Global warming

June 2, 2009

196 words
9 July 2008
The Times
Times2 3
English
(c) 2008 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

Contrary to popular belief, statistics don’t lie. What they do is tell the scrupulous truth. But we rarely want that. Imagine asking a teenager if he has tidied his room. His room is a disgrace, but he answers yes – because he has tidied it, last year. He isn’t lying, but neither is he responding to the real question. He is acting like a statistic.

When Nigel Lawson says, promoting his book An Appeal To Reason: A Cool Look At Global Warming, that there has been no warming since 1998, he is not lying. But neither is he answering the real question. Taking the average of the preceding five years – which removes yearly variation, resulting in a crude trend – 1998 is 0.25 degrees hotter than expected. That is huge: since 1850, only 1878 was a bigger anomaly. With individual years just noise on a trend line, a more accurate soundbite might be to ask how many years in the past decade were among the ten hottest on record. The answer is eight.

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