Shameless Flameout: Washington Post Once Again Publishes George Will’s Anti-Scientific Nonsense

You may recall the Washington Post‘s editorial page editor coming to his senses (briefly) in April 2011, writing, “The GOP’s climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion.”

But that was apparently no reason for the paper to stop deluding its readers with the umpteenth piece of disinformation from resident anti-scientist George Will. While many studies have shown climate change has worsened wildfires, drought, and deluges, Will mocked the President’s inaugural remarks:

He says that “the threat of climate change” is apparent in “raging fires,” “crippling drought” and “more powerful storms.” Are fires raging now more than ever? (There were a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006.) Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land-use practices?

2006? Seriously, George Will — and blinkered editors at the Washpost?  If you wonder why in Hell (and High Water) Will just happens to pick the year 2006, you need look no further than the above graph of annual U.S. acreage burned from the National Fire Center (via Tamino).

For Will and the Washpost, the “decline” since the record-smashing 2006 disproves climate change. In Will’s logic, unless ever year is worse than the previous year in all respects, humans are not suffering the effects of global warming.

We have moved beyond a time when such op-eds should be seen as just the outgrowth of a polarized political system. George Will, with the support of the Washington Post, is spreading disinformation whose goal is to delay or stop efforts to deal with climate change. If these efforts are successful, they will cause billions of people to needlessly suffer. As President Obama said, such Willful denial of “the overwhelming judgment of science” can only be seen as an effort to “Betray Our Children And Future Generations.”

Shame on George Will and the Washington Post. While it would be trivial to debunk Will’s entire piece, wasting everyone’s time is a key goal of disinformers like Will, so I’ll just focus on the fires.

Will coyly asks, “Are the number and severity of fires determined by climate change rather than forestry and land-use practices?” The key debater’s word there is “determined.” It should be “increased.”

The goal of disinformers and their media allies is to create a straw man whereby those who accept the overwhelming judgment of science are accused of saying global warming is the sole cause of a given extreme event, rather than an aggravating cause.

Will, a pedant of the worst kind, doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know. There is a large and growing literature that global warming is increasing the number and severity of wildfires in this country — and that it is going to get much, much worse. A 2006 cover story in the prestigious journal Science magazine, “Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity

We compiled a comprehensive database of large wildfires in western United States forestssince 1970 and compared it with hydroclimatic and land-surface data. Here, we show that large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt.

Even worse, the wildfire threat is poised to grow, causing a feedback effect that accelerates global warming. The 2006 study concluded:

If the average length and intensity of summer drought increases in the Northern Rockies and mountains elsewhere in the western United States, an increased frequency of large wildfires will lead to changes in forest composition and reduced tree densities, thus affecting carbon pools. Current estimates indicate that western U.S. forests are responsible for 20 to 40% of total U.S. carbon sequestration. If wildfire trends continue, at least initially, this biomass burning will result in carbon release, suggesting that the forests of the western United States may become a source of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide rather than a sink, even under a relatively modest temperature-increase scenario. Moreover, a recent study has shown that warmer, longer growing seasons lead to reduced CO2 uptake in high-elevation forests, particularly during droughts. Hence, the projected regional warming and consequent increase in wildfire activity in the western United States is likely to magnify the threats to human communities and ecosystems, and substantially increase the management challenges in restoring forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

NASA reported in December that climate models support this conclusion, projecting an increase in U.S. wildfires and “Causing A Further Rise In The Release Of Carbon Dioxide.”

Here’s a figure from a 2010 presentation made by the President’s science adviser Dr. John Holdren, about conditions projected for mid-century:

Nothing is going to stop George Will for spreading disinformation. If the wildfire data — which Will is obviously aware of since he cherry-picked the worst year (2006) — doesn’t persuade you something is amiss, and you ignore the actual science to make a fallacious argument, then you are beyond reason.

But the Washington Post has to bear some responsibility for continuing to publish Will. It’s not like this is his first time:

  • The Washington Post Continues to Publish George Will’s Climate Change Disinformation
  • The global cooling myth dies again
  • Washington Post is staffed with people who found ZERO mistakes in George Will’s error-filled denial column
  • In a blunder reminiscent of Janet Cooke scandal, the WashPost lets George Will reassert all his climate falsehoods plus some new ones
  • Will the Washington Post ever fact check a George Will column?
  • Memo to Post: If George Will quotes a lie, it’s still a lie
  • Washington Post reporters take unprecedented step of contradicting columnist George Will in a news article
  • 37 Responses to Shameless Flameout: Washington Post Once Again Publishes George Will’s Anti-Scientific Nonsense

    1. George Will is a shameless, serial liar. I stopped reading him years ago.

    2. paul magnus magnus says:

      Ludicrous! One sees clearly how we get Easter Islands.

    3. Maybe we should be challenging George Stephanopoulos to drop George Will from his Sunday This Week Round Table. Except, there are a series of Conservative talking heads who seem to have access, no matter how much credibility they lack. George Will is on the list with John McCain and Newt Gingrich. I can’t remember a Sunday in which one of them did not offer their misguided opinion on something. In fact, they are on the Sunday Talk Show circuit so much that once in a while they are even right correct.

    4. David Smith says:

      Think machiavelli

    5. Joan Savage says:

      George Will himself linked to the National Interagency Fire Center page; he provides no rationale for using a count of fires instead of total acreage burned.

      It might take someone more quantitative than Will to realize that if several small fires merge into a single larger fire, the result is counted as one fire, even though the total acreage burned exceeds the sum of the several small fires that initiated the big burn.

      From 1960 to 2011, there were only five years when total acreage burned exceeded eight million acres, 2004-2007 inclusive and 2011, all of them in the past nine years!!

    6. gus says:

      Unfortunately, debunking Will in the Post won’t affect the fact his nonsense appears in a ton of other papers. My area Sunday paper has him too, and his columns on almost everything are clueless.

    7. Aldous says:

      I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that Mr. Will manages to write about the NRA, WWII, the Kyoto approach, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, crony capitalism, the Canadian Tar Sands (funny, I thought a proponent would call them the Oil Sands. Perhaps, tar sands is just his opinion too), Obamacare, entitlements (food stamps and unemployment benefits) and the US debt issue in less than 1000 words or the fact that he has over 4100 comments on this piece.

    8. I think we can safely say that 90% of conservatives are just repeating rank misinformation on the issue of climate change. What’s worse is the media enables them by continuing to publish their nonsense and failing to correct their false claims.

    9. Me too, and I live in Corvallis, Oregon, for heaven’s sake. Will was in this morning’s local paper, spouting his nonsense.

    10. Raoul says:

      What, not the same George Will who predicted a Romney landslide in November? Obviously he knows something!

    11. David Kronner says:

      George Will is not a scientist , however he is an expert with words.he uses words just like the lawyers in the tobacco litigation’s I/E establish just a smidgen of doubt t
      o keep the jury out, however they finally got caught.hopefully George will be caught as well

    12. Steve O says:

      The last four links to previous posts do not work.

    13. Paul Klinkman says:

      Will has a weasel. He counted the number of fires, not the acreage burned or the number of homes burned by the fires. Perhaps 2006 was a big year for lightning strikes, but most of these little fires were quickly put out. We know that 2012 was a tinder dry year in Western and Midwestern America, so that once a fire really took hold it spread like crazy.

      It’s still bad math to single out 2006 and compare it to 2012. The acreage trend, shown above, would be the proper way to compare then and now.

      Should the editorial board of the Washington Post allow the publishing of outrageous weasels that mock our quest for peer-reviewed science? Not if they want to stay out of bankruptcy, they shouldn’t, but it’s their corporate right to consistently publish swill.

    14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      One of many. The MSM is a ruthless propaganda system designed to serve the interests of the hyper-rich elite who own it, and who own society. This sullage represents their by now plain determination to see ecological catastrophe occur, and to prevent, by any means available, any effort to avert it.

    15. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      One of the intractable features of a brainwashing propaganda system- forcible ‘dumbing-down’.

    16. John Hartz says:

      Yet another example of the conservative echo-chamber at work…

      Will used the same set of talking points as did James Taylor in his slop-ed, “The Overwhelming Judgment of Science Rejects Obama’s Global Warming Claims” posted on Forbes on Jan 24.

    17. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Paul, the WaPo can only profit from endlessly regurgitating swill by Will and the other Rightwing poltroons that infest its pages and those of all other MSM. The public are serfs, of no consequence. Any boycott, the only conceivable action, of subscription, is empty of effect. Any boycott of advertisers is similarly, if slightly less markedly, pointless, because the advertisers that the MSM are after are those who peddle expensive stuff to the economic elite. That uber-class would, I’m pretty sure, love little George ‘I can only tell Lies’ Will, as he represents their ideology and their power over humanity. Their arrogance has long since turned pathological, and they really appear to imagine that they can make reality disappear and the laws of physics reverse themselves, simply by an assertion of their mighty Will.

    18. BillD says:

      One of Joe’s main points is that comparing 2006 and 2012 is nonsense. In general, comparing any one year with another year makes no scientific sense. Also note on the above graph that the incidence of wildfires has shown a big increase since the early 1980’s. Thus, we might compare years before and after 1985. The graph shows a big increase and high variability between years. We need to look at trends to figure out what’s happening, not comparisons between individual years. Thus, Will’s comparisons just illustrate his scientific illiteracy. He’s also one of those who thinks that the only way that we can evaluate mean global temperature is by looking at new records. This is where the meme “no global warming since 1998” comes from. It’s one of Will’s favorite arguments.

    19. Bill D. says:

      People like George Will won’t get the message until the flames (or floodwaters) are right at their own front doors. It’s terrible to contemplate, but nothing would do as much to promote action on climate change as a major climate-related disaster hitting Washington DC directly. But as long as it doesn’t directly affect the Washington elite, they can keep pretending it’s not real.

    20. Ozonator says:

      George Will is just competing for Dennis Miller’s extreme GOP segment on the fringe. The Will name still sells.

    21. Steve says:

      I have no problem whatsoever with blasting the writer and the publication for this misleading story.

      I would humbly suggest complementing this article with positive mention of Ms. Rosenthal’s NYT’s Sunday Review article, “Your Biggest Carbon Sin May Be Air Travel.” Very interesting (and surprising to me) per-passenger tons of CO2 for “typical” business and vacation air travel vs. a year’s automobile driving and a year’s household electricity usage.

      Now… the big battle over European Union Emissions Trading Scheme probably doesn’t impose quite enough of a cost add-on to deter much air travel. So “taxing” isn’t likely to reduce GHG emissions meaningfully. So… maybe it would help to let more people know that perhaps you don’t just “gotta getaway” — on impulse — next weekend after all. And maybe business travel is not so essential to the deal 75% of the time.

      In any event, it’s good to get these facts out in wider circulation. Congrats to the NYT and Ms. Rosenthal.

    22. jyyh says:

      western US wildfires and spring/summer temperatures correlate strongly:
      has anyone done this sort of thing worldwide?

    23. Sasparilla says:

      That was a nice point Steve and a nice article in the Times…its so much less carbon intensive to drive or take a train if the choice exists. Here’s the article in question:

      Bit of a pain to remember President Obama signed that stupid law getting U.S. airlines out of the CO2 emissions program when flying to Europe where its…the law.

      I personally always thought the opponents of climate change action did not want a high visibility climate change action program up and working where a good chunk of the public would interact with it and say “that wasn’t so bad at all”…and that’s why all the countries not tackling climate change (and their fossil fuel lobbies) wanted it stopped and of course President Obama stepped up, clicked his heels and signed it – such a failure there.

    24. Ozonator says:

      Georgie also pooh-poohed ““more powerful storms”: … In 2005, Hurricane Katrina was called a consequence of global warming and hence a harbinger of increasing numbers of Category 3 or higher hurricanes. Since then, major hurricane activity has plummeted. No Category 3 storm has hit the United States since 2005”. Extremists aka deniers are found of blaming the storm category and landfalls in the US while and ignoring the lethal rainfall. On Saturday 1/26/13, I saw my CBS affiliate (WAFB) put on an infomercial that Israeli Holocaust victims are freezing to death and need your donation to buy them hats and coats. With AGW condolences, “the Cabinet is poised to approve an aid package for Israeli victims of a monster winter storm, the worst to hit the country in a decade … aid package is expected to provide at least partial compensation to homeowners whose property sustained damage not covered by insurance. The storm, packing gale-force winds, heavy rain and snow, battered Israel and Lebanon for five days earlier this month” (“Israeli ‘Hurricane’ Victims to Receive Gov’t Aid”; By Chana Ya’ar;, 1/27/13). So far, the extreme GOP has not said that they would cut a dollar of aid to Israel for every dollar of kosher FEMA aid.

    25. Mike Roddy says:

      You’re right, Patricia, Will is a joke, and Mulga, you are correct that Will is an instrument of the people who actually run this country.

      George fills the same niche as William F Buckley used to. The Right is forever looking for a public face that does not attract eye rolling laughter, since most of them- Palin, Limbaugh, Santorum, even Romney- are absurd.

      Like the lipsmacking, eye twitching Buckley, Will at least has a decent grasp of English, and looks like an egghead eccentric with his thick glasses and ugly bow ties. This in turn enables him to fill the role of the quirky outsider, in spite of never having an original thought.

      Will’s problem, apart form his absurd written production- he actually wrote an entire book about the balk- is that he invariably speaks out on behalf of established corporations. Even Buckley had a bit of integrity, and occasionally opposed big companies, but not George.

      The fault lies in the Post. Why does this fraud have a job?

    26. With regard to the Washington Post, innumeracy is extreme in journalism, and perhaps especially at the Washington Post. This easily might have sailed right past them. I wonder how many of their journalists and managers have had even one statistics course in college.

    27. Scott says:

      George Will simply used a trick to hide the increase.

    28. Spike says:

      “It is shown that future wildfire potential increases significantly in the United States, South America, central Asia, southern Europe, southern Africa, and Australia….The results suggest dramatic increases in wildfire potential that will require increased future resources and management efforts for disaster prevention and recovery.”

    29. SecularAnimist says:

      Joe, the most important part of this excellent article is that you correctly and unambiguously identified The Washington Post as a “media ally of the disinformers”.

      The Post must be held accountable. The Post’s editors and management should not be able to appear anywhere in public without being asked “Why are you DELIBERATELY MISINFORMING your readers about global warming?” They should be relentlessly, incessantly, repeatedly hammered with that question until they answer it.

      And the same applies to all the media entities that enable the fossil fuel industry’s bought-and-paid-for deliberate liars, like George Will.

    30. J Bishop says:

      Climate change may well be affecting wildfires, in part by extending the fire season. But interpreting the overall burned-area statistics is complicated by changing strategies by the federal agencies for controlling wildfires. In the last decade or two the trend is clearly toward less aggressive attack on the fire, and less priority on controlling it as soon as possible.
      It is now common to establish control lines well away from the main fire, and then to do a lot of burning-out of the intervening areas. That strategy is deemed to be safer, and allows a lot of “managed fire” objectives to be accomplished in the process of controlling a wildfire. As one example, many of the large fires of 2012 were made much larger by that approach.
      It is very hard to separate the effects of changes in fire control strategy, and also of the effects of resource drawdown when many large fires are burning, from the effects of climate change on the area burned.

    31. kelly anspaugh says:

      There once was a pundit named Will / who spewed foul denialist swill / In the face of true science / He spat his defiance / And gave his dumb fanbase a thrill.

    32. I read Will’s OpEd yesterday and I KNEW you’d be there immediately debunk it. That’s so great! You’re like a one-man rapid response team standing up to the misinformers. As Obama prepares to make this big climate push, we’ll see more and more cherry-picked stats coming from the denier media and politicians. Thanks for what you’re doing!

    33. Paul Klinkman says:

      It’s not that the progressives boycott the WaPo. It’s that average readers lose faith in the ability of the WaPo to tell them the truth. If readers really want unsubstantiated juicy rumors they can pick up the National Enquirer or the Onion.

    34. MarkF says:

      as said in comment 24, thanks Joe for responding to this stuff so effectively.

      “spreading disinformation whose goal is to delay or stop efforts to deal with climate change. If these efforts are successful, they will cause billions of people to needlessly suffer”

      … What should we call this? Should we start calling it Evil?

    35. TKPGH says:

      Everone commenting here needs to please tell George Stephanopolous to kick Will off his show. He doesn’t deserve airtime. At any rate, I’d be willing to wager Will knows that he’s so far out on a limb, he can’t turn back. If he ever admitted he was wrong on climate. his career would be shot.

    36. KoopinVA says:

      If I may, I would like to play devil’s advocate. Joe’s take on Will’s piece is only valid if you actually believe in science.

      Perusing the Good Books of the Abrahamic faiths I find no evidence that total acreage burnt due to wildfires is scheduled to increase in the early 21st century.

    37. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Cometh the hour, cometh the man. You will know them by the fruits that they employ. Look, compared to the bestiary of Rightwing knuckle-draggers that the MSM inflicts on us here in Australia, Will looks like Albert Einstein.