Nate Silver challenges climate change skeptics over temperature cherry-picking
Statistician and writer Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.com calls out climate skeptics over exaggerations of cool summer temperatures.
Tue, Jul 21, 2009 at 02:04 PM
Nate Silver, famed number cruncher and founder of political website FiveThirtyEight, is fired up over the tendency of some climate change skeptics to confuse weather for climate, and has issued a challenge to skeptical bloggers over whether a few cool days could be interpreted as a ‘summer of record lows’.
Silver’s challenge appears to have been launched in response to a blog post by John Hinderaker of Power Line, who compared a few relatively cool high temperatures in Minnesota in recent months to the abnormally cold weather in 1816, ‘The Year Without a Summer’.
"Here in Minnesota and across the Midwest, temperatures are abnormally cold. I don't know whether the phenomenon is world-wide--data that will answer this question have probably not been assembled, and may not be honestly reported--but the current low level of solar activity suggests that the cooling trend could indeed be universal."
The Power Line blogger went on to suggest that, if humans have the ‘God-like powers’ to control the weather, perhaps they should turn up the thermostat.
It’s not just the standard ‘if the world is warming, why is it cool out’ argument that got Silver worked up – it was Hinderaker’s assertion that this summer’s weather in Minnesota was unusually cool. Silver points out that, in fact, the temperatures in Minnesota thus far have been exceptionally average.
So, he challenged bloggers to a bet:
1. For each day that the high temperature in your hometown is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit above average, as listed by Weather Underground, you owe me $25. For each day that it is at least 1 degree Fahrenheit below average, I owe you $25.2. The challenge proceeds in monthly intervals, with the first month being August. At the end of each month, we'll tally up the winning and losing days and the loser writes the winner a check for the balance.
Clearly, Silver – a statistician - is aware that such short-term data isn’t statistically significant. The point is to combat the kind of cherry-picking and misinformation – i.e., “it’s been a summer of record lows!” – that gets spread around on blogs and through e-mails as truth.
So far, there haven’t been any takers.
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