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In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones

By Joe Romm  

"In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones"

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[Please Digg this post by clicking here. Updates are at the end. The NYT's Andy Revkin has a very good debunking of Will with detailed comments from leading cryosphere experts, "Experts: Big Flaw in Will's Ice Assertions." Sadly, Andy continues his refusal to correct the harm he did to Gore by equating him with Will. In a day or two, I will attempt to untarnish Gore's reputation to make clear that he did nothing whatsoever wrong -- intentionally or unintentionally -- as opposed to Will who has done multiple things wrong intentionally.]

When a reputable newspaper lies, it poisons the community; every newspaper story becomes suspect,” declared a New York Times editorial. “Great publications magnify the voice of any single writer. Thus, when their editors or publishers want or need to know a source for what they print, they have to know it and be able to assure the community or the courts that they do. Where this is not now the rule, let this sad affair at least have the good effect of making it the rule.” That editorial was published on April 17, 1981 about the transgressions of a Washington Post reporter named Janet Cooke [who fabricated a story, which the Post later submitted for a Pulitzer Prize "despite the growing signs of problems" with the story's veracity].

Incomprehensibly, the Washington Post — after being roundly criticized for having senior editors and fact-checkers (and then their ombudsman!) sign off on (and then defend) George Will’s error-riddled global warming column — has allowed George Will to reassert in a new column (here) that every single one of his falsehoods was factual. [For a point-by-point debunking of the original February 15 piece, see CP and Wonk Room and this joint letter to WP].

And in what seems to be Alice-in-Wonderland journalism, a senior editor at the Washington Post now asserts it is perfectly reasonable for a non-scientist Post writer to reinterpret a prestigious source’s scientific data to support his or her conclusion — after those sources have repeatedly stated that their data is consistent with the exact opposite conclusion and without telling readers of that disagreement. And not only did Will do that multiple times in his first piece — the Post still let him do it again after he was called on it by multiple writers (see Washington Monthly and CP).

Much as I would like to spend my time writing about the strategies needed to prevent business-as-usual warming of 5°C to 7°C, both of my parents were award-winning professional journalists, and I think this story is simply too important not to focus a maximum spotlight on.

I will go through Will’s new and old falsehoods at length here because, as I noted above, the NYT editorialized on the Post’s infamous Janet Cooke scandal, “When a reputable newspaper lies, it poisons the community; every newspaper story becomes suspect.” Just as with the Janet Cooke scandal, this is about a major Washington Post writer fabricating and misusing soucres.

Media Matters saw Will’s column in advance and debunked it here, showing how Will doubled down on his previous global warming distortions and cited a document on sea ice trends as evidence against human-caused global warming when that “document actually states that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models.” And Will cited the U.N. World Meteorological Organization [WMO] — with no source citation — saying “there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade,” when, as Media Matters showed, as recently as January 7, Agence France-Presse quoted WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud as saying, “The major trend is unmistakably one of warming.” I have similar quotes from WMO in my original post.

The abuse of sources in Will’s columns — signed off on and defended by the Post’s editors (and ombudsman) should be a cautionary tale equal to the Janet Cooke story. One can only assume, sadly, that given the controversy, Will’s new piece was as at least as fact-checked as the original, which, according to the Washington Post ombudsman was “checked by people he [Will] personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors” (see here).

And yet the fact-checkers let through a lie so egregious that it would seem to utterly vitiate the credibility of the Post all by itself. Will was allowed to publish the following statement:

The [February 15] column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged. The challenge is mistaken.

Science journalist Chris Mooney wrote in a Science Progress piece, “The George Will Scandal … If a major media outlet can’t even correct facts about global warming, is it still socially relevant?” that “Joe Romm of Climate Progress seems to have kicked it [the debunking] off.”

In a post published a few hours after the the Will piece was published, I challenged essentially every single major assertion in the piece — as did multiple bloggers that Mooney identifies. Heck, the Post was even sent a joint letter rebutting several falsehoods.

So how could Fred Hiatt or any fact checker let a lie that blatant pass uncorrected? Seriously. I’d like to know.

I should also note that the second sentence of the Will piece is “This column recently reported and commented on some developments pertinent to the debate about whether global warming is occurring and what can and should be done.” So the senior editors of the Washington Post are allowing Will to assert that his first column was not merely an opinion piece, but actually in part a piece of reporting. So this assertion certainly demands that the original piece — and the followup — be held to the highest scrutiny

Let me start with Will’s defense of the one “factual” assertion he claims was unsucessfully challenged.

BLATANT REPEATED MISUSE OF A SOURCE — AFTER BEING CALLED OUT ON THE DECEPTION

After the paragraph above, he writes:

Citing data from the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, as interpreted on Jan. 1 by Daily Tech, a technology and science news blog, the column said that since September “the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began.” According to the center, global sea ice levels at the end of 2008 were “near or slightly lower than” those of 1979. The center generally does not make its statistics available, but in a Jan. 12 statement the center confirmed that global sea ice levels were within a difference of less than 3 percent of the 1980 level.

So the column accurately reported what the center had reported. But on Feb. 15, the Sunday the column appeared, the center, then receiving many e-mail inquiries, issued a statement saying “we do not know where George Will is getting his information.” The answer was: From the center, via Daily Tech. Consult the center’s Web site where, on Jan. 12, the center posted the confirmation of the data (http://arctic.atmos.
uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf
) that this column subsequently reported accurately.

The scientists at the Illinois center offer their statistics with responsible caveats germane to margins of error in measurements and precise seasonal comparisons of year-on-year estimates of global sea ice. Nowadays, however, scientists often find themselves enveloped in furies triggered by any expression of skepticism about the global warming consensus (which will prevail until a diametrically different consensus comes along; see the 1970s) in the media-environmental complex.

Media Matters easily refutes Will’s claim and trashes his misuse of this source — so easily that it boggles the mind anyone at the Post would let Will have made it in the first second place:

But Will did not “accurately” report on the January ACRC document in either of his columns. As Media Matters and others noted when Post ombudsman Andy Alexander reportedly cited the same document in response to complaints about Will’s February 15 column, that document actually says that the ACRC data are consistent with global warming predictions and that it is important to distinguish between sea ice in the Northern and Southern hemispheres when discussing global warming. The full document states that “[a]lmost all” climate models project that human-caused global warming will result in decreased sea ice in the Northern Hemisphere, but that some recent studies have suggested that warming might initially cause sea ice to increase in the Southern Hemisphere, and that these projections are consistent with observed sea ice data.

COOKE-LIKE FABRICATION OF A SOURCE

Then Media Matters makes the obvious point:

In addition, Will’s claim that his sea ice distortion was the “only” assertion from his February 15 column that has been “challenged” is itself false. For example, Media Matters and others “challenged” Will’s assertion that “according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization [WMO], there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” Will did not cite a source or provide a quote to back up that claim. In fact, as recently as January 7, Agence France-Presse quoted WMO secretary general Michel Jarraud as saying, “The major trend is unmistakably one of warming.” Similarly, the WMO issued an April 4, 2008, statement saying that “[t]he long-term upward trend of global warming, mostly driven by greenhouse gas emissions, is continuing” and quoting the following statement from Jarraud: “There has always been and there will always be cooler and warmer years, but what is important for climate change in the present context is that the trend is still upwards; the global climate on an average is warming despite the temporary cooling brought about by La Ni±a.”

Rather than provide evidence to support his claim about the WMO, Will simply asserts in his new column that “the last decade … passed without warming.”

Indeed, Will asserts, without a trace of irony:

Which returns us to Revkin. In a story ostensibly about journalism, he simply asserts — how does he know this? — that the last decade, which passed without warming, was just “a pause in warming.

Yet if the last decade “passed without warming,” how is it that the last decade is the hottest decade in the historical record — according to the WMO itself??

In my original critique of the Will piece, I cited a variety of WMO press releases, including the December 2007, “1998-2007 Is Warmest Decade on Record,” which began

The decade of 1998-2007 is the warmest on record, according to data sources obtained by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global mean surface temperature for 2007 is currently estimated at 0.41°C/0.74°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.20°F….

Since the start of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen by 0.74°C. But this rise has not been continuous. The linear warming trend over the last 50 years (0.13°C per decade) is nearly twice that for the last 100 years.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 4th Assessment (Synthesis) Report, 2007, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level.”

Seriously, what exactly are the Washington Post standards for sourcing and fact checking?

NO SOURCE TO BACK UP HIS SMEARING OF STEVEN CHU

As I wrote, Will “dismisses the science-based warnings of Steven Chu (see Wake up,” America, “we’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California”) without actually citing any evidence whatsoever against Chu’s claim.” Here is what Will wrote in the original piece:

Chu recently told the Los Angeles Times that global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack, which stores much of the water needed for agriculture. This, Chu said, would mean “no more agriculture in California,” the nation’s leading food producer. Chu added: “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

No more lettuce or Los Angeles? Chu likes predictions, so here is another: Nine decades hence, our great-great-grandchildren will add the disappearance of California artichokes to the list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen. Global cooling recently joined that lengthening list.

The thing is, in the interview (which was published), Chu was directly quoting a scientific study, one that can be found on the web in 10 seconds, as I documented here. Since when does no source beat a source?

BLATANT FABRICATION ABOUT 1970s GLOBAL COOLING MYTH

In the original piece, Will spends a long paragraph recycling the long-debunked denier talking point that the scientific community believed in the 1970s that we were headed into another a long period of cooling. At the time I write that “I don’t know whether it is more pathetic that Will believes this or that the Washington Post simply lets him publish this lie again and again.” Then I point to a 2008 review article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society that demonstrated definitively (see “Killing the myth of the 1970s global cooling scientific consensus“):

There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then.

Now here is the shocker. Even after Will’s original claim was challenged by me — and by many others, including the joint letter to the WP — Will was permitted by the editors and fact-checkers to repeat the myth in even stronger form in the opening paragraph of the new piece:

That column, which expressed skepticism about some emphatic proclamations by the alarmed, took a stroll down memory lane, through the debris of 1970s predictions about the near certainty of calamitous global cooling.

One thing is crystal clear from the scientific sources, there was nothing close to a “prediction about the near certainty of calamitous global warming.”

BLATANT MISUSE OF A SOURCE TO PUSH 1970s GLOBAL COOLING MYTH

But Hilzoy of the Washington Monthly goes one better. After presenting a similar analysis to what Media Matters did above on the misuse of the sea ice source, Hilzoy writes [of the original piece]:

Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: “P is not evidence for Q, and here’s why”, it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q. If one of my students did this, I would grade her down considerably, and would drag her into my office for an unpleasant talk about basic scholarly standards. If she misused quotes in this way repeatedly, I might flunk her.

Will does this more than once. Since it’s Will’s only citation of a peer-reviewed journal I recognize, I checked the quote from Science in this passage:

“Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others 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).”

It’s from this paper (pdf, subscription wall.) Here is the bit Will cited in context:

Future climate. Having presented evidence that major changes in past climate were associated with variations in the geometry of the earth’s orbit, we should be able to predict the trend of future climate. Such forecasts must be qualified in two ways. First, they apply only to the natural component of future climatic trends — and not to such anthropogenic effects as those due to the burning of fossil fuels. Second, they describe only the long-term trends, because they are linked to orbital variations with periods of 20,000 years and longer. Climatic oscillations at higher frequencies are not predicted.

One approach to forecasting the natural long-term climate trend is to estimate the time constants of response necessary to explain the observed phase relationships between orbital variation and climatic change, and then to use those time constants in an exponential-response model. When such a model is applied to Vernekar’s astronomical projections, the results indicate that the long-term trend over the next 20,000 years is toward extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation and cooler climate.”

So that “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” is (a) supposed to happen “over the next 20,000 years”, not imminently, and (b), more importantly: it’s a prediction that does not take into account anthropogenic changes in climate, like, um, those “due to the burning of fossil fuels”. Which is to say, the kind of global warming we’re now talking about.

The fact that this prediction specifically excludes anthropogenic climate change means that you cannot use it to say: those silly scientists; they used to believe that the earth was cooling, and now they think it’s warming. When scientists say “if we don’t take man-made changes to climate into account, the earth will get cooler over the next 20,000 years”, this is completely consistent with saying: “however, when you factor in those man-made changes, the earth will get warmer”, or “when you factor in those changes, we don’t know”, or any number of things.

If Will actually read these two articles, it’s hard to see how he’s not being deliberately deceptive by citing them as he did. If, as I suspect, he just got them from some set of climate change denialist talking points and didn’t bother to actually check them out for himself, he’s being irresponsible. All those people who supposedly fact-checked Will’s article as part of the Post’s “multi-layer editing process” — “people [George Will] personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors” — should be fired, either for not doing their job or for doing it utterly incompetently. These are hard times for newspapers; I wouldn’t have thought they could afford more than one layer of an editing process that produces no discernible improvement in quality.

Yet even after this widely cited critique, the Post decided to let Will re-assert the factual nature of his entire first post.

NON-DEFENSE DEFENSE BY HIATT

In Hiatt’s defense of Will quoted in the Columbia Journalism Review, he says:

“We looked into these allegations, and I have a different interpretation than [those who signed the letter] about what George Will is and is not entitled to,” said the paper’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt. “If you want to start telling me that columnists can’t make inferences which you disagree with–and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject–I think that’s really inappropriate. It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.”

As Media Matters writes:

But this controversy is not about “inferences” by Will with which others “disagree.” It is about Will spreading falsehoods. And it is about the Washington Post standing by those falsehoods – a rather large gamble for a newspaper that cannot afford to lose readers or credibility.

This controversy is most certainly not about inferences with which some people disagree. It is about the fabrication of some sources and the blatant misuse of other sources. And, of course, it is about outright lies by Will that the Post simply chooses to ignore after multiple warnings.

The CJR article continues:

Hiatt said that he has invited both the World Meteorological Organization and the Arctic Ice Center at the University of Illinois to write a letter for publication taking issue with anything that George wrote, but neither organization has taken him up on the offer. Hiatt added that he doesn’t think Will has an obligation to point out, “in every column he writes about climate change,” that such organizations disagree with his interpretation of their data.

So it is the stated policy of the Washington Post that a non-scientist Post writer can reinterpret scientific evidence to claim that a prestigious scientific source has data that demonstrates humans aren’t changing the climate — even though that source interprets their data as supporting the view that humans are changing the climate? And the average reader is supposed to have any faith whatsoever in how the Washington Post cites expert sources?

This is Alice in Wonderland journalism. It is the paper’s stated policy that the Post feels free to reinterpret whatever anybody says to fit whatever storyline they are pushing. This suggests the Post has advanced far from the Janet Cooke days.

UPDATE 1: I should have mentioned last night that TPM Muckracker first broke this story here. You can read Adam Siegel here and in the comments. Discover Magazine’s blog has an excellent post just on the ice issue, “Unchecked Ice: A Saga in Five Chapters.”

UPDATE 2: The unintentionally ironic final paragraph of Will’s piece deserves special scorn:

On Feb. 18 the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that from early January until the middle of this month, a defective performance by satellite monitors that measure sea ice caused an underestimation of the extent of Arctic sea ice by 193,000 square miles, which is approximately the size of California. The Times (“All the news that’s fit to print”), which as of this writing had not printed that story, should unleash Revkin and his unnamed experts.

Those of you cryosphere buffs who follow the NSIDC data daily noticed that for a few days in February in particular the data seemed to show a sharp drop in Arctic ice. Many people pointed this out to NSIDC, the NSIDC quickly realized that there was a “a malfunction of the satellite sensor,” they stopped reporting the data while they were working to fix the problem, and they reported this to the entire world in a February 18 bulletin, “Satellite sensor errors cause data outage,” which explained how sensor drift let a fairly small error at the end of January turn into a big one by mid February.

Yes, that’s right, the NSIDC, like all serious scientists and most serious journalists, but unlike the Washington Post, checks on what it reports and tells the world whenever it realizes it has made a mistake — even a small, temporary one.

Even though multiple senior editors and fact checkers at the Washington Post must have seen Will’s piece — and even though the WP provided a link to NSIDC (though not to the Arctic Sea Ice News & Analysis homepage here which is only a click away) and therefore could have easily read what NSIDC did — the WP let Will leave the impression that NSIDC had somehow made a huge blunder that warranted scrutiny comparable to the scrutiny given to Will’s falsehoods.

And in one of those coincidences that keeps life entertaining, Thursday, the day before Will’s piece appeared in print, the NSIDC issued an update on its Sea Ice homepage here, and explained the whole matter in great detail, noting in particular:

The temporary error in the near-real-time data does not change the conclusion that Arctic sea ice extent has been declining for the past three decades. This conclusion is based on peer reviewed analysis of quality-controlled data products, not near-real-time data.

And, of course, the NSIDC famously believes — like the overwhelming majority of climate scientists — that human-caused warming is a key driving factor behind the decline in sea ice (see NSIDC: Arctic melt passes the point of no return, “We hate to say we told you so, but we did”).

So once again the Washington Post let Will cite and interpret data from scientific sources to cast doubt on the evidentiary basis for the theory of human-caused global warming, when those sources had already publicly explained the data and reasserted the data does not change their core conclusions, which are 180° in opposition to Will.

What a tragedy for journalism this episode has become.

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52 Responses to In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones

  1. Bill DeMott says:

    Thanks Joe:

    As a scientist who does a lot of work as an editor and reviewer of peer reviewed articles as well as writing my own papers, I wish that George Will and others could read a number of peer reviews (although these are private). This would show how careful and critical scientists are in using citations. There is a big gulf between the science literature on one side and even good journalism. Blatant misrepresentation is a whole new issue.

  2. Joe, your new Best Quote says:

    Joe, use this quotation by Tennessee Williams: “”the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition.”

  3. Hugh McLean says:

    If global warming is largely a result of an imbalance between solar short-wave radiation hitting the earth and long-wave radiation escaping the earth, wouldn’t the most direct calculation of global warming derive simply from subtracting direct measurements of the latter from direct measurements of the former over a given period of time?

    The logic seems pretty air-tight to me that as long as more energy is coming in than is going out, the planet MUST continue to warm, and it would cut through any confusion arising when one set of temperature readings (say SSTs) are affected by phenomena like La Nina, which draws heat from one part of the earth system (the atmosphere) and “hides” it in another (the ocean).

    Are such direct radiation measurements being made on a comprehensive-enough scale to allow such calculations – and if so, who keeps the records?

  4. paulm says:

    Hugh I think Hansen uses these figures all the time.

    We should get the protesters to swing by the WP on the way to the coal plant to sort them out….

  5. Newspapers are shooting themselves in the foot.

    “Ready, Fire, Aim.

  6. koen says:

    Let’s all stop reading (& buying) the Washington Post.

  7. DavidONE says:

    The climate change issue has taught me more about the human psyche than I really wanted to know. The ability of people to lie, distort, employ wilful ignorance and myopia is horrifying. Some people, an alarming number, are so tied to an ideology that honesty and integrity are jettisoned to protect and defend what they want to be true.

    I added my comment to the vastly reality-based comments on Will’s latest propaganda (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/26/AR2009022602906_Comments.html ):

    All we need to know about this shameful ignorance, distortion and dishonesty masquerading as ‘journalism’ is detailed at http://climateprogress.org/2009/02/27/in-a-journalistic-blunder-reminiscent-of-the-janet-cooke-scandal-the-senior-editors-of-the-washington-post-let-george-will-reassert-several-climate-falsehoods-plus-some-new-ones/

    P.S. Dear Washington Post,

    You have proved your editorial standards are totally untrustworthy with your promotion and protection of the scientifically illiterate and probably dishonest George Will.

    Buy and read the Post? Not likely.

  8. ken levenson says:

    Isn’t this a job for super Energy Secretary Chu and his team? Because if the administration is serious about passing meaningful climate legislation, they must slay allot of these paper dragons along the way.

    So why shouldn’t the Energy Dept issue an official paper defining the science on this, and put Will properly in his hole? Please weigh in stating the science Secretary Chu, and slay those dragons!

  9. A Siegel says:

    Excellent impassioned piece.

    The WashPost is almost certainly going to cut off comments, and quickly, on this Will monstrocity as they did the last. The comments are very heavily outrage against Will (with the occasional, as here, ass-sufferer commenting).

    My comment:

    This column contains direct falsehood, multiple distortions, and is delusional fiction more than fact.

    Let us be simply clear as to a direct falsehood: “The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged.” Multiple “assertions” were challenged — these challenges were made quite clear to you and your editors.

    You were challenged on:

    * Your representation of and statements on Global Cooling

    * Your statement that the globe has not cooled

    * Your statement about global ice extent

    Etc …

    To prove that you are peddling falsehoods, we don’t need to go past that comment since this it is blatantly false.

  10. Bob Wright says:

    The damage is done. The original piece was in my local paper the same day it appeared in the Post. “Thoughtful conservative” Will has debunked GW, and thousands of Fox News fan types went to work that day a little more confident that GW theory is bunk, and pundits can now cite their mentor. Ha! GW debunks GW! I have read will for years, and never realized he was for sale.

    Ya know how Charlie G on the abc Evening News almost always fails to make any connection between warming and all the “weather” of the last 10 years? A surprising discovery! abc is a closet GW alarmist! You have to stay up all night Thursday when they air these short pieces. A few are posted on their website:

    http://abcnews.go.com/abcnewsnow/NaturesEdge

    I guess abc doesn’t want to burden prime time viewers with the truth, and then be punished for its good deed by the dittoheads.

  11. Florifulgurator says:

    Now I’ve read that whole post in amazement, but couldn’t find the one most apt technical term that sums it all up: Bullshit! According to a survey by The Onion, that’s what U.S. folks expect of their media: Bullshit! So why can’t we just laud Mr. Will for doing his job: Thou writest bullshit!

  12. Dennis says:

    “This is Alice in Wonderland journalism.” You are absolutely right, Joe. Please keep this up; don’t let it die. I read Will’s piece this morning with dropped jaw — how could the Post let that go through? Should we give up on the Post? Perhaps it’s time to go after Will’s lies in his bigger mouthpiece: on ABC.

  13. Greg Robie says:

    Joe, I think you might want to connect with a Professor Drew Westen at Emory University who does research on motivated reasoning. Challenge these guys at the Post to submit to functioning MRIs and what they are doing in their heads will be visible. As part of that challenge you could volunteer to do the same. The difference between where in the brain the contradictions are being processed will be observable. That difference can be explained.

    In any event, rational argument is a counterproductive strategy for changing a mind stuck in motivated reasoning. It is like trying to get someone to question their religion. While your debunking arguments are important for our society should it choose to do things rationally, to have an effective strategy, when much of our social intercourse is non-rational, the framing of the strategy needs to expand to include educating society to be rational relative to its proclivity to “think” non-rationally.

    Such a change in strategy, in conjunction with living with integrity relative to what the science of climate modeling defines as rational/moral, are ways of broadening the strategy; of broadening the message relative to learning styles; of communicating the message more effectively; of connecting the message more effectively with more of the psychologically predilections of more people.

  14. Papertiger says:

    From the Mediamatters link you provide
    In fact, while Will suggested the ACRC data undermine the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, the document actually states that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models.

    As usual climate alarmists invent a strawdog to knock over. Will never said anything of the sort, but he did say that last years ice loss was used as evidence of global warming. Climate models are all over the place I think by design, just so professional prevaricators like yourself can say stupid things like “The sea ice data [most rapid increase in the satellite history] are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate change models.”
    It’s what we climate realists call “elephant fitting”. which means the parameters are so large and vague that most any outcome fits at least one of the thousands of model run.
    This is one of the key gripes realists have with you alarmists. If it’s cold it fits the model. If it’s warm it fits the model. If the plows run out of space to stow the snow it fits the model. If the ocean loses 3 degrees of heat since the Argo array was launched it fits the model. And so on and so on and so on.
    What we need to know is what doesn’t fit the model. Until you alarmists come up to an answer to that question, you are practicing religion, not science.

  15. Alex says:

    This is the same thing that happened with Freeman Dyson’s ridiculous story in the New York Review of Books last year. Not only did they let him have a rebuttal, they put an article by Nordhaus in as a companion to the rebuttal.

  16. winnebago says:

    I’ll pile on. The opening paragraph of the NYT May 21, 1975 article that Will distorts states:

    “The world’s climate is changing. Of that scientists are firmly convinced. But in what direction and why are the subjects of deepening debate.”

    Sure George, sounds like the NYT was ‘alarmist about ‘global cooling’.

    Read the article yourself:

    http://www.wmconnolley.org.uk/sci/iceage/ny-times-1975-05-21.pdf

  17. Mark says:

    Is it time to start using Faux News standards on deniers? Should we be asking:

    ‘Is George Will the anti-Christ?’

    I’m not saying he is or isn’t, but reasonable folk disagree on the issue.

    Discuss….

  18. Larry Coleman says:

    Joe, as I read your piece, I wondered what constituted “fact checking” by the WP. Part of it seemed to be WP journalists unsuccessfully trying to understand what the Science article was saying – it’s surely catty of me but it brings to mind Sidney Harris’s cartoon of two scientists watching a dog that is looking at a blackboard full of mathematics, with the caption: “Dogs are so cute when they try to understand quantum mechanics.”
    But I also suspect that the WP fact checkers went to that source of unfailing truth, the internet, where you can find lots of scientific-seeming sites run my deniers for the express purpose of providing “facts” and cover for denier journalists. There is no doubt that a lot of denier journalism has its roots in such sites.

  19. DavidONE says:

    Now, now Mark – let’s not stoop to their level.

    I don’t believe there is any truth in the rumours of George having intimate relations with a sheep named Dolly, so let’s not jump to any conclusions here. Let’s wait for the facts to come out – and I’m sure they will.

  20. mark says:

    CP – Can you please dig deeper into the true “source” of Will’s misinformation? He is pulling his bogus data interpretations from global warming denier Michael Asher (http://www.dailytech.com/blogs/~masher) @ DailyTech. If you look at this denier’s blog, you will see postings along these lines:

    “Global Warming can lead to fewer huricanes”
    “More iceberg growth”
    and
    “Climate Science has it wrong”

    Will is backing up his claims by using a denier’s blog hidden within a techie blog site that needs from serious debunking and wake-up formula.

  21. agog says:

    The great mystery to me is why in the age of the interweb does anyone bother with US journalism. As disgraceful as these George Will columns have been, after its support for the Iraq war how could any sentient reader of WaPo have credited it with any journalistic or moral integrity? The NYT and WSJ are no better and anything on US television is a waste of time.

    For English speakers surely the FT, the Independent, BBC, Channel 4 or Al Jazeera are better alternatives: none of them come close to being perfect but if one consumes critically it is possible to cherry pick the best of them depending on the issue. And, of course, there is the blogosphere where sites like this usefully both contribute and critique.

    Americans seem to be living in an information bubble (or is it vacuum?): their own version of The Truman Show. From abroad, the world looks very different. Equally f**ked, but somehow in a way that one can make more sense of.

  22. Greg Robie says:

    Papertiger, are climate models “all over the place,” or are they are behind the curve in getting the date right of the arrival of changes due to global warming? Is the “design” thing, more an issue of intent, or something that is endemic to modeling something as complex as our climate within the parameters of the budget, scientific staffing, and resources our society has provided? Our climate does, and will, include warmings and coolings, and increased precipitation and drought. Ocean surface temperatures will vary. The temperatures of oceans, as a whole will (very slowly (due to their mass and the vertical circulation dynamics) respond as they have to changes in the surface temperatures accordingly in their function as the planet’s most versatile heat sink.

    There are a lot of “so on[s] and so on[s]” that could employ a lot more scientists to collect more detailed data to get to the point that the climate change we’re in today can be a consistent a result that is accurate to the degree it can be with the “on and on” variables having the variability of these variables . . . if the time remained to do so. However, and agreeing with you, what does not fit in the current climate models is that time. What was modeled as a future event, and the models have gotten wrong (due to the use of conservative assumptions when the scientific data and the science was to little understood or too sparse to responsibly do otherwise), is that the future is arriving now.

    I am arguing, motivated reasoning causes you to experience, frame, and think about the modeling of climate change as you seem do in your post in this thread. Are you familiar with this brach of psychology? If so, could you post relative to it and how it might be in play with the various memes that our society currently holds concerning klimakatastrophe (FYI, a German word)?

  23. crf says:

    I can’t wait for the post to invite David Duke on their editorial board. He’ll wow the Post’s fact checkers with his fact-filled columns, backed up with citations from books written by PhDs and stuff from the internet.

  24. Linda S says:

    Joe, there are days when reading your column is really bad for my blood pressure. This is one of those days!

  25. Lou Grinzo says:

    Two words: Willful Deception.

  26. roysv says:

    Thanks for staying on the case Joe. It’s a disgusting and blatant behavior and seems to illustrate the true priorities of corporate media – mainly preserving the powers that be.

    Small steps:
    1. delete WP from any news page you can (e.g. igoogle)
    2. Never visit a WP link EVER.
    3. When posting, use WP and George Will as a synonym for lying and deceit.
    4. Support greenpeace, media matters, etc. (I already do)

  27. Jay Alt says:

    Will has gotten away with this kind writing for years. In April 2006 he used the same methods in a piece called ‘let cooler heads prevail’, a tip-of-the hat to the denialist ‘cooler heads coalition.’ I have linked it thru my name above. The global cooling section of his Feb 13 editorial is so similar that Will owes the Washington Post a refund.

    He reused the same formula and mixed popular reporting with cherry-picked science quotes. I dug out original articles from Science and two other science journals and made pdfs. He inserted short quotes into his own faulty framework to arrive at conclusions that were never reached by the investigations.

    The WP standard are that if words are quoted and spelled right, their use in the article itself must be fine.

  28. DB says:

    Will wrote that there has been no global warming for the last decade. If you download the satellite data
    http://vortex.nsstc.uah.edu/public/msu/t2lt/tltglhmam_5.2
    and run it through a stat program or even Excel, I believe you will find the trend for the last ten years is not significantly different from zero.

    In addition, since most of the global heat is stored in the ocean, it is worthwhile to look at ocean temperature data. The Argo system of 3000 buoys measures the temperature of the top 2000 meters of the ocean. Since it was deployed in 2002 it has seen not increase in the ocean’s heat.

  29. Rob W says:

    Would it make more sens to focus the message on the fact that the downside risks of mitigating AGW and be wrong about it are benign vs. the risks of doing nothing and being right (since Deniers are really just advocating the “do nothing” option)? This Guy George Will is at best incompetent and at worst malicious – but instead of wasting energy debunking his gobledygook, wouldn’t it be more effective to frame AGW mitigation into an argument that is impossible to disagree with?

    Like this: You like having a thriving economy, opportunities for your kid’s to have a good life, and the possibility for less war in the world right? Well, if we get off of oil and coal, and retool our economy, we can have all that!

    See, AGW doesn’t even have to be mentioned!

    (that is pretty simple, but I think if the argument is framed differently it makes sense to more people, in that regardless of whether or not AGW is real, the things that we would need to do to mitigate it are really really beneficial to our kids and grandkids.)

  30. Rob W says:

    Oh, one more thing. I am pretty sure the reason MSM doesn’t do a very good job of bringing climate change and all its issues into the public discussion has more to do with who is buying their ad space (Exxon, Chevron, Shell) then any deniers that they have on their payrolls.

    Sorry if that is already painfully obvious to everyone.

  31. Hank Roberts says:

    DB, you say something about using a statistics program or Excel — but,
    oh, no, you only said “I believe you will find” — you don’t say you actually did it.

    Why just tell us what you believe? It’s been done. You can look this stuff up:

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/what-if/#more-1422

    (how to do the analysis about which you tell us your beliefs, with real data, using surface data. Do it the same way with the satellite data, which look about the same. Remember, Christy’s error was corrected several years ago)

    and a look, if you just want a picture:

    http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2007/08/usa482.jpg?w=500
    (Comparison of surface temperature to satellite-estimated lower-troposphere temperature, for the lower 48 states of the continental U.S. only)

  32. DB says:

    Rob, as Andrew Revkin has pointed out in “Yelling ‘Fire’ on a Hot Planet”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/23/weekinreview/23revkin.html
    the media and others have an uphill task in getting people to care about global warming because it lacks all three attributes of ‘soon, salient and certain.’

    ‘Without a connection to current disasters, global warming is the kind of problem people, and democratic institutions, have proved singularly terrible at solving: a long-term threat that can only be limited by acting promptly, before the harm is clear. Problems that get attention are “soon, salient and certain,” said Helen Ingram, a professor of planning, policy and design at the University of California, Irvine.’

  33. llewelly says:

    Hugh McLean:

    If global warming is largely a result of an imbalance between solar short-wave radiation hitting the earth and long-wave radiation escaping the earth, wouldn’t the most direct calculation of global warming derive simply from subtracting direct measurements of the latter from direct measurements of the former over a given period of time?

    That’s why a radiometer was added to the satellite DSCOVR (Triana) . The republicans did everything they could to make sure it never launched, and the democrats never made much of an effort to protect it. $100 million dollars worth of the best scientific equipment, dedicated in part to directly measuring the Earth’s radiative balance – as you say, a direct measurement of global warming – gathering dust in a shed somewhere.

    When republicans say the science is uncertain, or it needs more study, this is one of several items to keep in mind.

  34. DB says:

    Hank wrote: “DB, you say something about using a statistics program or Excel — but, oh, no, you only said “I believe you will find” — you don’t say you actually did it.”

    The number I got was a slope of 0.059°C for the decade and not statistically different from zero. Which is consistent with what Mr. Will wrote.

  35. Donald B says:

    It appears that George Will is too big a pundit [bank] to discipline [fail].

    DB:
    Even ten years is too short a time to project a reversal of the 30-year trend that shows the global temperatures rising at an increasing rate over the previous equal periods. Just look at the temperature charts over the last 150 years and you will see periods where the temperature numbers show similar “flattening.” It is in the nature of the statistical noise (other events that influence temperature marginally, but are not permanent, like those that have driven the Earth’s temperatures (and CO2) up since the mid 1800s. 1998 was a big jump in temperature (spike) that occurred as a confluence of several warming forces, some of which have abated but the ones that are causing AGW are still there driving the temperature up. There are many articles on this site or linked to from this site that can explain the details.

  36. DB says:

    Donald, I understand the limitations of 10 years worth of data. My point was that people were claiming Will made an error when he wrote there was ‘no recorded global warming for more than a decade’; the error was one of leaving out the phrase ‘statistically significant.’ (which could be forgiven in a general circulation newspaper).

  37. J4zonian says:

    “the last decade, which passed without warming,” says George F. Won’t.

    To help people understand the warming in the last decade: Draw a graph, years along the bottom/horizontal axis, (leave room for 50 or so), and numbers along the left/vertical axis, say 1-1000. (The numbers don’t actually mean anything; this is just a graphical exxageration to illustrate the truth and fallacy. We all know there’s some variation year to year, even if the general trend is up, so start drawing a line that goes through about 35 years and varies 2 to 5 numbers above and below the very gently upsloping line (the handle of the hockey stick), eventually getting up to about 50 (35 years into the graph). Now go up to 750 in 1 year. The next year go down to 600, and now continue on with the same slope as the first 35 years, with the same magnitude of squiggles along it. The high point? That’s 1998. And every year since has been cooler than it, but to say, looking at this graph, that global warming is over is obviously absurd.

  38. DB says:

    “…but to say, looking at this graph, that global warming is over is obviously absurd.”

    I suspect you are correct, but how do you _know_ what the future will be? For example, we are currently at the bottom of the envelope of temperatures projected by GCMs. If temperatures remain essentially flat for the next decade then we will be outside the 95% confidence interval for the AIB scenario (which most closely matches actual emissions).

  39. Hank Roberts says:

    DB:
    http://atmoz.org/blog/2008/01/29/on-the-insignificance-of-a-5-year-temperature-trend/

    At least look at the pictures. Will’s error was not in leaving out the phrase ‘statistically significant’ — it was in using a ten year period. This is well known.

  40. Alex says:

    A classic cherry pick: Choose 1998 (a year somewhat biased to the upside by a strong el niño) as the basis for comparison. Graphs like this reveal the bigger picture (and of course, it’s just the beginning under business as usual):

    http://tamino.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/smooth.jpg

  41. Hank Roberts says:

    DB:
    Your next post makes the same error as Will does — you’re looking at a ten year interval. Then you add the error of cherrypicking.

    Where is this coming from?

    > If temperatures remain essentially flat for the next decade
    first error
    > outside the 95% confidence interval
    second error, the cherrypicking of one year

    I’m seeing this notion repeated by various people who don’t understand what they’re saying. Is it from some PR blog? Where did you get it? (and why do you trust the source you rely on?)

    Take a look at an example from the GCMs versus the actual:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a2/Climate_Change_Attribution.png

    There’s the longterm trend, smoothed — the black line.
    There’s results from a model — gray fuzz around it for the confidence interval.
    Colored lines — the forcings in the model broken out.

    See how the black line goes in and out of the gray area?
    You can pick some particular year when the black line is outside the gray area.
    But that doesn’t mean what you imagine. Seriously, who told you that stuff?

    Certainly there’s more to learn — no question of that from the scientists. The gap indicates some notion of what happens that the models don’t get right.

    But look at the trend over the longer term.

  42. lizardo says:

    I was in town and picked up my regional rag (Raleigh News and Observer) and there was George F Won’ts column. Reading it with my lo mein I was struck by something that no-one seems to have commented on as far as I can tell. (Forgive me if I missed it.)

    1) FWill/FWont writes his BS global cooling/warming column to coincide with push on Congress (funding, cap and trade etc. coal demo etc. etc.)
    2) Firestorm erupts, rightfully so. Since its akin to NOT shouting “fire” in a crowded theater that IS on fire.
    3) Andy Revkin rides to the rescue by writing an article saying in essence, mistakes have been made, on both sides, which tries to conflate Gore and Will as equal in error–AND STATUS, ha ha ha.
    4) George Will turns around and devotes his next column to trashing Andy Revkin all to hell. Doesn’t that take the darn cake???? And further proof he has his head up you know where and doesn’t get it.

    Conceivably the WaPo let him get away with this latter column because they are in a war of the diminishing media pie (for large newspapers).

  43. Hank Roberts says:

    OK, DB, I see where you’re getting that from: WTF.
    Try searching in Google Scholar instead of Google and see the difference in the results when you read science journals instead of opinion bloggers.

  44. DB says:

    IIf temperatures remain essentially flat for the next decade then we will be outside the 95% confidence interval…

    Hank asked “Where is this coming from”

    Gavin Schmidt of GISS has a blog called RealClimate. In May of last year he discussed ‘What the IPCC models really say’
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2008/05/what-the-ipcc-models-really-say/#more-564

    Gavin writes: “Over a twenty year period, you would be on stronger ground in arguing that a negative trend would be outside the 95% confidence limits of the expected trend (the one model run in the above ensemble suggests that would only happen ~2% of the time).”

    “…see the difference in the results when you read science journals instead of opinion bloggers.”

    FWIW, I do subscribe to Science and in addition read several dozen research articles each week.

  45. DB says:

    Speaking of flat trends, here is a graph of 30 years of satellite temperature data.
    http://icecap.us/images/uploads/UAHTROPICS.jpg

    It plots the temperature in the mid-troposphere above the tropics (+20° to -20°). Climate models show us that a warming globe generates more water vapor (especially in the tropics) which rises and warms the troposphere.

    Once again, we are at the bottom of the envelope.

  46. Hank Roberts says:

    DB: you start off claiming ten years is useful. You haven’t shown support.

    Compare what you wrote above, with the RC quote you claim supports you. Not so.
    You———-RC
    “ten years” — twenty years —– big, big difference in the strength of the test
    “flat for the next decade” —– negative trend (one tail or two tail test? different?
    “then we will be” —— you would be on stronger ground in arguing

    Look again at the article at the link you provide.
    Compare the strength of 5, 10, and 15-year trends in finding significance:
    http://scienceblogs.com/stoat/2007/05/the_significance_of_5_year_tre.php#more

    Look how long you need to tell if you have a trend:
    http://atmoz.org/blog/2008/01/29/on-the-insignificance-of-a-5-year-temperature-trend/

    What you said, and say Will said, is you got something worth talking about by doing a 10-year trend, as though “not significant” means “nothing happening” rather than “not enough information provided to tell us anything in this amount of time.”

    Big difference.

  47. Dan B says:

    Trying to get people to change their minds is a challenge. It’s an especially big challenge when their conclusions originated from irrational biases.

    A friend of mine is a polar ice researcher. Another friend is a climate change modeler. Yet another is an economist whose focus is on the environment.

    They are terrified by climate change. One has a five year old. Another is dating. And they are all feeling as though no one will believe them. Their conclusions have been attacked so many times.

    I continue to tell them that society didn’t make the right choices with better information, it made the better choices based upon passion.

    When scientists decide en masse to talk seriously to marketers the debate will be settled and the action undertaken.

    Until then we’ll continue to miss the opportunities this crisis presents. We know how to address challenges. Let’s do it again. Skip the rational arguments. They serve no vision.

    We need to stop sending a trillion dollars a year to middle-east oligarchies.

    We need to generate energy from sources that are 21st Century.

    We can do both these and more.

    Then, we need to remove several pollutants from our atmosphere. Even the Center-Right Supreme Court believes these are dangerous pollutants.

  48. Frank E says:

    It’s really easy to see where the money for research goes. If you are being paid to promote a certain agenda:
    A friend of mine is a polar ice researcher. Another friend is a climate change modeler. Yet another is an economist whose focus is on the environment.

    My guess is all 3 get tax $’s to promote Global Warming. Why would they find any rational to go against where their funding comes from??

    BTY – it’s close to record cold in northern MN this morning.

  49. Sandy H says:

    Joe:

    Thanks for all you do – I find your blog very informative and educational. Keep up the good work!

    Please, however do us readers on favor: When quoting a report, article, or words of someone remember to put it in quotes. I’ve had trouble sometimes following the post as you slip in and out of quotes and commentary.

    Finally, regarding George Will and his fabrications – why don’t you ask the Washington Post to give you the opportunity to respond – then do a careful & methodical piece exposing how he sacrifices truth to peddle his ideology. Finish, as you have in many posts about how conservative ideologs who deny the science are doing the future a great disservice. Just a thought.

  50. caerbannog says:


    It’s really easy to see where the money for research goes. If you are being paid to promote a certain agenda:
    A friend of mine is a polar ice researcher. Another friend is a climate change modeler. Yet another is an economist whose focus is on the environment.

    My guess is all 3 get tax $’s to promote Global Warming. Why would they find any rational to go against where their funding comes from??

    ###########################

    This is a completely silly argument.

    If your friends were interested only in continued funding, then when asked about global-warming, their answer would be, “We don’t know if global warming is occurring yet — so we need continued funding for more research”. But that’s not what most climate-scientists are saying these days.

  51. Lewis says:

    caerbannog Says:

    February 28th, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    It’s really easy to see where the money for research goes. If you are being paid to promote a certain agenda:
    A friend of mine is a polar ice researcher. Another friend is a climate change modeler. Yet another is an economist whose focus is on the environment.

    My guess is all 3 get tax $’s to promote Global Warming. Why would they find any rational to go against where their funding comes from??

    ###########################

    This is a completely silly argument.

    Actually it is an ad hominem, attacking the researchers– not the research.

  52. Steven Hansch says:

    I disagree with most of what I’ve read on this site for the following reason: most of George Will’s columns over the decades are about reminding us of our own humility. He knows perfectly well that there’s a mountain of evidence and groundswell of current agreement about the threats of climate change. He’s merely attempting to be a devil’s advocate in reminding us of our own collective fallibility. I find humility is important to learn, difficult to teach, very hard to convince those who are passionate.

    [JR: Yeah, George Will is all about humility. I'm afraid you have identified the one subject he knows less about them climate science.]

    Having taught about famine, drought, disasters and climate change since the 1970s, I’ve learned, long and hard, that our best models are imperfect, that are best minds are often wrong, that it’s important and urgent to plan for the worst and attempt to map out what may occur, but it’s also wise to not become too obsessed with this year’s certitudes, and to realize that “we never see what’s coming” (to quote No Country For Old Men). We get blind-sided quite often.

    We need people like George Will to force us to make our arguments tighter, more evidence based and cogent.

    [JR: The reason we get blindsided is that there are people like George will who have a megaphone and use it to fool the public, so they won't see what is coming.]