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Facts out of context too often Truthiness (and really #AlternativeFacts): a quick @CurryJA example

March 6th, 2017 · 1 Comment

One of the most famous analytical quips:

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Stephen Colbert’s addition of Truthiness to the English lexicon provides an umbrella concept for that old adage. And @TeamTrump’s and the @GOP base’s allegiance to #AlternativeFacts before reality is taking this to a whole new level.

One aspect of such truthiness is to blast out a seemingly blow-the-mind number (statistic) without providing a context for that number — a context that would radically change the reader’s perspective.  An ever-reoccurring example about the US budget: OMFG … the United States sends (roughly) $40B (yes, Billion with a B!) in foreign assistance (military and non-military each year. Again, OMFG and all that … That is a lot of EFFing money, isn’t it?  Well, that $40B is less than 10% of the Pentagon budget, roughly 1% of the Federal Budget (not going to eliminate the deficit with that, will we?), and is less than 0.3% of the US gross domestic product. Foreign aid (non-military) is about $30B or under 0.2% of the US GDP. In context, not such a heart-attack creating number.  And, the United States is far behind most in the developing world as to share of GDP given in foreign aid. Providing the figure and discussing aid out of context is a core reason why so many Americans (incorrectly) believe that the foreign aid budget is in the range of 28% (rather than 1%) of the total Federal budget.  And, it is disinformatzia like that which the radical Republican extremist @TeamTrump is creating and leveraging on its path to devastate the government.

This little post was sparked by a clean-energy attack example this morning.  As part of their efforts to discredit renewable energy and undercut paths to a sustainable energy future, fossil fuel shills often exaggerate negative externalities related to clean energy — which, in reality, are a tiny fraction of fossil-fuel (coal, oil, natural gas) negative externalities which those shills routinely ignore and/or gloss over.  Wind turbines require steel and concrete for their manufacture and thus have a pollution footprint . Similarly, manufacturing solar systems has pollution.  For both wind and solar these externalitees are miniscule in comparison to burning coal (or gas or oil) for electricity. That comparison, however, isn’t one the fossil foolish want people to think about.

Taking us to today’s item sparking the post: right-wing embraced / promoted / thralled Judith Curry sharing of radical Republican extremist outlet Daily Caller‘s distorting ‘lies, damned lies, and STATISTICS’ item about solar panel production.

OMFG — “17,200 Times More Potent” certainly catches one’s attention.

Curry’s note came to my attention via this ‘corrective’ context tweet:

EPA data has NF3 emissions from semiconductor manufacturing at 0.6 MMT CO2-equivalent in 2015. Total US GHG emissions = 6,586.2 MMT CO2e.

Richard Meyer

To reinforce that point, the core conclusion from those in the government who analyze climate forcing:

greenhouse gases are often used in products or by end-consumers. These gases include industrial sources of man-made compounds such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), and N2O. The present contribution of HFCs, PFCs, SF6, and NF3 gases to the radiative forcing effect of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases is small

Remember, as well, that 0.6% is for the entire semiconducter industry of which the solar panel production is only a portion.

Okay, NF3 pollution matters for climate change but, for the moment, this is a blip on the spectrum compared to Carbon Dioxide, Methane, etc … And, btw, that is a tiny, tiny blip.  Going back to the 6,586 MMT of CO2 equivalent, the entire NF3 (which is not just for solar) — weighted for its greater climate impact (that 1,700 more powerful) — puts it about 5 MMT equivalent or less than 1/1000th of total US emissions.

Hmmm … does some context change one’s perspective as to 1,700 more powerful?

Judith Curry chose to share around this #truthiness in what is far from the first occasion of practicing ‘lies, damned lies, and statistics’ to undermine public understanding of climate science and support for climate action.  Is it any surprise that she’s such a ‘darling’ of the Congressional GOP climate zombie coalition?

Note:  Judith Curry deleted her share of the Daily Caller article shortly after the following posted:



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Tags: Energy · science · truthiness

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 John Egan // Mar 6, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Who is the climate movement speaking to – other than itself ? Your m.o. over the last decade and that of others on the left – both with climate and other issues – is one reasons that progressive/liberal forces are in headlong retreat in the U.S. and Europe.

    What kind of political leverage do climate activists have right now? Huh ?? In the EPA? In Congress? Before the Supreme Court for the next generation?

    When you use terms like “shill” and “zombie” against people like Dr. Curry, it may sound cute – at least to other activists – but it drives people away at a time when the forces of the left need MORE, not fewer supporters.

    Your political tone-deafness is why the alt-right is surging – why Wilders and Le Pen and Petry are doing so well in Europe. And I do hold you responsible.

    Your absurdity, throughout, is disgusting — truly disgusting — in terms of ignoring the totality of my work. And, placing blame on the environmental/climate movement for the totality of failures of the ‘Democratic’ parties in the United States and elsewhere.

    So, we should embrace things like Curry‘s descent into anti-science (yes) lunacies?

    We should embrace your whole-hearted support of serial deceivers like Lomborg?

    We should embrace, it seems according to you, dirty and deathly energy/fuel ad infinitum, obscuring the damages done, b/c at some time in the future we might magically have a ‘solution’.

    The absurdity of blaming me — let along blaming the environmental world — for the failures of the progressive world is disgusting.