Thanks to electronic communication—a force we usually consider an ally—humans have come to live under a 24/7 barrage of misinformation. For those of us on the progressive side of things, climate denialism on talk shows, sermons, and facebook posts can arouse instant indignation, even ire—but we don’t always get around to refuting the fallacies. (Above graphic from Going on a Bear Hunt.) PlanetSave offered a fantastic collection of 119 glib one-liners a few years back to refute climate denialists and other science snipers. Now Media Matters has introduced a practically instantaneous handheld solution. The folks over there call it “Mythopedia.”
Mythopedia is a dictionary of conservative lies. It’s a simple factchecker that fits in your pocket and even responds to voice commands. We’ve seeded it with 400 common myths—and we want you to tell us what to add next. With the truth at your fingertips, it’s easy to call out right-wing lies wherever they appear.
“Mythopedia was created to serve as a resource tool to catalog and debunk the most common myths and lies of the conservative media,” its creators said in their launch email this week. Though Mythopedia is not limited to misinformation about climate realities, it does spend a lot of time refuting fudged science. The mythopedians pledge to update the database continuously and invite suggestions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mythopedia debunks falsehoods all along the lie spectrum, from oversimplification and jumping to conclusions to misquotations and half-truths. Some examples:
LIE: Because it’s cold and snowy outside, global warming can’t be real.
TRUTH: Even as the climate changes, there will still be cold weather.
LIE: The natural gas boom solves our energy problem and makes renewable sources irrelevant.
TRUTH: If abundant natural gas supplants renewable energy sources, the climate is imperiled.
LIE: There is no scientific consensus that humans are the primary cause of global warming.
TRUTH: 97% of climate scientists agree humans are causing global warming.
As well as short responses like those above, in a keystroke you can call up several paragraphs with references to buttress your argument. The database has been faulted for its partisanship—not including corrections for liberal as well as conservative lies. Also, some of the “answers” are clearly more persuasive than others. But then, “it is what it is,” and it is amusing, if not necessarily useful to everyone who encounters it.
To me, the most dangerous untruths are manipulated vocabulary and The Big One.
When a person deliberately misuses vocabulary, he or she distorts the meaning of a statement by failing to acknowledge words of art—expressions with a specific meaning that is limited to members of a particular group. Example: if scientific shorthand describes a research shortcut as a “trick” (as some of the “Climategate” posts did), those who oppose the researcher’s conclusions characterize him or her as deceptive. Then they use this shadowy image of denialism to cast doubt on all that person’s findings. Ask Michael Mann about this one.
The Big One is outrageous. It’s so outrageous that critics, overestimating their own credibility, loftily dismiss it. Meanwhile, the masses quickly and wholeheartedly adopt it and may even turn it into a rallying cry. You don’t need to go back to Nazi Germany to find examples of how dangerous The Big One can be. It was proven just yesterday in the mass Keystone XL poll that revealed the public’s huge misconception that the petroleum industry creates good permanent jobs wherever it starts drilling. The concept of “boom and bust” has apparently been erased from our lexicon.
Twitter and facebook have sharpened my personal ripostes, but I’m no expert at taking down prevaricators. So if you’re like me, not always quick enough on the uptake to refute lies (either white or blinding), you may value having Mythopedia literally at your fingertips. Even if you miss a chance and consult the database after-the-fact, repetition should help you remember good answers the next time—so when you hear a whopper, you’ll have a better chance of proving your point. As long as you’re using the right vocabulary, that is.