Thursday, October 03, 2019

Facebook to Exempt Opinion and Satire From Fact-Checking

This Wall Street Journal article is reproduced below with an important correction by Coalition Executive Director Dr. Caleb S. Rossiter

Facebook  plans to exempt opinion pieces and satire from its fact-checking program, according to people familiar with the matter, as the social-media giant grapples with how to stop the spread of falsehoods while maintaining its own neutrality.

As part of the new rules, Facebook will allow publishers of information found to be false by outside fact-checkers to appeal to the company, said the people familiar with the changes. Posts that Facebook deems to be either opinion or satire won't be labeled as false even if they contain information the fact-checkers determined was inaccurate, the people said.
The new rules follow Facebook's acknowledgment last week that it will continue exempting politicians from fact-checks, on the grounds that such comments are newsworthy, as well as a recent controversy arising from a third-party fact checker's determination that an antiabortion group's video was false.

The rules, which haven't been announced, coincide with Facebook's decision last week to remove a false designation from a Washington Examiner opinion piece, overriding the conclusion of one of its fact-check partners. That op-ed argued that global-warming climate models have been inaccurate and that the risks of climate change is overblown.

The removal of the false label was celebrated by the CO2 Coalition, which employs the op-ed's authors and argued in a letter to Facebook that the company had "used a partisan fact-check group to defame them." The group, which receives funding from the oil-and-gas industry, dismisses global warming as a hoax and advocates for the "important contribution made by carbon dioxide to our lives and the economy."

[Dr. Caleb S. Rossiter, Executive Director of the CO2 Coalition, wishes to correct this inaccuracy:

"The article claims that the CO2 Coalition 'which receives funding from the oil-and-gas industry, dismisses global warming as a hoax....'

To the contrary, all of our scientific publications and congressional testimony consistently state that carbon dioxide is a warming gas that has contributed to the one degree rise in global mean temperature in the past 140 years. The UN body that reports on climate change is confident that a quarter of the degree global rise comes from carbon dioxide emissions, rather than natural causes. We agree that is a reasonable estimate. The UN body also estimates that temperature 'sensitivity' to a doubling of carbon dioxide levels ranges from 1.5 to 4.5 degrees -- a three-fold difference.  Research by Coalition atmospheric physicists argues that the lower estimate is closer to reality, but never claims that the proper estimate is zero!

"As for funding by the oil-and-gas industry, this is an ad hominem attack, and isn't even accurate. I would be happy to accept funding from anyone, but the CO2 Coalition has not received any such funding, with the exception of a $5,000 grant from Marathon Oil in 2015. That accounts for two-tenths of one percent of our income since then.

As a candidate for Congress and as head of a non-governmental arms control group I accepted over a million dollars from people who supported the positions I held. That never stopped me from changing my positions when the data and analysis required it. The CO2 Coalition's 50 climate scientists and energy economists have a long record of valuing principle over paycheck."]

A Facebook spokeswoman didn't respond to requests for comment on the new rules.

Together, the changes demonstrate the company's continuing struggle to limit the spread of so-called fake news and other misinformation without being accused of stifling free speech.

"I know Facebook doesn't want to be in the middle of this, but here they are," said Angie Drobnic Holan, the editor of PolitiFact and a member of the board of the International Fact-Checking Network, which accredits Facebook's fact-checking partners.

Ms. Holan said she expected that the changes as described would only affect the overall fact-checking program at the margins, but noted that publishers of false statements have a history of arguing that they are opinions.

"There are cases where the line between fact and opinion are not as bright as you might think," she said.

Other fact-checkers have noted similarly slippery boundaries between fact and satire.

Rappler, a Manila-based news outlet that fact checks Facebook content in the Philippines, has documented bad-faith publishers dressing up false stories as satire. If such a dodge is allowed, Rappler wrote last year, "purveyors of fake news will now be able to escape accountability by simply labeling their stories as satire, no matter the intention, how badly written they are, how many clues they use to overrationalize, or even if they disregard every rule of satire."

Facebook's fact-checking program has become a central piece of the company's response to misinformation since its unveiling in late 2016. Fact-checking groups choose what content to review, and material deemed false or partially false carries a warning and is distributed by Facebook's algorithms to fewer people.

The program is limited to just over 50 groups world-wide, many of whom receive funding from Facebook.

The recent controversy over the fact-check of antiabortion organization Live Action illustrates the stakes. In a video distributed on Facebook, Live Action said that abortion is never medically necessary.

Science Feedback, a French nonprofit that was approved as a Facebook fact-checking partner earlier this year, labeled the claim false. Though Science Feedback's conclusion was in line with medical literature and the primary professional association for obstetricians and gynecologists, Live Action alleged that the doctors who had consulted on the fact check were biased by their affiliation with abortion-rights organizations.

Live Action accused Facebook of suppressing debate, and the complaint was widely circulated in conservative media and eventually drew the support of Republican Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley.

Facebook removed the false designation from Live Action's video, pending an investigation by the International Fact-Checking Network about whether Science Feedback's actions were appropriate. On Friday, the IFCN said it stood by Science Feedback's process and determination.

As of Monday afternoon, Facebook hadn't restored the designation of Live Action's video as false. The company also didn't immediately respond to questions about whether the statement that abortion is never medically necessary might be classified as opinion.

A Live Action representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook's fact-checking program has been panned by critics, and some partners have  reported frustration over the limited tools provided to them.

Yet both fact checkers and the company have of late said the program is improving.

"I really appreciate that Facebook works with us to help find hoax content," said Ms. Holan.

This article appeared on the Wall Street Journal website at


Children’s Crusade of UN Global Climate Week Gets a Cold Shot

“Sacramento saw record cold temperatures Sunday morning ahead of more stormy weather set to hit Northern California in the afternoon,” the Sacramento Bee reported on September 29. To the north, “Red Bluff also set a record Sunday morning, reaching 42 degrees and breaking a 1971 record low of 45 degrees.” Snow was falling in the Sierra Nevada, but nothing like Montana.

As USA Today reported, also on September 29, “one week after summer’s end, a ‘winter’ storm began blasting parts of the West with up to 3 feet of snow, smashing records with low temperatures, heavy snow, strong winds and blizzard conditions.” In addition, “Many daily record low maximum temperature records are possible through Monday, especially across the Northern Great Basin, Rockies and Northern California.”

The snow and record low temperatures arrive after what several publications described as a “children’s crusade,” a feature of the United Nations’ “Global Climate Week.” As the kids had it, the global climate is heating up, so politicians better do something, right now. Trouble was, parts of the globe such as Northern California and Montana were experiencing record cold temperatures, capped off with three feet of snow. This cold shot arrives in September at the outset of autumn, not winter.

The lesson here is that nothing becomes true simply because indoctrinated teenagers shout it through a bullhorn. For a different take on climate, have a look at Lowell Ponte’s 1976 The Cooling: Has the Next Ice Age Begun? Can We Survive it?


Western Lawmakers Prepare Bills to Modernize Endangered Species Act

Local conservation efforts, not U.S. government regulations, boosted the population of a bird species in Colorado, one lawmaker said during a roundtable discussion on Capitol Hill focused on practical reforms to the Endangered Species Act.

Other House members who belong to the Congressional Western Caucus, along with “industry stakeholders” and policy analysts, described how the federal government’s designation of “critical habitat” often undermines conservation.

They also expressed concern about how environmental litigation violates property rights while failing to protect wildlife.

The Sept. 24 roundtable, involving 15 lawmakers and 27 business leaders meeting in the Senate Visitors Center, suggested broad agreement on the need to reform the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The law has resulted in a recovery rate of only 3% for the wildlife it was designed to protect, according to the Congressional Western Caucus, which counts 72 members of both parties from 32 states and territories.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., vice chairman of the Western Caucus, emphasized that localities and states need to have more latitude to pursue their own conservation efforts without federal intrusion.

Tipton pointed to efforts in Colorado to preserve the sage grouse, a chicken-like bird species, as an example of successful wildlife protection done locally. He said his state’s pilot program involving ranchers and farmers helped to rehabilitate the species.

“We were seeing the sage grouse numbers go up and growing,” Tipton said. “This ought to be our goal, not [to] have them listed [as endangered] in perpetuity.”

Tipton and other lawmakers present took the opportunity to roll out a draft package of bills designed to “modernize” the Endangered Species Act.

Tipton already has introduced a bill (HR 6344) to encourage voluntary conservation efforts at the local level.

Ben Goldey, communications director for Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., chairman of the Western Caucus, told The Daily Signal that the caucus is still in the process of building support from “stakeholders” and potential co-sponsors of the new bills.

Once the bills are introduced formally, the caucus will press for hearings and votes, Goldey said.

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., appeared to speak for many participants when he told fellow Western Caucus members that “we need to get the Endangered Species Act out of the courtroom and empower the agencies administering the law to follow the science and do their jobs.”

The California Republican also said “powerful special interests are invested in the status quo,” but the status quo “is not working for people or for listed species.”

Calvert cited figures showing that 2,300 species have been listed as endangered or threatened, while only 72 species have been taken off the list.

Calvert sponsored a bill (HR 548) that would consolidate management and regulation of the Endangered Species Act within the Fish and Wildlife Service. Currently, that agency, part of the Interior Department, shares responsibility with the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the Commerce Department.

The draft package of legislation includes 18 other related bills. 

The problems with the Endangered Species Act flow not just from its language but its implementation, Daren Bakst, a senior research fellow with The Heritage Foundation, said during his presentation.

In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that 1,500 acres in Louisiana should be designated as critical habitat for a species known as the dusky gopher frog, Bakst said, citing one example.

Just one problem, he said: The frog had not been seen in Louisiana for more than 50 years. But because of the “critical habitat” designation, the federal government sought to impose a ban on development that would deprive property owners of more than $30 million in value, the Heritage policy analyst told attendees.

“So, what was the point of this effort?” Bakst asked. “It didn’t serve the interests of the dusky gopher frog, but there are plenty of losers in this effort, including the property owners plus other threatened and endangered species.”

Other listed species lost out, he said, because resources that could have been allocated elsewhere were diverted to an area where the species in question wasn’t even present.

The example of the dusky gopher frog highlights what Bakst described as “two central problems” with the Endangered Species Act.

“One, the Endangered Species Act doesn’t focus resources where they can be most effective,” he said. “And, two, the law attacks property owners, when the best approach would be to recognize that property owners are integral to preserving species.”

Karen Budd-Falen, the Interior Department’s deputy solicitor for fish, wildlife, and parks, briefed other roundtable participants about the Trump administration’s efforts to reform the law.

“While the administration is committed to protecting threatened or endangered species, that should not be an excuse to hold up a project, to hold up decisions, to hold up ideas, and to hold up things that may actually help species,” Budd-Falen said. “So, we are trying to have specific time frames and keep activities to those time frames. The Department of Interior is not yet done with regulatory changes.”

In August, the Trump administration rolled out a new set of rules that officials said were designed to improve implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

The new rules clarify the distinction between “threatened” and “endangered” species, and set higher standards for unoccupied areas to be designated as critical habitat. Before federal officials declare a critical habitat, the area must contain one or more physical or biological features essential to conserving the species.


The Tragedy of Greta Thunberg

Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg lives in the healthiest, wealthiest, safest, and most peaceful era humans have ever known. She is one of the luckiest people ever to have lived.

In a just world, Thunberg would be at the United Nations thanking capitalist countries for bequeathing her this remarkable inheritance. Instead, she, like millions of other indoctrinated kids her age, act as if they live in a uniquely broken world on the precipice of disaster. This is a tragedy.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” Thunberg lectured the world. And maybe she’s right. We’ve failed her by raising a generation of pagans who’ve filled the vacuum left by the absence of faith, not with rationality, but with a cultish worship of Mother Earth and the state. Although, to be fair, the Bible-thumping evangelical’s moral certitude is nothing but a rickety edifice compared to the moral conviction of a Greta Thunberg.

It’s not, of course, her fault. Adults have spent a year creating a 16-year-old because her soundbites comport with their belief system. It was “something about her raw honesty around a message of blunt-force fear [that] turned this girl from invisible to global,” says CNN in a news report about a child with a narrow, age-appropriate grasp of the world.

It should be noted that “blunt-force fear” is indeed the correct way to describe the concerted misinformation that Thunberg has likely been subjected to since nursery school.

There probably isn’t a public school in America that hasn’t plied the panic-stricken talk of environmental disaster in their auditoriums over and over again. New York City and other school systems offered millions of kids an excused absence so they could participate in political climate marches this week, as if it were a religious or patriotic holiday.

We’ve finally convinced a generation of Americans to be Malthusians. According to Scott Rasmussen’s polling, nearly 30% of voters now claim to believe that it’s “at least somewhat likely” that the earth will become uninhabitable and humanity will be wiped out over the next 10-15 years. Half of voters under 35 believe it is likely we are on the edge of extinction. Is there any wonder why our youngest generation has a foreboding sense of doom?

It’s the fault of ideologues who obsess over every weather event as if it were Armageddon, ignoring the massive moral upside of carbon-fueled modernity. It’s the fault of the politicians, too cowardly to tell voters that their utopian vision of a world run on solar panels and windmills is fairy tale.

It’s the fault of media that constantly ignores overwhelming evidence that, on balance, climate change isn’t undermining human flourishing. By nearly every quantifiable measure, in fact, we are better off because of fossil fuels. Though there is no way to measure the human spirit, I’m afraid.

Thunberg might do well to sail her stern gaze and billowing anger to India or China and wag her finger at the billions of people who no longer want to live in poverty and destitution. Because if climate change is irreversible in the next 10-12 years, as cultists claim, it can be blamed in large part on the historic growth we’ve seen in developing nations.

China’s emissions from aviation and maritime trade alone are twice that of the United States, and more than the entire emissions of most nations in the world. But, sure, let’s ban straws as an act of contrition.

Boomers, of course, have failed on plenty of fronts, but the idea that an entire generation of Americans should have chosen poverty over prosperity to placate the vacuous complaints of privileged future teenagers is absurd. No generation would do it. Until recently, no advanced nation has embraced Luddism. Although these days, Democrats who advocate for bans on fossil fuels and carbon-mitigating technologies such as fracking and nuclear energy are working on it.

Climate activists could learn something from Thunberg’s honesty, though. She argues that “money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth” have to come to an end. The emission cuts that environmentalists insist are needed to save the earth would mean economic devastation and the end of hundreds of years of economic growth. This is a tradeoff progressives pretend doesn’t exist.

And Thunberg’s dream for the future means technocratic regimes will have to displace capitalistic societies. We can see this future in the radical environmentalist plans of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, one supported by leading Democratic Party candidates. It’s authoritarianism. There is no other way to describe a regulatory regime that dictates exactly what Americans can consume, sell, drive, eat, and work on.

One imagines that most Americans, through their actions, will continue to reject these regressive ideas. One reason they should is so that Greta Thunberg’s generation won’t have to suffer needlessly.


Australia eyes 'clear gaps' in US minerals supply amid China trade row

It would be Yuge if Australia replaced China as a supplier of "rare earths"

Australian rare earth miners could become major exporters to the United States as the Trump administration looks to lessen its reliance on China for the supply of valuable ingredients used in high-tech weapons, smart phones and electric vehicles.

In a new report released on Tuesday, the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (ATIC) has highlighted the potential for Australia to increase exports of a group of 17 obscure minerals that are used to manufacture high-technology products, as well as critical minerals such as cobalt, magnesium and lithium, which is used in batteries.

Its release comes as China's dominant position as the world's primary producer of rare earths and minerals triggers growing alarm in Washington following warnings that Beijing may move to restrict shipments due to its trade war with the US.

According to some estimates, China may hold up to 50 per cent of known global resources of rare earths elements and 80 per cent of their production, the report said.

Australian miner Lynas is the only significant rare earths producer outside of China and any move by Beijing to crimp supply would increase Lynas' importance. Lynas has recently secured a temporary increase in its licence to operate in Malaysia amid widespread opposition to the low level radioactive waste produced by the process.

Lynas is developing a processing plant in Texas in a partnership with Blue Line Corporation to separate and extract rare earths from ore.

"We have some of the world's richest stocks of critical minerals," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said.

"This report shows there are huge export opportunities for Australian critical minerals producers in markets such as the US where there are clear gaps in the supply chain."

Australia is home to some of the world's largest recoverable deposits of critical minerals and the world's second-largest producer of rare-earth elements including neodymium and praseodymium, which are used to make permanent magnets, Resources Minister Matt Canavan said.

"Our political stability, strong environmental and safety regulations and existing expertise in the resources sector also adds to our appeal as a partner in the global supply chain of rare-earth elements," Mr Canavan said.

US President Donald Trump earlier this year moved to reduce dependence on Chinese supply chains for the US defence department, prohibiting the purchase of devices that contain magnets or tungsten from China, North Korea and Russia. And Mr Trump in July signed a memorandum authorising the defence department to direct funding to resources or technology.

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission said such moves had opened up a new opportunity for Australian companies to supply a growing US specialist manufacturing industry.

The Minerals Council of Australia, an industry group representing the nation's biggest miners, said there was "enormous potential" to grow Australia's trade and investment through the rare earth and critical minerals.

"Australia is well-positioned to extract and export the critical minerals the world needs for faster, smaller and more powerful technology," Minerals Council chief executive Tania Constable said.

"Australia has pioneered new advances in extractive technologies and is ideally placed to lead the growth of critical minerals globally."



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