little green footballs

How Conservative Columnist George Will Lies With Statistics

Sat, Jan 26, 2013 at 5:26:27 pm

Here's an absolutely classic case of lying with statistics, as George Will abuses his position as a columnist for the Washington Post to shamelessly mislead his readers and disseminate deceptive climate change denial propaganda.

Will's latest column makes a claim that's true in a literal sense, but when examined more closely is nothing less than journalistic malpractice.

[President Obama] says that "the threat of climate change" is apparent in "raging fires," "crippling drought" and "more powerful storms." Are fires raging now more than ever? (There were a third fewer U.S. wildfires in 2012 than in 2006.)

Does it seem odd that George Will cherry-picked an arbitrary year (2006) to compare to last year?

There's a reason for Will's seemingly arbitrary choice, of course; when you look at the data from the National Interagency Fire Center over a longer timeframe, a very different picture emerges. David Appell graphed the data back to 1960, exposing the deception behind this denier's claim:

Click to enlarge

As you can see, the trend is obvious: a severe increase in acreage burned over the last 20 years, and it's accelerating dramatically. And it's also obvious why George Will picked 2006 for his misleading comparison.

In the past, the Washington Post has refused to hold Will accountable for distortions just as egregious as this one, so I wouldn't hold out hope for a correction or retraction.

Also see:
Where There's a Will ... There's a Way to Distort the Truth
Shameless Flameout: Washington Post Once Again Publishes George Will's Anti-Scientific Nonsense