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“Fake News”

Edward A. Reid Jr.
Posted On:
Dec 6, 2016  at  at 9:15 AM
Climate Change

There has been much discussion recently about “fake news”, a concept which has nearly as many definitions as it has observers and commenters. Some “fake news” is totally made up, with no basis in fact. Some “fake news” is actually very clever satire. Some “fake news” is actually real news, blown totally out of proportion. Some “fake news” is real news, partially reported, slanted or skewed. Arguably, some “fake news” replaces real news which remains unreported as a result, for a variety of reasons. All “fake news” is intended primarily to influence, rather than to inform. It is stealth commentary.

Much of what causes some observers to refer to the purported threat of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change as a “hoax” is the result of various types of “fake news”, typically intended: to portray “estimates” as “facts”;  to portray what is merely “believed” as “known”; and, to portray modeled potential future scenarios as climate projections. Some, however, is factual misstatements and distortions intended to deceive. Reporting regarding increasing frequency and intensity of hurricanes, tornados, flooding and droughts falls into the latter category.

The most obvious example of “fake news” which attempts to portray estimates as facts is the near-surface temperature anomaly records. These records are based on readings taken from measuring instruments estimated to be in error by an average of more than 2oC, read to a precision of 0.1oC, reported as anomalies to 0.01oC and as decadal trends to 0.001oC. The actual temperature measurements are “facts”, though of questionable accuracy. Then these “facts” are “adjusted”, converting them into estimates, though still of questionable accuracy. Since the errors in the temperature measurements appear not to be random and the “adjustments” made to those measurements are definitely not random, the Law of Large Numbers cannot be applied to the estimates to produce a mean expressed to greater precision than the underlying estimates, since the estimates are clearly not random. Therefore, global temperature anomalies expressed to two digit precision are “fake news”, as are decadal anomaly trends expressed to three digit precision. Consequently, announcements of “the warmest year ever” are also “fake news”, since they are based on estimates which are either inaccurately precise or precisely inaccurate, or both.

The most obvious example of portraying what is merely “believed” as “known” are statements about the predominance of human influence, particularly human CO2 emissions, on recent climate change. No data exist to confirm that relationship. There is also no data which permits quantifying the impact of natural variability on climate change. Assertions to the contrary are “fake news”.

All studies which rely on unverified climate models to “predict” future trends in temperature, rainfall, storms, species extinctions, etc. are also “fake news” because none of these models has been verified, no less established to have any predictive skill.

The political science of climate change ignores this “fake news” and disparages those who question it. Interestingly, in another time and in another place, “fake news” used to be referred to as propaganda. In the more common vernacular, it was referred to as the “mushroom treatment”. It is quite dark in the climate science community; and, it stinks.