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The Washington Post Continues to Publish George Will’s Climate Change Disinformation

By Climate Guest Contributor

"The Washington Post Continues to Publish George Will’s Climate Change Disinformation"


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In April, it seemed like the Washington Post‘s Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt had a real come to … science moment with his blunt op-ed: “The GOP’s climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion.” I noted that it was a man bites dog story because Hiatt “in the past had printed multiple columns by George Will and Sarah Palin spreading disinformation on climate science.”

But Hiatt is back to publishing disinformation on climate science by Will.  In his Friday column, Will poses a debate question for Jon Huntsman:

You, who preen about having cornered the market on good manners, recently tweeted, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling? Are scientists a cohort without a sociology — uniquely homogenous and unanimous, without factions or interests and impervious to peer pressures or the agendas of funding agencies? Are the hundreds of scientists who are skeptical that human activities are increasing global temperatures not really scientists?

In fact, an excellent 2008 review article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) debunked that “pervasive myth” of “scientists predicting calamity from global cooling” and found “the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then.

A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. The myth’s basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then….

When the myth of the 1970s global cooling scare arises in contemporary discussion over climate change, it is most often in the form of citations not to the scientific literature, but to news media coverage.

The authors put together this figure on “the number of papers classified as predicting, implying, or providing supporting evidence for future global cooling, warming, and neutral categories”:

The article ends with a powerful discussion of what the National Research Council concluded in its 1979 review of the science:

In July 1979 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, Jule Charney, one of the pioneers of climate modeling, brought together a panel of experts under the U.S. National Research Council to sort out the state of the science. The panel’s work has become iconic as a foundation for the enterprise of climate change study that followed (Somerville et al. 2007). Such reports are a traditional approach within the United States for eliciting expert views on scientific questions of political and public policy importance (Weart 2003).

In this case, the panel concluded that the potential damage from greenhouse gases was real and should not be ignored. The potential for cooling, the threat of aerosols, or the possibility of an ice age shows up nowhere in the report. Warming from doubled CO2 of 1.5°-4.5°C was possible, the panel reported. While there were huge uncertainties, Verner Suomi, chairman of the National Research Council’s Climate Research Board, wrote in the report’s foreword that he believed there was enough evidence to support action: “A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late” (Charney et al. 1979).

Clearly, if a national report in the 1970s advocates urgent action to address global warming, then the scientific consensus of the 1970s was not global cooling.

As for the other bunk in Will’s piece, Media Matters dismantles it:

By Contrast, The Vast Majority Of Climate Experts Say Humans Are Warming The Planet

Survey: 97% Of Active Climate Scientists Said Human Contribution To Global Warming Is “Significant.” A survey conducted by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman of the University of Illinois asked earth scientists:

1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?

2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?

With 3146 individuals completing the survey, the participant response rate for the survey was 30.7%. This is a typical response rate for Web-based surveys….

Results show that overall, 90% of participants answered “risen” to question 1 and 82% answered yes to question 2. In general, as the level of active research and specialization in climate science increases, so does agreement with the two primary questions. In our survey, the most specialized and knowledgable respondents (with regard to climate change) are those who listed climate science as their area of expertise and who also have published more than 50% of their recent peer-reviewed papers on the subject of climate change (79 individuals in total). Of these specialists, 96.2% (76 of 79) answered “risen” to question 1 and 97.4% (75 of 77) answered yes to question 2. [Eos, Transactions, American Geophysical Union1/20/09, emphasis added]

Study: 97-98% Of Active Climate Researchers Agree; “Unconvinced” Researchers Have “Substantially” Less Expertise. From a study led by William Anderegg of Stanford University:

Although preliminary estimates from published literature and expert surveys suggest striking agreement among climate scientists on the tenets of anthropogenic climate change (ACC), the American public expresses substantial doubt about both the anthropogenic cause and the level of scientific agreement underpinning ACC. A broad analysis of the climate scientist community itself, the distribution of credibility of dissenting researchers relative to agreeing researchers, and the level of agreement among top climate experts has not been conducted and would inform future ACC discussions. Here, we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers. [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences6/21/10, emphasis added]

Survey: 84 Percent Of American Climate Scientists Say “Human-Induced Warming Is Occurring.” A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for George Mason University of members of either the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union found that “Eighty-four percent say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring.” [George Mason University, 4/24/08]

Survey: 84 Percent Of Climate Scientists Say Humans Are Driving Climate Change. Dennis Bray and Hans von Storch of Germany’s Institute for Coastal Research conducted an international survey of climate scientists in 2008 and asked, “How convinced are you that most of recent or near future climate change is, or will be, a result of anthropogenic causes?” Eighty-four percent answered either 5, 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 7 (very much). [Institute for Coastal Research, 2008]

Wash. Post Has Repeatedly Published Will’s Climate Change Misinformation

Will Previously Misrepresented A Study To Support His Global Cooling Claim. In April 2006, Will cited several news reports from the 1970s to claim that people were “told to be worried, very worried, about global cooling,” including a December 1976 article in Science magazine. In fact, that paper addressed only long-term trends “with periods of 20,000 years and longer.” [Media Matters, 4/7/06]

Will Distorted Sea Ice Data From Research Center. In February 2009 Will misused data and distorted statements made by the Arctic Climate Research Center in order to suggest that human-caused global warming is not occurring. Will later falsely claimed that he “accurately reported” what the research center said. The Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt reportedly defended Will’s distortion. [Media Matters, 2/22/09, 2/26/09] [Columbia Journalism Review, 2/26/09]

Will Misused WMO Climate Data Despite Criticism From WMO Official. Will wrote in a February 2009 that global warming is a “hypothetical” calamity and that “according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.” In response, WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud called this claim “a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge.” Nevertheless, Will repeated the claim in a column two months later. [Media Matters, 4/2/09]

Will Advanced “Climategate Falsehood.” Following the release of stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, Will wrote in December 2009 that the emails “reveal some scientists’ willingness to suppress or massage data.” In fact, numerous investigations later determined that the scientists involved did not tamper with data to exaggerate global warming. [Media Matters, 8/8/11]

Will Falsely Claimed “Evidence Of Warming” Is “Elusive.” In an October 2009 column Will claimed that “evidence of warming” is “elusive.” In fact, scientists have repeatedly provided strong evidence of long-term warming. [Media Matters, 10/1/09]

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23 Responses to The Washington Post Continues to Publish George Will’s Climate Change Disinformation

  1. David says:

    It is sad that such major publications are misinforming so many people.

  2. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    If not for the anthropogenic warming it would probably be much cooler by now. If Ruddiman is correct then even the pre industrial climate was affected by man. The areas of forrest removed through the second millenium were substantial.

    Based on the previous natural cycles, we should be a considerable way to the next ice age. With a long, deep, solar minimum and a La Nina now should be a particularly cold period. Even based on the 20th century now should be chilly.

    I would not want to go down to a purely natural CO2 level, or even a pre industrial level. But over 350 ppm is way to high.

    390ppm plus all the other green house gases is, in the long term, nearly suicidal.

    • A J says:

      I’d agree that some moderate warming isn’t a catastrophe, but that may be pretty much locked in already (due to inertial lag and long-term feedbacks). And although the warmth we’ve seen is especially unusual given the lingering influence of la nina and solar minimum, I’m not sure we’d be on the cusp of significant cooling either way. As I understand it, the holocene is an extended interglacial, and orbital forcing would take millennia to substantially affect the global averages. And a Maunder minimum type event wouldn’t likely be much of slow-down either, as Joe discussed:

    • riverat says:

      As I understand it, from calculations of Milankovitch cycles, the next glaciation is not due for over 20,000 years. You are right that current forcing would be for a slightly cooling trend if we just had the natural 280 ppmv of CO2. But that’s what’s been happening since the Holocene Optimum about 8,000 years ago anyway.

  3. john atcheson says:

    This is maddening. Will should not be allowed to intentionally distort facts to fit preconceived political notions — and make no mistake, his lies are intentional. There is no way he could hold onto the foolish and counterfactual notion that scientists were more worried about global cooling in the 70s after the firestorm from his last lie.

  4. Michael Tucker says:

    You can’t trust conservative propagandists to get even history right let alone science. George Will is a useless waste of time.

  5. cervantes says:

    William Safire had an official exemption from any requirement for truthfulness at the NYT — the editor even announced it publicly. Will apparently enjoys the same privilege now at WaPo. Why, I cannot say.

  6. Nick says:

    This guy bugs me more than Perry. Something about the erudite tone of his ignorant rants makes me want to punch him. I like my ignorant rants stumbling and a little aggressive.

  7. Pangolin says:

    Will is certainly NOT ignorant. Far more likely he is deliberately posting disinformation in the service of fossil fuel interests. These interests in turn will purchase repeated full page advertisements declaring what swell, helpful guys coal and oil corporations are.

    This kind of propaganda will also get George Will massive speakers fees at small gatherings where he is required to say very little. We shouldn’t be surprised if some of these speaking engagements are in the Virgin Islands, Paris, Bahamas or Hawaii.

    The pretense of an objective and truthful press isn’t even a pretense anymore. If you want accurate information go on the net.

  8. Jay Dee Are says:

    In his university years, Will majored in political science, economics, and philosophy. When it comes to real science, I think Will is ignorant. He’s in over his head on climate science and he won’t admit it. Washington is blighted with people who think they know more than they actually know, and Will is one of them.

  9. A J says:

    If I were Hiatt, I would not only ask Will to remove the repeatedly used, erroneous 1970′s catastrophe prediction innuendo, but to disclose where he gets his “hundreds of scientists” claim. Is it from Inhofe’s famously debunked list? Maybe the standards of accuracy are just loose in today’s editorial departments.

  10. Mark Shapiro says:

    Pangolin’s got it.

  11. Here’s a tactic:

    Go to the site, pick an advertiser and contact them saying you will not buy their product, since it was advertised in the Post, and since George Will is allowed his unethical rantings there.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Good idea, Richard. Big Greens have abandoned product boycotts, including formerly edgy outfits like RAN and Greenpeace. I wonder why?

  12. Bill G says:

    George Will is a phony intellectual if there ever was one. I love to see real economist Paul Krugman undress Will with his rapier of factual economic history on ABC’s “This Week”.

    Will has tried to build his intellectual image mainly by forcing use of an unusual and uncommon choice of words – usually big, hard to spell words.

    But his command of actual scientific or historic facts is paper thin and convoluted.

    He tries desperately to seem the wise man on all subjects. Instead he is a made-for-media wise man with no depth of knowledge.

  13. Solar Jim says:

    All sycophants of an emperor (our current finance paradigm) advocate the morality of serfdom and submission to autocratic rule.

    Will’s writing is but one of thousands of actions to come in support of fraudulent, ecocidal, plutocracy that seeks to enrich corporate persons at the cost of national health and global sustenance.

  14. Michael Heath says:

    I actually had an email exchange with the WaPo ombudsman the first time I encountered Mr. Will doing a climate change misinformation article (about Arctic ice extent that heated up the Internet). The ombudsman provided no confidence he would champion truth on this matter. He did concede the WaPo had factcheckers and an editorial correction process but failed to indict them or promise to resolve their failures in spite of the rash of lies Mr. Will asserted in that and subsequent columns.

    Because my regional paper printed his column they were kind enough to print an op-ed I wrote fisking Mr. Will’s column. The Traverse City Record-Eagle since followed-up by using an entire page in their opinion section dedicated to factchecking recent claims made by people with a bully pulpit. Unfortunately they continue to purchase Mr. Will’s syndicated column.

  15. Weird to see a smart person so relentlessly destroying his own reputation and standing. Selling out our climate stability must be worth it to him somehow.

    The laws of physics and future generations however are not going to be forgiving.

  16. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    At ‘The Guardian’, which, though better than most Western MSM, is, in my opinion, slowly moving into the confusionist camp of denialism, led by Fred Pearce, one of its more fervid and undisguised deniers, Simon Jenkins, even went so far as to reminisce about attending ‘global cooling conferences’ in the 1970s as a young journalist. Far be it from me to suggest that Jenkins is suffering from ‘false memory syndrome’, or some malady even more questionable, but I have searched high and low for evidence of any such ‘cooling conferences’. Journalistic license, perhaps.

  17. Solar Jim says:

    Mulga, Thanks for being a bright beacon in a sea of Western fraud, hubris, debt and contamination.

    It is sad that journalist Fred Pearce has apparently sold out (and drunk the Kool-aide) since his book, With Speed and Violence, is impressive. Yet, of course, since Western wealth is built on the finance of using mined materials for explosives, combustion and fission, sellouts are pervasive throughout the paradigm of Western wealth.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Sunny Jim, the sell-outs at The Guardian are coming thick and fast. Although still respecting most of his opinions, Monbiot has lost it, in my opinion, regarding nuclear power.Moreover, Mark Lynas, with whom I have had no truck since he, I believe, mischievously placed the blame for the Copenhagen debacle with China, when, in my opinion, it was a Western attempt to force a fait accompli on the non-Western world (as they are used to doing at GATT and WTO ‘negotiations)that was to blame, has also joined the pro-nuclear push, complete with nasty denigration of anti-nuclear environmentalists. It just goes to show, yet again, I would say, that the Western capitalist MSM is most dedicated to the preservation of capitalism, above all else.