Tag Archives: George Will

The conservative face of science and the role of consensus

[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.

Will sneered:

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!

Will continues:

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.]

Climate denialists George Will, Mark Steyn and school children

George Will just can’t help himself. And Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post (e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here) just can’t help enabling him and insulting their readers. In his latest assault on climate reality, Will decries attempts at global mitigation in a whine that reduces to “but…but…China!”- the familiar “reasoning” that the developed world is demanding that developing nations sacrifice their economies/development to curb emissions, the developing world won’t, ergo we should do nothing about it. Will scrupulously avoids discussing the very real, significant steps to shift to clean energy that countries like China are pursuing even as they resist firm emissions targets, as well as any discussion of technological leapfrogging, a key tool in balancing global emissions reductions with improving standards of living.

The only time Will brushes up against “facts” in terms of climate itself is once again to spread the myth that the world has stopped warming, and he does so this time by quoting National Review pundit Mark Steyn (original here). As Carl Zimmer points out, Will used to cite the World Meteorological Organization as the source for his claims before the WMO rightly smacked him down for it. Going from the WMO to Steyn is indeed “quite the upgrade” as Carl snarked. Will, with Steyn in quotes:

Fortunately, skepticism about the evidence that supposedly supports current alarmism about climate change is growing…

“If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.”

Notice how Will/Steyn are attempting to use the “no warming since 1998” canard [see here and here] without showing their hand?

If you’re 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life.

If you’re 29 now (born in 1980-1979) and your “adult life” began when you turned 18, that unsurprisingly gets you right back to the 1997-1998 El Niño.

If you’re graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade.

If you’re graduating high school in 2009 (likely age 17-18), and you entered 1st grade at the typical age (6-7), that brings us back, once again, to……… 1998.

I, for one, am shocked (SHOCKED!) that Will and Steyn would resort to such strained, bizarre accounting gymnastics to perpetuate this tired, cherry picked, denialist crap.

What if their arbitrary cutoffs had been 28 or “since you entered second grade”, putting the starting period at 1999? The trend would inconveniently be strongly and significantly positive [as would 1996, 2000, etc.]. Of course, we know via Robert Grumbine that you want to use 20-30 years of temperature data before you start drawing conclusions about trends. If your “trend” is dependent on such specific cherry picking, it isn’t a legitimate trend. And if your cherry-picked “trend” has been so debunked that you’re reduced to hiding it behind children’s birthdays and grade school dates, it’s well past time time to retire that lie.

Grow up, gentlemen, will you?

[UPDATE: In addition to Carl Zimmer, The Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson, Media Matters, and Joe Romm have more. Tim Lambert also points out Steyn’s illiteracy on that other favorite conservative science denier topic- evolution.]

Fred Hiatt and George Will think Washington Post readers are morons

After firing the only political reporter who actually practiced journalism, Fred Hiatt and the Washington Post seem to be determined to rub everyone’s face in just how much they don’t respect their readers. To that end, they’re  both seeking new sources of metaphorical feces to serve up to the public as well as dusting off some old favorites. An example of the latter is Hiatt letting George Will out of the asylum to continue his Herculean efforts (hereherehereherehereherehere) to lie as often and in as many ways as possible about climate change and its possible solutions.

Will’s latest “contribution” to the public discourse on preventing climate disaster is almost pitiable. Where he once took up long-debunked denier myths with a kind of perverse zeal (e.g. the myth of the 70s imminent ice age consensus), his new column limp-wristedly proffers a discredited market fundamentalist “study” alleging that green job promotion wrecked Spain’s economy. Even Will is aware of just how unserious the “study” is (the economic problems in Spain are largely due to their real estate bubble bursting):

It is true that Calzada has come to conclusions that he, as a libertarian, finds ideologically congenial. And his study was supported by a like-minded U.S. think tank (the Institute for Energy Research, for which this columnist has given a paid speech)…

What matters most, however, is not that reports such as Calzada’s and the Republicans’ are right in every particular. …

Still, one can be agnostic about both reports…

Etc. Those looking for a thorough dismantling of the “study” will have to go back a few months, as the rest of the world -including the denialosphere- gave up on it back in May (A. Siegel took aim here, see also herehere, and here).

You can read about the creation of jobs through the promotion of clean energy at NY Times’ Green Inc. here and here. For a comparison of energy sources in terms of their cost and [correction, EROI cost analysis is by Kubiszewski et al. 2009 Meta-analysis of net energy return for wind power systems] ability to curb pollution and climate change, you can read Mark Jacobson’s 2009 paper Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security. Wind, unsurprisingly, does quite well indeed.

George Will briefly redirects his hatred from casual dress to bicycles, continues descent into self-parody

Noted blue jeans-hating, global warming denying (here, here, here, here, here, here), conservative “intellectual” George Will seems to be hellbent on ensuring everyone under the age of 65 ignores him completely (if they’re not already, that is). A. Seigel brought my attention to Will’s latest, and Matt Yglesias also weighed in

But my favorite rebuttal has to be Amanda Marcotte’s delightful evisceration of Will’s know-nothing buffoonery, from her title (“George Will will grump your ass into your car”) on, she just nails it:

 Anyway, the column is fact-free and hateful, and Will’s arguments about the environment come exceedingly close to “I’m going to die before it gets really bad, so fuck you all,” but on top of all that, it’s an offense to language and writing as an occupation. Continue reading

Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt is still bending over for George Will

Via Brad Johnson, it looks like Fred Hiatt is still bending over backwards to defend George Will’s lies about climate change [previous posts here, here, here, here, and here]. I don’t have much left to say about this whole affair. We almost take political pundits’ lies for granted, but this continued insistence that Will was not misleading his Washington Post’s (and syndicates’) readers by Hiatt and Will is downright perverse.  Frankly, WaPo can’t afford this kind of idiocy from Hiatt, which is why its own reporters have done what Hiatt is too cowardly to do and attacked Will’s lies from within the Post itself. Indeed, George Will’s Washington Post lies about climate have become shorthand for the irrelevance of DC punditry and traditional journalism’s “he said, she said” failed model.

I wonder, what is it going to take for Hiatt and Will to get the message that no one is buying their tired BS? Resignations from WaPo reporters? Does Hiatt really think he can risk further jeopardizing the Washington Post’s brand given print media’s incredibly precarious state?

See A. Seigel, Zachary Roth, Carl Zimmer, and Dylan Otto Krider for more.

Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt and George Will: Stupid, Lying, or Craven?

[LATE UPDATE: I have added a correction in the “Craven” section.]

The correct answer of course is, “Yes.

Stupid: Reminiscent of my complaints back in a recent Lomborg post, one of the most infuriating things about the denialists is that they don’t bother putting even minimal effort into their attacks on mainstream climate science, and often make worse arguments than someone passing familiar with the subject could make. Case in point, Will claims, “Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming”. This is not just obviously, boneheadedly wrong- if Will bothered to get it right, it would actually have been a more forceful complaint! Reducing the amount we continue to raise atmospheric concentrations of GHGs isn’t going to cool the planet, Georgie boy. Continuing to increase their concentrations, even at a somewhat lower rate, will continue to increase the amount of radiative forcing in the system. In fact, even if we were to reduce emissions to zero today, there would still be warming, due to the immense thermal inertia of the oceans. Rhetorically (although not factually), making this point would actually serve Will better than the idiocy he wrote in trying to portray CFLs as a bad idea.

Lying: Will hedges the wording of his ridiculous claim that there has been no warming since 1998 to give the same impression while not explicitly saying so, but the end message is the same- according to the WMO, warming stopped in 1998. Something that the WMO debunked in the Washington Post’s own pages! Carl Zimmer:

Does the Post read its own letters? Does it remember them? Do they think if you add the phrase “stastistics” you can continue to mislead on the exact same point emphasized by Jarraud? Perhaps Will’s editors think if they put a link in Will’s misleading statement, it somehow makes it right

Craven: Hiatt and Will make no acknowledgment of the withering refutations of Will’s previous nonsense by countless critics, including scathing rebuttals from the WMO and the [Correction, see here for more] Arctic Climate Research Center University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Polar Research Group- two of the very organizations Will himself claimed as sources for his mendacious articles. Why don’t Hiatt and Will have the integrity to acknowledge their falsehoods and the ensuing refutations? Chris Mooney challenges:

So here’s an idea, Mr. Will: Why don’t you openly acknowledge your critics, and debate them, and explain to us all why it is that you think there’s a relationship between the 1998 record–which is only a record according to the WMO, not NASA–and the idea that global warming isn’t happening due to human causes?

For more, see Media Matters, Adam Siegal, and Joe Romm.

WaPo’s Ombudsman throws a sliver of bone to reality while ignoring the lion’s share of complaints re: Will’s falsehoods

Really?? This is pretty thin gruel. More tomorrow. I’m so disgusted with it tonight, I’m shotgunning three different food metaphors.  Aw, hell. Make it four: