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FactCheck Mailbag, Week of May 4-May 10

This week, readers sent us comments about the National Day of Prayer, climate science "tricks" and FactCheck’s Webby Awards.

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.


National Day of Prayer Not Canceled Enough

I’m not surprised that President Obama made the National Day of Prayer declaration ["National Day of Prayer: Still On," April 29]. However, when he was elected, I had hoped for something better.

The presidential endorsement of a National Day of Prayer is clearly unconstitutional, given that it violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The wording the president used to urge the population to pray is particularly egregious in this respect. One district court has now ruled on the declaration’s unconstitutional nature. No doubt, that ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court, whose recent record with respect to upholding the Constitution is somewhat less than stellar (e.g., ignoring the preamble in the Second Amendment—contrary to the respect for precedent previously observed by the Court).

If churches want to declare a National Day of Prayer, that’s their right. They should not expect the government to do it for them. To their great credit, a number of denominations oppose the presidentially-declared National Day of Prayer.

Bill Potts
Roseville, Calif.


Climate Science Semantics

I would like to respond to David Rose’s comment from the April 20 mailbag when he comments on the phrases "trick" and "hiding the decline." He says, "I know colloquial English just fine and nobody is going to tell me that such terms don’t mean what they appear to mean." Well, I’m telling him that such terms don’t mean what they appear to mean. I think David is assuming that decline refers to climate temperatures and we all know what happens when you assume. In this case, decline refers to the accuracy of data using one method of estimating climate temperature. It turns out that one of the methods used is accurate for data until the 1960s but then the method becomes less accurate so climate scientists switch to a different method, which is more accurate, for data from the 1960s on. This switch in methods hides the decline in the accuracy of the data from the first method because they stop using the method once it becomes unreliable. I think we should be glad that climate scientists "hide the decline" because if they kept the decline in accuracy, they’d be making policy recommendations based on inaccurate methods and data.

Climate scientists have devised a clever and skillful way of overcoming a problem or obstacle (in this case the decline in accuracy of the data from the one method) and this is what is meant by "trick" in the e-mails. As a math professor, I teach my students "tricks" from time to time, and there is nothing deceptive, illegitimate, or underhanded about the tricks I teach. When I tell my students, the "trick" in this problem is to do this or that, I am simply teaching them a clever way to turn what seems like a problem into something workable. That is colloquial English and it is the exact same way the climate scientists mean "trick" in their e-mails.

This isn’t to say anything about the validity or invalidity of global warming or climate science; just that those terms don’t mean what they appear to mean when you have the background and know the context in which they are being used.

Douglas Scheib
Miami, Fla.


FactCheck’s Webby Win

Congratulations on your win of the Webby Award for 2010 ["A Big Webby Win for FactCheck," May 4]. Your website and e-mails provide the public with much needed real information in this era of not-so-factual information that poses as news.

Your information is truly fair and balanced.

Elaine Grandoit
Arlington, Mass.

You (I almost feel like it is we, but I know it is you) won for a reason. BBC, CNN and others do excellent work, but FactCheck does something unique and valuable. Congratulations. You deserve it.

Howard S. Baker
Wynnewood, Pa.

Congratulations! This is well deserved. I use "UnSpun" in my classroom, and I use some of the great amount of resources you send to me each day to open my students’ eyes to the world around them. They love it. It has been such a great asset to my classroom! Thank you. You are performing a great service to the education of a better informed voting body.

Rebecca Pietrzykowski
Chicopee, Mass.