Friday, March 29, 2013

When "The world is warming" sounds like "turtles all the way down"

Hear me clearly. The world is warming. A look at any chart of global temperatures since, say, 1900 shows an upward trend. With some flat bits and steep bits. Warming.

But many commentators have clutched upon the fact that there has been about fifteen years without any statistical increase in global temperatures. The glee of Andrew Bolt - for instance - should not cause us to deny fact.

The UK met office seems to be taking the clever route. It would be my argument. Doing a "right click regression" can be a great tool for those who like to lie with statistics. Considering 15 years - no warming, considering 80 - warming. Now there might be some issue for the people who were predicting warming over the last 15 years, but that's entirely another issue.

If I wanted to try to lie with stats I could pick a six year period and get a cooling trend, but that would be disingenuous. As it (sort of) is to talk about no warming for fifteen years.

But don't get caught in the trap.
I've seen great brains like Dr Karl get caught in this, and others like Craig Emerson. Infuriated by Andrew Bolt's pointing this out they both called him a liar. But they were factually wrong. And that gives Bolta even more oxygen.

Turtles all the way down
Those who react and deny remind me of the apocryphal tale of the dopey believer:

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!"
—Hawking, 1988

Surely we can do better than simply adding another turtle to the picture.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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