Category Archives: Fact Checking

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. Continue reading

Seriously, Why Be So Obvious About It?

My last post used the word "lie" somewhat loosely because the person I was discussing in the post frequently accuses people of fraud/lying with the flimsiest of bases. Given such a person was simply making things up, I thought worrying about the exact nuances of what a "lie" is was unnecessary.

However, the person I criticized has continued to behave in a similar manner as before, again saying things which were not only untrue, but untrue in a blatant fashion. Given that, I'd like to spend a little time looking into just what constitutes a lie. Not because what Duarte said or did is that important, but because of a simple question which haunts me: "If a person were going to tell a lie, would they really be so obvious about it?"
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Why Resort to Such an Obvious Lie?

I want to preface this post with a caveat about the word "lie." It is often impossible to tell what a person thinks or believes, and as such, it is often impossible to know with certainty when they are lying. Because of this, I am normally hesitant to accuse people of lying. However, the individual discussed in today's post is quick to use extreme rhetoric, such as accusing people of fraudulent work, based upon very little. Given that, I will be ignoring the nuances of what exactly constitutes a "lie."

I have been a frequent critic of the modern movement of "fact checkers" due to my belief that movement often consists of punditry rather than genuine fact checking. I am hardly the only person to hold this belief. Concerns of bias in fact checking organizations have been raised by plenty of people, and I've seen people make good cases on many occasions.

However, I've also seen many people make bad cases. Some people believe it is best to ignore faulty arguments which support a "cause" as internal dispute detracts from the strength of the movement. I've never believed that. Nietzsche once wrote, "The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments." I believe that to be true. I believe even if one doesn't make the arguments themself, allowing bad arguments to promulgate can only hurt one's efforts.

Given that, I'd like to take some time today to demonstrate a person criticizing "fact checkers" of bias and other things is a liar. And perhaps even worse, he is an incompetent liar.
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Fact Checking at its Finest, a Buried Lede

This is a busy week for me, and I'll be out of town to go to an advisory committee meeting. I still don't know why anyone would put me up in a hotel just to get my thoughts on a topic, but I won't complain. The result is I don't have the time to go into as much detail on today's topic as I'd like. That's okay though. When it comes down to it, the topic is quite simple.

The rise in "fact checkers" over the last decade has created a culture where blatant dishonesty is somehow promoted as the truth, and even "fact," due to it being said by "fact checkers." I'll discuss two great examples of this I've come across in the last few weeks. I'm also going to bury the lede super hard.
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Totally Plausible

Hey guys. I've been spending way too much time over at Climate Audit this last week or so because they've been discussing the (supposed) Russian hacks of various computer networks within the United States. System security is a topic I've long been interested in so naturally I was curious what people were saying there. I regret have even looked now.

The quality of the discussion for the last few posts at Climate Audit is surprisingly low. It's nothing compared to what used to be found on the site, which is a shame as I alwlays held the site in high regard. Don't worry though. I'm not going to start some inter-blog argument today. Today, I just want to show you one of the most hilarious arguments I have ever seen anyone make, an argumend endorsed by Steve McIntyre, proprietor of Climate Audit.
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A New eBook for the New Year

As I mentioned yesterday, this site has reached another year in its short life. I think that's a fitting time to announce my new eBook which has just been published: The Climate Wars: A Disgrace to Skepticism.

I want to point out right from the start a lot of people I know won't like this book. Some might dislike it because they dislike my writing. That's fair. I can't say I'm amazing when it comes to prose. What I can say is the larger reason people will dislike it is the point of the eBook:

This book does not attempt to list everything anyone in the Skeptic movement has gotten or done wrong. There are an untold number of errors and misdeeds one could rant about in an attempt to score rhetorical points. That is not the point. The point is the polarization of the global warming debate means none of these problems matter.
There are many people in the global warming debate who do honest and good work. They do not matter. As long as people remain silent and allow bad work and unethical behavior to dominate the public representation of their side of a debate, all anyone will have is the same sort of partisan bickering they could find in any political argument.
That goes for all sides. Whatever the topic, whatever your beliefs. If you want to be taken seriously or accomplish some task, quit thinking about how “they” are the problem. Focus on what is right and what is wrong.
And remember, sometimes you and the things you like might be the ones that are wrong.

It's a simple point. If you say it about Warmists, Skeptics will quickly agree, talking at length about how "noble cause corruption" is, well, corrupting climate science. The question is, will any Skeptics acknowledge the same thing is true for them?

Experience makes me think they won't. Maybe I'll be surprised. And even if not, maybe some people who aren't as polarized when it comes to global warming will find this eBook worth their time.

And as always, if you don't want to spend the $0.99 on this eBook, you're welcome to download a free PDF copy available here.

Go Figure?

Visitors to this site will likely know I hold a negative view of modern "fact checkers" as I feel much of what they do cannot reasonably be considered "fact checking." During a publicity thing one such organization, PolitiFact, did, I asked a representative how it goes about addressing problems people raise in things it publishes:

I was told to contact PolitiFact at a particular address with any such concerns. I did. Nothing happened. I got an automated response acknowledging the receipt of my e-mail, but I didn't hear anything else after that. I didn't hear anything when I followed up on the e-mail either. None of the articles I discussed in my e-mail to PolitiFact were changed either.

Naturally, I was disheartened. Continue reading

E-mail to Politifact

Readers of this site will likely know I am critical of the rise in "fact checking" as I feel what these "fact checkers" do is often more akin to punditry than fact checking. One such organization, Politifact, did a Q&A session on Twitter today where I happened to see it say:

In response to claims it is liberally biased. I felt this tweet exaggerates the impartiality of Politifact due to seeing a number of articles it published which seemed biased against conservative or toward liberal views. As such, I asked:

The answer I got directed me to e-mail Politifact with any specific concerns. I did so. I initially planned to give a sampling of issues in a number of "fact checks," but in the process of finely parsing one article I selected, I discovered so many problems there was little space. Indeed, there were enough problems with that article I couldn't even discuss them all in my e-mail.

I don't know what to expect from Politifact regarding this e-mail, but since I went through the trouble of writing it, I figured I might as well post it online for people to see. Perhaps it will give some insight as to why I don't hold much respect for "fact checkers." The e-mail discusses only a tiny fraction of the issues I've seen in Politifact's fact checking, and even so, it runs over a 1,000 words. Oh, and yes, I do realize there are a few typos in it. That's what I get for not having an editor. (I count three. How many do you count?)
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Anthony Watts Defends Fake Quotation

Apparently I spoke too soon. In my last post, I wrote:

In any event, I think that resolves this issue. There don't seem to be any facts in dispute anymore. I could write a few paragraphs to condemn dishonest and unethical behavior, mock people for their lack of skepticism or any number of other things, but... eh. I'm tired of worrying about that stuff. Instead, I'd like to point something else out: I was right.

I'm not saying that to gloat (well, maybe just a little). I'm saying it because this was so incredibly obvious to me. A professional newspaper provided two different versions of the same quotation within one article, and somehow, nobody at the newspaper and nobody promoting the story across the internet noticed. That's just crazy.

This, of course, was in reference to the fact the newspaper The Independent ran a story in which a professor named John Wiens was confronted with the hypothetical situation in which he met Donald Trump. When asked what he'd tell Trump in such a situation, The Independent quoted Wiens as saying both, "Kill yourself immediately" and "kill himself immediately."

I thought that peculiar and argued one of these quotations must be fake. My last post discussed how according to Wiens himself, the actual quotation was "kill himself immediately." The result of this is headlines like this one, were inaccurate:

There was more to things as The Independent secretly edited its article some time after I first questioned the quotations, something I find despicable (in response, it has re-edited the piece and hid the fact the changes were initially secret). There may be other aspects as well, but I thought things were finally settled as it seemed there was no longer any dispute over what Wiens had said.

Unfortunately, it appears Anthony Watts, proprietor of a major global warming "skeptic" blog Watts Up With That, has chosen to continue to claim the fake quotation is real. Continue reading

Confirmation Quotation Was Fake

This post is a quick follow-up to my last one. Over the weekend, I observed a strange situation where a story spreading across the internet quoted a man in two different ways. Here is the article and subhead from the post as it was originally run:


Here is text from the body of the article:


The phrase, "Kill yourself immediately" is an internet meme some nnline commenters have co-opted as a joke. Like any meme, it's meaning goes beyond the words themselves. That means the difference between it and"kill himself immediately" is more than grammatical. Even if that weren't true, it is very strange for a newspaper to publish different versions of the same quotation, much less within one article.

Naturally, I concluded (at least) one of these quotations must be fake. I noted this almost immediately upon first seeing the story linked to on Twitter:

Following from this, I spent some time talking to people in various locations about the issue. A while after that, the paper (The Independent) which published the two differing quotations (The Independent) edited the article to remove both versions of the quotations. It did this secretly, without any indication. I criticized it for this as secretly changing published material is dishonest and unethical.

Some time later, The Independent edited the article again to add a note indicating the original change. While I applaud the effort, secretly editing a piece to hide the fact you secretly edited the piece seems... awkward. Moreover, the note The Independent added did nothing to address the fact it had provided contradictory versions of this quotation.

My discussion of these issues led a person to contact the quoted individual. You can read his account of things here. In it, he quotes the person whose remark started all this as saying:

“On Thursday, December 8, I was contacted by Ian Johnston from The Independent, ostensibly to talk about my paper on climate change and extinction that was being published in PLoS Biology (the paper actually received serious reporting by Brandie Wiekle from CBC News and others).

“Unfortunately, Mr. Johnston admitted that he had not read my paper, and apparently had little interest in talking about it. It turned out that he only wanted to talk about Donald Trump. I did not. He asked me what I would say to Donald Trump. I said that I really did not think that Donald Trump cared at all what I thought.

“Obviously, I hoped that this would be the end of the topic. He persisted. I did therefore say that Trump should “kill himself immediately” (i.e., his doing this seems about as likely as him following any recommendation from an obscure scientist like myself about stopping climate change). I then made sure that it was clear that it was a joke.”


The man was apparently unhappy with aspects of the story and contacted The Independent about this. That's why it removed the quotations from its articel. That is good to know (and what I suggested had happened), but what I find more interesting is he claims he said "kill himself immediately." That is not the internet meme, "Kill yourself immediately." This would seem to confirm that quotation was in fact fake.

Why did The Independent run a fake quote in the body of its text? I don't know. I also don't know why it was so obvious to me the quotation was fishy while "skeptic" sites like Watts Up With That ran it without question. It seems pretty weird. Perhaps some people who ran the fake quotation will correct the record. I doubt it though. It's too good a story to question.

In any event, I think that resolves this issue. There don't seem to be any facts in dispute anymore. I could write a few paragraphs to condemn dishonest and unethical behavior, mock people for their lack of skepticism or any number of other things, but... eh. I'm tired of worrying about that stuff. Instead, I'd like to point something else out: I was right.

I'm not saying that to gloat (well, maybe just a little). I'm saying it because this was so incredibly obvious to me. A professional newspaper provided two different versions of the same quotation within one article, and somehow, nobody at the newspaper and nobody promoting the story across the internet noticed. That's just crazy.

Oh, and for documentation purposes, here are archived copies of the article in each of its forms: Original, secretly edited, updated to note the alteration<?a>.