How to Debunk the Junk

Bigger isn’t always better. Photo by powebooktrance.

Recently CNW Marketing Research, an Oregon-based automotive research group, published a paper making the audacious claim that the Hummer is actually more energy efficient than the Prius. The study later showed up in an op-ed piece by George Will, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, who wrote that it might be responsible to buy a hummer and “squash a Prius with it.” The study was also cited uncritically in a piece from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian organization in Southern California, suggesting that the slogan for the next Save the Earth campaign should be: “Have you hugged a Hummer today?

Peter Gleick, former MacArthur Fellow and head of the Pacific Institute, a think-tank specializing in the intersection of environment, development, and security, has made a habit of exposing junk science. His work in debunking the CNW study touted by George Will and others as a work of pseudo-science is simply excellent. As Mr. Gleick writes about his findings:

…the report’s conclusions rely on faulty methods of analysis, untenable assumptions, selective use and presentation of data, and a complete lack of peer review. Even the most cursory look reveals serious biases and flaws: the average Hummer H1 is assumed to travel 379,000 miles and last for 35 years, while the average Prius is assumed to last only 109,000 miles over less than 12 years. These selective and unsupported assumptions distort the final results. A quick re-analysis with peer-reviewed data leads to completely opposite conclusions: the life-cycle energy requirements of hybrids and smaller cars are far lower than Hummers and other large SUVs. CNW should either release its full report, including methods, assumptions, and data, or the public should ignore its conclusions.

Recently the San Francisco Chronicle picked up Gleick’s work, giving him the attention that he deserves.

So the moral of the story is quite simple: Don’t junk your Prius for a Hummer.

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