George Will and Journalistic Malpractice

Caught in a series of factual errors, or what many are calling outright lies about climate science, Washington Post columnist George Will has upped the ante for himself and his employer with his latest column on global warming.

Rather than issue a retraction and simply move on, today he reiterated his baseless claims that sea ice coverage is similar to 1979. His source? An electronics gadget blog that has a very dubious record on climate science.

Actual researchers have pointed out exactly the opposite: that arctic ice is disappearing at a frightening rate. “The pace of change is starting to outstrip our ability to keep up with it,” said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado - a co-author of a recent Arctic amplification study.

Describing the phenomenon as clear proof that global climate change in underway, the centre says on its website that “analysts at the Canadian Ice Service and the U.S. National Ice Center confirm that the Northwest passage is almost completely clear and that the region is more open than it has ever been since the advent of routine monitoring in 1972.”

“It’s not getting better; it’s continuing to show strong signs of warming and amplification,” added NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally. “There’s no reversal taking place.”

You get the idea.

Perhaps more interesting than refuting baseless claims that global warming all a big mistake, the reaction from George Will’s boss gets much more to the root of the problem.

When confronted with a tidal wave of complaints from his readership that his star columnist was spreading misinformation about climate change, Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt had the following lame response:

It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject — so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don’t make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn’t be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him.”

Here’s the rub: the media treats climate change as if it were a mere political debate. Within this frame, opinions matter as much as facts and it is somehow important to tell both sides of the story, even if there is no other side.

Scientists resolved the veracity of climate change about ten years ago. Climate change is instead a scientific consensus – the result of the largest peer-review exercise in human history. It is of course important to debate the science, but that happens within the scientific community, not in the popular press by lay people.

Think of the analogy with tobacco. Would it be ethical in the 21st century for a newspaper editor or TV producer to provide equal time to industry-funded “experts” asserting there is no link between cigarettes and cancer? Such industry funded media mischief went on for decades. Many millions of dollars of advertising were sold as a result of this “provocative” debate. Many people died during this period of industry-funded “controversy” questioning the obvious link between lung disease and cigarettes. Thankfully we have finally moved beyond providing equal time to lung cancer skeptics.

Must we also endure decades of so-called debate about climate science? Such journalistic malpractice has created a situation where the voting public remains dangerously ill-informed on what many researchers will believe will be the defining issue of this century. The decisions we make (or not) in the next five years will determine nothing less than the fate of the planet.

Hyperbole? Hardly.

While Al Gore might be derided for drawing the connection between climate change and extreme weather events, many climate scientists are already there.

In other words: if you want to see climate change, look out the window.

The devastating wildfires that swept through Australia this month were the worst in the nation’s history – and were directly linked to climate change. “Climate change, weather and drought are altering the nature, ferocity and duration of bushfires,” said Gary Morgan, head of the government-backed Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

Climatologist Professor David Karoly said the hot temperatures in southeastern Australia were “unprecedented. The records were broken by a large amount and you cannot explain that just by natural variability,” he said. “What we are seeing now is that the chances of these sorts of extreme fire weather situations are occurring much more rapidly in the last ten years due to climate change.”

The Australian Firefighters Union tasked with the grim job of dealing with these unprecedented infernos came away with a first-hand realization about our changing climate that might be lost on Mr. Will in the comfort of his Washington digs:

The firefighters union has now joined Green politicians and environmental activists in arguing that the deadly infernos are a climate change wake-up call to Australia. “

Closer to home, New York City is planning infrastructure upgrades to cope with a warming world and increased incidence of extreme weather.

Meanwhile in California, the state is dealing with unprecedented drought. “We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history,” said Water Resources Director Lester Snow last month.”

Need more?

How about the grim prediction this week from the world’s leading climate scientists that global warming could lay waste to large parts of the US and make even northern cities uninhabitable due to scorching temperatures.

“With severe drought from California to Oklahoma, a broad swath of the south-west is basically robbed of having a sustainable lifestyle,” warned Christopher Field, of the Carnegie Institution for Science when testifying this week before the US Congress.

Such hard facts really don’t matter in this case. It remains all too easy for lay-pundits like George Will to poo-poo the entire scientific community for their shoddy work. Perhaps the editors of the Washington Post even enjoying the controversy because it bumps up their circulation.

But maybe journalism is not entirely about selling ad space. Maybe it might be a good idea, in the face of truly apocalyptic consequences, to err on the side of caution.

Or even accuracy…



Just a moment here.

“He (George Will) reiterated his baseless claims that arctic sea ice coverage is similar to 1979.” - Mitchell Anderson

Of course, George Will said no such thing. So before ramping up the typical character assassination which is so rampant regarding anyone who deviates in the slightest from the AGW orthodoxy, let’s see what George Will really did say:

“According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979. ” - George Will

Andrew Revkin on the NYTimes states:

“The total area of sea ice in both hemispheres, by the ice center’s accounting, was “near or slightly lower than” area observed at a similar time of year in 1979.”

Since it appears another AGW foodfight is underway, at least ensure that the basic bone of contention is accurately portrayed.

So before ramping up the typical character assassination

paul s thinks fact-checking is “character assassination”…

”[…] observed at a similar time of year […]”

…and “a similar time of year” (early January) is “now” (mid-February).

at least ensure that the basic bone of contention is accurately portrayed.

Another of my irony-o-meters just broke.

Also, it must be nice for you to be able to spew bullcrap while claiming persecution. Isn’t it nice, paul s?


It is clear that Washington Post editors are afraid of facing down George Will.   In the last days of newspapers, they may regard George Will as meaningless to their future.

But I am bothered by why Will would repeat his irrational rant.   Perhaps he is looking toward his next pundit job - television.   Will knows that he has to generate audiences with outrage and controversy…facts meaning little in TV.  That best gives him a shot in his new medium.

If Will had not been so expressive, what other issues would we be dealing with instead?  It is a good thing the man has only pundit power.   But the denialist/delayers are ready to give him a medal.  Now we get to judge George Will  - I am perplexed, is he stupid or evil?   (deliberate stupidity is evil)

Or he may just be another fading media pundit deniarsaur.


Pardon me for mentioning it but has not thr satellite allegedly measuring nthe sea ice developed a fault?

Its been under reporting the sea ice -by a small matter of 500,000km2

There is plenty globalmice about and temperatures are as cold as ever.

They are dumpic excess snow into the sea in Oslo and Dakota has record snow fall.

All this as China and India continue to pump out CO2.  Yet you people would have usn believe that we should be getting ever ever warmer - a runnaway bdisasterous effect.  but after 10m years - nbot neven a tad warmer - its a tad colder.

George Will called the reaction to his first article a ‘tornado’. What’s his word for the blockback to his 2cd article Friday?

Senator Kerry has an article in today’s HuffingtonPost reacting to Will. This is an usual step for a Senator and I suspect it is reaction to the undercurrent of Sen. Inhofe disseminating cherry-picked or misleading gibberish generated by the professional deniers.

Will’s defense is that DailyTech really did say what he quoted. What? Will quotes an obscure ‘conservative blogger’ instead of asking the U of Illinois’ Arctic Center directly for the interpretation of their data?

Curiously, Will uses the phrase ‘mereticious journalism’ to describe Andy Revkin’s blog on DotEarth of the New York Times. What does he think the tripe coming from Inhofe’s office is, true truthiness?

This story is gathering momentum. If Dan Rather can be fired for believing a forgery, why should Will be retained after swallowing a pack of lies?

George Will has the trappings of a gentleman, and is all the more deadly for that. (Sine Nobilitas). His saving grace is that he’s so pompous few take him any way seriously. Yes, he’s had his errors brought to his attention on the sea ice and on the supposed cooling trend in the 1970s, but inexplicably he repeats his mistakes. As reported on the FAIR blog Will insisted that his interpretation of data from the “University of Illinois’ Department of Atmospheric Sciences was correct–despite the researchers’ repudiation of Will’s argument.” bv