George Will uses misinformation to question science: Ebola edition

Watching the conservative pundit spew nonsense about Ebola actually tells us a lot about his climate denial

Published October 20, 2014 2:56PM (EDT)

George Will (Associated Press/Scott Applewhite)
George Will (Associated Press/Scott Applewhite)

In the mind of conservative pundit George Will, climate change and Ebola have one very important thing in common: we shouldn't believe anything the experts are telling us about either of them.

Those experts, in this case, include the health professionals at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who maintain that Ebola is transmitted through contact with the blood or bodily fluids of a person who is infected with the disease, and that it is "not spread through the air or by water."

Will isn't buying it: "The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone because it’s (Ebola) not airborne," he informed a group of panelists on Fox News Sunday. Yet, he continued, "there are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious."

"I'm sorry," interjected Center for American Progress president Neera Tanden, "who are the doctors saying this?" Fair question -- and Politifact checked in with the doctors Will ended up citing. Two University of Illinois professors did, in fact, publish commentary urging health workers treating Ebola patients to wear respirators while doing so, as an extreme precaution to be taken in the highly dangerous setting of isolation wards. "We were concerned about aerosols generated by infected patients in the most severe stage of the disease," explained Lisa Brosseau, who co-authored the commentary, adding that she did not intend to suggest that the larger public was at risk from sneezes or coughs.

"We are not aware of any published data about the viability or infectiousness of the Ebola organism in aerosols in the real world," Brosseau said. "It appears unlikely that the public will be exposed to infectious aerosols because they are not likely to encounter infected people experiencing the severe symptoms."

Will's comments, in other words, were a complete misrepresentation of the researchers' work. But for the anti-science minded, his was a completely logical line of thought to follow. "Once you’ve decided that scientists routinely make shit up in order to advance a nefarious bureaucratic progressive agenda," notes Jonathan Chait, "there’s no end to the number of new conspiracies you’re going to discover."

When confronted with the facts by Fox host Chris Wallace -- yes, some have speculated about the ability of Ebola to become airborne, but there's no reason to believe, at this point, that such a thing has happened -- Will himself drew the comparison to climate science, the basic facts of which he also believes we should continue to "debate."

“We're getting used to people declaring scientific debates closed over and settled; they rarely are," he said.

So long as "science" means "misinterpreting something you read somewhere and using it as the basis of a theory that everyone in charge is lying to us," that will continue to be the case.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Climate Change Climate Change Denialism Ebola Ebola Panic Fox News Sunday George Will