Correlation is Meaningless.

Which is why we can’t say global warming proponents support pedophilia. They don’t. The fact there is a correlation (0.14) between believing global warming is a serious threat and saying pedophilia is good is meaningless. The fact this correlation is “statistically significant” (at the 99.99% level) is meaningless. Anyone who looks at the data can immediately see the results are bogus (a small jitter value was added to allow us to see the density of responses):


There are only 20 or so respondents (out of over 5,000) who claim to believe global warming is a threat and claim to support pedophilia. It’s likely those responses were false. Nobody can seriously claim that proves global warming proponents are pedophiles.

The issue of false responses received a lot of attention with Stephan Lewandowsky’s paper, “NASA faked the moon landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax. In that paper, similarly false responses created spurious correlations. Unfortunately, the focus on false responses meant a more fundamental issue got missed. Namely, the entire idea behind this approach is nonsensical. The approach is like taking the data displayed above and drawing this line:


The line fits okay in the bottom left corner where most of the data lies. That means there is positive correlation between the two data sets. However, that corner clearly shows a correlation between thinking pedophilia is bad and being a skeptic. It tells us nothing about global warming proponents or pedophiles. Similarly, when I said global warming proponents support genocide, I was doing this:


If we put this in words, the argument is:

Skeptics believe genocide and pedophilia are bad. Global warming proponents are the opposite of skeptics so they must believe genocide and pedophilia are good.

Change a few words, and you have Lewandowsky’s argument for why we should believe skeptics are conspiracy theorists:

Global warming proponents believe the moon landing was real. Skeptics are the opposite of them so they must believe the moon landing was faked.

With this corresponding image:


All of these results are “statistically significant.” However, all of these results assume skeptics must hold the opposite view of global warming proponents on all things. Assuming that guarantees the results. We can do that to criticize any group we want. Just follow these simple steps:

1) Ask group X if they think the moon landing was real. They’ll say yes.
2) Assume group Y would answer the opposite way.
3) Conclude group Y believes the moon landing was faked.

You can replace “the moon landing was real” with anything you want. I showed this by doing it with genocide and pedophilia. Had Lewandowsky asked about those, he could have concluded skeptics are pedophiles. He could have probably got it published too. After all, he didn’t do this just once. He published a second paper using the same approach (with a slightly less skewed sample).

And he’s not the only one who uses it. Lewandowsky’s recent paper cites the paper, Dead and alive: Beliefs in contradictory conspiracy theories. That paper argues conspiracy theorists are so loony they’ll accept multiple, contradictory conspiracies. It’s namesake comes from the “statistically significant” correlation between believing Princess Diana and/or Osama Bin Laden was killed in a conspiracy and believing he/she is still alive. The image for this claim would be:


The scale in that image is correct. Let it sink in.

There is no justification for this methodology. Even so, three scientific journals have approved of it. Dozens of scientific articles approvingly cite its results. Half a dozen people have been paid papers using it. It has been promoted hundreds of times in the media. It is widely accepted in the global warming debate. It is complete and utter nonsense, but people like the results so they don’t mind.

And if my suspicions are correct, it’s probably been used in many other papers.



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