William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Democracy And The Global Warming Consensus—And That New Arizona Survey

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Guy named Jonathan Overpeck who makes a living ensuring people are nervous about global warming conducted a survey of Arizona residents and discovered three-fourths of them are nervous about global warming. Job well done?

Quote: “A large majority of Arizona residents believe that the world’s temperature has been rising (74%)”.

Now this is false, as in it isn’t true, as in it isn’t so, by which I mean that the proposition that “the world’s temperatures has been rising” when compared against reality produces a glaring mismatch. The proposition is not only false, but easily discovered to be false. And it is so easily discovered to be false that we must seek an explanation why so many people’s thoughts have gone awry.

According to Overpeck, “The survey findings show that the people of Arizona are aware of and interested in climate change and that they understand there are policy decisions that can be made to address it”. Well, he claims they are interested, but that’s not clear. All we know is that 800 people were called and made to answer questions on a subject about which they were largely uninformed. Whether they were interested before that call is anybody’s guess.

Here’s what’s odd: “According to the poll, more than half of Arizonans believe global warming has caused more droughts and storms around the world, and more forest fires and heatwaves in the state.” And this is verified by examining the survey results (pdf). I mean, some 60% of Arizonans do believe global warming has caused more droughts etc.

That’s also false. As in none of it is true, as in…but you get the idea.

We’re now at the main point of this post: people’s opinions about subjects in which they are demonstrably ignorant (and I mean this word politely, in its technical sense) and what this means in a democracy.

One Gregg Garfin, deputy director for science translation and outreach at Overpeck’s institute, thought it important to say, “This survey shows the majority of Arizonans seem to be concerned about climate change, which is pretty much in line with the majority of U.S. residents.”

We can guess Garfin would have been saddened had his fellow residents believed less strongly (in falsities) than the rest of the country. Does it then follow that in a democracy it is important that consensus is reached, even when the consensus is wrong, even whoppingly wrong?

The answer, I think, is yes. This is proved in the words of fellow survey author professor Jon Krosnick: “The University of Arizona has done a great service by using the science of survey research to give state residents an opportunity to express their beliefs about what has been happening to the Earth and what they want government to do and not do on this issue”.

What a strange thing to say! Were Arizona residents really burning with desire to tell academics their (false) beliefs about global warming, a stress only relieved by Krosnick’s call? If that’s true, there are still some 6.7 million unsurveyed people suffering. Krosnick ought to get them on the phone as soon as possible and put them out of their misery.

Now, either Krosnick is more concerned with consensus than with correcting error, or he himself is just as ignorant as the majority of his respondents. And if he is just as ignorant, and because finding the truth about weather records is easy, what does this say about the state of science?

The obvious: consensus is more important than truth.

All this is confirmed by none other than Bill “The Science Guy” Nye, who made a point of telling Rutgers graduates to “challenge those who dismiss” global warming. Nye actually said “climate change”, the preferred euphemism for global warming, a linguistic trick, incidentally, which also proves the desire for consensus. Nye said, “So, hey deniers—cut it out, and let’s get to work.”

Get to work? On what? Well, on the object of the consensus, a point so obvious that neither Nye nor the Arizona survey team felt they had to say it. And what is that object?

Hispanics are more concerned about the impact of global warming, and they more heavily favor policies such as cap and trade and government action to limit emissions. More women than men support government action to prepare for the effects of global warming, and 97 percent of young adults (ages 18 to 35) support government laws or tax incentives to reduce power-plant emissions.

What’s wrong with white men? Don’t they want consensus?

News You Can Use: I’ll be speaking at the Heartland Conference June 12th in DC. Autograph hounds are cautioned to bring their own pens.

33 Comments

  1. It’s worse than we thought

  2. To update the Emerson quote:
    A foolish consensus is the hobgoblin of little minds…

    The original reads:
    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.”

    N.B. Emerson was an old white guy when he wrote this.

  3. Briggs

    May 19, 2015 at 10:29 am

    All,

    I don’t know where else to put this, but somehow it’s apropos. Watch the videos at these links:

    https://twitter.com/mattstat/status/600655020787367937

    https://twitter.com/mattstat/status/600661909747142656

    What got me was that several scientists (in the Daily Mail story) felt compelled to offer “theories” about the sounds’ origins. None were global warming. But none were “It’s probably a hoax.”

    And then we’re reminded of yesterday’s post…

    And then this. Sigh.

    https://twitter.com/drfessel/status/600666231121715200

  4. I have a little experience with Arizona in the summertime, and it is hot. “But it’s a dry heat,” the hardy locals exclaim, as if that is supposed to increase my comfort level. Most people know about the temperature they experience, and a survey of residents of a state that is known for its warm climate—-and is a destination for Snowbirds and Spring Training—on rising temperatures starts out with a bias that is nearly impossible to overcome.

  5. Isn’t it always worse than we thought until we think it isn’t?

    Regarding the “Sirens” video …

    We’ve been “subscribers” to a local theatre since 2012.

    This year the theatre got a new board and 2/3rds of their offerings this year are “important” “progressive” and “sophisticated”.

    Have to figure something else out this year.

  6. A closely related question few address is,

    ‘Assume warming is occurring because of human activity, and that warming is adverse, then, where should attention be focused to best mitigate continued human contributions?”

    Domestic U.S. alarmists keep harping on U.S. citizens to lower their “carbon footprints,” and for the U.S. Govt. (USG) to do something.

    Why that emphasis??

    Relative to the rest of the world the U.S. is a minor contributor, with the likes of China & India individually being causes of concern (again, assuming the alarmist assertions of the problem are correct) of everyone else dropped emissions to zero (for the sake of argument).

    The ought to be mimicking Donald Trump’s ongoing laments regarding China’s currency manipulations that impact the U.S. economy & the USG’s refusal to seriously address that–only instead focused on China’s pollution & contributions to “carbon pollution” & so forth.

    But the alarmists don’t do that — they keep putting a punitive emphasis/focus where the marginal return is puny & ineffective relative to other, obvious, options, why?

    Because it’s a religion , that’s why, and self-punishment/sacrifice is a staple of religion.

  7. Maybe white men are the only ones with any sense and even then the percentage may be small. Besides, who cares what white men think? Unless you’re rich and donating to the Democratic party (and got rich from fossil fuels).

    It would be interesting to conduct a survey and tell half the people that there is no consensus on global warming, the other half that there is. Then the second question could be “Do you want the government to take action on global warming knowing your electric bill and taxes will go up? versus “Do you want the government to action?” Third, “Do you currently receive government benefits?” Fourth, “Do you pay taxes?” Fifth, “Should we use very inadequate forms of energy like wind and solar to cut global warming?” versus “Should we use green energy to cut global warming?” Last, “Are you willing to cut your consumption of goods?” versus “Are you willing to give up your job to save us from global warming?”

    It’s all in how you ask the question. (As Ken also points out.)

  8. @Ken
    Your answer is too facile. The marginal return in terms of crippling the preeminent power in the world is large. Bad behavior (which you term religious but really is just typical of impassioned but ethically bereft people) is only a manifestation of the deeper motive at work– punishing those they think are their enemies/oppressors. There isn’t much self-punishment/sacrifice among those who promote the CAGW agenda. They want others to sacrifice, not themselves. The myth in their heads is that they will escape the calamity because their pure motives somehow will preserve them.

  9. YOS, it seems so easy to get the answer you want!

  10. Global temperatures are not going up?

    JMJ

  11. Well, since most Arizonans voluntarily moved to a climate that’s about 20 degrees warmer than where I live, if they were to voluntarily move to where I live, I figure they’d have about 1000 years cushion, even IF the temperature was increasing at 0.2 deg/decade

  12. JMJ

    Good question … a better question is “What is a Global Temperature” … and an even better question is does one exist?

    This is a peer-reviewed paper found in the Journal of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics

    http://www.uoguelph.ca/~rmckitri/research/globaltemp/GlobTemp.JNET.pdf

    Their conclusion is a Global Temperature doesn’t exist.

    I quote from their concluding paragraphs:

    “The purpose of this paper was to explain the fundamental meaninglessness of so-called global temperature data. The problem can be (and has been) happily ignored in the name of the empirical study of climate. But nature is not obliged to respect our statistical conventions and conceptual shortcuts. Debates over the levels and trends in so-called global temperatures will continue interminably, as will disputes over the significance of these things for the human
    experience of climate, until some physical basis is established for the meaningful measurement of climate variables, if indeed that is even possible.
    It may happen that one particular average will one day prove to stand out with some special physical significance. However, that is not so today.”

    Published in 2007, it still stands.

    JMJ

    Even the FAKE Global Temperature has not risen in 18 years and counting.

  13. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 19, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Global temperatures are not going up?

    Depends. They were going up from 1910 to 1940, then down from 1940 to 1970, then up again from 1970 to 2000. Then (one suspects) down again until 2030. Right now they are leveled off at the peak of the sine wave. This multi-decadal oscillation (MDO) rides on the back of an upward trend marking the rebound from the Little Ice Age.

    (Leaving aside what can be meant by “global” temperature.)
    ++++++
    “The question is again being discussed whether recent and long-continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period, when the countries now basking in the fostering warmth of a tropical sun will ultimately give way to the perennial frost and snow of the polar regions.”
    – New York Times, Feb. 24, 1895
    ————
    “Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers. . . all point to a radical change in climate conditions and . . . unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone . . . Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones . . . while at many points well-known glaciers have entirely disappeared.”
    –Washington Post, Nov. 2, 1922
    ————-
    “After a week of discussions on the causes of climate change, an assembly of specialists from several continents seems to have reached unanimous agreement on only one point: it is getting colder.”
    – New York Times, Jan. 30, 1961

    “In the next 50 years, fine dust that humans discharge into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel will screen out so much of the sun’s rays that the Earth’s average temperature could fall by six degrees. Sustained emissions over five to 10 years, could be sufficient to trigger an ice age.
    – Washington Post, July 9, 1971
    ————
    “Using computer models, researchers concluded that global warming would raise average annual temperatures nationwide two degrees by 2010, and the drain on power would require the building of 86 new midsize power plants
    – Associated Press, May 15, 1989

    “[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots . . . [By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers . . . The Mexican police will round up illegal American migrants surging into Mexico seeking work as field hands.”
    – “Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect,” Michael Oppenheimer and Robert H. Boyle, 1990.
    +++++

    The general trend for the past 400 years has been upward as the sun ramped into a solar grand max, but there are certain evidences that the sun has abruptly altered its behavior, with a sudden collapse of its magnetic field, so it is unclear whether we are entering another phase like 1940-1970 or another phase like 1640-1710.

  14. Here’s an idea:

    Knowledge is NOT understanding
    (it may apply to skeptics or alarmist)

    It’s an amazing video:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFzDaBzBlL0#t=341

  15. Briggs

    May 19, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    Scotian,

    See the video at the second tweet. The hoax debunked one.

  16. Briggs,
    Yes, thanks. All the solar flare explanations are strange. A similar thing happened with crop circles as well. Once committed to these theories I predict there will be a reluctance to recant.

  17. Not surprising that certain climate scientists are interested in surveying public opinion but uninterested in surveying the opinions of their peers, or where peer surveys have been done, unsurprisingly uninterested in citing those findings.

    Then of course it would be nice to step back from all this and stop talking opinions informed or uninformed, and talk about evidence.

  18. John B(),
    Thinks for the link. I have been pointing out for years that temperature is an intensive parameter and intensive parameters do not scale. Average temperature is physically meaningless.

  19. Average height is “physically meaningless” but still useful for people who construct buildings.

  20. Will: But not necessarily to those who use the building. Even less helpful when discussing “average size” and “average height” of human beings if you happen to be on the extremely short or extremely tall end. Average is one of the least useful statistics, especially when dealing with a huge spread in values. I learned this from the A1C test doctors like to subject their diabetic patients to. It is actually amazing the variety of blood sugars that will land you in the desired range. Everything from quite level to up and down but the average looks good. It’s horribly misleading, but just as with anomalies versus actual temperatures, the A1C replaced the doctor actually looking at the blood sugars from the patient’s testing. This was not an improvement in care, but it’s quick and easy.

    The use of an average lead to the mistaken belief that the whole planet was going to warm and now we are told it will just be in some places. Others will be colder. This is an admission that the statistic used really did not convey the actual outcome, assuming the new updated idea is correct. That’s what an average does—effectively removes individual variances.

  21. So you’re arguing averages are not to be used because they are not useful? Seriously? Although the prior claim was that you should not reference something that doesn’t have “physical reality”. Therefore we should dispense with the concept of infinity in mathematics? If I’m building homes for different populations I want to know the average and the normal distribution. Still, neither concept has physical reality.

  22. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 19, 2015 at 10:35 pm

    Average height is “physically meaningless” but still useful for people who construct buildings.

    Eek. I hope not, or half the people will bump their heads walking through doorways…. 🙂

  23. That would have been a fair attempt at wit if you didn’t have to ignore my mentioning of a normal distribution in order to make it. As such, it became a sad attempt at wit.

  24. Half of the people have height less than the median. 🙂

    Nothing wrong with white men. Just like there is nothing wrong with Asian Americans who are more likely to be self-claimed environmentalists and to accept anthropogenic climate change. No, Willie soon doesn’t represent all Asian Americans.

    Who has the false belief? Do you know?

  25. Average height is “physically meaningless” but still useful for people who construct buildings.

    YOS: Eek. I hope not, or half the people will bump their heads walking through doorways…. 🙂

    JH: Half of the people have height less than the median. 🙂

    This may be an example of “the curse of information”

    YOS may know that height is normally distributed – ergo average is indistinguishable from the median 😉

  26. Briggs and Olde statistician, it’s a good plan to check exactly what question was asked.

    If you click all the way through to get the results, the question asked wasn’t whether
    “A large majority of Arizona residents believe that the world’s temperature has been rising (74%)”
    as they misleadingly claim on their webpage.

    In fact the question was
    “Do you think that the world’s temperature probably has been going up slowly over the past 100 years, or do you think this probably has not been happening?”

    Note ‘probably’, ‘slowly’, ‘100 years’. They’ve twisted the question as far as you possibly can to try to get a yes answer. I would certainly say yes to this (wouldn’t you?) Yet despite this they only managed to get a 74% yes.

  27. Will: NO, read what I typed. I said averages do not work well in widely varying distributions, which does not seem to fit your normal distribution requirement. Plus, you will still have the extreme ends who will either have to duck at every door or use a step stool reach everything. Actually, the mode is probably the best measure for what you are doing. You will sell the most houses and the outliers will go for custom builds.

    Actually, much of mathematics has no physical reality, but as long as we admit this, it’s not a problem. Infinity has little practical value in the physical world and few people can even manage to understand the concept. That’s true for much of mathematics once you get past arithmetic, geometry and trig. I would venture to say most people live their lives just fine without ever learning what infinity is and what calculus is.

    My objection to the use of average with “global temperatures” is as I stated: It gave the very false impression that things would warm everywhere and now people are finding out that is not true. The tropics can rise 5 degrees, New York drop 3 and the average is 4. The effect, however, is very different in each place. I’m looking at a couple of inches of snow out my window right now while reading 2015 is on track to be the hottest so far. There is no universal temperature increase. In addition, the use of the average requires massive statistical manipulation, interpolation (not sure kringing is that accurate in spite of claims—temperatures can vary by 4 or 5 degrees from one location to another at any time, even only 10 miles apart), and results in a single number that becomes the Holy Grail. It’s all very poor usage of temperatures and looking for changes. As in the use of the A1C—it leads to lazy thinking.

  28. Will|Sheri:

    Averages are your friend. Averages will bite you in the ass.

    I will use averages to help me get to a better understanding of what I see going on. I won’t let the averages blind me to the outliers that make the average meaningless.

    We have to embrace averages, but we also have to use them carefully. If you are shoe maker making shoes, chances are you are going to make the quantities according to the availability of feet to fill them. How many 6 inch stilletos in a size 15 are you going to make? I suppose it is sad for the 6′ 5″ transgender person who wants to style the way some ladies do, but that transgender person is going to have a challenge finding such a heal. Happily for me, Nike has started included size 15 in its everyday lines making it easier to find shoes that fit me at the Nike store. Once upon a time, I would ask the clerk, “Do you have anything in a 15?” The answer is still usually no. At the Nike Store, I can peruse the aisles without the aid of a clerk and find many of them. Why is it that Nike has so many more 15s than other brands? Why is it that there are so many more size 15 feet?

    Once upon a time I thought it was genetics. Now I am more inclined to say “availability of calories!”

    Talking about average temperatures is a completely different subject though. If the person on the other side of the equation has no interest in the vagaries of temperature ( a subject that can be discussed for hours and hours ), I am very confident that his opinion on climate change has little meaning. Temperatures, Water Vapor, Enthalpy all interact to make one pause before asserting anything too definitively in a positive way. Averages of temperatures? Oh the many things to go wrong there.

    In a Coal Fired Power Plant (Generating Station), there is a reasonable chance that a steady state will be achieved. In that steady state, I measure the temperatures at various points in the system and average them over time. The temperatures are not varying excessively. In such a system, it is economic for me to even put 2 or three gauge at any of the tap points. I might be able to average the values of the three gauges in close proximity to one another. Now take that and apply it to a weather station? I am happy to average the temperatures in the power plant to get a good assessment of my plant. I am averaging temperatures for a location and time though. I do not average the temperatures across the plant. Each point in the plant is unto itself. It is part of the plant but we are only interested in it with regards to itself. We compare it with other points in the plant. We aren’t squishing them together.

    I embrace averages because they are useful to getting my job done. I am always ready to take another look at them though because they have bent me over a barrel before. Always keep the raw data close at hand. Unfortunately the definition of “raw” can be murky also and is an entire lifetime of discussion in itself. Is “raw” a voltage, a meniscus reading, an amp reading.?

  29. John B: I love the backwards bike video.

  30. Brad T: Averages stopped always being my friend when the A1C came out and I had to argue with doctors over the realities and usefulness of the value. (I actually started agreeing to have the test if the doctor would admit it was useless but he wanted the value in his records as a CYA–only one has taken me up on that offer.) So, no, averages are not always my friend. Your use of averages seems reasonable. I have no objection to the use of averages over a narrow range of values.

    I have no idea why there are not more size 15 feet. Interesting question. When I was younger, most women’s shoes came in narrow widths and my sister had difficulty finding shoes wide enough. Now I have trouble finding narrow width shoes. Possibly things have changed because wearing ill-fitting shoes can have long-term negative effects. Shoe manufacturers are responding by making larger sizes and wider shoes?

  31. Ye Olde Statistician

    May 20, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    The average number of testicles possessed by a human being is one. What is the physical meaning of this?

    Machine #1 produces domes of .339″ and Machine #2 produces domes of .403. What physical meaning has their average of .371.

    Who answers when you dial the average telephone number for a city?

    The average of two ormore independent processes does not necessarily represent a real process.

    A certain bank of machines suffers four stoppages per day. Each stoppage requires an average of 7 man-hours to restore operations. The company staffs to 28 hours of repair time. Huge backlogs of repair work result.

    An emergency call hot-line receives an average of four calls per day. They staff to handle that mean. Emergency calls go unanswered.

    Sometimes extreme values matter more than averages.

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