Did a Congressman really say we do not need satellites because we have the Weather Channel?

The 2017 social media meme:

2017 True Story: A Congressman was at a hearing for a request for funding for GOES satellites. He asked the scientist why do we need to spend money on satellites when you can turn on the weather channel and get the weather!

TL;DR Summary

  • This quote appears in 2000 and 2007 and 2011 and has nothing to do with events in 2017.
  • As we will see, it appears several people who claim to have been told this were either confused or are lying.

2000:

“… we must avoid replicating the error of the US congressman who questioned the need for (publicly funded) weather satellites on the ground that the Weather Channel is available on cable TV.” (page 8, The Nature and Dynamics of Organizational Capabilities).

2007:

“But that is not always the case for politicians and some of the public, as illustrated by the congressman mentioned in the previous chapter who was not interesting in funding a weather satellite when you could already watch the Weather Channel” (page 57, Space as a Strategic Asset, and previous chapter did not mention any congressman.)

2011:

“I had a member of Congress tell me, “I don’t need your weather satellites, I have the Weather Channel.” (quote from Jane Lubchenco, head of NOAA, as quoted in a media interview).

This social media meme sounds plausible at first glance, but the attribution to an anonymous Congressman is our first clue that this most likely a false quote. Oddly, several people each claim to have been told this by a member of Congress, yet clearly, when the track goes back to at least 2000, this implies the author in 2007 and Jane Lubchenko in 2011 were potentially lying.

Social media memes – and fake news – are often crafted by leaving out details necessary to verify the authenticity of the story. Here, by leaving out the name of the Congressman, there is nothing to fact check. Similarly, referencing the GOES satellite systems adds an aura of legitimacy to the statement.

Leaving out critical details is a key aspect of fake news reports, some of which are published by major media outlets. Over a decade ago, one of the nation’s most well recognized newspapers published a story about an “ordinary transport ship” having reached the North Pole without the aid of an ice breaker.

The story gave the ship’s name, which was easily looked up online. I found the complete specification for this “ordinary transport ship” at the Finland-based ship manufacturer.

In the real world, this “ordinary transport ship” had twice the ice breaking capability of the largest ice breaker in the U.S. fleet. Indeed, at that time, about 70 “transport ships” operated by Russia were actually ice breakers re-fitted for dual use as cargo hauling transport ships.

I sent this verified information to the corrections editor of this well known newspaper. I never received an acknowledgement.

What did the newspaper do about this error in the story?

They deleted the name of the ship so that no one else could then fact check their story. Their fake news story – from one of the nation’s best known news papers – lives on to this day, minus the ship name.

By removing a key element needed to verify the authenticity of the story, fake news can live forever, unchallenged.

Everyone plays the fake news game, including famous publishers.

 

 

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