Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 20, 2009
By: Hilzoy

The Washington Post's "Multi-Layer Editing Process"

I haven't written about George Will's factually challenged column from last Sunday, but I have been following the various refutations of mistakes he made. I have also been following the various requests for comment from the Washington Post, and wondering when the Post might respond. Now they have:

"Thank you for your e-mail. The Post's ombudsman typically deals with issues involving the news pages. But I understand the point you and many e-mailers are making, and for that reason I sought clarification from the editorial page editors. Basically, I was told that the Post has a multi-layer editing process and checks facts to the fullest extent possible. In this instance, George Will's column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors. The University of Illinois center that Will cited has now said it doesn't agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that "Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979,"

Best wishes,

Andy Alexander

Washington Post Ombudsman"

Until I read this, I had been under the impression that newspapers didn't do as much fact-checking as magazines, because of deadline pressure; and I had imagined that the inaccuracies in George Will's column might result from applying standards designed for reported stories to columns. But on reading that Will's column had been subjected to a "multi-layer editing process", and that this "process" had checked the facts "to the fullest extent possible", I realized that I had been wrong. Naturally, I clicked the link Mr. Alexander provided, and read it. Did he? I don't know what would be worse: that he did, and takes it to support Will, or that he didn't take his job seriously enough to bother.

Here's how George Will cited the Arctic Climate Research Center:

"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."

Here's the statement Mr. Alexander cites as "one of" Will's sources, including the sentence he specifically references. It's a response to an article in the Daily Tech called "Sea Ice Ends Year at Same Level as 1979":

"One important detail about the article in the Daily Tech is that the author is comparing the GLOBAL sea ice area from December 31, 2008 to same variable for December 31, 1979. In the context of climate change, GLOBAL sea ice area may not be the most relevant indicator. Almost all global climate models project a decrease in the Northern Hemisphere sea ice area over the next several decades under increasing greenhouse gas scenarios. But, the same model responses of the Southern Hemisphere sea ice are less certain. In fact, there have been some recent studies suggesting the amount of sea ice in the Southern Hemisphere may initially increase as a response to atmospheric warming through increased evaporation and subsequent snowfall onto the sea ice. (Details: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/06/050630064726.htm )

Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979, as noted in the Daily Tech article. However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979, partly offsetting the N.Hemisphere reduction."

Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: "P is not evidence for Q, and here's why", it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q. If one of my students did this, I would grade her down considerably, and would drag her into my office for an unpleasant talk about basic scholarly standards. If she misused quotes in this way repeatedly, I might flunk her.

Will does this more than once. Since it's Will's only citation of a peer-reviewed journal I recognize, I checked the quote from Science in this passage:

"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)."

It's from this paper (pdf, subscription wall.) Here is the bit Will cited in context:

"Future climate. Having presented evidence that major changes in past climate were associated with variations in the geometry of the earth's orbit, we should be able to predict the trend of future climate. Such forecasts must be qualified in two ways. First, they apply only to the natural component of future climatic trends -- and not to such anthropogenic effects as those due to the burning of fossil fuels. Second, they describe only the long-term trends, because they are linked to orbital variations with periods of 20,000 years and longer. Climatic oscillations at higher frequencies are not predicted.

One approach to forecasting the natural long-term climate trend is to estimate the time constants of response necessary to explain the observed phase relationships between orbital variation and climatic change, and then to use those time constants in an exponential-response model. When such a model is applied to Vernekar's astronomical projections, the results indicate that the long-term trend over the next 20,000 years is toward extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation and cooler climate."

So that "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation" is (a) supposed to happen "over the next 20,000 years", not imminently, and (b), more importantly: it's a prediction that does not take into account anthropogenic changes in climate, like, um, those "due to the burning of fossil fuels". Which is to say, the kind of global warming we're now talking about.

The fact that this prediction specifically excludes anthropogenic climate change means that you cannot use it to say: those silly scientists; they used to believe that the earth was cooling, and now they think it's warming. When scientists say "if we don't take man-made changes to climate into account, the earth will get cooler over the next 20,000 years", this is completely consistent with saying: "however, when you factor in those man-made changes, the earth will get warmer", or "when you factor in those changes, we don't know", or any number of things.

If Will actually read these two articles, it's hard to see how he's not being deliberately deceptive by citing them as he did. If, as I suspect, he just got them from some set of climate change denialist talking points and didn't bother to actually check them out for himself, he's being irresponsible. All those people who supposedly fact-checked Will's article as part of the Post's "multi-layer editing process" -- "people [George Will] personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors" -- should be fired, either for not doing their job or for doing it utterly incompetently. These are hard times for newspapers; I wouldn't have thought they could afford more than one layer of an editing process that produces no discernible improvement in quality.

And Andy Alexander? He should read the cites George Will gives him before he sends them out, under his own name, in support of his paper's decision to publish Will's piece, if he doesn't want to be embarrassed like this again.

Hilzoy 1:11 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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Comments

"I wouldn't have thought they could afford more than one layer of an editing process that produces no discernible improvement in quality."

I strongly suspect this statement is true, but it is possible that the article was much worse before the multi-layer editing took place!

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on February 20, 2009 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

SNAP

Posted by: jimmy on February 20, 2009 at 1:37 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think that the quality of the reporting is what matters. Profit, is what matters.

Posted by: dr2chase on February 20, 2009 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

But if they aren't lying to us about the "multi-layer editing process", then apparently they 4+ people investigating the factual claims in Will's editorial without noticing that when viewed in context, his sources say the exact opposite of what he claims.

If profit is what matters, why are they wasting that many man-hours on an editing process that does no good at all?

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 20, 2009 at 2:11 AM | PERMALINK

Mr. Andy Alexander can refute this with a close reading of the relevant material.

Andy!? Over to you, buddy!

Or is "ombudsman" a synonym for "chump?"

Posted by: riffle on February 20, 2009 at 2:19 AM | PERMALINK

Will knows exactly how disingenuous he has been. Visual measurements of polar sea ice on Dec. 31st are like evaluations of whether days are getting longer or shorter by looking out the window at 3am: little valuable data of change will be gleaned at that time. The canary in the coal mine is evaluating conditions in the shoulder seasons or in the summer months when warming is most notable. Looking at images of polar caps on July 4, 1979 and July 4, 2008 will demonstrate the change that Mr. Will is trying so hard to deny.

Posted by: petorado on February 20, 2009 at 2:31 AM | PERMALINK

Is it possible to be that stupid, arrogant and embarrassed?

Posted by: mikey on February 20, 2009 at 4:55 AM | PERMALINK

If one were to play Mr. Will's little game, then one ought to be able to look out one's kitchen window and declare, with an air of factuality superior to the decrepit tall-tale spinning skills of "Mr. Willie the Shillie", that anthropogenic forces are thankfully responsible for one not seeing a mile-high wall of ice slowly creeping across one's back yard, having already engulfed one's vegetable patch, one's daughter's swing set, and one's neighbor's excruciatingly-ugly cat.

Given this, one can only wonder: What would the current effect of anthropogenic-induced planetary warming be like, were this nonexistent ice age of Mr. Will's deleted from the environmental equation that one now finds it essential to ponder?

Other than the horrifically-ugly cat not resembling a mangy Popsicle with very splotchy fur, that it....

Posted by: Steve W. on February 20, 2009 at 5:17 AM | PERMALINK

All this means is that the various "fact-checkers" did was confirm that the words in a row that Will cited did indeed exist in the sources he referred to.

Posted by: jayackroyd on February 20, 2009 at 6:16 AM | PERMALINK

Just goes to show that factual writing and journalism do not go hand in hand. I guess Will et al are a bit like believers who can cite Biblical verses but can't place those verses in historical or theological context

Posted by: Greytdog Δ on February 20, 2009 at 6:26 AM | PERMALINK

I am very glad you are tracking this material concerning Will. I have read Will's treatment of some American literary criticism, feminist literature, and women's athletics, and concluded he is the most consistently dishonest and perverse miss-reader I have ever encountered.Thanks.

Posted by: Lee on February 20, 2009 at 6:37 AM | PERMALINK

"if we don't take man-made changes to climate into account, the earth will get cooler over the next 20,000 years"

So the only thing that will prevent our descendants from freezing to death is global warming. For the sake of future generations, the use of carbon fuels should be speeded up, not slowed down.

Posted by: Al on February 20, 2009 at 7:04 AM | PERMALINK

"fact checkers" versus "check factors"

George F. ("Feckless") Will will take the check any time.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline on February 20, 2009 at 7:05 AM | PERMALINK

Just goes to show that factual writing and journalism do not go hand in hand.

George Will is not a journalist. He's a Republican operative. Journalists don't do debate prep for presidential candidates using rhe opponent's stolen briefing books.

That this did not cost Will his job and reputation speaks volumes about the Village.

Posted by: jayackroyd on February 20, 2009 at 7:15 AM | PERMALINK

As far as I'm concerned, the statement cited is not a source for Mr. Will's assertion that: "As global levels of sea ice declined last year, many experts said this was evidence of man-made global warming..." The experts who wrote what Mr. Will cited, as H says, said the polar opposite [sorry, I couldn't help myself]. What Mr. Will needs to provide are the identities of some of the alleged experts which reached to opposite conclusion (and who are very probably the actual source of his willfully incurious knowledge of sea ice levels generally).

Posted by: jhm on February 20, 2009 at 7:23 AM | PERMALINK

@ jayackroyd: All this means is that the various "fact-checkers" did was confirm that the words in a row that Will cited did indeed exist in the sources he referred to.

Exactly.

And apparently the ombudsman did the same thing. Incompetence all around is the most favorable explanation for the Post to continue to allow Will to deceive its readers.


Posted by: Gregory on February 20, 2009 at 7:37 AM | PERMALINK

What jay said bears repeating: George Will is not a journalist. He's a Republican operative. Journalists don't do debate prep for presidential candidates using rhe opponent's stolen briefing books.

That this did not cost Will his job and reputation speaks volumes about the Village.

Posted by: wvng on February 20, 2009 at 7:45 AM | PERMALINK

That this did not cost Will his job and reputation speaks volumes about the Village.

As does the fact that this latest little bout of dishonesty likely won't, either.

Let's also not forget that Will went on to praise Reagan's debate performance in print without disclosing his role.


Posted by: Gregory on February 20, 2009 at 7:47 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like Andy Alexander is picking up where Deborah Howell left off, defending right leaning bias by redefining good journalism.

Posted by: Danp on February 20, 2009 at 8:11 AM | PERMALINK

I'm not trying to dilute the joy of pinning Will to the specimen board; he and his approach have aggravated me for decades. However, I do have to question one comment above:

The canary in the coal mine is evaluating conditions in the shoulder seasons or in the summer months when warming is most notable. Looking at images of polar caps on July 4, 1979 and July 4, 2008 . . .

Polar ice caps do experience summer on December 31 - if you're talking about the South Pole. Alternatively, on July 4 those same South Pole caps are experiencing winter.

Or am I missing something obvious?

Posted by: Rofe on February 20, 2009 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

On one level, the Post's only obligation is to check that Will's cites were acurratey quoted. It's an opinion piece, and if Will wants to strut his inability, or willfull refusal to accurately measure these facts, it's his reputation on the line. But that's the problem. There is no consequesnce for stupidity or dishonesty. Will should banned from ever appearing on the WaPo's op-ed pages. But he won't. He's a mega-star of the right wing chattering class. Ordinary rules do not apply.

I'm not sure what Alexander hoped to accomplish with his defense. It seems to come down to this: The editorial board doesn't really need to check facts, because it's not going to hold contributors accountable in the first place. Brilliant.

Posted by: JoeW on February 20, 2009 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

Who cares about George Will?

He's a tired old nobody who used to be somebody, spewing the same shit he's been spewing since I started paying attention 25 years ago.


Posted by: Dave on February 20, 2009 at 8:16 AM | PERMALINK

On one level, the Post's only obligation is to check that Will's cites were acurratey quoted.

But as you indicated, that defense only flies if, when the Post discovers that Will used them dishonestly, they fire him. They won't, and so they become partners in Will's deception.

Posted by: Gregory on February 20, 2009 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

FAIR has evidence of recidivism in Mr. Will's climate change mendacity:

Gallup took the unusual step of issuing a written correction to Will's column (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/27/92): "Most scientists involved in research in this area believe that human-induced global warming is occurring now." Will never noted the error in his column.

Posted by: jhm on February 20, 2009 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like Andy Alexander is picking up where Deborah Howell left off, defending right leaning bias by redefining good journalism.

I've been saying, in different ways, for a while now that the civic role of journalism is incompatible with organizations that are public joint stock holding companies. Maximizing shareholder value conflicts with afflicting the comfortable.

One way I've said this is to remark that Merck doesn't have an ombudsman. It has a PR department. I made this remark last night when talking to Dan Froomkin on my weekly Virtually Speaking broadcast.

Froomkin surprised me by remarking that he thought PR described Howell's performance pretty well.

Posted by: jayackroyd on February 20, 2009 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

Well, we knew that George Will is a deceitful, self serving, arrogant fool. Now we know Andy Alexander is as well.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on February 20, 2009 at 8:58 AM | PERMALINK

Looks like Will and the Post recruit their fact checkers from Ann Coulter's rejects.

Posted by: martin on February 20, 2009 at 9:02 AM | PERMALINK

Hilzoy,

I'm reading your cites, and it looks to me like Andy is right, and the statement from the Arctic Climate Research Center did, at the time, admit that global sea ice is basically the same between 1979 and 2008.

I mean, the whole second half of their statement is a long complaint that global sea ice is not the best indicator; we should look at Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice instead; etc, etc.

Which is all well and good, but it doesn't make Daily Tech, or even George Will, wrong.

And I say this as a global warming believer who assumed that George Will was bsing until now. You've managed to convince me that you're wrong with your own extended argument.

Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: "P is not evidence for Q, and here's why", it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q.

I don't see how this metaphor applies. The Arctic Center says what Will said he says right there in their statement. They aren't just quoting Daily Tech, they're admitting that Daily Tech's statement is factually accurate. Here's what they say:

Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979, as noted in the Daily Tech article.

That's not a sarcastic statement; it's literally an admission that what Daily Tech noted, they consider correct.

What's funny is, if you look at the numbers, if N. Hemisphere is down a million cubic feet and S. Hemisphere is up 0.5 million, that doesn't seem like equal to me, so there was no reason to concede that Daily Tech was basically accurate.
But they did.

Unless 0.5 million cubic feet of sea ice = 'slightly'. Maybe it does.

Posted by: glasnost on February 20, 2009 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

So the only thing that will prevent our descendants from freezing to death is global warming. For the sake of future generations, the use of carbon fuels should be speeded up, not slowed down.

I read, very recently, that at least one (and perhaps at most one) scientist of some sort has proposed conserving carbon fuels now, because our descendants will need it for just that purpose. If we burn them all now, then we won't have them when we really do need them. But not this century, or even this millennium.

Or am I replying to a parody-bot? Oh well.


Posted by: dr2chase on February 20, 2009 at 9:25 AM | PERMALINK

@ Rofe, you are missing something.

True, the seasons are inverted at the poles, but scientists don't pick a day to take a snapshot of sea ice the world over. They measure what they call the minimum and maximum "sea ice extent".

So, for example, in the northern hemisphere the sea ice reaches its minimum sea ice extent during the months of September/October . If you were to measure the southern hemisphere accurately, you do it in March/April. Then, combine the data for global yearly minimum sea ice.

Posted by: palinoscopy on February 20, 2009 at 9:26 AM | PERMALINK

Charles Krauthammer has the same kind of selective citation and interpretation of sources. A few months ago, during the whole offshore drilling brouhaha, he published a column saying that drilling was safe because no oil wells had leaked during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and he cited a number of sources. This was despite actual reporting in the Washington Post about oil and chemical damage to the Gulf Coast following the huricans. A closer look at these sources showed that they reported the oil wells themselves were safe, but the pipelines and other infrastructure to bring the oil from the wells to the shore and keep it there were not and had failed significantly during the hurricanes. (In other words, it was as if Krauthammer had argued that cars are perfectly safe, but roads and drivers are not.)

I'm tired of this. A previous poster suggested getting rid of the editorial pages. I agree -- dump them and invest the money in more journalists who can actually analyze and report on an issue. I need facts more than I need a bunch of someone else's spin on the facts.

Posted by: bk on February 20, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Am I the only reader impressed by the sterling credentials of the fact checkers? “ George Will's column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors.” By the time it got to the op-ed page editor and two copy editors, they probably assumed, with the expected results, that everything was copasetic.

Posted by: captain dan on February 20, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Glasnost, the point is that the Artic Climate Research article says that you can't use that measurement as evidence of the point being made. Will then used that measurement as evidence to support the point being made.

As Hilzoy writes: Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: "P is not evidence for Q, and here's why", it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q.

It is also true, as you point out, that the original doesn't say the measurement is "equal", though Will does. So he is doubly fraudulent.

Posted by: biggerbox on February 20, 2009 at 10:01 AM | PERMALINK

Stunning that Will would use those old articles about the predicted global cooling (20K hence) using the Milankovich cycles that absolutely exclude anthropogenic effects.

It actually would prove the opposite of what he's suggesting...that empirical evidence of global warming suggests that the impact of these factors are actually off-setting the impacts of the climatic cycles based on earths orbital aberrations and other geophysical effects.

That means that HUMAN sourced global warming impacts are not only VERIFIED...but are of an order of magnitude that counters any "natural" effects that might exist from geophysical causes.

Posted by: cinnamonape on February 20, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

I'd look to paleoclimate data derived from ocean foraminifera oxygen isotopes and other types of data that paleontologists have been using for some time to characterize climate over the past. Paleontologists are not activists; they just want to reconstruct the past and have developed many ways of doing so, independently of current politics. The key is not whether there have been oscillations between periods of global warming and cooling; it's how long it has typically taken to go from peak warming to lowest cooling per cycle. From what I read in graduate school, these cycles took thousands of years, not decades or even hundreds of years.

Posted by: Varecia on February 20, 2009 at 10:15 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe these are just "grammar" editors, whose duty is to ensure that quote-mines are done properly. Yes, the Quote Mine Game can be fun and entertaining for all!

Isaiah 44:6
There is no god

Isaiah 44:8
There is no god

Isaiah 45:5
There is no god

Isaiah 45:14
There is no god

Isaiah 45:21
There is no god

2 Chronicles 6:14
There is no god

Deuteronomy 32:39
There is no god

1 Kings 8:23
There is no god

2 Kings 1:16
There is no god

2 Kings 5:15
There is no god

Psalms 14:1
There is no god

Psalms 53:1
There is no god

Posted by: Marko on February 20, 2009 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

George Will's column was checked by people he personally employs, as well as two editors at the Washington Post Writers Group, which syndicates Will; our op-ed page editor; and two copy editors.
------------

Comedy gold. Sounds like Will was fact-checked with more rigor than they check their news writers. Figures.

I understand Ceci Connolly better now.

 
 
 

The Internet Said It
I Believe It

Posted by: That Settles It on February 20, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

What the3 Post ombudsman really needs to investigate is Will's pattern of conflicts of interests. In the past he has taken cash -- speaker's fees, consultant's fees, etc. -- from interests he favored in his columns. Is that going on here? Write ombudsman@washpost.com and ask.

Posted by: ColinLaney on February 20, 2009 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Global Warming does not exist. That is a fact. This joke is costing us billions of dollars a year. Now we have an president who may just be ignorant enough to put even more money into it. You people are fools

Posted by: RTShadow on February 20, 2009 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Global Warming does not exist. That is a fact.

Boy, are your talking points old. Even global warming deniers no longer contest that global warming is occurring -- there's too much data showing it is. The tactic now is to pretend that all the CO2 we're dumping into the air isn't the cause.

Better trolls, please.

Posted by: Gregory on February 20, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Better trolls, please.

You get what you pay for. Let's pass the hat.

Posted by: Ethan on February 20, 2009 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

From glanost: "I mean, the whole second half of their (ACRC) statement is a long complaint that global sea ice is not the best indicator; we should look at Northern Hemisphere Sea Ice instead; etc, etc.

Which is all well and good, but it doesn't make Daily Tech, or even George Will, wrong."

Then George Will should have quoted Daily Tech instead of ACRC. He didn't because Daily Tech writers are not climate experts and are well-known for producing articles skeptical to global warming. For him to borrow the quote from ACRC to support an argument that ACRC is specifically refuting in the quoted source is disingenuous at best.

The second quote Hilzoy highlighted is far, far worse on Will's part. There is no possible justification for using a quote to support the idea that scientist were worried about imminent global cooling when the very same sentence the quote came from states they are talking about a 20,000 year timeline, and the previous paragraph says the predictions are based on ignoring anthropogenic effects.

Posted by: tanstaafl on February 20, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

Well done, Hilzoy. You're a treasure.

Posted by: Jon on February 20, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Now that Cheney and Bush are no longer running the Executive Branch as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Exxon-Mobil, and the Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress are moving to take action -- however inadequate -- to reduce CO2 emissions, the fossil fuel corporations' campaign of deceit and disinformation will kick into overdrive.

The publication of professional liar George Will's deliberately and calculatedly dishonest column indicates that Fred Hiatt has decided that the editorial page of The Washington Post will join the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal as an aggressive purveyor of the fossil fuel corporations' denialist propaganda.

Like the Journal, the Post serves the interests of America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc.

And the fossil fuel corporations, with trillions of dollars in profit dependent on continued business-as-usual consumption of their products, are certainly among the richest and most powerful of the ultra-rich and ultra-powerful corporate aristocracy.

Expect more of the same, as the battle between the fossil fuel industry's profits and the survival of the human species escalates.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 20, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

"Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979,"

There is no single best item of evidence, but after 30 years of intermittent but basically consistent warming due to GHG accumulation (i.e., consistent except for random variations of no importance), that quoted sentence is not what is supposed to have happened. The global models have been repeatedly updated to account for the fact that actual predictions have generally been wrong.

"Climate change" is supposed to be occurring in consequence of global net warming, but net warming has been much less than predicted, and has nearly disappeared over the last 2 years. In Greenland the flow of glaciers into the ocean has ended, and in Switzerland and Alaska glaciers have grown.

For the future? There are two competing predictions, both based on science. One is for continued warming over the next couple decades, and the other is for continued cooling over the next couple decades (possibly followed by warming, possibly followed by decade-long random trends.

Stay tuned.


SecularAnimist: And the fossil fuel corporations, with trillions of dollars in profit dependent on continued business-as-usual consumption of their products, are certainly among the richest and most powerful of the ultra-rich and ultra-powerful corporate aristocracy.

The fossil fuel corporations are the biggest investors in alternative fuels ( maybe excepting governments.) Look for their investments in alternative fuels to increase.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 20, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding all this glacial "whack a mole" nonsense, a much better indicator of global warming is sea level rise. See the wiki article for a brief primer.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_level_rise


Posted by: Marko on February 20, 2009 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

MatthewRMarler wrote: "Stay tuned."

For what, more of your regurgitation of blatant lies?

Every single statement in your first two two paragraphs is false. And every single one of those statements is straight out of the fossil fuel industry's scripted litany of pseudoscientific BS.

As is your claim that the "fossil fuel corporations are the biggest investors in alternative fuels" -- their idea of "alternative fuels" consist of more of the same, and worse, e.g. oil from tar sands and liquid fuels from coal, both of which produce MORE greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fossil fuels.

Basically you are saying (1) global warming is not occurring and (2) the solution to global warming is to let the fossil fuel corporations deal with it as they see fit. What a load of crap.

If you are going to recite "climate science according to Rush Limbaugh" then take it where a bunch of brain-dead dittoheads will applaud you. Which ain't here.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on February 20, 2009 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

"Climate change" is supposed to be occurring in consequence of global net warming

And it is, causing natural disasters of historic nature all over the planet. The 3000-year drought, recent record high temperatures, and catastrophic brushfires in Australia are an example.

but net warming has been much less than predicted

Predicted by whom? Most of the models predict net warming out fifty or a hundred years. No model can possibly predict monthly or yearly trends given the myriad of factors and planetary feedback mechanisms.

and has nearly disappeared over the last 2 years.

No, warming has not nearly disappeared, just the rate of change has slowed, likely as a result of a tremendous amount of glacial melt entering the oceans.

In Greenland the flow of glaciers into the ocean has ended, and in Switzerland and Alaska glaciers have grown.

Wow, you don't mind telling the big lies, do you?

The unprecedented flow of glaciers into the ocean in Greenland, which has shocked scientists in its intensity, has not ended. Flows have recently slowed to about the level of 2000 -- which puts them at only double or triple the melt rates of the first three quarters of the 20th century.

The glaciers in Alaska and the Alps have continued to melt at an alarming rate. Indeed, 2008 saw a continued and concerning melting trend. Here and there a glacier grew or remained stable, as glaciation is affected by precipitation and wind and shade.

The estimated percentage of glaciers that didn't shrink worldwide? Around 13%

The global models have been repeatedly updated to account for the fact that actual predictions have generally been wrong.

This is the only part of your post that is marginally true, but again misleading. Models have been wrong -- but have typically erred on the side of predicting a LESS BAD scenario than we have seen.

One of the world's leading experts on climate change says a Nobel Prize-winning panel of scientists seriously underestimated the reality of global warming when it published its report just over a year ago.

Professor Chris Field, a leading member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which released the report, says he and his fellow researchers did not have access to vital data.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/02/15/2491942.htm?section=world

Clearly we need to tweak the models to reflect the more dire realities we have been seeing.

And yes, I will be happy to provide cites to back up every claim I have made here.

Meanwhile, let's take a look at your previous environmental prognostications:

California will dramatically increase its water desalination (using waste heat from the cooling water) -- Carlsbad alone will start producing 10 million gallons per day sometime in 2008.

Posted by: MatthewRmarler on January 5, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I took the time to look up this claim. You know the problem with it? The Carlsbad desalination plant hasn't even been built. In fact, it isn't even scheduled to be online until 2011 -- and in reality the project may never see completion given economic and environmental obstacles.

So now, everything isn't just hunky dory with as you portray it to be with your little fact-free updates intended to sow doubts for your political aims. You use these threads to habitually lie and spread falsehoods. You are nothing but a con man and a propagandist and there's no reason anyone should ever believe one word of what you type.

Posted by: trex on February 20, 2009 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

> on reading that Will's column had been
> subjected to a "multi-layer editing process"

Obviously a typo, probably "multi-liar"

Posted by: Hank Roberts on February 20, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

Is 'Andy Alexander' the new pseudonym that Jimmy/Jeff Gannon/Guckert writes under?

That might explain it.

Posted by: Hank Essay on February 20, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK
For the future? There are two competing predictions, both based on science.

No, there isn't, Mr, Will.

Posted by: gwangung on February 20, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

George Will did the exact same quote-mine four years ago, and got called on it at the time by RealClimate. Evidently this is of no concern for him or for the Post.

I remember this because it was the final thing that pushed me over the edge to realizing that Will was not just a learned good-faith advocate for ideas I usually happened to disagree with, but was actively dishonest.

Posted by: Matt McIrvin on February 20, 2009 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Something that I haven't seen mentioned anywhere in this whole affair is that the sea ice not only is being reduced in surface area, but is losing a LOT of ice thickness. There was a report that the thickness of the Arctic ice cap is a lot thinner than it used to be and is not being rebuilt during the winter.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on February 20, 2009 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK

I think glasnost misread the article. The article wasn't talking about cubic feet. It was talking about square km. In essence it appears that they were saying that global sea ice had decreased by 0.5 million SQUARE KILOMETERS which is roughly 195,000 sq. mi. figuring that 1 km = 5/8 mi so 1 sq km = 25/64 sq. mi.

Posted by: Texas Aggie on February 20, 2009 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus already saved the world. You don't have to worry about your mythical global warming. It's snowing out right now!!

Posted by: Mike on February 20, 2009 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

Brava Hilzoy!!

Posted by: sidewinder on February 20, 2009 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

trex: The Carlsbad desalination plant hasn't even been built. In fact, it isn't even scheduled to be online until 2011 -- and in reality the project may never see completion given economic and environmental obstacles.

At the time, I thought that the desalination plant had passed the last environmental hurdle. It was even mentioned in National Geographic Magazine about a year ago. But this is California, and there is no "last" environmental hurdle. I was disappointed. Now that San Diego Gas and Electric has constructed wind and solar farms (or at least the beginnings of them) in the East County, SDG&E can't get permission to run the lines to bring the electricity here. Another disappointment for me. I suspect that when cellulosic ethanol and other biofuels are in plentiful supply we'll be importing them from Colorado and Texas (though there are a few small biodiesal plants that take waste vegetable oil.)

It's too bad the desalination plant hasn't been built. It would be a good learning experience. In the meantime, San Diego county continues to lose population, and Calfornia continues to suffer an exodus of entrepreneurs and technically skilled people, along with its generally shrinking economy.

Sorry I can't read all your responses to my comments, but I read a lot of them.

Posted by: MatthewRMarler on February 20, 2009 at 10:16 PM | PERMALINK

Extremely well done refutation. Thank you.

We need to remember, amid all this, that this Will monstrocity is not an isolated case. There have been other disingenuous (dishonest) Will pieces. The Post has published climate skeptic / denier pieces from the like of Krauthammer, Samuelson, and Lomborg. The Post seems dedicated to pursuing Fair and Balanced when it comes to climate issues, rather than anything approaching true and truthful. (http://getenergysmartnow.com/2009/02/15/washpost-complicit-in-disformation-or-explicit-collaboration/)

And, throughout this cycle, time after time, the Post does not do a serious job of accounting for their columnists' dishonety.

And, there are even occasions where they've had editorial battles with one editor commissioning responses to dishonest opeds to then have them squelched by other editors. (How do I know? Because they did it to me responding to a dishonest, blistering attack on Al Gore. Documented: http://getenergysmartnow.com/2007/06/17/goreophobia-the-washpost-and-howells-pseudoapologia/)

Posted by: A Siegel on February 21, 2009 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

It's absurd that he or anyone without strong credentials and background in climate science would be so arrogant as to contradict them. It's as if we're debating whether to take out a brain tumor. We're simply not qualified to debate the conclusions of trained specialists.
It's sad really, that so many, including Will, are so afraid of the physical realities firmly established by the IPCC, the Nat. Academy of Sciences and (finally) NOAA, and/or so afraid of the kind of responsive government that can lead a coordinated and cooperative revision of the way we live. Instead they opt to ignore and deny, and refuse to help meet the challenge of global warming, and even scoff at those who do rise to the challenge.
By their weight of numbers and by the effective perversion of public opinion by the fossil-fuel industry - their wealthy sponsors eager to sell more product in the short term - they are effectively paralyzing needed conversations and dooming all of us to suffer extreme droughts, raging wildfires, starvation, coastal inundation, periodic floods, water scarcity, and mass dislocation. Do they simply lack the courage to imagine it? It can be scary. But scientists rely on what the physical realities tell them.
Steven Chu and James Hanson are among the vast majority of scientists speaking for the unambiguous opinion of the scientific community. George Will is a performer speaking for his sponsors. It's sad that so few can tell the difference.

Posted by: Howard Garrett on February 21, 2009 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if Mr. Will is gonna show his face on national TV tomorrow morning.

If he does, I won't be holding my breath for anyone to ask him about this.

Posted by: EriktheRed on February 21, 2009 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Where I come from, when someone writes something of the form: "P is not evidence for Q, and here's why", it is dishonest to quote that person saying P and use that quote as evidence for Q.

Hard to know what propositions the letters P and Q are supposed to stand for in that sentence. George Will correctly reported that the ACRC stated that global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979. The Washington Post Ombudsman produced an ACRC document confirming Will's report. Actually, the ACRC said "near or slightly lower" rather than "equal" but if you're going to quibble over that, you'd better be prepared to quibble over every imprecise paraphrase made by anyone regarding global warming research.

So that "extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciation" is (a) supposed to happen "over the next 20,000 years", not imminently,

Will didn't say or suggest that the predicted effect was "imminent."

and (b), more importantly: it's a prediction that does not take into account anthropogenic changes in climate, like, um, those "due to the burning of fossil fuels". Which is to say, the kind of global warming we're now talking about.

So what? How does that mean Will was lying or misrepresenting the material he cited?

Posted by: james on February 21, 2009 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

james,

I will pray to God above that you're actually posting in good faith.

Will can fairly be said to have lied because the source material he cited was not the Daily Tech headline, but the far more prestigious sounding University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center. Their work, which he cited as bolstering his claim that sea ice was just where it had been in 1979, indeed contains the sentence you cite as proof of Mr. Will's good faith. It also showed, with numbers rather than with fuzzy terminology, that the sea ice in December of 2008 was smaller in area than in December 1979 by an amount equal to Texas and Oklahoma, and much thinner ice was covering the northern polar cap than in 1979, too. It is not a case where you really have to dig deep into the document to realize what they're really saying--the numbers are laid out in the VERY NEXT sentence after the "near or slightly lower" sentence. Sayeth George Will, "According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."

But here's what that next sentence in the ACRC report said, in direct opposition to to what the Daily Tech's headline implied: "However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979, partly offsetting the N. Hemisphere reduction."

If you think a half-million square kilometers is not worth quibbling about, then you could call the areas equal. But the ACRC report also says looking at the total amount of global sea ice in the Northern Hemispere's winter is NOT the right yardstick to measure the problem because, "Global climate model projections suggest that the most significant response of the cryosphere to increasing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations will be seen in Northern Hemisphere summer sea ice extent. Recent decreases of N. Hemisphere summer sea ice extent (green line at right) are consistent with such projections."

They continue, "Arctic summer sea ice is only one potential indicator of climate change, however, and we urge interested parties to consider the many variables and resources available when considering observed and model-projected climate change. For example, the ice that is presently in the Arctic Ocean is younger and thinner than the ice of the 1980s and 1990s. So Arctic ice volume is now below its long-term average by an even greater amount than is ice extent or area."

If you, me, or George Will read this in full, and it's only a SINGLE PAGE, you and I wouldn't selectively choose one sentence that makes it sound like the sea ice is as good as it's ever been unless you were selectively picking a quote to further an agenda. It is plain intellectual dishonesty, whether or not one can pull words from the ACRC that approximate--but do not equal--George Will's claim about the sea ice.

But the real problem is that George Will makes it sound like ust a few years back, the entire scientific community was saying it would only be a few degrees above zero this July and NOW they're saying it's going to be 120F this January. That's a huge lie.

And George Will snarkily says 'experts' are not to be trusted, because he can find a case where commodity prices didn't behave the way some 'expert' thought they would. Well, by his tortured logic, I can discredit George Will as a columnist in the present by finding past columns where Charles Krauthammer got Iraq all wrong.

My real problem with George Will is that he isn't applying risk management to a possible problem with potentially catastrophic problems. When I was taking statins and my liver enzyme test came back slightly elevated, I didn't deny the problem and hope against reason that my liver would survive. I stopped taking the medication and got another test to see if my liver function returned to normal. That's how you manage risks with substantial probability of occurrence that have catastrophic outcomes. George Will, faced with an analogous situation, just denies that warming is occurring, with potentially catastrophic consequences for my children and their children. That makes me angry.

Posted by: Other Mike on February 21, 2009 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Their work, which he cited as bolstering his claim that sea ice was just where it had been in 1979, indeed contains the sentence you cite as proof of Mr. Will's good faith.

I didn't cite it as proof of Will's "good faith" (whatever that's supposed to mean). I cited it as evidence that his statement is true.

It also showed, with numbers rather than with fuzzy terminology, that the sea ice in December of 2008 was smaller in area than in December 1979 by an amount equal to Texas and Oklahoma, and much thinner ice was covering the northern polar cap than in 1979, too. It is not a case where you really have to dig deep into the document to realize what they're really saying--the numbers are laid out in the VERY NEXT sentence after the "near or slightly lower" sentence.

So what? Whatever the precise numerical values, the ACRC describes the amount of ice in 2008 as "near or slightly lower" than the amount in 1979. Will paraphrased this as "equal." Perhaps he should have said "nearly equal." If that is what you're complaining about, you're quibbling. I somehow doubt you are similarly critical of imprecise-but-basically-correct paraphrasings in the writings of those promoting the view that climate change is a serious problem.

If you, me, or George Will read this in full, and it's only a SINGLE PAGE, you and I wouldn't selectively choose one sentence that makes it sound like the sea ice is as good as it's ever been unless you were selectively picking a quote to further an agenda.

Huh? Unless you are suggesting that the ACRC is contradicting itself in that report, then other than the equal/nearly equal quibble, your complaint has no merit at all.

Posted by: james on February 21, 2009 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

But the real problem is that George Will makes it sound like ust a few years back, the entire scientific community was saying it would only be a few degrees above zero this July and NOW they're saying it's going to be 120F this January.

Sorry, but Will's column doesn't "sound" like that to me at all. His basic point is that 30 years ago, scientists were predicting global cooling, and now they're predicting global warming, so who knows what they'll be predicting 30 years from now? What his column points to is the considerable uncertainty regarding scientific findings about a matter as complex and poorly-understood as climate change.

Posted by: james on February 21, 2009 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder if 1979 was a "low-water mark" for ice accumulation and thus is the specific year chosen.

"Hey look at that! We're only slightly worse than the worst point in 500 years!"

There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

Even the kernel of truth Will uses may be dubious.


So kind of him to give us assurance that we need do nothing against a threat that could kill a healthy portion of the human race in 20-50 years when he might well be already feeding worms.

Nice. Way to put "Country First", George.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on February 22, 2009 at 7:55 AM | PERMALINK

james, I will first note that it was my egregious error for thinking you might possibly be posting in earnest.

Thirty years ago, a few scientists said something about long-term global cooling as a possibility based strictly on orbital mechanics taken in isolation. Now, the ENTIRE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY is saying that man-driven changes to the atmosphere which, barring some strong action, may become irreversible within a few decades pose a potentially catastrophic risk to our climate, and the resultant upheaval could pose catastrophic risk to the global populace.

There was no scientific consensus embracing global cooling as an inevitability thirty years ago, and there IS scientific consensus on global climate chang now. George Will is a professional wordsmith with a particular worldview, and he uses those words to make dupes like you parrot the line that "scientists used to think this just a little while ago, now they think the opposite. Those wacky, silly scientists!"

You're (complicitly?) being played for a fool. George Will is incredibly dishonest in this column, and if you're patently unwilling to see that, I wonder what kind further rationalizations you're willing to embrace to avoid taking any substantial steps to mitigate global climate change.

I am a physicist and mathematician, not a climate nut. So if the direction the facts leads happens to trouble you, I'm sorry.

Posted by: Other Mike on February 22, 2009 at 6:04 PM | PERMALINK

give 'em hell.

Posted by: buskertype on February 22, 2009 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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