George Will: A Conservative "Intellectual"? Not.

There is this strange idea out there that George Will is a smart person's conservative. Maybe it's the bow-tie.

But if you read his latest, scandalously hackish global warming column, you realize that nothing could be further from the truth. Any person who respects thought, ideas, knowledge, or the contemplative life--any person, in short, who deserves to be called an "intellectual"--could not write such a column; because any such person would have undertaken to learn something real about climate science before writing about it.

Yet this Will manifestly has not done, or he could not make the stunning, boneheaded, egregious errors he makes--such as, for example, claiming that "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare." Of course, the WMO/U.N. IPCC are among the lead scientific institutions that have embraced the now accepted theory of human-caused global warming.

I'm not going to bother a further critique of Will--others have done a bang up job here, here, and here, and that's just a small sampling. I merely want to dismantle the idea that he deserves to be considered a top conservative intellectual. Not on global warming. Not after this column.

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There is no explanation why committing journalistic fraud by knowingly or negligently publishing false information doesn't get you fired. It would seem to me that if my job were to write editorials (i.e., arguments) one of the first things my employer should do in evaluating my performance is check whether I use true premises in my arguments. If I do not, then I have failed miserably in a principle job performance assessment. WaPo is doing very little to make the case that the newspapers are indispensable because their "standards" are so much higher than web-based media. The standards on their editorial page are about the same as any random wingnut blog: "ignore the actual scientists and just make shit up if you need to".

Sadly Will was not like this before and used to be a formidable opponent in debate. Speaking of formidable debate opponents, I wonder if you know what William F. Buckley had to say about climate change when he was alive. Even if he was an obnoxious little eel (I can already hear the eels protesting), he was nothing if not intellectual and sophisticated, or at least a superb pretense thereof.

I don't understand people who say they like Will because he's honest. He isn't - he engages in quote mining of other politicians all the time. This is no different; he's just quote mining science now.

I'll say this for George Will, he saw though ID (even when William F. Buckley did not):

The problem with intelligent design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific but a creedal tenet--a matter of faith, unsuited to a public schoolâs curriculum.

Will is aging and employs a staff of researchers who end up writing much of his output. These researchers and co-writers may well have irrational and political agendas of their own.

George Will should retire gracefully; it is obvious he that has a less than complete grasp of the modern world.

I throw another couple of not entirely new cents on the offering from Will over at my blog. Maybe one is new.

Something I didn't go in to, perhaps should have, is that this is far from new for Will. He has been repeating the mantra about 'in the 70s the experts were calling for cooling' for quite a few years. One of the easier to remember dates is his extremely laudatory 'review' of Chrichton's State of Fear, so 2004. But it goes back farther, though I don't remember the dates precisely. A quick google news search ("George Will" "ice age") suggests it's at least back to 1992. Someone with full Washington Post archive access can follow this through.

Have you seen the response from Albuquerque journalist John Fleck? He actually wrote to Will back in May and sent him a copy of the full text of one of the articles Will quotes. Will thanked him, and then cherry-picked the exact same quote this time.

I wrote to George Stephanopoulos and suggested that he have Steven Chu on the program, This Week. They should talk about climate change and energy. Then, I suggested that they set up their panel with George Will and Chris Mooney. One who doesn't know anything about how science works and one who does.

It won't happen, but I would even watch that on pay for view.

Although I disagree with George Will on his analysis of the science, I think I understand the perspective from which he is writing.

He seems to be fairly immune to calamitous declarations of others, especially as he lived through many of them from the 1970s and 1980s. I think he is fair to have some healthy skepticism. (Many older folks have skewered Ehrlich, too.)

With that said, I think the science and science writing today in regards to these matters is much more understated. I would hope if Will was made more cogent of that difference in tone, he might possibly look at the science with more than his standard cynicism.

If the public understood scientific debate, articles like this wouldn't be a problem. Instead, many people get science confused with the legal system which pits bias against bias hoping that the truth always wins. Will employs typical tactics of (tv!) lawyers: cherry picking evidence or quotes (sometimes bending the truth until it is unrecognizable) and attempting to discredit his opponents with character assassination.

He's playing a different game than we are! Our choices are to either play the same game or get people to understand the different between legal and scientific debate. The former is about winning and the latter about finding truth. It's a big difference.

Science in this country has become so unnecessarily and intimately tied with politics that laymen have started thinking that just like in politics, one who has a stronger and more articulate opinion wins in science too. Evidence and data are an annoying distraction, and scientific expertise is just ivory tower pomposity.

To continue this discussion: Sadly, this George Will article will not help for the reputation of science journalists, amongst those observers (I am thinking mostly of some scientists) who do not see the difference between anybody who write regularly in a newspaper.

"any person, in short, who deserves to be called an "intellectual"--could not write such a column; because any such person would have undertaken to learn something real about climate science before writing about it."

Any person who thinks he might be an intellectual would not slam the parts of this sentence separated by the semi-colon together. One who would is simply an intellectual bigot in a brainiac frightwig,

By vanderleun (not verified) on 22 Feb 2009 #permalink