Analysis of a Telegraph article published 15th October this year by their science editor – Sarah Knapton ironically entitled “Climate change: fake news or global threat? This is the science” is lambasted as little more than fake news itself by the real experts. But this is a demonstration of how clever science denial can be.
Six scientists analyzed the article and estimated its overall scientific credibility to be ‘very low’. A majority of reviewers tagged the article as either: Cherry-picking, Flawed reasoning, Inaccurate, Inappropriate sources, and/or Misleading. Most people would summarise any article described by experts in the field – as fake news.
This article in The Telegraph attempts to discuss the science of observed global warming and the factors responsible. However, mixed in with some accurate factual statements are claims that give readers the impression that the answers are unknown, and climate science is “up for debate”.
For example, the article presents the views of one person who claims carbon dioxide has little to do with temperature change, pointing instead to water vapour. Several sentences following this note that water vapour in the atmosphere is controlled by temperature, and so cannot drive a warming trend. However, this is framed as “one scientist says” vs. “some other scientists say”, creating the appearance of scientific debate that doesn’t exist.
So even though the article includes some accurate quotes from climate scientists, overall it elevates many inaccurate claims that are not supported by evidence—like claiming that scientists “have misrepresented the data in the past” or that “solar activity is more likely to influence today’s climate than carbon dioxide”.
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REVIEWERS’ OVERALL FEEDBACK
These comments are the overall assessment of scientists on the article, they are substantiated by their knowledge in the field and by the content of the analysis in the annotations on the article.
Zeke Hausfather, Research Scientist, Berkeley Earth:
This article is a prime example of false equivalence, putting fringe figures side by side with mainstream scientific findings while failing to distinguish between their respective credibility. It is rife with numerous factual errors and misrepresentations. Anyone unfortunate enough to read it will understand less of the science – as actually appears in peer-reviewed publications and conferences – not more.
Willem Huiskamp, Postdoctoral research fellow, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research:
While this article contains good science and accurate quotes from relevant experts, it also suffers from many inaccuracies and misleading statements. The author misleadingly presents a “he said, she said” comparison of well-established science and fringe denier memes that have been thoroughly debunked many times before. This creates a sense of false balance and doubt in the reader which is not present in the scientific literature.
Peter Thorne, Professor, Maynooth University:
The article includes many scientifically relevant observations (e.g. that the world is warming and that humans are responsible) and includes a number of relevant quotes from respected scientists. But then it places this cheek-to-jowl with long-rebutted arguments and assertions that serve to significantly reduce its credibility. Dredging up long-rebutted talking points and presenting them alongside established scientific knowledge uncritically is not helping to inform the reader.
Ed Hawkins, Principal Research Fellow, National Centre for Atmospheric Science:
The article is full of misleading statements, inaccurate assumptions, and interpretations, and is of very low credibility overall. Some simple fact-checking with climate science experts would have easily avoided the errors being made. Where the author has interviewed climate science experts then the science is presented accurately by those experts.
Irene Brox Nilsen, Researcher, Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate:
The article re-iterates many refuted misconceptions about climate change. For example, claiming that “the only thing CO2 does in the climate system is make the planet greener”. This does not apply to the whole climate system; for regions experiencing drying, plant growth will be limited by the availability of water1.
Second, results are taken out of context and/or written in an ambiguous way. For example: “[Sea level rise] is projected to rise another one to four by 2100”. No unit is stated here, but because the previous sentence gave numbers in inches, one would think the sea level is projected to rise 1-4 inches, instead of 1-4 FEET, which is the case according to SROCC2.
Victor Venema, Scientist, University of Bonn, Germany:
This Telegraph article mixes sections accurately reporting on the science with sections describing bizarre claims and smears from the darkest corners of the internet as if they were a valuable part of a scientific debate.