George Will Just Can't Keep His Hands Away from the Hot (Warming) Stove

By Chris Mooney | April 2, 2009 9:24 am

Whoa boy. George Will has done another global warming column. He doesn’t mention either my takedown, or that of the World Meteorological Organization, but it’s obvious he has seen them. And yet, he still wants to use WMO data to cast doubt on the idea that it’s warming up globally:

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.

Congratulations, Mr. Will–your statement is no longer factually incorrect! However, you still appear to reject statistical reasoning about temperature trends. How else to explain this silly fixation on 1998 being the warmest year? This isolated factoid does not cast any serious doubt on the idea that we’re in a warming trend. It’s absurd to assume that we’ll set a new temperature record each year, and that if we don’t, there’s nothing to worry about.

But of course, if you read my response and that of the WMO, you’re already aware of this.

So here’s an idea, Mr. Will: Why don’t you openly acknowledge your critics, and debate them, and explain to us all why it is that you think there’s a relationship between the 1998 record–which is only a record according to the WMO, not NASA–and the idea that global warming isn’t happening due to human causes?

For more on Will’s latest see Adam Siegel, Joe Romm, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Media Matters, Jon Chait…..

Comments (33)

  1. Jon Winsor

    “Fervently” indeed. Will is interested in culture warring against straw man hippies, not science. He’s saying, “now you beltway chattering classes keep up your regressions to phony means and be good little boys and girls.”

  2. Jon Winsor

    A good conservative, he’s probably read his Strauss, and probably has lots of powers of rationalization on that basis…

  3. Erasmussimo

    The bulk of Mr. Will’s commentary is not about the science of AGW, but the policy response to it. For this I am glad; let political commentators comment on politics, not science. The problem for Mr. Will is one that will perpetually dog the AGW deniers: denying the science only discredits them when the debate turns to policy. Who’s going to believe anything that Mr. Will says about AGW?

  4. Kelly

    Here’s an excellent comment from the new republic the plank. Rhubarbs uses baseball stats to skewer the cooling since 1998 meme.

    Someone needs to forward this chart to Will:

    baseballanalysts.com/…/was_the_1990s_h.php

    Because it turns out home-run production has followed an eerily similar course to global warming over the last century. Except rather than hitting a record peak in 1998, home runs peaked in 2001. So using Will’s logic, the fact that there were fewer home runs in 2006 than there were in 2001 proves that home runs are not increasing over time, even though five times as many home runs were hit in 2006 than in 1919.

    Ergo the last twenty years of Will’s bitching about the increasing offense in baseball is proved to be bullshit. QED.

    Given that Will has written much more, and clearly cares more passionately about, baseball than global warming, I would think that applying the “logic” of his climate assertions to debunk his baseball assertions might just have a motivating effect on the man.

  5. Jon Winsor

    George Will: “Two plus two equals five.”

    R.B. Community: “Ummm, that…”

    Fred Hiatt: “What? You expect me to take sides on the Strauss vs. Habermas cage match? Besides, do you own a printing press? No.”

    That wacky conservative coalition: “Let the Great Man speak!!!”

    David Frum: “Um, guys, you know, I think they might be catching on. In fact, I think I’m going to start my own blog.”

    George Will: “Are you kidding, Frum? Who cares about a bunch of dirty Internets hippies. I’m throwing my lot in with the National Association of Manufacturers.”

    (To be continued…)

  6. Lance

    Chris,

    You can play words games all you like but the fact is the global average temperature (whether that metric has any significant meaning is a topic for another day) has not exceeded the value set in 1998 and is currently far below that high mark.

    So Mr. Tough Guy wants to debate climate novice George Will huh? How about picking on some one that has some credentials in the field such as Richard Lindzen? Or even Steven Milloy if you want to line up against some one like yourself with no credentials except an opinion and a blog.

    I’d pay to watch either of those encounters. You’d be eviscerated.

  7. Jon Winsor

    I think Will already looks like the Black Knight in the Monty Python bridge scene right now, Lance. The only thing he’s got going for him is that he’s syndicated in dead tree media and most people only saw his part of the conversation. He’s lucky.

  8. Dano

    Shorter Lance:

    I’ll take my total ignorance and unwillingness to learn over your brain and education any day, bucko!!!!

    Best,

    D

  9. Lance

    Dano,

    In all the years you have been soiling the internet you have rarely posted anything but loutish data-free insults like the one above.

    Best,

    L

    Hey Jon Winsor,

    You seem like a nice guy. I disagree with most of your interpretations of the science but have respect for your ability to engage people that disagree with you with civility.

    George Will stumbled into this back alley cavalierly and under-prepared. He is getting roughed up a bit. I doubt he has the stomach for this fight. He needs to train a bit more before sticking his head up again.

    We’ll have to see if he is up to the challenge.

  10. The amazing thing with George Will and the rest of the denialists is that they feel the need to back up their attacks on the scientific community (who supposedly created the whole GW thing to get more grant money) by trolling through the scientific literature for evidence that everyone else missed.

    Apparently thousands of PhD types are smart enough to fabricate a fantasy about global catastrophe out of whole cloth, but are too stupid to remember to fabricate the data to support it.

  11. Ty

    Mooney says:
    This isolated factoid does not cast any serious doubt on the idea that we’re in a warming trend. It’s absurd to assume that we’ll set a new temperature record each year, and that if we don’t, there’s nothing to worry about.

    Perhaps it doesn’t. however seeing you’re now a climate scientist after completing an undergrad in English Lit you could perhaps explain why to all intents and purposes the short term trend has stopped dead in its tracks despite the accepted scientific assertion that there has been a record amount of emissions absorbed in the atmosphere and CO2 Concentration is at a modern historic records during this time.

    Now I appreciate the fact that climate may work in 30 year cycles however you will need to explain why the short-term trend has basically stabilized.

    While you’re there Chris, you many also want to tell us if the models have predicted the stalling and which ones with links.

    Seriously if you are unable to to do this Will should simply treat you as a troll.

  12. MadScientist

    Ahaha … “I will choose the facts that appear to support my claims and pretend the other X facts don’t exist. Lalalalala! I can’t hear you!”

    Filtering facts leads to serious distortions; one stunning example of which was revealed by Richard Feynman during the investigation of the Challenger disaster. Filtered data suggested no strong relation with low temperatures (I can’t recall the limit) and “launch incidents” including aborted launches. Looking at the entire record there was a 100% correlation with low temperatures and launch incidents. There’s a huge difference between “no obvious pattern” and “100%”.

    In this instance, so what if 1998 was the hottest on record – how far off the record are the current years and how do they compare to past decades? Mr. Will is doing like TV announcers and their stock market charts – picking any little blip and claiming it supports the contention of “market growth” or “market downturn”.

  13. MadScientist

    Just to get an idea of how Mr. Will distorts the figures, have a look at the larger data record rather than 1998 vs succeeding years:

    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs/

    Also note variations in the ‘global mean’ as opposed to more localized variations (such as US only).

  14. SLC

    Re lance

    I think that Mr. lance is on to something here. Lets have debates between Peter Duesberg and his critics about HIV/AIDS, Fred Singer and his critics about cigarette smoking/lung cancer, Fred Singer and his critics about CFCs/ozone depletion, Arthur Butz and his critics about Holocaust denial, Linus Pauling and his critics about vitamin C and cancer, Duane Gish and his critics about a 6000 year old earth, etc. Sure makes a lot of sense.

  15. Ty says: explain why to all intents and purposes the short term trend has stopped dead in its tracks despite the accepted scientific assertion that there has been a record amount of emissions absorbed in the atmosphere and CO2 Concentration is at a modern historic records during this time.

    Temperature hasn’t “stopped dead in its tracks”. The trend over climatologically relevant timescales is obviously (and statistically significantly) one of warming.

    Now I appreciate the fact that climate may work in 30 year cycles however you will need to explain why the short-term trend has basically stabilized.

    The “climate” doesn’t “work in 30 year cycles”- for temperature and many other climatological factors, 30 years (e.g. the WMO definition) is used as a minimum period to avoid confusing shorter term variability like ENSO with longer term trends, as you are so obviously doing.

    Here is a concise explanation of why trying to make climatologically meaningful statements on temperature based on shorter periods is fundamentally flawed.

    you many also want to tell us if the models have predicted the stalling and which ones with links.

    Temperature trends are within the model spread. See here and here.

    seeing you’re now a climate scientist after completing an undergrad in English Lit

    Don’t knock reading comprehension until you’ve mastered it yourself, champ.

  16. perhaps explain why to all intents and purposes the short term trend has stopped dead in its tracks

    I don’t know what you mean by “all intents and purposes”. Does that include the 25 year mean, the 5 year mean, the trend of the seasonal averages (hottest winters, hottest summers)…?

    Does it matter to you that 1998 wasn’t even the hottest year on record for land based measurements (2007 was) or that temperatures are increasing much faster in the Northern hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere?

    The “short term trend” has not stopped dead in it’s tracks. George Will picked one number from one measure from one chart and ran with it. He actually had to work to find a number that fit his view of the world (and then he had to ignore all the others).

  17. How can you tell if George Will is writing lies about climate?
    He has his quill pen in his hand.
    Follow the money:
    WaPo Wall of Climate Shame

  18. Dark Tent

    Lance claims “the fact is the global average temperature (whether that metric has any significant meaning is a topic for another day) has not exceeded the value set in 1998 and is currently far below that high mark.”

    That depends on whose temperature anomalies you use.

    According to NASA GISS, 2005 was actually warmer than 1998.

    To say nothing of the fact that the focus on “the” warmest year is not particularly meaningful and more than a little misguided…

    …or of the fact that, as just about everyone who knows anything about climate science knows, 1998 was the peak of one the strongest [if not the strongest] El Nino of the last 50 years)

    The important thing is NOT that each year is warmer than the last, or even that any given short term trend (since 2001, for example) is upward.

    When the expected yearly increase due to CO2 increases is only about 0.02C, this small change gets swamped by year to year noise, which can be an order or magnitude larger. Even for short-term trends, the accumulated “signal” is simply too small and the uncertainty too large (relatively speaking) to make any definitive statement even about whether temperature is headed up or down — to say nothing of about the actual amount of temperature change over the short period.

    The important thing from the standpoint of climate is not whether the temperature today “is currently far below that high mark” set a few years ago (an essentially meaningless comparison) but that the long term (multidecade) trend in temperature has been upward — about 0.2C/decade over the past few decades.

    It is also of no small consequence that “The ten warmest years [of the NASA GISTEMP record since 1880] all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. ”

    But then again, Lance, this should be nothing new to you. I have seen your comments (and responses from others) on this very topic in other places (eg, Deltoid).

    And Lance, please, please (please…) tell me that you are not still holding up Steven Milloy as an example of someone with “credentials in the field” (any scientifically related field) as you once did ages ago when you quoted Milloy’s “Junk Science” website on the effects of DDT on birds (specifically, on eggshell thinning).

    Cornell University laboratory of Ornithology got right to the point in their response to your inquiry (inspired by my quoting them as an expert source)

    Dark Tent,

    Here is the reply I received from the Cornell Ornithology Lab.

    Dear Lance,
    There is absolutely no doubt whatever that DDT has been scientifically linked to
    the thinning of egg shells in birds. The Peregrine Falcon was brought to the brink of
    extinction by this.
    A quick search of Google Scholar under the terms “Peregrine DDT
    damage” will bring you as many as you want. Here’s one as an example:
    http://www.jstor.org/view/03063127/ap010014/01a00020/0

    Anne Hobbs
    Public Information Specialist
    Cornell Lab of Ornithology
    http://www.birds.cornell.edu

    /////////////////////
    According to NASA:
    “Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis [see ref. 1] of surface air temperature measurements. In our analysis, 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880 (left panel of Fig. 1). The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two-standard-deviation (95% confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C [ref. 2], so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record. ”
    http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/2008/

  19. Dark Tent

    If anyone is interested here’s the link to the specific comment where Lance actually references Junk science on (lack of) effect of DDT on eggshell thinning (specifically related to Lance’s comment on that same thread that “Although I am no biochemist my Google expeditions on DDT show that actual studies of bird eggshell thickness, the supposed smoking gun that killed DDT, are seriously flawed”).

  20. Dark Tent

    The professional statistician Tamino has two particularly good posts on the unreliability of short term trends when it comes to gaging global warming — to say nothing of the unreliability (vacuity?) of taking a simple difference in temperature between any two years that are separated by a single decade or less!

    Wigglesand Garbage is Forever

    Garbage indeed.

  21. Ty

    Things Break

    Sorry, but sending me to Realclimate, a front for the PR firm isn’t going to cut it. You have to do better than that.

    And no, ” natural variability” does not explain the short term trend which has basically stalled.

    Funny that, but an English Lit major and now a front of a leftist PR firm are discussing he science of AGW. Lol

    And one other thing, if Mooney thinks we need to mitigate, he could perhaps give us an economic explanation why. My bet is he can’t do it. Am I right?

    Perhaps writing books dishonestly asserting the GOP is anti science while changing the goal posts for the other side is somehow thought of as pro-science. How intellectually dishonest do leftists have to be these days?

  22. Ty, do present your documentation that realclimate is a ‘front’ for a PR firm.

    While you’re at it, also show how it is that natural variability stopped. As a help, you can check out my graph of temperature vs. CO2 in the note Does CO2 correlate with temperature?. Sure looks to me like a bit of natural variability squiggles around an increasing trend.

    But I’m willing to be convinced by evidence. What evidence would change your mind on those two points?

  23. Ty

    Here’s part of their press release: (after they were questioned)

    “…..We wish to stress that although our domain is being hosted by Environmental Media Services, and our initial press release was organised for us by Fenton Communications……..”

    Environmental Media Services was the organization that helped fund Cindy Sheehan’s mad ravings.

    Who “woulda” thought these dispassionate scientists at Realclimate were being supported by a left leaning organization. LOL.

    You’re talking about natural variability? Are you retarded? The real question isn’t anything to do with natural variability. The real question is to ask why the short term trend has stopped dead in its tracks in the face of material increases in emissions over the past 10 years. Why would natural variability supersede the ” onslaught” of what we’re brewing up. Now answer that without resorting to another silly way of suggesting randomness, as that’s just a vulgar cop out.

    And while you’re at it please provide an economic justification for the mitigation case, which for ease of argument we’ll assume man-made emissions are a reality

    —————-.

    Perhaps it was the Republicans war on science that has stopped the short term trend :-) I’m sure Mooney could cook up a sophomoric book with that assertion supported by “evidence”.

  24. Lance

    Dark Tent,

    Where to begin…

    The only reason you know about the reply of Ann Hobbs to my DDT question is because I posted it. I acted in good faith and posted a reply that tended to undermine my argument. An argument, by the way, that occurred years ago and has nothing to do with the current discussion.

    That you would drag up that post and interject that irrelevant, out of context, bit of information into the current discussion on climate change is evidence of your desire to smear people that disagree with you rather than engage them in honest dialogue.

    You seem more interested in impugning my credibility than engaging in an honest scientific discussion. Sadly, this says more about your credibility than mine.

    Mooney and Milloy are both bloggers and authors with a highly public profile and very different opinions on the topic of climate change. The difference being that Milloy at least has a science degree.

    I would love to see them square off in a debate.

  25. Trent1492

    @ Ty

    Why the ellipses? Why do you not link to the original page. Oh, I see you where being deceptive.

    Readers of the Feb. 14th, 2005 Wall Street Journal may have gotten the impression that RealClimate is in some way affiliated with an environmental organisation. We wish to stress that although our domain is being hosted by Environmental Media Services, and our initial press release was organised for us by Fenton Communications, neither organization was in any way involved in the initial planning for RealClimate, and have never had any editorial or other control over content. Neither Fenton nor EMS has ever paid any contributor to RealClimate.org any money for any purpose at any time. Neither do they pay us expenses, buy our lunch or contract us to do research. All of these facts have always been made clear to everyone who asked (see for instance: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/vol306/issue5705/netwatch.shtml).

    You claimed that Real Climate was a “PR Front” where is that evidence?

  26. Ty

    What evidence do you need? Oh that’s right you’re now doing a Money and moving the goal posts.

    Why would their domain being hosted by the same outfit that pr’ed for Certifiable Cindy? They also don’t mention anything about their indirect relationship with these two shadowy organizations and the resulting entanglements with the funders .

    Realclimate is a store front. The notion that it is populated by even dispassionate scientists is a crock of swill.

    Again: Give us the economic case for mitigation with facts and figures.

    Seeing Mooney isn’t a scientist he could give it a try too. Perhaps he has an economics degree well hidden that we can’t see.

  27. Ty

    Dark Trent:

    Junk Science and Realclimate are advocacy sites. Neither can be wholly trusted in finding the truth.

  28. Rich MacMillan

    As a scientist (M.S. Physics), the things I find most disconcerting about dicsuccions regarding Global Warming are as follows:

    1) Many link global warming with an almost religious zeal that mankind is responsible.
    2) Many approach this without a clear understanding of cause and effect.
    3) Many arrogantly claim that AWG science is settled/closed and that anyone who does not accept it is a “flat-earth Neanderthal.” Likewise, many arogantly claim that people who believe in AWG are “politically motivated idiots.”

    To ever hope for progress on the issue (in either direction):

    1) Keep dialog on a non-emotional level. Don’t let strategically placed pictures of polar bears or ice flows sway your focus (in either direction).
    2) Is increased carbon dioxide causing warming or is warming causing higher levels of carbon dioxide? It is not necessarily as simplistic as this, but this is how good scientists approach a problem. Remember that there are excellent scietists on both sides of this debate.
    3) Science must remain open. New evidence and discourse must remain welcome. Good scientists ALWAYS welcome challenges of new hypotheses, divergent views, thoughtful reasoning, and validated, statistically significant data. (OK, I know, lies, damn lies and statistics) ;-)

    As for global warming, remember that climate science is still in its infancy and hsitoric data samplings are very limited, particularly from from a global perspective. Let’s keep the discussions on a civil level and, to the degree possible (play on words unintended), avoid the obvious problems introduced when emostions and politics enter the picture.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

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 Salon.com 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »