Point-And-Click Fact-Checking

One would think that a certain degree of healthy skepticism would have led Richard W. Miller and Commonweal to fact-check Miller’s assertion in “Global Suicide Pact” (March 23) that in 2010 “northwestern Pakistan received 16.5 feet [Miller’s emphasis] of rain over a five-day period.” While several blogs report such figures, the facts do not support them. AccuWeather.com, in its August 5, 2010, “Pakistan Flood in More Detail” posting, reported that “two-day rainfall reached at least 40 cm, or 16 inches [emphasis mine], in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa” province at the site of the most deadly flooding in northwestern Pakistan. Wikipedia’s page on extreme weather records in Pakistan reports record rainfalls in July 2010 of 16.3 inches in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Arizona State University World Meteorological Organization’s listing of record rainfalls on its World Weather/Climate Extremes Archive has no listing for Pakistan. In fact none of the short-term records (twelve-hour, twenty-four-hour, forty-eight-hour, ninety-six-hour, and ten-day) occurred inland. They all belong to Réunion, an island east of Madagascar. According to the Weather Channel website, Réunion Island holds multiple global rainfall records due to its unique geography and its location in the path of tropical cyclones.

Jerry Winzig
Minneapolis, Minn.

The Author Replies

My sources for the rainfall amounts were not blogs, but news articles from the Guardian (October 1, 2010) and the New York Times (October 12, 2010), which reported comparably high rainfall amounts. The Guardian’s reporting from Pakistan included an interview with a local UN official, and the New York Times story came from interviews with scientists at the Pakistan Meteorological Department and officials at the Pakistan Ministry of the Environment.

Accuweather and Wikipedia are not clearly more reliable sources, and the rainfall records from ASU do not contradict my sources. Accuweather is a private U.S. meteorology company, and one of their most prominent meteorologists was Joe Bastardi, who was an outspoken climate-change denier with frequent appearances on Fox News (he left Accuweather in 2011, after working there for thirty years). So rainfall amounts from an Accuweather blogger are not evidently more reliable than the Guardian and the New York Times. Anyone can post anything on Wikipedia, and the page Jerry Winzig mentions does not work, so I cannot verify those numbers. The ASU source seems to be very credible, but nothing in their listing of record rainfalls contradicts what I wrote.

Winzig writes that “none of the short-term records (twelve-hour, twenty-four-hour, forty-eight-hour, ninety-six-hour, and ten-day) occurred inland.” He is referring to the record rainfalls from tropical cyclones on that webpage. The Pakistan rainfall was caused not by a tropical cyclone, but by a monsoon. Even if you want to include rainfall amounts from tropical cyclones, the website offers only four-day and ten-day totals. They do not have a five-day record, and the total rainfall for five days in my article is less than the ten-day record, so this does not preclude the veracity of the number I quoted. I have searched the Pakistan Meteorological Department’s website, but because of the lack of archived material I have been unable to find the 2010 rainfall amounts.  

In the four sentences of my article that provide examples of extreme flooding events in 2010, I relied on the reporting of credible news organizations.

Most of my piece covered climate-change science, which came from my reading of peer-reviewed scientific literature and public statements of distinguished climate scientists. Particular weather events must be understood in terms of long-term trends, which is the purview of climate science. Climate scientists have been warning for years that global warming will increase the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events. This projection is based on the fact that higher temperatures increase evaporation, drying out some areas, while the extra water vapor in the atmosphere causes intense storms in other areas. The most comprehensive database of natural disasters, which has been compiled by Munich Re (one of the world’s largest reinsurance companies), confirms these projections. Weather-related catastrophes have tripled between 1980 and 2010. The Pakistan rainfall event must be understood in terms of this larger trend.  

There is about 4 percent more water vapor in the atmosphere now than there was in the 1980s, and the National Academy of Sciences projects “that the total water vapor in the atmosphere will increase at roughly 7 percent per 1°C of warming.” With nearly 40 percent of the United States in “severe drought or worse” (as of July 24) with just .8°C of global warming (relative to preindustrial temperatures) and our current emissions path pushing us to 2°C by 2030, 3°C by 2050, 5° to 7°C by 2100, and the possibility of 16°C over many centuries, it is important that we keep in mind not only past trends, but also our future trajectory.

Richard W. Miller

Women at the Council

The very fine editorial “Rome and Women Religious” (May 18) includes an error about the presence of women at Vatican II. The editorial states that “no women participated in those momentous deliberations, although a few were allowed to observe the second session.” Twenty-three women—an international group of laywomen (only one was married) and religious—were named as auditors and attended the third and fourth sessions. They made important contributions to Gaudium et spes and to a few other documents. Significantly, in light of the Vatican’s moves against women religious in the United States, they were not allowed to serve on the committee that drafted the document on religious life. Carmel McEnroy’s Guests in Their Own House (Crossroad, 1996) describes the struggle to get women to the council and what they achieved. It is fascinating reading.

Susan Rakoczy, IHM
Hilton, South Africa

Also by this author

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Published in the 2012-09-14 issue: View Contents
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