Friday, May 18, 2007

Who will fact check FactCheck?

I usually appreciate's work in looking at the claims political candidates make. However, their latest report on the 2nd GOP presidential debate left me unsatisfied. It seemed to be sprinkled with an underlying viewpoint. Here are the two items in particular that bugged me.
Global Warming

During the debate Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado claimed that scientific studies were equally split on the existence of global warming and whether humans are responsible:
Tancredo: Okay. First of all, the whole issue of global warming, for every single scientist that tells you it's happening and that it's our fault — and they'll stack up to here in this reports — I can stack up another group of reports that say just the opposite.
Actually, we find that an overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that global warming is taking place and that human activity is predominantly to blame. Most recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), overseen jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, released a report representing the work of 600 authors from 40 countries and 113 government representatives, saying:
IPCC: The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution.
Also, the National Research Council, chief adviser to the U.S. government on science and technology, issued its own report as far back as 2001 that reads:
NRC: Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.
It's true that there are dissenters to this consensus view. Among them are the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, chief editor of the World Climate Report Blog, and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. But the split is by no means 50-50 as Tancredo claimed.
It appears that has put words into Tancredo's mouth. The "50-50" split was not part of Tancredo's answer. He simply said their was a stack of reports that took a different view. He made no claim about the relative size or number of those reports.

Furthermore, the studies that have shown that the majority of scientists agree with human-caused global warming have been cast in serious doubt. (I wish I could find the link where I read about the flaws in that study. Perhaps you know where it is.) I get the sense that most measurements support the thesis that the globe is warming but that there is little to no evidence that points to the origin of that warming. I think people are making educated guesses.

I read one scientist who was on the IPCC. He disagreed with the way the work was proceeding and so he quit, yet his name still appears on the report. How many others of the "600 authors" don't agree with all or part of the resulting IPCC report?

Ron Bailey, a reporter and CATO scholar, has documented a lot of popular environmental "disasters" of the past that never actually materialized. Reid Bryson, who predicted the existence of the jet stream before it was discovered and is regarded as a father of climate science in the United States, has expressed his doubts about the human origins of global warming.

Yes, it seems that most scientists do believe that humans play a major role in global warming, but that is not the same as saying that most of the science supports the same thesis. Yes, there are reports that argue the anthropogenic nature of global warming. But there are also reports that argue the opposite, just as Tancredo asserted.

Sorry FactCheck, you missed this one. In so doing, you seemed to be pressing an agenda rather than merely checking the facts.

Giuliani Misquotes Giuliani

Giuliani claimed questioner Chris Wallace had misquoted him as saying some moderate Republicans were being "fundamentally irresponsible" for demanding progress in Iraq by September:
Wallace: Mayor Giuliani, in our interview the other day you said that congressional Republicans who say they must see progress by September are, quote, "fundamentally irresponsible," and that in effect they are giving a timetable for retreat to our enemies.

Is your commitment to winning in Iraq open-ended?

Giuliani: First of all, that isn't exactly what I said. I was talking about the timetable for retreat that the Democrats passed in Congress, in which they did something extraordinary and that I've never heard of in the history of war, which is to give your enemy a schedule of how a retreating army is going to retreat. That was irresponsible, highly irresponsible.
But what Giuliani actually said, in his May 13 interview on "Fox News Sunday," was this:
Wallace (May 13): Now you hear some Republicans saying September. We've got to know by then. So, what would you say to those people?

Giuliani: Anybody proposing giving the enemy a timetable of our retreat is proposing something that is fundamentally irresponsible.
The record is clear: Giuliani's use of the phrase "fundamentally irresponsible" was in response to a question about Republicans, not Democrats. He also criticized Democrats for proposing a 'timetable for retreat" in other portions of the May 13 interview, but not here.

This feels like an intentional misreading of Giuliani's original statement, which was precise. He said that "anybody" proposing timetables was irresponsible. His later paraphrase in the debate in plausibly in line with his first quote. If FactCheck can't read Giuliani's mind, then they have no choice but to give him the benefit of the doubt.

There is no factual blunder here unless you can show that Giuliani was talking about Republicans in his first quote. That would imply he was strictly answering the question he was asked by a reporter. We all know how rarely that happens. It seems more likely he was using that question to make a broader point about his foes, which is a common tactic used by politicians when they are interviewed by the press.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Bradley Ross said...

I removed the above anonymous posting because I found it unhelpful in moving any debate forward. Feel free to disagree with me. I love to hear different viewpoints! Make an argument that shows I'm wrong or, at the very least does more than name calling, and I'll happily leave it up.

Sean said...

I commend you on your article that criticizes the FactCheck report. I run a blog on global warming ( and I also run a blog on political candidates (

At my global warming site, I am frequently trying to give a balanced argument on both sides of this complicated issue. It is interesting how many organizations only tell part of the story due to their own agenda. I always assumed that FactCheck was reasonable until I read their comment on this issue - makes you wonder about their comments on other things as well.