Somebody spoofed my Yahoo email address which I use for ordering, registrations and the like. Sent hundreds of emails to my contact list yesterday.
Now I ordinarily run Linux, which you will all agree is superior to all other operating systems. But for the past few days, because of work, I had to log on to a Windows machine. I checked my email on that machine. It was after this that I was spoofed, hacked, or scammed. Whatever you call it, it was a pain in the keister.
This happenstance in time is what we statisticians call a curious coincidence. It could be that Windows, notorious as it is for being leakier than a canoe made of screen doors, allowed some villain to sneak in and steal my password. Or it could be that some clever fellow guessed this password, which I humbly admit was magnificently complicated. Or it could be something else.
That’s probability for you: not enough information to say for certain. And I want to say for certain so I know to whom or to what to direct my cursing.
So I was already in a petulant mood when I got a tweet from Paul Matthews (@etzpcm) asking me to look at the paper “The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risk” by somebody with the name of Danny Kahan, who looks to be a lawyer. At least he sits in a law department.
The paper is a poll, a survey of the kind telemarketers, politicians, and in increasing number, sociologists run. You know what I mean. A bunch of questions asked of hapless citizens, the results fed into a needlessly complicated statistical analysis which produces grand theorizing all “proved” with wee p-values. The kind of thing we review on this blog ad nauseam.
Science literacy. Just what is that? This question? “The government interferes far too much in our everyday lives.” Well, that’s one of their questions. I wonder how the responses would be if they asked this after hearing Nanny Bloomberg’s plan to steal the (liquid) candy from the hands of New York City’s babies.
Nah, by “literacy” (numerical) they mean the ability to answer gotcha questions like this:
In a lake, there is a patch of lilypads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
Sure it’s easy (for us superior beings). But admit it, Danny boy. How many of you and your authors got these zingers right without blinking or thinking? Tell the truth. Your mother might read this blog.
Funny thing. They asked only two questions about how the climate works. Imagine that. Science literacy about climate change fully discerned by asking “Does the Earth go around the Sun, or does the Sun go around the Earth?” and “How long does it take for the Earth to go around the Sun?” That’s the beauty of theory, friend, which Dan and company provide in great heaps. All kinds of verbiage about the “science comprehension thesis” versus the “cultural cognition thesis”. Golly.
Here’s the main finding:
As respondents’ science-literacy scores increased, concern with climate change decreased (r=−0.05, P=0.05). There was also a negative correlation between numeracy and climate change risk (r=−0.09, P<0.01).
Just look at those publishable p-values! But wait. What’s that? As people’s so-called “science-literacy” increases, their concern about climate change decreases?
Look. The “r” means linear correlation, and here is a number of a size that we scientists “trivial”, “vanishingly small”, or “Are you kidding?” The effect is nearly non-existent. Remember: this correlation is in this sample of survey respondents. Replication would almost certainly show that this effect vanishes like reason at the New York Times editorial office.
Ah geez. Just skip it. The whole study is based on a fallacy. A citizen can not know which goes around which, the Earth or Sun, and still know the truth of the statement “The government should stop telling people how to live their lives.” He can be as wrong as can be about how lasers work (another question asked) and still know the lunacy of this statement: “Government should put limits on the choices individuals can make so they don’t get in the way of what’s good for society.”
This just goes to show you how useless science knowledge is to most folks, but how important political and moral knowledge is. Would the world really be a better place if all were made to swear to the belief that the Earth orbits the sun? Sure it’s a simple fact, but how useful is it to the average man? Except in answering questions on surveys like this, not much.
And so we end with the non sequitur: O science! Where are you! Why have you left us!