How to mislead

Yet another press release slagging off the Green party, from NZ’s climate skeptics claiming that New Zealand has got colder since 1998 and therefore climate change is a myth.

Sounds unbelievable, doesn’t it, ‘everyone’ knows that global warming is happening, so if its getting colder, then maybe, just maybe, the huge environmentalist conspiracy is wrong after all. And they’re making this claim based on proper scientific evidence, too, not like those wooly-haired hippies in the Green party.

And strictly speaking, they’re absolutely right about the first part. NZ has got colder since 1998. This is all pretty convincing stuff, except they’ve missed out one tiny fact.

1998 was the hottest year on record.

Consider, the men’s high jump world record hasn’t been beaten since 1993. Every high jumper since then has done worse. Does this mean that men are getting shorter? No. In fact, a more realistic view of the evidence would consider that the record in 1912 was 2.00 metres. The fact that its 2.45 metres now rather suggests that men are jumping better, over the long run. However, choosing the highest level ever reached as your baseline, you can make a claim that everyone recently has been worse.

Now, if you don’t know that 1998 was a record year, then what they’re saying comes across as eminently reasonable. If you do, then their argument come across as utterly specious. I’d like to call it lying, but they’re not, just misleading. What is a mystery to me, is that such dire reasoning and blatant misuse of evidence can get published in the newspapers.

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