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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”?
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  employees had professional degrees. Let’s ballpark it down to about a third of these folks today are scientists or engineers. Since NASA began  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?  (December 31st, 2009)
49 Former NASA Scientists Send A Letter Disputing Climate Change 
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:
 letter from 49: http://www.businessinsider.com/nasa-scientists-dispute-climate-change-2012-4
 NASA: http://www.nasa.gov/
 half of their: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4012/vol4/t3.7.htm
 Since NASA began: http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4012/vol4/ch3.htm
 Image: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/220px-NASA_logo.svg_.png
 Statistics: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change?: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2009/12/statistics-scientific-consensus-on-climate-change/
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