Has the Battle of the Thermostat Finally Been Settled?

Via the Guardian, a new study has demonstrated that men work better in cold temperatures and women work better in warm temperatures. Here’s one of the scatterplots, with men in blue and women in red:

As you can see, in the math test men did a little worse as the temperature rose but women did way better. There were similar results in a verbal test. So the war of the thermostat is over: science has proven that we should turn the heat up. Hooray!

This is sort of an irresistible piece to write, but I’d like to point something out. I converted the original chart to Fahrenheit for my (mostly) American audience, and then I put a yellow box around the temperatures you’re actually likely to see in an office: around 66° to 78°. The rest of the chart is mostly nonsense, since this study is aimed at office workers and very few offices keep the temperature outside that range. Here’s what just that piece of the chart looks like, with all the trendlines removed:

If you run regression lines through the blue and red circles you’ll certainly get something, but it sure looks to me like it would be meaningless. The trend in the bigger chart seems to be driven almost entirely by the temperature extremes, which hardly anyone encounters in real life.

So as irresistible as it is, this study should probably be ignored. Maybe if they redo it with more samples restricted to reasonable ranges it would tell us something. Right now it doesn’t

POSTSCRIPT: I would like to declare my lack of personal bias in this matter by mentioning that I work at home and the thermostat isn’t an issue. Then again, when I worked in an office I never cared much about it either.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend