Will-ful Deceit on Climate Change: Three Blunt Examples

In all three cases, basic fact checking show that George Will's sources and the experts on the issues fundamentally disagree with him.
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As discussed in WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)?, last Sunday's George Will column was a disgraceful example of distorted discussion of climate change issues. This deceitful piece and the Washington Post's seeming backing of it has created an uproar through the blogosphere that is seriously questioning what this sort of shoddy editorial management of opinion pages means for any Washington Post claim to journalistic integrity.

Now, this issue goes beyond this George F Will column to his serial stretching of fact to beyond the breaking point beyond truthiness. This issue goes beyond Will's repeated will-ful deceit to the repeated Post publication of deception, often dishonest opinion pieces related to global warming and climate challenges. This is more than about Will's deceit in Dark Green Doomsayers. Even so, it is worth returning to this specific deceitful piece to provide a simple summary of how it is deceitful with some quick references.

Here are just three of the explicit arenas of his deceit:

1. Claims that scientists (especially climatologists) were united in concerns over Global Cooling in 1970s. FALSE.
2. States that sea ice is same today as 1979. At best, misleading and disingenuous. And, his source disagrees with him.
3. States that there has been no global warming for a decade. At absolute best, misleading and disingenuous. And, his source disagrees with him.

"Global Cooling."

Will writes:

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"

And, he has reference after reference seemingly nailing the coffin shut to prove this point. Only problem: it is not true that there was some form of scientific consensus around Global Cooling. Science works from hypothesis to testing of hypothesis to, if it stands up to testing, that hypothesis becoming a theory. Unlike Global Warming / Climate Change, which is a Theory, Global Cooling was never more than "hypothesis" and a "widely" disputed one at that. Last fall, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published the peer-reviewed review of this issue with the revealing title of The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus. It begins

There was no scientific consensus in the 1970s that the Earth was headed into an imminent ice age. Indeed, the possibility of anthropogenic warming dominated the peer-reviewed literature even then.

But, the true extent of Will's deceit goes further than this. One of the authors of this study, John Fleck, wrote both blog posts and an opinion piece following Will's article. In Cherry-Picked Facts Heat Up Climate Debate (which should be a must read for the Post's hand-picked fact checking team), Fleck points out that Will selectively quotes from articles, misrepresenting the actual conclusions. As to Will-ful deceit, Flect notes

When George Will last wrote about this subject, in May 2008, I sent him a copy of the 1975 Science News article, hoping he might get a fuller picture of what was going on at the time. I got a nice note back from him thanking me for sharing it. It doesn't seem as if he read it, which would have been nicer.

After a fact and truth filled piece, Fleck concludes:

George Will is entitled to his own opinions. He is not entitled to his own facts.

Correlation of Will comments with the truth? Zero.

Global Ice Coverage

Will stated:

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 start with, the concerns from experts were over the dramatic fall in both the extent of Arctic ice and the thinner nature of existing ice coverage, not so much the global ice coverage. Thus, that is a misrepresentation. RE the Arctic ice,

Observed Climate Change

Recent observed surface air temperature changes over the Arctic region are the largest in the world. Winter (DJF) rates of warming exceed 4 degrees C. over portions of the Arctic land areas. ...

Sea ice extent averaged over the Northern Hemisphere has decreased correspondingly over the past 50 years (shown right). The largest change has been observed in the summer months with decreases exceeding 30%. Decreases observed in winter are more modest

To reinforce this point, lets go back to the WMO:

Because ice was thinner in 2008, overall ice volume was less than that in any other year. ... Ice 70 metres thick, which a century ago covered 9 000 km2, has been chiselled down to just 1 000 km2 today, underscoring the rapidity of changes taking place in the Arctic. The season strongly reinforces the 30-year downward trend in Artic sea ice extent.

It is not just about total coverage, but also total amount of ice. George might want to confuse with a recent spurt in ice extent coverage without addressing the greatly reduced total ice coverage.

But, let us turn to the global ice coverage. The ACRC actually chose to post a direct rebuttal to George's claims, calling them false.

"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."

In fact, George relied, almost certainly, on another deceiver whose deception was unraveled by greenfyre. This compared (incorrectly, it seems) Dec 1979 with Dec 2008 ice and this misleading piece has shot throughout the global warming denier / skeptic communities. Even if this were correct, this is a two-month old piece of material. As per Brad Johnson,

Will's claim about global sea ice extent would have been reasonably accurate -- though irrelevant to the question of "evidence of man-made global warming" -- if it had been published over a month ago. But by the time Will's column was published, global sea ice extent had dropped well below its equivalent 1979 levels. I assume [the Post's editors] would have corrected Will if his column claimed George W. Bush was still president.

Correlation of Will comments with being truthful? Nada.

Recent Global Warming

Will ends his travesty with the following:

Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones. Besides, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade, or one-third of the span since the global cooling scare.

Let's take a look, for a moment, at the UK's Met Office which stated in Global warming goes on

Average global temperatures are now some 0.75 °C warmer than they were 100 years ago. Since the mid-1970s, the increase in temperature has averaged more than 0.15 °C per decade. This rate of change is very unusual in the context of past changes and much more rapid than the warming at the end of the last ice age. Sea-surface temperatures have warmed slightly less than the global average whilst temperatures over land have warmed at a faster rate of almost 0.3 °C per decade.

Over the last ten years, global temperatures have warmed more slowly than the long-term trend. But this does not mean that global warming has slowed down or even stopped. It is entirely consistent with our understanding of natural fluctuations of the climate within a trend of continued long-term warming.

These natural fluctuations include the El Niño Southern Oscillations (ENSO) in the Pacific Ocean. In El Niño years - those when cold surface water is not apparent in the tropical eastern Pacific - global temperature is considerably warmer than normal. A particularly strong El Niño occurred in 1998 resulting in the warmest year on record across the globe. In La Niña years - when cold water rises to the surface of the Pacific Ocean - temperatures can be considerably colder than normal. Volcanic eruptions can also cause temporary drops in global temperatures because of huge amounts of dust thrown high into the atmosphere that reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the surface. A La Nina was present throughout 2007 and much of 2008; despite this temporary cooling, 2008 is currently the tenth warmest in the global record.

Earlier in 2008, they questioned Is Global Warming Over?

The recent fall in global temperatures has led to increasing speculation that global warming is a thing of the past.

Despite this fall, a look at global average temperatures reveals a different picture. It shows large variability in our climate year-on-year - warmer some years, cooler in others - but what is very clear is an underlying rise over the longer term, almost certainly caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases.


Another way of looking at the warming trend is that 1999 was a similar year to 2007 as far as the cooling effects of La Niña are concerned. The global temperature in 1999 was 0.26 °C above the 1961-90 average, whereas 2007 was 0.37 °C above this average - 0.11 °C warmer than 1999.

The year 2008 is likely to rank as the 10th warmest year on record since the beginning of the instrumental climate records in 1850, according to data sources compiled by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The global combined sea-surface and land-surface air temperature for 2008 is currently estimated at 0.31°C/0.56°F above the 1961-1990 annual average of 14.00°C/57.2°F. The global average temperature in 2008 was slightly lower than that for the previous years of the 21st century due in particular, to the moderate to strong La Niña that developed in the latter half of 2007.

The Arctic Sea ice extent dropped to its second-lowest level during the melt season since satellite measurements began in 1979. Climate extremes, including devastating floods, severe and persistent droughts, snow storms, heatwaves and cold waves, were recorded in many parts of the world.

George F Will seems to be claiming that the WMO has stated that global warming is over. The WMO would seem to disagree.

Correlation of Will comments with honest dicussion? None to be found.

That isn't all ...

These are, in truth, just three of the Will-ful distortions and deceitful elements of Will's OPED. But, take a look at these three. In all three cases, basic fact checking show that Will's sources and the experts on the issues fundamentally disagree with him. And yet ... and yet ... the Washington Post stands behind its publication of his deceit and distribution of Will through the Washington Post Writers' Group to over 450 newspapers One has to wonder how many of the editors, at those "over 450 newspapers", realize how little seriousness the Post's gives to its journalistic obligations?


1. Highly recommended: Brad Johnson, The Wonkroom, A Suggested Correction For Will's 'Dark Green Doomsayers' Column. A playful, yet quite substantive, attempt to draft a Washington Post mea culpa for allowing Will's deception into print. Links to substantive (definitive) refutation of key Will points. This follows up on Brad's correspondance with the Post's omsbudmen, who relayed "that the Post has a multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible". Well, minus all those errors that the blogosphere was able to dredge up in minutes.

2. Blogosphere-wide outrage? The outrage is being widely expressed across the blogosphere, with some quite high quality discussions. In WashPost Embraces Will-Ful Deceit, I am attempting to provide a reasonable catalogue of the various responses to Will / the Washington Post. This also has links to discussions of other truthiness pieces published within the Washington Post in its 'fair and balanced' approach to Global Warming issues.

3. ACTION: Consider raising your voice on this issue. There is always The Washington Post's Ombudsman: ombudsman@washpost.com. Perhaps more importantly, if George Will's deceptive and deceitful prose appears in your local newspaper, consider a letter to the editor questioning the editorial standards by which Will's dishonesty is allowed to be published. This diary, Brad's work, and the pieces linked to in WashPost Embraces Will-Ful Deceit provide far more than enough material for such engagement. ANother path is to join the Media Matters Take Action on George campaign.

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