Monday, May 19, 2014

Is PolitiFact incapable of objectivity on climate change?

We noted PolitiFact's failure to report accurately on Marco Rubio's climate change statement from May 11, 2014.  Whatever's much bigger than doubling down on its disgraceful reporting on climate change, that's what PolitiFact's doing with its May 19 fact check of California governor Jerry Brown.

Brown said virtually no Republican in Washington D.C. accepts climate change science.

PolitiFact's fact check of Brown's claim is comical.

PolitiFact cites polls showing Republicans are more skeptical of mankind's role in causing global warming.  That isn't directly relevant to whether Republicans in D.C. reject the science of climate change.  PolitiFact doesn't bother telling its readers over 20 percent of Republicans in a 2013 Pew Research poll think humans are the primary cause of global warming.

PolitiFact touts many (mostly unnamed) examples of Republicans questioning climate change science "to some degree."  The degree is kind of important when we're talking about rejecting science, isn't it?

PolitiFact cites Marco Rubio as a recent example of a climate change denier.  We showed why PolitiFact's charge against Rubio is false.

PolitiFact cites Republicans John Boehner and Ted Cruz in a similar way.  The Boehner and Cruz examples share essentially the same flaws as the Rubio one.  The press takes statements out of context and draws its preferred conclusion.

PolitiFact cites the Organizing For Action's lengthy list of supposed "climate change deniers," assuring readers that OFA shows evidence for each one.  OFA was President Obama's campaign organization before it changed its name and purpose.  Therefore it's just as objective as press reports taken out of context.

PolitiFact cites an article about John McCain, saying it shows he's changed from his former acceptance of man-caused climate change.  We invite anyone to strain the article for that finding.

After that, we get the list of eight Republicans who supposedly accept climate change science.

And after that, PolitiFact admits that there may be more than eight.  PolitiFact doesn't tell you how many more there might be.  That would involve fact checking.

After all that, PolitiFact rates Gov. Brown "Mostly True":
Brown said that "virtually no Republican" in Washington accepts climate change science. When it comes to on-the-record comments of members of Congress, Brown’s characterization is about right.

We found at least eight Republicans in Congress who publicly voiced support for the scientific consensus and many more conservative legislators who deny either a human link to the changing climate, or the fact that the climate is changing altogether.

A reason for caution, however, is comments from someone like Yarnold — who suggest GOP members of Congress acknowledge climate change science behind closed doors but avoid the talk in public for political reasons.

We rate Brown’s claim Mostly True.
There are two major problems with PolitiFact's rating.

First, it's a mistake to use an all-or-nothing approach to acceptance of climate science.  That approach isn't used in establishing measurements of scientific consensus on the issue, so that measuring stick gives us an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Second, unless PolitiFact is accepting OFA's list at face value, PolitiFact simply assumes that over 200 Republicans are climate change deniers.  And even if PolitiFact accepts OFA's list at face value, PolitiFact is still assuming more than 100 Republicans are climate change deniers.  Those assumptions fly directly in the face of one of PolitiFact's principles, which look more and more like Pirates of the Caribbean "guidelines" with each passing day:
Burden of proof – People who make factual claims are accountable for their words and should be able to provide evidence to back them up. We will try to verify their statements, but we believe the burden of proof is on the person making the statement.
Don't worry, Gov. Brown. PolitiFact will pretend to have the proof you don't have.

Think about it.  If just half the 128 not accounted for from the OFA list plus McCain (Cruz and Rubio are on OFA's list, McCain isn't) and the elite eight, then the percentage of Republicans accepting the supposed science of climate change is 26 percent.  Even overlooking the mind-boggling sloppiness of the fact check, we're left with a range of 3-49 percent (counting McCain as a denier).

It's irresponsible journalism to use biased secondary sources like OFA as the basis for a fact-check finding.  It's incumbent on the journalist to verify the accuracy of such sources.  We see no indication of that from PolitiFact.

This is PolitiFact fact checking.  But there's another name for it.  Crap.


Addendum

Context, Context

Hot Air has a little item on Gov. Brown's statement revealing its original context.  Brown brought up climate change as a cause of California's current problem with wild fires.

It's settled science or something.  Wouldn't PolitiFact have questioned it otherwise?


Correction/Update 5/20/2014:
Fixed assorted grammatical problems and added a parenthetical "mostly unnamed."

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