Thursday, April 02, 2009

George Will demonstrates how to lie without lying

From The Intersection (bold emphasis mine)

Whoa boy. George Will has done another global warming column. He doesn’t mention either my takedown, or that of the World Meteorological Organization, but it’s obvious he has seen them. And yet, he still wants to use WMO data to cast doubt on the idea that it’s warming up globally:

Reducing carbon emissions supposedly will reverse warming, which is allegedly occurring even though, according to statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization, there has not been a warmer year on record than 1998.
Congratulations, Mr. Will–your statement is no longer factually incorrect! However, you still appear to reject statistical reasoning about temperature trends. How else to explain this silly fixation on 1998 being the warmest year? This isolated factoid does not cast any serious doubt on the idea that we’re in a warming trend. It’s absurd to assume that we’ll set a new temperature record each year, and that if we don’t, there’s nothing to worry about.
Although Will's statement is technically accurate, it's still a lie. First, remember that 1998 is the warmest year on record according to the WMO, but NASA data shows 2005 to hold the record. Will, like other AGW deniers, focuses on '98 because it better fits the contra-reality narrative they've developed, i.e. it sounds better to say "it hasn't warmed in ten years" than "it hasn't warmed in 3 years".

Secondly, this is how Will phrases the claim in his original Feb. 15th column: "according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade." After that column, Will received an avalanche of criticism -including from the WMO itself - explaining to him that the WMO data said no such thing.

What this reveals is that Will carefully constructed his sentence in the most recent column to be able to make the same assertion - AGW is dubious because there hasn't been a warmer year than 1998 - without technically lying. Given that Will obviously restructured this sentence in response to the criticism he received, it is impossible to believe that Will hasn't also been made aware that a single data point up or down does not define a trend. Indeed, as Mooney points out, the Post ran a letter from the WMO chastising Will for using their data to say something it does not say:

It is a misinterpretation of the data and of scientific knowledge to point to one year as the warmest on record—as was done in a recent George Will column—and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.
Yet the Post has allowed Will to do exactly the same thing. And in this instance there can be no doubt that Will is intentionally misrepresenting the WMO's data.

Look at it this way: for a 500 day period you have five cars a day drive by your house. Over the next 49 days you have 20 cars go by. Then the next day 30 go by. Then for the next 50 days 29 cars go by.

Would it make any sense for someone to say there hasn't been an upward trend of of cars driving by your house because the number hasn't passed the 30 mark? (The claim would grow even more absurd if you were also aware of a known mechanism for an increase in traffic around your house, e.g. a particular road is shut forcing more traffic onto your road.)

As the Union for Concerned Scientists notes, "The World Meteorological Organization concluded that the decade 1998-2007 was the hottest on record." Convenient how Will leaves that part out of the "it hasn't warmed in ten years" mantra.

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