A Suggested Correction For Will’s ‘Dark Green Doomsayers’ Column

The following has been sent to Autumn Brewington, op-ed page editor for the Washington Post, Fred Hiatt, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, Alan Shearer, editorial director of The Washington Post Writers Group, and Andy Alexander, Washington Post ombudsman.

To the editors of the Washington Post:

George F. Will’s column of February 15, 2009, “Dark Green Doomsayers,” contained certain factual inaccuracies despite the “multi-layered editing process” it underwent. Several bloggers have volunteered their time to fact-check Mr. Will’s column. Here is a suggested correction based on their work:

George Will’s Feb. 15, 2009 column mischaracterized vaguely characterized a statement by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu on the threat of catastrophic snowpack decline in California due to global warming. Chu was referring to an end-of-the century scenario, not a near-term threat.

Will’s column claimed that experts cited a 2008 decline in “global sea ice” as evidence of man-made global warming. Scientists cited the observed decline in Arctic, not global sea ice.

Will’s column claimed that the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center said that global sea ice levels are “now equal to those of 1979.” Although the center university said that global sea ice levels were “near or slightly lower than those of late 1979” at the start of January, global sea ice levels are now eight percent below their levels in February 1979.

Will’s column claimed the U.N. World Meteorological Organization said “there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” According to the WMO, global warming is continuing, with the past decade the warmest on record.

Will’s column argued that imminent global cooling was a predicted planetary catastrophe in the 1970s. There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that imminent global cooling was a threat.

Will’s column cited articles from Science magazine and Science News to imply the authors expected an imminent ice age. The Science article instead predicted an ice age within several thousand years, “ignoring anthropogenic effects.” The Science News article described climatology as an “infant science” and discussed predictions of manmade global warming that have since proven to be accurate.

UPDATE: Will’s column misidentified the source of global sea ice data as the “University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center.” The actual source was a working group of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Atmospheric Sciences, informally known as the Polar Research Group.

The Washington Post and George Will regret the errors.

(HT: Progress Report, ClimateProgress, The Loom, TPM Muckraker, The Vine, Island of Doubt, and New Mexico Science)


Steve Benen writes:

The very first sentence of George Will’s new column reads: “A simple apology would have sufficed.”

Oh, George, the irony is rich.

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,Dr. Bill Chapman at the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center tells the Loom’s Carl Zimmer that none of the Post’s editors have ever contacted their scientists to fact-check Will’s column:

After all this kerfuffule–involving a nationally syndicated columnist, the assistants to that columnist, the editors at the columnist’s syndication service, the editors at the Washington Post editorial page, and the Post’s ombudsman — Chapman was refreshed that someone bothered to contact him about his research before writing about it. What a concept. For me, this whole affair has been about the value of fact-checking science, and Chapman’s reply shows just how little checking was carried out by the Post and company.

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,Will wrote: “Energy Secretary Steven Chu, an atomic physicist . . . ignores Gregg Easterbrook’s ‘Law of Doomsaying’: Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.” As Will goes on to say that he believes Chu will be proven wrong “nine decades hence,” it appears that he meant Chu fails to follow the Easterbrook guide for doomsaying, not that Chu was unaware of the Easterbrook guide for doomsaying. Under that interpretation, Will’s language was confusing, not factually incorrect.

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