Too hard for the regular paper: Tuesday morning, three of our analysts came right out of their chairs.
The youngsters are assigned to the science beat. As such, they were scanning that day’s Science Times, the New York Times’ weekly science section.
What brought the young analysts out of their seats? In a report about climate change, Justin Gillis explained the practice of cherry-picking.
“The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that,” Gillis wrote. And then, out of nowhere, he explained one way the public gets conned by folk who may have an agenda:
GILLIS (6/11/13): As you might imagine, those dismissive of climate-change concerns have made much of this warming plateau. They typically argue that “global warming stopped 15 years ago” or some similar statement, and then assert that this disproves the whole notion that greenhouse gases are causing warming.Over the cherry-picked decade!
Rarely do they mention that most of the warmest years in the historical record have occurred recently. Moreover, their claim depends on careful selection of the starting and ending points. The starting point is almost always 1998, a particularly warm year because of a strong El Niño weather pattern.
Somebody who wanted to sell you gold coins as an investment could make the same kind of argument about the futility of putting your retirement funds into the stock market. If he picked the start date and the end date carefully enough, the gold salesman could make it look like the stock market did not go up for a decade or longer.
But that does not really tell you what your retirement money is going to do in the market over 30 or 40 years. It does not even tell you how you would have done over the cherry-picked decade, which would have depended on exactly when you got in and out of the market.
“Scientists and statisticians reject this sort of selective use of numbers,” Gillis wrote next, “and when they calculate the long-term temperature trends for the earth, they conclude that it continues to warm through time.”
We were impressed to see the Times explain the practice of “cherry-picking.” It was startling to see the practice attributed to one of the teams in a major debate.
Is Gillis allowed to say that?
More and more, cherry-picking is one of the ways our warring tribes conduct their “debates.” That said, the practice seems to be so complex that it can only be explained in the specialized Times science section, which, to be honest, is mainly devoted to health concerns of the paper’s older readers.
Just like on PBS!
At any rate, explaining this practice, and others like it, would apparently be too complex for regular parts of the New York Times. Once a week, in this one special section, an elite group of Times subscribers may be exposed to such arcana, perhaps for extra credit.
For even more extra credit: What would it be like to analyze the art of bad paraphrase?
Discuss and explain. Then, compare and contrast. At some point, throw in some examples.