My Column on George Will in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

By Chris Mooney | March 30, 2009 9:00 am

Last week, Sheril linked all the different papers that had run George Will’s infamous February 15 “Dark Green Doomsayers” column. So after my own Washington Post rejoinder to Will came out, I contacted many of these other papers to try to get them to also publish my rebuttal.

I didn’t contact every last paper on my first foray. But I did go for the biggies, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit News, The Hartford Courant, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The St. Petersburg Times, and The San Jose Mercury News.

I’m pleased to announce that there has been one success so far: On Sunday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution ran a shortened version of the Washington Post piece. See here. There may be some more after this.

I can already tell how it’s going to go, though. Some small number of papers will publish my rebuttal to Will, but it won’t be possible to get all of them to do so. Certainly there is no hope of equaling the original column’s distribution. Too much time has elapsed, too few papers want to run rejoinders, and frankly, I’m not as famous as George Will. Eventually, this project will have diminishing returns, and I’ll give up on it.

There is only so much you can do to set the record straight. But, we soldier on….


Comments (13)

  1. Chris, please consider sending your column to the [Syracuse, NY] Post-Standard, which runs Will’s columns. You can contact their editorial page at 315-470-2167 or online here .

  2. do you know the date they ran will’s particular column, the title, etc? I need a reference. Thanks so much

  3. Nothing I can think of can be more vital to a good enough future for the children than a global flow of ideas regarding the population dynamics of the human species on Earth. A virtual mountain of scientific knowledge supports the near-universal understanding that a finite planet with the size, composition and frangible ecology of Earth cannot be expected to much longer support an endlessly growing number of human beings worldwide, many too many of whom appear to be willfully choosing to increase in an unbridled way their conspicuous per-capita consumption and unnecessary overproduction of stuff.

    With the hope of promoting necessary discussion of the subject of global human population growth, I would like to share a recent email from one of our most respected colleagues, Dr. Gary Peters, a splendid contributor to the blogosphere.


    “Steve has mentioned the work below but I’m not sure how many of you have actually been able to look at it. It is solid and worth your time, especially if you have an interest in population growth and any variation on the idea of sustainability.


    P.S. For those who like such data, the world population now grows by close to 220,000 people per day.”

    end —

    If you will, please rigorously examine the presentation, World Food and Human Population Growth.

    Usual objections to the research of Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. and David Pimentel, Ph.D., have focused the human community’s attention upon “Demographic Transition Theory.” Although this theory is descriptive in character, the demographic transition theory has been widely shared, consensually validated and erroneously deployed, by many too many demographers and economists in particular, as a tool for effectively predicting the end of population growth soon and the automatic stabilization of the human population on Earth in the middle of Century XXI.

    With remarkable clarity the research of human population dynamics by Hopfenberg and Pimentel shows us that, as a predictor of the increase or decrease of absolute global human population numbers, the theory of the demographic transition is fatally flawed and directly contradicted by more adequate scientific evidence.

    While the theory of the demographic transition does offer a useful historical view of recent patterns of human population growth, its value as a tool to forecast the increase or decrease the population numbers of the human species worldwide can now be seen, in the light of new research, as fundamentally defective.

    If the human family continues choosing to keep doing precisely what we are doing now as absolute global human population numbers skyrocket toward a projected 9+ billion people, can reason or common sense possibly support the idea that future outcomes regarding human population growth will be any different either from the results we are seeing now or the results which have been occurring throughout recorded history?

    Perhaps someone will kindly explain what you think will happen that would effectively lead to the stabilization of population numbers of the human species in the year 2050, given the fully anticipated young age distribution of the global human population at that time?

    At the midpoint of the twenty-first century, what do you suppose hundreds upon hundreds of millions of fertile young people, who are expected to be capable of reproducing, will be doing with their sexual drives and instincts other than what their ancestors did for thousands of years?

    Psychologists have often commented about such circumstances in this manner: doing the same things over and over again while fully expecting that a new succession of events will somehow magically occur is an example of extreme foolishness.

  4. Erasmussimo

    I’d like to report an earth-shaking triumph: I was able to convince the Medford Mail-Tribune to publish your article. Now all you need to figure out is where Medford is.

  5. rjb

    This may be discouraging, or possibly encouraging, depending upon how you look at it. I found someone referencing the Will story in, of all places, a college basketball newsgroup for my alma mater. Fortunately, I was there and forwarded Carl Zimmer’s rebuttal to the group (this was before your article came out). So it may be discouraging to note that Will’s article is getting followed by lots of people, but encouraging in that I’m sure that there are more people out there who will actually address the incorrect statements.

    Keep up the good work. I definitely appreciate the job that you (and Carl and others) do.

  6. Will’s column would have run on February 15th, 2009. I do not know the title underwhich it ran just yet.

  7. I called the local library, but they only keep the Post-Standard going back for two weeks. The newspaper database that the public library runs only has Will’s columns for the Post-Standard for 2008, not 2009 yet. If you call and talk to the Post-Standard, they could probably provide you with a title. Sorry I can’t get it for you.

  8. Frank Hovell, Ph.D.,M.P.H.

    Two points:
    1. “If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a hundred times, etc.,” is an almost 100% guaranteed loser; if it failed 100 consecutive times, the odds are near certain it will fail next time, and next, etc. On this you are absolutely correct. I speak as a retired psychologist and one who was for years an instructor in introductory statistics.
    2. Your speaking of what the next generations will “choose” to do, however, flies in the face of the logic and philosophy of science in general and behavioral science in particular. Three huge sets of events–“causes,” if you will–presumably account for all animal behavior, and specifically all human animal behavior: heritable givens, prior environments impinging on the individual from conception to grave, and the exact detailed immediate present environment.
    Science demands the a priori assumption that the universe, or that subset of it studied by those in any given science, is orderly: utterly, absolutely, relentlessly and without exception orderly. Anything less makes research, the search for order, an exercise in futility and a foolhardy if not insane endeavor.
    This distinction is essential. Clearly, we must alter at least one of the three classes of determinants: inheritance, history, or present circumstances.
    Only the latter can be changed. Fortunately, that often suffices, given skill and access to the control of the system of rewards and non-rewards that markedly influence much human behavior.
    Behaviorists, or some of them, may have sufficient skill to make a species-saving difference. That’s the optimistic view. But handling the contingencies of rewards is technically far more complicated than the every day notions about them. Psychologists often do little if any better at this sort of application than others.
    Yet without some carefully crafted applications of what already is known to at least some psychologists, our odds of avoiding the “If I’ve told you once…” error plummet.
    Maybe it doesn’t really matter, of course; only the survival of Homo saps and countless other life forms may depend on our recognizing and applying the noteworthy amount of little recognized knowledge of how to influence behavior by such techniques.
    Unfortunately, the belief in free will seems near universal in our species, and scientific findings of behavior determinents are counter-intuitive: they seem to fly in the face of “common sense.” So did challenges to beliefs in spontaneous generation of life and a flat earth. Sadly, there still are a few who haven’t yet learned to reject those notions, either.

  9. JakeR

    FWIW I asked the San Jose Mercury-News’s op-ed editor to run your rebuttal to Will’s ignorance and didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply.

  10. kanimal

    As of right now, no one can prove global warming is man made or that man has had any significant effect on the Earth’s temperature. Period. Any argument to the contrary is rubbish and most likely politically motivated.

  11. YouRang

    What is rubbish is the notion that there is no global warming. GW was predicted LONG BEFORE there was any reason to look for it. As such, the data supports the strong claim. So what is now necessary is to prove GLOBAL COOLING (compared to the temp that the earth would be without GW).

  12. Jill

    FYI, your rebuttal appeared this evening on the San Jose Mercury News website. I have no idea whether it will run in the print edition.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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