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absolute not

You probably thought I meant to write “absolutely not”. Nope.

We like to think there are more absolutes in our world than really exist. We are particularly easy to suck in when unusual, distinct numbers or those with decimal places are thrown in.

96.7% of statistics are made up on the spot

That sounds much more researched and nuanced than
“More often than not …”

People talk and write about the weather a lot (72.3% of conversations include such discussions 😉 ). This is particularly a hot topic when we are in the midst of a record cold snap, such as now.

It stands the hair on the back of my scientific neck on end when they all assume their numbers are absolutes – that everyone is using CALIBRATED thermometers. When, in fact, it is most likely that NONE of them are calibrated – or sited in an un-influenced environment.

I just unpackaged the shiny-new, digital “indoor/outdoor” thermometer pictured above right, let it normalize for a half hour, then photographed the readings. You can see the “outdoor” probe right next to the unit containing the “indoor” probe. There is absolutely no difference in air temperatures between the two elements. Yet it indicates 6-POINT-1 degrees difference.

They both cannot be correct. Most likely neither is. But people install one inside, the other outside, then believe the indications to the tenth of a degree for the rest of the instrument’s life. Were it honest, it would read something like, “Somewhere in the mid-50s”.

Folks with more than one outdoor/indoor thermometer make up theories about indicated differences from one side of their house to the other.

People checking multiple weather reports are surprised that a town 7 miles of flat road away is significantly warmer/colder than theirs.

Thermometers near large expanses of pavement, or a huge concrete building are in quite a different environment from one in an open air shaded, ventilated box. Readings taken in rural locations 100 years ago read different than even equally well calibrated ones where cities have grown up around them.

Environment, calibration, human variation, reading the top or bottom of the meniscus, mercury bulb, or alcohol bulb, or digital – all of these make differences.

Read all of the thermometers in a store display rack. Pick a number, any number. They’re all good. Even if one is exactly correct at 70-degrees, that doesn’t mean the lines above and below are perfectly placed.

It is amusing to record and share readings of our thermometers. Just don’t get confused.

Absolute: Not