Politifact Sums Up Rick Santorum’s Climate Denial Misquotes and Errors

September 2, 2015

More evidence that reading this blog will keep you ahead of the curve. (he said modestly…)

On monday I posted the interview between Bill Maher and climate science denying Republican Presidential candidate (is there any other kind?) Rick Santorum.
I also posted interviews that I conducted with the scientists whose work Santorum distorted and misquoted. (see one below)
Now the fact-checking website Politifact has weighed in.

Politifact:

Maher kicked off the debate by naming climate change as one of his main concerns for the 2016 election and challenged Santorum’s skepticism. Santorum, who has repeatedly called climate change “a hoax,” shot back by arguing that there really isn’t scientific consensus.

politifact

“I’m not alone,” Santorum said on Maher’s Aug. 28 HBO show. “The most recent survey of climate scientists said about 57 percent don’t agree with the idea that 95 percent of the change in the climate is caused by CO2.”

Santorum, pressed by an incredulous Maher, repeated the claim: “There was a survey done of 1,800 scientists, and 57 percent said they don’t buy off on the idea that CO2 is the knob that’s turning the climate. There’s hundreds of reasons the climate’s changed.”

“Rick, I don’t know what ass you’re pulling that out of,” Maher retorted.

“I’m not! I’ll send you the survey,” Santorum promised.

Several readers wrote to us asking about Santorum’s numbers, so we asked his campaign to send us the survey as well. They didn’t get back to us, but we did find the figure.

Here, author of one of the misquoted studies, Bart Verheggen:

In short, Santorum’s claim commits “two orders of mischaracterization,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, who studies climate change public opinion at Yale University. He not only uses a flawed statistic, but also misstates what it’s allegedly disapproving.

Santorum’s sloppy reading

To begin with, Santorum inaccurately describes the “idea” that he says 57 percent of scientists “don’t agree with.”

What he’s referring to is a finding by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its fifth report.

The IPCC has said it is “extremely likely” (meaning a 95 percent confidence level) that humans are causing climate change. The IPCC also said it is “very likely” (meaning a 90 percent confidence level) that greenhouses gases are the driver.

Here, another misquoted scientist, John Cook of the University of Queensland:

Santorum restated IPCC points wrong. They never said 95 percent of the change in the climate is caused by CO2.

In fact, no one has ever made that statement, according to Leiserowitz.

“There are several other greenhouse gases, including methane, nitrous oxide, and water vapor, as a amplifier. CO2 is the most important of these and others, but no one to my knowledge has ever claimed that CO2 caused 95 percent of the warming,” he said.

The closest IPCC comes to what Santorum claimed is saying that there’s a 90 percent chance that greenhouse gases are driving climate. That’s a far cry from what Santorum actually said.

Even still, the 57 percent figure doesn’t hold up.

Fuzzy math

The figure likely comes from the blog Fabius Maximus (and repeated by the prominent climate change skeptic Joanne Nova), which re-analyzed the findings of a 2014 survey by the Dutch environmental research agency PBL.

According to Fabius Maximus editor Larry Kummer, the survey’s findings disprove the IPCC’s confidence level finding. He walked us through how he got the 57 percent:

1. About 65.9 percent of scientists said they agreed that greenhouse gases were the main driver of climate change.

2. Of those scientists, 65.2 percent reported “virtually certain” or it was “extremely likely” that their estimate was correct (corresponding to a 95 percent or higher confidence level).

3. That means, according to Kummer, about 43 percent (65.2 percent of 65.9 percent) were extremely confident that greenhouse gases were the main driver of climate change. In other words, 57 percent weren’t 95 percent confident.

We ran Kummer’s analysis by a few experts, including the survey authors themselves, who said his interpretation is flat-out wrong.

The survey’s lead author, Bart Verheggen, told us that Kummer — and, by extension, Santorum — made a few mistakes.

First, 22 percent of climate scientists surveyed didn’t directly answer a question as to what extent greenhouse gases were causing climate change, says Verheggen. Verheggen said it would be more accurate to consider only those who answered the question. (He goes into more detail in a blog post.)

Second, Kummer only counts scientists who were 95 percent or more confident that greenhouse gases drive climate change, when the actual IPCC statement reports a 90 percent certainty, Verheggen pointed out.

“Basically, Santorum’s claim is not consistent with the results from our survey,” Verheggen concluded.

“This is like something out of that book, How to Lie With Statistics,” said Stephen Farnsworth, who studies climate change and political communication at the University of Mary Washington. “What we’re talking about here is extraordinary cherry-picking. You’re only counting one question in one survey, and you’re talking about a very high (confidence level). Once you start stacking up numbers like this, you’re really distorting the real finding of this research.”

What the survey (and others) actually say

The real finding of the survey actually backs the idea of scientific consensus on climate change, despite varying levels of confidence, said Verheggen.

“It is clear from our survey that a strong majority of scientists agree that greenhouse gases originating from human activity are the dominant cause of recent warming,” he said.

That’s consistent with most of the literature on scientific opinion about climate change, experts agreed.

“You don’t get anywhere near 57 percent when surveying the broad earth science community, and you get very close to full consensus when you ask the experts in climate science,” said Peter Doran, a professor of earth science at Louisiana State University.

27 Responses to “Politifact Sums Up Rick Santorum’s Climate Denial Misquotes and Errors”


  1. Another misuse of statistics using words that the public would not understand. Lying with statistics.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      what’s clear is that Santorum didn’t understand what he himself was saying..

      • dumboldguy Says:

        He didn’t “understand”? Although he has said he is not a scientist, and probably really doesn’t understand the science of AGW, I would bet that he most certainly DID understand the staffer who said to him “Here’s some lying BS to memorize—go out there and pile it high and deep and confuse the issue. Talk fast and don’t let Maher get any truth in. If you do that, the Kochs and the fossil fuel interests will keep giving you campaign money”


    • There is an article in The Guardian ( http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/sep/01/the-shrinking-glaciers-of-austria ) that alleges that: “THERE IS NO MONEY FOR GLACIER RESEARCH!”

      Could this be at all true?

      If it is, that can’t be good can it?

      THIS is the real conversation that needs to be had: “Why is there no money available for Glacier Reseach?”

      ..or am I on drugs?

      • dumboldguy Says:

        I can’t speculate as to whether you’re on drugs or not, but you ARE overreacting to the “there is no money” statement (made by a guy who makes his living studying glaciers). What’s going on with glaciers in Austria and in the entire Alps means little in the greater picture of global ice melt, and that’s why there may not be all that $$$ available to study them—as the link says, “not innovative” and old news.

        A better question to ask is “Are we spending enough on the glacier research that really matters?” I speak of the glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica, since nearly all the mountain glaciers in the world are disappearing, we already know it, and their contribution to SLR is miniscule compared to what Greenland and Antarctica will bring.

        The sky is not falling (yet).


  2. The Politifact reporter, Linda Qiu, said that she contacted Bart Verheggen (a co-author of the study I examined) and “6 other climate scientists/people who study the consensus issue and they all agreed with the survey author”.

    And this is all they could come up with.

    “The survey’s lead author, Bart Verheggen, told us that Kummer — and, by extension, Santorum — made a few mistakes.

    “First, 22% of climate scientists surveyed didn’t directly answer a question as to what extent greenhouse gases were causing climate change, says Verheggen. Verheggen said it would be more accurate to consider only those who answered the question. (He goes into more detail in a blog post.)”

    First, Bart didn’t read carefully. I reported the results both ways: “Those 797 respondents are 43% of all 1,868 respondents (47% excluding the “don’t know” group)”.

    Second, this is a disagreement, not a “mistake.” When calculating the degree of affirmative agreement by experts, I believe that including those who answered “don’t know” is appropriate. This is the key statement in the most important issue of their profession — concerning one of the major threats facing the planet. A “don’t know” answer is significant.

    “Kummer only counts scientists who were 95% or more confident that greenhouse gases drive climate change, when the actual IPCC statement reports a 90% certainty, “

    This is silly. I used the 95% level because it is the minimum bar usually used (i.e., almost always) in both science and public policy. That the IPCC itself reports this finding about greenhouse gases at only the 90% level is confirmation of my finding. This is not rocket science, or even climate science: it is obvious to anyone familiar with either science or public policy-related research.

    Qui consulted 8 experts and these were the most serious rebuttals she could get about a 1400 word long article. That’s an endorsement, not a debunking.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Well, spin away, my friend. Fact is, the author of the report you claim to cite says you’re a fraud and a liar. Politifact agrees. Convince them, not me. But thanks for playing.
      More from study co-author John Cook here.

      If you really wish to know what the consensus is, and how deep, I recommend a trip to the American Geophysical Union meeting, in San Francisco this december. I’ll be there, and would be happy to chat, and perhaps visit a few sessions with you. In fact, I’m convening one, which I’ll be posting about in time.


      • Greenman,

        “says you’re a fraud and a liar. ”

        In the real word facts count, not playground name-calling.

        “If you really wish to know what the consensus is,”

        I’ll stick with the IPCC reports and peer-reviewed surveys to see the consensus (which agree, as usual). Each to his own.

        • greenman3610 Says:

          By all means read the IPCC, and this blog, for that matter, since many IPCC scientists contribute here.
          But here’s a tip, and remember, I’m here to help – leave the stats to the experts, you’re only embarrassing yourself when you get over your head.


          • Greeman,

            You appear to not know what I said (which shows agreement between the AR4 & Ar5 attribution statements and the PBL survey), and have no ability to respond to my clear and quite simple responses.

            What’s your point? Do you really believe that insults make any difference to anyone?

            As for meeting you, the sensible response to people for whom discussion is just insults is — speak softly, keep one’s hands visible, and slowly back away.

          • greenman3610 Says:

            I’d say you should slowly back away from pesky journalist fact checkers, as well. Again, I”m here to help.


          • Peter —

            Just a warning about Fabius Maximus — my experience is he’s an intentional misinformer. Meaning, that he takes easy to understand and straight-forward information and twists it until it appears to say what it doesn’t. I’ve treated any posts written by him on my site as spam.


          • Scribbler,

            “I’ve treated any posts written by him on my site as spam.”

            Factcheck: I have never posted anything to your site.

            If you misspoke and meant “posts written by him *about* my site” – that’s a category error. “Spam” refers to messages — comments, email, etc. Posts about you are not “messages” and cannot be spam (that you dislike them is irrelevant).

    • ubrew12 Says:

      FM said: “A “don’t know” answer is significant.” Typically, when a Scientist says “I don’t know” she means, “I don’t feel qualified to publicize my opinion”. A Scientist who says “I do know” doesn’t really know. Nobody knows. What he DOES have, is an opinion, strong enough to let it be counted.

      IMHO, an “I don’t know” answer is a Scientist recusing themselves from EVEN BEING COUNTED among those who feel confident enough to give an opinion. Hence, act upon their wishes and DON’T COUNT THEM. If someone says the answer is “unknown”, they are stating that they don’t know what the exact value is. For example, someone who thinks the value is 90% rather than 95% might very well answer “unknown”. It’s therefore a category that is unhelpful in a survey such as this. FOUR brackets are given: if you HAVE an opinion, however, uncertain, PICK ONE. Giving an ‘unknown’ option just encourages Scientists to do what they can always SAFELY do: claim the exact value is unknown. If you think that’s unusual, I ask you to find a SINGLE SCIENTIFIC CONSTANT in ALL of Science, that is EXACTLY known. You can’t, and your Scientists picking ‘Unknown’ know that.

    • Blair Says:

      John Cook clearly describes where the 97% figure comes from. You are just confusing the story and supporting a right wing nut job because you won’t accept the science either.


    • You sir, are a fraud and a liar.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    “In the real word facts count, not playground name-calling. ”

    Ahhh… the clarion call of a scoundrel who wants the world to waste its time arguing about facts.


    • Ginger,

      Can you respond to my comment?

      Or can you explain why you find it objectionable that the PBL survey agreed with greenhouse gas attribution statements in AR4 and AR5?

      In other words, what’s you point?

      • j4zonian Says:

        I can’t speak for Ginger, but my point would be that you’ve made 2 really obvious spelling mistakes in about 5 posts, including someone’s name, and that’s a good indication of carelessness. To me that means it’s a good bet you’re as careless with the facts in other ways as well. (Another good sign is that you actually are careless with facts.) robertscribbler’s point was: “he takes easy to understand and straight-forward information and twists it until it appears to say what it doesn’t” and you proved it perfectly by taking his clear and obvious point and twisting it into a straw person argument, then adding a little extraneous irrelevant garbage to round out the obviousness of the deception.

        Thank you for posting and clearing up the confusion; I never would have known whether robert’s point was true or not otherwise. I understand you’re caught in a dilemma; you have to post disinformation to do your job, but the more disinformation you post the more obvious you make it that your job is to post disinformation, and then you’re not doing your job, because to let people know you’re spreading disinformation is not disinformation. The only advice I have for you to resolve that dilemma is to suggest you read the science and start spreading that instead.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Yes, having looked into the non-qualifications of FabMax, digested what Peter, John Cook, and Verheggen have said, and listening to FabMax’s whining here about how he is being insulted, I will endorse the “clarion call of the scoundrel” observation made by Ginger B. It would appear that FabMax not only wants us to waste our time arguing about “facts”, but that he has his OWN set of “facts” that he wants to bring to the discussion along with his misinterpretations. Those “facts” differ noticeably from the set of facts that ALL the rest of us accept as truth. In other words, he’s a denier, pure and simple.

      Regarding this piece of playground behavior—-“As for meeting you, the sensible response to people for whom discussion is just insults is — speak softly, keep one’s hands visible, and slowly back away”, I will say that FabMax is likely to be massively “insulted” with the truth if he keeps coming to Crock. He would be wise to QUICKLY move far away, and sucking his thumbs while doing so IS one way to “keep one’s hands visible” (and appropriate to his attitude).


  4. So you’re holding a two-minute hate? Not a single fact in any of your comments. Nor any indication that any of you know what I said — let alone why it is wrong.

    As for Scribbler — I contrasted what you said with NOAA’s analysis. Given the many differences, I doubt you enjoyed the comparison. Calling it “spam” is typical of the schoolyard level of discussion here.

    Chaff, no content.

    Goodbye.


  5. […] I quickly interviewed Bart Verheggen, above, – the actual scientist whose work was distorted by the quack blogger that Santorum misquoted…. I like to think that interview might have had some influence on Politifact’s subsequent investigation.… […]


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