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Climate misinformation having little or no effect on liberals?

Climate misinformation having little or no effect on liberals?

It has been a while since last post. I am learning new skills and this has a negative effect on the post frequency. I am still in the learning process, but I couldn’t resist when I saw this list of quotes in a tweet of John Cook (my emphasis):

Twieet John Cook 20200724

These quotes are a collection extracted from an Independent article on “The spread of climate denial on Facebook”, which contained some quotes from John Cook. These are all interesting quotes, but I will limit myself in this post to the first quote (yellow marking):

Through his research, Dr Cook has found that climate misinformation that is spread on social media disproportionately affects conservatives and has little impact on liberals.

I can understand that conservatives and liberals have different worldviews, therefor react differently to the same information, but there is much more nuance to it than that.

Okay, it is not a direct quote, it is a paraphrase by the journalist of the Independent, but Cook put it on his twitter timeline without correction and he said similar things in the past. For example in the Handbook of Research on Deception, Fake News, and Misinformation Online. to which John Cook contributed pages 281-306 (my emphasis):

Misinformation about climate change also has a polarizing effect, disproportionately influencing political conservatives while having little to no effect on political liberals (Cook, Lewandowsky, & Ecker, 2017; van der Linden, Leiserowitz, Feinberg, & Maibach, 2015).

The Cook, Lewandowsky & Ecker, 2017 paper that was referred to investigated two types of misinformation (false balance and fake experts) and how to counter (inoculate) it. In experiment 1 (false balance), the authors compared their results with that of another paper (my emphasis):

McCright et al. also found that climate misinformation was most effective on conservatives, while having no effect on liberals.

Let’s now look at the claim itself. Cook describes two political groups: conservatives and liberals. According to him, the conservatives are particularly vulnerable to “climate misinformation”, while liberals are apparently (almost) free of ideological bias on this issue.

Both the paper and the book chapter have one thing in common: they only look at one side. Liberals don’t have a problem with accepting the consensus because climate change is -by its very nature and by its proposed solution- perfectly aligned with the liberal values. It is much more difficult for conservatives who have not much affinity with the nature of climate change and the solution that is proposed by the liberals sits uncomfortably with their conservatives values. This may lead to the (wrong) conclusion that only conservatives struggle with “climate misinformation”. That is a very liberal view on the issue.

Misinformation about climate change is not the exclusive domain of only one political viewpoint. Let’s look at the definition of “misinformation”. This is how the 2017 paper defines it:

Misinformation, that is, information that people accept as true despite it being false

Climate change misinformation is therefor information on climate change that people accept as true despite it being false. In that case, liberals are affected by “climate misinformation” too. The first example that comes to mind is the claim that we “only have 12 years left…”. This claim is not based on the evidence or on the science, yet it has spread around like a wildfire and is still alive and well today. There are many others, like “x months to save the world”, based on a misreading of the science. Or polar bears that are getting extinct, although their numbers are rising. Or the claims attributing specific weather events to climate change, although scientists trying to explain that this is not possible to do. Or polar ice gone in x years, although it was expected not likely to happen. This is only a small selection of climate change misinformation that is poured out on the (social) media.

This form of misinformation surely has its effects and will mostly affect liberals. For example, this barrage of misinformation may lead to eco-anxiety and now liberals are, ahem, disproportionately affected by this type of climate misinformation.

Climate misinformation having little or no effect on liberals? You must be kidding…

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July 31, 2020 at 04:33PM

The Dangers of Narrative Journalism

OPINION by Kip Hansen — 31 July 2020

“Narrative journalism is a genre of feature writing that combines rigorous reporting with fiction-writing techniques and eschews dramatic, news-making events to focus on everyday life and ordinary people. “  [ source ]

“The narrative journalism style requires that the author put him – or herself into the article; thus, the piece may be written from a first-person perspective. ….  Of course, it’s tricky to write a true narrative if you’re accustomed to sticking to “just the facts” and not adding any extraneous adjectives or adverbs to the mix, let alone personal opinions. ”

Some Narrative Journalism Concerns:   One of the biggest worries editors and publishers have about narrative journalism is that because it’s a blend of facts and feelings, problems can occur. Recently, many authors have been nabbed for stating mistruths in their pieces. Though some of the journalists accused of making up details were in fact guilty, others claimed to have simply misinterpreted situations. Because narrative journalism makes fact-checking challenging, it is still considered taboo in most news rooms.” [ Narrative Journalism ]

A narrative does not depart from the cardinal rule: Make nothing up or you’ll be out of here and working at the Sunglass Hut so fast it’ll make your head spin around. A narrative is a journalistic form that has fallen into considerable disfavor in the wake of our craft’s ceaseless, self-flagellating credibility crisis” — Patrick Beach, Austin American-Statesman  source ] [ my bold –kh ]

[READERS TAKE NOTE:  This is a LONG essay – 3,000 words.  Those with no particular interest in the ongoing “death of journalism” can safely skip this piece.]

So, narrative journalism is basically reporting the news by telling a first-person (usually) narrative about the topic.  A narrative is simply “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.”  In narrative journalism, the journalist writes:  what’s happening, how I went there, who I talked to, what I saw, how I felt, how the victims and participants in the news felt, what they told me and, for most stories, what I (the journalist) think it all means.

The Patrick Beach quote above is important  – – he insists, no excuses,  that narrative journalists follow the first few points from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:

“Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

– Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

– Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

– Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.”

There are many famous cases of Narrative Journalists going astray.  One of the most famous is that of Rigoberta Menchú’s autobiography, which  was part of the  basis for her receiving  Nobel Peace prize in 1992.  Unfortunately, her narrative of her life and the civil war in Guatemala contained many points that were nonfactual:

“A younger brother whom Ms. Menchú says she saw die of starvation never existed, while a second, whose suffering she says she and her parents were forced to watch as he was being burned alive by army troops, was killed in entirely different circumstances when the family was not present. Contrary to Ms. Menchu’s assertion in the first page of her book that I never went to school and could not speak Spanish or read or write until shortly before she dictated the text of I, Rigoberta Menchu, she in fact received the equivalent of a middle-school education as a scholarship student at two prestigious private boarding schools operated by Roman Catholic nuns.” [ source ]

Menchú later responded:

“I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people.”  — Menchú

An even more egregious example was that of Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

“Like most journalists worth reading, she [Erdley] approached the story with a passionate purpose, a sense of injustice, of a wrong that needed to be righted. In Erdely’s case, she wanted to expose the “culture of rape” on college campuses, and she went looking for a case so vivid and gripping that no reader could dismiss it.”

After the story had been splashed all over the front pages of America’s newspapers, a careful review discovered that the story:

 “….is not at all supported by independent facts. Erdely [Sabrina Rubin Erdely] never located the supposed ringleader of the gang rape—“Drew” in the story, a lifeguard and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity brother—and his existence cannot be established. Erdely never approached the three friends whom Jackie quoted as sounding coldly unsympathetic after she told them about the rape, and all three deny saying the things attributed to them. Records show that Phi Kappa Psi held no social event of the kind Jackie described on the night she said she was raped there.”

“The magazine retracted the article following a Columbia University School of Journalism review which concluded that Erdely and Rolling Stone failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice“.[ source ]

And then there is the case of Jason Blair, formerly of The New York Times.  In May 2003, an internal NY Times investigation revealed:

“A staff reporter for The New York Times committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud while covering significant news events in recent months, an investigation by Times journalists has found. The widespread fabrication and plagiarism represent a profound betrayal of trust and a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.

The reporter, Jayson Blair, 27, misled readers and Times colleagues with dispatches that purported to be from Maryland, Texas and other states, when often he was far away, in New York. He fabricated comments. He concocted scenes. He lifted material from other newspapers and wire services. He selected details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone, when he had not.

And he used these techniques to write falsely about emotionally charged moments in recent history, from the deadly sniper attacks in suburban Washington to the anguish of families grieving for loved ones killed in Iraq.”

Jason Blair was writing narrative journalism – and “making things up”.

In the media today, and here I mean newspaper, magazine and television news, we find lots of this type of “reporting”  – narrative journalism.

The New York Times Magazine featured this piece on 23 July 2020:

The Great Climate Migration by Abrahm Lustgarten | Photographs by Meridith Kohut.

Abrahm Lustgarten is a longstanding, well respected journalist.  He is not, as we say in the Real World, “an unbiased observer” or a  fair-handed journalist.  Lustgarten has been an anti-fossil fuel, anti-Exxon, anti-fracking warrior at ProPublica for well more than a decade.   His NY Times Magazine climate migration piece is truly a masterpiece of propagandistic narrative journalism.  The Editorial Narrative [ and see here ]  of the NY Times on climate migration apparently requires frightening images of hordes of poor starving Latinos storming US borders.  The Times story misrepresents the World Banks 2018 report on climate migration repeatedly in the current article but in the end, the World Bank found the almost all “climate migrants” just moved within their own countries, moving from the countryside to the cities, finding specifically:  “The report finds that internal climate migration will likely rise through 2050 and then accelerate unless there are significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and robust development action.”

That just didn’t fit the bill for ProPublicaThe New York Times and Lustgarten – it doesn’t fulfill the required narrative.  What to do?  They paid someone to give them a different result!

“ProPublica, with The New York Times Magazine and funded by the Pulitzer Center, hired geographer Bryan Jones at Baruch College to build an extended version of a climate migration model that Jones had done with the World Bank for its 2018 report, “Groundswell.” The model aims to understand how climate change might lead to population shifts in Central America and Mexico, including how people may move across borders between these countries and to the United States.” [ source = the Jone study’s  methodology document ]  [Note:  I have been unable to find a full copy of the actual report – I only find the methodology supplement ]

Here’s the propaganda pitch [from the methodology]:

“We focused on changes in Central America and used climate and economic-development data to examine a range of scenarios. Our model projects that migration will rise every year regardless of climate, but that the amount of migration increases substantially as the climate changes. In the most extreme climate scenarios, more than 30 million migrants would head toward the U.S. border over the course of the next 30 years. “

One has to admire the audacity of using this weasel language:  “…would head toward the U.S. border .. “ – meaning move in a northerly direction.  The report’s finding is not that these migrants would attempt to move into the United States, or even cross the US border, but that they may move north towards the border.

Lustgarten , having made such an alarming, headline- producing statement, then gives us the real finding, the small print,  of the purpose-bought study:

“Migrants move for many reasons, of course. The model helps us see which migrants are driven primarily by climate, finding that they would make up as much as 5 percent of the total.

Even that five percent, that 1 out of 20, is mostly imaginary. They are claiming that the coffee blight (coffee rust) was “worsened by climate change“ [which is not true],  so the 5% includes every coffee planter/worker  laid off since the Coffee Rust hit:

“Central America, where smallholders with less than 7.5 acres of land produce 80 percent of the region’s coffee, has been particularly hard hit by rust. Some 70 percent of the farms have been affected, and over 1.7 million coffee workers have lost their jobs. Many are leaving the coffee lands to find work elsewhere. “

“The problem is not just the rust; it’s the rust and catastrophically low coffee prices,” says Stuart McCook, author of the upcoming Coffee is Not Forever: A Global History of the Coffee Rust. “It’s difficult for farmers to weather both.” [  source ]

This entire Climate Migration piece is filled with examples of this kind of misleading information.

But it gets worse.   Like the stories of Rigoberta Menchú, Jason Blair and  Sabrina Erdely, Lustgarten’s climate migration story contains reportedly factual statements that are obviously either “mistaken” or simply made up.

Lustgarten begins his narrative with this heart-breaking story about “Jorge A.”:

“Early in 2019, a year before the world shut its borders completely, Jorge A. knew he had to get out of Guatemala. The land was turning against him. For five years, it almost never rained. Then it did rain, and Jorge rushed his last seeds into the ground. The corn sprouted into healthy green stalks, and there was hope — until, without warning, the river flooded. Jorge waded chest-deep into his fields searching in vain for cobs he could still eat. Soon he made a last desperate bet, signing away the tin-roof hut where he lived with his wife and three children against a $1,500 advance in okra seed. But after the flood, the rain stopped again, and everything died. Jorge knew then that if he didn’t get out of Guatemala, his family might die, too.”

There is a photo of the “tin-roofed hut” that was reportedly “signed away” for $1,500 (that’s one thousand five hundred dollars).

Link to the photo on the NY Times site.

This is, at best,  a hovel with a mud floor from which the rocks have not even been removed to make it smooth.  It is incredibly sad that this family of five had to live in such a place.  But there is no way that anyone would give this desperately poor sustenance farmer, who, according to Lustgarten’s story, had not returned a successful crop for five years, the incredible sum of $1,500 – either as cash or in valuable seed in exchange for this house.

How much okra seed can one buy for  $1,500?  Even at the high prices paid here in the United States for fancy okra seed, $1,500 will buy over 800 pounds of okra seed. That is enough to plant more than 110 acres, depending on plant spacing.  Needless to say, it would be improbable that Jorge A. actually had over 110 acres of fields suitable for okra available to him or that he, his wife (with babe in arms) and one 7-year-old son, would be able to plant or care for 110 acres of okra.

This part of the story – the narrative tale – is simply not credible.

Lustgarten doubles down in this story by continuing with:

In March, Jorge and his 7-year-old son each packed a pair of pants, three T-shirts, underwear and a toothbrush into a single thin black nylon sack with a drawstring. Jorge’s father had pawned his last four goats for $2,000 to help pay for their transit, another loan the family would have to repay at 100 percent interest. The coyote called at 10 p.m. — they would go that night. They had no idea then where they would wind up, or what they would do when they got there.

From decision to departure, it was three days. And then they were gone.

Lustgarten has exceeded  my ability to suspend disbelief with that.  How much do you think a goat is worth in rural Guatemala?  Lustgarten claims that Jorge’s father  “pawned” four of them for $2,000.

I have checked with my friends from nearby El Salvador.  They assure me that a nice fat goat can be purchased for $40 to $50, ready for slaughter.  If these goats could be sold for $500 in nearby Guatemala, the Salvadorans would all drive their goats up there and sell them at ten times their real value.  The Save The Children organization will gladly give a family in Guatemala a goat  in exchange for your donation of $60 (out of which comes all their administrative and delivery  expenses as well).

In short, no one would give Jorge A.’s father $2,000 as a loan against $200 worth of goats.  This part of the story – the narrative tale – is simply not credible.

Do these two incongruous little pieces of the story “matter”?  In the sense of the disaster that has befallen Jorge A. and his family:  No, they do not matter.  However, when looking at Lustgarten’s article through the eye of critical thinking, critical reading, we see in the first two pages he has included story elements that simply cannot be true —  that are “mistruths.”  And if he has intentionally included these nonfactual elements in the simple stories, how can we possibly trust the overall story that depends so much on his personal opinions and his understanding of very complex issues?  How many more “mistruths” and “misrepresentations” has he been willing to include in order to move his story forward – to convince his readers of his viewpoint?

Has Lustgarten gone the way of Menchú,  Blair and Erdely?  Has he stepped over Patrick Beach’s inviolate line – “Make nothing up” – into territory strictly forbidden to journalists?  The territory of invented stories?  Drifted into stating “mistruths” in his stories?

Have ProPublica and The New York Times, like the Rolling Stone before them,  failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice“?  Have their editors failed to even read the Lustgarten piece to see if the simple facts of his narrative, like those above, pass even the basic common-sense test?

I invite readers to read the entire Lustgarten article – vaingloriously labelled Part 1 – as an example of what goes wrong when journalists abandon the strict but necessary rules of journalism and are allowed to let their imaginations rule to fill out and punch up stories with nonfactual information — written not to inform us but to advocate for some social or ideological goal.

# # # # #

Author’s Comment:

This is an OPINION piece.  If WUWT had   a dedicated Opinion Section it would appear there.

I have stopped short of expressing my full opinion on what I think accounts for the discrepancies in Lustgarten’s narrative.   It is enough to point out that in the story he presents about one family there are elements that are not credible and, yes, you may read this to mean “obviously false”.  How and why they have been incorporated into this ProPublica/New York Times Magazine article is only know to Lustgarten and his editors.

I don’t think his misstatements are just a problem of failing to make proper currency exchange calculations.  Guatemala uses the Guatemalan Quetzal, which is denoted as “Q” or “GTQ”.  The conversions are US$  1,500 = Q 11,550.    US$ 2,000 =  Q 15,400.

Lastly, let me point out that in the last few years Narrative Journalism has sadly become an almost comical double-entendre – it is Narrative Journalism written to satisfy the requirements of its Editor’s Narratives.  [ ref: Bari Weiss ]

Lustgarten’s piece is full of caveats but only the most skilled critical readers/thinkers will understand that they nullify and make moot  the majority of his claims about climate migration. The vast majority will be fooled and mislead.  Another sad day for journalism — a black-arm-band day for science journalism – science bought and paid for in support of a lie.

# # # # #

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July 31, 2020 at 04:24PM

Canada Covid Positivity Metric August 1

Canada Covid Positivity Metric August 1

The map shows that in Canada 8929 deaths have been attributed to Covid19, meaning people who died having tested positive for SARS CV2 virus.  This number accumulated over a period of 182 days starting January 31. The daily death rate reached a peak of 177 on May 6, 2020, and is down to 7 as of yesterday.  More details on this below, but first the summary picture. (Note: 2019 is the latest demographic report)

Canada PopAnn DeathsDaily DeathsRisk per
Person
2019375892623307869060.8800%
Covid 2020375892628929490.0238%

Over the epidemic months, the average Covid daily death rate amounted to 7% of the All Causes death rate. During this time a Canadian had an average risk of 1 in 5000 of dying with SARS CV2 versus a 1 in 114 chance of dying regardless of that infection. As shown in a previous post, the risk varied greatly with age, much lower for younger, healthier people.

The Key Covid Metric

With easing of lockdowns and increased testing in many places, epidemiologists are focusing on a key metric to inform public policies: Positivity. The positivity metric is the rate (%) of people who test positive out all people sampled. The significance is that (by definition) a presumed case is a person who tests positive once. If a second test comes back positive it is a confirmed case. The metric is not perfect for two reasons.

The first problem is false positives from the testing procedure itself or from errors in the data processing and reporting. For this we have to hope that quality assurance protocols are being followed and mistakes corrected along the way.

The larger issue appeared in Florida recently when officials discovered that numerous batches of samples were reported 100% positive and other batches 100% negative. While the latter result is expected sometimes, all people testing positive seems unlikely. Behind this is the reality that in many situations (eg hospital ICU) a single patient will be tested many times with many positive results in the course of monitoring that individual’s clearing of the virus. Obviously a batch of samples from that ICU might legitimately be 100% positive.

But it is also true that 10 or 20 positive tests from one patient should not be reported as 10 or 20 new cases. In some jurisdictions, officials say they go to the effort to link test results to the individuals tested, and can distinguish between number of cases and number of positives. In other places, cases and positives may be the same number. Thus confirmed cases could be only 1/2 of the total positives, or less.

How is Canada Doing?

Because of some irregularities in national data reporting, this update is based on Ontario and Quebec statistics combined.  Together the two provinces account for 72% of national testing, 85% of cases and 95% of deaths after testing positive for Covid19.  Like many places, the Canadian contagion is not a pandemic, but rather a few hot spots within a largely untouched geography,  This post is reporting the two central provinces as representing the Canadian epidemic.  Quebec data is here: https://www.inspq.qc.ca/covid-19/donnees.  Ontario data is here: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/data.

The line shows the Positivity metric for Canada starting at nearly 10% for new cases April 22, 2020.  That is, for the 7 day period ending April 22, there were a daily average of 13225 tests and 1283 new cases reported. Since then the rate of new cases has dropped down, now holding steady at ~1% for the last month. Yesterday, the daily average number of tests was 35,747 with 274 new cases. So despite 2.7 times the testing, the positivity rate is not climbing.

Another view of the data (all Canadian provinces) is shown below.

Note that increased testing has led to a slight bump in new cases, but the positivity rate is little changed.  Meanwhile, the death rate has continued to decline from a high of 177 on May 6 down to 7 deaths presently.

Meanwhile the national messaging focuses on rising cumulative case totals, ignoring evidence the contagion is windind down.

Canada Mask2
My bad. That is the Health Minister of PEI solemnly announcing in July their first Covid case in two months.

Background at previous post Canada Succeeds on Key Covid Metric

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July 31, 2020 at 03:07PM

Chris Packham loses appeal against HS2 rail project

DAILY NEWSChris Packham loses appeal against HS2 rail project


‘Environmentalists say the impact of the project will lead to irreversible damage’ reports newsdevelops.com. But what about the ‘damage’ of not building it – shortage of goods train capacity, lack of seats forcing people on to other modes of travel, etc.? Trying to put the brakes on modern life via the courts has failed this time, but it surely won’t be the last attempt.
– – –
The broadcaster Chris Packham has lost his case against HS2 in the Court of Appeal.

Environmentalists say the high-speed rail project is leading to irreversible destruction of ancient habitats and woodlands.

Packham said the case for HS2 should be revisited despite Friday’s ruling against him.

The judgment refused permission on two grounds for a judicial review into the cabinet’s decision to give the multibillion pound project the “green signal” in February.

Packham believes the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on public finances and the need for a green recovery has undone the business and environmental case for HS2.

“Obviously we are deeply disappointed by today’s ruling. But the fact is, we are a world away from the place we were when we issued the original claim for judicial review,” he said.

Full report here.

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July 31, 2020 at 01:45PM