Carl Zimmer has posted another article on the Geroge Will affair [Unchecked Ice: A Saga in Five Chapters]. Recall that George Will made a number of scientifically inaccurate comments in his Washington Post article last week. He defends himself in another column today.
Carl dissects the issue in order to set the record, straight. Any decent science journalist should be concerned about accuracy and I'm pleased that Carl has made an effort to stand up for the truth. The Washington Post takes the brunt of the blame.
What has kept me hooked on this saga is not George Will’s errors. Errors are as common as grass. Some are made out of ignorance, some carefully constructed to give a misleading impression. What has kept me agog is the way the editors at the Washington Post have actually given their stamp of approval on Will’s columns, even claiming to have fact-checked them and seeing no need for a single correction.Chris Mooney has also attacked the newspaper for it's lack of integrity [George Will Lies; His Editor Does Nothing].
Many of the column's incorrect factual assertions were challenged, and as Will is revisiting the column due to the response it has garnered, it's inconceivable that he doesn't know that. For God's sake, Will claimed that "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." That's false. And Will doesn't even address the issue at all in his latest column.All of this is good. It is highly appropriate that science journalists reestablish their credibility by criticizing amateurs who don't know what they're talking about.
Meanwhile, the Post's editorial page editor Fred Hiatt has made himself look terrible over all this. He should have held Will to the truth and thereby upheld his paper's standards. Instead he tells CJR this:"It may well be that he is drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject -- so, you know, fine, I welcome anyone to make that point. But don't make it by suggesting that George Will shouldn't be allowed to make the contrary point. Debate him."
Where is Matt Nisbet in all of this? Here's what Nisbet says in In the Clamor Over George Will, Pundits Win But Public Loses.
The same observation currently applies to the clamor over George Will's recent syndicated column on global warming. As I detail in a cover article at the March/April issue of the journal Environment, Will's column is part of a decade-old message playbook on climate change, effectively (and falsely) framing the problem in terms of lingering scientific uncertainty.Over the past two years, many of us have been pointing out the conflict between "framing" and scientific accuracy. Now Nisbet makes it perfectly clear. If you criticize the scientific accuracy of an article in the main stream media then you might be hurting the cause.
The irony of this latest netroots clamor is that dozens of bloggers are just feeding the George Will beast, sustaining and amplifying attention to his false claims about climate science while providing easy cues to the public that the issue can be readily interpreted through the lens of partisanship and ideology. (Sound familiar? As I wrote at Skeptical Inquirer, the same thing happened in the initial response to Ben Stein's anti-evolution doc Expelled.)
The conflict and heat generated not only focuses more attention on Will's preferred uncertainty interpretations, but it also distracts from the narratives and frames that are actually likely to build broad-based support for action. As I note in the Environment article, these frames include an emphasis on the moral and religious imperative to action along with a focus on the public health and energy innovation dimensions of climate change.
The implication is that you should let scientific errors go unchallenged because challenging them give them credence. The more insidious implication is that scientific inaccuracy may be okay as long as it advances the cause.
It seems to me that Nisbet's view and Chris Mooney's recent claims are not compatible. I look forward to seeing how Mooney replies to Nisbet. Chris has already tried to distance himself from Nisbet last Spring over the Ben Stein affair [see For Once, Chris Mooney Talks Sense].
Internecine framing wars, what could be more fun than that?