Monday, October 06, 2008

Dumb Facts

It is sometimes said that facts speak for themselves, but mostly they don't. Media reports on the relation between the bailout and the stock market provide a striking example. When the House voted down the bailout and the market fell, the fall was reported as a response to the failure. When the House passed the bailout and the market fell, the fall was reported as occurring in spite of the passage of the bailout. In this case as in many others, once you have your conclusion you can always arrange for all evidence to support it, or at least be consistent with it.

Global warming provides another example. If the weather somewhere is warmer than usual, that is evidence of global warming; the fact that total global warming in the past century comes to under one degree centigrade is not usually mentioned. If the weather is colder than usual that is either irrelevant or evidence of changing weather patterns due to global warming.

It used to be said that the poor agricultural performance of the Soviet Union was due to worse than average weather—forty straight years of it. No doubt it was true. In a country that big, the weather is always worse than average somewhere.


At 5:42 PM, October 06, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Global warming is coming close to being an unscientific theory simply because it cannot be falsified. Nothing counts as evidence against it.

-Franklin Harris

At 6:15 PM, October 06, 2008, Blogger Joel Davis said...

I believe the phrase you're looking for here is "confirmation bias".

At 6:17 PM, October 06, 2008, Blogger Tim Lambert said...

In my experience, people don't describe unusually warm weather as evidence for global warming, but as a consequence of it. Which to some extent it is.

On the other hand, cold weather is often cited as evidence against global warming by global warming skeptics.

At 6:58 AM, October 07, 2008, Blogger jimbino said...

The worst confirmation bias I've ever seen is represented in the ubiquitous statements following an accident or disaster that, "Fortunately, they were fully insured" or "Unfortunately, they weren't insured." I have never seen or heard a statement like, "It was a quiet day in Lake Wobegon. Unfortunately, everybody was fully insured."

At 12:02 PM, October 07, 2008, Blogger Mike Huben said...

"the fall was reported as occurring in spite of the passage of the bailout."

That looks to me to be a clear statement that the evidence does NOT support the model prediction. Isn't that what "in spite of" means?

Now, if the second fall was explained with something additional, some epicycle arbitrarily added, AND the original explanation was still defended, then David would have a point about support of positions independent of the evidence.

It looks to me as if David is providing his own example of confirmation bias: arranging for even contrary evidence to support his conclusion.

At 1:43 AM, October 09, 2008, Blogger Vicente Barriatos said...

lol, Sowell said the same thing about global warming.


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