NOTE TO READER: This is the fact checker section, where the CCNF journalist impartially posts up outside material (the good, the bad, and the ugly), and the scientists fact check or comment on that material.

April 21, 2014 8:20 pm3 comments

It has come to my attention that some readers don’t understand the function and purpose of this fact checker section. I have received some criticism that, by posting up an article for fact checking and commentary by the CCNF Scientist Community, I am somehow giving credence to the content being posted. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a fact checker section. Perhaps we should name it “Climate Change in the Media — Outside material posted for fact checking and commentary by the CCNF Scientist Community”? (That’s a little long, but it would make it more explicit.) As acting journalist, I am trying to provide a sampling of the coverage that I am finding in the greater media. You won’t like all material that is posted. I guarantee that. Heck, I don’t like it. But it is not my role, as acting journalist, to state what is credible and what is not in this Socratic forum of scientists. Not at this early stage at least.  That is for the scientists in the Scientists’ Comment Thread under each post. The task of the journalist in this section is to post up the good, the bad, and the ugly — whatever is out there in the online space — in a strictly impartial manner.

The scientists can then go to town on it.

This is laying the scientific predicate for the policy discussion and debate that will begin in Phase II. Bottom-line, this fact checker section is a separate part of the Forum, and it should be tied to the media out there. The common man should be its target audience. As such, it should not be run by a scientist but an independent journalist that isn’t afraid to speak up when things aren’t making sense and search for the truth.

The Socratic method. "School of Athens" by Raphael

Socrates in “The School of Athens” by Raphael.

Yes, part of this wire should be devoted to important developments in climate science and climate communication, such as the new IPCC report or the recent joint-report by the US National Academy of Sciences and UK Royal Society, especially if it these developments are not adequately discussed by the CCNF Scientist Community. But there is value in giving some space to what the scientists determine to be “half-truths” and “misinterpretations”.

Here’s why:

  1. This is a Socratic forum — let us exhaust “the debate” wherever it may be. A successful Phase II with the greater public on board demands it.
  2. Search engine optimization.

On the latter:

I recently posted up some excerpts of an essay penned by Dr. Garth Paltridge that was posted on JudithCurry.com in the fact checker section a couple weeks back.  As an experiment, I cleared my browser history today and then tried searching for “Dr. Garth Paltridge” on Google. CCNF’s post comes up first.

What does this mean?

From now on, anyone who searches for Dr. Paltridge or his writings or uses similar keywords on Google will be directed to CCNF and read the CCNF scientists’ comments. That’s becoming the standard now for what is run in the ‘Climate Change in the Media — Fact checking and Commentary by the CCNF Scientist Community’ section.

Do you see the potential power of this section in identifying whether certain media is credible or not on a massive scale? The CCNF Scientist Community is still small, but we are scaling up and steadily approaching a critical mass.

This does underscore an important point though: If scientists think that something is misinformation or wholly credible or in between, it is important that they say so and say why in the Scientists’ Comment Thread. This does a world of service to our readers and the readers that will stumble across the article in a Google search. Without that, the ‘Climate Change — Fact checking and commentary by the CCNF Scientist Community’ section will just be noise. If, as may be the case sometimes, a minority or even a single scientist in the CCNF Scientist Community subscribes to what has been posted,  the Forum’s journalist will note it. It might be necessary to have further discussion on the point of disagreement in order to fully establish the scientific predicate for Phase II.

I recognize that identifying and rebutting ill-founded arguments in the media again and again (these long-refuted arguments have come to be known colloquially as “climate zombies” among many scientists) is an endless job and might elicit some eye rolls from the scientists, which is why I try to limit posting what I consider to be junk. In CCNF’s last conference call (open to all scientist-members), many of the scientists mentioned that they do not want baseless claims and outrageous articles to drive the conversation. But those same scientists did recognize the importance of posting such material — not all the time, but ever so often — in order to subject it to the scrutiny of the scientists in the Scientists’ Comment Thread.

Bottom-line, “climate zombies” need to be identified and put down in the Forum. The good news is, on Climate Change National Forum, scientists need only kill a climate zombie once.

So to wrap it up: There’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there. Would it be of service to completely ignore this? Who would this national forum educate then? What silos of information would CCNF be breaking into? As for what the perfect balance is in identifying and exposing misinformation on one hand but not giving it so much attention that it drives the conversation and presents a false equivalency on the other, I am all ears.

Open for thoughts and comments.

UPDATE 4/23/14: I fully recognize that there is a misperception by some that CCNF is endorsing or furthering “climate myths” by running certain material in the fact checker section. I am working to change the name to make the section’s purpose and function more explicit. As noted before, I will also put the fact checker section below the ‘Latest from the CCNF Scientist Community” as soon as CCNF has the funds to pay a contract programmer to make that happen. Haven’t had much for proposed solutions on how this journalist can best mitigate the misperception.  On Twitter, Dr. Gavin Schmidt proposed a “fisking” style arrangement. (I had to look up what that word meant; according to Wikipedia, it’s “blogosphere slang describing a point-by-point criticism that highlights perceived error”.) So basically, this would be where scientists mark up the text of outside material, much like ‘Tracked Changes’ in Word. 

UPDATE 5/13/14: Check out the new “fisking” style arrangement for the ‘Climate Change in the Media — Commentary and fact checking by the CCNF Scientist Community’ section in our latest posts. We have adopted a system where we collect initial comments from the CCNF Scientist Community and provide a summary of these comments at the top when a post is published in this section. This way, the fact checking and commentary is read first and appears “above the fold” as they say in journalism. 

-MQ

THE FORUM'S COMMENT THREAD

  • Hi Michael,

    I know it’s not CCNF’s intention to “give credence to the content being posted [in the climate-in-the-media section]”, but by having this section right at the top of the website, above the columns by CCNF scientists, I don’t fault the reader for getting that impression. When browsing to this website, the reader first sees a bold-faced title by e.g. Paltridge or NIPCC. That gives the false impression of those voices being somehow scientifically robust.

    I think it better to de-emphasize the fact-checking section by putting it in a less prominent spot and by emphasizing that it’s a fact-checking section (and de-emphasizing the title of the article to be fact-checked), in order to avoid this very frequent misunderstanding. Also, I’d be a favor of setting a higher bar for articles to be posted in that section. Most scientists are growing tired of the same old “global warming stopped” type memes and have no interest and no time to engage in a game of whack-a-mole. Plus there are excellent myth-busting websites out there already. If there’s an intelligent argument brought forward that shines a new light on something, now that’s different. Bring it on!

  • I agree with Bart that the first impression of the CCNF forum is visually dominated by sometimes-bizarre and inflammatory posts that are not even remotely credible, and that this detracts from the quality of the forum.

    It’s just not feasible to “fact-check” all these articles. Most of them are not fact-oriented in the first place. Propagandist rhetoric dripping with contempt for science has worse problems than can be addressed by simply “fact checking.”

  • Dr. Verheggen,

    I completely agree about changing the structure of the site so the featured articles by the CCNF Scientist Community display at the top and the fact checker below it. I have definitely received that message loud and clear from the participating scientists. Thing is, changing the structure requires programming, which requires money. And CCNF has no money at this time (I am working on this).

    It is at the top of the to-do list when we do get funding though.

    Will post up less of the inflammatory and complete B.S. for a while. Don’t want it to become whack a mole or lose the scientists’ participation. That being said, it is important to show readers what “the mole” looks like.

    Finally, what “excellent myth-busting websites” are out there? Do they pass what has been described as “the conservative filter”? Do they have the credibility of a neutral platform/forum for scientists?

    Dr. Denning,

    We will change the structure as soon as CCNF gets some funds. I know it’s not feasible to do a thorough “fact check” on all items at this time (some of the posts do not need extensive commentary), but if the CCNF Scientist Community were much larger and CCNF had one or two journalists posting the stuff up, this could be done could it not?

    I believe this model is capable of providing a somewhat steady stream of unvarnished commentary by scientists on outside media. Do you see any value — in terms of search engine optimization and what not — in identifying the “propagandist rhetoric dripping with contempt for science as a whole” that is so prevalent in various corners of American media?

    In the meanwhile, I will go ahead and change the name of the fact checker section so that its function and purpose are more clear.

    Very Respectfully,

    Michael Quirke

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PUBLIC COMMENT THREAD

  • http://ourchangingclimate.wordpress.com/ Bart Verheggen

    Hi Michael,

    I know it’s not CCNF’s intention to “give credence to the content being posted [in the climate-in-the-media section]”, but by having this section right at the top of the website, above the columns by CCNF scientists, I don’t fault the reader for getting that impression. When browsing to this website, the reader first sees a bold-faced title by e.g. Paltridge or NIPCC. That gives the false impression of those voices being somehow scientifically robust.

    I think it better to de-emphasize the fact-checking section by putting it in a less prominent spot and by emphasizing that it’s a fact-checking section (and de-emphasizing the title of the article to be fact-checked), in order to avoid this very frequent misunderstanding. Also, I’d be a favor of setting a higher bar for articles to be posted in that section. Most scientists are growing tired of the same old “global warming stopped” type memes and have no interest and no time to engage in a game of whack-a-mole. Plus there are excellent myth-busting websites out there already. If there’s an intelligent argument brought forward that shines a new light on something, now that’s different. Bring it on!

  • http://biocycle.atmos.colostate.edu/ Scott Denning

    I agree with Bart that the first impression of the CCNF forum is visually dominated by sometimes-bizarre and inflammatory posts that are not even remotely credible, and that this detracts from the quality of the forum.

    It’s just not feasible to “fact-check” all these articles. Most of them are not fact-oriented in the first place. Propagandist rhetoric dripping with contempt for science has worse problems than can be addressed by simply “fact checking.”

  • http://ClimateChangeNationalForum.org Michael Quirke

    Dr. Verheggen,

    I completely agree about changing the structure of the site so the featured articles by the CCNF Scientist Community display at the top and the fact checker below it. I have definitely received that message loud and clear from the participating scientists. Thing is, changing the structure requires programming, which requires money. And CCNF has no money at this time (I am working on this).

    It is at the top of the to-do list when we do get funding though.

    Will post up less of the inflammatory and complete B.S. for a while. Don’t want it to become whack a mole or lose the scientists’ participation. That being said, it is important to show readers what “the mole” looks like.

    Finally, what “excellent myth-busting websites” are out there? Do they pass what has been described as “the conservative filter”? Do they have the credibility of a neutral platform/forum for scientists?

    Dr. Denning,

    We will change the structure as soon as CCNF gets some funds. I know it’s not feasible to do a thorough “fact check” on all items at this time (some of the posts do not need extensive commentary), but if the CCNF Scientist Community were much larger and CCNF had one or two journalists posting the stuff up, this could be done could it not?

    I believe this model is capable of providing a somewhat steady stream of unvarnished commentary by scientists on outside media. Do you see any value — in terms of search engine optimization and what not — in identifying the “propagandist rhetoric dripping with contempt for science as a whole” that is so prevalent in various corners of American media?

    In the meanwhile, I will go ahead and change the name of the fact checker section so that its function and purpose are more clear.

    Very Respectfully,

    Michael Quirke

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