How Blatant Can Fabrications Get?

I'm about 2,000 words into a post I'm working on to follow-up on my latest, but I just saw something via Twitter I have to comment on. I saw this tweet after it was retweeted by Glenn Kessler, Fact Checker for the Washington Post:

Curious, I looked at the article. I wanted to see what sort of factual basis there was for this idea. Aside from ex-employee remarks, the first cited piece of evidence I came across was:

A draft of his testimony was obtained by the New York Times last month, with tracked comments and edits from White House officials. One comment from the National Security Council on the document suggests striking an entire section of his testimony titled “Scientific Baseline,” with the comment: “A consensus of peer reviewed literature has nothing to do with truth.”

This is a remarkable claim. Quite frankly, I find it unbelievable. And with good reason. It is a fabrication. The header of the section in question, "Scientific Baseline," has a marked edit which says:

Cut sections of hte testimony that don't directly address the hearing topic.

This is the reason offered to justify deleting the section. It has nothing to do with the validity of anything in the section. It has nothing to do with peer reviewed literature. It has nothing to do with any consensus or truth. The stated reason is, quite simply, "This isn't what you're supposed to be testifying about."

Now, is it possible the stated reason isn't the real one? Sure. Perhaps that section is important to what the person was supposed to testify about. Perhaps the stated reason was an excuse used to push some agenda. But that's not what this article claims. This article doesn't even mention this remark. It ignores this text, which explicitly says why the section should be stricken, in order to quote a sexier talking point. The section began with the paragraph:

The IC [intelligence community] does not develop climate science; we instead rely on findings from outside sources. Our preferred sources are from U.S. Government technical agencies, such as NASA, NOAA and USCS, and U.S. scientific institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences. We also utilize information analysis from many rather domestic and international sources, particularly peer-reviewed journals.

This paragraph, and this paragraph alone, was marked with the quoted remark. But even then, the quoted remark was very different from what the article portrays it as:

For the past 30 years, funding for climate research by the federal government and private foundations has welcomed research findings that support climate alarm. Any research that does not reinforce this narrative has been frowned on, and grants have not been renewed. So the information mentioned here is heavily biased toward alarm.

Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, peer-reviewed literature, from the Soviet bloc and from Western sympathizers, uniformly touted the great advantages of socialist, planned economies. A consensus of peer reviewed literature has nothing to do with the truth.

This is a simple, and rational, argument. What it claims is the "consensus" on climate change is biased due to institutions selectively funding work that would lean toward a desired answer. If true, it would be appropriate to be skeptical of such a "consensus." This reviewer remark does not dismiss the idea of a consensus for frivolous reasons as the article implies, but because it claims such a consensus is untrustworthy due to financial motivations for it.

That is a rational argument. It may be wrong, and there'd be nothing wrong with someone ridiculing the argument if they felt it was flawed. However, that's not what this article did. It didn't even acknowledge the argument. It selectively quoted a sexy talking point to make it sound like the reviewer's remark was outlandish, and then, it falsely claimed that remark was the reason offered for striking an entire section.

This article was published on July 31st, approximately five weeks ago. This fabrication has been in it the entire time. Nobody seems to have noticed it, despite how blatant it is. This leads me to wonder, how blatant can fabrications get? At what point does somebody say, "Uh, no, it doesn't say that"? At what point does someone like, say, a fact checker for the Washington Post, go, "This claim sounds outlandish, maybe I should verify it"?

8 comments

  1. As an addendum to this post, you can find the annotated written testimony here. The reviewer remarks in question are at the bottom of the third page. One remark points at the section header. The other remark points at a single word, "journals," in the phrase "peer-reviewed journals."

    There are lines drawn and everything.

  2. Do you think it is rational to compare the scientific consensus on climate change (whatever that is) to scientific consensus in the Soviet regime?

    Do you think it is rational to say a consensus in peer-reviewed literature has nothing to do with truth? I would certainty say that such a consensus isn't dispositive - but I'm not sure it's rational to say it has nothing to do with truth.

  3. Joshua, I get the impression you are trying to make some point with your questions, but if so, you should just say what the point is. As it stands, the answer to both of your questions can only be, "I can't answer that question as there is insufficient information." I can compare an apple to Michael Jordan, and given the right context, it might make sense and be informative.

    Rhetorical questions on their own are rarely productive. If you had some point to make, your questions do a poor job of making it. If instead you asked those questions because you just want to know what my answer is, then you asked terrible questions.

  4. Brandon -

    I thought the questions were pretty straight forward.

    Guess that's why they run horse races.

    > If you had some point to make,

    Hmm. No. The questions were to ask your opinion. I am trying to understand why you see something so differently than I see it. Once way to start understanding that is to clarify your opinion.

    > "I can't answer that question as there is insufficient information...

    What more information do you need to answer the following question?:

    Do you think it is rational to say a consensus in peer-reviewed literature has nothing to do with truth?

  5. Joshua:

    What more information do you need to answer the following question?:

    Do you think it is rational to say a consensus in peer-reviewed literature has nothing to do with truth?

    I can say, "The sun is going to explode tomorrow" for any number of perfectly rational reasons even though I know the sun won't explode tomorrow. Asking if a single statement, without context or interpretation, could be rational to say is beyond foolish.

    If we want to be hyper-technical, consensus in peer-reviewed literature must have something to do with truth because everything has something to do with everything else. All things in this universe are connected to one another, no matter how tangentially. In that regard, the reviewer remark was clearly false. However, that approach would make it impossible to say any one thing has nothing to do with another. Unless we want to focus solely on semantics, it's useless to adopt such an approach. This shows the literal truth of a statement does not determine whether or not making that that statement is rational.

    You chose a very specific way of framing your questions, a way which is significantly different from the normal, "Do you think this is correct?" Given that, the presumption must be you had some reason to ask the questions you asked rather than the questions that'd normally be asked. I have no idea what that reason might be. All I know is I could think of a hundred different reasons why statements like those you cited could be said rationally. Those include things like, "The person is just screwing around."

    Quite frankly, that you ask me if it is rational to say something rather than just ask if I think it is true (or at least reasonably accurate) seems bizarre. It's such a specific and unusual way to frame things I have no idea what your goal was in asking those questions. Given I can't begin to guess what your intended meaning is, all I can rely on is what the literal meaning of your questions is. And for that, there is no answer that works. Taken literally, your questions are just bad.

  6. Brandon -

    > You chose a very specific way of framing your questions, a way which is significantly different from the normal, "Do you think this is correct?"

    I used the term "rational" because you had used that term, but clearly my wording conveyed something I wasn't intending.

    It would more or less satisfy my curiosity to simply ask if you think it is correct to say that a consensus in peer-reviewed literature has nothing to do with the truth.

  7. Joshua:

    I used the term "rational" because you had used that term, but clearly my wording conveyed something I wasn't intending.

    I said the reviewer made a rational remark, meaning it can be justified with a logical argument, even if that argument isn't correct. If what you wanted to know is:

    It would more or less satisfy my curiosity to simply ask if you think it is correct to say that a consensus in peer-reviewed literature has nothing to do with the truth.

    Then your question was definitely incorrect. The statement, as part of his argument, is rational whether it is correct or not. I can recognize a statement as rational even if I think it is flawed. I disagree with plenty of things people say but usually don't consider it irrational for them to say them. (A notable exception, given your past criticisms of me, is when I say something a person says "makes no sense." When I say that, I am describing what they say as irrational.)

    With that out of the way, I think it is not "correct" to say what the reviewer said. As I said before, it is not literally true. That said, I don't think it is wrong either. Peer-reviewed literature can be, and often is, wrong. The typical idea of how modern science works is it will make tons of mistakes and produce tons of erroneous results, but in the long-term, its self-correcting nature will lead to the truth being figured out (one can question how true this idea actually is). Given that process, there can, and again have been, many examples where a "consensus" was wrong.

    Given a "consensus" in science can be right or wrong (or more often, somewhere in-between), I don't think it is "wrong" to say such a consensus has nothing to do with the truth. It is not literally correct, but it does convey the correct idea a consensus should not be taken as indicating truth. I'd describe the statement as something like "imprecise" or "overstated" rather than "wrong." It is certainly much more accurate than its inverse, a statement like, "A consensus in peer-reviewed science indicates the truth." And it's definitely not a complete fabrication like how the author of this article claimed the statement was used.

  8. By the way, I should point out part of what makes me feel accepting toward that reviewer's remark is it doesn't exist in a vacuum. He offered an explanation which provided context for the remark. He explained a "consensus" can be totally incorrect, and only then did he say a consensus has nothing to do with the truth. That makes it easy to understand the idea he is trying to convey. That context makes it clear he's not saying a consensus can never be correct or that a properly formed consensus could not be trustworthy.

    Context is important when examining imprecise statements. A sentence taken out of context can often mean any number of things. Examining the context often allows us to figure out what the intended meaning is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *