How do I put this politely?
It is not possible for a reasonable person equipped with a secondary education to read the material George F. Will cites in his columns arguing against the scientific evidence for global warming and come to the conclusions that Will reaches.
It’s been less than a day, but already the mountain of criticism written in response to a new column, leaked yesterday and published today in the Washington Post, in which American’s leading conservative columns defends his previous column on the subject, is astounding. Carl Zimmer’s is among the best, as usual. There’s also Zachary Roth at TPM, and Media Matters, just to get you started.
As is my druthers, I’ll restrict myself to one or two errors of fact. First we have Will’s claims that
The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged. The challenge is mistaken.
I will concede that Will is exceedingly clever at the phrasing he uses. But the simple truth is, the excerpts he chose from a long list of sources are not representative of the source material. The only piece of peer-reviewed science he cites to support his thesis that scientists in the 1970s expected the world to enter another ice age this century does nothing of the sort.
In his new column he uses the same tactic, a tactic I think it fair to describe as intellectually and ethically dishonest. He draws our attention to the recent discovery that a satellite being used to record sea ice extent in the arctic was malfunctioning. When scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center corrected for the error they discovered that the Arctic Ocean had an extra 500,000 square kilometers of ice on it. Will then criticizes the New York Times and its climate reporter, Andy Revkin, for not covering the story, implying a double standard of sorts.
But how important was the satellite error? Checking with the National Snow and Ice Data Center, we learn that
The F15 sensor drift does not change any of our conclusions regarding the long-term decline in Arctic sea ice extent. Such scientific conclusions, published in peer-reviewed journals, are based on quality-controlled monthly to annually averaged data. We have quality-controlled the final data through 2007; a thorough audit of the more recent data from 2008 shows that any discrepancies fall within the margin of error.
So what would Revkin’s story have lead with? In an attempt to emulate Times style, I suggest something along the lines of:
Scientists this week changed none of their conclusions about the state of the Arctic after correcting their records to compensate for a malfunctioning satellite that briefly resulted in an underestimation of the amount of sea ice in the region.
I think it safe to assume that there aren’t many editors who would consider that story worthy of a lot effort, if any. I also think it safe to assume that Will was aware when he wrote today’s column of the discrepancy between his implication that the satellite error is significant and the NSIDC’s statement that it isn’t .
Again, it is simply not possible for a reasonable person who has read the same material to share’s Will’s opinion.