Wednesday, December 14, 2016

First seek the data and then spot the patterns

I came across Climate Scientists Take to the Streets to Protest Trump by David Kirby.
On Sunday, Donald Trump told Fox News that “nobody really knows” whether climate change is real. But scientists who staged a rally in San Francisco on Tuesday had a stinging rebuke for the president-elect: It’s real, it’s here, and we are bracing for an epic battle against your policies and appointments.

“The election result was not the one that many of us would like to see, but the battle goes on and must go on,” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State University, said at the rally.

Mann spoke outside the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, where 26,000 scientists are gathering in the first major convening of climate scientists since the presidential election. He was joined by other climate researchers and activists representing Native Americans and people living in “frontline communities” near polluting refineries, power plants, pipelines, and other fossil fuel infrastructure.
Michael Mann is a fairly discredited spokesperson for climate change having been caught out in the East Anglia email leaks and propounding a climate hockey-stick research paper which was later withdrawn.

But I was interested not so much in the merits of the debate as in the reporting. Wow, 26,000 scientists turned out to protest the president-elect's threat to the Federal government financing of the research gravy train. That makes perfect sense from a human perspective. These people are trying to protect their livelihoods.

But then, just as my eye was about to sweep away to the next article, I got a nagging sense that something wasn't quite right. That 26,000 number. Is it 26,000 protestors or is it 26,000 who attended the convention, some portion of whom might have joined the protest. As it turns out, it is the latter. 26,000 at the convention and a smaller number at the protest. How small?

That took some searching. Nobody seems to be reporting the actual crowd size other than some vague imputations that it was large. I went looking for some pictures. The best source seemed to be here. From the pictures, it appears that there are about 30 actual protestors (the people up front with signs.) How about people in the crowd? That is a lot harder to estimate. For one, you can't tell who are rubberneckers and who are actual protest participants. But let's take the whole crowd. I would estimate, judging from all the pictures, that there might be perhaps 250 people in the crowd. Let's double it for a really safe margin of error - 500 people. 530/26,000 = 2%.

2% of climate change scientists thought it was worthwhile protesting the perceived antagonism of the incoming administration. That almost seems the inversion of the common, though inaccurate, claim that 97% of scientists support anthropogenic climate change. Instead, the protest would suggest "98% of climate change scientists don't consider their research worth defending."

That's quite a different story than the first spin. Where does spin end and fake news begin?

No comments:

Post a Comment