I’m going out on a limb to predict that George Will’s attempt to man-splain his recent column on sexual abuse and rape, in which he claimed women report rapes so they can be afforded the “coveted status” of “privileged” victimhood, isn’t going to win anyone over to his weird, heartless argument.
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:
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.
Today in the weird world of right wing punditry, George Will uncorks a real howler of an argument to explain why Barack Obama is running ahead of Mitt Romney in almost all the polls: it’s because Obama’s black.
A significant date in the nation’s civil rights progress involved an African American baseball player named Robinson, but not Jackie. The date was Oct. 3, 1974, when Frank Robinson, one the greatest players in history, was hired by the Cleveland Indians as the major leagues’ first black manager. But an even more important milestone of progress occurred June 19, 1977, when the Indians fired him. That was colorblind equality.
Managers get fired all the time. The fact that the Indians felt free to fire Robinson — who went on to have a distinguished career managing four other teams — showed that another racial barrier had fallen: Henceforth, African Americans, too, could enjoy the God-given right to be scapegoats for impatient team owners or incompetent team executives.
Perhaps a pleasant paradox defines this political season: That Obama is African American may be important, but in a way quite unlike that darkly suggested by, for example, MSNBC’s excitable boys and girls who, with their (at most) one-track minds and exquisitely sensitive olfactory receptors, sniff racism in any criticism of their pin-up. Instead, the nation, which is generally reluctant to declare a president a failure — thereby admitting that it made a mistake in choosing him — seems especially reluctant to give up on the first African American president. If so, the 2012 election speaks well of the nation’s heart, if not its head.
I honestly don’t understand how people like Will can make such fatuous — and frankly, bigoted — arguments without cracking up at their own stupidity.
They say you can’t fight fire with fire. Actually, you can. But what you really can’t do - at least effectively - is fight what you identify as fallacious reasoning with precisely the same style of fallacious reasoning. George Will provides a striking illustration of this self-defeating pattern of reasoning in his latest editorial about Elizabeth Warren’s now famous rant at a small fundraising event. Will writes:
WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren, Harvard law professor and former Obama administration regulator (for consumer protection), is modern liberalism incarnate. As she seeks the Senate seat Democrats held for 57 years before 2010, when Scott Brown impertinently won it, she clarifies the liberal project, and the stakes of contemporary politics.
The project is to dilute the concept of individualism, thereby refuting respect for the individual’s zone of sovereignty. The regulatory state, liberalism’s instrument, constantly tries to contract that zone — for the individual’s own good, it says. Warren says:
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. … You built a factory and it turned into something terrific or a great idea — God bless, keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”
Warren is (as William F. Buckley described Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith) a pyromaniac in a field of straw men: She refutes propositions no one asserts. Everyone knows that all striving occurs in a social context, so all attainments are conditioned by their context. This does not, however, entail a collectivist political agenda.
Such an agenda’s premise is that individualism is a chimera, that any individual’s achievements should be considered entirely derivative from society, so the achievements need not be treated as belonging to the individual. Society is entitled to socialize — i.e., conscript — whatever portion it considers its share. It may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual the remainder of what is misleadingly called the individual’s possession.
The collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, aka the pursuit of happiness. The fact that collective choices facilitate this striving does not compel the conclusion that the collectivity (Warren’s “the rest of us”) is entitled to take as much as it pleases of the results of the striving.
The “collectivist” straw woman against whom Will rails is simply a traditional liberal.Will goes on to write derisively about 1960s-era “new leftists” like Kenneth Galbraith, with their views about “false consciousness” implanted in individuals by corporate advertising, as if that has anything even remotely to do with Warren’s (or Obama’s) view that the rich should be taxed at slightly higher rates - closer to the rates at which the economy was actually doing much better in the past! The “collectivist” straw woman against whom Will rails is simply a traditional liberal, one who seeks to empower all individuals - rather than just a privileged few - by providing opportunities for self-improvement through public institutions. Anyone who identifies such liberalism with collectivism (or communism, or even socialism) needs to re-take Political Science or History 101. Will no doubt knows better, and is intentionally engaged in conservative rhetoric aimed to mislead the ill-informed.
What is sad is that Will is clever enough to engage in non-fallacious debate with his political adversaries, and both he and other conservatives surely have logically respectable arguments they could make in favor of their policy positions. Why don’t they bother to make them in such widely read editorials?
The University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Cognitive Research has a blog called Language Log, and they were ready for George Will’s ridiculous word-counting column: Fact-checking George F. Will, one more time.
As a result of this previous experience, I had a first-person-counting script all ready to go, and it took only a few seconds to check the new transcripts. This time around, Barack Obama’s Olympic remarks included 26 first-person-singular words out of 1130, for a rate of 2.3%. This is slightly below his typical rate for presidential press conferences, and a bit more than half the rate of the George W. Bush pressers that I measured earlier (2.3/4.49 = 51%, to be precise).
[Give me some links for presidential remarks at events more comparable to these, and I’ll check them out as well — I don’t have time to look around this afternoon.]
It’s true that Michelle’s tally was higher — 45 first-person-singular words out of 781, for a rate of 5.76%.
This is almost as much as the 6.4% first-person-singulars registered by Nancy Reagan’s statement on Edward Kennedy’s death, or the 7.0% achieved by her remarks at the christening of the USS Ronald Reagan in 2001, or the 10.0% notched by her discussion of the assassination attempt on her husband. [Again, give me pointers to ceremonial remarks by former first ladies on occasions like the Geneva meeting, and I’ll tally them as well.]
Mr. Will also complains about the… egregious cliches sprinkled around by the tin-eared employees in the White House speechwriting shop. The president told the Olympic committee that: “At this defining moment,” a moment “when the fate of each nation is inextricably linked to the fate of all nations” in “this ever-shrinking world,” he aspires to “forge new partnerships with the nations and the peoples of the world.”Unfortunately, I don’t have a program ready to hand for measuring cliche-density, much less cliche egregiosity, but I’ll work on it. My prediction: in speeches prepared for ceremonial occasions like this one, the cliche density of presidential rhetoric has been fairly constant for decades if not centuries.
There are two interesting questions here, it seems to me. The first one is why George F. Will is so struck by rates of first-person usage, on the part of Barack and Michelle Obama, that are significantly lower than has been typical of recent presidents and first ladies on similar occasions. The second question is how many pundits and talking heads will follow his brainless lead this time around.
Read it all. You know George Will won’t.
Will proves this by counting words in their Copenhagen speeches. This isn’t simply a weak argument; it’s not an argument at all. It’s an empty, silly, meaningless exercise that proves absolutely nothing, except how desperate people like Will are becoming.
Both Obamas gave heartfelt speeches about … themselves. Although the working of the committee’s mind is murky, it could reasonably have rejected Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Games on aesthetic grounds — unless narcissism has suddenly become an Olympic sport.
In the 41 sentences of her remarks, Michelle Obama used some form of the personal pronouns “I” or “me” 44 times. Her husband was, comparatively, a shrinking violet, using those pronouns only 26 times in 48 sentences. Still, 70 times in 89 sentences conveyed the message that somehow their fascinating selves were what made, or should have made, Chicago’s case compelling.
Here are some even more damning word frequencies than those uncovered by brainiac George Will: in President Obama’s speech, he used the word “we” no less than 24 times, “us” 5 times, and “our” 10 times!
Socialism! Collectivism! We’re doomed! [Run around screaming…]
UPDATE at 10/6/09 11:38:54 am:
Here’s another well-known speech, clearly given by a malignant narcissist of the first order:
I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
(Hat tip: Killgore.)
Now that Afghanistan and Iraq are Barack Obama’s problems, it’s suddenly becoming fashionable for right-wing pundits to call for cutting and running.
Days after urging the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan, conservative columnist George F. Will is calling on the administration to speed up the planned drawdown in Iraq, according to publishing sources.
Will concludes that America’s work is done in Iraq. So in one week, one of the nation’s best-known conservatives has endorsed U.S. withdrawal from both wars.
“Two more years of U.S. military presence cannot control whether that is in Iraq’s future,” Will writes in a column posted Thursday on washingtonpost.com, which links the column from its Opinions page with: “Time to Leave Iraq.”
“If … the surge permanently dampened sectarian violence, all U.S. forces can come home sooner than the end of 2011. If, however, the surge did not so succeed, U.S. forces must come home sooner.”
Science writer Carl Zimmer is calling out George Will again, this time for misrepresenting climate change statistics published by the World Meteorological Organization: George Will, Now With Misleading Links!
One of the more egregious lines from George Will’s recent columns on global warming is the claim that real data shows that warnings about a rise in the average global temperature are wrong. He writes: “According to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade.”
The secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization himself, Michael Jarraud, decided he had to write to the Washington Post to tell them George Will is wrong.
Here’s the nut of Jarraud’s letter from March 21: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 Post column [“Dark Green Doomsayers,” George F. Will, op-ed, Feb. 15] — and then to extrapolate that cooler subsequent years invalidate the reality of global warming and its effects.
The difference between climate variability and climate change is critical, not just for scientists or those engaging in policy debates about warming. Just as one cold snap does not change the global warming trend, one heat wave does not reinforce it. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the global average surface temperature has risen 1.33 degrees Fahrenheit.
Evidence of global warming has been documented in widespread decreases in snow cover, sea ice and glaciers. The 11 warmest years on record occurred in the past 13 years.
While variations occur throughout the temperature record, shorter-term variations do not contradict the overwhelming long-term increase in global surface temperatures since 1850, when reliable meteorological recordkeeping began. Year to year, we may observe in some parts of the world colder or warmer episodes than in other parts, leading to record low or high temperatures. This regional climate variability does not disprove long-term climate change. While 2008 was slightly cooler than 2007, partially due to a La Niña event, it was nonetheless the 10th-warmest year on record.
This kind of distortion is one thing that makes it so difficult for non-scientists to make sense of this debate; there are people on both sides of the issue who are spinning and twisting the data.
Time for the next round in the controversy over George Will’s recent column for the Washington Post on climate change, and results reported/disputed by the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center. Here’s the relevant section from Will’s new column:
As for the anonymous scientists’ unspecified claims about the column’s supposedly myriad inaccuracies: The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged. The challenge is mistaken.
Citing data from the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, as interpreted on Jan. 1 by Daily Tech, a technology and science news blog, the column said that since September “the increase in sea ice has been the fastest change, either up or down, since 1979, when satellite record-keeping began.” According to the center, global sea ice levels at the end of 2008 were “near or slightly lower than” those of 1979. The center generally does not make its statistics available, but in a Jan. 12 statement the center confirmed that global sea ice levels were within a difference of less than 3 percent of the 1980 level.
So the column accurately reported what the center had reported. But on Feb. 15, the Sunday the column appeared, the center, then receiving many e-mail inquiries, issued a statement saying “we do not know where George Will is getting his information.” The answer was: From the center, via Daily Tech. Consult the center’s Web site where, on Jan. 12, the center posted the confirmation of the data that this column subsequently reported accurately.
Carl Zimmer responds at his Discover blog The Loom: Unchecked Ice: A Saga in Five Chapters.
In his column today for the Washington Post, he has returned to global warming, and to his own previous column on the subject.
“The column contained many factual assertions but only one has been challenged,” he claimed. “The challenge is mistaken.”
The challenge he’s referring to is about the ice. Will does not mention the many other challenges that have been laid out. But let’s leave them aside. Life is short. What does Will have to say now about the ice?
He now says his previous column was “citing data from the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, as interpreted on Jan. 1 by Daily Tech, a technology and science news blog.”
Citing data as interpreted by a blog… That’s some fine reporting. Neither George Will nor his employees did any more research than look at a blog. Now, blogs can be wonderful, but would it have been really so hard for Will and Co. to drop a note to the scientists themselves to do their own research? Pick up the phone? Apparently not.
Will then uses that same January statement from the scientists in response to that blog post as evidence that he was right.But on Feb. 15, the Sunday the column appeared, the center, then receiving many e-mail inquiries, issued a statement saying ‘we do not know where George Will is getting his information.’ The answer was: From the center, via Daily Tech. Consult the center’s Web site where, on Jan. 12, the center posted the confirmation of the data () that this column subsequently reported accurately.
See anything missing here? How about the fact that by the time Will published his column, there was a lot less ice than there was 30 years ago? How about the point made in that same statement Will prizes so greatly that global ice is a red herring?
There’s more, because the incorrect satellite data pointed out by many LGF readers has since been cross-checked with other sources, correlated, and corrected.