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Truthdigger of the Week: Emmanuel Vincent, Founder of Climate Feedback

Posted on Apr 30, 2016

By Alexander Reed Kelly

    Climate Feedback founder Emmanuel Vincent established a model for providing analysis and feedback on climate-change coverage from a network of scientists. (Climate Feedback)

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Every week the Truthdig editorial staff selects a Truthdigger of the Week, a group or person worthy of recognition for speaking truth to power, breaking the story or blowing the whistle. It is not a lifetime achievement award. Rather, we’re looking for newsmakers whose actions in a given week are worth celebrating.

Democratic societies in which an electorate cannot easily distinguish between truth and lies delivered to them by authorities struggle to cope with even their most basic problems. We Americans have suffered for decades as unscrupulous broadcasters and publishers made fortunes filling our minds with misinformation in what we may come to regard as a world-historical crime if it ultimately prevents us from using government to stop the titans of our economy from destroying the ecological systems on which we depend.

Climate Feedback, founded by University of California at Merced oceanographer Emmanuel Vincent and composed of some 130 scientists, “intends to change that,” Vincent and associate editor Daniel Nethery wrote at The Guardian on Tuesday.

The organization “brings together a global network of scientists who use a new web-annotation platform to provide feedback on climate change reporting,” Vincent and Nethery continued. “Their comments, which bring context and insights from the latest research, and point out factual and logical errors where they exist, remain layered over the target article in the public domain. You can read them for yourself, right in your browser. The scientists also provide a score on a five-point scale to let you know whether the article is consistent with the science.

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“For the first time, Climate Feedback allows you to check whether you can trust the latest breaking story on climate change.”

Vincent and his team maintain that “scientists have a moral duty to speak up when they see misinformation masquerading as science.” Before the release of their tool, scientists had “little choice but to engage in time-consuming op-ed exchanges, which result in one or two high-profile scientists arguing against the views of an individual who may have no commitment to scientific accuracy at all.” Now “scientists from all over the world” can “provide feedback in a timely, effective manner,” while the group’s editors publish “accessible synthesis of their responses, and provide feedback to editors so that they can improve the accuracy of their reporting.”

Vincent recognizes that journalists and readers inhabit “a competitive immediate environment” where a “race to attract the most hits” pressures publishers to write “sensational headlines” that “can trump sober facts.” (It’s true.) Just as the arrival of The Guardian on U.S. shores and the creation of The Intercept has pressed news providers like The New York Times and The Washington Post to more comprehensively cover issues that their owners might prefer to ignore, Climate Feedback, if scaled up and operated to systematically cover all news, would function as a conscience for editors who would fear the professional embarrassment of being publicly called out by an authoritative source among an audience of their peers. “We want editors to think twice before they publish ideological rather than evidence-based reporting on global warming,” Vincent and Nethery write.

Last August, one Guardian reporter praised the group while confessing that he’s nervous it may be sniffing through his stories. As the video below shows, Vincent and his crew have already gotten some publishers to correct misleading reports.

Americans whose skepticism of officialdom is so absolute that they reject science itself may not be swayed by Vincent’s efforts, but should it become pervasive, most of the six in 10 Americans whom Gallup found do not trust the mass media may recognize Climate Feedback as an attempt to fix the broken parts of our media. And with the destruction of our ecosystems accelerating, the need for correct information and sound interpretations of that information becomes more urgent by the minute.

“On Friday 22 April 2016, more than 170 countries signed the Paris climate agreement,” wrote Vincent and Nethery at the end of their article. “But this unprecedented international treaty will lead to real action only if the leaders of those countries can garner popular support for the measures needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The fate of the Paris deal lies largely in the hands of voters in democratic countries, and we cannot expect democracies to produce good policy responses to challenges of climate change if voters have a confused understanding of reality.”

Readers are free to help Vincent, Nethery and their colleagues at Climate Feedback by contributing to their crowdfunding campaign. For working to restore accuracy and integrity to our media and the confidence of the public, we honor Emmanuel Vincent and the team at Climate Feedback as our Truthdiggers of the Week.


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