Yesterday in my journalism class, I asked everyone in the room to take out a coin and flip it twice, and raise their hand if it came up the same. Then I asked the ones whose hands were up to flip again, and keep their hand up if the coin came up the same yet again. As it happened, the ones with their hands still up were women, and they both had a big shoulder bag on the table right in front of them. So I made up a headline about a connection found between women carrying handbags and magical coin-flipping abilities.
Beware of activists bearing statistics, I told them. The activist sincerely believes that the statistics prove the issue, and has only the best intentions in mind when he or she uses numbers to answer your questions. If an activist walks into a room and finds fifteen scientific studies on a desk, and 12 of them are inconclusive, and two of them contain evidence that contradicts whatever’s on the hand-painted protest sign he or she is carrying, and one study supports the cause, which study is the activist going to try to get into the journalist’s hands?
The same goes for governments bearing statistics, corporations bearing statistics, and, for that matter, statisticians bearing statistics.
The public prefers its science news cut-and-dried. Over the past few years, I’ve tracked the global warming debate as it appears in the media. According to this BBC article, the hottest year on record was 1998, and temperatures have actually been dropping for 11 years. The Pacific Ocean seems to be headed into a cool cycle, which will likely affect global temperatures. Is this a brief natural cooling cycle, only temporarily offsetting the effects of carbon emissions, or was the rise in global temperatures that set off the “global warming” panic just the upswing of a natural temperature fluctuation?
Both sides have very different forecasts. The Met Office says that warming is set to resume quickly and strongly.
It predicts that from 2010 to 2015 at least half the years will be hotter than the current hottest year on record (1998).
disagree. They insist it is unlikely that temperatures will reach the
dizzy heights of 1998 until 2030 at the earliest. It is possible, they
say, that because of ocean and solar cycles a period of global cooling
is more likely. —BBC
I’ve blogged on this before.