Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt Defines George Will’s Lies As ‘Inferences’

Fred HiattGeorge Will lashes out at New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin for “meretricious journalism” in a column today that attempts to justify his significant factual errors but “can’t help making new ones.” But in an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt defended George Will, saying he is simply “drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject,” and calling critics “irresponsible.”

In fact, Science Progress Chris Mooney explains, “George Will made factual errors rather than debatable inferences.” In sum, Will has not only lied about scientific research, he has also falsely attributed his own opinions to the following named sources: New York Times, Science, Science News, the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, and the “Arctic Climate Research Center” (sic). Before Hiatt’s outburst, Oregonian commentary editor Galen Burnett told the Wonk Room in a telephone interview:

I was a little troubled by the response from the Washington Post editors which was basically dismissive of people’s challenge of the column. That’s the more troubling aspect to me. I would expect more of the Post.

Union of Concerned Scientists spokesman Aaron Huertas told the Wonk Room:

Clearly something wrong is going on with their factchecking process, because what Will said was clearly incorrect.

We’ll continue to attempt to get word from Hiatt — who has ignored several telephone calls and emails — to see if he considers the Oregonian and the Union of Concerned Scientists “irresponsible” critics.

The factual errors in George Will’s “Dark Green Doomsayers” [2/15/09] (DGD) and “Climate Science in A Tornado” [2/27/09] (CST):

“As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming.” (DGD) This is false. Scientists cited the observed decline in Arctic, not global sea ice, as an indicator of man-made global warming. [Geophysical Research Abstracts, 2008]

“According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.” (DGD) This is false. As ACRC the University of Illinois explained, “on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km,” an 8 percent difference.

“So the column accurately reported what the center had reported.” (CST) This is false. Will is claiming “the end of 2008” and the middle of February 2009 are equivalent. They are not (c.f. Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and the presidency of the United States).

“Besides, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” (DGD) This is false. According to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, global warming is continuing, with the past decade the warmest on record. [WMO, 4/4/08]

“Global cooling recently joined” the “list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen.” (DGD) This is false. Scientific predictions of global cooling in the 1970s had a timespan of millenia and recognized the possibility of manmade global warming reversing natural trends. [Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 9/08]

“[O]thers anticipated ‘a full-blown 10,000-year ice age’ involving ‘extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation’ (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively).” (DGD) These selective quotations misrepresents both papers, the research, and the scientists they cited. The Science article specifically describes a “longterm trend over the next several thousand years” that excludes “anthropogenic effects.” The Science News article refers to climatology as an “infant science” and explains that “not enough is known about the underlying causes” of the “cooling trend observed since 1940” “to justify any sort of extrapolation.” [Science News, 3/1/75; Science, 12/10/76]

Concerning “1970s predictions about the near certainty of calamitous global cooling,” “the New York Times was — as it is today in a contrary crusade — a megaphone for the alarmed, as when (May 21, 1975) it reported that ‘a major cooling of the climate’ was ‘widely considered inevitable’ because it was ‘well established’ that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate ‘has been getting cooler since about 1950.'” (CST) This is false. In “Dark Green Doomsayers,” Will cited the same article as evidence that “some disputed that the ‘cooling trend’ could result in ‘a return to another ice age’.” The New York Times article fairly characterizes the uncertainty of climate science, including the possible threat of manmade global warming. [New York Times, 5/21/75]

“The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged.” (CST) This is false. Will’s many editors know full well that multiple factual assertions in “Dark Green Doomsayers” have been challenged. I personally discussed the existence of multiple errrors with Washington Post Writers Group editorial director Alan Shearer in a telephone interview on the afternoon of February 18th. A joint letter from the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, League of Conservation Voters, and Media Matters that discussed multiple factual errors. Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt acknowledged that “we looked into these allegations.” [Wonk Room, 2/19/09; CJR, 2/26/09]


More at Island of Doubt, County Fair, DeSmog Blog, Campus Progress, Rising Hegemon, AmericaBlog, Get Energy Smart Now, The Loom, and The Way Things Break.

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,4/7/2009: There is no such institution as the “Arctic Climate Research Center.” Arctic climate research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Department of Atmospheric Sciences is conducted by the Polar Research Group.

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