Unanswered Talking Points
Last night, Amy Holmes, a conservative commentator, appeared on Bill Maher’s show, and did something I see a lot of conservative talking heads do. She came out with a number of “facts” that were dead wrong, but–and this is the key point–were obscure enough that no one on the panel knew about them in detail and so could not rebut. This seems to be a favorite technique with such guests, as you can come across as sounding factual and winning the argument, despite being full of crap.
The topic where she was worst on this was climate change. She started with a really weird attack which Maher and liberal guest Hill Harper should have jumped on but didn’t (italics in quotes reflects her spoken emphasis):
RFK Jr., he said, and you know he supports this global warming theory, he said that he would never see snowfalls like he did in his childhood because of global warming. And what do we get, we got three blizzards in a row this last Christmas. So, I don’t think that weather patterns tell us whether or not global warming is happening, but people who advocated for global warming, they told us weather patterns can tell you if it’s happening.
Really? A celebrity was wrong about snowfall, so that disproves climate change theory? I still can’t believe that no one took that on. If RFK were a climatologist, even that would be a single instance, but just because a famous person screws up the facts–if RFK Jr. did indeed even say that–it’s not even related to the science. At all. But then she got to the slip-in-the-bogus-fact part:
I don’t think the science is settled, and the scientists who are involved in it themselves… Phil Jones, who is the head of research in England, you know that Phil Jones also said … he also said that the Middle Ages may have been hotter than it is now. … One of the top climate researchers, he admitted now, that the Middle Ages may have been hotter than it is now, before there were cars, or CO2 emitting factories.
This is something that few people would be able to respond to without research. I hadn’t heard it, but after a few minutes online I was able to find out that it was a lie. Phil Jones, director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (the place where the emails were hacked), had an interview with the BBC in which they tossed at him the junk-science assertion that because there was a warming trend in the middle ages, that means that what we are experiencing now is just part of a normal cycle caused by things like sunspots and ocean currents. Jones answered that we don’t have global data on what is called the “Medieval Warm Period” (MWP), and so we can’t know if it has any significance; all he allowed was that if we had the global data, and if that data showed warming in excess of what we have now, then “late-20th century warmth would not be unprecedented.” But he pointed out that we don’t have that data, and therefore we have no reason to believe that the MWP means anything.
In an article in the Daily Mail, Jones’ statements were wholly misrepresented. The article claimed that Jones “conceded the possibility that the world was warmer in medieval times than now – suggesting global warming may not be a man-made phenomenon.” This is an incredibly misleading-trending-to-outright false statement. “Conceding” a possibility does not give it an ounce of credence–any scientist would have to “concede” that it’s possible that aliens are living on Pluto right now; that does not make it in the least bit true. To then jump to the statement that Jones’ “concession” suggested that global warming is not man-made is the “outright lie” part. He suggested the opposite, pointing out that we lack the data to make such a point.
But now that a news agency had said that a top climatologist had conceded that global warming is disproved, it was picked up by the right-wing blogosphere and, of course, Fox News, in this case, Sean Hannity:
Now keep in mind that Jones’ findings have been used for years to bolster the U.N.’s findings on climate change. Now, in an interview with the BBC over the weekend Jones admitted that there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, that the world may have been warmer in Medieval Times, that is to say up until now, which would undermine the theory of this manmade global warming all together. And that warming in recent times mirrors warming patterns from pre-industrial periods.
The part that Hannity adds about “statistically significant warming” is just as much a lie; more on that here.
The point is, nobody on the panel had followed this story closely and so when Holmes brought it up, no one was able to shoot it down. There are now probably a lot of people who came away from that thinking that there was something to the statement, as few people actually check these things out. Such lies get released into the public consciousness all the time, are believed, and add to the general, unspecific idea that climate change is more and more “in question.”
Apart from the value of showing such claims about climate change to be false, what one should take from this is that when you hear such “facts” from talking heads on discussion panels–or anywhere else–check them out before you swallow them whole.