Washington Post columnist George Will was at it again on Thursday with his third column disparaging the scientific consensus behind man-made global warming in less than a month.
As usual, the blogosphere delivered a quick and thorough retort. Carl Zimmer, Chris Mooney, Joe Romm, Adam Siegel, and others all took a turn at rebutting Will’s column. The nut of their criticism revolved around the following paragraph:
Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.
This statement grossly mischaracterizes the significance of the WMO’s data. More troubling, however, is the fact that the Post allowed Will to recycle it despite being roundly and soundly criticized for using the exact same line a month ago. Indeed, just last Saturday, the paper ran a letter from the WMO itself, pointing out that:
It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record — as was done in a recent Post column [by Will] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.
Yet here we are again. As we explained in February, the Post relies upon “wiggly, lawyerly language” to argue that Will’s writing is factually correct, and that his controversial remarks qualify as inference rather than evidence. The Post’s editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt, also told me that Will is not obliged to acknowledge that his interpretation of the WMO data differs drastically from the WMO’s own interpretation. Climate Progress’s Joe Romm, who tends to be more scathing in his critiques than most critics, is now calling for Hiatt to be fired.
Yet the Post is not the only newspaper making room for skeptics who question the reality of global warming despite having only a cursory understanding of climate science. Much as it was in February, the latest episode of the Post affair is intimately related to similar controversies taking place at The New York Times.
The bulk of Will’s column this week is, as Carl Zimmer put it, “basically a cut-and-paste job” on a Times article from last week about faulty compact fluorescent light bulbs. The piece reported that, despite CFLs’ efficiency, efforts to drive down their cost have led to low-quality light bulbs entering the market. The article drew mild criticism from the usual suspects. They gave the article credit for trying to look out for consumers, but complained that it relied too heavily on anecdotal evidence and overstated the gravity of the problem.
A far more interesting and controversial article, however, was last Saturday’s New York Times Magazine cover-story profile of physicist/mathematician and “global warming heretic” Freeman Dyson. Three days before the magazine even appeared on subscribers’ doorsteps, the online edition was already causing a stir.
Dyson is a physicist at the Institute for Advanced Studies—”this country’s most rarefied community of scholars,” as the profile’s author, Nicholas Dawidoff, put it—and very well respected within the scientific community. He is also skeptical of global warming as the specter that most climate scientists believe it to be. While admitting that human industry is heating the oceans and atmosphere, Dyson thinks the impacts will be benign or beneficial, and that issues like war and poverty are the real problems. Yet he is admittedly not an expert on climate science. In fact, he has made a career out of mistrusting experts. Dyson, Dawidoff writes, believes they are “too often crippled by the conventional wisdom they create.” Dyson argues that global warming has become the “secular religion” or “party line,” and that such orthodoxy must be challenged.
At The Intersection, blog, Chris Mooney summed up the feeling of many critics by retorting that “Dyson’s fame and authority don’t buy him any special deference in this area; science does not work that way. Does Dyson publish top work in this field? That is a far more relevant question.” Mooney also argued that Dawidoff, with little science writing experience, was “out of his depth” too.
Unsurprisingly, Joe Romm had what was probably the most caustic reaction, calling Dyson a “crackpot” for suggesting that global warming is nothing to worry about. At DeSmogBlog, Jim Hoggan added that “It is somewhere between casually irresponsible and criminally reckless for a respected medium like the New York Times to undermine the quality of public discussion by putting so much focus on people who are so clearly out of their depth.”