George Will replaces Michael Crichton as the right wing poster child against global climate change

Posted on February 26th, 2009 in ecology,General,History,Politics,Science by Robert Miller

When the Republicans were in control of the House and Senate, they appointed author Michael Crichton as their primary expert on global climate change–he became the honorary right wing anti-global warming poster boy. Crichton was invited to testify in a Senate hearing as the sole Republican expert on “global warming.” He did the usual thing by finding some obscure work and criticized the authors for their shoddy science. But, it was an embarrassing moment for Crichton and the Republicans and served to enhance the growing public image of the Republican Party in general and Michael Crichton in particular, as being completely daft on the importance of global climate change to our future and the seriousness with which the public feels the issue needs to be addressed.  When Crichton died, there seemed no one available to immediately step into his shoes as the anti-climate change poster boy.  Remember, that to adequately replace Crichton, you had to have a complete lack of knowledge of the field, poor training in quantitative science, but enough visibility to make your bullshit stick, at least for a while. That way, you might get some oil money to carry on with your work.

So, in the frenetic search for a new anti-climate change poster boy, who should step in to fill the enormous Crichton void–yes, perhaps surprisingly, it is George Will, with all his fantasies about living the perfect Jeffersonian life of a conservative, incomplete perhaps, due to intermittent dribbles of reality. Perhaps it was his sagging popularity that drove  George Will to fill the void left by World Climatologist expert Michael Crichton’s rather sudden departure. George entered his new post with a complicitous partner in his shameless search for the irrelevant: the  Washington Post published his op-ed piece last week titled the “Dark Green  Doomsdayers.” George Will, as Micheal Crichton did before him, regards global climate change as a scientific hoax. The real fear of these Republicans is that fixing global climate change will require a far more centralized economy than they would like to see. Their case however, has been made considerably weaker by the economic events of the past several months.

The primary target of George Will’s op-ed piece was energy secretary Steven Chu who had projected some dire consequences for California’s water supply if things aren’t done to control greenhouse gases. From Will’s article  “Chu recently told the Los Angeles Times that global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack, which stores much of the water needed for agriculture. This, Chu said, would mean “no more agriculture in California,” the nation’s leading food producer. Chu added: “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.” Now the key to portraying global climate change with the hoax approach is to first develop what I call “jingoism around the edges,” where you develop some completely irrelevant story that begins by making a scientist (supposedly) look foolish, but do it in a way that is hard for anyone to verify. That’s for openers.

Then in a series of distortions of the scientific  facts that have been reported, you appear to be able to cast the entire scientific community on the subject into members of a large ship of fools. Having thus dismissed their poor judgment or their inability to properly expand on that judgment, you then begin to distort the real scientific record as if you really knew something about it. So what Will proceeded to do in his article was to point out that, contrary to the melting of the sea ice as predicted by global climate change, this year the sea ice had grown surprisingly larger, thus completely destroying the concept of global climate change. Apparently George Will can only deal with straight line graphs and seems immutable to the concept of stochastic forces that are at work in these  matters.  He went so far as attribute his knowledge about the larger sea ice formation this year to studies done by the University of Illinois Polar Research Group. Upon hearing about Will’s op-ed polemic, the Illinois group promptly put up a rebuttal on their website stating:

We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California and Oklahoma combined.  It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.”

So, George Will was off by a million square kilometers or so on his sea ice polemic. No big deal I guess!  But George Will was wrong on many of  his other claims about the current state of global climate change and its early history and has been corrected on numerous other websites including FAIR. More recently science writer Chris Mooney has an article on the George Will science debate. This issue has rapidly spread to engage the scientific and technology community on issues of global climate change as well as raising questions about the integrity of the Washington Post: it was once a great newspaper in the Watergate era, but is now a sad shadow of its former self.
The following letter is what I sent in to the op-ed editor of the Washington Post (apologies for the repetitions): you can send one too–

CONTACT:
Washington Post
Editorial Page Editor
Fred Hiatt
hiattf@washpost.com

Mr. Hiatt,
I am writing to express my deep concern over the recent op-ed piece by George Will on global climate change. It is one thing to be in a state of denial about the effects of greenhouse gases on our global future, it is quite another to completely misquote and distort the facts, as George Will did for many of his assertions. As one example, when Will attempted to attribute one of his false statements about the state of global sea ice to the University of Illinois Polar Research Group, they promptly put up a rebuttal on their website stating:

“We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California and Oklahoma combined. It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.”

So, George Will was off by a million square kilometers or so on his sea ice polemic. No big deal I guess! George Will was wrong in many his other claims about the current state of global climate change and its early history. In fact, he got very little right, so much so that it did and does an enormous degree of damage to the reputation of the Washington Post when they allow such inaccurate information to form any part of a serious dialogue on the subject of global climate change. The newspaper that was once known for its integrity has become the Fox News Channel of the printed press. It is unfortunate to see a once good newspaper decay into a mouthpiece for Republicanism, anti-intellectualism and anti-scienceism, all for the sake of preserving Willism by allowing George Will to promulgate false and misleading stories on such an important subject. George Will has become irrelevant for the future of America and by continuing to promote his lies and distortions, the Washington Post has joined him in an acute state of unimportantism. The era of clever jingoism died about 6 months ago and with it went the now moribund relevance of George Will, and, unfortunately, so too went the reputation of the Washington Post.

RFM
Robert F. Miller, MD
3M Chair of Visual Neuroscience,
Professor of Neuroscience,
Department of Neuroscience,
University of Minnesota Medical School
6-145 Jackson Hall
321 Church St. SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455
Phone: 612-626-2914
Fax: 612-626-2136
email: rfm@umn.edu

RFM

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