The innumeracy of the right

I wrote a while ago that most of the denialists touting the line that “there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995” wouldn’t know a t-statistic if it bit them[1]. There’s an even better example in the Letters page of today’s Fin, where JL Goldsworthy of Woorim writes “A carbon tax will save about 0.00001 per cent of anthropogenic emissions, if that”.

We can easily check this estimate. Australia is currently responsible for about 2 per cent of global emissions, and the carbon tax is intended to reduce emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels (a target that Tony Abbott also ostensibly supports). Business as usual growth will be at least 25 per cent, so the policy goal is an emissions cut of 30 per cent. Primary school arithmetic tells us that 0.02*0.3 = 0.006 or 0.6 per cent. That is, JL Goldsworthy of Woorim is out by a factor of 60 000.

While this is an extreme case, it’s pretty much routine for the rightwing side of the climate debate. Ludicrous numbers like Goldsworthy’s can be found on just about any rightwing blog you care to visit. I’ve pointed out similarly massive errors by Andrew Bolt, Greg Hunt and Terry McCrann among others.

And they don’t care. The point of the debate is not to get things right but to keep up a steady supply of talking points so that those who have been sucked in by the delusions their opinion leaders spout never catch up with the refutations.

Update Unsurprisingly, this number appears to come from the ludicrous, but dangerous, Alan Jones, already notable for the corruption of Cash for Comment, and for his promotion of race riots, thankfully a rare phenomenon in Australia. It’s hard to say anything good about Jones. But the “respectable” right, exemplified by David Flint and John Howard, embrace and defend him. And not a single self-described “sceptic” has tried to correct this absurd and dishonest claim. If there is a single person on the anti-science side of the debate who cares in the slightest for truth, this is an ideal opportunity to step forward – Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Don Aitkin and William Kininmonth come to mind as candidates.

fn1. The minority who do know what statistical significance means, and keep circulating this spurious (and now factually false) talking point are even worse. I’ll come back to them in another post.

37 thoughts on “The innumeracy of the right

  1. Nick R, posterior distributions can never converge in cases of fundamental prior disagreement, as where one individual regards some particular p as impossible, and another regards it as certain. But in standard cases, with sufficient data, posterior distributions will converge.

  2. @Jill Rush There is a clear lapse of logic when irrigators call for the dismantling of water control devices, ostensibly to restore the river estuary, whilst maintaining upstream water control devices.

  3. “Alan Jones: So, .04 of a per cent of the air is carbon dioxide, 3% of that .04 of a per cent is human activity, and Australia produce 1½% of the 3%, so we are producing…
    .000018 of carbon dioxide.
    — 2GB, the Alan Jones Breakfast Show, 25th May, 2011”

    And of course, 0.00018% (Jones) rounds to 0.0001% (Goldsworthy). In the context, a mere doubling of the figure hardly seems worth bothering about.

  4. @AlanWood Stunning how many errors Jones can manage in one sentence.

    And, sad to say, the econjourno Alan Wood, who was a smart guy, ended up as a full-blown delusional conspiracy theorist on this stuff. Being on the right makes smart people stupid, and stupid people more obstinately stupid.

  5. Where is this Productivity Commission report on Carbon Prices that was supposed to be released today? Looks like missing in action.

  6. Gee Freelander, it wasn’t even midday before you declared it MIA.

    It’s out now apparently.

  7. most of the denialists touting the line that “there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995?

    Phil Jones made an honest mistake, unlike denialists who are well-endowed with dishonest mistakes. Jones would have done better to say “there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995 that I am aware of”.

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