Definition of “Fake News”: When reporters state their own opinions instead of bearing witness to observed events.
We are now fully entrenched in an age of “yellow” journalism, especially regarding the issue of global warming/climate change. Below I will deconstruct a recent egregious example, but first we need a background from renowned philosopher Mortimer Adler.
On the Difference Between Knowledge and Opinion
Knowledge refers to knowing the truth, that is understanding reality independent of the person and his/her ideas. By definition, there is no such thing as “false knowledge.”
When I show you two marbles then add two more marbles and ask you how many marbles there are, the answer is not a matter of opinion. You have no freedom to assert any opinion other than the answer “four”. By the axioms of mathematics we know the true answer to this question.
A great many other issues in human society, politics and culture are matters of opinion, and each is free to hold an opinion different from others. In such cases, the right opinion is usually determined by counting noses with the majority view ruling.
Note that school children are taught right opinions. That is, they are told what their elders and betters have concluded are the right answers to many questions about life and the world. Those children do not yet possess knowledge, because as Socrates well demonstrated, you have knowledge when you have both the right opinion and also know why it is right. Only when you have consulted the evidence and done your own analysis does your opinion serve as knowledge for you, rather than submission to an authority.
On Climate Knowledge, Dr. John Christy (here)
Climate science is a murky science. When dealing with temperature variations and trends, we do not have an instrument that tells us how much change is due to humans and how much to Mother Nature. Measuring the temperature change over long time periods is difficult enough, but we do not have a thermometer that says why these changes occur.
We cannot appeal to direct evidence for the cause of change, so we argue.
The real climate system is so massively complex we do not have the ability to test global-size theories in a laboratory. Without this ability, we tend to travel all sorts of other avenues to confirm what are essentially our unprovable views about climate. These avenues tend to comfort our souls because we crave certainty over ambiguity.
Without direct evidence and with poor model predictability, what other avenues are available to us? This is where things get messy because we are humans, and humans tend to select those avenues that confirm their biases. (It seems to me that the less direct evidence there is for a position, the more passion is applied and the more certainty is claimed.)
One avenue many folks tend to latch onto is the self-selected “authority.” Once selected, this “authority” does the thinking for them, not realizing that this “authority” doesn’t have any more direct evidence than they do.
Other avenues follow a different path: Without direct evidence, folks start with their core beliefs (be they political, social or religious) and extrapolate an answer to climate change from there. That’s scary.
Exhibit A of Yellow Climate Journalism
Unfortunately we see that climate journalists often distort their articles by confusing factual reporting of events with their own opinions.
“In the conduct of trials before judges in our courts there is a famous rule called the opinion rule. The opinion rule says that a witness giving testimony must report what he saw or what he heard. He must not report what he thinks happened, because that would be giving an opinion, not knowledge by observation.”
~ Mortimer J. Adler
One of many typical articles on climate is this one from Wired: Tillerson’s Hearing Seals It: the US Won’t Lead on Climate Change
See how the author forces his own opinions to subvert what he observed.
After more than six hours of testimony, Tillerson backtracked even further, telling senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that though the evidence of a changing climate was clear, the cause wasn’t. “The science behind the clear connection (to human activity) is not conclusive,” Tillerson said, an assertion as false as the scientific consensus is clear. (my bold)
Tillerson said that he and the president elect would do a “fulsome review” of US climate change policies. “I also know that the president, as part of his priority in campaigning, was ‘America First,’ so there is important considerations as we commit to such accords, and as those accords are executed over time: are there any elements of that that put America at a disadvantage?” he said. The negative effects of climate change, of course, don’t discriminate on the basis of national borders. (my bold)
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who believes government money currently spent fighting climate change could be “better spent” elsewhere, pushed Tillerson to commit to abandoning US funding for anti-climate change initiatives. Specifically, Barrasso opposes support for the Green Climate Fund, an international program set up to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change. The US under Obama has pledged $3 billion.
“In consultation with the president, my expectation is that we are going to look at these things from the bottom up in terms of funds we’ve committed toward this effort,” Tillerson said.
Even in his non-answer, it’s clear Tillerson was open to dropping such funding. Instead, he opined on the power of electricity to lift people out of poverty. A noble aspiration, perhaps, but one that would provide little consolation to communities ravaged by climate change now and in the future. (my bold)
Summary, Five criteria for distinguishing between knowledge and opinion:
1. Whether or not everyone must agree.
2. Doubt and belief are relative only to opinion, never to knowledge;
3. We can have freedom of thought only about matters of opinion, never knowledge.
4. Consensus differentiates between knowledge and opinion; only with respect to opinion do we talk about consensus.
5. Matters of opinion are subject to conflict, knowledge is not.
By all criteria, global warming/climate change is a matter of opinion, not knowledge.
Any teacher will tell you it is much easier to teach a student who is ignorant than one who is in error, because the student who is in error on a given point thinks that he knows whereas in fact he does not know. . .It is almost necessary to take the student who is in error and first correct the error before you can teach him. . .The path from ignorance to knowledge is shorter than the path from error to knowledge.