by Namwan Leavell
Republican Senator and prospective presidential candidate Ted Cruz doesn’t believe in global warming. “Many of the alarmists on global warming, they’ve got a problem because the science doesn’t back them up,” Cruz said in an interview with Seth Meyers. “In particular, Satellite Data for the past 17 years.” Cruz has even gone so far as to accuse government researchers of “cooking the books” to generate data that supports the existence of global warming.
Bold remarks are not a rare phenomenon in politics. Nonetheless, Cruz’s absolute rejection of the notion bordered on extreme. After all, the vast majority of the scientific community agrees that global warming is indeed a real phenomenon; a 2013 study conducted on 10,885 peer-reviewed scientific articles found that only 2 refuted its existence.
No politician would completely fabricate facts on live television, especially not with the Republican primaries in the near future. It becomes clear, then, that the flaw lies in the data and its framing.
Upon further research, I found that Cruz’s data was correct. Satellites did indeed indicate that global temperatures had decreased slightly in the past fifteen years. However, I also found that assessing the health of the planet in fifteen year increments is a practice which climatologists agree is misleading. Furthermore, Carl Mears, the scientist whose research Cruz cited, openly explained in a blog why his data did not support theories that global warming had ceased. Mears agreed that while his satellite data demonstrated a “slowdown” in the rate of global warming, the phenomenon itself is still very real. “Does this slowdown in the warming mean that the idea of anthropogenic global warming is no longer valid?” Mears asks in his blog. “The short answer is ‘no”.
Cruz’s interpretation of Mears’ data could have been a simple oversight, but it’s unlikely. Cruz has a personal and political stake in the success of the U.S. Oil and Gas industry. With up to $850,000 of stock in 6 Oil and Gas companies, it’s unsurprising that Cruz vehemently opposes the idea of Global Warming and its corresponding energy reforms. On top of that, the Republican Senator hails from Texas, the state which produced 1.2 billion barrels of crude oil in 2014. Denying the existence of global warming is an excellent way for Cruz to protect the interests of both his wallet and his constituency. Cruz’s tactics have paid off; his standing in the Republican polls is “trumped” only by one; Donald Trump. Regardless, Cruz has even managed to secure a three point lead over Trump in Iowa.
Twisting of facts and figures is hardly a rare practice in politics. By cherry picking bits and pieces of information, it becomes incredibly simple for politicians to support practically any claim they wish to make. Discerning the truth behind these claims takes a great deal of skepticism and subsequent research.
This does not only apply to climatology, a discipline of the natural sciences but also to social science data. Natural science data is relatively easy to analyze and assess due to the fact that it is mostly comprised of hard numbers. Even though Cruz used Mears’ data to misleadingly support his theories about global warming, Mears was able to easily demonstrate why this conclusion was skewed with the use of graphs and other numerical information. Social science data, on the other hand, does not always contain such cut-and-dry information. When social science data is manipulated or taken out of context, it can essentially be used to support any number of erroneous conclusions. A good example of this is when Ted Cruz attempted to misrepresent an academic study conducted on the political partisanship of ex-felons. The study found that the majority of ex-felons were registered as democrats.
Cruz used this research to support his claim that “the majority of violent criminals are democrats.” Michael Morse, the political science professor whose work Cruz cited, said that Cruz had vastly misrepresented the data in several ways. The study was conducted only with ex-felons, not all convicted criminals. Therefore, it should not be extrapolated that most criminals vote Democrat. Furthermore, Morse argues that most of why this partisan trend occurs within ex-felons is because the majority of them belonged to ethnic and socioeconomic groups which typically vote Democratic. Therefore, their party affiliation had little to nothing to do with their time spent incarcerated.
The practice of reframing data with the intent of gaining political support is unacceptable. How can voters be expected to make informed decisions when political candidates are actively misleading them? Reforms in the way data is obtained and used in politics is necessary for the United States to progress. After all, it seems illogical to expect our government to behave honestly when those who comprise it so often fail to do so.
It is time we expect more from politicians, regardless of rank or party affiliation. It is time we expect facts to be facts, with full disclosure of their context and the research methods used to obtain them. Perhaps more importantly, it is time we expect the truth.