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Statistics needed

National Post – November 28, 2006

Notable quote:

Dr. Edward Wegman: “I am baffled by the claim that the incorrect method doesn’t matter because the answer is correct anyway. Method Wrong + Answer Correct = Bad Science.” With bad science, only true believers can assert that they nevertheless obtained the right answer.

I have repeatedly called for better math and computational methodologies to understand our current climate change predicament. My statement comes from the belief that if we don’t understand where we are and how we got here, how in the world can we make appropriate changes that can bring meaningful changes?

This article really beats up the statistical techniques done in much of the atmospheric modeling that has been done to date. While the critic cited in this article does not say that Earth is not getting warmer and doesn’t pretend to lay causality claim, he does end the article with a simple statement that I quoted above.

Here are a few more quotes that I thought were interesting.

“Our committee believes that the assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade in a millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year in a millennium cannot be supported,” Wegman stated, adding that “The paucity of data in the more remote past makes the hottest-in-a-millennium claims essentially unverifiable.” When Wegman corrected Mann’s statistical mistakes, the hockey stick disappeared.

…Mann made a basic error that “may be easily overlooked by someone not trained in statistical methodology. We note that there is no evidence that Dr. Mann or any of the other authors in paleoclimate studies have had significant interactions with mainstream statisticians.” Instead, this small group of climate scientists were working on their own, largely in isolation, and without the academic scrutiny needed to ferret out false assumptions.

…Wegman believes that much of the climate science that has been done should be taken with a grain of salt — although the studies may have been peer reviewed, the reviewers were often unqualified in statistics. Past studies, he believes, should be reassessed by competent statisticians and in future, the climate science world should do better at incorporating statistical know-how.

I believe it is amazing for a committee [of the American Meteorological Society] whose focus is on statistics and probability that of the nine members only two are also members of the American Statistical Association, the premier statistical association in the United States, and one of those is a recent PhD with an assistant-professor appointment in a medical school.

You can read the rest of the article here.  There are also several links to other article on the subject that were written as part of a series and it is probably worth your time to look at those as well.

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