If you want to combat fake news, start by taking a close look at your sources. Choose fake sources and you will get fake news.
The ABC is currently going through a revision of all its activities and has taken on the mantra of ‘Question Everything’. I actually approve of that. As a card-carrying skeptic, I think we should all question every proposition put to us. So might I suggest that a good place to start for Auntie’s quest of self-examination is the sources of information that she uses in order to make programs and present news.
When I was a reporter on Catalyst I had a rule of thumb; if a source of information consistently showed itself to be factually wrong, then ignore all of its future communications. A good example was the creationists. How many times did I need to read inaccuracies from them before I could simply dismiss everything they said?
That led to a simple three strikes rule: three inaccurate pieces covering areas of science I was familiar with and that source was out of contention on all subjects. When an organisation shows itself to consistently be in error on points of science, why not dismiss everything else that they have to say?
Which brings me to the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA). They have consistently and deliberately run a campaign of misinformation against the science behind climate change. They misrepresent the facts, cherry-pick their way through the data and generally make a complete dog’s breakfast of handling the evidence.
At the centre of their anti-climate change propaganda is a book Climate Change: the Facts 2017. An invitation to purchase a copy of this work of fiction is the first thing that greets you when you go to the IPA homepage. They claim that this tome “… brings together contributions on the latest climate science from some of the world’s leading experts in the field”. As pointed out here, the authors are anything but experts in the field of climate science. Nowhere in this book is there a reasonable attempt to present the science behind climate change, that can be found over at the Australian Academy Of Science website.
Climate Change: the Facts 2017 can only be a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the science and the evidence behind that science. That’s a nice way of saying that it is an intentional set of lies that should be dismissed out of hand.
The IPA claim that to question climate change is a matter of free speech and bemoan that freedom is under threat because of climate science. What tosh. There must be no place in free speech for lies and deceptions.
The IPA’s anti-science agenda extends to employing anti-climate change propagandists whose sole job is to muddy the waters, confuse and spread misinformation. Exhibit one: this recent mischief from Jennifer Marohasy, Senior Fellow at the IPA “with responsibilities for Climate Change”.
Clearly the IPA have no interest in accurately portraying the science behind the issue.
With a solid track record of non-evidence based thinking around climate change, why should we accept anything else that the IPA comments on? If they are incapable of dealing with the facts in a matter of science, why should we think that they may be able to do a better job of handling the facts when it comes to their opinions on any other subject?
It could well be that the IPA has a valid evidence-based story to tell on other subjects outside of my areas of expertise but, to be brutally honest, I wouldn't know. I am not in a position to judge the merits and veracity of economic, political or social discussions, but I am in a position to comment on the scientific accuracy around issues such as climate change.
And I can see clearly that in the domain of science, the IPA is plain wrong, wrong, wrong.
So why not simply cut the Gordian Knot and reject everything that they say? We do not know what is wheat and what is chaff among the IPA’s pronouncements. Until they renounce their ideological, evidence-dismissising, crusade against science, we should approach all commentary from the IPA as one large bag of chaff.
Often the IPA present their arguments against climate change as simply countering their perceived left-wing bias of climate science. I couldn't care a tinker’s cuss if climate science is perceived as having four wings and a long furry tail, that is not how science works. Researchers do not start from a political proposition and then go and try to fit the evidence to suit those arguments. Scientists follow the evidence and end up wherever it takes them. Researchers deal with the reality of the world, not the political predilections of vested interests. How the final conclusions are perceived from a political perspective is of no consequence to the science.
The likes of the IPA actually turn the paradigms of science on their head. They start from a political proposition and then proceed to fit the facts to support their particular position.
Once again wrong, wrong, wrong.
So why give a platform to an organisation that promotes scientific inaccuracies?
The ABC has for some time been relying on the IPA as a source of commentary on a wide variety of subjects. This is probably done in the interests of the ABC presenting ‘balance in the media’. The ABC has long been accused of bias, particularly towards the left wing of politics. Referring to the IPA for opinions is seen as a measure to redress this perceived imbalance, the IPA are renowned as a right wing think tank. Having IPA representatives talking on the ABC is supposed to create the impression of political balance.
The problem here is that balance in the media needs to be more generally based than simply across the political spectrum. And there should be no room for balance in the media around issues of science and evidence-based thinking. We should not give equal time to creationists, flat-earthers or the anti-vaxxers because their positions have been shown to be factually wrong. We should do the same for the climate change deniers.
If the ABC are true to their charter and editorial policy of only presenting verifiable factual information, then the ABC must dump the IPA as a source of information until the IPA renounces its public endorsement of an anti-scientific rejection of climate change. It's not simply the presentation of non-factual information, it's also the active denigration of evidence-based reasoning. Presentations of ‘alternative facts’ are actually an attack on reality.
So how about it Auntie? Why not take a bold stand against fake news and reject the alternative facts peddled by the IPA? And, while you’re at it, why not reject them altogether as a valued source of evidence-based opinion? Clearly they are incapable of providing it.