An Open Letter to Andrew Alexander, Ombudsman at the Washington Post

posted in: Political Science | 0

Subject:
Please start double-checking George Will’s facts when he talks about science
Body
I don’t know if you’ve been following Carl Zimmer’s blog, “The Loom,” and if you haven’t, you may want to read today’s post  — it covers the outline of the “saga”, as Zimmer calls it.

The fact checkers FAILED. Citing a blog in lieu of contacting the original source is *NOT* good fact checking; particularly when you are reporting something as a FACT rather than an INTERPRETATION. If Will had written “The DailyTech blog interprets the data from the Illinois center as….” that would warrant fact checking to the DailyTech blog — but that’s not what he did. And his fact-checkers neglected to contact the center for the study AT ALL.

As for the issue of ice — I don’t care what you or anyone thinks about Global Warming, Climate Change, whatever the spin doctors are calling it these days — Will is misrepresenting the issue by focusing on two discrete moments in time; some would call this “cherry picking”. Consider, for a moment, that I were to compare the amount of snow in Washington D.C. on February 1st 1979 to the amount on February 1st 2009 — can I reasonably draw ANY conclusions regarding overall trends of snow? Whether the snow is less, more, or the same, it is meaningless without a swath of aggregated data across the 30 year time-span. And yet, that’s exactly what Will did.

The Center that Will cited has a couple charts up that illustrate my point, see here:
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.anom.jpg
and here:
http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/IMAGES/current.anom.south.jpg

The drastic ups and downs have an overall downward trend — but if you pick *JUST*  1979, at the low point, and compare it to the high point of 2009 — they are almost the same. But this totally misrepresents the data!

George Will may want to capitalize on the mock-troversy regarding Climate Change, and he apparently feels he knows the subject matter better than folks who study this professionally, but he is not doing humanity any favors by misrepresenting an issue simply so he can seem like a rebel.

Aaron Hill

0 Responses

  1. Pascal

    Very nicely done. Have you sent a copy to the Op/Ed page of the Post, or at least the readers pages?

  2. Aaron

    I emailed it directly to the Ombudsman — is there somewhere else I should submit it also? I’m hoping the exposure on Zimmer’s blog will help it get notice?

    Honestly, I don’t think I’m saying anything that Zimmer didn’t say (except maybe a slightly different analogy), I’m just hoping I can contribute to a critical mass to effect change. 🙂

  3. Aaron

    Thanks for the info UN — Just sent the letter in. Their policy requires that the letter be exclusively sent to the WaPo — so the fact that it’s an open letter may disqualify it.

    But at the very least, it’s one more set of eyes contributing to this cause.

  4. Mike

    I applaud the sentiment, but do newspapers use fact-checkers for columns? They generally don’t for news stories.

  5. Aaron

    Check out the article over on Carl Zimmer’s blog, “The Loom”.

    Apparently, George Will has his OWN fact-checkers, and the WaPo has their own as well.

    With regard to Will’s original article, the fact-checkers all consulted with a BLOG regarding Will’s reference, but did not consult the original research labs whose data was being cited. The research lab has since posted a notice on their website saying something to the effect of “We don’t know where Will is getting that data from, but it’s not us.”

    If Will was stating his opinon, it’d be one thing, but he’s stating something as a FACT based on someone’s research — and he’s either being deceitful intentionally or he’s just plain ignorant of the science behind it. Either way — he, or the WaPo at least, should publish a retraction, but I doubt he will.