For those who are late to the party, recently George Will wrote a column claiming, most broadly, that in the 1970s there was a scientific consensus that the world was suffering from “global cooling” that was as firm as the current consensus about global warming. This is false. Will also made a number of additional, subsidiary factual errors that have been documented elsewhere. Yesterday, the Post finally responded to complaints about the column, sending a reply to my colleague Brad Johnson that stands foresquare behind Will, citing the existence of a “multi-layered” process to check the facts in the article. As for why it’s okay for Will to write stuff that isn’t true, the Post didn’t have much of substance to say. They picked one of debunked subsidiary claims, and said they think Will is right, though they acknowledge that the very organization Will was citing as an authority says Will is wrong. One could say that on this subsidiary point, Will perhaps made an honest mistake that the Arctic Climate Research Center has since corrected. But the Post instead says that Will is right and the Arctic Climate Research Center wrong about what the ACRC’s own research says. Meanwhile, they have nothing whatsoever to say about the other problems with the column.
These problems, it should be said, include Will’s overarching thesis. Will wrote, and is trying to get readers of The Washington Post to believe, that there was a scientific consensus about global cooling in the 1970s. This is false. Post readers are being deceived. And the Post is standing by the deceivers.
This started as a problem for Will, his direct supervisors, and the Post‘s ombudsman. But now that the Post as a paper is standing behind Will’s deceptions, I think it’s a problem for all the other people who work at the Post. Some of those people do bad work, which is too bad. And some of those people do good work. And unfortunately, that’s worse. It means that when good work appears in the Post it bolsters the reputation of the Post as an institution. And the Post, as an institution, has taken a stand that says it’s okay to claim that up is down. It’s okay to claim that day is night. It’s okay to claim that hot is cold. It’s okay to claim that a consensus existed when it didn’t. It’s okay to claim that George Will is a better source of authority on interpreting the ACRC’s scientific research than is the ACRC. Everyone who works at the Post, has, I think, a serious problem.