Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why not to suscribe to the Washington Post

“It may well be that Will 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.”
This is the response of Washington Post editor Fred Hiatt to complaints about factual errors in a column that George Will. Will wrote:
"According to the University of Illinois' Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979."
The problem is that this is just plain false. The Center wrote a rebuttal:

“We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows that on February 15, 1979, global sea ice area was 16.79 million sq. km and on February 15, 2009, global sea ice area was 15.45 million sq. km. Therefore, global sea ice levels are 1.34 million sq. km less in February 2009 than in February 1979. This decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined.”

And that points to where the Post's position is untenable. It shows and ignorance and confusion about the difference between scientific uncertainty and journalistic integrity. Yes, scientists will always be debating things: without debate there is no science.

But any layperson can easily evaluate whether an argument for this or that political action is based on a sound or a faulty reading of the science. You can act as a journalist. If a pundit says that a scientific journal is saying "Y", you have the ability to go to that journal and read the article and see if the journal said "X" or it said "Y". If it said "X" when the pundit said "Y", there's no existential debate or scientific controversy: the pundit lied.

If the Washington Post is going to posit willful misrepresentation as "drawing inferences from data that most scientists reject", then that's a reason not to subscribe. It's a reason not to weep over the death of print media, either.

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