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Will Writes, Will Whines

April 2nd, 2009 · 7 Comments

Whenever George Will sets his pen to paper with words “climate change” or “global warming” anywhere on the page, the BS detector alarms should be going off. In today’s Climate Change’s Dim Bulbs, Will launches deceptive broadsides at compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL), using “facts” to pander truthiness and confuse the public discussion on energy issues. In this case, his column pulls mainly from a marginal NY Times article examining the mixed record of CFLs. (Why marginal? In short, because it upfronts shallow problem discussion, via anecdotes, perhaps as a teaser, with the substance toward the back end of the piece not fully balancing the hyping of concerns upfront. A useful piece for those open to looking toward improving the situation, which isn’t perfect, and also a useful piece for Luddites like Will.) A small example of ‘distortion’ flowing from the Times into Will’s column:

Although supposed to last 10,000 hours and save, the Times says, “as much as” $5.40 a year in electricity costs, some bulbs died within a few hours. Some experts, reports the Times, “blame the government for the quality problems,” saying its push to cut the bulbs’ prices prompted manufacturers to use inferior components.

Have to hand it to Will for his skillful skewing of discussion. So much to dissect in so few words.

1. “Although supposed to last 10,000 hours …” Well, CFLs are typically branded for 4500-6000 hours, last time I looked across multiple brands’ packaging. 10,000 hours as average claim? Not from my experience.

2. “Some bulbs died within a few hours …” Okay, so 5000 hours is the expected AVERAGE life of the bulb. Some will last 10,000 (and, actually, some (FAR FEWER) will likely last 100,000+ hours). With many technologies, the failure rate is curved, with the highest percentage failures at the very earliest usage points. Faulty manufacture or materials’ problems and the bulb might blow when put in the socket. (Of over 150 CFLs that I’ve tracked, three died within less than 30 minutes. All three were the same bulb type, from two packages totaling six bulbs, from a buy at Walmart. With years of usage, have had 21 total die — with some of those for reasons outside the bulb, itself. (Water leak shorting a socket.) I am not tracking exact hours / bulb, but it is clear that replacements are occurring far less frequently than was the case with incandescents.

3. “save “as much as” $5.40 a year in electricity costs …” Let’s take a look at the likely basis for such a comment. Two comparisions are in order between incandescent and CFL bulbs. We’re going to use a standard of 40 hours per week of lighting usage (a reasonable moderate+ home use, low office use for a bulb) at a cost of 10 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity. A 40 watt incandescent bulb (low level of light) would burn 1.6 kilowatt hours/week or 83.2 per year for a total electricity bill of $8.32. A CFL equivalent would burn 11 watts or 0.44 kwh/week and 22.88 kwh/year for a total electricity cost of $2.29. A difference of $6.03, or more than 10 percent higher than the figure the Times used and Will emphasized. But how many of your bulbs are 40 watt (or 40 watt equivalents)? Let’s up the lighting a bit, why don’t we? What happens at 100 watts? In this case, the incandescent is 4 kWh/week or 208 per year, which translates to $20.80 on the electricity bill. The 27 watt CFL equivalent is 1.08 kwh/week, 56.6 kWh/year, or $5.62 of electricity payments annually. That is a $15.28 reduction in electricity costs annually — for just one bulb. So much for “save “as much as” $5.40 a year in electricity costs” be a reasonable statement.

4. Of course, it is all the governments’ fault rather than the businesses who have made poor products and have inadequate quality control. Have to wonder whether George Will endorses expanded government inspection to assure that private manufacturers are meeting the government standards.

The New York Times article, Do New Bulbs Save Energy if They Don’t Work?, is worth reading, even if there are problems with it, as it highlights some real issues and provides some paths for learning lessons to reduce future problems.

The rest of Will’s piece is simply deceptive and misleading. What a surprise.

Surprised that I am surprised …

What is perhaps surprising is that The Washington Post and The Washington Post Writers’ Group are again complicit in allowing Will-ful deceit on an issue for which they were so badly burned in February and March during The Will Affair.

Despite The Washington Post’s editorial board’s implicit acknowledgment of error in allowing Will’s distortions into their OPED pages by publishing, on facing pages, two pieces shredding Will’s distortions on 21 March, Will’s column today repeats the deceitful material directly tackled by World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud in his extensive letter responding to Will’s citing the WMO. Will’s column today:

“[r]educing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization [WMO], there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.”

From Jarraud’s 21 letter: “[i]t is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record … and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.”

Yet again, despite publishing a letter from the head of the organization that Will is citing stating that this is a misuse of the data, The Washington Post publishes his distortion.  Clearly the Washington Post editorial board has not learned a lesson and are not interested in holding George Will to any reasonable journalistic standard.

UPDATE:  Chris Mooney, author of the other 21 March Washington Post publication tackling Will’s Will-ful deceit, has a reaction:

Congratulations, Mr. Will–your statement is no longer factually incorrect! However, you still appear to reject statistical reasoning about temperature trends. How else to explain this silly fixation on 1998 being the warmest year? This isolated factoid does not cast any serious doubt on the idea that we’re in a warming trend. It’s absurd to assume that we’ll set a new temperature record each year, and that if we don’t, there’s nothing to worry about.

Carl Zimmer has weighed in with George Will, Now With Misleading Links!

There’s a lot of dismally wrong coverage of global warming these days. But the way global warming gets treated on the op-ed pages of the Washington Post–particularly by George Will and his enabling editors–is particularly exquisite. For my little Ahab-like obsession with the editorial process there, check out this string of posts. Many other observers have made similar points, so you’d think that somebody over at the Post might have learned something from the experience. Today, we see that they haven’t.

Media Matters George Will continues to misuse WMO climate data despite criticism from WMO sec. general

As Media Matters for America has noted, despite the scientific consensus that human-caused global warming is real and is negatively affecting our planet, those who disagree continue to receive a significant amount of attention from the media. Throughout the past year, the media have repeatedly provided a platform for critics who argue that the globe is in a period of “cooling,” while often failing to challenge their suggestion that this shows that global warming is a myth.

The Way Things Break, Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt and George Will: Stupid, Lying, or Craven?

The correct answer of course is, “Yes.“

Brenda Ekwurzel, Union of Concerned Scientist, George Will Distorts Climate Science in Latest Column, “Columnist George Will has a track record of distorting climate science and he did it again today”

“George Will’s non-scientific interpretation of temperature data is incredibly narrow. Even though the past couple of years have been cooler than the record warmest years of 1998 and 2005, they are much warmer than scientists would otherwise expect from only natural causes. Global warming from heat-trapping emissions is happening on top of natural climate cycles that fluctuate over time. 1998 was particularly hot because global warming combined with a natural and periodic El Nino effect in the Pacific Ocean that was quite strong in that year.

“Furthermore, climate scientists study trends over significantly longer periods of time than single seasons or years. The past decade has been the hottest on record. We can expect future decades to be hotter still. How hot will depend on how much more heat-trapping emission we put into the atmosphere.

“George Will should stop distorting the facts about climate science. He is giving wrong information to his readers.”

And, Joe Romm weighs in forcefully with The Washington Post, abandoning any journalistic standards, lets George Will publish a third time global warming lies debunked on its own pages

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, fool me three times, shame on the media.

In a move that calls into question the journalistic integrity of the entire Washington Post editorial staff — especially editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, who should be fired — the newspaper has published a third disinformation-pushing op-ed by George Will … The bottom line about the Post is that it would appear to have no journalistic standards at all for what it publishes on its editorial page and its letters page … The Washington Post editorial staff has flunked journalism 101.

I repeat, editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, should be fired.

NOTE: Related GESN pieces: CFLs:

George Will’s distortions (just a few examples)

Tags: global warming deniers · journalism · lighting · skeptic · truthiness

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