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Snopes and Breitbart on climate

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A year or so ago, I wrote a series of short pieces that give examples of logical fallacies in environmental issues.

Snopes just published a piece that fits very nicely as a complement to that series.   The topic is the very common trope that global warming is a fraud or a hoax; the originator is James Delingpole writing for Breitbart News.  It is unusual for Snopes to wade into technical debates; but the claim by Breibart is so egregious, and so widespread in the popular media, that, I assume, Snopes felt it warranted a response beyond the more technical (and at times difficult for a lay public) sites such as RealClimate.

Some headlines from Breibart News.

What is interesting is that the study has the trappings of scientific respectability; it is presented as peer-reviewed.  Here are a few quotes from the Delingpole article:

The peer-reviewed study by two scientists and a veteran statistician looked at the global average temperature datasets (GAST) which are used by climate alarmists to argue that recent years have been “the hottest evah” and that the warming of the last 120 years has been dramatic and unprecedented.

What they found is that these readings are “totally inconsistent with published and credible U.S. and other temperature data.” That is, the adjusted data used by alarmist organizations like NASA, NOAA, and the UK Met Office differs so markedly from the original raw data that it cannot be trusted.

This is a pretty strong claim, likely to appeal to Breitbart readers who distrust anything published by government.  But strong claims need strong evidence.  The Snopes post, as is their practice, does not have attribution but whoever did the soul-deadening fact-checking work deserves a medal.  I will suggest that anyone interested read the full article, here.  The “peer-review study” is authored by James Wallace, Joseph D’Aleo, and Craig Idso, and the link to it can also be found in the Snopes article.

The report claims that temperature data has been falsified, and that these claims have been peer-reviewed.  Snopes debunks both claims.

The report looks like it is peer-reviewed.  It is not; it is merely getting endorsements from a few people with “PhD” after their names.  Further, it is published as blog post, which is different from appearing  in a peer-reviewed academic journal.  In a proper journal the reviewers are unknown to the writer, and the standards are high.  This is a sort of appeal to authority fallacy…except that the authorities endorsing the claim are nothing of the sort, and the endorsement process itself misleading.

The claims themselves are plain wrong, using the common tricks of citing data out of context, and (in this case) blatantly lying as to what the data actually means.  Quoting Snopes:

This statement implores us to falsely interpret the figure as showing changes to the raw data itself. As previously mentioned, however, this chart (and many similar ones in the “study”) shows changes between two versions of corrected data. To make the point Delingpole thinks D’Aleo is making, you would need to show that corrected records of climate relative to raw data make recent temperatures warmer than the raw data, and older records cooler.

Snopes writers are being polite.  It can boiled down to this: the National Climatic Data Center, the agency that publishes the data discussed in the “study”, reported recently that a new algorythm enables the production of better quality data, and present the new, corrected data.   The corrections in questions are fine-tuned details accounting for things such as satellite altitude loss, etc. The corrections do not in any way affect the main results of numerous measurements, which confirm what everyone knows: it’s warmer, globally.  Delingpole claims the opposite, that it has become colder.  This is just plain factually wrong and is a lie, no more no less.

This is where an analysis of logical errors has to quit; lying is no mistake, no logical error.

As misinformation and “fake news” seem to be the theme of the decade, I’m glad for sites like Snopes.


Note: please don’t confuse the blog RealClimate, written by bona fide climatologists, with the intentionally misleadingly named blog RealClimateScience.  The latter is maintained by climate change  denier Tony Heller writing under a pseudonym.  This info comes thanks to the folks at DeSmogBlog, a site that all environmental fact checkers should know.


Written by enviropaul

July 14, 2017 at 4:23 pm