‘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.
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.”
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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