If you're interested in how misinformation makes its way into the public dialogue on important issues like war in the Middle East or climate change, then you should get to know David Rose, a “special investigations writer” for the UK's ultra-conservative Mail on Sunday tabloid.
Rose is making headlines this week for all the wrong reasons. But his path to this latest controvery started many years ago.
A 2010 article by Guardian columnist George Monbiot sums up the history of Rose's many errors, where the “special investigations writer” first gets it wrong on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and goes on to get it wrong on the consensus of the science on climate change. As Monbiot tells us, in Rose's previous stint at the Observer, Rose wrote:
“… uncritically the claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the second invasion of Iraq.”
We all know the outcome of that fiasco. Over $1 trillion spent, thousands of lives lost, all based on an attempt to create a reality that just simply wasn't so. Rose wasn't the only journalist to get it wrong on the false claims of WMD, but you would think that after such a thing, with such devastating consequences, he might gain better skills in critical thinking.
In the same 2010 article, Monbiot shows how Rose went from getting it wrong on WMD, to getting it wrong on the state of climate science. As Monbiot's title says it most simply:
“David Rose's climate science writing shows he has not learned from previous mistakes.”
Monbiot points to an article Rose wrote at the time asking and answering his own question with the headline: “What happened to the 'warmest year on record': The truth is global warming has halted.” There were so many errors about the science of climate change that Monbiot's rebuttal goes on for many, many pages.
Fast forward to this past weekend and we have Rose at it again, making another run with the debunked claim that the planet has stopped warming, despite all of the solid evidence to the contrary.
It appears that Rose is either purposefully spreading incorrect information, or is grasping at straws and forcing evidence as a means of dealing with the psychological trauma that many feel when facing the prospect of a future with more droughts, floods and extreme weather. I will leave it to you to decide which is the truth.
In this most recent article, Rose shouts the headline:
If only that were the case. Imagine the collective sigh of relief among scientists and global leaders if global warming was only a quarter of what was originally predicted. It would be a second chance to get things right. It would give us the time we need to deal with the issue of climate change and avoid its most dire consequences.
Except that wasn't the original story that Rose published in the Mail on Sunday. As Media Matters details, the Mail has edited the story significantly to correct astonishing errors in Rose's original, which were regurgitated by Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday.
The original title of Rose's original article was “Global warming is just HALF what we said: World's top climate scientists admit computers got the effects of greenhouse gases wrong.”
Unfortunately, just like in 2010 and just like on WMD, Rose has once again grossly overstated his case and garbled the evidence to draw his conclusion that global warming is less dangerous than climate scientists have proven. A full scientific explanation of just how flawed Rose is on this can be found here on Skeptical Science and on the Carbon Brief and here on the great science blog Bad Astronomy.
Maybe Rose should get out of the journalism game, or at least think about moving over to the celebrity tabloid section of the Mail on Sunday where misinformation doesn't have deadly implications for generations to come.