Facebook’s ‘Fact Checks’ Suppress Debate

An example of how major technology platforms are subtly or not so subtly influencing “the narrative”. It is pernicious. mrossol

WSJ   5/16/2021 By Steven E. Koonin

This paper published Mark Mills’s review of “Unsettled,” my book on climate science, on April 25. Eight days later, 11 self-appointed “fact checkers” weighed in with a 4,500-word critique on the website ClimateFeedback.org. Facebook is waving that fact check as a giant red flag whenever the review appears in anyone’s feed.

By branding Mr. Mills’s review with “very low scientific credibility,” the company directs its billions of users to a website that claims to discredit the review and, by direct implication, my book. This action adds to the growing suppression of open discussion of climate complexities.

ClimateFeedback bills itself as “a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage.” Its modus operandi is to label necessarily brief media statements as misleading or inaccurate, often because they lack context. While acknowledging that “global crop yields are rising,” for instance, they add the untestable claim that yields might have been greater absent human-caused climate change. The gang of enforcers who “fact checked” Mr. Mills’s review included professors from Stanford, UCLA and MIT.


The oddest element of Facebook’s action is that the “fact check” doesn’t challenge anything I wrote in “Unsettled,” but rather provides “context” for Mr. Mills’s statements.

The “fact checkers’ ” motivation is apparent in their criticism of a statement about extreme weather events. Two of three fact-checking contributors, Daniel Swain and Andreas Prein, acknowledge that “tornado frequency and severity are also not trending up; nor are the number and severity of droughts,” and go on to explain why it might not be true in the future, as I do in “Unsettled.” Highlighting the absence of global trends in most types of severe weather is a rebuttal of the widespread claim that the climate is “broken.” But another contributor, Kerry Emanuel, an MIT professor who hasn’t read my book, disapproves of the statement because “it sets up a strawman” to disparage climate predictions. It seems Mr. Emanuel would allow media to discuss only deleterious climate trends.

Thoughtful challenge and dialogue are the most powerful ways that science gets closer to truth. But Facebook’s “fact checkers” criticized what they imagined I wrote based on a 900-word review, rather than what I did write in a book of more than 75,000 words. They’re no better than trolls who pan political adversaries’ books on Amazon without bothering to read them. It’s not the behavior of serious scientists, and it demonstrates the need for a book like “Unsettled.”

Wise responses to the changing climate require that we get the unfiltered certainties and uncertainties of climate science into the public dialogue. As most fair-minded people will discover, there is far more unsettled in the official United Nations and U.S. government reports than we have been led to believe. It doesn’t help to have Facebook spreading disinformation under the guise of “fact checking.”

Mr. Koonin is author of “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.” His detailed response to the “fact check” appears here.



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