Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Global Warming and Argumentum ad numerum

OK, please try to follow the spoor trail here because it’s a little long but trust me - It's worth it.

James Taranto at Best of the Web Today (first item) calls attention to Scientific American blogger Christopher Mim’s cherrypicking of data from a poll mentioned on yet another blog site, in a vain attempt punch up the Global Warming scare with a kind of pop-consensus angle.

Taranto promptly skewers the poll and its silly findings with his ‘sarcasm tag’ discretely hidden:

“Well, if 63% of the American public says it, it must be true, right? That's how science works!”
Which is a great deal more entertaining than flatly pointing out that some people are engaging in Argumentum ad numerum .

Taranto then takes up Mim’s invitation to check the rest of the results and then uses what he finds to further beat down the Global Warmers. But what really caught my eye in the BOTW piece was the closing paragraph, where he refers to two poll questions on page 3 of 8 in the questionnaire (link to .pdf ):

And if you think the people in the survey are unqualified to weigh in on such matters, they beg to differ: 71% of them agreed with the statement "I consider myself an intellectual," and 59% agreed that "I have more ability than most people." We'll bet a high proportion of them read Scientific American.

And based upon those responses I’ll bet an even higher proportion of them are unskilled and unaware of it (.pdf).

The (few) regular visitors to this blog have seen this linked reference before, but for anyone who visits rarely or never before, it takes your browser to a wonderful APA paper that explains a lot of things you may have been wondering about. It has the winning little title of Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Get your own copy and read the fascinating AND entertaining findings. If the title didn’t grab you here’s the overview (emphasis mine):

People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it. Across 4 studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although their test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd. Several analyses inked this miscalibration to deficits in metacognitive skill, or the capacity to distinguish accuracy from error. Paradoxically, improving the skills of participants, and thus increasing their metacognitive competence, helped them recognize the limitations of their abilities.
I view this ‘poll’ for what it is: an indicator of the how well the global-warming scaremonger propaganda machine has performed to date. Too bad for the ‘Warmer’s side that Langmuir plays the long game.

Addendum: Wow! What are the Odds? Scrolling further down in BOTW to the fifth item, we find a ‘Kos Kid’ who from the skills demonstrated, also might have been a majority respondent in the Yale poll.

To close, in case anyone is interested in seriously exploring the Global Warming issue, I gave some good starting links a while back here.

Update: I decided to read the comments at the Mim's SciAm site and 'The Sietch'. At The Sietch, I found the post's author declaring he wasn't taking a position, just passing along information. I take him at his word and wanted to tell him so. Therefore I tried to leave the followup comment on his site -- but I don't leave real e-mail addresses where they are published. If I had been able to leave a comment I would have told him:

If you were just passing along the info, you should have mentioned that fact in your post where I could have seen it BEFORE I lumped you in with SciAm's Mim at my place. Advocacy such as: "It’s clear that the public is not waiting for the government to take the lead. Americans no longer think it’s entirely the domain of government to solve environmental problems. They expect companies to step up and address climate change and other concerns” when passed along without comment,looks an awful lot like "agreement".


Unknown said...

your email will not be published on the sietch. Dont be scared. Comment away.

SMSgt Mac said...

Advice from someone with a hidden profile? LOL ;-) .
Not scared, just hardly enough time in the day to blog every now and then, much less to deal with the moonbats.
Check Six!