The Wonk Room has sent the following note to George Will, Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, and Washington Post Writers Group editor Alan Shearer:
Mssrs. Will, Hiatt, and Shearer:
I would like to call to your attention a factual error in Mr. Will’s February 15, 2009 column, “Dark Green Doomsayers.” I recognize that there was an extensive factchecking process of the column, but somehow a fabrication slipped through. Mr. Will wrote:
According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.
There is no such organization.
The Arctic climate is a research area of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, and the informal group of researchers does go by the label of the Polar Research Group.
However, “there is no such center at the University of Illinois,” the UIUC’s Dr. John Walsh has informed me in electronic correspondence. “There is a group of scientists and students working on Arctic climate, but no formal center.”
The existence of such an organization was first fabricated out of whole cloth by DailyTech’s Michael Asher, in a 1/1/2009 blog post entitled “Sea Ice Ends Year at Same Level as 1979“:
The data is being reported by the University of Illinois’s Arctic Climate Research Center, and is derived from satellite observations of the Northern and Southern hemisphere polar regions.
I myself was guilty of trusting the Washington Post’s multi-layered factchecking process, and have incorrectly referred to the UIUC Polar Research Group as the Arctic Climate Research Center in my own writing about Will’s column. After noting that the phrase first appeared on a notoriously inaccurate blog, I checked the facts with a UIUC scientist. I have since corrected the error in my own work, including my suggested correction for “Dark Green Doomsayers,” which I sent to Mssrs. Hiatt and Shearer via electronic correspondence on Feb. 22, as yet to no reply.
The suggested correction, as amended:
George Will’s Feb. 15, 2009 column 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 the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center said that global sea ice levels are “now equal to those of 1979.” Although the 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 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.
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.
Despite publishing criticism of factual errors and distortions in “Dark Green Doomsayers” by Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander, science journalist Chris Mooney, Secretary General of the U.N. World Meteorological Organization Michel Jarraud, Post blogger Andrew Freeman, and Post reporters Juliet Eilperin and Mary Beth Sheridan, the Washington Post has yet to issue a single correction for Will’s column, syndicated in dozens of newspapers nationwide.