It’s hard to know how to respond to the Gore Effect – the “phenomenon that leads to unseasonably cold temperatures, driving rain, hail, or snow whenever Al Gore visits an area to discuss global warming.” On the one hand, it can be used as a satirical device. tim certainly does his best to be funny with it – although he tends to wear it out, as he does with the rest of his small toolkit of ongoing jokes (did you know that, as well as making places cold, Al Gore is fat?).
But then others start to use it as an element in a more serious argument against global warming, conflating it with actual evidence. Like Andrew Bolt:
Cold stops people from protesting against warming. How long before pennies drop about the global temperature, which has failed to rise since at least 2002?
Or, if you want an ever better example of a “journalist” conflating the Gore Effect with actual evidence, there’s this from Politico’s Erika Lovley. And even non-journalists and so-called sceptical scientific types like Jennifer Marohasy make use of it to bolster their arguments.
So, it’s a joke, yet one that’s taken half-seriously. And it’s just another form of cherry-picking weather events as evidence of climate patterns. Whenever global warming protests are held in cold weather (like the lists of events showing up on a number of sites today – amazingly, all happening between October and April, i.e., from the second half of autumn through the first half of spring), it’s the Gore Effect.
But there are a couple of other things that help to explain the Gore Effect, and why it’s taken seriously at all. They’re called the availability heuristic and confirmation bias. Those who treat the Gore Effect as a remotely serious phenomenon are engaging in the same type of flawed reasoning as when people think it usually rains just after they wash the car. They notice evidence that confirms it – say, when it is cold and a global warming event is scheduled – and store it away in their memory. When the same type of event happens on a mild, warm or hot day, it isn’t something that they pay attention to. Then, when reflecting on how often it happens, they overestimate it because it is the remarkably cold events that they can remember most easily.
It’s an everyday bias in the way we think. And if it was genuinely being used just for humour, it wouldn’t be a problem. But when columnists and scientists start tying it into their other commentaries on global warming, it results in argument based on outright dodgy reasoning.