A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactCheck Mailbag, Week of Dec. 8-Dec. 14


This week, readers sent us comments on Climategate, Climategate, Climategate, Climategate, Obama’s Nobel speech and Hanukkah. We’ve included here a representative sample, and we respond to an e-mail whose author makes an argument that would allow cherry-picking of climate data. As legislation makes its way through Congress (or doesn’t), we’ll be returning to the climate change issue.

In the FactCheck Mailbag we feature some of the e-mail we receive. Readers can send comments to editor@factcheck.org. Letters may be edited for length.

Heated Debate

Your recent analysis of the leaked East Anglia e-mail ["Climategate," Dec. 10] gives [Climate Research Unit Director Phil] Jones (1999) an unwarranted free pass. If his intent was to present a foregone conclusion with the most convincing ‘cherry-picked’ data, then his addition of thermometer-derived temperatures along with tree-ring proxy data was indeed "adroit." However, his purpose should have been to provide all the available data, presented as clearly as possible, so that others could analyze it and come to independent conclusions. It was deceitful to add the thermometer data for the purpose of hiding the decline in tree-ring proxy temperatures.

It seems that many in this debate have forgotten, or never learned, that the purpose of publication is not to get tenure or promotions, but to provide the results of their work so that it can be tested and verified independently. This is an essential element of the scientific method. This seems generally to not be appreciated by those whose e-mails have been made public. Their allegiance seems to be to their belief system rather than to furthering scientific knowledge.

If the thermometer data do not support the tree-ring proxy data, then it strongly suggests that either 1) there is something wrong with the methodology used to convert the tree-ring measurements to a proxy temperature, or 2) the thermometer temperature data has a positive bias as a result of such things as poor siting of the weather stations, which has been documented (Watts, 2009), or general encroachment of urban development, and alteration of the local microclimate, on previously rural recording stations. If the first case is the problem, then it calls into question the veracity of all the tree-ring proxy data. This needs to be resolved unequivocally. If the second case is the problem, then it demonstrates a pressing need to re-site the poorly sited stations, and to try to correct the introduced biases. If the UHI effect is responsible, then a robust, well-documented model for correcting the urban heating needs to be applied to all the data. This model needs to be a general, but sophisticated model used for all stations, and needs to be available for review by other researchers.

Clyde Spencer
Fairborn, Ohio

I find it quite amazing that your group is so quick to dismiss this discovery of no consequence, and that man-made global warming is a FACT! The fact remains that scientific data has been compromised! In fact they cannot even locate the original data. This alone should add a lot more doubt and concern to this issue. I heard that the actual code in some of the algorithms was not written according to industry standards. If the scientists did not put in certain codes the program would not operate. Maybe your group should wait until more of the facts are verified/validated before you issue such a condemning report about this scandal. Finally, I find it quite interesting that as more and more critiques are speaking out about global warming the jargon has changed to climate change which provides a lot more cover to the proponents of global warming!

Bill Bible
Havre de Grace, Md.

In an article posted yesterday you noted that the American Meteorological Society and the Union of Concerned Scientists have not changed their conclusions about climate change in the wake of "Climategate." You might consider adding the prestigious National Academy of Sciences to that list, which despite the release of CRU e-mails continues to support its 2006 conclusions regarding climate change.

Also, you might be interested in today’s Web chat in the Washington Post with Thomas Karl, director of the National Climate Data Center. In particular, he clarifies in Question 5 (from Silver Spring, Md.) that the CRU data are not the exclusive basis for climate change observations. You make that point in the article, but citing to an outside source would be very helpful.

Keep up the good work.

Jeff T.
Silver Spring, Md.

I just reviewed your article on global warming. The issue I have is that you identified Canada Free Press "as a conservative-leaning" paper but you did not identify the BBC, ABC, Time or AP as either liberal or conservative. By not clearly identifying those who are liberal you show your bias.

Please make no attempt to claim that the BBC, ABC, Time or AP are not liberal as this has been proven time and time again. Refer to Newsbusters, Bernie Goldberg, Bill O’Reilly etc.

I do find your articles informative and hope that your oversight in this matter is just that.

I will continue to review your site but will remind myself of your bias as I do with most sites.

Bill Konar
Stevensville, Mich.

How nice it is to read a review of the Climategate affair — one that reviews the facts without jumping to convenient conclusions. Once again you have done the hard work for the apparently lazy mainstream press info-tainers. Now that you have gathered and weighed the data, carried it to the desks of the news anchors, perhaps they can at least bother to present it on air — under their "all my own work" byline as usual of course!

FactCheck’s fine work reminds us all that good journalism is fact based. Perhaps it will remind journalists, and by extension, their audience, that we don’t have another few centuries to dump the scientific method and cast around for other interpretations of the corpus of data just because we have (probably unfounded) suspicions about a tiny part of it. The scientific method is like democracy; it isn’t perfect but it’s the least worst process we have.

Mik Lamming
Fremont, Calif.

In your fact-checking of Climategate you have what appears to be incorrect information. The world temps have not "continued to rise" for at least the last 10 years. In this headline on a New York Times story about the difficulties confronting people alarmed about global warming, note the word "plateau." It dismisses the unpleasant — to some people — fact that global warming is maddeningly (to the same people) slow to vindicate their apocalyptic warnings about it. The "difficulty" — the "intricate challenge," the Times says — is "building momentum" for carbon reduction "when global temperatures have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years." That was in the Times‘ first paragraph.

This same information can be found at many different online sites, and so far no one has proved it to be false. It seems that the last decade has seen a leveling off of world temps and some charts actually show a slight decline. At the same time the carbon dioxide levels have continued to rise. The fact that 2009 may be the fifth warmest year ever recorded is meaningless if global warming has actually stopped or is beginning a gradual decline. And if the world temps are starting to actually decline or even just remain level while the carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, how can global warming be blamed on humans? Aren’t we being told that the warming is mainly because of the man-made CO2 in the atmosphere? Could the global warming over the last few decades be just one of the earth’s natural warming/cooling cycles that is about to reverse itself?

Global warming should be measured in decades, not centuries. By that I mean that each decade should be measured with the last one to see what the warming trend is and in what direction the earths temps are headed. According to the last decade, the warming has stopped.

Gary Dannunzio
Pittsford, N.Y.

FactCheck.org responds: It’s true that there has been some leveling of the average temperatures in the last 10 years, following a large spike in 1998, the warmest year ever recorded. But the last decade is still on track to be the hottest on record. We’d note, too, that measuring trends in decades while disregarding trends unfolding over longer periods allows for the cherry-picking of data to fit a particular hypothesis. In this case, charts of temperatures over the last 10 years, like the one provided in the New York Times article, may show a plateau or a dip, but charts like this one from NASA’s Goddard Space Center put the decade in context.

We’ll continue to deal with the climate issue in future postings.

 

Nobel Pursuits

In reading your assessment of President Obama’s Nobel Prize speech ["A Short Piece on Obama’s Peace Speech," Dec. 11], I failed to understand why you cited other presidents (Bush, Clinton) who also made erroneous or questionable claims.

My point is that it is entirely irrelevant. It is as though you think that because others might have made the same mistake, it is less of a mistake. It is not. You should seek only to be objective in your fact-checking and then report it. Instead, I consistently find in your reports that you are very defensive/protective of President Obama.

Margaret McConnell
Mashpee, Mass.

Surely when Obama said "billions have been lifted from poverty" he meant to include those who have actually been lifted from poverty and their descendants. While the absolute number of people in poverty, according to the World Bank, has decreased from 1.9 billion to 1.4 billion since 1981, the world population has increased from around 4.5 billion to nearly 7 billion. The $1.25 a day poverty rate has decreased from over 40% to under 20% in the same time period. At 1981 rates, over 2.5 billion would be in poverty with identical population growth, and that neglects to account for declining birthrates that accompany poverty reduction. Following the link in the article, "Between 1981 and 2005, the number of people in poverty has fallen by around 600 million in China alone." and "Poverty in East Asia—the world’s poorest region in 1981—has fallen from nearly 80 percent of the population living on less than $1.25 a day in 1981 to 18 percent in 2005" indicates without too much digging that the "billions" statement is at least plausible.

Paul Dixon
Huntsville, Ala.

 

Hanukkah Quibble

Hanukkah means dedication, not rededication [Fact of the Day, Dec. 12]. The word appears numerous times in the Bible; always with the same meaning. Strange to me to go to the BBC to check the meaning of a Hebrew word.

I hope the rest of your fact-checking is more thorough.

David Sarna
Teaneck, N.J.