In the era of fake news, it is downright cringe-worthy when an ostensibly reliable source — a House of Representatives committee, for example — tweets out misleading information. In the era of rapidly increasing climate change, it’s also dangerous.
That’s what happened on Thursday, when the official, verified House Science Committee account spread an article based on bad science through their Twitter feed. Not only does the article peddle misinformation in order to deny the reality of climate change, but it was published by Breitbart news — which is notorious for its links to white nationalism, misogyny, and antisemitism. The site also has a long history of insistent climate change denial.
— Sci,Space,&Tech Cmte (@HouseScience) December 1, 2016
The article purports to counter NASA’s exhaustive evidence that we are currently living in the hottest year in modern record-keeping. The article bases its claims on a 1ºF (0.6ºC) drop in land temperatures.
Land temperatures alone, however, are not an accurate or complete measure of earth’s temperature. (Land temperature does not, for instance, include ocean temperatures, and the Earth’s oceans have absorbed much of the planet’s warming.)
But even if the methodology were sound, short variations in temperature would do little to contradict the evidence that there is a decades-long trend towards global warming. In short, the article is deeply misleading.
Climate scientists were quick to respond to the Science Committee’s tweet.
— Peter Gleick (@PeterGleick) December 1, 2016
A classic example of false news. https://t.co/ECOkzeBW9j
The truth? pic.twitter.com/zEZGzOF7vi
— Katharine Hayhoe (@KHayhoe) December 1, 2016
It’s not just misleading to tweet about bad science. It’s dangerous. The collapse in Arctic ice formations is already putting major cities in the crosshairs of sea level rise, and leaders in the federal government need to act.
Unfortunately, Lamar Smith (R-TX), an outspoken climate change denier, is the committee’s chairman. (The official Twitter account of the committee is maintained by the majority.)
Smith has used his position on the committee to spread climate skepticism and and harass NOAA. He once issued a statement alleging that scientists at the government agency of manipulating the data at the behest of the Obama Administration to provide evidence for climate change.
Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), a minority member of the committee, also reacted to the article — tweeting that it was time to bring science back to the Science Committee. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the committee’s ranking member, also responded, saying that the spread of “false facts puts us all in danger.”
This isn't factual, it's embarrassing, and Breitbart is not a credible news source. We need to bring *science* back to the Science Committee https://t.co/oZ6GfFAlUI
— Rep. Don Beyer (@RepDonBeyer) December 1, 2016
False news & false facts put us all in danger… https://t.co/8hy6haEPaL
— US Rep E.B.Johnson (@RepEBJ) December 1, 2016
The article is not particularly surprising, coming from Breitbart. The site, now notorious as a platform for white nationalism, has a history of pushing anti-global warming propaganda and of gleeful attacks on climate scientists and their work.
Breitbart was formerly headed by President-elect Trump’s current Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, himself a spirited climate science denier. Bannon, while head of the site, said on his daily radio show that the Pope’s concerns about climate change amounted to “hysteria.”
Posts on the site have called climate scientists, including those employed at the government agencies NASA, GISS, and NOAA “talentless low-lives who cannot be trusted,” and “abject liars.” The same editor of the site who wrote Tuesday’s article wrote in 2014 about his joy in calling climate advocates “eco Nazis,” “eco fascists,” and “scum-sucking slime balls.”
Breitbart is not a reputable news source. As a site that pushes climate denier propaganda and ridicules scientists, it is particularly not a reputable news source on climate science. In spreading the article, the House Science Committee is validating and spreading dangerous misinformation.
This post has been updated to include the reaction from Representative Johnson.