Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Willfully Ignorant

Last week I made the point of saying that George F. Will is one of our more intelligent conservative pundits, but he seems determined to prove me wrong.

This time he’s pulling up research from a 1975 pop-science article in Newsweek to say once scientists predicted that we would all freeze to death from global cooling. It didn’t happen, and therefore neither will global warming.

A corollary of Murphy’s Law (“If something can go wrong, it will”) is: “Things are worse than they can possibly be.” Energy Secretary Steven Chu, an atomic physicist, seems to embrace that corollary but ignores Gregg Easterbrook’s “Law of Doomsaying”: Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.

Chu recently told the Los Angeles Times that global warming might melt 90 percent of California’s snowpack, which stores much of the water needed for agriculture. This, Chu said, would mean “no more agriculture in California,” the nation’s leading food producer. Chu added: “I don’t actually see how they can keep their cities going.”

No more lettuce for Los Angeles? Chu likes predictions, so here is another: Nine decades hence, our great-great-grandchildren will add the disappearance of California artichokes to the list of predicted planetary calamities that did not happen. Global cooling recently joined that lengthening list.

Except, as Ezra Klein notes, reputable science didn’t believe that “global cooling” was happening in 1975, but there’s evidence that some sort of global warming is going on as a part of overall climate change.

I’m not going to argue for or against the scientific cases being made for or against global warming because, frankly, I don’t know enough about it to make a cogent case either way without doing a lot of research. And if I were to do so, I wouldn’t go to news magazines that were published at a time when the Chrysler Cordoba and Ford Granada were the newest things on the market. I would read the latest research from all sides and balance the evidence based on their merit, not their political connections or party platform. You go where the evidence leads you, and if your hypothesis is wrong, it’s wrong and you say so. This is something they teach you in your first year of grad school, but apparently not in pundit school.

If Mr. Will doesn’t believe that global warming is occurring, let him prove it with scientific evidence, not political snark. And he should at least rely on research that doesn’t fail the laugh test or get rebuked by the very sources he cites.