June 3, 2012

Truth Once Again Blowin' In The Wind At PolitiFact

Monique Chartier

With regard to the Deepwater Wind project, one question and one question only matters:

Is it viable; does it break ground without the government mandating artificially high electric rates?

The answer is a definite "No"! Unfortunately, with its rating today of a statement by Lisa Blais, PolitiFact fogs this, the single most important aspect of the project.

When she speaks and writes, Lisa Blais is one of the most precise and well researched people that I know. So when I heard that she was going to get a "False" or "Mostly False" on the uproarious dreaded Truth-O-Meter because of something she said on the Helen Glover Show, there was no question as to who was correct. It was merely a welcome opportunity to once again smile about a rating "service" that too often rates a statement on the basis of a standard other than the concept that comprises its name.

One interesting item arises from this matter, however - not so much in the rating itself but in the e-mail exchange that Lisa had with the Providence Journal's C. Eugene Emery, Jr. He stated,

Obviously the Deepwater issue is important, but we rate the "truthiness" of the statement on its own. It's limited, but it keeps the fact-checking process from being so unwieldy it would be impractical to do.

Huh, that's interesting. Because "truthiness" was completely secondary when PolitiFact rated as "False" John Loughlin's statement that

94 percent of the carbon emissions which you so want to get rid of are caused by nature.

(For the record, this statement is True.)

And, in fact, "unwieldy" - the quality which Mr. Emery indicated that PolitiFact eschews - is an excellent description of the theories that PolitiFact chased down and quoted at length to fill out the "False" that they gave Loughlin on a statement that was ... well, just plain true. The problem, presumably, was that people might (correctly) question how much - more accurately, how little and at what price - man can cure global warming when they learn that our contribution to greenhouse gases is a paltry 6%, stipulating for a moment that the unproven theory of AGW is even correct.

Over at Legal Insurrection last year, Professor William Jacobson pointed to a rating of a Ken McKay statement to make what has turned out to be an object lesson about one of the methods of this rating "service"

Despite the wide-ranging attack by Whitehouse on those who opposed Obamacare, PolitiFact chose to engage in word games to get the rating it wanted, by focusing on McKay’s words “everybody” and “in Rhode Island”:

Too often, it appears that PolitiFact employs an easily shifting standard when it rates statements: at times, just-the-facts "truthiness" when it needs to play word games to distract from a much larger point; for other ratings, the addition of elaborate, "unwieldy" dressing when the public might draw an "erroneous" - dare we say inconvenient? - conclusion about a truthful statement.


Permit me to be more specifical as to how PolitiFact is miss-serving the public and the truth in the case of Lisa's statement. The headline of today's rating is

Tea Party leader Lisa Blais says Rhode Island consumers are now paying for Deepwater wind turbine project in their electric bills.

However deplorable, not everyone delves into an article or an issue. On any given day, many people are only going to skim headlines to pick up the news - I'm guilty of that myself.

And in skimming mode, the all-important modifier "now" in the PolitiFact headline is not likely to register. What will certainly register, however, is the "False". So people are going to come away from this rating thinking, "That's that offshore windmill project, isn't it? I thought it was going to be funded by our electric bills. But PolitiFact says it isn't. That's good!"

No, the funding for Deepwater Wind from higher electric rates has not yet fully kicked in because the main project itself is not yet underway. But with its rating today, PolitiFact has given the impression that Deepwater Wind doesn't involve and will not involve rate-payer funding at all. And that is just False.

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Monique, you keep using these numbers, but I don't think you have a fair grasp of what they ultimately mean.

Before I explain, I want to just state that I agree that the whole 'global warming' issue has been WAY overblown. Not because I think anthropomorphic global warming is false, but because I think we need to deal with the subject of the ever-changing earth REGARDLESS of who or what is changing it.

So here we go:

"our contribution to greenhouse gases is a paltry 6%"

I can agree with those numbers, but they're based on the idea that 'the greenhouse effect' is bad. In fact, the planet ALWAYS NEEDS the atmosphere to act as a blanket using the greenhouse effect, or we'd be living on a giant snowball (there's evidence that this actually happened for millions of years). So let's say that we NEED the 'greenhouse effect' to be at a 'baseline' level of 100. If the effect drops, say to '95' global temperatures drop, ice builds up, water levels drop, oceans get more salty, and we lose habitable parts of the planet to glaciers and snow. If the greenhouse effect is boosted, say to 106, we see opposite problems: global temperatures go up, ice melts, water levels rise, oceans get less salty, and we lose habitable parts of the planet to the ocean (we also gain -some- habitable areas back in the arctic regions).

We know from ice core samples and the archaeological record that this is true. We also know that humanity can exist through a wide range of climates. The planet has some good self-regulating processes. Only the uninformed think that global warming would end humanity or permanently destroy the planet, but there's some pretty clear evidence that if we pump enough CO2 and methane into the atmosphere we're just going to exacerbate what is already a difficult natural process that we have to adapt to. The question is 'should we keep doing what we're doing, even though we know it's going to have negative ramifications?' and if not, 'how much effort and resources should we commit to find the right balance between using alternate energy sources and proper stewardship of the planet?'.

Posted by: mangeek at June 3, 2012 11:39 AM

"how much effort and resources should we commit to find the right balance between using alternate energy sources and proper stewardship of the planet?"

whoops. What I meant to say was:

"how much effort and resources should we commit to find the right balance between using cleaner energy sources that are less convenient and more expensive vs. proper stewardship of the planet?"

We don't need to see every carbon-emitting process as an evil to be removed. The planet can handle a fair amount of it. But there's some low-hanging fruit that could help bring us back into balance and prevent some MAJOR ecological problems.

Posted by: mangeek at June 3, 2012 11:45 AM

Very busy

Posted by: the whale at June 3, 2012 2:21 PM


To me, the main question (very much in line with what I'd expect if the "green" movement were more an honest expression of scientific warning than an urge toward political leverage and cronyism) is: How much do we really affect climate change, and in that context, oughtn't we be preparing for it in the even that we cannot change enough to stop it?

I don't think I've EVER seen the debate presented in those terms, which furthers my suspicion that there's more political agenda, here, than scientific warning.

If destroying the economy of Western Civilization would buy us another 10 years of palatable weather over the next century (or whatever), then the alarmists *should* be raising alarms about preparing for the new normal.

Posted by: Justin Katz at June 3, 2012 7:57 PM

"oughtn't we be preparing for it in the event that we cannot change enough to stop it?"

This is actually my view on more pessimistic days. Sometimes I think that there's just no way that we'll be able to get enough countries on-board playing at the same level. It might be too late to avoid lots of 'mop-up' anyways.

Things like government catastrophe/flood insurance, property rights during rising sea levels, water rights in arid areas, farm subsidies... These are all things that need to be worked-out if we accept that the climate does, in fact, change. Whether we're responsible or not doesn't matter if your business and property get swallowed by the sea over your lifetime. Curbing emissions doesn't matter as a state or nation if your economic competitors use it to kick you while you're re-tooling and burn the fuel you're not.

Posted by: mangeek at June 3, 2012 10:34 PM

"there's more political agenda, here, than scientific warning"

I agree here, too. I can't tell you how many researchers (grad students) I meet who are working on expensive projects to create exotic devices that sequester carbon (ofen followed by, 'I'm saving the earth!'). When I ask if it isn't cheaper and more effective to just plant and then bury trees, they get very upset.

Unfortunately, it seems that everyone's answers to the world's problems always seem to be handing money to someone with a solution, from business owners and taxpayers trying to convince us that if only the government didn't take as much, they'd be able to fix the economy, to research universities claiming that if only they had more federal funds, they could fix global warming with gadgets.

Posted by: mangeek at June 3, 2012 10:44 PM

Her Highness The Incompetent Hillary went looking for retreating glaciers this week...she should have went about 70 yrs. ago....you know....when all those mean,big SUV's were on the road.


Posted by: ANTHONY at June 4, 2012 12:56 AM

The earth has experienced warming and cooling over eons; the sun's delivery of energy to the earth isn't constant for a variety of reasons. Who is to say that slowing a warming trend, if even possible, won't make the cooling that follows more severe?

But this isn't the issue; Deepwater's hidden cost to the taxpayer is. This high cost project will be an albatross around our neck for decades...

Posted by: Mike678 at June 4, 2012 9:43 AM

"Monique, you keep using these numbers, but I don't think you have a fair grasp of what they ultimately mean."

I'd say that's a safe assumption. I keep trying to figure out if Monique has any background whatsoever in the physical sciences (guessing no based on her comments regarding "proof" of theories in the physical sciences).

Posted by: Russ at June 4, 2012 10:27 AM

Funny, Russ. I keep trying to figure out why you think you know anything about education.

Posted by: Dan at June 4, 2012 11:44 AM

@Russ-I don't know what Monique's background in science is,but you like to portray yourself as an expert in a lot of things.
I'll concede two-(1)apparently computer science since you earn a living at it and(2)using block quotes.

Posted by: joe bernstein at June 4, 2012 4:53 PM

"I keep trying to figure out why you think you know anything about education."

I'm pretty sure I've explained this before. First, what I know is process improvement methodology. The vast majority of what I write about education is from that perspective, in particular the (mis)use of standardized testing for ranking of schools, teachers, students, etc. It's a bad idea, and you don't need a M.Ed to know it. Second, I'm my kids dad. Anyone saying you need a fancy degree to be actively involved in your child's education is full of it.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand basic science either, but let's face it. Not everyone does.

Posted by: Russ at June 5, 2012 1:58 PM

I'm pretty sure I've explained this before. First..."

I'm pretty sure it was a rhetorical question...

A rhetorical question is a figure of speech in the form of a question that is asked in order to make a point and without the expectation of a reply.[1]

(Just in case you were wondering)

Posted by: Max D at June 5, 2012 3:53 PM

Russ - You should bill yourself as a high-priced education consultant: "Experience in IT/manufacturing process improvement." They'll be jumping over each other for your advice.

My fiance is an education consultant, FYI, she has an advanced degree in the subject and teaching experience, she gets paid for it, she has achieved great results for schools, and she understands that progressive education is complete bunk. Most of the schools she consults with are throwing their "progressive math" and "progressive reading" curriculums in the trash can because the results were appalling.

Posted by: Dan at June 5, 2012 4:47 PM

I keep trying to figure out if Russ has any background whatsoever....oh wait...yes he does

Hey Russ.. If Sally has 2 mommies and Johnnie has 2 Daddy's is that a foursome?

Posted by: ANTHONY at June 5, 2012 6:04 PM

Not sure why you want to argue about progressive education on this thread.

Dan, set up and knock down that strawman all you like. I don't even know what you're talking about. My kids' school is very much progressive in its approach (attention to the whole child, community, collaboration, social justice, intrinsic motivation, deep understanding, active learning, and taking kids seriously). We've been over all this before, but hey why not here too!

Posted by: Russ at June 6, 2012 5:07 PM
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