Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
Why WNYC Practiced Bad Science: In Other Words, Don’t Try This at Home
Friday, July 23, 2010
A real scientific experiment requires consistency. You have to take repeated samples. And you need to use the same equipment each time.
WNYC set out to see if we could find the type of temperature differences at Bensonhurst and East Flatbush described in the report by the Earth Institute researchers.
If this was a real science experiment we would have gone to those two locations several times over a period of weeks or months, not just on one afternoon between 3-3:30 p.m.
But even worse, we brought along two very different types of thermometers! I had asked to borrow them from WNYC’s office services department. One thermometer has a regular air sensor like any other outdoor thermometer. Our intern, Daniel Tucker, took that one with him to East Flatbush. But the other had an infrared sensor, and I didn’t realize that was its only option until I was on the subway headed for Bensonhurst.
I came up with an unusual way to work around this. I figured a piece of paper would be a pretty neutral surface, likely to have about the same temperature as the air so long as it wasn’t in direct sunlight. So, I held a piece of white paper under a hat to shield it from the sun. I then pointed the infrared beam at the paper and took the temperature. I did this several times and it was always around 91-92 degrees Fahrenheit.
Disappointed in WNYC’s methodology? Well, we’re much better social scientists. And we were never doing a real experiment anyway, so consider it just a fun demonstration.