Wall Street Journal Gets A Key Fact Wrong In Article On Facebook And Fact-Checkers

Written by Dr. E. Calvin Beisner on December 4, 2019

On July 23, Gregory J. Rummo’s article “Apocalyptic Sea-Level Rise—Just a Thing of the Past?” appeared on Townhall.com’s website.

Three days later, Scott Johnson, a “fact-checker” with ClimateFeedback.org, claimed that Rummo’s article falsely stated that a graph in Roy W. Spencer’s book An Inconvenient Deception: How Al Gore Distorts Climate Science and Energy Policy showed that the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods had been as warm as the present or warmer.

Johnson’s accusation was enough to get Facebook, which depends on ClimateFeedback.org (among other “fact-checking” organizations), to flag Rummo’s article as false. That meant that if Townhall didn’t retract it, Facebook would downgrade Townhall, costing it potentially millions of page views. Townhall retracted the article.

As I later demonstrated, Johnson was wrong. A graph in Spencer’s book did show precisely what Rummo said it showed. World magazine reporter Hannah Harris reported on the affair, also demonstrating that Rummo’s claim was true.

Facebook, though, has still not reversed its decision. Neither has Johnson’s factually false “fact-check” been retracted.

But it appears that Facebook has gotten the message that at least some of its decisions to tar articles as false and pressure publishers to retract them have been unjustified.

Wall Street Journal reporter Jeff Horwitz reported September 30:

“Facebook Inc. plans to exempt opinion pieces and satire from its fact-checking program, according to people familiar with the matter, as the social-media giant grapples with how to stop the spread of falsehoods while maintaining its own neutrality.

“As part of the new rules, Facebook will allow publishers of information found to be false by outside fact-checkers to appeal to the company, said the people familiar with the changes. Posts that Facebook deems to be either opinion or satire won’t be labeled as false even if they contain information the fact-checkers determined was inaccurate ….”

That’s good news. But what isn’t good news is that—ironically, in an article about fact-checking—Horwitz himself got a key fact wrong.

Horwitz also reported that the CO2 Coalition “dismisses global warming as a hoax.” That is false.

The CO2 Coalition’s website contradicts that claim in three statements, all under “Frequently Asked Questions” and so not difficult to find:

  • First, “The real ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’—the amount of global warming to be expected for a doubling of atmospheric CO2—is likely to be about three times smaller than what the models have assumed. Observational data suggest that doubling atmospheric CO2 levels will increase the surface temperature by about 1° C, not the much larger values that were originally assumed in mainstream models.”
  • Second, “All other factors being equal, more atmospheric CO2 will increase greenhouse warming of the Earth’s surface. Atmospheric processes are complicated, so the amount of warming is still somewhat uncertain. The most reliable real-world observations of the atmosphere and oceans, together with geological history, point to only modest warming. That’s about 1° C (1.8° F), for doubling the CO2 concentration.”
  • Third, “The small increase in CO2 from about 0.03% to 0.04% over the past century has likely produced some small warming, probably about 0.4°C. Further increases of CO2 will cause further warming, but much more slowly.”

I’m not a member of the CO2 Coalition, but I know its executive director and 25 of its founders, board members, and members, and not one of those 25 would “dismiss global warming as a hoax.”

One of the members, Dr. Roy Spencer, is a member of the board and Senior Fellow of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, of which I’m President, and is a Principal Research Scientist in Climatology at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, where he and colleague Dr. John Christy manage NASA’s satellite global temperature monitoring system. Dr. Spencer has written in many places that global average temperature has risen by about 1˚C since the late 1800s, that human emissions of CO2 certainly have contributed to that rise, and that they might very well have contributed more than half of it, especially since about 1960.

That’s actually a pretty common view among “global warming skeptics,” another name for whom is “lukewarmers.”

One wonders: Will the Wall Street Journal publish a correction of Horwitz’s article? Will Scott Johnson charge it for its false claim? Will Facebook flag the article and threaten to downgrade the Journal if it doesn’t retract the article?

Or do different rules apply to different folks?