George Will (O) – Science (Won)

While I don’t share many of George Will’s political views, I used to enjoy reading his columns because he was articulate and thought-provoking, but lately he’s had some serious problems dealing with data, science, and the scientific method.

Here’s a snippet from “Climate Science in a Tornado,” his latest column on climate change–or lack thereof:

On Feb. 18 the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported that from early January until the middle of this month, a defective performance by satellite monitors that measure sea ice caused an underestimation of the extent of Arctic sea ice by 193,000 square miles, which is approximately the size of California. The Times (“All the news that’s fit to print”), which as of this writing had not printed that story, should unleash Revkin and his unnamed experts.

After reading this, I immediately fact-checked. It’s not a political thing–I try to fact-check EVERYTHING. What I found disturbed me.

In fairness, I’ll say that the portion of Will’s column I quote may be slightly out of context. In quoting, that’s always a possibility. But my use of Will’s words is certainly not as out of context as is Will’s use of the NSIDC info. As I read them, Will’s words suggest that those nasty old scientists had to admit that the sea ice is doing fine–or at least a lot better than those even nastier old Global Warming “Advocates” have insisted.

But here’s what my fact-checking turned up.

NSIDC did indeed find this error, and they reported and explained how the problem occurred in “Satellite Sensor Errors Cause Data Outage.” This article also explains their data retrieval, publication, and review process.

Since then, they’ve shifted sensors and reported this in their February 26 update “Near Real Time Data Now Available”:

The temporary error in the near-real-time data does not change the conclusion that Arctic sea ice extent has been declining for the past three decades. This conclusion is based on peer reviewed analysis of quality-controlled data products, not near-real-time data.

I used to respect Will. Now I wonder whether he’s in the early stages of mental deterioration, a hopeless ideologue, totally ignorant of scientific protocols, or some odious combination thereof.

Read the column. Don’t you get the impression that he’s suggesting that the NSIDC data error–a month and a half worth of faulty and promptly discarded data–negates years of peer-reviewed work of scientists all over the world?

Sputter.

Cassandra

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5 Responses to “George Will (O) – Science (Won)”

  1. Sybil Says:

    My favorite take so far-

    http://www.cjr.org/the_observatory/the_george_will_affair.php

  2. Cassandra Says:

    Thanks, Sybil. The link you sent to the _Columbia Journalism Review_ is IMO a must read.

    Cassandra

  3. Sybil Says:

    My pleasure.

    On a related note, my local paper features two competing editorials on climate change today. They are given equal space (credibility). One is written by a man who “lives in Evergreen.” The other? Oh, just some distinguished professor of climate science from a local research university.

    May I join you in sputtering?

  4. llabesab Says:

    One thing about the “Al Goristas!” They never let facts get in the way of their observations.

    Even Al “The Bore” Gore says that Arctic Ice is over 95% “Sea Ice”, that is, “Floating Ice”, and yet, AL continues to predict that if and when this ice melts, half of North America will be under water.

    But let’s do an experiment:

    1. Fill a glass with ice cubes.
    2. Pour in water to the brim.
    3. Let stand for several hours.
    4. Upon return, you should notice that the ice has melted but the water
    has not overflowed. Al’s “Inconvenient Truth” is the phenomenon of
    “Displacement.” The melting ice displaces its own weight. It’s the
    same principle which allows a Steel Battleship to float. No over-flow-
    no NYC under water. Al, don’t visit the North Pole to give a speech.
    If you do, Global Warming will be a reality.

  5. uncommonscolds Says:

    llabesab, might you live in Evergreen?

    Cassandra

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