‘Most Idiotic Use of Statistics’: Expert Debunks New Climate Study Linking Global Warming to Refugees

Stream contributor William Briggs among those explaining to DCNF why study in the journal Science isn't all that scientific.

By Michael Bastasch Published on December 24, 2017

Global warming activists have seized upon a study purporting to link temperature changes to mass migration from the third world to Europe, in an apparent attempt to attack the Trump administration.

The study, published Friday in the journal Science, found that “temperatures that deviated from the moderate optimum (~20°C) increased asylum applications in a nonlinear fashion” from 2000 to 2014.

“This is the perfect example of why the [Trump] administration shouldn’t be ignoring climate change,” Michael Oppenheimer, a geoscientist at Princeton University and global warming activist, told Axios.

Oppenheimer, a frequent critic of the Trump administration, wasn’t alone. The new study was widely reported in media circles, with many putting it in the context of President Donald Trump no longer considering global warming a national security threat.

“It’s short sighted,” study co-author Wolfram Schlenker, an economist at Columbia University, told Time. “Incidents that occur abroad come back to hurt you in your own country.”

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Schlenker’s study found that temperature changes from the “climatic optimum” of 68 degrees Fahrenheit led to an increase in asylum seekers from 103 poor countries to Europe. The study suggests future warming could increase asylum seekers 188 percent by 2100 if global warming goes unchecked.

“A majority of [climate change] damages occur in developing countries, and you might think that we in Europe or we in the U.S. are isolated from this,” Schlenker told Time. “But that overlooks spillovers and how we’re interconnected.”

The study provides more confirmation for a favorite argument of activists — global warming will create more refugees do to a rise in violent conflict and extreme weather events. The link is hotly debated, but that hasn’t stopped some scholars and activists from blaming the Syrian civil war and rise of ISIS on global warming.

But Schlenker’s study is flawed, critics say. The study not only uses a very short time period — only 14 years — it also does nothing to establish causation of why asylum seekers actually leave their homes.

Correlation is not causation, especially when only dealing with a short time frame on a complicated subject.

“It is the dumbest, most idiotic use of statistics I have seen in over a decade,” statistician and manmade global warming skeptic William Briggs wrote on his blog.

“So in 15 years of data, they hope to discover a non-linear response in asylum applications caused by tenth-of-a-degree changes in temperature, where they can ‘hold everything else,’ like the politics, ‘constant,’” Briggs wrote.

“There appears in this paper to be no recognition that politics inside the EU plays any role,” Briggs wrote.

Millions of refugees have made their way to Europe, some fleeing war in Syria, and others looking for new opportunities in rich countries. Politically, Europe has for the most part embraced refugee flows and offered generous benefits to those coming in.

Briggs noted that Schlenker’s study found asylum applications also increased when temperatures in home countries decreased from the “climatic optimum.”

The vast majority of asylum seekers come from Syria and the Middle East. This begs the question, why would refugees from poor countries, when temperatures drop, flee to Europe where the average temperature is cooler?

“People are also far too excited to see predictions which confirm their worst ‘fears,’ so they never bother to check the predictions against reality,” Briggs wrote.


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  • ALC

    Thanks for blocking me on Twitter because you are a novice who doesn’t know a damn thing about climate change. Very easy for people to criticize an established authority on climate change, who linkis climate change (drought) to climate migration, but its another thing for them to support their rebuke with concrete data. I happen to agree with Oppenheimer on his position.

    As far as statistics, you (critic) did not explain why 14 years of data is insufficient or non-statistical? As you hopefully know, causality is often not necessary is establishing links. For example, the increase in hurricane intensity is linked to climate change but climate change cannot predict when and when severe hurricanes will appear. And the same applies to wildfires, in which climate change expands the severity and duration of wildfire season in California.

    Personally, I believe you climate change deniers/skeptics should be incarcerated because you are placing the human species in jeopardy of extinction. I suggest you find a new job.

  • Debi Williams

    typical bogus science, identify an agenda, then correlate the data to support the agenda. Science has become a devotee to whatever agenda the Socialist, progressives, communist crazies put forth. Easy to make the data say what you want it to say when you cherry pick it out of the hundreds of studies that are done each year that completely debunk the climate change causality for everything from increased immigration to the common cold. Even the term Climate Change is vague and imprecise… yes the climate changes, continuously each year, each decade, each millennium… During the Cretaceous period the CO2 levels were seriously higher than they are now. During the last ice age they were considerably lower… Neither of those things were caused by CO2 levels, but CO2 levels were a result of those changes and they didn’t have SUV’s then either, so can’t blame them for that. Don’t like change??? Too bad. You live on a planet whose very nature is change. Shuffling a lot of money around the planet as part of a reward/punishment system won’t change that. We can no more STOP climate change then we are to BLAME for it. Better think about getting a warm cloak, cause another ice age is far more dire than the warming of the planet. We can survive a storm or two, even drought here and floods there, but overnight drops in temps by hundreds of degrees??? Ice sheets extending down into Arkansas??? You’ll be praying for “global warming” then. Thanks for writing this article pointing out the unscientific tendencies of the Scientific Journal!!!

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