A Global Warming Allegory

Guest essay by William M. Briggs, statistician. Reposted from his blog wmbriggs.com
and From http://www.WattsUpWithThat.com
A very odd thing happened in Science. Turns out a famous weatherman has been forecasting highs in the 60s then 70s for New York City all winter long. But the temperature never rose above the single digits, teens, twenties, and thirties.

One day a writer at the New York Post wrote an article telling people not to trust the weatherman, who, it turned out, had issued a prediction for the following day for a “High of 80!”

Climatologists stationed at NASA on the Upper West Side were incensed that a non-scientist would interfere with Science. So the climatologists


spoke with the weatherman, who said he was basing his predictions on a sophisticated computer model. The weatherman admitted his difficulties, but said his model would have performed great if only he had better measures of surface snow cover.

This reasoning wholly convinced the climatologists who held a press conference at which they insisted, “Whoever disagrees with this weatherman is a science denier. The weatherman is using a sophisticated computer model, which can only get better since we have provided the weatherman with New & Improved! measures of surface snow cover.”

Cowed, the press skittered away, went home and put on their shorts to await the promised warmth. But the next day the high was only 16oF. And for the next week it was bitterly cold, yet the weatherman went on predicting a heatwave. This raised eyebrows, but since nobody wanted to be called a denier, they didn’t insist the weatherman was wrong.

The climatologists suspected, however, that something wasn’t quite right. So they called another meeting with the weatherman. He admitted he had incorporated the New & Improved! surface snow cover measurements, but that hadn’t helped much. And besides, there wasn’t anything wrong after all. The model was still great—better than great—but it was natural variability that was to blame for the wayward observations. “Nobody,” he said, “Can anticipate natural variability.”

Again, the climatologists were convinced by this argument and they called another press conference. “The model this weatherman is using is correct,” they said. “It is really a quite excellent model. But natural variability interfered with observations.”

A man in the audience, a non-tenured engineering professor, was perplexed. He was bold enough to ask, “But that doesn’t make any sense. Natural variability is what the weather is. What you’re really saying is that the model does a poor job of representing the weather.”

“That is false,” the climatologists said. “The model is terrific. From whom do you receive your funding?”

The engineering professor said, “Well, partly from a company that manufactures a specialized product. But what does that matter? Your model said the temperature would be high and instead it was low. That can only mean the model is wrong.”

Now the engineering professor didn’t know it, but his Dean was watching the press conference. The Dean was embarrassed that he had a science denier in his department and the next day he moved to have the young professor terminated. A reporter (shivering like mad and dressed in a t-shirt) heard about the firing and asked the climatologists for their opinion.

“That this man was fired is proof of his incompetence. He wasn’t even a meteorologist. He obviously had a conflict of interest by receiving money from companies that might benefit from his work. This proves the model the weatherman is using is a good one.” And the reporter believed.

Meanwhile, a team of scientists argued that the model didn’t work and they offered a suggestion why it might be busted. They published their thoughts in a science journal, which caught the attention of the small fraction of the public who were tired of having to wear skimpy clothes in frigid temperatures merely to


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