Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rightwing bloggers admit: no, we really don't understand statistics?

I have to admit, I'm fascinated by the dynamics of how information is pushed around the Web. The academic work on this seems to mostly ignore that what people link to is dictated by what they want to believe.

Today's Memeorandum is dominated by one story, which started with a BBC interview where Phil Jones took a bunch of questions from climate skeptics. One was this one:

B - Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

Rough translation: we're slightly less than 95% confident there is warming in that period. Alternatively, there's a little more than 1 chance in 20 that there is not warming 1995-now.

Then a UK paper, Mail Online, published a report on the interview, with the headline - apparently based solely on the paragraph above - Climategate U-turn as scientist at centre of row admits: There has been no global warming since 1995 - a remarkable interpretation. And this is the discussion on the blogs now, via Memeorandum Colors (click to expand):

One or two of these are pointing out that the Online Mail headline is misleading - but most seem to be just repeating it uncritically ....even though the BBC interview is online, just a google search away, and even though a quick read of even the text Online Mail story shows that the headline is misleading.