I didn’t write about George Will’s recent global warming denial piece, because his numerous errors have been well documented. Even Nate Silver joined in.

But I can’t let the latest development pass. The Washington Post has refused to make any corrections to his column. Why not?:

Alan Shearer, the Washington Post Writers Group editorial director, told the Wonk Room that he looked into the accuracy of Will’s claim that “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979″:

We have plenty of references that support what George wrote, and we have others that dispute that. So we didn’t have enough to send in a correction.

In other words, the fact that University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research CenterPolar Research Group says that global sea ice levels are now whole lot lower than in 1979 doesn’t matter. As long as you can find a couple of people who say that the Arctic Climate Research CenterPolar Research Group said something else, you don’t need to make a correction or even mention that Arctic Climate Research CenterPolar Research Group disputes the position you attributed to them.

Note that under this policy Will can attribute any statement at all to any organization he wants and no correction would be necessary, no matter how much the organization denies the statement. For example, next week Will could write that the Smithsonian had concluded that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, and he would not have to correct this no matter how fiercely the Smithsonian denied it, as long as he could find a Creationist web site that said that was the Smithsonian’s conclusion.

Read more comments from Carl Zimmer.

Comments

  1. #1 stewart
    February 20, 2009

    I hate it when the early posts are all nitpicks – so I apologize. Don’t you mean ‘Arctic Climate Research Center says that global ICE levels’…?
    But yes, the implication that all sources are equal, even those that misrepresent actual information, is a bit too radical for me. What would happen if we accepted that for sport reporting?

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    February 20, 2009

    Thanks stewart, I fixed it.

  3. #3 Dunc
    February 20, 2009

    There’s an incident described by Chomsky from back in ’82 when he wrote to Newsweek to correct an assertion in one of Will’s articles, citing an earlier Newsweek article as evidence. They still refused to run a correction, because “the editor mentioned it to Will and he’s having a tantrum; they decided they can’t run it.”

    Anybody labouring under the misapprehension that factual accuracy counts for anything in today’s media really needs their head examined. The only important questions are “Will it sell?” and “Does the senior management like it?”

    “Is it true?” doesn’t even make the top ten.

  4. #4 larrydalooza
    February 20, 2009

    There is global and there is Arctic. Cannot argue that Global levels are up a bit… and Arctic levels are NOT a “whole lot” lower. CO2 is our friend and will bring the world into a period of prosperity. CO2 is not a pollutant. The Earth is historically short of CO2. The population grows, CO2 grows, plants grow… it is the Earth’s way of taking care of us. You people and your “be scared!!! don’t ask… just be scared” can take a flying leap… and when I become unhappy with funding this hoax with my tax money I am going to air condition someone’s forehead.

  5. #5 bi -- IJI
    February 20, 2009

    Holy crap. I was just listening to Episode 6 of Spin Cycles (via Greenfyre), which mentions that the word “objectivity” has a different meaning in journalism.

    In journa(ma)lism, “objectivity” means he-said-she-said.

  6. #6 bi -- IJI
    February 20, 2009

    > and Arctic levels are NOT a “whole lot” lower.

    So I heard from Jack Lacton’s Uncle.

  7. #7 TomG
    February 20, 2009

    Re #4

    Anybody missing a parrot?

  8. #8 Boris
    February 20, 2009

    I am going to air condition someone’s forehead.

    Wow, threats of violence from a conspiracy theory swallowing moron. How surprising.

    How about you lock yourself in an airtight room full of CO2 and report back on the benefits.

  9. #9 Scott M
    February 20, 2009

    “In other words, the fact that University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center says that global sea ice levels are now whole lot lower than in 1979 doesn’t matter. As long as you can find a couple of people who say that the Arctic Climate Research Center said something else, you don’t need to make a correction or even mention that Arctic Climate Research Center disputes the position you attributed to them.”

    At best, all that shows is that Will acted in good faith. The facts of the piece are still wrong and there is zero excuse for not running a correction. I live near D.C. and canceled my Post subsription years ago in favor of the online edition but my wife still subscribes to Newsweek. I’m giving serious thought to canceling that and citing this as the reason.

  10. #10 mark
    February 20, 2009

    Hilzoy at The Washington Monthly had a post on this, including a reply by WP Ombudsman Andy Alexander. Will ought to admit he was wrong.

  11. #11 Hank Roberts
    February 20, 2009

    > At best, all that shows is that Will acted in good faith.
    I doubt it can be stretched that far. The argument that a person wouldn’t knowingly choose to do bad things is as obsolete as the rest of the Chicago School of Economics.

    Dunc sums it up nicely:

    > The only important questions are
    > “Will it sell?” and “Does the senior management like it?”
    > “Is it true?” doesn’t even make the top ten.

    Duh. The strange notion that knowing right from wrong leads to doing right is rather well debunked lately.

    “… in a cheat-to-gain business scenario, a survey of accounting students suggest that ethical development may not be related to behaviour. In addition, consistent with Thorne (2001), results suggest that even if individuals may know ‘what to do’ for the ideal ethical decision, they may not always actually choose the ethical path. …”

    http://www.afaanz.org/openconf-afaanz2008/modules/request.php?module=oc_proceedings&action=view.php&a=Accept+as+Forum&id=499

  12. #12 Dano
    February 20, 2009

    Anybody missing a parrot?

    This parrot is no more. ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker. Bereft of life.

    At any rate, folks, you know that wingnuts have their own facts. Just because you people don’t believe them doesn’t mean they aren’t twoo!

    Best,

    D

  13. #13 Eli Rabett
    February 20, 2009

    Eli had a problem deciding whether #4 was from Sarcasto or someone with a pre-existing air conditioned head.

  14. #14 Paul
    February 20, 2009
  15. #15 Paul
    February 20, 2009

    Don’t know what went wrong with that URL, but here is a tiny version:

    DAMOCLES and IPY press release yesterday:

    http://tinyurl.com/bxqcvs

  16. #16 Paul
    February 20, 2009

    Doh!

    i give up!

  17. #17 P. Lewis
    February 20, 2009
  18. #18 Alan D. McIntire
    February 20, 2009

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/global.daily.ice.area.withtrend.jpg

    According to that graph, the anomaly in late 1979 was the same as the anomaly in early 2009, -1 million square kilometers in each case

  19. #19 bi -- IJI
    February 20, 2009

    Alan D. McIntire:

    The anomaly in 1979 was +1. You fail.

  20. #20 Brian D
    February 21, 2009

    The ever-comprehensive Things Break has been collecting reactions to this to showcase to the WaPo how idiotic this decision was.

    The list of weighings-in is rather impressive, and — dare I say it — bipartisan. (We’ve got Andrew Sullivan agreeing with PZ Myers!)

  21. #21 James Wimberley
    February 21, 2009

    “… Will could write that the Smithsonian had concluded that the Earth is only 6,000 years old …”

    The Smithsonian chose to celebrate the bicentennial of the greatest biologist who has ever lived with one three-hour seminar on his “influential book”. Stand by for the Velikovsky anniversary.

  22. #22 Alan D. McIntire
    February 21, 2009

    In reply to #19.

    http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/global.daily.ice.area.withtrend.jpg

    The column was written in January 2009. Obviously George Will would be relying on late 2008 figures. The anomaly shows an anomaly of roughly -.5 for late 2008. Now look at 1979 and notice that the anomaly does not stay exactly the same, but declines throughout the year, reaching rougly -1 in late 1979. Mr Will was comparing apples with apples, late 1979 with late 2008.

  23. #23 Ian Forrester
    February 21, 2009

    Alan D. McIntire said: “Mr Will was comparing apples with apples.” No he wasn’t, he was cherry picking therefore he was comparing cherries to cherries. Trends are not calculated by arbitrarily picking end points and comparing them. Trends are evaluated by doing, what else, trend analysis. Unfortunately, this simple statistical method seems to beyond the skill set of AGW deniers.

  24. #24 sod
    February 21, 2009

    The column was written in January 2009. Obviously George Will would be relying on late 2008 figures. The anomaly shows an anomaly of roughly -.5 for late 2008. Now look at 1979 and notice that the anomaly does not stay exactly the same, but declines throughout the year, reaching rougly -1 in late 1979. Mr Will was comparing apples with apples, late 1979 with late 2008.

    the piece was published on 15th of february. no need to rely on december data, when data is updated DAILY.

    his liberal use of the word “now” doesn t raise any questions with you?

  25. #25 ChrisC
    February 21, 2009

    Reminds me of this little piece of idiocy, which Tamino so nicely rebutted:

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/what-if/

  26. #26 Bernard J.
    February 22, 2009

    Alan D. McIntire, at #18.

    Your point?

    Oh, and whilst you’re at it, perhaps you would be kind enough to comment on the trend in the anomaly over the same period?

    And to explain to us about ‘signals’ versus ‘noise’.

  27. #27 Carl Zimmer
    February 22, 2009

    I’ve taken a look at what some trouble with a satellite sensor means for this kerfuffle: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/loom/2009/02/22/a-wrinkle-in-ice-or-not/

  28. #28 Douglas Watts
    February 22, 2009

    In journa(ma)lism, “objectivity” means he-said-she-said.

    False. Whoever says that is not a competent journalist.

    George Will is worth a lot of $$$$ to the Washington Post. They would rather let him print falsehoods than offend his sensibilities by printing a correction. It’s all about the $$$ and nothing else.

  29. #29 Douglas Watts
    February 22, 2009

    Shorter George Will: January 5, 2009 is about as cold in Washington, D.C. as January 5, 1979, therefore global warming is a hoax.

  30. #30 Brian D
    February 23, 2009

    False. Whoever says that is not a competent journalist.

    Bi was paraphrasing. The original suggests that scientific objectivity is evidence-based while journalistic integrity is viewpoint-based. The journalist is not considered objective unless he finds an opposing viewpoint (both sides of the story), while a scientist isn’t considered objective unless he can keep personal opinion out of his analysis. An evidence-based conclusion that is supported by 95% of the scientific community would be scientifically reported as the conclusion and journalistically reported as the conclusion plus a statement from a contrarian.

  31. #31 Jeremy C
    February 23, 2009

    At 10.07 am on July the 16th 2001 my left foot was 3 cms longer than my right foot. Anybody who says otherwise will have me shouting at them.

  32. #32 Paul
    February 23, 2009

    Grrr. Another of the the oft-repeated and highly egregious pseudo-science-masquerading-as-learned-opinion pieces.

    As an aside, did anyone follow the link to the actual [poll results](http://people-press.org/report/485/economy-top-policy-priority) which Will crows over in his 2nd last paragraph; namely the issues of both ‘environment’ and ‘climate change’ have fallen as priorities in the opinion of the American public. If a true indicator of public sentiment (not sure of sample sizes or questions posed) then this alarming point is the only noteworthy one raised by Will.

    Apologies if this has been noted somewhere above.

  33. #33 Chuck Ty
    February 24, 2009

    Tim,

    You should really check your facts before making yourself look so foolish and uneducated.

    Global sea ice levels:
    1980 Southern Hemisphere = 4.7 million sq km
    1980 Northern Hemisphere = 15.0 million sq km
    Total = 19.7 million sq km
    2009 Southern Hemisphere = 5.8 million sq km
    2009 Northern Hemisphere = 14.1 million sq km
    Total = 19.9 million sq km

    Computer geeks are about as qualified to comment on climate as Stalin would be on human rights.

  34. #34 Mark Schaffer
    February 24, 2009

    Hey Chuck,

    Could you post where you got your assertions about ice extent from so readers can judge both your veracity and the veracity of the source?

  35. #35 Chuck Ty
    February 24, 2009

    From the National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado

  36. #36 Mark Schaffer
    February 24, 2009

    Chuck,

    Why so coy? You clever little cherry picker! The center has many pages of data so why not show us just exactly how you got your results using their data? In the meantime, for the edification and amusement of others:

    http://nsidc.org/news/press/20081002_seaice_pressrelease.html

    Pay special attention to this little gem:
    “The 2008 season strongly reinforces the thirty-year downward trend in Arctic ice extent. The 2008 September low was 34% below the long-term average from 1979 to 2000 and only 9% greater than the 2007 record (Figure 2). Because the 2008 low was so far below the September average, the negative trend in September extent has been pulled downward, from –10.7 % per decade to –11.7 % per decade (Figure 3).

    NSIDC Senior Scientist Mark Serreze said, “When you look at the sharp decline that we’ve seen over the past thirty years, a ‘recovery’ from lowest to second lowest is no recovery at all. Both within and beyond the Arctic, the implications of the decline are enormous.” ”

    So much for your veracity Chuck…

  37. #37 Chuck Ty
    February 24, 2009

    Mark Schaffer,

    I see you cannot rise above an 8th grade mentality when addressing others, kind of matches your posts though. Cherry-picking? I simply picked a year and compare it to another. If cherry-picking was a problem then AGW liars wouldn’t have any work, people like U of Wash Prof. Mote for one.

    As for veracity; I can see lack a college eduction in a science related field to even try to determine a climate trend off only 30 years of data.

    Global Sea Ice at NORMAL levels: http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/global.daily.ice.area.withtrend.jpg

    Go back to school, even my dog is laughing at your post.

  38. #38 pough
    February 24, 2009

    I see you cannot rise above an 8th grade mentality when addressing others, kind of matches your posts though.

    Um, did you just claim that the contents of his posts match the contents of his posts and at the same time horribly misuse punctuation in an attempt to demean his apparent education level?

  39. #39 z
    February 24, 2009

    “As for veracity; I can see lack a college eduction in a science related field to even try to determine a climate trend off only 30 years of data. ”

    I wouldn’t have expressed it that way, myself.

  40. #40 Brian D
    February 24, 2009

    First: I can see lack a college eduction in a science related field to even try to determine a climate trend off only 30 years of data.

    Then: Cherry-picking? I simply picked a year and compare it to another.

    Drawing a line between two points isn’t a trend.

    You fail.

  41. #41 Chuck Ty
    February 24, 2009

    ‘Um, did you just claim that the contents of his posts match the contents of his posts and at the same time horribly misuse punctuation in an attempt to demean his apparent education level?’

    Please take an English class SOON!!!! Why are AGW nuts so dumb? That’s right, they didn’t actually get a science education at college.

    Still waiting for any AGW nut to PROVE your theory. I know its not possible to when the world has been getting colder and CO2 has been rising!!!!

  42. #42 Calton Bolick
    February 24, 2009

    Guy, your punctuation was off, and in some places wrong. Ranting about others needing to take English classes when your own use of the language is sub-standard isn’t gaining you any credibility. Now, if you something other than glandular eruptions to contribute, do so; otherwise, save it for your local AM-radio whack-job show.

  43. #43 pough
    February 24, 2009

    Please take an English class SOON!!!!

    Why? What did I get wrong? You don’t seem to have a solid grasp on the use of commas, periods or exclamation points. Cases in point:

    “I see you cannot rise above an 8th grade mentality when addressing others, kind of matches your posts though.”

    That comma should probably be a period or at least a semicolon. Also, like I mentioned before, you describe the content of someone’s posts and then say that the content matches the content of their posts. It’s redundant and it makes you look foolish, in my opinion.

    “Go back to school, even my dog is laughing at your post.”

    Again with the strange comma use, ironically used while disparaging someone’s lack of schooling.

    As for the whole PROVE thing:

    1. Proofs are for maths.
    2. There are thousands of papers on climate that sum up the current state of knowledge far better than I could in a quick post. (Also, I am not a scientist.)
    3. I’m far from certain you’re smart enough to understand it even if it were explained to you. The combination of smug ignorance and poorly-constructed sentences make me wonder if you’re a little slow.

    Please take an English class and maybe take in some climate science, too. I’ve heard Spencer Weart’s [Discovery of Global Warming](http://www.aip.org/history/climate/) is quite good.

  44. #44 dhogaza
    February 25, 2009

    Cherry-picking? I simply picked a year and compare it to another.

    In which he claims he’s not cherry-picking while stating that he did cherry-pick.

    Dumb.

  45. #45 pough
    February 25, 2009

    I think maybe we’ve been Poe’d. (That may be an incorrect usage of an apostrophe. I have yet to take the English class recommended to me by CHUCK TY!!!!)

  46. #46 Chris O'Neill
    February 25, 2009

    Chuck Ty:

    Computer geeks are about as qualified to comment on climate as Stalin would be on human rights.

    I see you cannot rise above an 8th grade mentality when addressing others,

    What a hypocrite.

  47. #47 Mark Schaffer
    February 25, 2009

    Wow! Chuck’s a little touchy when his mendacity is exposed. I wonder where we have heard about thirty year trends before? Geology 101 or maybe it was that pesky standard definition for smoothing weather data to see long term trends or the IPCC or some other, oh I don’t know, science course. Or perhaps it was the thousands of years of data provided by dedicated individuals taking ice cores, a slightly longer record than thirty years worth of data?
    Apparently none of this suits Chuck…so he cherry picks to suit his preconceived conclusion and then wastes time trying to convince a number of very smart people on this website that everything thousands of dedicated researchers are trying to warn us about is wrong.
    Perhaps Chuck is just another Nero fiddling that tune that denialists keep picking out while all the Romes burn and humans wiser than I and with more integrity in their fingertips alone try not fall into despair…

  48. #48 Barton Paul Levenson
    February 25, 2009

    Chuck Ty posts:

    Why are AGW nuts so dumb? That’s right, they didn’t actually get a science education at college.

    Oh, gosh, Chuck, please don’t tell my old professors I didn’t actually get a science education at college! They might take back my degree in physics.

    Still waiting for any AGW nut to PROVE your theory.

    Science doesn’t prove theories, it can only disprove them. Were you implying before that you had a science education?

    I know its not possible to when the world has been getting colder and CO2 has been rising!!!!

    The world hasn’t been getting colder:

    http://www.geocities.com/bpl1960/Ball.html

    http://www.geocities.com/bpl1960/Reber.html

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