Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
There’s no guarantee scientific research is credible or accurate just because it has been peer-reviewed. Why is Facebook promoting this lie?
Much of what we read, online and elsewhere, is incorrect. That’s life. But Facebook, a platform that helps people socialize, thinks it’s in the business of setting the record straight. It calls this process fact checking, but its fact checkers don’t know what they’re talking about.
A story from NaturalNews.com recently appeared in my Facebook feed. I don’t consider that website a reliable source of information, but that’s beside the point. The story was titled Climate change hoax COLLAPSES as new science finds human activity has virtually zero impact on global temperatures. It begins by talking about a paper written by two Finish academics who say there’s “no experimental evidence” for the idea that humanity significantly affects the climate.
Facebook inserted two “related articles” directly after that Natural News story in my feed, describing it as “incorrect” and “false” (see the screengrab at the top of this post). The first was from ClimateFeedback.org, which talks loftily about accurate information being “the foundation of a functioning democracy.”
According to ClimateFeedback,
Some news outlets are publishing articles stating that this claim is based on a new study. In reality, there is no new published study. The claim comes from a six-page document uploaded to arXiv, a website traditionally used by scientists to make manuscripts available before publication. [my italics]
Ideas exist independently of whether or not they’ve been published somewhere. They exist even if people dismiss them as a six-page document. Peter Ratcliffe, one of three individuals who shared this year’s Nobel Prize in Medicine, had his research rejected because a reviewer didn’t think his findings were sufficiently significant.
Was his Nobel-quality research wrong just because Nature chose not to publish it? Of course not.
ClimateFeedback neglects to mention that the availability of the Finnish research on ArXiv.org is a good sign. That platform is used by mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, and others who are seeking feedback from the wider community. People post their work there specifically so that others can help them strengthen and sharpen it prior to submission to a scientific journal.
ClimateFeedback carries on:
This means that this article has not been peer-reviewed, so there is no guarantee to its credibility. [my bold]
I’m sure they intended to say there’s no guarantee of its accuracy. But either formulation is nonsense. I recently wrote about research that navigated the peer review process and got published in Nature. A mere 19 days later, the authors conceded it contained multiple errors. It has since been fully and formally retracted.
RetractionWatch.org provides ongoing coverage of faulty and fraudulent research that nevertheless made it through the peer review process. In other words: PEER REVIEW IS NOT A GUARANTEE. Not of credibility. And not of accuracy. Fact checkers who say otherwise are profoundly misleading the public.
Facebook labels the Natural News article false – and then promulgates a gigantic falsehood of its own.
But since we’re on the topic of unpublished research, this is a good time to recall that, when James Hansen delivered his famous global warming testimony back in 1988, he cited unpublished research. The larger scientific community had been given no opportunity to scrutinize his work, to decide if it was brilliant or bollocks. It had been accepted by a journal, but it hadn’t yet appeared.
Similarly, the anti-aerosol movement was kick-started by a 1974 New York Times front page story. It quoted a Harvard scientist who claimed aerosol products were destroying the Earth’s ozone layer. Lots of people apparently didn’t notice the sentence that said no one had yet taken “a hard look at the Harvard calculations,” since the research was still in the process of being submitted to a scientific journal.
Then there’s the world’s most influential climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It has long relied on unpublished research when writing its reports (see here, here, here, here, and here).
There is a history, in other words, of taking research findings seriously before they’ve been published in scientific journals. But this only seems to apply when people are preaching doom, gloom, and alarm.
According to Facebook and ClimateFeedback.org, those Finns are just too audacious. No one should pay them the slightest attention. Heavens, their work is still unpublished!
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