Cherry picking data is a sneaky climate tactic that I often see. It has been brutally cold here in Alberta this last week. So, I wasn't surprised when the old standby popped up on my Facebook feed:
“So, where is all that Global Warming now?”
As if, one week of cold weather proves the entire "theory" of climate change wrong.
This tactic is most obvious when we see a period of normal weather that seems to go against the trend. Often, powerful folks use the tactic:
- Media pundits; or
- Influencers on our social networks.
It usually spawns a barrage of memes and re-posts across social media. Folks jump on the bandwagon. There is a ton of noise, but, as Shakespeare said:
"It's all sound and fury, signifying nothing."
I find this climate tactic more frustrating than most of the others. It misrepresents Global Warming entirely. It is wrong on so many levels that climate change specialists are left speechless because we don't even know where to begin. So, often, it goes unchallenged.
Cherry Picking - Sneaky Tactic or Confirmation Bias?
Cherry picking is an example of Confirmation Bias, our tendency as humans to take particular note of data and observations that support our opinion.
It is a thing we work hard to avoid in science and applied science. But, it is difficult. We are all human. So, we have a peer review process that challenges us to defend our work and show that we are not falling prey to confirmation bias.
Granted, none of this is perfect, but it is a far sight better than any self-proclaimed climate expert, with a bias and a blog.
I have learned to accept cherry picking as a sign of progress, as folks move along in the climate acceptance grieving cycle. Cherry picking is a form of bargaining:
"Hey, I'll show you my data, you show me yours!"
I am careful however, because trolls use this tactic to draw us into a pointless debate. These guys often make loud public complaints that the climate specialists are cowards who are too afraid to debate the science, like this is some sort of popularity contest.
I believe that there is a difference between legitimate confirmation bias and a sleazy tactic. On one hand, we have folks that are scared, or uncertain, or merely looking for some clarity. On the other, we have people who want to disrupt the discussion, whether for financial motives, to slow down action, or just because they are bloody minded.
Sometimes, I get this right, and I cheerfully give my time and energy to answer the questions, talk about my work, and explain the implications of climate change. Sometimes, I get it wrong, and I just as cheerfully walk away. There is nothing to be gained from fighting with a troll. Or, as Mark Twain said:
“Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”
So we need to be careful not to fall into this trap while remaining civil, and open to dialogue with folks who are honestly bargaining.
Join the Conversation about Cherry Picking - A Very Sneaky Climate Tactic
I'd love to hear your thoughts about Cherry Picking and climate change. Please add your voice to the conversation by commenting below. With that in mind, I have several questions for you:
- Have you seen examples of cherry picking data in your climate discussions?
- Did you think the cherry picking was a tactic?
- Was it a legitimate sharing of information hoping to engage in a good conversation about climate?
- What steps do you take to minimize Confirmation Bias in your own work?
If you’d like to see more robust climate data and generate your own global warming graphics, check out the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.
For a more detailed analysis of the impact of emotions on the climate debate, check out our blog Climate Change and Politics – It Ain’t a Football Game.
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About the Author
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Joel is an engineer and risk management specialist with over forty years of professional practice. He is committed to helping his clients achieve climate resiliency and sustainability.