Facebook is still struggling to contain its fake news problem
— Marc Morano is the real-world fossil fuel industry version of Nick Naylor. His career began working for Rush Limbaugh, followed by a job at Cybercast News Service where he launched the ‘Swift Boat’ attacks on 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. In 2006, Morano became the director of communications for Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who is perhaps best known for throwing a snowball on the Senate floor and calling human-caused global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
Thus it’s unsurprising that in 2009, Morano began directing fossil fuel-funded think tanks designed to cast doubt on the reality of and dangers associated with human-caused global warming. As he admitted in Merchants of Doubt, Morano frequently embodies the strategy of climate denial known as ‘fake experts’:
Most recently, Morano created a short video that centers on three common climate myths and has garnered over 5m views on Facebook.
Morano’s climate fake news
Morano begins his video by denying the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming. Consensus denial is one of the most popular climate myths, and was the subject of the most widely-shared climate story of 2016.
Morano’s strategy is to critique two of the studies that found a 97% expert consensus. One, published in 2009 by Peter Doran and Maggie Zimmerman surveyed 3,146 Earth scientists, but fewer than 80 of the participants were actively publishing climate science research (and hence experts on the subject). Basically, the critique is that the study sample size was too small to make a conclusive determination about the level of expert consensus.
That’s a valid point, except this was just one among many such climate consensus studies. In fact, the authors of seven separate consensus studies using a variety of approaches (some with very large sample sizes) teamed up in 2016 to publish a paper concluding that the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is between 90 and 100%. So, this critique is invalid when considering all the available consensus research.
Morano also critiques the consensus study that my colleagues and I published in 2013. He does so simply by quoting economist Richard Tol saying our 97% figure “was pulled from thin air.” Tol argued that the methodology in our study was flawed, but when we applied his critiques in a follow-up paper published in 2014, we found that the consensus was still 97 ± 1%.
Moreover, Tol himself has said, “The consensus is of course in the high nineties” and “There is no doubt in my mind that the literature on climate change overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis that climate change is caused by humans. I have very little reason to doubt that the consensus is indeed correct.”
In short, Morano’s only evidence to dispute the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is to quote an economist who agrees the consensus is 90–100%, and that the experts are correct that humans are responsible for global warming.
Next in the video, Morano claims that we’re not actually in the midst of the hottest period on record, and that ‘hottest year’ claims are “merely political statements” because for example, he claims, scientists can’t say with 100% certainty that 2016 was hotter than 2015 due to the margin of uncertainty in the data. This claim is similar to one made on Fox News that earned a ‘Pants on Fire’ rating from Politifact based on consultation with climate scientists. 2014 through 2017 are indeed the four hottest years on record, outside the range of uncertainty.
Morano concludes the video by claiming “the most outrageous myth of all is that carbon dioxide is somehow the control knob of the climate.” Ironically, Nasa climate scientists published a paper in 2010 titled, “Atmospheric CO2: Principal Control Knob Governing Earth’s Temperature.” Morano argues that the experts are wrong because there are hundreds of factors influencing Earth’s climate, and that carbon dioxide “is one of these factors that gets essentially drowned out, and you can’t distinguish its effect from natural variability.”
That claim is entirely false, as elegantly illustrated in this graphic created by Bloomberg. Human-caused global warming now far outside the range of natural variability. In fact, we’re now warming global temperatures more than 20 times faster than Earth’s fastest natural climate changes. And of course, climate scientists have observed human fingerprints all over climate change, most recently in the atmosphere. It would be absurd to take Marc Morano’s word over the evidence published in peer-reviewed studies by climate scientists at Nasa and other scientific institutions around the world.
Facebook is still spreading fake news
Lately, Facebook has struggled mightily in trying to figure out how to combat the epidemic of fake news propagated via its platform. Mark Zuckerberg made headlines last week when he defended fake news from Holocaust deniers, saying he didn’t “think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”
It’s virtually impossible to discern an individual’s intent, but if that person is spreading misinformation, intent is irrelevant. If Facebook wants to stop misinforming millions of its users, it needs to tackle the problem of fake news regardless of intent. So far, Facebook seems more concerned about the appearance of ‘bias’ than about making sure the content shared on its site is factually correct.
Fortunately, the exposure to Morano’s misinformation video is not as bad as it seems at first blush. Although Facebook implies the video has been viewed over 5m times, a “view” is counted after just three seconds, and videos on the site play automatically.
Nevertheless, the video has been shared over 75,000 times, so it has certainly reached a wide audience. Facebook needs to come to terms with the fact that there is an objective reality. Even if Marc Morano sincerely believes humans aren’t causing global warming, that belief is false, and by continuing to host his myth-filled video, Facebook is misinforming tens of thousands, perhaps even millions of its users.
by Dana Nuccitelli | The Guardian