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Incurious George

Filed under: — david @ 2 April 2006

George Will argues now that no one would have noticed the 0.6 deg. C of global average warming to date, if the irresponsible press had not deliberately produced anxiety by pointing it out. He could be right. I expect no one would have personally noticed the ozone hole either. My grandmother smoked like a chimney and lived to be almost 100. If that nasty press had not deliberately stoked my anxieties about cigarettes and lung cancer, I would never have figured out the connection based on my personal experience. George argues that big crusading journalism is the problem. Ignorance is strength, right, George?

And, oh yeah, the global cooling stories, which appeared 30 years ago in the main-stream press (not the scientific literature). Shall we compare this with Will’s deliberate and repeated distortion of a real warning emerging from the scientific enterprise, continuing to the present day?

He looks like such an earnest man. I just don’t get it.

84 Responses to “Incurious George”

  1. 51
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I think what he may have had in mind is that no one would have noticed if the temp was 1/2 a degree F warmer (or cooler for that matter). So it’s about 92 F here today. Most won’t noticed if it were 92.5 F instead….mainly because we have A/Cs in our cars & homes & workplaces. It’s a matter of making it to the car & back.

    What I do notice is that scientists notice it (the .6 C global average increase), and are concerned about it. So I keep my eyes trained on the scientists (not on how hot it seems to me today), since I wouldn’t have known what the .6 increase meant. It’s pure arrogance that George Will does not take what the scientists say seriously.

    Even W F Buckley now believes in AGW. Get with it George!

  2. 52
    jae says:

    Since when is Science Magazine a part of the “main stream press?”

    [Response: Science is a peer-reviewed journal, unlike the other things Will quotes, but Will misquotes the article in question, and takes the quote out of context. See William's global cooling article for details. Even if he weren't misquoting the article, it would be ludicrous to compare one peer-reviewed paper suggesting cooling with the thousands that have since come out supporting anthropogenic global warming. That's moot, though, since the Science paper in question doesn't say what Will implies it does. --raypierre]

  3. 53
    Paul G. says:

    Post #41
    The global cooling stories…Again !

    Climate theology and its exponents – April 3, 2006 – Editorial

    “There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically,” begins the April 28, 1975, Newsweek article reprinted today on the opposite page. But this wasn’t a prediction of global warming. (…)

    = >

    [Response:Their point seems to be that journalists are capable of making the wrong call. Evidently that's true. David]

    David, you aren’t being honest here. It was certain scientists who made the “wrong call” about the coming ice age in the ’70s. Journalists merely reported what some climate experts were saying; the wrong call in this case was made entirely by the experts.

    [Response:The Washington Times op-ed in the link is complaining about a Newsweek article from 1975. Re-reading the realclimate post about this here, I don’t see any wrong calls from the scientific literature. Hayes observed that the current interglacial would naturally end in the next 20,000 years, leading to a new glaciation, and Schneider said that if sulfate aerosols increased enough, they could lead to cooling. Both statements are still viewed as essentially correct. David

  4. 54
    Steve Bloom says:

    I’m not sure if this is the first mention of it on RC, but someone (not Gavin, as I’m sure he will not wish to appear immodest) should do a post on this (linked through Gristmill because their headline is way better than the NYT’s).

    [Response: Its a nice piece. We linked to it in our "In the News" section. Unfortunately, it got one important detail wrong (and "GristMill" repeated the mistake). Gavin was one of several co-founders of RealClimate, and not the sole founder.]

  5. 55
  6. 56
    llewelly says:

    Thank you for mentioning the NYT profile of Gavin.
    Gavin, congratulations.

  7. 57
    Mark A. York says:

    Very nice profile of Gavin.

  8. 58
    Eli Rabett says:

    In #34 Michael Tobis says:

    “The solution is for us to be calm and smart and mutually trusting and mutually deserving of trust enough to solve our problems. In our present delirium that’s unfortunately very hard to imagine.”

    and that would be a good thing. Unfortunately it is not the game that the radical right in the US and UK has been playing for the last 20 years. To approach them on this basis is going unarmed into a knife fight. The climate science community has tried to turn the other cheek for twenty years. It has not worked. The denialist side is not interested in an honest conversation.

    Since Pielke Jr’s argument is based on mis-stating that of Stefan Rahmsdorf (see my comment on Prometheus for a beginning), I see a great deal that is objectionable about it. Since this is a common tactic of his, I put little trust in him.

  9. 59

    We can only hope that someone with expertise starts a blog on the ECONOMICS of climate change and mitigation. I know that our fine hosts do not want to get into it, here. But George Will and others continue this scare-mongering about the enormous costs of starting onto a new direction. This is defeatism, and it should be challenged.

    At this point, the climate science looks far MORE solid than the economics. While overall, the climate system appears to be far LESS resilient to disturbance than the economy! –After all, the former is composed of physics and chemistry; the latter is composed of creative human beings.

    [Response: It's long been one of my beefs that economic models never get nearly the same scrutiny as climate models. That goes both for models of the cost of mitigating global warming, and the cost of impacts. Many of the models used to predict mitigation costs are proprietary and have never been subjected to peer review. If that were ever tried on the climate side, we'd be quite rightly called on the carpet. Economics doesn't have nearly the same culture of testing and verification as the physical sciences. It would be great if there were a blog like RealClimate dedicated to critical evaluation of research results on economics of global warming, but (and there's no way to state this without being insulting) there are too few economists who are oriented towards looking critically at economic models. A proper economics blog would have to be written by non-economists who had learned enough about economics to critique the models. That's a very different situation from RealClimate. --raypierre]

  10. 60
    Hank Roberts says:

    >economics covers this well and has for a long time; he’s compled quite a lot of info

  11. 61
    Gar Lipow says:

    I’ve got a question; I think it fits into this thread, if only marginally. Someone arguing the climate skeptic position claimed that if you stick to people with PHDs in climatology, you you will get a high percentage of climate skeptics; the appearance of a consensus was due to large number of non-climatologists bloviating. This is a new one to me. I’m assuming he is wrong on two points. One I doubt that the majority of people with PhDs in Climatology are “skeptics”. And I doubt that a Climatology is the only expertise that qualifies one to be a climate scientist. I note that physicists, oceanographers, geologists all work in the field – because of course it is an interdisciplinary field. Umm is there even such a thing as a PhD in climatology?

  12. 62
    llewelly says:

    Mark York:
    Please see earlier RC articles on the satellite temperature records produced by Christy and his co-authors:

    More satellite stuff
    The tropical lapse rate quandary
    Et Tu LT?

    Essentially, Christy and Spencer for years published UAH TLT, a global temperature record derived from weather satellites, which was long paraded about as showing a weak cooling trend, in contrast with the surface temperature record and climate models, but after many corrections, it is now known that the apparent cooling trend was the result of errors.

    That 2001 opinion piece from Christy was, I believe, based on said apparent cooling trend, which is now known to be in error.

  13. 63
    Aaron says:

    I know this doesn’t qualify as a high quality comment but I think it’s rather odd that my earlier comment was censored in such a way as to make it sound like I posted something more inflammatory than I actually did. My original comment was FCC-safe.

  14. 64
    S Molnar says:

    Alas, the New York Times has cropped the top of Gavin’s head, thereby suppressing evidence in support of my hypothesis that the decrease in arctic albedo will be offset by an increase in the albedo of RealClimate contributors. This is clearly the work of the Global Warming conspiracy.

  15. 65
    John L. McCormick says:

    Houston, we have a problem! And, it is neither George Will nor Michael Novak.

    It is the frightening reality there will not be certain and indisputable proof that humans have affected earth’s climate. Consensus is what politicians and national leaders seek to warrant the economic and societal changes that will have to come into place as quickly as possible to limit future impacts of climate-forcing gas emissions and land use practices.

    About three years ago, someone inside the Bush Administration recounted a meeting of industry (include CEI, Marshall Institute) opponents of Kyoto or any regulation of CO2. They made a pact to stand together forever to NEVER YIELD ON THE SCIENCE. NOT EVER. REGARDLESS OF THE IPCC, NAS OR ANY SCIENTISTS’ CONCLUSIONS PUBLISHED IN PEER REVIEWED JOURNALS.

    They are steadfast in that simple and TIGHTLY MANAGED strategy in order to buy time. You see it happening all around you. They use trained, published spokespersons to seed doubt in the minds of journalists and the public. Their long-range plan is clear and in place.

    They are choking serious policy discussions and running out the clock with a reasonable hope some very large new crisis (economic meltdown, Middle East, end-of-oil) will wipe climate change from the agenda as a panicked public focuses on the next here-and-now crisis. And, if you were one of them, that plan would make eminent sense.

    Public awareness and anxiety about the changing climate is moving in our direction but getting it ratcheted up to levels that accommodate 40-50-60% reduction in US, EU, China and Indian carbon fuel use is slipping away with the wear and tear of people struggling to achieve economic security and a higher standard of living.

    This is what dedicated scientists must accept. We will not be asking people to give up cigarettes. The load will be staggering irregardless of the promising â??technologiesâ?? and carbon capture proposals.

    Our children will confront problems of caring for us aging â??boomerâ?? parents, coping with overcrowded cities, highways, hospitals, diminished earning power and housing they cannot afford.

    Climate change, in 20 years, will deliver stronger evidence of positive feedback and irreversible trends of Arctic Ocean melt back and permafrost melting. We know that. But, the streets of New York City will not yet be flooding and food will be available for those who can afford the prices. Meanwhile, competing crises will drain money and political focus from a problem viewed more increasingly as beyond our present capacity to control. RealClimate will still be banging away at the few highly educated skeptics able to capitalize on the mediaâ??s short attention span and limited capacity to challenge them.

    Yes. This is high pessimism at a time when we all need to believe there is a solution. But time is an enemy of climate change and we cannot waste a moment or an opportunity to look at every aspect of the future of climate change and that must include a pragmatic and well funded approach towards adaptation while we continue to do all that is humanly possible to shift from carbon fuels. That must include everything from wind towers in Cape Cod Bay to channeling river flows from the Arctic Ocean to the crop lands of North America if that becomes necessary.

    We know there are more passengers than lifejackets on board planet earth. But, our children and their children deserve our best shot at giving them the tools they will need to survive. Without mitigation, the generations born after 2050 will have a low chance of seeing their grandchildren. Building some fortification into their basic survival resources of food and water is as important as anything we can be doing while America still has a few uncommitted billions to spend.

    Climate scientists have an important role to play in helping other sciences identify the most advantageous routes to pursue because they have a glimpse of how and where precipitation and temperatures will change.

    John McCormick

    [Response:I think that we need to emphasis that in general, science is being used to make predictions, and that humans now are at a stage that we actually can forsee problems before they arise. Science has proven very successful for our modern civilisation. My hope is that we are now more clever than recent generations who have brought upon themselves environmental problems (i.e. the the 'big leap forward' during the Chinese cultural revolution). In addition to science, we can also look to the past. The fact that there have been climatic changes in the (even recent) past and ther eare well-documented of severe weather/climate-events, calls for a better understanding. But it is also impossible to prove things before they happen. A scientific concensus does not guarantee that it's true, but it is by definition the most credible view. -rasmus]

  16. 66
    joel Hammer says:

    Boy. You guys are a sensitive lot. George Will is just a columnist.

    Why don’t one of you invite him to debate Al Gore, who has a truly pitiful academic background, but who nevertheless is a loud spokesperson for global warming. If Al Gore can sound off on climate, surely George Will can.

    BTW, maybe you all are so sensitive because YOU HAVE NO WAY TO PROVE CO2 is causing global warming. Computer models are not proof of anything. The curious thing is that hardly anyone, including the global warming alarmists, even understands those models, yet, they are basing everything on these models. That surely qualifies as a religion.

    Think about that.

    [Response: It is a common misconception that global warming science is "basing everything on models". As we have pointed out many times before, the case is based primarily on physical understanding and observational data. That is why Svante Arrhenius, long before the advent of computer models, was able to calculate (in his famous paper of 1896) the effect of doubling CO2 concentration on climate. He overestimated it by a factor of 2, but today we have far better data. It is neither religion nor computer model magic - it is physics. -stefan (physicist, by the way)]

  17. 67
    pete best says:

    All of the anti climate science columists added up together make for a very large readership and who knows what they are thinking whilst controversy still appears to reign in the media if not the scientific literature.

    Sensitive, yer why not when soundbites and nonsense is still spouted in order to muddy the waters and delay action.

    Still climate change is a human lifetimes event and extreme climate change even longer, fossil fuels should be on the way out come 2100 if for no other reason other than they will have peaked decades before and simply cost too much (COAL aside) making alternatives much more favourable even if Fusion has not been cracked.

    It is not enevitable that AGW will be extremely bad for humankind but if we continue as we are now then it more than likely will.

  18. 68
    John L. McCormick says:

    Can we please, just for a moment in this thread, focus on trend lines: from population and GDP growth, diminished topsoil and fish harvest, US federal and private debt, temperature increase and diminished snow pack in the Western US…add your favorites…and factor them into a timeline projection of about 10 years out when CO2 concentrations will have pushed over the 400 ppmv mark or about 120 ppmv above pre-industrial. Then take our collective view of those trends and look our children in the eyes and tell them everything is all right and “sweet dreams.” They deserve a heck of a lot more from our generation than a food fight to prove who is right â?? skeptics or scientists. No. There will be no winners in a warming world and the Arctic melt back will assure that.
    by John L. McCormick

  19. 69
    HiEv says:

    “If I don’t notice the problem, then the problem isn’t real,” said the frog in the pot of water that was slowly being raised to the boiling point.

    That’s some clever reasoning there. ;-)

    And speaking of “clever reasoning,” Joel Hammer. Dang, you’re sooo right. We can’t prove CO2 causes global warming. It’s a darn shame that there aren’t any planets that have a CO2 induced global warming phenomenon around…

    …Oh, wait. There are:

    Wikipedia: Venus – Atmosphere

    Venus has an atmosphere consisting mainly of carbon dioxide and a small amount of nitrogen, with a pressure at the surface about 90 times that of Earth (a pressure equivalent to a depth of 1 kilometer under Earth’s oceans); its atmosphere is also roughly 90 times more massive than ours. This enormously CO2-rich atmosphere results in a strong greenhouse effect that raises the surface temperature more than 400 °C (750 °F) above what it would be otherwise, causing temperatures at the surface to reach extremes as great as 500 °C (930 °F) in low elevation regions near the planet’s equator.

    With rising CO2 levels in our own atmosphere correlating to rising temperatures the evidence is pretty clear.

    It’s not religion buddy, it’s science.

  20. 70
    richard macbean says:

    “Will is an intelligent man and has been a thoughtful critic on a number of issues.”

    Several posters have praised Mr Will’s intelligence. He may certainly be earnest, but his columns have historically demonstrated that he is far from being the brightest bulb in the box.

  21. 71
    Doug says:

    Re #66

    Perhaps it’s George Will’s passion for baseball with all its “statistics” that generates some of the interest on a subliminal level. Mr. Will just might decide to make global warming a new hobby.

  22. 72
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #49: You remember that story about Will more-or-less correctly. The only correction is that it was not a Reagan speech but rather one of his debates against President Carter. Will helped Reagan prepare for the debate and then, in his role as commentator, heaped praise on Reagan’s performance without disclosing his role in the preparation. [Recently, Carter had also accused Will of being the person who gave Carter's debate briefing book to the Reagan campaign but has since apologized for and retracted this allegation.] See

  23. 73
    Joel Shore says:

    Re #66: You are correct that it cannot be PROVEN that CO2 is causing global warming. Science is inductive (unlike mathematics which is deductive) and nothing can be proven. I cannot prove to you that the sun will rise tomorrow or that if I drop an apple it will fall to the ground rather than float away…and yet I doubt that you would advocate basing public policy on the idea that the sun might not rise or that the apple might not fall.

    I am curious to know your qualifications for stating that belief in anthropogenic climate change is religion and not science. And, in particular, how you feel these qualifications make you better able to pronounce such a judgement than, say, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences or the 10 other academies of sciences of major countries (U.K., Britain, Germany, Japan, China, India, …) who signed the recent joint statement about climate change.

  24. 74
    Alan says:

    RE response to #24 from Raypierre

    The post made an insightfull remark, “Political scientists and political commentators and their allies in the think tanks are playing a different game, and if you want to deal with them you have to realize this and shape your response to fit it”. I was surprised by your response, I dont think anyone is suggesting scientists use the same tatics in a tit-for-tat fight.

    [Response: No offense meant to the commentator here. I didn't think the comment was advocating that scientists accept the same tactics as the less scrupulous politicians, but I was afraid that some readers might take away that message from it. Also, it is a real temptation to fight back with the same underhanded tactics, since they are indeed so effective. It takes eternal vigilance to resist the temptation.--raypierre]

    I think the RC site is an excellent example of how scientists can get together and “shape a response” that bypasses the commercial/ideolgical goggles of so many “pundits” in the mass media. By sticking to science and correcting errors where you see them doing the most damage you have rapidly formed an authorative “grassroots” focal point that has had a noticable effect on the astroturf crowd.

    Many years ago I used to like debates at school but did not like being made to argue a case I did not belive, it made no sense, if I couldn’t convince myself what was the point.

    Now I am older I understand how politicians are trained, logic must only be used when it supports your argument. In politics winning the argument is everything, if you engage honestly with logic it will prevent you from winning an illogical argument. Therefore if logic is not on your side you have to either ignore it or overwhelm it with repeditive wild goose chases.

    Due to it’s incredible track record, science definitely has the upper hand in logic and sites like this make it difficult to ignore.

  25. 75
    Fred Bortz says:

    I blogged about Will’s nonsense when he said the same thing on ABC’s Sunday morning news show a week ago. I called it “Read A Book, George Will,” and I just reposted it today.

  26. 76
    John says:

    Global Warming hmm, DId you know Mars is getting hotter and no lives on it to cause it:). It’s all about getting your next grant to study it and it’s all about getting people scared of natural occurrences.
    Where glaciers melt at some areas, they are getting more ICE in others. Stop scaring people.

  27. 77
    Denver says:

    Yes, the “scientific enterprise” … for someone who is not an expert in any of the manifold fields involved, nor who has any particular axe to grind, therein lies the problem: the suspicion that climate science is an enterprise much akin to many others. I admit it bothers me that this enterprise is advertised by its adherents as “climate change science”, a moniker that openly admits not to seeking the truth (i.e. “Is the climate changing in some anthropogenic fashion?”) but to publicising a particular conclusion. Is it wrong to ask if that conclusion has been demonstrated?

    Flame on … …

  28. 78
    Coby says:

    Re #77, do you see the same problem with the field of “evolutionary biology”?

  29. 79
  30. 80
    David R. Hickey says:

    George F. Will does seem to be a thoughtful and honest man. However, it would seem that his latest comment indicates a reluctance to admit an error as large as that as If he’d advocated ID instead of Darwinian evolution. In fact his surprising past defense of Darwinian evolution never seemed to go beyond natural selection via intra-species/populational competition anyway. Thus theory suited his view of capitalism quite well. He may well be unaware-or unconcerned with–the Neo-Synthetic Theory of Evolution as it’s irrelevant or inconvenient to economic arguments.
    His defense of ‘global cooling’, while reluctantly admitting ‘global warming’, is reminiscent of the creationist lobby’s recent reluctant acceptance of ‘microevolution in the face of the human genome project (while refusing to acknowledge macroevolution and thus conveniently creating their own ‘gap theory’). By comparison he seems unable to recognize actual scientific theory vs that which best suits his own preconcieved notions of ‘scientific-enough’.

  31. 81
    Eli Rabett says:

    Let me respond a bit further to Ray and Alan. I think the first mistake that those in climate science made was to deal with the Singers of the world as honorable colleagues who could make a significant contribution. The latter skillfully manipulate the situation by trumpeting tripe to the public and simultaneously beating on climate science and climate scientists. Should anyone respond to this baiting, they then pull the “this is completely inappropriate for a scientific discussion among colleagues” gambit.

    Real Climate is a response that is being tried. Others are trying to supress it. For example, your “esteemed” (scary quotes) colleagues who constantly try to cast Real Climate as politically partisan. I need not mention which blogs I consider to be sources of these attacks.

  32. 82
    Matthias Brun says:

    About the climate debate being â??justâ?? an unproven theory: considers this extended Gaia-theory. To the open mind it will maybe put the whole climate debate in a greater context.

    [Response: [ deleted] Sorry, this post got through before anybody caught it. I’m editing it out now to keep us from getting into a lot of off-topic mysticism –raypierre]

  33. 83
    Alan says:

    RE #82

    A lot of spiritual mumbo-jumbo has been written about Lovelace’s revolutionary Gaia theory. Thirty years ago I also belived every bit of the mumbo-jumbo about telepathy and such. A single book written by a magician known as The Great Randi opened my eyes to the rubbish I had been swallowing. Another excellent book is “Demon haunted world” by Carl Sagan. But be warned, when you do discover science you will become angry at those who deliberately mislead you, you may also become inclined toward over zealous skepticism.

    [Response: One of my favorite books. - gavin]

  34. 84
    John L. McCormick says:

    The following link will access the Apr 8, Washington Post’s editorial page letters directed at George Will’s screed, as in tirade, on a cooler world:

    John McCormick

    [Response: Nice to see your letter there, John. --raypierre]

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