UPDATE: Even When Bloggers Are Bad at Math, Global Climate Change Is Still a Reality
Late in 2012 we--along with most of the pinko-hippie blogosphere--posted a link to a blog entry over at Grist; here's ours: Poor Mojo's Newswire: Climate Collapse: If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month
In mid-January a dedicated--or at least attentive--reader in Australia wrote in to point out:
I have become aware that the statistic given in your article "Climate Collapse: If you’re 27 or younger, you’ve never experienced a colder-than-average month" concerning the 27 years of never colder-than-average months is incorrect.
From the original information source, the NCDC report: "The average monthly temperature across the United Kingdom was 1.3°C (2.3°F) below the 1981–2010 average, making this the coldest October since 2003. Regionally, Scotland had its seventh coolest October since records began in 1910 and coolest since 1993." Further, from BOM in the Annual Australian Climate Statement 2012 states, in the first sentence of this report "The first half of 2012 was cooler and wetter than average".
Therefore this statistic cannot be true. I know how the accurate reporting of information reflects upon an organisation's integrity and reputation, and I'm sure swift and appropriate action will be taken.
Thank you, I look forward to your response: ***********@*******.com
What caught my interest--and sparked some editorial discussion here at the Newswire--was that this reader had a point (sort of) even if it wasn't the point Reader thinks Reader has. Reader is 100% correct in saying that the Grist blogger's title--which most of us link-blogging this item blithely copy-pasted--is wrong: Plenty of humans younger than 27 have experienced colder-than-average local temps. Shit, just look at the graphic: anything blue shows a colder-than-average temp. I'll note that *little* of the world's human population lives in those blue zones, but obviously some folks do, including kids born after the theatrical release of BACK TO THE FUTURE. So, the title is inaccurate.
But just because the *title* is spurious, that doesn't make the *statistic* untrue. Again, look at the pic: it's likewise obvious that *most* of the world has seen warmer to much-warmer--and even *record high*--average temps in the last year.
So how did the Grist blogger arrive at this spurious title?
Just bad math; the blogger is basically claiming that if a "mean" average is greater than X, then all the components of that mean must also exceed X, which is clearly not the case (e.g., a four man crew can have an average salary of $15/hour, but that doesn't mean none of the dudes was paid *less* than $15/hr; the crew could be one dude making $57 per and the others making a buck an hour).
Just to step through:
I don't want to be tedious, but I do believe that attempting to be both accurate and math-literate is important in this-thing-that's-replaced-journalism. E.g.,: I read a FOX article about the new biggest prime number which asserted--and I've simplified the numbers here--that "two multiplied by itself 10 times" equals "(2^10)-1"--which is so clearly false it makes my head hurt, and I barely scraped by in high school math. In the next sentence they said that large primes have no use in and of themselves, apart from being curiosities. That claim is simply mind-bogglingly ignorant.
Anyway, you no longer need math and news from NOAA to know the climate has shifted: It has fundamentally changed crops here, in Michigan. Talk to any farmer in the state: our growing season and hardiness zone have grossly shifted since the birth of my son, and he's a first-grader. Traditional crops (like apples, cherries, and berries) are now struggling while new crops are becoming viable, even profitable. This can be directly observed, regardless of how you vote or what you think of Al Gore--so, to my mind, denial is a non-starter. But still, these are *local* effects, and I'm in Michigan; as we all know, where Reader was in Australia, the first half of 2012 was both colder and wetter than usual--which is actually also probably a Bad Sign. Remember, it isn't global *warming* we're worried about; it's *climate collapse.*
In the end, this isn't about math, or even about politics; it's about humans working through the Kübler-Ross stages of grief. Our world has changed, and no semantic nit-pick can wind that back. In the last six months we felt hurricane winds from an Atlantic superstorm *in Michigan*. We saw lake effect snow stretch from Lake Michigan to Detroit, *crossing the entire state.* I can't find anyone with a living memory of storms like these here. Again, we don't have to look at a map from the federal government, or a picture from a satellite. These things happened in my yard, and they've done so since my last birthday.
Back on track: from a rhetoric standpoint, if we settle for sloppy math--even just in titles--then it makes it easier for deniers to just pretend the point as a whole is invalid, and there is tremendous motivation to do just that, because when you are grieving a loss, the first step is always to say: "No; this just isn't true. It can't be, because this being true hurts me too much."
And sometimes, the thing we have to do for a grieving loved one is very cruel: We have to take him or her by the shoulders and very calmly say: "A very bad thing has happened, and now we need to deal with it."