Playing the scientific record backwards.

Posted by Adrian Barnett on Wednesday, April 15, 2020

I’ve done a lot of research on seasonal models. I’ve always enjoyed playing with the elegantly simple sinusoid function, which can fit a remarkable array of shapes with just a few parameters. Put enough sinusoids together and you can create any sound. When Fourier discovered this, it was considered too simple to be true.

A great number of diseases are seasonal, so these models are useful as well as being mathematically pleasing.

I’ve often used seasonal models to help estimate the impact of low and high temperatures on health. A surprising but established finding from these models is that in many countries cold weather is a bigger killer than hot weather (see for example Gasparrini et al. (2015)).

Shock jock

In January this year, the shock jock Alan Jones quoted my name and my Conversation article about cold weather to prop up his denial of the climate crisis (Jones 2020). Had he read the full article he’d have seen my warning to climate deniers not to take selected results out of context. But instead he cherry picked what he needed and moved on to his next quote heist.

Cold weather is the real killer he said, so stop worrying about hot weather. It’s like learning that too much oxygen is bad for your health and then proclaiming that nobody should worry about getting too little oxygen.

I wish Alan would have a little less oxygen, and I mean the oxygen of publicity. I wasn’t suggesting the kind of hypoxia caused by shoving a sock down his throat, that would be tasteless.

Backmasked messages

Climate change deniers take an odd approach to evidence. They remind me of a bunch of teenagers forcing a record player backwards to hear hidden messages. After hours of listening to gobbledygook, they becomed convinced that they can hear John Lennon squawk, “climate change is crap”. Armed with this scratchy evidence, they take on the world’s experts.

Have they ever sat quietly and listened to the record the right way round?

Scientific record

The scientific records for low and high temperatures are well established, based on hundreds of peer reviewed papers from around the world. Both are serious international problems and both deserve attention from researchers and policy makers.

Cold temperatures currently cause more deaths and hospitalisations than hot temperatures in most temperate countries, but this could easily change given the rising temperatures, both in terms of averages and extremes.

It’s utterly daft to pit one temperature extreme against the other, especially when some effective interventions, such as home insulation, can help reduce the risks of both.


Gasparrini, Antonio, Yuming Guo, Masahiro Hashizume, Eric Lavigne, Antonella Zanobetti, Joel Schwartz, Aurelio Tobias, et al. 2015. “Mortality Risk Attributable to High and Low Ambient Temperature: A Multicountry Observational Study.” The Lancet 386 (9991): 369–75.

Jones, Alan. 2020. “Still Two Sides to the Climate Change Story (Pay-Walled).” The Daily Telegraph.