Al Gore vs. George F. Will

My apologies if you're weary of posts revolving around George F. Will and his inability to accept responsibility for getting climate science completely wrong. But the contrast between that sorry episode in one non-scientist's efforts to communicate science with those of Al Gore's is too stark to pass up.


This week Al Gore accepted that it had been a mistake to include a series of animated slides in the latest version of his climate change presentation. The images accurately record a dramatic spike in weather-related damages around the world in recent years, with the U.S. suffering more than any other nation. What the slides do not do is offer any evidence that climate change is responsible for the increase. (Image at right is one of the slides in question).

This is the sort of thing that political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. likes to offer to counter global warming alarmism, suggesting that other factors, including building patterns and data-reporting inconsistencies, are to blame. In this case, the data for the slides, from the Center of Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, aggregates several kinds of disasters, including earthquakes, epidemics and other incidents and trends that are difficult, if not impossible, to link to climate change.

CRED issued a statement to make its position clear:

We believe that the increase seen in the graph until about 1995 is explained partly by better reporting of disasters in general, partly due to active data collection efforts by CRED and partly due to real increases in certain types of disasters. We estimate that the data in the most recent decade present the least bias and reflect a real change in numbers. This is especially true for floods and cyclones. Whether this is due to climate change or not, we are unable to say.

So it was probably not a good idea to include such material in a climate change slide show. Gore, through a spokesperson, said:

We appreciate that you have pointed out the issues with the CRED database and will make the switch back to the data we used previously to ensure that there is no confusion either with regards to the data or attribution.

This is precisely the kind of mistake that Gore should have been wary of making, given the nature of the controversy associated with past attempts to connect storm damage with global warming, and it was sloppy to include it his show. The slide has been part of the latest iteration of the presentation available to his army of volunteer presenters since mid January, so he's not the only one who's been offering less-than-solid material on the subject to audiences. But the point is, as soon as the problem was brought to his attention, Gore made the necessary correction.

At the other end of the scale of responsibility lies George Will's refusal, and that of his editors at the Washington Post, who have consistently and repeatedly refused to run corrections for his columns misstating the science of climate change. The New York Times' Andy Revkin has just written a story that offers more details on both incidents. But, being the dispassionate mainstream reporter, Revkin, whose work following these stories reminds us just why he's one of the best in the business, shies away from commenting on the contrast between the responses of the two men directly. One might argue nothing more needs to be said, but again, I just couldn't resist.

More like this

James, is there anywhere I can see both these slides and the prior (and now current) ones, and if possible the accompanying text? Thanks.

By Steve Bloom (not verified) on 25 Feb 2009 #permalink

Its all hitting the fan nowâ¦

So america thought that it was going to be able to take a 2C addition in GW in its stride. That it would survive better than less developed states. Its technology would save it. Not soâ¦.

Droughts âmay lay wasteâ to parts of US science/ 2009/ feb/ 26/ drought-us-climate-change
The worldâs pre-eminent climate scientists produced a blunt assessment of the impact of global warming on the US yesterday, warning of droughts that could reduce the American south-west to a wasteland and heatwaves that could make life impossible even in northern cities.
Sacramento in California, for example, could face heatwaves for up to 100 days a year. âWe are close to a threshold in a very large number of American cities where uncomfortable heatwaves make cities uninhabitable,â Field told the Senateâs environment and public works committee.