George Will Got It Wrong

A few weeks ago, George Will published a typical denialist piece, carefully worded and using secondary sources (he quoted a blog that reported information from primary sources, rather than the primary sources themselves) and set off another one of those made-up firestorms over global warming. When challenged, he stuck to his guns, split hairs, improper implications, ignored counter-arguments and all. Today, Chris Mooney gets about the same space in the Post to rebut. Here's the closing paragraph.

Readers and commentators must learn to share some practices with scientists -- following up on sources, taking scientific knowledge seriously rather than cherry-picking misleading bits of information, and applying critical thinking to the weighing of evidence. That, in the end, is all that good science really is. It's also what good journalism and commentary alike must strive to be -- now more than ever.

I've mentioned critical thinking before, and I think that it's very important in situations like this where someone who is normally trustworthy hands you arguments about stuff you don't know in detail. No matter the source, you have to go check his references. You can't just trust his authority. We do that with many areas of our lives - we uncritically accept what our parents tell us, for example - but with science, you *can* go out and learn about the issues and what is really known and why. Not just with the denialists, but with the other side as well (there are plenty of alarmist columnists and journos). Will's piece is an excellent example of the use of selective data and implication over actual evidence and trending to fulfill a political expectation, and it's worth looking at the techniques he uses to understand where he went wrong. (I hate to have to say it, but the form itself that he used to frame his argument and rebuttal is grounds for suspicion.)

Mr. Will does not give us critical thinking, and he doesn't give us evidence. He just carefully words assertions, sprinkles in a few well-known misunderstandings, and stands up to question the science. It's bold, it's credible, it creates reasonable questions, it resonates with those who don't trust "the elites" - and it's wrong in it's conclusions. Food for thought.

Ya know, I tried to give Ole Georgie a chance, but in the first sentence he defined this radical "Murphy's Law" concept for me, and, well, let's just say it's a bad idea to open an article with condescension.

EDIT: Oh dear, please read "give a chance" as meaning "will deign to read this".

Robear wrote:

He just carefully words assertions, sprinkles in a few well-known misunderstandings, and stands up to question the science.

Well, scientists describe attributes as having been "designed" for a purpose; a bird's beak is "designed" to crack nuts, a cheetah is "designed" for speed, etc. Obviously that means they believe in Intelligent Design, and since they're scientists, all their beliefs have good science backing them up!

Debate solved.

*cough* ...I've actually, seriously heard that argument made before. More than once, in fact. Enough that I make a conscious effort not to use the word "designed" when talking about adaptations.

That, in the end, is all that good science really is.

Well, there might be a little more to it than that...