Today’s post is from our friend Stephen Dawson, who writes at hifi-writer.com. I scheduled this in advance, knowing I’d be suffering jet lag.
Professor Will Steffen from the Australian National University is one of the two or three most prominent climate scientists in Australia. The other day he lent his expertise to a current controversy in my home town, Canberra. We (lucky us!) are getting light rail. A survey shows the Canberra population leaning against it: 46.3% of Canberra residents are against it, versus 38.8% in support. But Dr Steffen and his colleague came to the rescue. In this oped they turned that opposition around, into 33.2% against, 51.9% in support, a clear majority in support!
He and Professor Barbara Norman (also an environmental scientist) from Canberra University managed this feat by a simple expedient: they excluded conservative voters from the sample (in Australia the Liberal Party is the relatively conservative one):
In our reanalysis, we used all the percentages reported in the Canberra Times article in terms of level of support for light rail according to intended voting patterns. We then removed the intended Liberal voters from the analysis, giving a total of 980 remaining respondents to the poll, comprising the categories Labor, Greens, Others and Undecided in terms of intended voting pattern.
Of course, they had solid statistical reasons for doing so.
The very low 15.9 per cent of intending Liberal voters who support light rail are indicative of an issue that has become excessively polarising along partisan political lines. Such a strong skew also has statistical implications for the poll itself, and can easily generate a misleading impression of what the poll numbers are actually showing. In particular, the overall result of weak support for light rail could be highly skewed by the view of intended Liberal voters, who make up slightly less than one-third of the total number of residents polled.
Got to get rid of those outliers!
We all owe these authors a debt. Normally statistical manipulations with a view to gaining a particular outcome are hidden. It’s rare for them to be laid out so obviously. Australia is in good hands as the good professor:
…is currently a Climate Commissioner with the Australian Government Climate Commission; Chair of the Antarctic Science Advisory Committee, Co-Director of the Canberra Urban and Regional Futures (CURF) initiative and Member of the ACT Climate Change Council.
Editor’s Note: Reader Michael Whelan fills us in on “climate” scientist Will Steffen, the man responsible for the statistics.
Will Steffen (born 1947) is an american chemist. He was the executive director of the Australian National University (ANU) Climate Change Institute and a member of the Australian Climate Commission until its abolishment in September 2013. From 1998 to 2004, he was the executive director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, a co-ordinating body of national environmental change organisations based in Stockholm.
This is a prime example of cherry picking data to confirm a prejudice, makes you wonder about validity of his climate research.