Last week, right-wing “news” site Breitbart published a story signed by James Delingpole that basically boils down to “mean temperatures over land have dropped by 1°C so where’s your climate change now, alarmists!?” As proof, they embedded a video published by The Weather Channel last November — and forecaster Kait Parker is having none of it.

Kait Parker

Kait Parker of TWC.
Image via Youtube.

Breibart acquired rights to the video under a content-share deal with a different company and embedded it in a Nov. 30 article that’s just infuriating. Delingpole draws on several other sources too and at face value, the story seems pretty solid — he does have some journalistic flair, I’ll give him that much. But this seemingly sensible and composed piece has zero (if not going into the negative scale) scientific value. Something which The Weather Channel fully understands. Not happy to see their work dragged into the innards of places like Breibart, forecaster Kait Parker (who has a University of Missouri degree in atmospheric science) sent a scalding reply out on the net.

“Please stop using MY FACE to mislead Americans,” Parker tweeted on Tuesday.

“Earth Is Not Cooling, Climate Change Is Real and Please Stop Using Our Video to Mislead Americans” — TWC put it in the headline of the article they addressed to Breibart on Tuesday, just so they don’t miss it. The piece does a solid job of exposing Delingpole for cherry-picking and taking facts out of context to support his views, and works through each of his arguments presenting the full story. I recommend you give it a read.

“Here’s the thing, science doesn’t care about your opinion,” she said in a video embedded in TWC’s article. “Cherry-picking and twisting the facts will not change the future nor the fact […] that the Earth is warming.”

“The next time you write a climate change article and need fact checking help, please call,” they conclude. “We’re here for you. I’m sure we both agree this topic is too important to get wrong.”

Now let’s be honest. If you read sites like Breibart routinely, you’re a more patient man than I am. But if you read and believe them routinely, you’re an idiot and you’re in good company there.

Delingpole called the last few years “the final death rattle of the global warming scare”, which is just astonishing to me. All the evidence is pointing the other way. There’s scientific consensus on the issue; NASA, we’re-taking-people-to-space NASA has made its position clear on the issue — for more than three decades now, mean global temperatures have been steadily rising above the 20th century average. Even politicians, who are probably the most entrenched people when it comes to the energy sector, have decided to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

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But not Delingpole. Not Breibart. They’re the bright star that will lead the worthy and the patient past all this “alarmism” to a glorious fossil future. It’s like they’re keeping their eyes and ears shut and yelling “we can’t hear you” over and over again to the firefighters trying to get them out of a burning building.

What I want to talk about is doubt

There’s an awesome book out there on the subject, Merchants of Doubt. In it, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway show how “a loose-knit group of high-level scientists, with extensive political connections” can stall or completely derail the debate around one issue in which industry and the public have conflicting interests — issues such as tobacco, acid rains, even global warming.

They don’t have to prove anything they say is true. Just offering an alternative explanation, just casting doubt on the consensus on an issue is enough to shift (and manipulate) the public opinion enough to cause a divide — and prevent change.

“The whole doubt-mongering strategy relies on creating the impression of scientific debate,” said Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard University and the co-author of “Merchants of Doubt,” and “The Fall of Western Civilization“.

And it’s happening even now, even with something as clear-cut as climate change. In the book’s review, Andrei wrote:

“[…] out of all the peer reviewed articles written on climate change, just 0.17% or 1 in 581 papers are written by climate change deniers. There is no other debate in science that is so one sided – and yet you see both sides get equal time on TV, you see big companies invest huge amounts of money into manipulating people, and a huge gap between those who understand the truth and those who have the capacity to act on it.”

“In the book, they call it [climate change] the failure of the free market.”

And we can see the “huge gap” widening right under our noses, after the official Twitter account for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology shared the Breibart article, effectively endorsing it with the official stamp of approval. The site of course later published an article in reply to the TWC piece which I didn’t actually bother to read since it’s probably more of the same. I haven’t yet made up my mind wether Delingpole actually believes what he himself is writing on the issue climate change or he’s just furthering someone’s agenda. But I am convinced that in the end he’ll find a way to spin it — something, something, climate alarmist media backlash which can only mean Breibart was right!

Still, I actually think the Weather Channel was right in standing up to the site and calling them out on blatant misinformation. People need to know that they’re being lied to. But at the same time it keeps up appearances that there is a discussion on the issue. By engaging Breibart, for fully legitimate reasons, don’t get me wrong, TWC furthered the doubt they cast on the issue by furthering the talks.

In the end however, the point I’d like to make, and the point the Merchants of Doubt makes, is this: Fake news is dangerous. Fake science is dangerous. They’re dangerous because people believe them. People who will then sit in the burning building with the websites and authors they’ve come to trust.

Just so that Delingpole and others like him know what they’re doing.