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Truthiness and factiness

By Don Aitkin - posted Thursday, 5 January 2017


the sense that the model developers [know about] the history of model development and the individuals that contributed to its development, the reputations of the various modeling groups, and the location of the model simulations in the spectrum of simulations made by competing models. In this context, comfort is a form of “truthiness” that does not translate into user confidence in the model, other than via an appeal to the authority of the modelers.

What is a ‘fact’, anyhow? Cultural relativists would say there aren’t any. What you think is a fact, they will tell you, is only so because of your own frame of reference, your worldview, your conditioning, your patriarchal perspective, and the like. As I have explained a few times, I have the old-fashioned view that there are indeed facts, and in research, and especially in science, a fact is a statement of an objective and verifiable observation. What you make of the fact is something else, and there’s too much ‘factiness’ about today, in which numbers appear to be facts, when they often are not. Factiness is everywhere — in politics, in advertising, in market research, in education, in economics. If I were into New Year wishes, one would be for less factiness and less truthiness, everywhere.

It is a fact that both Colbert and the writer in the article in The Atlantic saw truthiness and factiness as sins of the Right in America. But to me they are sins indulged by all of us, if we are not careful. And on that note I’ll finish with Dr Curry’s summary (with a little editing from me).

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What are the facts in the climate science debate?

  • Average global surface temperatures have overall increased for the past 100+ years
  • Carbon dioxide has an infrared emission spectrum
  • Humans have been adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.

That is pretty much it, in terms of verifiable, generally agreed upon scientific facts surrounding the major elements of climate change debate.

Human-caused global warming is a theory. The assertion that human-caused global warming is dangerous is an hypothesis.  The assertion that nearly all or most of the warming since 1950 has been caused by humans is disputed by many scientists, in spite of the highly confident consensus statement by the IPCC. The issue of ‘dangerous’ climate change is wrapped up in values, and science has next to nothing to say about this.

Truthiness and factiness abound in the climate science debate, and the greatest proponents of truthiness and factiness are the climate ‘alarmed’ — their opponents are mostly calling b.s. on their truthiness and factiness.  In slinging around terms like denier, anti-science etc, the defense of climate alarmism in terms of ‘science’ and ‘facts’ starts to become more anti-science than what they are accusing their opponents of.

Amen to that.

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This article was first published on Don Aitkin.



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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, published in 2015, is Turning Point, the second novel in The Hogarth Trilogy.

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