Politifact or Politi-fiction?

By Andy May

This is a critique of the coverage of the man-made climate change debate by Politifact.com. It’s an update of a post I wrote last year. Journalism has not improved in the last 19 months and may actually be worse. Because Politifact is often characterized as an unbiased and credible source by the rest of the media it must be held to a very high standard. This is why finding two well documented cases of the organization deliberately mischaracterizing the facts and misquoting sources on the climate change debate is so shocking. As a result of these “fact checks” it is annoying that the press cites Politifact as if it were objective and honest, it is neither.

In their fact check of Senator Rick Santorum they misquoted Professor Richard Tol on several points. Tol pointed out the errors and Politifact refused to correct them. This is all well documented here. They also erroneously labeled Santorum’s statement false, Santorum did confuse his numbers a bit, but got the basics right. As Professor Tol put it in an email to Politifact:

“I think you were unfair on Santorum. He mixes up his numbers here: “The most recent survey of climate scientists said about 57 percent don’t agree with the idea that 95 percent of the change in the climate is caused by CO2.”

In fact, the statement is that 57% disagree that there is 95% confidence that 50% was caused by greenhouse gases. In other words, Santorum had the spirit right but the letter wrong.”

Politifact, like many in the news media, conflate “anthropogenic global warming” (man has some unknown amount of influence on climate) with “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” (man is driving climate change with his emissions and causing a climate catastrophe). The debate is not whether man affects climate, I think everyone agrees with that. But by how much and whether or not it’s a problem.

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