Climate

Washington Post publishes two strong debunkings of George Will’s double dose of disinformation

Today the Washington Post attempted to restore some of its lost reputation as a credible source of information to the public (see “In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the Washington Post lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones“).

The Post took the unusual step of simultaneously publishing an extended debunking by a leading science journalist, Chris Mooney (here), and by the Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), Michael Jarraud (here), whose organizations’ work was misused by Will.

Kudos to everybody who wrote a letter to the post or its ombudsman and shamed the Post into publishing some journalism that is science-based, rather than ideology-or disinformation-based, as Will practices. Let’s hope it is a trend — the health and well-being of the next 50 generations depends on it. As Mooney wrote:

Perhaps the only hope involves taking a stand for a breed of journalism and commentary that is not permitted to simply say anything; that is constrained by standards of evidence, rigor and reproducibility that are similar to the canons of modern science 22itself.

Since Will was merely parroting long-debunked global warming denier talking points that all progressives must know how to answer, I will reprint extended excerpts below, starting with the powerful WMO statement:

Data collected over the past 150 years by the 188 members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) through observing networks of tens of thousands of stations on land, at sea, in the air and from constellations of weather and climate satellites lead to an unequivocal conclusion: The observed increase in global surface temperatures is a manifestation of global warming. Warming has accelerated particularly in the past 20 years.

It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record — as was done in a recent Post column [by Will] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.

The difference between climate variability and climate change is critical, not just for scientists or those engaging in policy debates about warming. Just as one cold snap does not change the global warming trend, one heat wave does not reinforce it. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit.

Evidence of global warming has been documented in widespread decreases in snow cover, sea ice and glaciers. The 11 warmest years on record occurred in the past 13 years.

While variations occur throughout the temperature record, shorter-term variations do not contradict the overwhelming long-term increase in global surface temperatures since 1850, when reliable meteorological recordkeeping began. Year to year, we may observe in some parts of the world colder or warmer episodes than in other parts, leading to record low or high temperatures. This regional climate variability does not disprove long-term climate change. While 2008 was slightly cooler than 2007, partially due to a La Ni±a event, it was nonetheless the 10th-warmest year on record.

And here is the heart of Mooney’s excellent debunking:

In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth. Just last year, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a peer-reviewed study examining media coverage at the time and the contemporary scientific literature. While some media accounts did hype a cooling scare, others suggested more reasons to be concerned about warming. As for the published science? Reviewing studies between 1965 and 1979, the authors found that “emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.”

Yet there’s a bigger issue: It’s misleading to draw a parallel between “global cooling” concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming — through the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific academies of various nations (including our own), and leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society.

Will wrote that “according to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.” It turns out to be a relatively meaningless comparison, though the Arctic Climate Research Center has clarified that global sea ice extent was “1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979.” Again, though, there’s a bigger issue: Will’s focus on “global” sea ice at two arbitrarily selected points of time is a distraction. Scientists pay heed to long-term trends in sea ice, not snapshots in a noisy system. And while they expect global warming to reduce summer Arctic sea ice, the global picture is a more complicated matter; it’s not as clear what ought to happen in the Southern Hemisphere. But summer Arctic sea ice is indeed trending downward, in line with climatologists’ expectations — according to the Arctic Climate Research Center.

This won’t change many minds in the short term — read the comments here — only a major change in media coverage along the lines Mooney lays out can do that. But it is a start.

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16 Responses to Washington Post publishes two strong debunkings of George Will’s double dose of disinformation

  1. Jim Eager says:

    Joe, your link to Chris Mooney’s rebuttal goes instead to Michael Jarraud’s.

    [JR: Fixed. Thanks.]

  2. DB says:

    From George Stephanopolous:

    Dems Make Choice: Health Care Over Carbon Caps
    http://blogs.abcnews.com/george/2009/03/scorpions-in-a.html

    When the White House released its budget, I said the president’s effort to reform health care and cap carbon emissions were “scorpions in a bottle” — only one could make it through Congress this year.

    This week, the White House and House Democrats made their choice: health care is the survivor.

    As the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have reported, House Democrats (backed by the White House) plan to write a budget resolution that allows health care to be passed by a simple majority (through the so-called “reconciliation” process) if a bipartisan compromise isn’t reached by September.

    Cap and trade will not get the same budget protection, and there are nowhere near 60 votes for it. Keeping it out of the reconciliation process recognizes reality: Congress can’t pass it in the middle of a recession.

    [JR: Really quite dumb analysis, which I will blog on in a day or two.]

  3. Ignorance is bliss; ignorance is strength; and ignorance is what the dittoheads applaud.

  4. ecostew says:

    Joe, These are the two links I posted in the last series and you indicated that I needed to keep current?

  5. ecostew says:

    I see – my one link was substantially delayed from the other – sorry.

  6. Carbon Caps are so difficult to legislate, administer and evaluate. A decade could pass before it gets working

    Best idea is a Carbon Tax linked to the CO2 levels… each ppm rise should be equal to the carbon tax percentage.

    Leave it in place until our noble, intelligent and wise Congress can reach political consensus on a scientific problem.

  7. Wes Rolley says:

    It appears to the general public that the Know Nothing Republicans are being joined by the Do Nothing Democrats. The result is the same as the world careens toward climate catastrophe.

    Wes Rolley
    CoChair, EcoAction Committee, Green Party US

  8. Will Greene says:

    That article by Chris Mooney is excellent. I just sent a link of that to my denier father and my denier brother. They are a work in progress!

  9. paulm says:

    outstanding stuff. we needed this sort of action earlier.

    I hope they copy it to all major media sources.

  10. Roger says:

    Yes, give us a balooning carbon tax–clear, effective, simple, adjustable, Wall Street-free–this is what we should have–not complex cap and trade.

  11. TB Downs says:

    Joe — my first post here, so if I misunderstand, you’ll let me know.

    It seemed to me that the segment of Stephanopoulos’ blog was more a reporting of facts (perhaps with a little opinion added), rather than an analysis. I’ll read the rest of it presently. It just seemed a bit harsh to characterize it as “stupid.”

  12. Joe says:

    TB: Thanks for posting. I’ll explain myself tomorrow. It was not reporting. It was a (mis)interpretation.

  13. We’ve got to be united to save earth! Earth Hour is practised at large scale in all developed and developing countries but there has been more publicity and awareness this year, as well as participation from large corporations like http://www.commit21.com/ which is a good sign – that there is still hope and that people still care!

    Let’s all do this, no matter where you are! Saturday, 28 March 2009. Lights off from 8.30pm to 9.30pm!

    Nature Concern

  14. PurpleOzone says:

    My letter to the Post asked where the editors to determine where Will got his talking points from? (i.e. Did he rely on somebody else’s cherry-picking and quote-mining rather than checking the sources he referenced?) a possible source, Senator Inhofe’s office: http://wonkroom.thinkprogress.org/2009/02/17/marc-morano-jokers/

    Mooney satisfied me he gets the problem:
    “Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists — following up on sources…”
    Hopefully the Post will be more careful in future source-checking. They pay Will for thoughtful articles, not for cut-and-paste jobs unworthy of a high school senior (if that’s what he did).

    Also, it’s interesting how things work sometimes: Senator Kerry wrote an article dissing Will’s article. Then Morano in Senator Inhofe’s office left suddenly. Senators are collegial and can’t run other Senator’s offices — but Inhofe has been a disinformation spewer and perhaps some action was taken? Watch and see if Inhofe “Senate reports” continue to feed disinformation to right wing bloggers. (or naive columnists).

  15. Bill DeMott says:

    George Will has been considered an erudite, deep thinking jounralist. I hope that he enjoys seeing articles that outline his “scientific illiteracy” in his homebase newspaper. We need to point out scientific illiteracy when we see it. If Will and othes could only get some experience with peer review (in an academic sense) it would give them an education.

    A scientific paper that uses citations in a misleading way would get rejected very quickly.

    Chris Mooney’s comments are great–he just sold me copies of his book.

  16. Kelvin69 says:

    In reality, our survey results point to an ambitious, highly motivated generation that shares many of the same concerns as their predecessors. ,