Whoever it was wrote a brilliant post about the widespread public belief that “the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes”. This belief was a fallacy, the author argued, as one side could easily make themselves as extreme as possible – moving their end of the spectrum so that the centre moves closer to their original position.
“The warming is natural” sounds ridiculous until you compare it to “it hasn’t been warming at all.” Someone says that “CO2 accumulation is caused by volcanoes”, but then someone else claims “CO2 doesn’t even affect the global temperature.” Little by little, the centre – the position between the two extremes, which the public is most inclined to trust – shifts.
This phenomenon reminds me of a math problem from a few years back, which, for whatever reason, stuck in my mind. It had to do with different car companies, and what form of simple averaging – mean, median, or mode – was the most appropriate to honestly convey to customers the price of a typical car.
One company had cars with prices $25 000, $28 000, $23 000, $30 000, and $21 000. (No, I don’t remember the exact numbers. Yes, I am making them up.)
Another company had cars priced $35 000, $31 000, $38 000, $34 000, and $10 000.
See the analogy?
Make one end of the spectrum as extreme as possible, and the mean average – or public opinion – will shift accordingly.
In a public debate such as climate change, I don’t think we should use the mean. We should use the median. That way, even if the same scientists become progressively more extreme in their views, the public’s interpretation of the credible opinion will stay relatively the same. It’ll only significantly change if that minority of scientists is able to convince the others of their views.