A friend will come up to you and say "Oh you're thinking of buying that car? I wouldn't if I were you, I have had nothing but trouble with mine from the day I bought it."
The problem is, you just checked a report about this very model of car which rigoursly collected data on thousands of owners and found that it is, in fact, a very reliable model.
What do you do?
Strangely, most people will choose the testimonial of the friend rather than the scientific data.
But obviously it should be the other way around. After all the problem may lie with your friend and not the car, he may not do proper maintenance, or his driving habits may be very taxing. Or it could simply be that your friend got a lemon. It happens. The scientific survey is more likely to tell you about objective reality than is the personal testimony of a single individual.
When it come to the weather, the situation is similar.
Arguably the most common item of casual discussion is the weather, and these days a lot of discussion, including on the Internet, centers around what "strange weather" we've been having lately. The putative weirdness of the weather is attributed variously to the Jet Stream, the Greenhouse Effect, El Niño, volcanic eruptions, alien visitors, the imminent end of the Universe, and so on. A lot of this has its origins in such sources as newspapers, Sunday supplements, popular science magazines, tabloid papers, and of course, the television. Within the latter, programs about the weather appear within fairly serious presentations on PBS, in commentary and features by your local weathercasters, in the TV versions of magazines and tabloid newspapers, and on The Weather Channel. I am going to say straight up that the vast majority of what you read and hear in terms of "explanations" via the various media is fabrications, mythology, gibberish, or grotesque oversimplifications. No matter how many reputable folks they trot out in front of the cameras to capture the inevitable "sound bites" that television uses in lieu of content, what the media present is mostly fluff and half-truths. The media are not in business to do science ... they are in business to sell beer, automobiles, cosmetics, toothpaste, fast food, and perhaps themselves. If good substantive science sells, that's fine, but there is a tendency to push toward the controversial and sensational, almost always at the expense of substance. The programming is mostly an excuse to put their products in front of you, the "consumer." If they happen to say something educational, it is mostly coincidental. Let the buyer beware.
Science tends to bore folks because it requires careful thought and attention. Most folks watching television, or thumbing through the mags on the local newsstand, or even surfing the Internet get bored easily. They don't want to think very hard or very long. Thus, they are easily mislead by the hype and exaggeration, lies, and mythology they encounter about the weather.
Because hurricanes form over warm ocean water, it is easy to assume that the recent rise in their number and ferocity is because of global warming.
But that is not the case, scientists say. Instead, the severity of hurricane seasons changes with cycles of temperatures of several decades in the Atlantic Ocean. The recent onslaught "is very much natural," said William M. Gray, a professor of atmospheric science at Colorado State University who issues forecasts for the hurricane season.
From 1970 to 1994, the Atlantic was relatively quiet, with no more than three major hurricanes in any year and none at all in three of those years. Cooler water in the North Atlantic strengthened wind shear, which tends to tear storms apart before they turn into hurricanes.
In 1995, hurricane patterns reverted to the active mode of the 1950's and 60's. From 1995 to 2003, 32 major hurricanes, with sustained winds of 111 miles per hour or greater, stormed across the Atlantic. It was chance, Dr. Gray said, that only three of them struck the United States at full strength.
Historically, the rate has been 1 in 3.
Then last year, three major hurricanes, half of the six that formed during the season, hit the United States. A fourth, Frances, weakened before striking Florida.
"We were very lucky in that eight-year period, and the luck just ran out," Dr. Gray said.
Don't believe the New York Times? I understand why you would be skeptical. But there is no need to trust them, or, like President Reagan once said, "Trust but verify." Here is a chart of hurricane activity over the past 150 years collected by NOAA and put in a chart form by Gea3 of the EU Rota blog
So there you have it. Real data. Now, believe what you want, but the truth and the facts are independent of what you believe.
(Instapundit contributed to the making of this post. Yeah, I still link to him. I'm not big on throwing the baby out with the bath water. Besides, the ACLU once helped James Taranto win an anti-conservative discrimination suit against his University. In California, no less. He was very happy with the result. Ask him. He'll tell ya.)