Tuesday, January 20, 2015

George Will Shows His Ignorance

An article by George Will was recently brought to my attention. The article, Climate change's instructive past, is a graphic demonstration of what happens when people write about complex topics they know nothing about - they get it wrong.

Boy, did George Will get it wrong, too. And, he didn't take long to do it. In just the second paragraph, he states,
And if climate Cassandras are as conscientious as they claim to be about weighing evidence, how do they accommodate historical evidence of enormously consequential episodes of climate change not produced by human activity?

Here is one of the biggest false arguments deniers make: There was naturally occurring climate change in the past, therefore all climate change is natural.

False argument. Tell us, Mr. Will, why is it not possible to have naturally occurring climate change AND manmade climate change? By the very nature of your statement, you refuse to consider that possibility. I have covered this topic many times, but it obviously needs to be covered some more.

This is the argument Mr. Will is making:
There was climate change in the past;
There is climate change today;
Climate change in the past was naturally occurring;
Therefore, climate change today is naturally occurring.

Let's put this same argument another way to show just have false it is.
Pneumonia kills people;
Gunshot wounds kill people;
Pneumonia is a naturally occurring virus;
Therefore, gunshot wounds are a naturally occurring virus.
The real problem I have with his statement is that I know George Will is an intelligent, well-educated person with considerable resources. I am very highly confident Mr. Will knows this is a false argument, but said it anyway. If he knows it is a false argument (and I can't believe otherwise), why did he go through with it? And, in the extremely unlikely event he didn't recognize how false it is, why didn't he? This is not some guy sitting in a bar babbling about things he doesn't know about over his beer. Like I said, George Will has considerable resources. So, why did he get this so wrong? You don't get things this wrong by accident, there has to be a reason. And, that makes me wonder, what was his motivation?

That should have been enough for him, but it wasn't. He then made one of the most frequently stated of all denier whoppers:
In the Medieval Warm Period (MWP), from the end of the ninth century to the beginning of the 14th, the Northern Hemisphere was warmer than at any time in the last 8,000 years

Both false and a false argument. Tell us Mr. Will, why does it matter what the temperature 1000 years ago was? You said it yourself, this was before the industrial revolution. Things have changed and you want to take something completely unrelated to today and try to make it relevant. That, sir, is a false argument and you know it. You never even attempted to show how it is in any way feasible to compare the two highly different situations and reach the conclusion you wanted. Again, I have to wonder, what is Mr. Will's motive here?

But, besides that, it simply isn't true. Take a look at the temperature profile below for the last 2000 years. The Roman Warm Period is the bump on the left at about A.D. 300. The Medieval Warm Period is the bump that occurs in the middle at about A.D. 1000. The big red spike on the right is today. (The two troughs are cold periods, including the Little Ice Age on the right.)

Source: Ljungqvist, 2010 (via Skeptical Science)

This is only one such reconstruction, there are many others that show the same thing - today's temperature is the highest in the last 2000 years. In fact, others show it is the highest in at least 8000 years. Why did Mr. Will make a statement that is so obviously false? Once again, what was his motivation?

He then finishes with an incredibly ignorant statement,
With the hands that today's climate Cassandras are not using to pat themselves on the back for their virtuous empiricism, they should pick up such books.
Mr. Will, tell us one thing, please. Who do you think discovered all of this information about past climate change? You? The deniers? No, Mr. Will, this information was discovered by climate scientists, the same climate scientists you dismiss in your article with your lies and deceptions. I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt when I call them lies and deceptions because the alternative is much worse:

You're just plain ignorant.


  1. Maybe in the 1960s, Oxford would take any old joker?

    In addition to your salient points, Professor, Will completely wiffed on the fact that the books he was reviewing strongly argue that climate change is devastatingly dangerous.

    If anything, Will makes clear that Buckley is a long time gone.

  2. One the ironies is that he made the books sound so interesting I plan on purchasing them.

  3. I do love the idea that people warning of the dangers of climate changes are called "Cassandras". As I read the story, the moral was that Cassandra was right!

    As for scientists "not knowing" about climate changes of long ago, what does he think geologists and paleoclimatologists and glaciologists and all the others do with their time? Polish up pretty rocks?

  4. I didn't think about it until you mentioned it. 'Cassandra' is a term used for someone predicting disaster. But, in mythology where the term originates, Cassandra was given the power of prophesy but a curse that no one would listen. In that way, it would be entirely appropriate to call climate scientists 'Cassandras.'

  5. It will be interesting to see if GW's takeaways miss any salient points from those books...