As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Triumph Of The Will

George Will resurrected a zombie lie yesterday. In fact, he literally resurrected it - Brad Johnson compared and contrasted his misinformation yesterday with a column from April 2006.

“Let Cooler Heads Prevail,” 4/2/2006

While worrying about Montana’s receding glaciers, Schweitzer, who is 50, should also worry about the fact that when he was 20 he was told to be worried, very worried, about global cooling. Science magazine (Dec. 10, 1976) warned of “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation.” Science Digest (February 1973) reported that “the world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age.” The Christian Science Monitor (”Warning: Earth’s Climate is Changing Faster Than Even Experts Expect,” Aug. 27, 1974) reported that glaciers “have begun to advance,” “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” and “the North Atlantic is cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool.” Newsweek agreed (”The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975) that meteorologists “are almost unanimous” that catastrophic famines might result from the global cooling that the New York Times (Sept. 14, 1975) said “may mark the return to another ice age.” The Times (May 21, 1975) also said “a major cooling of the climate is widely considered inevitable” now that it is “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950.”

“Dark Green Doomsayers,” 2/15/2009

In the 1970s, “a major cooling of the planet” was “widely considered inevitable” because it was “well established” that the Northern Hemisphere’s climate “has been getting cooler since about 1950″ (New York Times, May 21, 1975). Although some disputed that the “cooling trend” could result in “a return to another ice age” (the Times, Sept. 14, 1975), others anticipated “a full-blown 10,000-year ice age” involving “extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation” (Science News, March 1, 1975, and Science magazine, Dec. 10, 1976, respectively). The “continued rapid cooling of the Earth” (Global Ecology, 1971) meant that “a new ice age must now stand alongside nuclear war as a likely source of wholesale death and misery” (International Wildlife, July 1975). “The world’s climatologists are agreed” that we must “prepare for the next ice age” (Science Digest, February 1973). Because of “ominous signs” that “the Earth’s climate seems to be cooling down,” meteorologists were “almost unanimous” that “the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century,” perhaps triggering catastrophic famines (Newsweek cover story, “The Cooling World,” April 28, 1975). Armadillos were fleeing south from Nebraska, heat-seeking snails were retreating from Central European forests, the North Atlantic was “cooling down about as fast as an ocean can cool,” glaciers had “begun to advance” and “growing seasons in England and Scandinavia are getting shorter” (Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 27, 1974).

He shuffled around the quotes a bit, but they are basically the same ones. Which are, of course, wrong. And it's amusing how they're wrong, because Will values the fact that Newsweek and other pop-science publications wrote mass-market articles about global cooling over, you know, science, and the breadth of scientific opinion at the time. In other words, Will believes that anything in a Villager text reflects the collected wisdom of the entire world. The Village community presumes to speak for the scientific community.

But that's not all that Will was wrong about. He skimmed data about Arctic sea ice off a 45 day-old blog post from Jim Inhofe's climate denialist shop, which was quickly slapped down by, well, a scientist. And he wrote "[A]ccording to the World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade," which is practically the opposite of the truth.

Will could have done the world a favor by reading his own paper's news coverage and maybe canceling his column for the day.

The pace of global warming is likely to be much faster than recent predictions, because industrial greenhouse gas emissions have increased more quickly than expected and higher temperatures are triggering self-reinforcing feedback mechanisms in global ecosystems, scientists said Saturday.

"We are basically looking now at a future climate that's beyond anything we've considered seriously in climate model simulations," Christopher Field, founding director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology at Stanford University, said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Field, a member of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said emissions from burning fossil fuels since 2000 have largely outpaced the estimates used in the U.N. panel's 2007 reports. The higher emissions are largely the result of the increased burning of coal in developing countries, he said.

Unexpectedly large amounts of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere as the result of "feedback loops" that are speeding up natural processes. Prominent among these, evidence indicates, is a cycle in which higher temperatures are beginning to melt the arctic permafrost, which could release hundreds of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, said several scientists on a panel at the meeting.

True, that was the result of a scientific study and not what old Newsweeks were printing to sell copies through counter-intuition 30 years ago. But you know, it's a perspective.

Predictably yet somewhat hilariously, Will and his editor Fred Hiatt are ducking accountability on this tripe.

Mum's the word for George Will and the Washington Post when it comes to explaining how misinformation on global warming got into Will's most recent column.

Yesterday morning we called Will to ask him about the misrepresentations in his Sunday column. We also called Fred Hiatt, the editor of the paper's editorial page, to ask about the editing process that the Post's editorial page employs. Neither chose to answer our questions [...]

Will's assistant told us that Will might get back to us later in the day to talk about the column. And Hiatt said he was too busy to talk about it just then, but that he'd try to respond to emailed questions. So we emailed him yesterday's post, with several questions about the editing process, then followed up with another email late yesterday afternoon.

But still nothing from either of them, over twenty-four hours after the first contact was made. Nor has the online version of Will's column been updated, even to reflect the fact that the ACRC has utterly disavowed the claim Will attributes to it.

I get the impression that opinion columns in Big Media papers aren't rigorously fact-checked, with the excuse being that they are, well, "opinion." In practice, this becomes a license for Villagers to use the credibility they've assumed for themselves to lie. And if they make a mistake that actually filters through the roadblocks and reaches their editors, they face no consequence. In fact, they frequently fail upward. So they reprint the same nonsense the next week or the next month or the next year. And they are feted at cocktail parties through the next millennium.

Somebody convene a blogger ethics panel.

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