[I realize that this has already been covered at Climate Progress and elsewhere, I am doing this more or less for archival purposes. -TB]
Image courtesy of Flickr user Scott Ableman, used under Creative Commons
The year 2011 started off with something of a surprise- George Will seemingly supporting science! Yes, this George Will. I wasn’t the only one taken aback.
Will’s journalistic colleague Andy Revkin was likewise surprised by this seeming about face from someone who all too readily attacked science when it conflicted with his conservative ideology, writing:
I think it’d make sense to devote at least as many column inches to this vital issue as you’ve expended trying to undercut decades of scientific study pointing to a growing human influence on the climate system.
This summer, Revkin again called upon Will to show how serious Will actually is about supporting science (and again at the end of August) by penning “a fresh column… building on [Will's] January rebuke of Republican lawmakers seemingly seeking to lead a charge away from federal support for science.” At the time, Revkin pointedly noted that Will was preoccupied with other topics.
Well, it appears Revkin now has Will’s response. GOP Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman recently had the gall to side with the scientific community on the issues of climate change and evolution. Today’s Republican party is infamously unique in its rejection of the scientific reality of man-made global warming. That a top-tier Republican candidate like Jon Huntsman would unabashedly stand with the scientific community was a welcome surprise.
Such apostasy was apparently sufficient to rouse Will’s attention where Revkin’s pleas to stand up for science were not. Will took to the pages of Fred Hiatt’s Washington Post to join his fellow Republicans’ assault on science.
For Jon Huntsman: You, who preen about having cornered the market on good manners, recently tweeted, “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.” Call you sarcastic. In the 1970s, would you have trusted scientists predicting calamity from global cooling?
Gee, Will sure does love recycling!
Setting aside the fallacy of believing that because science got something wrong in the past it follows that it’s incorrect now, Will is actually engaging in revisionist history.
Despite repeated claims by Will and others to the contrary, there was no consensus predicting cooling in the 70s. Rather predictions of warming “even then dominated scientists’ thinking” (Peterson 2008):
Had Huntsman listened to the balance of the scientific evidence in the 1970s, he would be looking pretty good 30 plus years later. Contrast that with Will, who manages to still get what was said then wrong today, even with the benefit of hindsight!
Are scientists a cohort without a sociology — uniquely homogenous and unanimous
I will freely stipulate that true unanimity is seldom achieved on any subject, no matter how well-established scientifically. That being said, on the question of the reality of man-made warming of the climate, it’s pretty darn close. Surveys of the primary literature show virtually no opposition (Oreskes 2004). Survey data also show that 97-98% of scientists with relevant expertise/who are actively publishing in relevant fields likewise support the consensus (Doran 2009, Anderegg 2010).
without factions or interests
On the contrary, climate science is necessarily an interdisciplinary field. And it’s precisely this patchwork, factious nature of the field that makes the aforementioned consensus all the more striking.
That scientists whose life’s work is focused on solar influence on climate are broadly in agreement with those who focus on the ocean’s role, and with those who study climatic changes in the geologic past due to orbital variation, volcanism, or plate tectonics, etc. that anthropogenic warming is driving the present climatic change is quite amazing, especially if one is as cynically-minded as Will. Self-interest (which we will see Will believes is quite the powerful motivator) is poorly served by the various alternative drivers of warming being exonerated by the scientists that study them.
and impervious to peer pressures or the agendas of funding agencies?
This is a rather pathetic appeal to motive. And it fails for much the same reason that the previous comment does. If one were interested in prolonging and maximizing the amount of funding one could receive for one’s own corner of the scientific community, swiftly and virtually unanimously reaching consensus on something is probably the worst possible way to go about it.
But if Will is genuinely interested in how scientific consensus can be reached and trusted, he could always consult an expert on the subject. Naomi Oreskes literally wrote the book on this topic as it concerns the triumph of plate tectonics (Oreskes 2001). For the truly concerned like Will, she’s also written an accessible primer on the consensus on global warming (Oreskes 2007).
Alas, given Will’s track record (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here), the likelihood of him bothering to actually educate himself on the subject appears to be about as slim as Huntsman’s chances for the Republican nomination.
As a parting shot, Will cannot resist twisting the knife in Huntsman over his science-affirming campaign’s poor reception by today’s GOP voters:
Your chief strategist, John Weaver, says the “simple reason” the GOP is “nowhere near being a national governing party” is that “no one wants to be around a bunch of cranks.” … Although you say the country is “crying out” for a “sensible middle ground,” you have campaigned for three months on what you say is that ground and, according to the most recent Gallup poll, your support among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents is 1 percent.
The folly of codifying anti-science beliefs into a technologically-rooted nation’s political platform would seem self-evident, a “no brainer” as it were. Will and his fellow conservative elites would do well to reconsider their present course, which is a “no brainer” of an altogether different kind.
Image courtesy of Flickr user saucy_pan, used under Creative Commons
- Anderegg, W., et al. (2010): Expert credibility in climate change. Proceedings of the National Academies of Science (USA), 107, 27, 12107-12109, doi:10.1073/pnas.1003187107.
- Doran, P.T., and M.K. Zimmerman (2009): Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change, Eos Trans. AGU, 90(3), 22, doi:10.1029/2009EO030002.
- Oreskes, N., ed. (2001): Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth. Boulder: Westview Press, with Homer E. Le Grand.
- Oreskes, N. (2004): Beyond the Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change. Science, 306, 57021686, doi:10.1126/science.1103618.
- Oreskes, N. (2007): The scientific consensus on climate change: How do we know we’re not wrong? Climate Change: What It Means for Us, Our Children, and Our Grandchildren, 65-99, DiMento and Doughman eds., MIT Press.
- Peterson, T.C., et al. (2008): The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89, 9, 1325-1337, doi:10.1175/2008BAMS2370.
[UPDATE: I see Phil Plait was having similar thoughts today.]