The story is so familiar now that one would have thought it hardly needs retelling: For many years the scientists (i.e. those who have always been in direct contact with the truth) have been telling us that if we continue down the road of using fossil fuels then we are destined to destroy the planet. Even so, it took a mere demi-god moving amongst us in the body of a child to shame the governments of the world into taking notice and, although there is still much more that needs to be done, at least the correct way forward is now well-defined. Nevertheless, the road is still a difficult one to take, not because it is technically impracticable or prohibitively expensive, but because there are still those voices — ill-informed and ill-willed – who would use lies and trickery to tempt and beguile the virtuous into taking a different road. The road that they want the world to take is one in which self-interest and ignorance still prevail. Put simply, this is a fight between the enlightened good and the foolish bad.

Of course, familiarity has got nothing to do with anything. This is a damned good yarn that is bound to appeal to anyone who cares about the future and who can readily believe the worst of mankind. Furthermore, it is self-confirming. The only ones who could possibly question it must be the foolish and bad to which it refers.

The reason why I have dwelled upon this state of affairs is because it is the only possible backdrop within which the BBC could get away with an article that excoriates an organisation for giving succour and encouragement to those amongst us who have chosen to trick, tempt and beguile the righteous. Yes you know who I’m talking about. I’m talking about you, Facebook. If you’re not with us, you’re against us. So says the BBC – or to be more accurate, the ‘human rights body’, Global Witness.

The qualified need not apply

It becomes obvious that the BBC thinks itself to be on very firm ground covering this sort of thing when one looks at its choice of expert journalist, a lady called Merlyn Thomas who, as is customary with the BBC nowadays, carries the title du jour of ‘Climate Disinformation Reporter’. This immediately brings to mind an individual who is so well-versed in the technicalities of the science and politics of climate change and energy production that there couldn’t possibly be any room for doubting what she has to say on the matter. And yet, it transpires, all you need to have, as far as the BBC is concerned, is a degree in French and Arabic and a journalistic background almost entirely devoted to writing on matters of civil rights and social justice. It appears that technical prowess isn’t actually a required qualification for telling this particular tale, but a degree in bilingual effrontery is. So let us take a look at what that particular skill-set has brought to the table.

The wrong sort of nudge

Merlyn wastes no time in conjuring up the effrontery in her opening paragraph:

“Facebook pushes climate sceptics towards increasingly extreme disinformation and conspiracy groups, a human-rights body’s research suggests.”

Notice here, not just ‘extreme’ but ‘increasingly extreme’. Also, viddy well, brother that this is a human rights issue. Her second paragraph explains it all:

“A report released Wednesday by Global Witness found Facebook’s algorithm amplified doubts rather than nudging people towards reliable information.”

Yes, folks, it’s all down to an algorithm, but not one of those innocent ones like the one you use to do a binary search. No, this is an evil one that amplifies doubt, which is (of course) the binary alternative to reliable information. And you will note that it took a ‘human rights body’ to notice this wicked little detail. But how?

Well, according to Merlyn:

“Researchers created two users – climate sceptic ‘Jane’ and ‘John’ who followed established scientific bodies. They then tracked what Facebook’s algorithm suggested to both accounts.”

Ah, researchers; I might have known. They are damned good those researchers. Anyway, this is what they found:

“Jane soon saw content denying man-made climate change, including pages calling it a ‘hoax’ and attacking measures to mitigate its effects…From these beginnings, over a period of about two months, Jane was recommended more and more conspiratorial and anti-science content, researchers say.”

Yes, I get it – “researchers say”. But what about my namesake, John?

“Meanwhile, John’s account began by liking the page of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations scientific body.”

I should sue, of course. But anyhow…

“And in contrast to Jane, John was consistently shown reliable science-based content.”

Ah yes, but did researchers say? If researchers didn’t say, then I’m not sure I should believe this.

What will become of me?

I’ll spare you the gory details of what Jane had to put up with, although Merlyn’s article was less circumspect, including as it did ‘extreme disinformation’ such as ‘Heat spells are not new’, an example of blatant disinformation against which the BBC were very keen to slap a great big red ‘False’.

The rest of the article was full of Facebook’s feeble protestations of innocence, which were roundly dismissed by Global Witness:

“Facebook has repeatedly said it wants to combat climate disinformation on its platform – but our investigation shows how worryingly easy it is for its users to be led down a dangerous path that flies in the face of both science and reality. Facebook is not just a neutral online space where climate disinformation exists – it is quite literally putting such views in front of users’ eyes.”

As the globe is my witness, there is nothing worse than views that are put in the front of your eyes. The ones at the back are pretty bad but the full frontal ones are just so hard to avoid. And to think that Facebook is ‘quite literally’ doing this – putting views in the front of eyes – is really quite a shocking disclosure for a company that has the words ‘face’ and ‘book’ in its name.

But Merlyn knows what the real issues are here. She chooses her closing quote very carefully:

“The climate crisis is increasingly becoming the new culture war, with many of the same individuals who for years have sought to stoke division and polarise opinion now viewing climate as the latest front in their efforts.”

Who are these individuals, I’d like to know.

Oh God! I’ve just had a thought. You don’t suppose it could be me, do you? Am I that cultural warrior? A division stoker, an opinion polariser? Is this my latest effort? And what next might I have up my sleeve? I am become death, perhaps?

Let’s hope not. It’s only a game after all.

18 Comments

  1. John, thanks as always.

    That closing comment in the BBC article also leaped out at me as beyond ridiculous. This claim, too, was pretty OTT:

    “…attacking measures to mitigate its [climate change’s] effects” being, by implication at least, “conspiratorial and anti-science content”.

    I must also be a division stoker and an opinion polariser, since it strikes me as eminently reasonable to question hugely expensive and disruptive mitigation efforts in the UK that are almost certainly doomed to fail, given that much of the rest of the world isn’t interested in following suit (after all, we’ve been “leading the way” for a couple of decades now, and I don’t see most of the rest of the world following us down our cul-de-sac).

    It never seems to occur to the good folk at the BBC that their increasingly shrill and combative journalism around climate change might just “stoke division and polarise opinion”, does it?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “…..the BBC thinks itself to be on very firm ground covering this sort of thing when one looks at its choice of expert journalist, a lady called Merlyn Thomas who, as is customary with the BBC nowadays, carries the title du jour of ‘Climate Disinformation Reporter’.”

    Perhaps the BBC’s ‘Climate Disinformation Reporter’ will investigate her employer?

    https://notalotofpeopleknowthat.wordpress.com/2022/03/30/rowlatt-facing-two-complaints-over-panorama/

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Mark,

    The real problem here is not just that Merlyn is ill-equiped to properly address the position taken by the so-called disinformed, she is also too much aligned with the thinking of the likes of Global Witness to remain impartial. They purport to be on the backs of any company that exploits natural resources in a way that leads to social injustice. Consequently, its not just oil but deforrestation, coal mining, blood diamonds, etc. that they focus on. Strangley, however, they have no interest in the natural damage and exploitation that you have drawn to our attention with regard to sustainable energy generation and EVs. You would think that a good journalist would pick up on that, but no. Merlyn is as keen to stick to her preconceptions as the rest of us. I just like to think we are not as hypocritical.

    Also, by the way, Global Witness is another charity taking money from the UK government.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Another detail that needs to be appreciated here is just what is required (as far as Global Witness is concerned) in order to be labelled a disinformer. Amongst the qualifications, one only needs to:

    a) Suggest that there is still some uncertainty in the model outputs. The wide range of ECS estimates is well-documented by the scientists but drawing attention to it would be disinforming, presumably.

    b) Question the practicality or affordability of any of the many ways that have been suggested to achieve Net Zero within the proposed time scales.

    c) Challenge any of the statements regarding the increase in severe weather events or question that these are wholly due to man-made climate change.

    d) Remind anyone that climate is also subject to natural variability.

    It’s a pretty low bar that they have set. If they really chose to think about it, a good deal of what the IPCC has said would fall into their category of disinformation. Except that this very suggestion would itself be branded as disinformation by Global Witness.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Mark,

    You ask whether the likes of the BBC and Global Witness are aware of the extent to which they are themselves guilty of stoking division or polarising opinion. I have to say that they are probably not, and if they were, they would be unlikely to care. They would see their divisiveness as a good thing, since they are creating a division between a cancer and its host. They would see the polarising of opinion as a good thing, since they are exposing opinions that they consider to be in conflict with social justice. There is, of course, nothing wrong with social justice, but I see precious little justice to be found in a society that treats simple facts as dangerous disinformation that ‘flies in the face of science and reality’. The last paragraph of Merlyn’s report said it all. Not only does she think this is a cultural war, it is one which is fought against a group that is opposed to the very idea of social justice and whose activities in the climate change debate are simply a continuation of their age-old promotion of anything and everything that is unjust. It’s a looney conspiracy theory fuelled by an exaggerated sense of self-value, actually. I wish I could be that self-righteous but I can’t because my cynicism gets in the way.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I am not a user of Facebook (or any other similar machination) so perhaps I am misinformed. But if I wanted a devise that identified my interests and catered for them, then one that recognised my predelictions for rampant sceptics would be exactly what I wanted. One that served up warmest drivel would be exactly the opposite of my desires. But then the BBC would like it known that it knows my wishes better than I do myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Alan,

    The BBC only wants what’s best for you, that is to say that you should not be misinformed. And we all know that those who are inclined to reserve judgement are, in reality, battle-hardened cultural warriors who set out to deceive and destroy. On the other hand, those who have already made up their mind and see everything in terms of social justice are merely custodians of the truth.

    Like

  8. Joe,

    My apologies, but I have been slow to follow up on the links you provided on March 31st and, therefore, far too slow in responding to your valuable contribution. Nevertheless, better late than never.

    I referred in my introduction to the authorised narrative, in which the “ill-informed and ill-willed would use lies and trickery to tempt and beguile the virtuous into taking a different road.” Your reference to Justin Rowlatt’s Panorama programme ably demonstrates, however, that plenty of lying and trickery has been employed in order to counteract the efforts of the supposedly ill-informed and ill-willed. The juxtaposition of the programme’s two statements that the death toll is rising and that extreme weather is on the increase is a classic example of the sort of trickery that should play no part in the debate. Not many people would have picked up on the fact that the term ‘death toll’ was meant to refer to a cumulative total, and there are two very good reasons for that. Firstly, it’s banal and pointless to refer to an increase in a cumulative total, since accumulations can’t actually work any other way. Who would suspect that the statement was actually intended to be so vacuous? Secondly, mentioning the increase in extreme weather events is a statement regarding rate and so can only be meaningfully linked with a statement regarding death rates. Failing to mention that the death rates are actually going down and, instead, pointing out that a cumulative total is rising, is therefore a misdirection of the grossest magnitude. As Paul Homewood pointed out, the BBC’s ‘explanations’ and mealy mouthed confessions beggar belief.

    When it comes to disinformation, there is much hypocrisy in the air and I doubt that the likes of Merlyn Thomas are fully aware of the extent to which they do not actually occupy the moral high ground here. Thanks again for bringing to my attention this rather shocking example.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Joe,

    Of course, nobody should really be that surprised about any of this. It is amazing what people are prepared to do to hide a decline. I look forward to the hacked email that refers to ‘using the BBC trick’.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. But will the BBC suffer from a “barrage of frivolous and vexatious Freedom of (Dis)Information Act (FO(D)IA) demands” that might spawn a dedicated hacker?

    Like

  11. Very strange. I sent my 9.12am post on its way and as it disappeared a looming ghostly figure appeared momentarily, seemingly admonishing me for my audacity at mocking the weird and wonderful BBC and peering deeply into my soul. It disappeared without causing me harm, and I later realised that it was the figure of Zuckerberg used to headline this article that had appeared by some quirk of electronics. Shook me up I can tell you – My iPad infested with Zuckerberg!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Alan,

    Speaking of spooky, I have often observed a strange synchronicity between what is being discussed here at Cliscep and what is going on over at ATTP. It is happening again now, because Ken Rice has recently posted an article called ‘Techniques of Climate Denial’ in which he features David Romps’ rebuttal of Steve Koonin’s attempts to persuade that there is nothing much to worry about regarding Greenland’s melting ice mass. The allegation is that it is characteristic of climate change deniers to concentrate upon the first or, indeed, second derivatives of data to achieve their dastardly deception when the absolute values fail to make their case – and this is what Koonin is accused of doing (cue much merriment and mocking from the ATTP faithful). However, this mirrors what we are discussing here regarding Rowlatt, in that absolute values are being concentrated upon because the first derivative fails to make his case. So, to be appropriately even-handed, the ATTP article should be titled ‘Techniques of Climate Debate’ and feature examples of the malpractice on both sides. Only, there is a major difference; Koonin didn’t attempt to deceive his audience by using deliberately ambiguous terminology, as did the BBC.

    I’d just luv it for one of the ATTP fellowship to come on here and try to defend what Rowlatt did – I’d just luv it!

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2022/04/03/techniques-of-climate-denial/

    Liked by 1 person

  13. John, there are some things that concern me – my health, upsetting the wife (prevention of), my dogs (now three of them) and the like. There is not much room for pondering possible teleconnections between Cliscep and ATTP.
    There was a time when I read across the entire climate spectrum, but in recent years I gave up the idillic delights of climate boosterism and haven’t missed it much. My spleen has regained its normal size.

    (Wonder if iPad still infected)

    Like

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