500,000=1,000,000 ? The debate continues.

Robert Waldmann

wrote earlier

In defense of George Will’s claim “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.” Post ombudsman Andy Alexander provided this link http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf** to a *one page* document which includes the text

“However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979, partly offsetting the N.Hemisphere reduction.” Now I thought that 1 million – 0.5 million = -500,000 != 0.

Now Will has written an new column in which he cites the pdf and claims it confirms his assertion, that is, he claims that 1,000,000 = 500,000.

Will has been criticized a good bit. Oddly I haven’t noticed anyone else who has noted the arithmetic error in Alexander’s assertion or his.

Fred Hiatt, in an interview with The Columbia Journalism Review asserts that the issue is that people have contested Will’s inference.

Astonishingly Curtis Brainard of the Columbia Journalism Review agrees and concludes
“The most important [question] seems to be: can inference rise to the level of such absurdity that it becomes subject to the same rigors as evidence?”

I ask if Brainard actually read the pdf cited by Will in support of his claim. If he answers I will post his answer.

My full comment on Brainard’s post after the jump.

update: New opinion on the question from the Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander after the jump.

You are completely wrong. You assert that the criticism of Will is criticism of inference not of evidence. This is simply false as can be shown by a comparison of Will’s original totally false claim about the evidence and the document he cited in his absurd assertion that his claim, which was proven false by the document, was confirmed by the document.

Will “According to the University of Illinois’ Arctic Climate Research Center, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”

The document cited by Will in his follow up column is

http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf

it includes the following words and numbers in the following order
“”However, observed N. Hemisphere sea ice area is almost one million sq. km below values seen in late 1979 and S. Hemisphere sea ice area is about 0.5 million sq. km above that seen in late 1979, partly offsetting the N.Hemisphere reduction.”

Will asserts that one million equals 0.5 million. This is not a question of inference. This is a matter of evidence.

Now Will can argue that the pdf document which he cites is invalid because it reports estimates as if they were exactly accurate. However, it is absolutely impossible for anyone who is able to read and understands that one million is not equal to 0.5 million to claim that Will’s original assertion is true, or false inference based on accurate evidence, or probably false or anything but a totally false claim about the evidence.

The fact that Hiatt claims the disagreement is a disagreement about interpretation and evidence does not mean that Hiatt’s claim is true. In fact, since the disputed document is one page long and, I’m sure, Hiatt’s mathematical ability is up to telling the difference between one million and 0.5 million I think the only thing we can conclude is that Will and Hiatt have chosen to lie about the evidence.

If the question of whether minus one million square miles plus 0.5 million square miles equals zero square miles is a matter of inference not evidence what could possible be a matter of evidence not inference ?

Oh one last question, and I want an answer. Did you read the cited pdf file ?

update: Andrew Alexander has a new column on the controversy.

In this column he revises his original conclusion and concludes that 500,000

The editors who checked the Arctic Research Climate Center Web site believe it did not, on balance, run counter to Will’s assertion that global sea ice levels “now equal those of 1979.” I reviewed the same Web citation and reached a different conclusion.

This time Anderson provided a link to the home page of the center not the pdf which contained the numbers 1 million and 0.5 million. In fact he still doesn’t mention the number 0.5 million or note that it is less than one million. My original post (searrch for 500,000 if you care) noted that he had claimed that this document confirmed Will’s claim, that is, that 500,000 = 1,000,000. Now he tells us he has changed his mind, but, it seems, makes it difficult for us to understand why — that is he doesn’t note that earlier column implied that 500,000 = 1,000,000.

Like Brad DeLong, I am unable to doubt that he posted the link to the one page document without reading the document. Still better late than never.

update IV This is very odd. As quoted by Delong, the March 1 Anderson column contains the link to the pdf “I reviewed the same Web citation http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/global.sea.ice.area.pdf and reached a different conclusion.” The column as it now appears on www.washingtonpost.com contains only a link to the Center’s home page

The editors who checked the Arctic Research Climate Center Web site believe it did not, on balance, run counter to Will’s assertion that global sea ice levels “now equal those of 1979.” I reviewed the same Web citation and reached a different conclusion.

It appears that Anderson removed information which makes it easy to see how unreasonable alleged beliefs of editors are.

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