Wash. Post still offers a comfortable home for George Will's climate change misinformation


George Will's January 24 Washington Post column continued his long pattern of misconstruing and distorting climate science in order to call into question the overwhelming consensus about human-caused global warming. Although Will has been repeatedly discredited on the issue, the Post continues to allow him to advance falsehoods and has yet to correct his global warming columns, and editorial page editor Fred Hiatt has defended Will.

Will's long history of global warming misinformation in pages of Wash. Post

Torrent of global warming misinformation continued with distortion of glacier data. In his January 24 column, Will said that the "menace of global warming" is "elusive" and claimed that an acknowledged error about Himalayan glaciers in a report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) constituted "another dollop of evidence of the seepage of dubious science into policy debate." In fact, scientists routinely present strong evidence of long-term global warming and its consequences, including evidence of "[w]idespread mass loss from glaciers." The IPCC itself, in acknowledging the error, stated that the broad conclusion about glacier loss in the report "is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment." [1/24/09]

Will cited no evidence to claim that climate scientists are suppressing or massaging data. In his December 6, 2009, column, Will claimed that "[d]isclosure of e-mails and documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in Britain -- a collaborator with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- reveals some scientists' willingness to suppress or massage data." Will cited no evidence to support his claims. He also flogged an out-of-context email to falsely suggest that it made the case for global warming "less compelling." [12/6/09]

Will claimed "evidence" of climate change is "elusive." In an October 1, 2009, Washington Post column, Will claimed that "evidence" of climate change is "elusive" and that scientists are overstating the threat of warming when they say -- in the words of a September 21 New York Times article Will criticized -- that a recent "plateau" in temperatures has "no bearing" on the long-term warming trend. In fact, scientists routinely present strong evidence of long-term warming and its consequences -- including a September 2009 United Nations report Will himself cited that says "rapid environmental change is underway with the pace and the scale of climate change accelerating." [10/1/09]

Will misused sea ice data in February 2009 column. In his February 15, 2009, Washington Post column, Will suggested that Arctic Climate Research Center (ACRC) data on Arctic sea ice undermine the case for the existence of "man-made global warming." In response, the ACRC reportedly stated:

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.

Doubling down, Will misused sea ice data again. In a February 27, 2009, column, Will falsely claimed that in his February 15 column, he "accurately reported" on the contents of an ACRC document. In fact, the document he cited rebutted the very argument he was making: The ACRC document that Will relied on actually stated that the sea ice data are consistent with the outcomes projected by climate-change models. In the words of TPM Muckraker's Zachary Roth, Will's February 27 column "amounts to a stubborn defense of the amazing global warming denialist column he published earlier this month, that was ripped apart by just about everyone and their mother." On April 6, 2009, NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) released new data on Arctic sea ice levels that further discredited Will's statements. [2/27/09]

Will criticized for "misrepresentation of the data" after distorting World Meteorological Organization (WMO) statistics about global temperatures. Will wrote in his April 2, 2009, column that "[r]educing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the WMO, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998." Will presented the WMO data as evidence that global warming may not be occurring despite the fact that WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud criticized him for similarly writing in his February 15 column that according to the organization, "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." Jarraud called Will's February 15 assertion "a misrepresentation of the data and of scientific knowledge." [4/2/09]

Despite criticism, Post does not correct Will's columns and Hiatt defends him

Will columns criticized by environmental community, Post colleagues. Will's global warming columns have been widely criticized by the environmental community and have also been criticized by Washington Post editorial board member and cartoonist Tom Toles, Post weather columnist Andrew Freedman, and Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander. Fellow editorial columnist Eugene Robinson also said that Will "cross[ed] the line" in spreading global warming misinformation.

Post has not corrected any of these columns. Despite the criticism of the Post ombudsman and other Post colleagues, as of January 24, Will's February 15, February 27, April 2, October 1, and December 6, 2009, columns do not contain any corrections, clarifications, or notes addressing the misinformation he has spread, nor does the January 24 column.

Indeed, Post editorial page editor reportedly defended Will's January column on sea ice data. The Columbia Journalism Review posted a piece on February 26, 2009, featuring quotes from Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt defending Will's discredited February 15 column:

"If you want to start telling me that columnists can't make inferences which you disagree with -- and, you know, they want to run a campaign online to pressure newspapers into suppressing minority views on this subject -- I think that's really inappropriate. 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." [2/26/09]

Posted In
Environment & Science, Climate Change
The Washington Post
George F. Will
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