Flippant Accusations

It seems to have begun with a story in the Boston Globe mentioning that the New England Patriots won the coin toss at the start of their football game, 19 out of the last 25 times. The story just pointed out that the Pats had been lucky in the coin-toss department, and discussed their strategy when they do so.

But CBS Sports decided to call it an “impossible clip.” The insinuation of cheating was evident. It didn’t take long for NESN and Boston.com to jump on the accusation bandwagon. Hell, the innuendo has even spread to the Charlotte Observer.

These stories only prove two things. 1: Prejudice — meaning “pre-judice,” i.e. judge first, investigate later; 2: When it comest to statistics, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.

The “impossible rate” idea is based on the fact that if you flip a fair coin 25 times, your chance of getting 19 or more “heads” (or tails if that’s what you like to call) is 0.00731665. It’s a straightforward application of the binomial distribution, something those with a little knowledge can do. Since that’s about one chance in 137, let’s start spreading rumors with made-up names like “flip-gate” and “coin-gate” — they must be cheating, right?

Wrong. As someone who has a lot of knowledge about statistics, I can tell you there are a bunch of problems with this “analysis.”

Let’s start with the fact that 1 out of 137 is a far cry — a very, very, very far cry — from “next to impossible.” Some journalist making that kind of exaggeration isn’t a far cry either — it’s par for the course.

Let’s mention that there are 32 teams in the NFL. If one of them flips a coin 26 times, the chance of 19 or more “heads” (or tails if that’s what you prefer) is about 1 out of 137. If all 32 of them flip a coin 26 times each, what are the odds that at least one team will get 19 or more? A helluva lot greater than 1 out of 137.

The biggest problem of all is: cherry picking. I have no blame to lay, or fault to find, with Jim McBride at the Boston Globe, he was just pointing out a streak of good luck. But the other idiots ran with it, without even thinking about something that’s kinda obvious to those of us who know a lot about statistics. Namely, this: that when someone says “19 out of the last 25” it’s overwhelmingly likely that the 26th was not.

Chances are, McBride picked 25 because that was a run of good luck. But if the Patriots had also won the 26th, he’d have talked about 20 out of 26, not 19 out of 25. He picked 25 because it was the run of good luck. Statistically, when you choose your sample because of the result it gives, it’s called “cherry-picking.” The salient point is that it throws off the statistics.

That’s an issue I’ve discussed often, in relation to climate data. Climate deniers do it all the time, for the purpose of giving the wrong impression. Because it does.

I doubt the Boston Globe article was trying to give the wrong impression. Nor did they; the Patriots have indeed had a run of good luck. But those others ignored the hard part of statistics, probably because they don’t really know what they’re doing. They saw a chance to impugn the New England Patriots, and they jumped on it.

Back in 2011, the New York Times mentioned in an article that 11 games into the season, the Cleveland Browns had lost all 11 coin flips. They also pointed out that the probability of that is a mere 1 out of 2048. But to their credit, they did not have the temerity to accuse the rest of the NFL of some giant conspiracy against them. Hey — maybe they even have some people working for them who do know more about statistics than a little.


Here’s one: it’s now clear that you can have flooding because of high tide, even without storm surge or onshore winds or rainfall. And that’s not just for Miami and Boston, it’s for most U.S. coastal locations.

Here’s another: some excerpts from a report by the BBC:

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House Science, Space, and Technology Committee vs National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administation

[Climate blogger Michael Tobis has written the best summary of the Smith-vs-NOAA brouhaha that I’ve yet seen. Please read it in its entirety, then follow the link and read it again. More important, pass it on — everybody needs to know about this.]


The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, under the leadership of my own representative Lamar Smith, has been harassing Thomas Karl, recent past president of the American Meteorological Society and longtime head of the National Climate Data Center, a federal agency under NOAA, because he expressed himself unimpressed by the “hiatus” in global temperature increase, and because a team he heads published data that supported his conclusion.

Smith’s committee has been demanding defenses of the rather mundane and straightforward measurements and calculations going into NCDC’s global temperature estimate, and in particular, some minute recent corrections to that record.

As I understand it Karl and NCDC have been bending over backwards to be cooperative, and have presented their raw data and algorithms in great detail to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. They stand ready to answer any substantive questions and defend any particular calculation in detail.

The scandal is this: the committee has showed no signs of interest in their honest answer to what might be an honest question, but has pursued the matter to the point of harassment and vile innuendo.

This cannot stand, and by “cannot stand”, I mean they probably will get away unscathed, but they really ought not to.

Alas, as the Benghazi metascandal and the Planned Parenthood metascandal prove, the congressional majority have no scruples and the American press has no spine. Fortunately the executive branch has developed a bit of one. NOAA should not be quick to comply and I am pleased that they did not. I think that is the next best thing.

It’s not because Smith’s committee doesn’t have the authority to investigate NCDC, it’s that they ought to refrain from abusing it.

A court case would be a very good thing if the press played against type and showed up awake for a change. I don’t have a strong answer to lukewarmer blogger “Fabius Maximus’”s point that the committee will win on the legal niceties. Perhaps there isn’t one. But confusing legal power with responsible government woefully misses the point of democracy.

Still, every time another sliver of the public sees the ethical shabbiness of the majority’s actions that would be a good thing. The scientific community is not positively impressed by Smith’s ridiculous antics to the extent they are paying attention. These outrages should be made plain to see.

NOAA is right to resist, and the press is wrong to back burner this grotesque mockery of congressional oversight.

The press will most likely cower indecently rather than tell the truth here, as they have done so much lately. It’s another chapter in the fake scandal horror show, and they’ll dutifully report “both sides”. Smith is being flagrantly and transparently abusive, and it would be good if the rest of society did not turn away.

Thoughtful, Insightful, Intelligent Commentary

Stefan Rahmstorf has written a commentary in the Sydney Morning Herald urging Australians to step up on emissions cuts. It’s one of the most intelligent and persuasive such commentaries I’ve seen.

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Moon Over Miami Boston

Most people aren’t surprised that Miami is suffering through more flooding because of sea level rise. After all, the surrounding land lies very low (there really aren’t any hills in Miami, in fact there are precious few in the whole state of Florida). The sea level at any given moment doesn’t have to rise far above MHHW (Mean Higher High Water) to flood the streets.

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Apocalypse Now

Yesterday the rain guage at Onion Creek/Hwy.183 at Austin, TX, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), recorded 14.39 inches of rain (365.5 mm). In one day.

A Texas man, whose car was overcome by flood, escaped by jumping out of his car and climbing a tree. You can see a report here:

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Dueling Senators

Tulsa World in Tulsa, Oklahoma, has printed statements about man-made climate change from two U.S. senators. One is the well-known climate denier, Oklahoma’s own James Inhofe. The other is the best spokesman for climate action in the U.S. Senate, Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse.

Inhofe’s entire argument boils down to conspircy theorizing, his belief that the scientific consensus about man-made climate change is a made-up hoax to bring about “global governance.” I’m not exaggerating about that. He appeals to what he calls “Climategate,” saying that “Climate scientists were caught red-handed manipulating data so it supported their global warming objectives.” The truth is just the opposite.

There have been six separate investigations of Inhofe’s allegation. One was done by the Inspector General of NOAA at the request of: James Inhofe. In his report to Inhofe on February 18, 2010 the Inspector General said, “In our review of the CRU e-mails, we did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data … or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures.” Others who investigated include the Inspector General of the Dept. of Commerce, the National Science Foundation, Penn. State Univeristy, and in the U.K. the University of East Anglia, and no less than the House of Commons (one of the houses of the British Legislature).

But that’s not good enough for Inhofe. Instead he “documents” his allegation of fraud by quoting a newspaper report from the U.K. Independent.

In my opinion, the most revealing thing about Inhofe’s piece is this: he’s got nothing. He had to sink to insane conspiracy theories that have already been investigated many times and found to be groundless. But that’s all he’s got — and it’s nothing but proof that his allegation is false.

The only mentions of actual science are an outright lie: that “In 2008, Al Gore said the north polar ice cap would be “ice-free” by 2013,” and an erroneous reference to “the observed recent warming hiatus.” The one that never happened.

Many papers have been published about what might have brought about a “hiatus” if one happened. But so far, there has not been a single scientific paper — not one — that has provided solid evidence that such a “hiatus” ever happened. However, there have been five papers published which investigated the question of its existence, and all five, without exception, have reached the same conclusion: there’s no real evidence of a “hiatus.” Because it never happened.

The hottest year on record was 2014, but 2015 is well on the way — it’s just about inevitable — to breaking that record and becoming the new hottest year on record. But Inhofe, and Lamar Smith, and WUWT, and all the deniers, are so desperate to cry “hiatus” that they’ve resorted to attacking the data itself. In Inhofe’s case, it amounts to repeating what isn’t true, about scientists “manipulating data so it supported their global warming objectives.”

He resorts to that because that’s all he’s got. In other words, he’s got nothing.

Except, of course, a seat in the U.S. Senate.

Plot idea: 97% of the world’s scientists contrive an environmental crisis, but are exposed by a plucky band of billionaires & oil companies and the politicians they support.