Damned Lies and Statistics: 'Climate Change'

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics,” a quote which Mark Twain in his Autobiography attributed to Benjamin Disraeli—though it more likely derives from the obiter dicta of the First Earl of Balfour. We all know—or should know—that statistics can be deceptive. Like language itself, they serve a dual function: to tell the truth and to lie—except that, unlike ordinary language, statistical contrivances appear to share the property of pure mathematics, that is, they seem objective, factual, impartial, and irrefutable. People are easily convinced, writes Darrell Huff in How to Lie with Statistics, by a “spurious air of scientific precision.”

The only way to disarm plausible but specious statistical accounts is to dig down into the source data or, when feasible, simply to use one’s common sense. Of course, statistics can be woven out of whole cloth, total fabrications which are easily rumbled with a modicum of attention, but it is their subtlety, their playing with half-truths, that can be most persuasive and damaging. Telling half the truth can be more insidious than a manifest falsehood.

Stars and shadows ain't good to see by.

Global Warming statistics are among the most readily manipulable, delivering factoids that are true and yet false—in other words, in other words. The tactic is to present a lesser truth that disguises a greater one. For brevity’s sake, let’s take just a few examples of how “climate change” statistics can rank among the most effective means of producing assent to outright mendacities, coating whoppers with honey.

Consider the twaddle that came out of the University of Illinois’ 2009 survey that 97.4 percent of scientists agree that mankind is responsible for global warming, a finding which is easily debunked when one accounts for the selection methodology.

As Lawrence Solomon explains in a crushing putdown, the Illinois researchers decided that of the 10,257 respondents, the 10,180 who demurred from the so-called consensus “weren’t qualified to comment on the issue because they were merely solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists, astronomers and the like.” Of the remaining 77 scientists whose votes were counted, 75 agreed with the proposition that mankind was causing catastrophic changes in the climate. And, since 75 is 97.4 percent of 77, overwhelming consensus was demonstrated.

The real percentage, however, of concurring scientists in the original survey is a paltry .73 percent. That the chosen 75 were, as Solomon writes, “scientists of unknown qualifications” adds yet another layer to the boondoggle. This sort of thing is not a little white lie or an inadvertent statistical error. Once it reaches the point where a deliberate misconstrual must be maintained by the omission of details, the distortion of data and the suspicious liability to intentional error, we are in the presence of the great statistical charade as it is practiced by our accredited “experts.”

Not to be outdone, the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia developed a graph showing the trend to global warming, but neglected to note that it is calibrated in tenths of degrees rather than whole degrees, giving the misleading impression that the world is heating up when there is, in effect, little to no global warming to speak of. Similarly, the British climate journal The Register points out that NASA data have been “consistently adjusted towards a bias of greater warming. The years prior to the 1970s have again been adjusted to lower temperatures, and recent years have been adjusted towards higher temperatures.” Moreover, NASA data sets, as is so often the case, were predicated on omission, so-called “lost continents” where temperature readings were colder than the desired result.

Eureka! It's alive! 

As The Register writes, “The vast majority of the earth had normal temperatures or below. Given that NASA has lost track of a number of large cold regions, it is understandable that their averages are on the high side.” Additionally, NASA reports their global temperature measurements “within one one-hundredth of a degree. This is a classic mathematics error, since they have no data from 20 percent of the earth's land area. The reported precision is much greater than the error bar.”

The problem, warns Joel Best in Damned Lies and Statistics, is that “bad statistics live on; they take on a life of their own.” Their longevity supports their putative truthfulness. And the public is gullible, prey to the baked-in lies that Best calls “mutant statistics,” no matter how implausible.

Similarly, Tim Harford in The Data Detective, a celebration of good and useful statistical models, refers to the tendency toward motivated reasoning, i.e., “thinking through a topic with the aim, conscious or otherwise, of reaching a particular kind of conclusion.” Obviously, such thinking can work both ways, disparaging reliable statistics as well as valorizing dubious ones. The whole point, of course, is obfuscation, to keep people in the dark. Our soi-disant climatologists could just as well have written that climate is defined by a statistical curve in relation to a congruence subgroup of a modular elliptic, and the effect would have been the same. Whatever it means, it sounds official and incontrovertible.

In his essay, “March of the Zealots,” John Brignell comments on such acts of dissimulation. “If the general public ever got to know of the scandals surrounding the collection and processing of data [about global warming]… the whole movement would be dead in the water… It is a tenuous hypothesis supported by ill-founded computer models and data from botched measurement, dubiously processed.”

Examples of data manipulation abound. For more thorough analyses, see Michael Shellenberger’s Apocalypse Never, Steven Koonon’s Unsettled, Tim Balls’ The Deliberate Corruption of Climate Science, and Rupert Darwall’s Green Tyranny, all of which are eye-openers. As Stanford professor Dr. John Ioannidis writes in a much-circulated paper provocatively titled Why Most Published Research Findings Are False, “There is increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims. However, this should not be surprising.”

Flawed statistical analyses have become the established currency of the climate economy.

Wanna Manufacture a Consensus? It'll Cost You

I recently stumbled upon a Stephen Moore piece on the Heritage Foundation's blog from back in 2018 which touches on an important topic for us here at The Pipeline, one which doesn't get enough attention. I'm speaking of the massive amounts of money behind the environmentalist movement which has made it so effective at indoctrinating ordinary people (especially children), pressuring politicians, and manufacturing what they like to refer to as the scientific "consensus."

Shortly after the latest Chicken Little climate change report was published last month, I noted on CNN that one reason so many hundreds of scientists are persuaded that the sky is falling is that they are paid handsomely to do so.

I noted that “in America and around the globe governments have created a multi-billion dollar Climate Change Industrial Complex.” And then I added: “A lot of people are getting really, really rich off of the climate change industry.” According to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Federal funding for climate change research, technology, international assistance, and adaptation has increased from $2.4 billion in 1993 to $11.6 billion in 2014, with an additional $26.1 billion for climate change programs and activities provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.”

This doesn’t mean that the planet isn’t warming. But the tidal wave of funding does reveal a powerful financial motive for scientists to conclude that the apocalypse is upon us. No one hires a fireman if there are no fires. No one hires a climate scientist (there are thousands of them now) if there is no catastrophic change in the weather. Why doesn’t anyone in the media ever mention this?

But when I lifted this hood, it incited more hate mail than from anything I’ve said on TV or written. Could it be that this rhetorical missile hit way too close to home?

As the vitriolic response to Vivian Krause's work exposing the foreign funding of Canadian environmentalist groups demonstrates, they really dislike it when you even ask where their money comes from. They prefer regular people to see them as disembodied spirits with no need for food or shelter who, like the teenage heroes on Captain Planet, have dedicated their lives to using the power of heart to combat those villains who despoil the environment just for kicks.

In reality, they are just like everyone else, with true believers mixed in with the cynics, and people from both of those groups eager to make a few bucks, and often more than a few. How much exactly? Well:

Surprisingly, no one seems to be keeping track of all the channels of funding. A few years ago Forbes magazine went through the federal budget and estimated about $150 billion in spending on climate change and green energy subsidies during President Obama’s first term.

That didn’t include the tax subsidies that provide a 30 percent tax credit for wind and solar power — so add to those numbers about $8 billion to $10 billion a year. Then add billions more in costs attributable to the 29 states with renewable energy mandates that require utilities to buy expensive “green” energy.

Worldwide the numbers are gargantuan. Five years ago, a leftist group called the Climate Policy Initiative issued a study which found that “global investment in climate change” reached $359 billion that year. Then to give you a sense of how money-hungry these planet-saviors are, the CPI moaned that this spending “falls far short of what’s needed” a number estimated at $5 trillion....

The entire Apollo project to put a man on the moon cost less than $200 billion. We are spending twice that much every year on climate change.

Of course, as Moore discusses, in order to get a piece of this enormous pot, you have to deliver the right lines. Or, as he puts it, "you’re probably not going to do your career any good or get famous by publishing research [saying] that the crisis isn’t happening. But if you’ve built bogus models that predict the crisis is getting worse by the day, then step right up and get a multi-million-dollar grant."

Which is how you manufacture a consensus -- first you make it advantageous to hold to one opinion for long enough that (eventually) it becomes disadvantageous to hold any other. So, when a critical mass of scientists sign on the dotted line, not signing makes one essentially unemployable. Men like Freeman Dyson, who have been around long enough and whose achievements are monumental enough that they can contradict the party line, get harder and harder to come by.

In the end, Moore points out that, despite this enormous amount of money, environmentalists are constantly telling us that no progress has been made. "The latest reports by the U.S. government and the United Nations say the problem is getting worse not better and we have not delayed the apocalypse by a single day." Which ought to make you wonder if saving the world is really their primary motivation.

Maybe they're more invested in a different type of green.