George Will's War On Science  

Posted by Big Gav in

Chris Mooney (who wrote "The Republican War On Science" has an article in the Washington Post on the PR war that continues to distort reporting of climate science - Climate Change Myths and Facts

A recent controversy over claims about climate science by Post op-ed columnist George F. Will raises a critical question: Can we ever know, on any contentious or politicized topic, how to recognize the real conclusions of science and how to distinguish them from scientific-sounding spin or misinformation?

Congress will soon consider global-warming legislation, and the debate comes as contradictory claims about climate science abound. Partisans of this issue often wield vastly different facts and sometimes seem to even live in different realities.

In this context, finding common ground will be very difficult. Perhaps the only hope involves taking a stand for a breed of journalism and commentary that is not permitted to simply say anything; that is constrained by standards of evidence, rigor and reproducibility that are similar to the canons of modern science itself.

Consider a few of Will's claims from his Feb. 15 column, "Dark Green Doomsayers": In a long paragraph quoting press sources from the 1970s, Will suggested that widespread scientific agreement existed at the time that the world faced potentially catastrophic cooling. Today, most climate scientists and climate journalists consider this a timeworn myth. Just last year, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society published a peer-reviewed study examining media coverage at the time and the contemporary scientific literature. While some media accounts did hype a cooling scare, others suggested more reasons to be concerned about warming. As for the published science? Reviewing studies between 1965 and 1979, the authors found that "emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then."
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Yet there's a bigger issue: It's misleading to draw a parallel between "global cooling" concerns articulated in the 1970s and global warming concerns today. In the 1970s, the field of climate research was in a comparatively fledgling state, and scientific understanding of 20th-century temperature trends and their causes was far less settled. Today, in contrast, hundreds of scientists worldwide participate in assessments of the state of knowledge and have repeatedly ratified the conclusion that human activities are driving global warming -- through the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the scientific academies of various nations (including our own), and leading scientific organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. ...

Will also wrote that "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is one of many respected scientific institutions that support the consensus that humans are driving global warming. Will probably meant that since 1998 was the warmest year on record according to the WMO -- NASA, in contrast, believes that that honor goes to 2005 -- we haven't had any global warming since. Yet such sleight of hand would lead to the conclusion that "global cooling" sets in immediately after every new record temperature year, no matter how frequently those hot years arrive or the hotness of the years surrounding them. Climate scientists, knowing that any single year may trend warmer or cooler for a variety of reasons -- 1998, for instance, featured an extremely strong El NiƱo -- study globally averaged temperatures over time. To them, it's far more relevant that out of the 10 warmest years on record, at least seven have occurred in the 2000s -- again, according to the WMO.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists -- following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It's also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be -- now more than ever.

2 comments

Ah, the futile debate... is it a war on science or egos?

Are you a believer or denier, with me or with out me? Get on board our social train.

I have witnessed so many brilliant minds and wonderful ideas dwindle into nothing after meeting scientific resistance during a debate.

A brilliant mind with a wonderful idea that may have a 'epic', but not fatal flaw... we see so many examples of this in the science community personified in cold fusion, thermal dynamics and genetics where individuals look at something 'different' and have a 'break through' concept.

Instead of assisting in the further development of the 'new' idea by tackling the flaw as a community.... The wolves of that field pack together, surround the 'meek' data and slaughter the lamb (regressing progress).

Often ignoring or validating the new concept to claim victory on the debate.

Worse are the cornered wolves in sheep's clothing that cling onto that flaw as 'factual' - creating a pseudo science.

Point made clearer in the campfire comments on "Planck Problem" (http://campfire.theoildrum.com/node/5221)

I often state that the only 'conspiracy theory' in sustainable energy and prosperity is our inability to accept a simple answer to solve complex problems.

Instead we often believe only complex ideas, innovation and technology can save us from current problems'... not understanding that the same innovation that brought us to our level of technology has added the 'level of complexity to our most basic problems'. i.e. If global warming forces climate change will I loose the settings on my 'iphone' and if so? How long?

Example to ending a problem while laying out long-term solutions:
1,000's die on U.S. highways every year consuming 13% of our oil reserves from 'volatile' interests "so we need to 'drill more, inflate tires or make better MPG cars, plugins, etc"... ignoring the simple solutions as they spend another decade 'working towards an agreement to solve multiple complex issues' while in swift move could end the short term problem 'until' we stop debating on whose ideas best.

Simple - Speed limit 40 and double tax on all households having more than one vehicle per person (tax money goes into public transportation).

We can do this now, today... the short term inconvenience would also be a massive public motivator for the debate on long-term solutions to end quickly.

In the mean time we 'could choose' to save billions of gallons of oil, save 1000's of lives a reduce smog induced asthma and health disorders throughout the nation (also have a huge impact on air and drinking water quality).


Now back to the Drama... global warming or cooling
'global warming' is such a hot debate because people love a good argument as much as the drama it unfolds.
350ppm or 450ppm? Warming or cooling? Tipping point or point of impact? CO2 or methane? Al Gore or John Theon?

These debates are like deciding which is the best way to hit the ground after jumping out of an airplane.

After the debate, one may survive, but either would have been saved with a parachute.

With decades of data and thousands of scientists colleting rooms full of argumentative evidence daily, it does not appear that this debate will be over ANYtime soon.

And while they duke it out, a few will continue to pack their parachutes.

My conclusion to the debate is:
If we do nothing to prevent further ecological, energy and water abuse... we will have nothing for hell to freeze over or global warming to boil over... Protecting People and the Planet should never be a "Hot, cold, carbon or social" debate. We are finite as is our planet, lets act like it.

On a personal note:
I have so much respect for the passion and creativity from the genius minds on each side of the debate and believe that if we can 'agree to disagree' and focus on the same root cause problems destroying our ecosystem and it's inhabitants... we have a chance to continue debating for centuries to come.

I'm of the opinion that this argument that there's no global warming because 1998 was so warm is more idiotic than any other denialist argument save the "Mars is warming" argument. Still, it was nice for Mooney to spell it out so that perhaps more and more people will see that.

Take care, Lorne

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