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WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)?

February 15th, 2009 · 20 Comments

The Washington Post has a strong history of being “fair and balanced” within its pages when it comes to Global Warming issues, providing column inch after column inch of space to those actively seeking to deceive when it comes to what might (what likely will be) the most critical issue for this century. Without question, deniers / skeptics / delayers get far too much time and space in the OPED pages. Lomborg has been above the fold in Outlook. Multiple of these ‘regular’ columnists (Krauthammer / Samuelson / Will) have regularly launched inanities on the Post’s pages. (See: TRADITION! WashPost Global Warming reporting Fair and Balanced.) Dana Milbank’s recent piece using “Goracle” time after time is an example where this travesty goes past the OPED section. Yes, yes, yes. There is “fair and balanced”. The Post’s editorials, themselves, clearly state that Global Warming is real and that humanity is a driving factor. Yes, people like Bill McKibben and Al Gore have had editorials in the Post’s opinion section. But, that is the point: there is, it seems, a striving for “fair and balanced” rather than accurate and truthful when it comes to Washington Post editorial decisions about articles and opinion pieces on climate issues.

Last June, Will-fully ignorant began:

We could easily ask: Washington Post editors, are you idiots? In publishing George F. Will’s “Carbon Power Brokers”, the Post’s editorial board is complicit in the dissemination of deceptiveness and falsehoods surrounding policy making on what likely will be the most significant issue of the 21st century. The Post published this deceptive drivel the day before the US Senate begins debating the Lieberman-Warner Climate inSecurity Act. While, clearly, I have quite serious problems with the CiSA and do not support its passage, this debate and discussion should be on the basis of fact and truth, rather then deceit and truthiness.

Well, yet again, the Washington Post has chosen to demonstrate its devotion to Faux News’ deceptive motto in publishing deceptive truthiness on its OPED pages when it comes to climate change even while reporting in the news section some rather alarming news in the same domain.

Let’s start with the second, for a moment. Kari Lydersen reports from the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences (AAAS) annual meeting in Chicago that Scientists [are concerned that the] Pace of Climate Change Exceeds Estimates:

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,”

This article is a calm litany of the evidence, from around the globe, of accelerating climate change impacts. While not a suprise to any who understand the scientific conservatism of the IPCC process, this statement (this article) should be of serious concern to all. Yes, serious concern put onto page A3.

Thus, page A3 has factual and truthful reporting from scientists on climate change issues. Reporting that those scientists are warning that the general pronouncements on climate change are too optimistic, that the actual world events are worse than what the (oft-criticized) models predicted.

On page B7, far more prominently, is a crass display of anti-science syndrome by ASS-suffering George Will (and enabled by The Washintong Post editorial board and writers’ group) with Dark Green Doomsayers.

As per normal with Will’s work, this piece mixing true information with partial information to serve up a dish of disingenuous truthiness that serves to mislead and confuse. While there might be ‘true’ elements, Will’s truthiness is far from truth.

Will starts off with an attack on the Nobel laureate who is now Secretary of Energy.

A corollary of Murphy’s Law (”If something can go wrong, it will”) is: “Things are worse than they can possibly be.” Energy Secretary Steven Chu, an atomic physicist, seems to embrace that corollary but ignores Gregg Easterbrook’s “Law of Doomsaying”: Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.

Chu recently told the Los Angeles Times that global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack, which stores much of the water needed for agriculture. This, Chu said, would mean “no more agriculture in California,” the nation’s leading food producer. Chu added: “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

No more lettuce for Los Angeles? Chu likes predictions, so here is another: Nine decades hence, our great-great-grandchildren will add the disappearance of California artichokes to the list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen.

Have to say that, based on news reporting, Chu might have taken a step too far. (Seems likely that the actual words were probably more nuanced than the reporting.) If he said “no more agriculture”, without any form of caveats (’as we know it’, for export, or such), then he might have gone too far. Even amid cataclysmic climate change and water challenges, one could see that there would be urban gardens, tomatoes in windowsills, and other “agriculture” even as mass, exporting to the rest of the nation, water-devouring California agriculture withers away in the face of ever worsening drought.

So what is Will’s top item on those “predicted planetary calamities that did not happen”?

Global cooling recently joined that lengthening list.

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).

Wow. This is a pretty amazing list. And, as is legendary for the denier crowd, an attempt to overwhelm the conversation with citations implying that the weight of evidence is with the citations even as there is much to question. Here is another perspective on Global Cooling that suggests that Will’s cherry-picking misdirects from actual science. This a rather typical canard: ‘oh, those scary scientists, they predicted global cooling 30 years ago, now its global warming. They’re just loony environmentalists who want to scare us and do bad things to us.’ Well, today there is a widespread consensus (which will be, again, demonstrated with the coming IPCC report) as above, about Global Warming. In the 1970s, there was a popular science book on Global Cooling (The Cooling) that fostered some reaction in the popular press. There were magazine articles (includingNewsweek ), and some scientific speculation due to developing knowledge of glacial cycles combined with noted cooling trend from air pollution particles blocking sunlight. On the other hand, there was no IPCC, not 1000s of peer-reviewed studies, no … Now, to understand just how strong the agreement was in the scientific community on Global Cooling, we have to go no further than the Professor Reid Bryson’s (not the book’s author) introduction to The Cooling:

The Cooling will be controversial, because among scientists, most of the matters it deals with are hotly debated. There is no agreement on whether the earth is cooling. There is not unanimous agreement on whether is has cooled, or one hemisphere has cooled and the other warmed. One would think that there might be consensus about what data there is - but there is not. There is no agreement on the causes of climatic change, or even why it should not change amongst those who so maintain. There is certainly no agreement about what the climate will do in the next century, though there is a majority opinion that it will change, more or less, one way or the other. Of that majority, a majority believe that the longer trend will be downward. Nevertheless, it is an important question, as this book points out, and it is time for some of the questions to be settled. Lowell Ponte has summarized the data and theories very well, and has reasonably concluded that a rapid change in Earths climate is possible, perhaps even likely, within the next few decades, and that this would have serious consequences for mankind.

The introduction to Ponte’s book raises many questions and doubts about Ponte’s work but says that this is interesting work, an interesting hypothesis, and that this merits examination. Hmmm … a scientist who is saying “interesting hypotheis presented here, let’s figure out if he’s right and what it means”. Isn’t that how science is supposed to work with hypothesis being tested and either standing up to examination or not? Well, Global Warming/Global Climate Change is far advanced beyond this test a theory/concept stage. And, pointing to a few articles article to discredit the Global Warming work is a shallow effort to create doubt rather than serious examination of issues that should be taken seriously.

Even more directly, the American Meteorological Associaton published in September 2008 The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientifc Consensus which has this simple abstract to begin the 13-page review article.

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.

Well, perhaps our willingness to listen to Will as a serious contributor to the national discussion on Global Warming (or, for that matter, any other issue) might be cooling a bit based on actually looking at the literature.

Will’s will-fully distorting deception doesn’t end there …

Will continues his will-ful deception. For example, take a look at this paragraph:

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.

Wow. That’s pretty damning to the case for Global Warming, no, if the Arctic Ice cap is the same as 30 years ago. (That same period George has so decisively proven was dominated by scientists warning of global cooling.) Well, one would generally try to dig through the source organization to see what George is citing, to understand the data further. That is one of the skeptic / denier tricks: through out so much seemingly reasonable sounding information, citing instution after instituion, to seem reasonable to those who don’t follow the issue. And, throw out so many citations to make those dealing with the deception work overtime proving the falseness of the argument. In this case, we really don’t need to go beyond the front page of the Arctic Climate Research Center [9 April 09 CORRECTION: There is no such institution. This is link to the website "Arctic Climate Research at the University of Illinois]. Read these two paragraphs and see whether the researchers there agree with Will-fully Deceitful George:

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

Geez, George, seems that the very people you cite are pointing out that the Arctic ice is retreating. And, in addition, while George’s words aren’t clear, note the term “extent”. This is the amount of area covered, which doesn’t equate to the total ice mass. In fact, the amount of ice has fallen far more than the extent of ice, as the ice is ‘younger’ and thinner. There is less ice mass year-to-year (with some variation, of course).

Sigh … it continues.

An unstated premise of eco-pessimism is that environmental conditions are, or recently were, optimal. The proclaimed faith of eco-pessimists is weirdly optimistic

Actually, George, those concerned about Global Warming point out that humanity evolved into the present civilization amid a relatively limited climatic environment which, it seems, was conducive for our societal evolution. (Oops, another word that those suffering from anti-science syndrome detest …) We are driving the climatic balance out-of-whack with that ’sweet spot’ (in which change occurred, but a relatively low level of change relative to what Global Warming will drive).

George then uses a poorly worded PEW poll to ‘prove’ that the public doesn’t care about the environment (of climate change) in the face of the quite serious economic crisis. “Real calamities take our minds off hypothetical ones.” Actually, George urgent inbox items take precedence over tomorrow’s issues, even if tomorrow’s problem is much more important. In any event, the PEW poll (and George) didn’t allow people to suggest that they saw environment, energy, and economy linked. That they saw common solutions to the 3Es, which they might merit as all serious problems. A ‘priority’ poll doesn’t enable nuance, doesn’t enable robust understanding without follow-up. And, this poll had no follow-up and, if it had, it is hard to believe that Will-fully Deceitful George would have paid any attention.

What about …
With this challenge to George, there are those who will respond with lines like the following:

  • It’s only an OPED.
  • He is entitled to his opinion.
  • There is the First Amendment. Are you calling for suppression of the Freedom of Speech.

And, so on …

Let us be clear. George Will is willfully engaged in deception and disinformation in an arena of, quite literally, life-and-death implications. At what point is yelling “no fire”, when there is one, rise to the level of endangerment?

And, by publishing such distorting drivel (time after time), are Washington Post (and other traditional media) editors simply dim-witted enablers of a disinformation effort or actively collaborationists in the efforts to confuse the American public and inhibit serious dialogue about options and paths forward?

Taking a step back …

There are reasoned areas of scientific debate. What will the effects be? What will the timing and pattern be for climate change? What are second and tertiary effects? How does human activity interact with natural patterns in a systems-of-systems fashion? And, on the solution side, what are the ways in which agrichar/biochar work? Etc … Scientists are debating very serious issues, but “the scientific evidence is overwhelming” that global warming is real and that humanity is a key driving factor in it.

Update. See Joe Romm, Is George Will the most ignorant national columnist? for a calmer and far more extensively footnoted into the scientific literature examination of Will’s calumniation.

Tags: Energy · Global Warming · climate change · climate delayers · environmental · global warming deniers

20 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Richad Mercer // Feb 15, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    The media does both. They overdue the fair and balanced thing unwittingly, and some wittingly aim to sway public opinion toward the denier camp. I would say the WSJ and The Australian fall in the second category along with Fox, Lou Dobbs on CNN, and the Calgary paper etc. Even liberal commentators like Rachel Maddow and Keith Olberman, don’t fully get it in my opinion. They talked and talked about the pros and cons of the stimulus bill in Congress, and about the liberal and conservative take on it. But they barely mentioned climate change, if at all. To me it seemed obvious that it is the number one issue driving the partisanship over the stimulus package. No one is saying that, though.

  • 2 Richad Mercer // Feb 15, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    Cooling in the 70s?

    42 scientific papers projected AGW
    7 scientific papers projected cooling.

    6-1 ratio

  • 3 A. Siegel: Scientist’s caution about caution distorted by distorters - CHASTER - All Around The World // Feb 16, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    [...] not even suggesting that global warming has a relationship to severe weather events/situations or Will-fully deceptive opinion pieces, it is sad that Pope has chosen to use 15 minutes of fame to attack those trying to raise the alarm [...]

  • 4 Will-ful Deception = No Fact Checking // Feb 16, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    [...] ← WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)? [...]

  • 5 WashPost Embraces Will-Ful Deceit // Feb 21, 2009 at 1:01 am

    [...] on global warming issues. And, from that silence, the Post’s Ombudsman emerged to embrace the Will-ful deceit. And, for whatever reason, unlike the myriad other times that Washington Post opinion pages have [...]

  • 6 Will-ful Deceit: three blunt examples // Feb 21, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    [...] discussed in WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)?, last Sunday’s George Will column was a disgraceful example of distorted discussion of [...]

  • 7 Will’s whining … defending the indefensible … // Feb 26, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    [...] … what does this say about The Washington Post and The Washington Post Writer’s [...]

  • 8 Waiting for WaPo « The Way Things Break // Feb 27, 2009 at 1:08 am

    [...] A. Siegal, Get Energy Smart Now - WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)? [2/15/09] [...]

  • 9 George F. Will goes platinum « Greenfyre’s // Mar 5, 2009 at 10:52 am

    [...] WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)? [...]

  • 10 The Will Affair … struggling to keep up // Mar 5, 2009 at 11:39 am

    [...] WashPost: Complicit in Disformation (or explicit collaboration)? 15 Feb 09, an initial dissection of Will’s 15 Feb 09 column, but also highlighting that Will’s disinformation is part of a larger pattern within The Washington Post, no isolated to just this column nor just to George Will. The Washington Post has a strong history of being “fair and balanced” within its pages when it comes to Global Warming issues, providing column inch after column inch of space to those actively seeking to deceive when it comes to what might (what likely will be) the most critical issue for this century. Without question, deniers / skeptics / delayers get far too much time and space in the OPED pages. Lomborg has been above the fold in Outlook. Multiple of these ‘regular’ columnists (Krauthammer / Samuelson / Will) have regularly launched inanities on the Post’s pages. (See: TRADITION! WashPost Global Warming reporting Fair and Balanced.) Dana Milbank’s recent piece using “Goracle” time after time is an example where this travesty goes past the OPED section. Yes, yes, yes. There is “fair and balanced”. The Post’s editorials, themselves, clearly state that Global Warming is real and that humanity is a driving factor. Yes, people like Bill McKibben and Al Gore have had editorials in the Post’s opinion section. But, that is the point: there is, it seems, a striving for “fair and balanced” rather than accurate and truthful when it comes to Washington Post editorial decisions about articles and opinion pieces on climate issues. [...]

  • 11 WashPost corrects WashPost re Will-Ful Deceit… Will they need another correction as well? // Apr 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    [...] Will Affair continues to build in new twists and turns. [A quick reminder: On February 15, George Will published a deceitful column on Global Warming. Unlike past events, this set off a chain of blogosphere critiques that led to journalism critiques [...]

  • 12 Washington Post’s Willfully Civil War // Apr 9, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    [...] Will-ful Deceit in what has escalated into The Will Affair. QUICK BACKGROUNDER/REMINDER: On February 15, George Will published a deceitful column on Global Warming. Unlike past events, this set off a chain of blogosphere critiques that led to journalism critiques [...]

  • 13 Mea culpa: I trusted George Will and Washington Post fact checking // Apr 9, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    [...] on The Washington Post and George Will to actually get names right. QUICK BACKGROUNDER/REMINDER: On February 15, George Will published a deceitful column on Global Warming. Unlike past events, this set off a chain of blogosphere critiques that led to journalism critiques [...]

  • 14 WashPost Ombudsman steps up and steps in it … Plus another Will fabrication … // Apr 9, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    [...] Will’s Feb. 15 column, headlined “Dark Green Doomsayers,” ridiculed “eco-pessimists” and cited a string of “predicted planetary calamities” that Will said have never come to pass. [...]

  • 15 Pat // Apr 17, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    After rerading Will’s editorial (opinion piece) and your responce it is clear that you do not like his opinion.

    Actually, Pat, true, I do not like his opinion. I also do not like that he feels quite free to make up facts as well, truthiness. This was my first reaction to Will’s deceptions and dishonesties. There were many more examinations that outline, in some detail, his falsehoods — by me and 10s of others.

    more importantly I believe you are wrong on the only key fact. Will clearly states that “sea ice currently equals 1979 levels. You then state artic sea ice is down from 1979 levels. However, sea ice for the rest of us on this planet includes the antartic (although not all is actually sea ice. Antartic ice is up. I believe if you check your facts artic + antartic is now greater than 1979. If this is correct the only oint you casn contest is that not all artic ice is sea ice. You would be correct. However, isn’t the total ice the measure we are interested in? I believe your statement was increased sea ice from 1979 to now would be a blow to GW theory. I am assuming that total ice will not be considered a blow.

    Pat. FALSE. You are wrong. Will’s comment was based on an erroneous report from two months earlier, not “at that time,” and stated that global sea ice was ‘nearly’ the same, not “the same”. That matters.

    For material directly on sea-ice issues, see: WashPost corrects WashPost re Will-Ful Deceit… Will they need another correction as well?

    By the way, Will’s “source” for his data is a created name: Mea culpa: I trusted George Will and Washington Post fact checking

    If you are going to continue to display a serious case of anti-science syndrome, you would do yourself well to not rely on George Will’s serial deceits.

  • 16 Hiattian Climate Deception Strikes Post OPED Section Again // Apr 24, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    [...] the specifics related to George Will’s serial deceptions mounted into The Will Affair< , the serial “faux and balanced” nature of WashPost opinion pieces on energy and climate issue… merits naming: Hiattian Climate [...]

  • 17 Blogging about WashPost OPED Editing: Inane or Insane? // Aug 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    [...] a question arises as to whether it is inane (”lacking sense”) to bother writing about falsehoods on energy and global warming issues that appear in the Washington Post opinion section. They just keep appearing, as opinion editor Fred Hiatt seems to relish his role providing a [...]

  • 18 Will George Will’s next column highlight this? // Nov 16, 2009 at 5:45 am

    [...] this year, columnist George Will sparked controversy with claims that global ice levels were the same as (if no…. This was part of George Will’s retread truthiness and deception in his widely syndicated [...]

  • 19 George Will will write about this, right? “cataclysmic and irreversible consequences for the Earth” // Nov 19, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    [...] this year, columnist George Will sparked controversy with claims that global ice levels were the same as (if no…. This was part of George Will’s retread truthiness and deception in his widely syndicated [...]

  • 20 Nisbet’s “Climate Shift” and where did they get these numbers (Item #374) // Apr 21, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    [...] 13 February 2009, The Washington Post published George Will’s “Dark Green Doomsayers“, a truthiness-laden set of misleading and simply false statements attacking climate science [...]

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