Carl Zimmer tells the whole story of how the Washington Post declared that George Will was entitled to his own facts. The latest development since my previous post is that instead of a correction, Will has produced a new column with more misrepresentations of the science. Joe Romm has already critiqued it, but I want to pick out one particular egregious bit of dishonesty.

Will writes

Citing data from the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, as interpreted on Jan. 1 by Daily Tech, a technology and science news blog, the column said that since September “the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began.” According to the center, global sea ice levels at the end of 2008 were “near or slightly lower than” those of 1979. The center generally does not make its statistics available, but in a Jan. 12 statement the center confirmed that global sea ice levels were within a difference of less than 3 percent of the 1980 level.

So the column accurately reported what the center had reported. But on Feb. 15, the Sunday the column appeared, the center, then receiving many e-mail inquiries, issued a statement saying “we do not know where George Will is getting his information.” The answer was: From the center, via Daily Tech. Consult the center’s Web site where, on Jan. 12, the center posted the confirmation of the data that this column subsequently reported accurately.

But the full statement from the ACRC Polar Research Group was this:

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

They unequivocally contradicted Will’s claim that “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”

So Will trimmed that part from their statement and made it look like all they they had written was that they didn’t know where Will got his information from. And yes, they did state that at the end of 1979, global sea ice levels were close to what they were at the end of 2008, but that is not what Will wrote in his column — he wrote “now” and not “two months ago”. His statement is unequivocally false and the Washington Post just does not care.

Things Break has a comprehensive set of links to coverage of the affair here and here.


  1. #1 Dano
    February 27, 2009

    OF course. All denialists have is cherry-picking nd quote-mining and misrepresentation.

    This is what should be focused on. This phrase.



  2. #2 sod
    February 27, 2009

    comparing two months in different years, coming to the conclusion that AGW is false, is a typical denialist “method”. this example demonstrates, what is wrong with it:

    the simple fact that this comparison gives a different result for December and February (two months that are just one month apart..) is a perfect illustration for this method being nonsense.

    perfect some day they will learn how to calculate a trend?

  3. #3 crf
    February 27, 2009

    I get all my information about the Israel-Palestine conflict from the website. Can I have my Post column now, please?

  4. #4 Dunc
    February 27, 2009

    The Washington Post would decide that George Will is entitled to sodomise puppies live on national TV if they thought they could make money off of it.

  5. #5 Andy Revkin
    February 27, 2009

    More on Will on Ice on Dot Earth:

  6. #6 sod
    February 27, 2009

    “perhaps” some day they will learn how to calculate a trend??

  7. #7 sod
    February 27, 2009

    The other relevant piece of information is that winter ice can only extend so far in the Arctic because the ocean is surrounded almost completely by coast. Once it reaches the coast, it can’t extend any farther.

    thanks Andrew. the explanations from Jennifer about arctic sea ice expansion/shrinking are a pretty perfect summary!

  8. #8 Dave
    February 27, 2009

    But if CO2 is rising, why isn’t the global temperature keeping pace? It seems to be lagging at a an increasing measure.

  9. #9 dhogaza
    February 27, 2009

    But if CO2 is rising, why isn’t the global temperature keeping pace? It seems to be lagging at a an increasing measure.

    Weather 101: weather happens. It’s a noisy system.

    We’re also in a La Niña phase … wait until El Niño kicks in. You won’t be asking this question then.

  10. #10 bi -- IJI
    February 27, 2009

    In the future, I think I’ll get my US news from Stephen Colbert.

  11. #11 Majorajam
    February 27, 2009

    dhogaza, you know this I know, but there’s more to the discrepancy between the historical relationship between CO2 and surface temperature than signal vs noise. There’s also the massive system inertia, particularly of the oceans, and all other long-term feedbacks (albedo, biomass, etc.). So the answer is that weather is obscuring trends, but additionally system inertia has made it so existing forcing is not fully priced in. And also that George Will is a collosal ignoramous (I actually think worse in the field of economics than physical science, but this I grant is debatable).

  12. #12 DavidONE
    February 27, 2009

    Good spot, Tim. I doubt that Will reads comments to his articles, but if he did he’d be crying himself to sleep tonight –


  13. #13 Scott M
    February 27, 2009

    Fred Hiatt should ask Howell Raines how well allowing facts-optional reporting at the NY Times worked out for him.

  14. #14 Eli Rabett
    February 27, 2009

    Amazing, Andy Revkin blog whores on Deltoid. Tie my ears in knots and pass the carrots.

  15. #15 MikeB
    February 27, 2009

    I didn’t think Will would bother to correct himself, considering his history (when you think you are an oracle for the gods themselves, how can you make a mistake?), but the fact that the Post let him get away with it twice is simply shameful.

  16. #16 luminous beauty
    February 27, 2009

    Dr. George Will, Ph.D.[Princeton ’68, Pol.Sc.], rightly defends his rightful inalienable right to be a right total doofus.

  17. #17 mz
    February 27, 2009

    Umm, Andy, you’re giving Will and Dailytech etc far far too much credit. You’re arguing vaguely and you’re missing the point. Get coherent please. The idea is very clear.

    If the sea ice level was at some level x for one month in 1979 and in 2009, it is misunderstood and mangled to a lie that the sea ice levels have somehow established a similar level for a longer time and are there now, two months after that “transient event”.

    That George Will refuses to correct that even now is very telling of him.

    It should be spelled out absolutely clearly so that there is no room for misunderstanding.

    At moments the Sea ice level will be similar to what it 30 or 29 or 28 years ago. This is actually expected in a noisy trend, sometimes data is contrary to the trend. Just like there are days in may that are colder than days in april.

    There was a big fuss made of the event by the denialists via Dailytech etc, giving the false impression to a lot of people who don’t know better that the levels had stabilized. Including George Will it seems.

    Your meandering text utterly fails at explaining this. This is the real story here.

    Sea Ice *was* high (well, only roughly equal to a historical value) for a month. George Will says it *is*, two months later. It *is not*. He refuses to correct this.

  18. #18 Nick
    February 27, 2009

    The ego of one columnist is worth more than the reputation of a major newspaper. Oh dear.

  19. #19 Barton Paul Levenson
    February 28, 2009

    Dave writes:

    But if CO2 is rising, why isn’t the global temperature keeping pace? It seems to be lagging at a an increasing measure.

    Because CO2 isn’t the only thing that affects temperature. It’s just the main one driving the present warming. It’s not a simple one-to-one relationship.

    BTW, the trend is still significantly up, not down or flat.

  20. #20 george h.
    February 28, 2009

    Sea ice in the Arctic has been melting a little, particularly in the summer, but its winter extent is much as it was 30 years ago when the satellites first started looking. More recent data are not available because the sensor has degraded.

    Changes in Arctic sea ice are well within natural variability over the period. The Arctic was warmer in the late 1930s and early 1940s than it is today. Moreover sea ice in the Antarctic reached a record high(but largely-unreported) extent in October 2007. Globally, sea-ice extent shows little trend in 30 years.

    Will’s detractors can quibble over details and dates, but the thrust of his argument is on point: the sea ice numbers do little to support the alarmist agenda.

  21. #21 bi -- IJI
    February 28, 2009

    Shorter george h.: Let no facts stand in the way of the Truth!

  22. #22 Jim Bouldin
    February 28, 2009

    Will writes, in his follow-up column:

    “The scientists at the Illinois center offer their statistics with responsible caveats germane to margins of error in measurements and precise seasonal comparisons of year-on-year estimates of global sea ice. Nowadays, however, scientists often find themselves enveloped in furies triggered by any expression of skepticism about the global warming consensus (which will prevail until a diametrically different consensus comes along; see the 1970s) in the media-environmental complex.”

    Uh……um…..where to start with mess of illogic?

    First, how does the second sentence in that paragraph, in any way, flow logically from the first? The UI ACRC folks use standard errors to quantify uncertainty, HOWEVER, now “skeptical” climate change scientists are attacked for their skepticism! Nice logic George!!

    Second, does will think that only the scientists at the UI ACRC use standard errors to quantify uncertainty, or are “responsible” with numbers? Is the man a complete ignoramus?

    Third, no George, it’s non-scientists who think, based on whatever they can skim off the first 3 Google hits they get when they type in “Global Warming”, that they know more than the thousands of scientists who SPENT A MINIMUM OF 10 YEARS STUDYING THE TOPIC and who eat and breathe the topic on a daily basis.

    Fourth, what “media-environmental complex”, George. Do tell please.

  23. #23 dhogaza
    February 28, 2009

    which will prevail until a diametrically different consensus comes along; see the 1970s

    So he’s still hanging on to this lie, too.

    Well, it’s easy to see why he likes baseball, with its history of cheating pitchers (spitters, nail files), corked bats, ‘roids, game-throwing (go, black sox!), etc.

  24. #24 mz
    February 28, 2009

    Ok, I must apologize to Andy Revkin, I was slightly overreacting earlier.

    Your article is pretty good and goes to the point if a little long windedly and vaguely.

    I was just frustrated by a lot of things.

  25. #25 Nick
    February 28, 2009

    george h., rubbish. Trends in multi-year ice? Not addressed by either george. More recent data not available? Rubbish. Massive changes in Arctic environment ignored by George Won’t. Quibbling detractors? Simply introducing real information into Wont’s prideful delusion.

  26. #26 Dorothy
    February 28, 2009

    Most of the comments I’m reading here have to do with Arctic sea-ice extent. This is important, of course, but what really matters is the ice thickness, and this is decreasing dramatically. Check out the article “Arctic summers ice-free ‘by 2013′” in BBC News:
    Or try Googling Dr. Peter Wadhams of Cambridge University, who has studied this extensively.

    The US was also collecting this data back in the days when their submarines were using upward looking sonar. Satellites don’t tell the whole story.

    Each year the Arctic ice gets thinner, and the ‘mushy’ new ice that forms each winter is taking the place of the harder multi-year ice. What do we expect? It should be obvious that we we’re going to lose the Arctic sea-ice in the summer.

    What we don’t know is just just how catastrophic the sudden disappearance of the summer ice will be. And this could be as soon as 2013. Not a lot of scientist want to talk publicly about this. If anyone has new information of this subject, I would like to hear it. I’m at

  27. >th Wshngtn Pst dclrd tht Grg Wll ws nttld t hs wn fcts.

    Ws ths bfr r ftr th Pst dcdd tht dmttd lr “Dr.” Jms Hnsn ws nttld t hs wn fcts?

    ll dnlsts hv s chrry-pckng nd qt-mnng nd msrprsnttn.

    Dn’s dfntn f “dnlst”:

    >nyn wh ds nt mrch n lck-stp wth th drmbt f my fr-lft Wrmst gnd

    >Wll’s dtrctrs cn qbbl vr dtls nd dts, bt th thrst f hs rgmnt s n pnt: th s c nmbrs d lttl t spprt th lrmst gnd.

    Whn hs tht vr stppd th Wrm-mngrs frm shtng “Th sky s fllng!” n th pst?

  28. #28 bi -- IJI
    March 1, 2009

    > Will’s detractors can quibble over details and dates, but the thrust of his argument is on point: the sea ice numbers do little to support the alarmist agenda.

    Word for word from george “let no facts stand in the way of the Truth!” h.

    > Anyone who does not march in lock-step with the drumbeat of my far-left Warmista agenda

    So, fact-checking, logic, evidence, and a willingness to admit mistakes are nothing but dictatorial tools of the “far-left” “agenda”, while mindless cut-and-paste, internal contradictions, thin air, and refusal to correct errors are signs of freedom-loving open-minded capitalist Galileo-tude.

  29. #29 Nick
    March 1, 2009

    GWAIS…words fail you.

  30. #30 JB
    March 1, 2009

    “The ego of one columnist is worth more than the reputation of a major newspaper. Oh dear.”

    After all their bogus pre-war reporting on WMD in Iraq [not!], The Post has a “reputation” all right.

    George Will is just keeping that up.

  31. #31 Robert Grumbine
    March 2, 2009

    I’ll invite y’all to come by and play the 20 links game. The Washington Post’s defense of Will, by the Ombudsman, included that he’d provided 20 links.

  32. #32 Dano
    March 2, 2009

    Shorter GWIAS:

    GLOBUL WARMINS A SCAY-UM!!!!!!! [fill in denialist totem demonization phrase of the week here]



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