counts 193 states and territories among its members.”

OK, so we’re kind of outnumbered here, mostly by kleptocrats and tyrants if you care about such details. But when you’re discussing whether there’s been any warming in the last seven years, you do not need to look at long-term trends. Indeed you’d be looking the wrong way if you did. Of course you do need to weigh short- and long-term developments to get a balanced picture but one thing at a time. Also, since AFP first found people to say the very recent past was hotter than the hottest thing ever, it’s a bit much to have them pivot and say only rogues or fools would look at the very recent past.

AFP further quoted Vamborg that the verdict comes before the trial. “‘The important thing is that we know from a climate point of view that cumulative greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is the main reason we have seen since the pre-industrial era’ for warming.” At least she didn’t do the all-warming-since-1850 thing. But we don’t know any such thing; it’s why we check such theories against facts. Precisely because we know the planet was warming naturally after the mid-19th century following a centuries-long cold cycle after a centuries-long warm one, it is very much open to debate how much of that warming should be blamed on GHGs.

Especially since, as we discussed in a video AFP apparently missed, there’s an extraordinarily poor fit between atmospheric CO2 and temperature over virtually the whole of Earth’s history so, uh, it’s cherry-picking to take 30 years where they seem to match and say well, never mind the past 500 million years, what do they know?

As their final stinging putdown, AFP says “The Met Office forecasts that the average global temperature for 2022 will be between 0.97 degrees Celsius and 1.21 degrees Celsius above the average for the pre-industrial period.” To which we retort that since the total warming since what now seems to be an 1850-1900 benchmark has allegedly been 1.1 degrees, that .2 degree margin is quite substantial. And leaves room for 2022 to be part of a downward trend. But don’t let any silly old facts mess up your fact check.

P.S. AFP explains on the “Fact-checking at AFP” section of their website that they are the best, noblest and most objective people they can imagine. “The company itself has a unique status under a French law, which stipulates that AFP can in no circumstances be influenced by anything which might compromise the accuracy or objectivity of information. It must, in no circumstances, fall under the control of an ideological, political or economic group.” Instead it is composed of right-thinking activists, bureaucrats and journalists. D’oh.

4 comments on “Quis custodiet ipsos fact chuckers?”

  1. A newspaper report dated 3 November 1892 was concerned about climate change. The had been fifty years of 'terrible' weather. Gradual increase in the number of storms and also lightning strike on buildings. But they found the reason - the iron and steel railway system lacing the UK and Europe, upset the Earth's magnetism. So civilivation has brought another terror to heavily populated areas.

  2. I recently chanced upon a 'fact check' of claims made by Patrick Moore in his book 'Fake Invisible Catastrophes and Threats of Doom'.

    Written by journalism professor Sean Holman and called 'Fact Checking Patrick Moore, Climate Skeptic', I think it's more of an extended whinge about the publicity the book was receiving, mixed with calls for the censorship of views with which he disagrees. (A journalism professor actively advocating censorship?).

    However, the wonderful irony in this tale is that with Booker now gone and the UK media fully embedded in the alarmist camp, I bought a copy of Moore's book directly on the strength of Holman's moaning rather than any publicity it received.

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