In Which I Submit to the Washington Post

I just sent Fred Hiatt a roughly 900 word oped, with references, that I believe soundly refutes George Will's three central climate science claims from his February 15 column. I also make a larger, more resonant point. I hope the Post will publish the column--but you folks will see it in some form no matter what, this I promise. Stand by, and thanks for your support.

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Excellent, Chris. Thanks for taking the lead on this often thankless job of pointing out the errors and deception of the ideologues. Look forward to reading it.

Just out of curiosity, are you the sole author or did you get some help?

Do you think George Will might try to interfere with its publication? He once blocked a letter by Noam Chomsky from being published in Newsweek because it called him out for a glaring error:

CHOMSKY: [A] few years ago George Will wrote a column in Newsweek called "Mideast Truth and Falsehood," about how peace activists are lying about the Middle East, everything they say is a lie. And in the article, there was one statement that had a vague relation to fact: he said that Sadat had refused to deal with Israel until 1977. So I wrote them a letter, the kind of letter you write to Newsweekâyou know, four linesâin which I said, "Will has one statement of fact, it's false; Sadat made a peace offer in 1971, and Israel and the United States turned it down." Well, a couple days later I got a call from a research editor who checks facts for the Newsweek "Letters" column. She said: "We're kind of interested in your letter, where did you get those facts?" So I told her, "Well, they're published in Newsweek, on February 8, 1971"âwhich is true, because it was a big proposal, it just happened to go down the memory hole in the United States because it was the wrong story. So she looked it up and called me back, and said, "Yeah, you're right, we found it there; okay, we'll run your letter." An hour later she called again and said, "Gee, I'm sorry, but we can't run the letter." I said, "What's the problem?" She said, "Well, the editor mentioned it to Will and he's having a tantrum; they decided they can't run it." Well, okay.

I think you've done a great job with this Chris, thank you.

Holy mackerel Wes - good story about Noam Chomsky. However in this age,I think Will would be drawn and quartered by the blogosphere if he refused to allow such a rebuttal, and the matter would become much worse for him and the Washington Post.

I can't wait for Chris's piece to show up.

By jay wheaton (not verified) on 02 Mar 2009 #permalink

Thanks for your support everyone. I appreciate the assumption on that my piece is actually good; I think it is--but you haven't seen it yet, so that's a leap of faith on your part.

Egbooth, this is my work, although in the course of gathering information and checking facts I often confer with colleagues and folks who know the subject area--and this is not exception.

Chris, I am so glad that you took the time to write an OpEd about Will's piece. I do agree that publishing the piece is a litmus test for the WaPo and if they are unwilling to publish a piece from an established science writer it says a lot about the paper's wilingness to actually allow free discourse. This morning the Hartford Courant published Will's second column (if they published the first I missed it and couldn't find it on their website), Due to the nor'easter, and a snow day, I had time to send in a short letter to the editor. They only allow 200 words but I think I got the point across. I have already received a phone call from the paper saying they will publish my letter so I would encourage anyone whose local paper publishes Will to write a letter. I rarely write letters to the editor but I sent some links along with the letter which they actually read and I think it helped my case.

Congratulations, Chris. I hope the Washington Post publishes your work. But - as I think we'll see in the long run - George Will has done the paper's reputation a great deal of damage. As you know denialism in Will's columns is a long standing problem. I really doubt your column will be enough to repair the damage. Certainly it won't be enough to restore the Post's reputation in my eyes, though it will be a lot better than nothing.

Over at the NYT , recently, there was as you probably know Tierney's awful column. On his blog, Revkin, who has otherwise been a superb science reporter, made a false balance error. Four very bad articles on climate science in close succession (although Revkin's was nowhere near as bad as the other 3.) It was interesting to see the other 3 come so close on the heels of your article referring to the first as if it were a kind of turning point for science journalism.

Will certainly does not specialize in science journalism. But Tierney and Revkin do. On the whole, Revkin's past record is in my eyes so good his recent false balance mistake represents a minor blemish. But in general false balance has played an extremely harmful role in the manufactured controversy over global warming, and other science related manufactured controversies. (Such as evolution and vaccines.) Will and Tierney both have fairly long records of propagating denialism, and have done the reputation of science journalism - and of newspapers in general - a great deal of damage. Will because he writes about science, makes grievous errors, and few newspapers call out his errors. Worse - as we see here - those that carry his column defend his errors. Tierney does damage because he is a science writer, not just a generic writer who sometimes writes about science. Columns like Will's and Tierney's are by no means unique to the Post and the NYT. They occur in many other newspapers and other outlets of traditional journalism. There is a widespread pattern of denialist columns damaging the reputation of traditional reporting. These columns are also longstanding; Will's denialist columns go back to about 1992 or so. Nor are they limited to the problem of global warming. Many other issues - evolution, vaccines, so-called alternative medicine, and others have also been covered in a similarly destructive fashion.

Some years ago, traditional journalism began to face a new problem: internet writers of one sort or another began to offer alternative sources of information. Recently, harsh economic times are also challenging traditional journalism. You seem to think Will's recent columns represent some sort of turning point for traditional journalism. Perhaps they do. But I argue that traditional journalism has been savaging itself for years, and now that times have become hard, traditional journalism is now finding the damage resulting from its own self-destructive behavior much harder to cope with. Perhaps too much. 'New media' may not be able to offer a better alternative. (Note Huffington Post has carried great deal of vaccine-denialist garbage, with Offut's column being the sole exception. ) But they may be under less economic pressure. And they certainly do not suffer from a repution brutalized by decades of self harm.

Chris: The Tulsa World printed Will's latest column last Saturday. I tried to write a rebuttal LTE about it. But they will only allow 250 words/letter.
What are the chances/possibilities of getting your op-ed published here. Should I call the paper here and request it - or what?

By Karl Sniderman (not verified) on 02 Mar 2009 #permalink

Hi Llewelly,
I do think this is a turning point. That's why I'm so engaged right now. I see the media changing irrevocably, and this seems like a key marker for that transition.

I don't know the possibilities...I can't give any answer right now. Sorry.

OT: Chris. You need to read this article by Rebbecca Watson: Is Science Communication Doomed? Which is about yet another serious failure of traditional journalism to communicate science to the public. This time, it's about sex researchers, and social psychologists, and the misreporting of their results.

My apologies. I misspelled Rebecca Watson's first name; it has only one 'b'.

When we last left him, "Virtual Reality" George was mining "facts" in a dark, damp place...

Meanwhile while back at "Reality Ranch"...
Arctic Summer Ice Could Vanish by 2013: Expert

Published on Friday, March 6, 2009 by Reuters
Arctic Summer Ice Could Vanish by 2013: Expert

by David Ljunggren

OTTAWA - The Arctic is warming up so quickly that the region's sea ice cover in summer could vanish as early as 2013, decades earlier than some had predicted, a leading polar expert said on Thursday.

Warwick Vincent, director of the Center for Northern Studies at Laval University in Quebec, said recent data on the ice cover "appear to be tracking the most pessimistic of the models", which call for an ice free summer in 2013.

By Dark tent (not verified) on 06 Mar 2009 #permalink

gmoke, excellent linky. Thank you.



George Will is an idiot. Science is difficult. Sheril Kirshenbaum has a nice smile.

Her bio listed here makes me uncomfortable. I don't think she is a marine biologist. She lacks a doctorate and her publications are weak with respect to marine science, from interviewing divers on the aesthetics of reefs to silliness about kissing. Sheril might be a lovely person but she strikes me more as an opportunist than someone serious about science.

Anyway, George Will is of course an idiot, we knew it all along, but these guys will detail it for us. Thanks, I guess.


Thank you for the work that you do, especially your work at The Capitol. while scientists serve in many ways within our government, I think it is especially important to have classically-trained scientists as advisors involved in policy making within the federal government. My hat's off to you, Sheril. You are one kick ass scientist.

All my best,

Michael: that is a very dangerous attitude, thinking that only an active researcher is a scientist. Only a small percentage of scientists get to do active research as their lifelong profession.

There is another, broader sense of the word âscientistâ, which is much more realistic. It denotes a scientific mindset that one acquires through the study, training and practice in science. In this sense: once a scientist - always a scientist.

Science is a state of mind, not a profession. And research is only one of the many, many things that a scientist can do that is a Good Thing for the society: teaching, popularizing, writing, journalism, defeating Creationists in courts, advising politicians, etc. - much of which Sheril has done and still does, and uses her past research experience and scientific training - her scientific knowledge and mindset - in a good way for the betterment of society.

Michael, I'm not sure what that drive-by hating was about. Have you met Sherill? Read more than her bio? Do you always wear you ass on your head?

I mean seriously...

"bench" and field scientists cannot do what they do if their fellow scientist-colleagues weren't in Wash DC telling our publicly-elected congresscritters what scientists do, why it is important to society, and what resources are needed to continue doing their valuable work. but of course, being a smartass know-it-all, you knew that already, didn't you?

Dangerous how?.

Sheril is specific, she claims to be a marine biologist, she clearly is not and I think she uses the moniker to better enjoy her "journey". I have nothing against Sheril in general. I think she should drop the phony "I'm a marine biologist" bit. I think it does some harm in a broad sense. Maybe it doesn't, maybe it is good, maybe it props up her ego which inspires her to do good work.

The scientific method does not instill any special skills in dealing with policy. Scientists compete for grants. There is no love lost on administrators. There is also an inordinate amount of junk science, pseudo-science, science for profit, bad science, etc.

Climate change is easy. It's dramatic, doom is looming. The bad guys are easy to identify - republicans. Virtually all scientists are in agreement. The science is fairly straight-forward.

Hostility is easy, being good-natured is hard.

Micheal, jealousy, maybe also sexism, are very unproductive emotions. At least you're returning to one of the best science sites to better educate yourself. Good luck with that.

I hold an MS in physics. I have participated in genuine research and I am listed as a co-author of a published paper. I continue (very slowly) to work on a project that, when completed, will provide the basis for a slew of papers. However, I am uncomfortable declaring myself a scientist, because I don't do it professionally. I would not declare myself a scientist unless I held a doctorate in science and was being paid for full-time scientific work.

That said, I am also loth to judge any other person who describes themselves as a scientist. Ms. Kirshenbaum is obviously well-versed in a variety of scientific pursuits and she has dedicated herself to those pursuits. That's good enough for me; if she prefers to be thought of as a scientist, then I shall think of her as a scientist.

Stop being so judgemental, Michael.

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 07 Mar 2009 #permalink

I just went over to look at Ms. Kirshenbaum's website. This woman has published a number of research papers in scientific journals. That seals it -- the publication of research papers is the true test of a modern scientist. Case closed.

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 07 Mar 2009 #permalink

"...the publication of research papers is the true test of a modern scientist." No, no, no!!!!! This is wrong in so many ways! So Ivory Tower thinking that leads to all other science careers being dubbed "alternative careers" and looked down upon - a nasty, vile way of thinking.

Scientist != Currently active researcher!!!!!

What fascinating discussions can be started by blog/comment drive-bys.

I don't know how many readers are aware that the word "scientist" is less than 200 years old

We have seen dramatic specialization and professionalization since its original coinage. Sheril does indeed have published research and considerable expertise, which is more than enough to make her a scientist in my mind. But in any case, it is also very narrow-minded to assume that one is only a "scientist" today if one goes through every single last one of the professional/academic rituals that currently exist, and all the way to the pinnacle of specialization and professionalism--which is what, a tenured academic job? The truth is that if anything we need many more "scientists" who are doing politics, media, and much else.

So I'm with Bora, my scientist friend and co-author Sheril, and everyone else.

"Scientist != Currently active researcher!!!!!"

Agreed. My point is that anybody who HAS published research papers in the past is most definitely a scientist, regardless of what they're doing right now. If we had a person who claimed to be a scientist but had never participated in the preparation of a research paper, I would scrutinize that person's claims very skeptically, although I wouldn't rule out the possibility.

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 07 Mar 2009 #permalink

Geez, with all the problems with this nitwit, why is no one pointing out the most obvious? Mr. cave man in question suggests by his comment that a good looking woman cannot also be a serious scientist. I'm pissed for every attractive women and embarressed for mankind.

By Girl In A Blue Coat (not verified) on 07 Mar 2009 #permalink

I guess it was so obvious nobody cared to address it - rather address stuff that does not show up on blogs every day, especially in the comments of female science bloggers. But yes, the sexism of that comment was obvious and perhaps should have been addressed head on (as much as we are sick and tired of doing it over and over again).

My issue is with Sheril calling herself a marine biologist; however, I would be even more offended if she claimed herself a scientist. Her publications available through her website are not science literature.

Chris Mooney has an equally nice smile. I too have a nice smile - I've never had a cavity. What is obvious is the point I was making about how Sheril markets herself. Interestingly my female physicist friend (who is attractive) uses only her initials on her publications because sexism runs rampant in the science community. She also thinks of marine biology as a soft science, which irritates another friend who is a marine biologist. I do not agree with her on that.

Good scientists, although often guided by intuition, are thoughtful people, not prone to knee-jerk reactions or wild speculation. Regardless of the desires of their benefactors or how things are packaged or how their results might disappoint, they seek the true nature of our world.

Speaking of smiles, I am uncomfortable with the trend of how people feel the need to package themselves. Why are everybody's teeth suddenly bright white and perfectly aligned? This extends to almost every aspect of a person's life. And now perfected we all must have websites to show how well packaged we are to better market whatever we're selling.

This all brings to mind the movie Adaptation.

Nothing breeds righteousness like guilt.

MIchael writes:

"Her publications available through her website are not science literature."

Here is one of the publications available through her website:

Preference And Performance of a Willow-feeding Leaf Beetle: Soil Nutrient and Flooding Effects on Host Quality: Soil nutrients can influence adult preference and adult beetles choose high-quality hosts that promote egg production.

Garsh, this looks so crashingly boring, it's GOT to be science! ;-)

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 08 Mar 2009 #permalink

Interestingly my female physicist friend (who is attractive) uses only her initials on her publications because sexism runs rampant in the science community.

Pity for her. Then again, if she hangs out around you...

By Girl In A Blue Coat (not verified) on 08 Mar 2009 #permalink

"My issue is with Sheril calling herself a marine biologist; however, I would be even more offended if she claimed herself a scientist."

Excuse me? You're implying a marine biologist is not a scientist? This guy's an idiot.

Erasmussimo, you're kidding right? If not, investigate more carefully.

Girl you have a chip on your shoulder, but you're in the wrong.

benthos you obviously didn't read my comments very well. It is true that marine biology is considered a soft science by many, but not by me.

Sheril is not a marine biologist, she's an opportunist. Reminds me of another blogger, Steve Clemons For me they are cut from the same cloth.

You're a nut job. And for someone who appears so jealous of a talented young woman, you sure follow her blog often. I'm sure with efforts like ScienceDebate Sheril's already done more for science than you ever will.

Erasmussimo, you're kidding right? If not, investigate more carefully.
I don't know what secret you're referring to. I examined the abstract. Ms. Kirshenbaum is the second of three authors. The paper is published in a reputable journal. Six subsequent papers have referenced it. What is it about this paper that you find suspect?

By Erasmussimo (not verified) on 09 Mar 2009 #permalink

Era-tional, don't want to get into the weeds or willows on this one, but you must have the mental capacity of a beetle. A silly ecology paper does not make a marine biologist, regardless of what her actual involvement in that was. Neither does her latest contribution "The Science of Kissing". I don't think she has written a proposal or received a single grant.

Reading through her postings she exhibits no expertise in any science; she yaps alot about policy (although her analysis is meager and weak) and herself. She has done pop radio, she tells us. She is a musician, she tells us, and on and on about herself. Bush did a similar thing, disingenuously marketing himself to the hoi polloi, I bet you were smug about the people he suckered, but here you are getting suckered yourself.