“But the sheer size of the survey […] makes it of interest…”

One of the most common errors in interpreting polls and surveys is the presumption that because something has a really huge sample size it is more meaningful. Or indeed, meaningful at all. Size isn’t what makes a poll meaningful, it is how representative the sample is. Picture it this way, if you’d done an EU referendum poll of only over 60s you’d have got a result that was overwhelmingly LEAVE… even if you polled millions of them. If you did a poll and only included people under 30 you’d have got a result that was overwhelmingly REMAIN… even if you polled millions of them. What matters is that the sample accurately reflects the wider population you want them to represent, that you have the correct proportions of both young and old (and male & female, rich & poor, etc, etc). Size alone does not guarantee that.

The classic real world example of this is the 1936 Presidential Election in the USA. I’ve referred to this many times but I thought it worth reciting the story in full, if only so people can direct others to it in future.

Back in 1936 the most respected barometers of public opinion was the survey conducted by the Literary Digest, a weekly news magazine with a hefty circulation. At each Presidential election the Digest carried out a survey by mail, sending surveys to its million-plus subscriber base and to a huge list of other people, gathered from phone directories, membership organisations, subscriber lists and so on. There was no attempt at weighting or sampling, just a pure numbers grab, with literally millions of replies. This method had correctly called the winner for the 1920, 1924, 1928 and 1932 Presidential elections.

In 1936 the Digest sent out more than ten million ballots. The sample size for their final results was 2,376,523. This was, obviously, huge. One can imagine how the today’s papers would write up a poll of that size and, indeed, the Digest wrote up their results with not a little hubris. If anything, they wrote it up with huge, steaming, shovel loads of hubris. They bought all the hubris in the shop, spread it across the newsroom floor and rolled about in it cackling. Quotes included:

  • “We make no claim to infallibility. We did not coin the phrase “uncanny accuracy” which has been so freely applied to our Polls”
  • “Any sane person can not escape the implication of such a gigantic sampling of popular opinion as is embraced in THE LITERARY DIGEST straw vote.”
  • “The Poll represents the most extensive straw ballot in the field—the most experienced in view of its twenty-five years of perfecting—the most unbiased in view of its prestige—a Poll that has always previously been correct.”

digestpoll

You can presumably guess what is going to happen here. The final vote shares in the 1936 Literary Digest poll were 57% for Alf Landon (Republican) and 43% for Roosevelt (Democrat). This worked out as 151 electoral votes for Roosevelt and 380 for Landon. The actual result was 62% Roosevelt, 38% for Landon. Roosevelt received 523 in the electoral college, Landon received 8, one of the largest landslide victories in US history. Wrong does not nearly begin to describe how badly off the Literary Digest was.

At the same time George Gallup was promoting his new business, carrying out what would become proper opinion polls and using them for a syndicated newspaper column called “America Speaks”. His methods were quite far removed from modern methods – he used a mixed mode method, mail-out survey for richer respondents and face-to-face for poorer, harder to reach respondents. The sample size was also still huge by modern standards, about 40,000*. The important different from the Literary Digest poll however was that Gallup attempted to get a representative sample – the mail out surveys and sampling points for face-to-face interviews had quotas on geography and on urban and rural areas, interviewers had quotas for age, gender and socio-economic status.

pic2097election

Gallup set out to challenge and defeat the Literary Digest – a battle between a monstrously huge sample and Gallup’s smaller but more representative sample. Gallup won. His final poll predicted Roosevelt 55.7%, Landon 44.3%.* Again, by modern standards it wasn’t that accurate (the poll by his rival Elmo Roper, who was setting quotas based on the census rather than his turnout estimates was actually better, predicting Roosevelt on 61%… but he wasn’t as media savvy). Nevertheless, Gallup got the story right, the Literary Digest hideously wrong. George Gallup’s reputation was made and the Gallup organisation became the best known polling company in the US. The Literary Digest’s reputation was shattered and the magazine folded a couple of years later. The story has remained a cautionary tale of why a representative poll with a relatively small sample is more use than a large poll that makes no effort to be representative, even if it is absolutely massive.

The question of why the Digest poll was so wrong is interesting itself. Its huge error is normally explained through where the sample came from – they drew it from things like magazine subscribers, automobile association members and telephone listings. In depression era America many millions of voters didn’t have telephones and couldn’t afford cars or magazine subscriptions, creating an inbuilt bias towards wealthier Republican voters. In fact it appears to be slightly more complicated than that – Republican voters were also far more likely to return their slips than Democrat voters were. All of these factors – a skewed sampling frame, differential response rate and no attempt to combat these – combined to make the Literary Digest’s sample incredibly biased, despite its massive and impressive size.

Ultimately, it’s not the size that matters in determining if a poll is any good. It’s whether it’s representative or not. Of course, a large representative poll is better than a small representative poll (though it is a case of diminishing returns) but the representativeness is a prerequisite for it being of any use at all.

So next time you see some open-access poll shouting about having tens of thousands of responses and are tempted to think “Well, it may not be that representative, but it’s got a squillion billion replies so it must mean something, mustn’t it?” Don’t. If you want something that you can use to draw conclusions about the wider population, it really is whether it reflects that population that counts. Size alone won’t cut it.

=

* You see different sample sizes quoted for Gallup’s 1936 poll – I’ve seen people cite 50,000 as his sample size or just 3,000. The final America Speaks column before the 1936 election doesn’t include the number of responses he got (though does mention he sent out about 300,000 mailout surveys to try and get it). However, the week after (8th Nov 1936) the Boston Globe had an interview with the organisation going through the details of how they did it that says they aimed at 40,000 responses.
** If you are wondering why the headline in that thumbnail says 54% when I’ve said Gallup called the final share as 55.7%, it’s because the polls were sometimes quoted as share of the vote for all candidates, sometimes for share of the vote for just the main two parties. I’ve quoted both polls as “share of the main party vote” to keep things consistent.


475 Responses to “Size alone is not enough – the tale of the Literary Digest”

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  1. @TOH

    “I have a perfect right to my own opinion on global warming”

    opinion
    ??p?nj?n/
    noun

    1. a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
    2. a statement of advice by an expert on a professional matter.

    I think we’re clearly talking about definition 1 here, in particular “not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”

    Precisely what value do you suppose the rest of us should ascribe to an opinion based on ignorance?

    “Personally I have no worries at all about the effect of manmade global warming over the next 100 years, just IMO of course,”

    I’m sure your grandchildren will be reassured by your opinion, as all major coastal cities sink under water.

  2. @AllanChristie
    Hmmm – that sort of doesn’t make sense, as it sets the bar at 20-23% regardless of constituency; way too high for some historically poor constituencies (e.g. Copeland) way too low for top fifty targets (e.g. Richmond).

    In addition you need to look at the potential for squeeze, which is more prevalent in a seat where the LDems are clearly not in contention (Sleaford, Copeland)

    I would personally set a benchmark in line with their current poll standing (10-11%) for the LDems of 10% in Copeland, where they have regularly scored single figures and will undoubtedly be squeezed by the vicious Tory v Labour fight, but 20% in Stoke Central where they have done better in the past and are fighting a serious campaign (although potentially still squeezed by the Labour v UKIP narrative).

  3. I don’t know about Global warming but the temperature (both sides) on this site about the issue seems to be rising;
    BTW which poll does it connect to

  4. Somerjohn

    “Well, if that’s typical of those with a scientific background who dispute global warming, it explains a lot.”

    You just accused me of misunderstanding Alec, now your choosing to misunderstand me. As I have clearly stated I am not denying global warming but I am denying it’s importance and the amount spent on it. We should be adapting not spending money to try and stop it happening. It’s not the biggest threat to mankind.

    As to doing a lot of research to answer a question you raise, at my age life is too short.

    Robin

    Like Somerjohn your just choosing to misunderstand what i’m saying. I suggest you and Somerjohn look at the video that Sam found, then you will understand where I am coming from.

    Sam

    Many thanks for the video. Interesting and supportive of my approach I think.

  5. ALLAN CHRISTIE

    You have any evidence to show that minor parties perform proportionately to the national VI in Bye Elections with two clear contenders for the seat?

    I think it’s commonly accepted that in these situations, all other parties get horribly squeezed once the narrative of “It’s between Nick the Flying Brick and Bus Pass Elvis” has been established.

    Look how Labour performed in Richmond Park and tell me that represents their national VI. Labour lost three quarters of their share of the vote there. Are you telling us you think Labour is really on 7% nationally based on that data point? Or another way, the LDs increased their share of the vote by over 150% in RP. Noone is suggesting this translates nationally to 21 for the LDs%.

    It seems that you are repeatedly reiterating this point in the hope that it gives a strawman credibility. Noone reasonable expects the LDs to do anything but get squeezed in these two bye elections.

    A party will overperform (relative to the national vote) in a seat where it is a contender in a bye election and underperform in a seat where it isn’t.

  6. ALEC

    @”man made global warming is by far and away the biggest disrupter of global climate and a far bigger threat to species than other forms of pollution”

    Well no doubt the extinction effect of Anthropomorphic Climate Change will, in due course be the subject of much study.

    For the time being however it doesn’t compete with the extinction effects of man’s footprint on the planet.:-

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocene_extinction

    It is interesting to note , furthermore, that the next worst & wholly natural extinction event ; at the K-T Boundary 66m yrs ago , resulting from sudden & catastrophic meteor strike, vulcanism & resultant climate change , wiped out some three-quarters of the plant and animal species on Earth.
    A disaster from which emerged & evolved a whole new biota.

  7. TOH:

    “On economic optimism 52 % think there will be no change or it will improve, compared with 44% who think it will get better.”

    That should, of course, be 44% who think it will get WORSE (as shown on chart 15 of the set https://www.ipsos-mori.com/Assets/Docs/Polls/pm-feb-2017-charts.pdf )

    One could also restate this as “68% think there will be no change or it will get worse, compared with 24% who think it will get better”

  8. Allan Christie

    Happy Birthday!

    Just think. When you are my age, you still won’t be retired.

  9. More from Panelbase/Wings poll

    “When should there be a 2nd independence referendum?”

    Before UK leaves EU – 32%

    After UK leaves EU – 19%

    Not for at least 20 years – 25%

    Never – 24%

    A better way of wording the question, than some recent polls have done.

    http://wingsoverscotland.com/dumbing-it-down-for-ruth/

  10. @Somerjohn

    And I was trying to direct you to a different “one person”, Judy Curry, who has (I am sure TOH would agree) a much clearer idea of the uncertainties and disagreements within the field of climate science and who can explain where evidence is lacking. But you won’t get that if you don’t watch the video. :-)

  11. That’s 49 apiece for soonish v long grass/never.

    Couper is convinced there will be another indyref this decade and that those like me who think it will be after the 2020 GE in the 22/23 range (if at all) only think so because we don’t live in Scotland.

    We will see?

  12. THE OTHER HOWARD….I’m sure that you, as do I, when evaluating a proposition, examine the issues supporting that proposition, noting the pro’s and con’s to enable an informed decision. During a long career I was asked to consider numerous business plans, and other applications for commercial support and by scrutinising them in a methodical way and assessing their potential from my, and my clients point of view, was thus able to reach such a decision. The result of my work would leave me with a useful body of fact showing both sides of any such proposition. I used the same methodology to consider my vote in the Referendum, for and against leaving, for and against remaining, with each issue dealt with on a sliding scale of value.
    I would assume that our ALEC would employ the same level of intellectual rigour to his deliberations, thus leaving him with a comprehensive body of work to evaluate.
    What I fail to understand is why, like a Paxman or Humphries, he insists on asking the same question over and over again, when from his own accumulated evidence he must have the answer, from that body of evidence he chose remain, from what must be the same body of evidence, I chose to leave.
    Now, Paxman and Humphries get a million quid a year from licence payers, what intrigues me is, what’s in it for ALEC ?
    People deal with loss in different ways, ALEC seems unable to move on.

  13. @Alan:

    “No one reasonable expects the LDs to do anything but get squeezed in these two bye elections.”

    Can you substantiate this? I’ve read plenty of expectations that they will do substantially better – it would be hard to be “squeezed” significantly, on the 4.2% they got last time.

    Your general point of course is sound – minor parties do tend to get squeezed, but that’s not the only factor at play. Labour were squeezed in Richmond Park – but was that just the squeeze factor, or a reflection of Labour’s general malaise? LD were certainly NOT squeezed in Witney eg, where they leapfrogged over both Labour and UKIP into second place.

    The squeeze factor exists, but there are also others:
    The general national mood
    The direction of movement, in parties’ support
    The calibre of the candidates
    Activity on the ground.

    It is certainly not true that “no-one reasonable” expects anything other than a squeeze on LD. There are not many who expect them to win – but there are in fact some. For example, at the Vote UK forum, a site for election junkies, their pages for discussion on Stoke includes an opinion poll for their registered users. This currently shows 12% expecting an LD win and that’s WIN, not just improvement.

    http://vote-2012.proboards.com/thread/9088/stoke-on-trent-central?page=55

    Of all the commentary I have seen, the consensus seems to be of at least some improvement for LD – the reverse of your expectation, and consistent with the extraordinarily high level of activity they are putting into it, their continuing rise in national opinion polls, and their steady stream of dramatic gains and huge swings in local by-elections.

    I would be extremely surprised if indeed they are “squeezed” into a decline in vote share. However, I could be wrong, you could be right. We’ll see, in just over a week.

  14. SAFFER

    “One could also restate this as “68% think there will be no change or it will get worse, compared with 24% who think it will get better”

    Ofr course so its 68 % worse or the same and 52% better or the same.

  15. @TOH – “Could be, Alec seems to get very upset with any posts that disagree with his own these days.”

    No he doesn’t. Nothing you have ever said here upsets me. Sometimes I think you are wrong, but that certainly doesn’t upset me.

    On climate change, where you say –

    “Personally I have no worries at all about the effect of manmade global warming over the next 100 years, just IMO of course, and I have always accepted it’s a minority view, mores the pity considering the money wasted on it.”

    – I think you are half wrong. It is something that should worry us, as the neat graphical illustration in @Alan’s post shows. Temperatures are rising much more quickly than any recent natural caused shifts, and with 7.5bn people living on the planet, the human impacts, let alone wider ecological consequences, are going to be very significant in the lifetime of your grandchildren. I think trying to deny this is pretty pointless, although where there is agreement in a level of uncertainty is the prediction of what the precise train of events is likely to be.

    Where there may be further scope for us to agree are the issues of population, which you mentioned later, and the direction of resources.

    Just because rapid man made global warming is happening doesn’t necessarily mean that spending lots of cash on stopping it is the best way to spend that cash, and population reduction would in itself have some carbon reduction benefits, but that is another discussion altogether.

  16. TOH:

    Which is why I prefer for clarity to keep “the same” out of it – just compare “better” and “worse”.

  17. Ipsos Mori:

    NC Politics has picked up a strong contrast in the educational cross-breaks:

    NumbrCrunchrPolitics Retweeted
    Matt Singh [email protected]_ 3h3 hours ago
    More
    Matt Singh Retweeted NumbrCrunchrPolitics
    Among uni graduates:

    CON 32
    LAB 35
    LD 21
    UKIP 3

    Among people without qualifications:

    CON 45
    LAB 19
    LD 10
    UKIP 15

  18. Jim Jam

    Well – 51/49! But we all know that, given moe, that’s pretty well 50/50.

    Of course, depending on any transition agreement on the EU, “after UK leaves EU” could become the same as “not for at least 20 years”. :-)

    https://www.buzzfeed.com/albertonardelli/officials-say-britain-cant-pull-out-of-eu-courts-if-it-wants?utm_term=.iayM61524#.twEbk14RZ

  19. OldNat
    Thanks for the polling data on indyref timing.

    Slightly surprised me. I think timing is tricky (from a pro-independence perspective), but I was inclined to think that waiting until some of the effects of Brexit become clear would maximise the chances of getting risk-averse voters to switch.

    The issue of what happens to Scotland’s relationship with the EU is obviously a big complication.

  20. “Just think. When you are my age, you still won’t be retired”

    –____________

    if there’s any jobs remaining not done by a robot…

  21. Ken

    “.I’m sure that you, as do I, when evaluating a proposition, ”

    Indeed but of course within the time frame the business environment allowed. Since I worked in a fast moving consumer products business I became used to making good decisions with relatively limited information.

    “People deal with loss in different ways, ALEC seems unable to move on.”

    I was a single child who lost my mother when I was eleven. I loved my mother dearly, but I wiped away the tears, stuck out my chin and got on with life. It probably made me who I am. I very much suspect you would have done the same. Life is for living, others seem to have problems which is rather sad.

  22. @Sam, TOH

    Just because predictions about the future are vulnerbale to uncertainties, that doesn’t mean we shoudl ignore the best available projections. Uncertainty works both ways. The effects may not be as bad as we fear, but they may on the other hand be far worse.

    The MEAN projection of the many different models is that global warming will have serious/catastrophic consequences, that can only be avoided by taking substantial preventative steps. This is the MOST LIKELY outcome. Yes, there are models (and variants of the same models that predict dire consequences) that suggest less dire outcomes. But there are an equal number of models that predict things will be even worse.

    On what sound scientific basis do you choose to believe in the (very unlikely) least impactful model?

    It’s not certain that your toddler child will be seriously hurt if they fall downstairs. But equally they might instead land on your dog, seriously injuring it while also dying of a broken neck.

    On balance, because the most likely outcome is far worse than the impact of the possible preventative steps, taking steps prevent them falling downstairs, such as by investing in stair gates, would appear to be wise. The uncertainties about the uncome do not change that conclusion. But by your logic, we should be taking no steps to prevent children from falling down stairs, because stair gates are inconvenient and expensive.

  23. Alec

    Glad we can agree in part. Look at the video Sam found you really can see where i am coming from if you look at it all.

  24. And Mike Smithson shows how Ipsos Mori has Labour “the traditional party of the working classes, 16% behind amongst C2DEs”

    http://www2.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2017/02/16/ipsos-mori-has-lab-the-traditional-party-of-the-working-classes-16-behind-amongst-c2des/

    and adds the obvious question-

    “How long can the red team keep Corbyn at the controls?”

  25. Robin

    “Just because predictions about the future are vulnerbale to uncertainties, that doesn’t mean we shoudl ignore the best available projections. Uncertainty works both ways. The effects may not be as bad as we fear, but they may on the other hand be far worse.”

    I can agree with that but we might disagree totally about which projection is the best and most likely.

    In your analagy of course I would fit stair gates and did so when my children were young. That does not mean I would equally spend billions trying to reduce man made global warming, although i might spend millions adapting to it.

  26. Robin

    “On what sound scientific basis do you choose to believe in the (very unlikely) least impactful model?”

    If you watch Sam’s video the evidence based on refined observations seems to point that way.

  27. Saffer

    I’d suggest the LDs were in play and seen to be in play in Witney (or least they were touted as the only credible challenger) and they performed well. Once they were expected to leapfrog Labour, they wouldn’t suffer from the squeeze effect and instead benefit.

    I’d expect the LDs to improve on their 4.2% based on their increase in the notional vote and throwing resources at a bye election, although some of their improvement will be tempered by the squeeze effect. I’m not expecting a decline from their GE result, just a shaving off of some of their gains by 1-2%. I expect an improvement but not a doubling of the share of the vote. Considering that we’re probably looking at an increase in LD national vote by 35% (from 8% to 11%) or so, setting expectations of doubling their vote just so you can lampoon them when they don’t achieve it is pretty transparent.

    We will see and it would be very interesting if the LDs can resist the squeeze effect (at least in seats where they might be able to come through the middle, I think they are too far back to come from 4% of the vote in a leave area)

    As for Labour’s woes in RP, I think the malaise led to the narrative that Labour was a lost cause and increased the strength of the squeeze effect.

  28. @TOH

    Where will you find the trillions (not millions) needed to rebuild cities away from coastlines? And there is no way to simply spend money to provide food when vast amounts of the world’s agricultural land is under water.

    There is no great qualitiative difference between the models predicting mild effects or devastation. They vary only in small ways in terms of their assumptions/input variables. Believing in the ones that don’t predict catastrophe is no more or less than burying ones head in the sand. It is the stupidity of the teenager saying “it couldn’t happen to me”.

    If the vast majority of predictions turn out to be correct, there will simply be no way to ameliorate the effects. If your child had fallen and died, how would you have “adapted to it”?

  29. As some have gone back to complaining that the Referendum majority was too small to mean anything I will say this.

    Most Referendum systems in Europe require only a 50% majority to Pass, Brexit passed that. The RoI needs only 50% to change the Constitution, which I have never thought right.

    Hungary additionally requires a 40% turnout for a meaningful result, Brexit passed that.

    Switzerland requires a majority, and a majority of Cantons (with some smaller Cantons counting as half Cantons). However you divide up the UK, by County Councils, or by Regions, Brexit passed that test too (even if you weight London et al for its huge population). That is because the Remain vote was heavily concentrated in the cities, leaving vast swathes of the country with a majority Leave vote.

    The only system that Brexit didn’t pass was Thatcher’s requirement in the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Assemblies Referenda where she imposed a pass line of 40% of all voters. It was clearly chosen to ensure the vote woulddn’t pass and had no other raison d’etre.

    I don’t know of any serious referendum, system in Europe that Brexit would have failed.

  30. Rodger

    That was a condition imposed by Labour rebels on the Callaghan Government.

    Thatcher was happy to comply, of course.

  31. saffer

    uni grads-35% labour.So they currently support a corbyn led labour party.they also voted for remain.hmmmm.

  32. SAFFER

    Why do you find that surprising? The Tories always poll the highest amongst the oldest if you look at all the polls. The oldest always have the least qualifications as a group but this not surprising as many of them never had the opprtunity to go to university (around 6% when I went I think).

    Does this mean anything? Perhaps the oldest are the wisest, only a suggestion of course. We had this discussion about Brexit I remember.

  33. OldNat

    My apologies. I should have known. As the votes were in March and the election was in May clearly it wasn’t up to her.

  34. TOH

    uni -grads- persons of judgement?Lets look at the evidence……

  35. @Neil A

    “If such a thing as the “underserving” or “undeserving” poor exists, it is quite explicitly a subset of the poor who do have some agency over their situation and chose not to use it.”

    ————

    I was explaining why they might not use their agency. To be fair, I could have done a better job.

    First off, as problems mount, stress mounts, confusion mounts, it becomes harder to prioritise. You may have fewer options available anyway if raking multiple hits. If you have taken a financial hit, are ill, and maybe suffering a bereavement, it’s gonna be a whole lot harder to deal with than just one of these things.

    Secondly, some people may have traits that might be optimised for some situations and not others.

    Thirdly, a lot of people don’t realise how much help thsy might get/have gotten from others, often rather subtle or under the radar. People alone without this help may struggle rather more to help themselves

    Also some people get targeted by others a whole lot more than many and this too can make it harder to behave more optimally.

    Many, many people on fact, behave far from optimally. You will have noticed how many people drive quite fast in the wet. People drink despite the cancer risk. There’s a long list of questionable behaviours. Many in the South East may behave financially sub-optimally but it doesn’t matter because bailed out by QE and house prices. Some careers are much more forgiving of error than others, etc.etc.

  36. ROBIN

    I suggest we just disagree and leave it at that. I have no power other than my vote so I am not a threat to your way of thinking and it seems likely that we will continue to waste vast sums of money (just IMO) so I suggest you ignore me. Your not going to change my mind, only detailed and convincing scientific in formation will do that.

  37. SAFFER……I think we might be lured in to thinking that there is necessarily a correlation between academic qualification and wisdom, I have noticed over the past years that there are more and more graduates doing menial jobs, perhaps they can’t tell the difference between barrister and barista, but a degree in a soft science from a mediocre university wouldn’t float my boat as an employer, and neither would the judgment of a person with a deep knowledge of David Beckham’s tattoos, courtesy of Staffordshire University. :-)

  38. @TOH – to be honest, you need to look at a bit more than the video to appreciate Judy Curry.

    She has published many studies confirming climate change, and has in fact in the past been the subject of attack from climate change deniers. She has, correctly in my view, held out for scientific integrity and independence, and does understand uncertainty, although her critiques of the IPCC and others on such matters have often been largely picked apart.

    Interestingly, she has set up a forecasting company with a large turnover that has been claimed by some to be keen on pitching to industry (specifically the oil industry) for work on weather risk and long term forecasting and modelling. That’s quite an interesting finding in itself. She resigned as an academic on Jan 1st this year.

    A general point on climate change science (not expressly to @TOH):

    One of the issues that Judy Curry does help highlight is the coralling effect of a science under seige. There probably is too much ‘aggressive defence’ within climate science, but this is a result of two things, in my view.

    Firstly, and which is generally affecting research, there is the perpetual drive to monetize research and academia. Researchers need to ‘fit in’, produce exciting and novel results, and get published. Too often there is a need to keep reviewers happy, and therefore follow a consensus, and this is a problem that all science suffers from.

    The second, and much more significant issue in my view is the fact that climate change science, like no other science field before (even including Darwin and creationsism when he first published) has been the focus of sustained and brutal attack from external and very powerful interests.

    Looking back at this, we really can see that this was pretty much the birth of the ‘alt right’ movement. as with Trumpism particularly, with parallels to Brexit as well, and there was a well established pattern with climate change science that led to a circling of the waggons.

    Key governments (Russia, Middle East countries, Australia, US) allying with very powerful industries, initially attempted to swing the science within academia itself. This failed, as the evidence base was too strong. Then came the next tactic of setting up multiple front organisations to attack and intimidate those involved in the research.

    While they failed to disrupt the science, the battalions of ‘think tanks’ that appeared sensible enough, but were funded by a hidden network of corporate funding, did a good job for a while of distorting the public facing side of the debate, gaining ‘equivalence’ in places like the BBC, where ‘balance’ was required. The modern internet gave this movement a whole new field to play in, and they are using it well, and we can see some of the results in the US.

    In the face of this, the science community was a bit non plussed. How could reasonable people cast such angry aspertions against honest research? Russian hacking attacks, smear campaigns, personal threats, use of legal and non legal intimidation has all been reported in multiple places as far as climate scientists are concerned.

    Scientists aren’t political streetfighters, and I think sometimes they circled the wagons, became too defensive and probably got some things wrong. In the face of the onslaught they probably attempted to limit uncertainties and appear more definitive in the public view, becasue the conventional way of presenting science offers a great opportunity for the kind of people prepared to wilfully distort information, such as they were up against. I think this was a mistake, but one that is now being rectified.

    What I do find particularly interesting is that there appears to be a strong overlap between those attacking climate change and political campaigns on Brexit. The pattern of distortion, ignorance and a willingness to promote false information are common to both. In reality, climate change denial was the first modern example of ‘fake news’, so perhaps we should have been more alert to this tactic spreading into other spheres of life.

  39. Alec

    “What I do find particularly interesting is that there appears to be a strong overlap between those attacking climate change and political campaigns on Brexit. The pattern of distortion, ignorance and a willingness to promote false information are common to both. In reality, climate change denial was the first modern example of ‘fake news’, so perhaps we should have been more alert to this tactic spreading into other spheres of life.”

    That is just your opinion and so wrong I don’t know where to start. Fortunately I have other thigs to do, not least to eat a splendid curry. So for once I will leave you with the last word, fundamentally wrong thogh it is.

  40. Ken,

    About 4 years ago, of all those attending a University, 66% got a 2.1 or 1st. That figure is now up to 75%, making degrees almost worthless. As 49% now go to University http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-22280939 , having a good degree is no indicator of wisdom, or indeed even intelligence.

    They are also far more likely to be women 55/45, than men (which is not due to sexual bias and not a problem) and women have always been long on ‘social equality’. As in, ‘the rich’ (meaning ‘anyone paid more than me’) should pay more taxes.

    BTW the best job application I ever saw was from a guy who had few formal qualifications, but he could point to lots of things he had done, or contributed to, on the internet, with URLs. The only time I have interviewed young man with just 6 GCSEs for a highly paid position, and he said “I’ll think about”. He went elsewhere, to our regret.

  41. Sam: “But you won’t get that if you don’t watch the video.”

    OK, I’ve just spent 56 minutes the video.

    It starts with her accepting:
    1. The climate is warming
    2. CO2 levels have been rising
    3. Increased CO2 causes warming

    Later, she accepts the climate has already warmed by 0.8C, and says there is “no chance” of limiting warming to 2.0C by the end of this century.

    She spends most of the lecture arguing about the uncertainties caused by things like geological processes, volcanoes and solar energy, which would modify the underlying warming trend (in either direction).

    She further argues that limiting US emissions won’t do much. Specifically, she says achieving Obama’s targets will reduce global warming by ‘only’ 0.2C.

    She suggests that “up to 48%” of climate scientists disagree with ICCC projections (without clarifying the nature of their disagreement: the usually quoted figure is that only around 1% of climate scientists dispute manmade climate change).

    OK, so what have we got here? Someone who accepts man-made global warming, but suggests it might not be as bad as predicted. And that cutting US emissions will cost a lot, so it isn’t worth doing.

    I agree with her that there are uncertainties. Of course, but they work both ways (could be better, could be worse). But ‘geological processes’ as a short-term climate driver?Really?

    Since her talk, we have had another record hottest year in 2016. Glaciers and the arctic icecap have shrunk further.

    It’s always easy to make a case for inaction. For further studies. A bit of “wait and see.” But there comes a time when the evidence is overwhelming and prevarication will no longer do. That’s when you need leadership, clear direction and action. And we get Trump!

  42. ALEC…….Conspiracy theories, paranoia, how on earth do you sleep at night ? Some free advice, don’t take everything so seriously, Quantum physicists have found the answer, we, ‘ know ‘ nothing. ;-)

  43. And another “froth” question from Panelbase/Wings

    What should be Scotland’s national anthem?

    53% – Flower of Scotland
    14% – Caledonia
    10% – God Save the Queen
    9% – Scotland the Brave
    2% – Freedom Come A’ Ye
    1% – Hoots Mon (There’s a Moose Loose, Aroon this Hoose)
    4% – Other

    My personal Choice would have been “A Man’s A Man” (though there is a gender issue there!)

  44. @Carfrew

    I don’t disagree with you, but I still think that there is a small but significant portion left over once all of those factors are explained away, who could very well take care of themselves but just can’t be ar5ed.

    My friend, a teacher with three children whose feckless partner had walked out on her and simultaneously quit his job to ensure that she couldn’t get any child support from him, was advised by her neighbor, Bridget (a single mother in her 40s who doesn’t work and whose principal hobby is BDSM with strangers) gave her very detailed advice about how she ought to quit her job and start claiming benefits. My friend politely declined.

    I used to play roleplaying games with a group of young people in a shared house, and only two of them (who were a married couple in fact) bothered to work. This was in London, at a time – like now – where there was virtually full employment. All of them liked to drink and smoke. None had any disability or impediment. They just didn’t see why they should do a job they wouldn’t enjoy when they didn’t have to. When I turned up to parties I used to bring eight cans of Holsten Pils and a crate of cheap Kestrel lager, and instruct them that they could drink the Kestrel but if they touched my Holsten I’d stab them.

    As a police officer I have met literally hundreds of people who essentially have no impediment to work, other than they simply wouldn’t enjoy it. They’d rather get up to mischief, explore the limits of the benefit system, or both simultaneously.

    At no point have you acknowledged that there are any “undeserving” (or “underserving”) poor in this country. All I am saying is that I treat people who don’t believe they exist the way I would people who insist that the Earth is flat or is orbited by the Sun.

  45. OLDNAT

    I only dread to think what monstrosities ended up in Other.

  46. Ken what qualifications best demonstrates the qualities (sic) best required in the banking sector. How can candidates best illustrate their expertise (or potential for expertise) in avarice, mendacity and selfishness?

  47. KEN
    @ALEC…….Conspiracy theories, paranoia, how on earth do you sleep at night ? Some free advice, don’t take everything so seriously
    TOH
    ALEC seems unable to move on.”… Life is for living, others seem to have problems which is rather sad.

    Please stop these ad hominem attacks on Alec. They are really quite nasty. I assume you are using them because you can’t answer his arguments. I am sorry to see standards here dropping so low.

  48. old nat

    scottish anthems

    i have forgotten the tune for “other ” Does it feature donald and his trousers?

  49. Patrickbrian

    There are trying to help bring the country together…

  50. Patrickbrian: “Please stop these ad hominem attacks on Alec.”

    Indeed. Alec is one of not many posters on UKPR who still takes seriously the idea that you should produce a coherent argument backed by evidence. If that is met by “don’t take everything so seriously” are we to conclude that UKPR is just a bit of light entertainment, with serious thinkers not required?

    I guess I’m old fashioned. This brave new Brexit world is taking a bit of getting used to.

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