The Island of Doubt

Once more into the breach

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.

And yet the assertions challenged were quite clearly plural. TPM Muckraker ran them down, as did Carl and Think Progress’ Wonk Room, along with scores of others.

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.


  1. #1 paulm
    February 27, 2009

    John Kerry ready to debate Will…Go Kerry Go. Its about time someone beats up on these err…repulsive people.

    Facts Are Stubborn Things: George Will and Climate Change

    In the old Republican Congress they even trotted out the author of Jurassic Park as an expert witness to argue that climate change is fiction. This is Stone Age science, and now that we have the White House and the Congress real science must prevail. It is time to stop debating fiction writers, oil executives and flat-earth politicians, and actually find the way forward on climate change.

  2. #2 Doug Alder
    February 28, 2009

    How do I put this politely?

    Why would you want to? 🙂 Politeness, like respect needs to be earned. Will is, at best, a moron, at worst, a prevaricating shill with no morals for the oil/coal industries. He deserves no respect and no quarter.

  3. #3 Hume's Ghost
    February 28, 2009

    I love how he cites Daily Tech likes it’s a science journal or a credible source of info about climatology.

  4. #4 Doo Darr
    February 28, 2009

    hahhha paulm reads huffingtonpost. ahhahahahaaha. suspicions confirmed.

  5. #5 Hank Roberts
    February 28, 2009

    > he cited Daily Tech

    Not just “like” it’s a credible source — he says it’s a news source.

    I am so itching to see the “20” Internet sources the WaPo accepted from wossname, Will’s research guy, and found good.

    I wonder how often they take a list of sources and approve it without changing it or finding anything better.

    > Huffingtonpost

    Yeah, sourcing that sucks too. There’s wackos everywhere in politics, and some of them are collected there for sure.

  6. #6 paulm
    March 1, 2009

    hahhha Doo Darr has a silly name….haahhhhhah – suspicions confirmed.

  7. #7 Sarah
    March 18, 2009

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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