By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

The cooling of George Will’s brain

Syndicated columnist George Will presents only one piece of evidence in his Sunday piece denying global warming — and he gets it wrong. Will writes:

As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. Since September, however, the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began. According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.

To which the research center replies:

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.

It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.

Much more from Climate Progress.

Final thought: What does it take for Will and/or the Washington Post to append a correction? As of 6:30 p.m., there was still nothing. Is it because his entire commentary looks ridiculous if he retracts the sole relevant factual nugget he included in his diatribe?

OK, not quite so final: David Bernstein stands at the intersection of Will and Jeff Jacoby.

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  1. acf

    When political commentators want to make a point, little things like facts, that get in the way, are not considered. Thus, when someone like Will, who doesn’t believe in the global warming issue, wants to ridicule it, anything goes. It’s up to the readers to say ‘wait a minute, this isn’t right’.On the issue of global warming, little is said to distinguish between pure warming as a cyclical weather phenomenon, and the effect human behavior has on the timing and depth of the problem. I think we’re bringing it on faster and perhaps steeper by our behavior. I guess you can argue about human influence in the issue, but I don’t see how you can dispute the fact of a cyclical warming trend in our climate.

  2. mike_b1

    And in a few weeks, George Will Jr., aka Jeff Jacoby, will take this “proof” and blow it even further out of proportion.Wait for it … wait for it …

  3. O-FISH-L

    I side with Harvard Ph.D and former NASA astronaut Harrison Schmitt, who recently said, “the global warming scare is being used as a political tool to increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making.””[Scientists have] seen too many of their colleagues lose grant funding when they haven’t gone along with the so-called political consensus that we’re in a human-caused global warming.”

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Just for once, it would be nice if you could try to stay on topic. Do you side with George Will?

  5. Tunder

    Dan – Impossible for O-Fish to stay on topic here. He is way too wrapped up in conspiracy theories. It is clear that Al Gore, et al. are desperately trying to “increase government control over American lives, incomes and decision making.” Can’t you SEE that!?!? And it is not just the United States. Government leaders all over the world are convening global warming summits, signing treaties, studying ways to decrease the effect pollution is having on the atmosphere so that they can exert MORE CONTROL OVER EVERYONE’S LIVES!Kind of funny that O-Fish loves to rant about the liberal, left-wing elite yet suddenly a scientist with a Harvard PhD isn’t such a bad thing.

  6. cavard

    Will said the following: >> many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming. <<Like whom? It aggravates me when people write "some experts" or "many experts" without being specific who they are. It's like a lazy attempt to confirm your own beliefs without doing any legwork and it's another way to come into a lead with a certain angle. FOX News is the worst offender when it comes to this. How many times have you seen a FOX News commentator or news anchor introduce a story with "Some people say" or "Some people are saying?" It's just an unconfirmed nebulous statement. This is not a practice Will (or other journalists for that matter) should be getting into.

  7. O-FISH-L

    Dan, I don’t side with Will if he’s wrong. I’m interested in hearing where a man of his intellect got his information. Meanwhile, entirely on the global warming topic, I agree with skeptics like Schmitt.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    I’m interested in hearing where a man of his intellect got his information.You already know, and he screwed it up. Will is indeed a very smart guy, but this type of careless error in service to his ideology is not uncommon with him.And what gives you the qualifications to side with a scientist who takes an extreme minority view? You and I are not qualified to evaluate complex scientific questions. We are qualified to understand where the broad consensus is.

  9. Michael Pahre

    First, let me say that George Will doesn’t know what he’s talking about in general about climate change (this subject) or economics (note Paul Krugman’s recent lecturing of Will on This Week [Without David Brinkley]). He’s nuts, and shouldn’t be writing on the topic.That said, I believe I see where Will got his statement that “global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”The answer: Will totally, absolutely, without question cherry-picked the data.What data? From exactly the source he refers to, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.Look at the bottom, red line on that plot — it is the “anomaly” of the total global sea ice area, which was the residual calculated by removing the mean seasonal variation [gray line] from the actual data [blue line].Sure enough, if you look at the last two months of 1979, and compare it to the last two months of 2008, then you see the exact same anomaly of around -0.5 million square km. You might think, like Will did, that the global sea ice area hasn’t changed in the past 29 years. But picking out that little bit of data for comparison is cherry-picking that would make Dick Cheney proud.A much fairer sample would be to calculate, say, the red line’s average behavior since 2000. While the line occasional goes above the zero-line (no change over the historical average), it is visually apparent that the red line falls below zero on average. And that the trend is downwards. Will’s assertion is contradicted.Will’s misleading cherry-picking of the data is an example of why politcally-minded hacks should never be allowed to see real data, otherwise they might abuse the data to support their hare-brained ideas. Let’s hope that the Obama administration can ferret out hacks doing this kind of stuff from NASA, EPA, NOAA, etc.

  10. MeTheSheeple

    Fish, just so we’re clear: Your Dr. Schmitt got his doctorate in geology, 45 years ago, from Harvard.That’s clear evidence Dr. Schmitt isn’t an idiot, but it’s hardly evidence he’s an expert on the latest developments in climate science. (Nor, for that matter, am I.)

  11. Akula515

    Fish says he agrees with Schmitt, although Schmitt is not an expert in the field. He does have a degree in Geology but he teaches Engineering Physics now. Also, from fish’s comment, it seems the basis for Schmitt’s skepticism is that scientists are losing their grant money or some nonsense. Not exactly hard science there.

  12. Batocchio

    I’m pretty sure Will has made similar claims before, or maybe they were just of this variety. (If you go back to Hurricane Katrina, he was mocking the notion that global warming made hurricanes more powerful.) As with most of his columns, he cherry-picks, distorts and ignores or hides context.

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