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Innumerate Claim of the Day: NASA Scientists Dispute Climate Change

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On April 11, 2012 @ 7:41 pm In Mathematics,Psychology,UnScience | Comments Disabled

So I get this email from a colleague today offering me “proof” that global warming is a scam. His “overwhelming evidence”?

A letter from 49 [1] former NASA [2] Scientists. NASA is in open revolt over climate change!

Wow, 49 Scientists? That’s really impressive (at first glance!) Let’s see if it holds up to scrutiny.

Whenever I see a single number out of context, it makes my Spidey sense twitch. What is the significance of subset 49? What is the parent set –  50? 100? 1000? 18,000? 50,000?

To put this into some context, let’s look at the data. NASA currently employs 18,000 people. In the 1970s, half of their [3] employees had professional degrees. Let’s ballpark it down to about a third of these folks today are scientists or engineers. Since NASA began [4] in 1958 with 8,000 workers, they have many tens of thousands of employees. I can’t guess how many — 40,000, 50,000 people? And many of those were scientists and engineers.

Of all these people, living and dead, 49 got together and wrote a letter.

Now that we have some context, that strength of the initial participation looks rather silly. These 49 people — only one of whom is an actual meteorologist — are an extremely tiny percentage of current (or former) NASA Employees.

I am always suspicious when I see as single number out of context. It often serves as a tool for deception.

Just another example of confirmation bias at work.




Statistics: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change? [6] (December 31st, 2009)

49 Former NASA Scientists Send A Letter Disputing Climate Change [1]
Gus Lubin
Business Insider, Apr. 11, 2012  

Article printed from The Big Picture: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog

URL to article: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2012/04/innumerate-claim-of-the-day-nasa-scientists-dispute-climate-change/

URLs in this post:

[1] letter from 49: http://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-scientists-dispute-climate-change-2012-4

[2] NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/

[3] half of their: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4012/vol4/t3.7.htm

[4] Since NASA began: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4012/vol4/ch3.htm

[5] Image: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/220px-NASA_logo.svg_.png

[6] Statistics: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change?: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/12/statistics-scientific-consensus-on-climate-change/

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