Cherry-picking OK at Washington Post

The blogospheric response to George Will’s recycling of long-refuted talking points on climate change (a good summary here) has produced lots of insights into the way the mainstream media (particularly the Washington Post) works, and some reasons to be less regretful about its seemingly inevitable demise.

I was particularly struck by the opening statement in the latest contribution of WP Ombudsman Andy Alexander who states:

Opinion columnists are free to choose whatever facts bolster their arguments.

Really? Where I come from, citing supporting evidence and ignoring the existence of directly contrary evidence is called “cherry-picking” (when we are being polite).

Among other pieces of dishonesty, Will pulled together a string of quotes from the 1970s to make the case that there was a scientific consensus that the climate was cooling (with weaselly use of quotation marks, he sort-of avoided saying this in his own voice). But any competent writer (or ombudsman) would have discovered that very few scientists in the 1970s supported this claim, while some others predicted warming. The National Academy of Sciences looked into the question and concluded that we didn’t have enough data, or understanding of the global climate system, to make a prediction.

The fact that Will stuff has been recycled so many times makes the cherry-picking problem worse. Having been recycled dozens of times it’s been refuted almost as many. Thanks to the miracle of Usenet, resurrected as Google Groups, we can find examples going back at least to 1993.

None of this is a problem for the Washington Post, apparently. It’s perfectly happy to print claims about a non-existent consensus on global cooling. Perhaps the editors and owners ought to be more worried about the emerging consensus that the disappearance of the Washington Post would be no loss.

59 thoughts on “Cherry-picking OK at Washington Post

  1. About 50
    This raises the important issue of how the Euro zone will respond to the GFC. Monetary policy is centralised and fiscal policy (deficits) are severely constrained. Wages and prices in the more depressed and less developed zones in the East will need to fall in absolute terms if demand-stimulus is inadequate.

  2. yep,

    post #50 certainly does raise some big issues

    anyone able to decipher them for me?

  3. Ha, Newton may have been wrong or superseded or whatever (it semantic, isn’t it?) but he was astronomically better at predicting the phenomena he set out to explain than any social scientist to date. We are talking about stuff that’s pretty close to the gold standard for science here, not economic and social theory!

  4. re 52
    Essentially (ie my schoolboy German ain’t so good), various (esp. Eastern) European currencies are going down the toilet. (I can’t recall the full membership of the EU or who’s using the Euro.)

    The EU has no aid strategy in place for these countries, but will respond case-by-case if individual countries founder. (Which is not terribly encouraging…)

  5. Newton was correct in the sense that his mechanism of explaining the gravitational attraction provided an accurate means of prediction under the broadest range of conditions of any other theory of gravity to date. It connected the motion of planets and stars to the motion of falling bodies on Earth. It also made it possible to use perturbation methods for solving three-body problems. Newton was wrong only in the sense that he thought the domain of validity of his theory was larger than it turns out to be; and that in turn is because some observations were impossible to make back in his day (speed of light for example).

    While Einstein’s general relativity might be even more encompassing than Newton’s gravity, most solar system gravitational puzzles are best dealt with by a Newtonian framework rather than an Einsteinian framework. For conditions under which Newton’s gravity gives accurate results it is far easier to apply than Einstein’s GR; in any case Newton’s gravity comes out as a first term in a perturbation expansion of GR field equations.

    Newton’s gravity hasn’t even been superceded by Einstein in the practical sense of Einstein’s GR simplifying calculations for problems also applicable to Newton’s gravity, whereas Newton’s theory replaced or created the solution framework for gravitational problems of his day.

  6. John, unless cherry-picking leads to the epistemology of knowledge about ‘global warming’ then those who succumb to such falsehood will be eating boiled crow.

  7. John, one must feel sorry for Turnbull for today the ultimate party spoiler has really bucked up the Coalition and whatever chance they had of winning the next election for up until two weeks ago Turnbull was wright on cue in taking the fight up to Labor over ‘exports’.

  8. Newton was wrong? No he wasn’t; he was “approximately” right which is good enough.

    Newtonian mechanics works just fine for the scale that we find useful.

    Sure, bring in relativistic effects if you’re sending probes to the outer solar system, but you don’t build a bridge using Riemann geometry…

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