The Corrections section of today’s New York Times includes this howler:
An article on Friday about rising global temperatures described incorrectly an aspect of the average temperature for the United States between May and July. While that temperature, 70.9 degrees Fahrenheit, was 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit above average, it was incorrect to describe it as “almost 5 percent above average” because Fahrenheit temperatures are not absolute quantities and therefore changes cannot be expressed consistently in terms of percent.
To see what a foolish error this was, consider that the Times could have reported the same temperatures in degrees Celsius rather than Fahrenheit. The numbers then would have been 21.6 degrees C and 19.7 degrees C. The Times could have claimed a whopping 9.5 “percent above average”! And this article appeared on the front page of the Times, raising once again the question whether that newspaper actually employs editors.
It is always fun to have a laugh at the expense of the failing New York Times, but as we have noted before, there is a more serious point. Reporters and editors try to lecture the rest of us on scientific matters, when in fact their knowledge of science (like their knowledge of history, literature and other fields) is below average.
UPDATE: For those who may be confused by the science, here is another way of stating the same point: If it is 70 degrees out, it is not twice as warm as when it is 35 degrees. Similarly, if it is four degrees it is not twice as warm as when it is two degrees. These statements, like the one the Times asserted, are devoid of meaning.