Friday, June 17, 2016
Deception in the News
Someone said: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.” Some attribute it to Lenin, others to Hitler or Joseph Goebbels, and others to William James, the American philosopher and psychologist. No matter – it seems to be true and becomes especially dangerous in light of the casual approach to the Internet information we see on social media. People see things on Facebook or elsewhere and are thinking up a clever or cutting comment to make on the subject without considering that it may not even be true.
One that has been going around for more than 9 years now and promoted by environmentalists who have an ax to grind with Rep. Joe Barton from Texas, accuse him of saying: “Wind is a finite resource and harnessing it would slow the winds down, which would cause the temperature to go up.” (It is enshrined in one of those on-line, clip-art posters. You may have seen it.) This sounded strange to me, even though others in Washington have made equally foolish statements. So I went to Snopes.com, easy research and a source I have found usually trustworthy. (I also found another seemingly reliable source with similar information.)
What he said in February 2007 was: “I am going to read a paragraph which is, if true, very ironic.” Then he said, “And I quote” and read from a paper published by the executive director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center. A group from Princeton University was at the time also doing researching along the same lines. The irony Representative Barton referred to was the emphasis on the dangers of fossil fuel while overlooking possible dangers of the alternatives. He said it was something to think about.
Now, I’m no particular fan of Rep. Barton. I never heard of him until this supposed quotation appeared. Based on the rest of his statement I wouldn’t rely on him for scientific advice, but neither would I rely on most of his colleagues or the people they often call in to their hearings. The point is that a group or groups took words he was reading from a paper and attributed them to him in an attempt to attack his credibility, and this attack has been going around for over nine years. Likely many have come to believe it and use it as a basis to discredit any governmental opposition to wind power.
This calls to mind a similar situation many years ago when George H. W. Bush was running for re-election and the New York Times portrayed him as out of touch, based on his apparent amazement over a grocery scanner demonstration.
The incident occurred when he was visiting the National Grocers Association conference. A New York Times reporter, who was not even present but based his story on one in the Houston Chronicle, described Bush as having a "look of wonder" on his face. The New York Times took the opportunity to mock the President for not recognizing something ordinary citizens knew very well.
Unfortunately, a little research shows that this was a gross misrepresentation. “[Mr. Bush] wasn't being shown then-standard scanner technology, but a new type of scanner that could weigh groceries and read mangled and torn bar codes.” At worst, some present interpreted Bush’s reaction as being slightly bored, but polite. (Imagine attending a NGA conference with the expectation that you must ooh and ah over all the new technology.)
The Times and others, however, chose to interpret this reaction as being amazed by technology that common people saw frequently with the intention of portraying him as out of touch, having lived in protected isolation since 1980 as Vice President and President. “After 12 years' vacation from the real world, there will be a lot of catching up to do.” If this is what we get from such a reputable source as the New York Times, who can we trust?
Again, I don’t feel any particular warmth toward the elder Bush, but it’s not honest to present your twisted version of reality to drive home your political (or any other) viewpoint, knowing that even with the highly sophisticated communications and information systems of today, people will not have the initiative or exercise the critical thinking to pick through the misinformation. This lack of critical thinking and passive acceptance of the pronouncements from authority are more dangerous to our future than fossil fuels, wind power or any other subject of debate.