Sunday, September 30, 2012

George Will doesn't understand Science

George Will has no business criticizing scientific theories. He is an intelligent man, even brilliant at times, but his training and inclinations are religious and philosophical, not scientific. He has two major flaws that disqualify him from commenting on science.

First, Will brings to any subject a raft of opinions and prejudices. He formulates his ideas based on rigid philosophies, primarily conservatism and libertarianism. This sort of thinking is anathema to science. A scientist must be ready to modify her views based on new information.

For example, Will wrote convincingly that the filibuster was a good thing when Republicans used it against Clinton in 1992. But he condemned the filibuster when the Democrats used it in 2003. In this instance, as in many others, Will formed his conclusion first, then used his writing skills to argue for the position he already supported, namely that conservatism is good and liberalism is bad.

Second, Will resorts to cheap rhetorical tricks in his arguments. Will cited an Arctic Climate Research Center report in 2006 that stated that global sea ice levels were equal to those of 1979. He chose not to cite the next sentence from that report, which stated that Northern Hemisphere sea ice levels were one million square kilometers lower than 1979. He also failed to investigate further by contacting the Center and asking for clarification. The Center categorically denied the story.

This illustrates the rhetorical trick of cherry picking, where an author uses data that supports his position and ignores data that does not. This is a critical error is scientific argument, where data that fail to support a theory are precisely the ones which must be explained. All the data must be accounted for.

Will famously proclaimed the cause of record-breaking temperatures was summer, not global warming. He continued his argument by claiming that summers had always been hot, even when he was a child. This is an example of a straw man argument. No reputable scientist claimed that the temperatures were caused by global warming, but Will proposed that they had, then attacked their non-existent claims.

Will treats scientific theories as if they are political policies and attacks them as such. He attacks global warming because he considers it a progressive policy and because he, as a conservative, has a duty to attack all things progressive. Whether progressives or conservatives accept global warming is irrelevant to whether the theory is true or false.

Critics of scientific theories must approach their topic with an understanding of science and abandon political bias.

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