It’s hard to know just when George F. Will parted ways with reality. Some argue he abandoned respect for historical accuracy years ago. But it’s only in the last year or so, thanks to a series of bafflingly misinformed column on climate change, that it became clear to all but his most loyal readers that he no longer cares about getting it right.
Still, you have to appreciate his way with words. In this past weekend’s affront to the traditions of evidence-based commentary — a column that has been eviscerated by most of the better science-oriented bloggers who pay attention to such things — he assembles this marvelous string of English nouns, verbs and metaphors:
Next came the failure of The World’s Last — We Really, Really Mean It — Chance, a.k.a. the Copenhagen climate change summit. It was a nullity, and since then things have been getting worse for those trying to stampede the world into a spasm of prophylactic statism.
Prophylactic statism. You have to admire the guy for coming up with that one. It sounds so creepy, evoking as it does the allure of the sex trade and fear of communism, and yet implying a degree of scientific precision. What could be more American?
Like Will’s misleading reference to Phil Jones’ much-misrepresented interview with the BBC, however, the phrase doesn’t really mean what Will wants it to. Prophylaxis is all about preventing disease, which is a good thing. And who among us, besides Ron Paul and Sarah Palin, perhaps, has a problem with the state doing its bit to prevent disease? It’s almost as if Will is trying to slip in a negative reference to current efforts to reform health insurance. Maybe that was a Freudian slip?
As Hendrick Hertzbert writes in the New Yorker blog:
It is true, however, that the global warming problem probably cannot be addressed (let alone solved) without vigorous action by governments, acting separately and together, to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions that economists classify as externalities
This is axiomatic. And it’s hard to believe that even Will would take issue with the notion that if anthropogenic climate change is real, there isn’t a role for government in addressing the challenge. Indeed, it’s precisely because the problem will require global cooperation among nations that Will has chosen to attack the scientific basis for the existence of the crisis.
Unfortunately for Will and his pseudoskeptical colleagues, one can’t wish away a 150-year warming trend by dismissing arbitrary short-term periods as “statistically insignificant.” Not and still make sense. The Will’s editors at the Washington Post understand this.
So the question is, how long will the Post continue to pay Will to produce columns that are at variance with the basic principles of informed and thoughtful commentary? Is his indisputable way with words that much more valuable?