On climate misinformation and accountability

Lately there has been a great deal of misinformation regarding the origins and purpose of Skeptical Science.  As John Cook wrote nearly a decade ago, Skeptical Science is primarily a website that debunks climate misinformation with peer-reviewed science.  Despite the ever-worsening impacts from climate change, with record after record being broken in our warming climate, misinformation casting doubt on climate science is rampant and showing no signs of going away. Sadly, a resource that shines disinfecting daylight on climate misinformation is needed more than ever.

When we find ourselves frequently debunking myths from the same sources, we collect that information in our 'Misinformation by Source' database. There are several reasons why we created that particular database. 

First, because we at Skeptical Science simply love data.  That's the backbone of our website.  We love to gather it, analyze it, and organize it for easy reference. One of the strengths of our site is making our debunkings accessible in different ways for ease-of-use, such as our multi-level rebuttals, translations, short URLs for easy sharing, and organized in a fact-myth-fallacy format.

Second, for the sake of accountability.  If an individual propagates a climate myth to the public via a setting like a blog or media interview or congressional testimony, it's useful to have a resource documenting if that individual has frequently promoted climate myths in the past.  If so, that individual should be considered a relatively unreliable source of accurate climate science information. 

To those who object to being included on the 'Misinformation by Source' database, the remedy is simple – stop purveying climate myths.  Perhaps acknowledge the mistakes you made in communicating those myths.  Take responsibility for your own actions.

Some individuals have misrepresented the motivation behind the database.  Roger Pielke Jr., for example, misrepresented comments by one of us (Dana Nuccitelli) to claim that,

"Skeptical Science openly admits to using their website to destroy an academic’s career and make [Judith Curry] “unhirable in academic ... I am amazed that some blogger without a PhD & never having worked in a university believes that he can decide who should be hired by universities"

As Dana noted, that's not at all what he said, which is that Judith Curry's penchant for propagating climate myths, as documented on her 'Misinformation by Source' page, would make it difficult for academic institutions to hire her.  After all, accurately informing and educating the public is a key goal of most academic institutions.  Misinforming the public runs counter to their goals.  It's Curry's own words that are the problem, not the Skeptical Science page that catalogs them.  Moreover, volunteer-run Skeptical Science doesn't quite have the clout to decide who academic institutions hire even if we wanted to.

What we're actually out to do, of course, is simply create a database of climate misinformation by source with resources debunking those myths. If you don't want to be held accountable for misinformation, don't spread it. pic.twitter.com/sDWYgNj2Hs

— Dana Nuccitelli (@dana1981) February 8, 2020

For example, claiming, "There is no scientific basis for saying that warming hasn’t stopped," or that Arctic sea ice isn't endangered, or accusing scientific colleagues of "hide the decline stuff," or disputing the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, would all likely give an academic institution pause when considering an applicant for a climate science position.  Skeptical Science has simply created a database documenting and debunking those individuals' myths in one location. 

Ultimately, complaints from misinformers about Skeptical Science refuting misinformation are an attempt to avoid accountability and consequences for their act of misinforming the public. Pro tip: if you don't want to be held accountable for spreading climate misinformation, don't do it.  And don't complain that somebody has created a database documenting and debunking your frequent misinformation.

Sunday afternoon thought: it’s fascinating to see some folk whose opinions have been heavily criticized for flawed science or misrepresentations convince themselves instead that it’s their honesty & stand on integrity that makes them unpopular.

Pro tip: it’s not.

— Gavin Schmidt (@ClimateOfGavin) February 9, 2020

To learn more about Skeptical Science and what we do please check our Welcome Page, the blog series published for our 10th Birthday, and the Review of our activities during 2019.

Posted by dana1981 on Monday, 10 February, 2020

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