Will-ful Deception

On Sunday, George Will published an opinion piece in the Washington Post and other major papers called “Let Cooler Heads Prevail.” The highlight of the piece is a string of citations from the 1970s, which he claims shows that scientists then believed the world was entering a long-term phase of “global cooling.”

Here is Will’s first citation:

Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.”

Gilbert Martinez of the Stanford Democrats blog pulled the original article. He found that Will was being exceptionally dishonest. Specifically, Martinez discovered:

1. The article was discussing the impact of the earth’s orbital variations on global temperatures over periods of 20,000 years or longer.

2. The article’s analysis specifically excluded the impact of humans on the climate. (The predictions “apply only to the natural component of future climatic trends — and not to such anthropogenic effects as those due to the burning of fossil fuels.”

But Will’s column is deceitful in a larger sense as well. The fact is there was a temporary cooling pattern from the 1940s and the 1970s. Some in the media (notably Newsweek) improperly extrapolated that data into a long term trend of “global cooling.” But there wasn’t a single scientific publication that predicted “global cooling.” In fact, scientists warned against extrapolating the short-term trend into a long-term pattern. (Either through ignorance or malice Will concludes that, in the 1970s, scientists were “spectacularly wrong.”)


Meanwhile, Science Magazine analyzed 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003. Not a single one challenged the scientific consensus the earth’s temperature is rising due to human activity.

Question: Is there ever a point when printing mythology about global warming is incompatible with responsible journalism?