Tom Evslin: The difference between ‘normal’ and ‘average’

This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.

In the US each woman averages 1.64 children during her childbearing years. Does that mean that a “normal” woman has 1.64 kids? Of course not. One kid, maybe two, maybe three, maybe more. A fractional kid, however, would be very abnormal.

Tom Evslin

Every night our local TV weather people say tomorrow’s high temperature is going to be so many degrees above or below normal. But they don’t really mean normal even though that’s what it says on the graphic; they mean “average.” And average and normal aren’t the same thing. Here in New England 10 degrees above or below average is still “normal.” It is highly unlikely that the high on any particular day will be exactly the average; not as unlikely as 1.64 children but not likely either.

In a New York Times article on whether the recent rain and snow will cure California’s drought, Peter Gleick, co-founder of and senior fellow at the Pacific Institute, a research organization specializing in water issues, complains “We don’t seem to get average years anymore.” In fact there is scarcely ever a weather year which is average anywhere. This is especially true in California where drought and deluge have alternated since long before humans have had any effect on climate.

Gleick is credited with inventing the terms “weather whiplash” and “megadrought.” He acknowledges further down in the article that the weather typically changes year over year in California; but he apparently likes to describe weather in apocalyptic terms, perhaps in order to justify “extreme climate action.” The reason I’m ranting about the difference between “normal” and “average” is that I think the distinction is intentionally blurred when talking about weather in order to promote climate hysteria.

According to the New York Times, meteorologists are also concerned. From an article with the wonderful headline: Bomb Cyclone? Or Just Windy with a Chance of Hyperbole?:

The widespread use of colorful terms like ‘bomb cyclone’ and ‘atmospheric river,’ along with the proliferating categories, colors and names of storms and weather patterns, has struck meteorologists as a mixed blessing: good for public safety and climate-change awareness but potentially so amplified that it leaves the public numb to or unsure of the actual risk. The new vocabulary, devised in many cases by the weather-science community, threatens to spin out of control.

I’m the first to insist that climate changes; it always has and it will as long as earth has an atmosphere. Nor do I deny that we are capable of accelerating climate change and have already. Hysteria is a terrible way to deal with anything, however — especially things as important as climate and energy policy. Drought is normal for California. Floods are normal for California. An “average” year would be abnormal (although not alarming). A long-term change in the average may signal an actual change in climate. A day or year which differs from the average signifies nothing — although may still be something we have to deal with.

Average is not normal. End of rant.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Gillfoto
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4 thoughts on “Tom Evslin: The difference between ‘normal’ and ‘average’

  1. Correct there is no normal as the climate is controlled mostly by that big ball of fire 93 million miles away. The sun is currently entering a minimum which will effect sun spots and cause a Lowering of earths temperatures. This will cause mass hysteria with the climate hoax folks as their predictions of ice caps melting and as algore told the wef oceans boiling will be as preposterous as the lies told to us decades ago about the polar bears becoming extinct and more tornadoes and hurricanes. The climate will do as it will regardless of how much money the leftist commies extract from us.

  2. Good points here. Statistical terms have meanings that are different from what they appear to the layman, and they are exploited by advertisers and hucksters.
    One I like is “mean time between failures”, a statistic for reliability of machines, expressed in hours.
    So this dishwasher has a Mean Time Between Failures of 7,000 hours, for example.
    Yet it is guaranteed for 2,000 hours, and none of them will actually work for 7,000 hours.
    A population of these machines run for 2,000 hours will collectively run 7,000 hours for every failure, but none is expected to run 7,000 hours.
    Technocrats/progressives love their jargon. After all, you can’t fool all the people all the time, but you can fool most of them most of the time.

  3. Spot on. The real threat is not the changing weather. That has happened throughout Earth’s 4 plus Billion-year history. Changing climate may even be partially responsible for driving diversity on Earth. Without continual churning of energy flux, bio-diversity would become stagnant and burn itself out in a matter of a few 10’s million years (my theory, but I’ll bet there are others that see this, too). Our comprehension of the living Earth needs to extend beyond our own ego-centric viewpoint of a mere handful of years.

    The real threat is our leadership’s hysterical and irrational response. Please read my 4 part essay series:

  4. Progressives push non-productive ideological school programs, e.g. CRT. What we need, aside from the essential basic skills, are courses in logic and critical thinking. A stark example: I’ve just read an article promoting gun control that cites statistics tying the rise in gun ownership to the rise in violent crime – with no mention that the gun purchase statistics are probably legal recorded transactions, not black market criminal gun buys, that laws only affect those who obey laws, that they don’t disarm the criminal element, and that gun purchases don’t promote crime but a rise in reported crime, the increases perceived threat level, does promote gun purchases. The Progressives promote (I’m confident deliberately) the post hoc fallacy. Right now they’re attacking gas stoves (as a distraction?) with the “for the children” promotion. I suspect sugar coated breakfast cereals cause more harm but are too popular to attack.

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