William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 395 of 701

Global Warming Feedback Confirmed!

Fat equationsJust some gentle teasing today.

Every climate scientist knows that it’s the feedback that counts, that the few squirts of carbon dioxide contributed to the atmosphere are powerless in isolation. What makes the situation dreadful is that, some suppose, the CO2 molecules gang up on themselves to strong-arm the “assistance” of other greenhouse gases. This makes for a bad brew.

Problem is, this dire feedback is nothing more than supposition. Or was. There is now proof that feedback exists! Two disparate groups of scientists have found, if not the holy grail of climate science, then at least a map to its hiding place.

This is science, folks: peer-reviewed truth. Don’t forget that if it’s in print, and the people behind the research are earnest and sincere, and that if the money that funded the work came from the government and not some corporation (Apple corporation is an exception), and that if the findings are in line with your political philosophy, then the results must be so.

This is the feedback:

  • Global warming makes people fat, and fat people make the globe warmer!

A vicious, inescapable treadmill to hell! The globe itself is conspiring to make people fatter, and what do you think these fatties do? They make the globe hotter because of all the food they eat. Which in turns makes the obese swell, which again turns the screws on the heat engine, and so on ad infinitum.

Danish researcher Lars-Georg Hersoug gave us one half of the circle. He found that lately “skinny people showed proportionately as much weight gain as those who were already overweight.” And so did eight different species of laboratory animals Hersoug happened to have milling about.

Hersoug racked his brain but could not discover why all these creatures should be gaining weight at the same rates. Until he hit upon the happy idea of using statistics:

Hersoug notes that atmospheric levels of the gas have risen during the same period and that in the United States, obesity has increased most rapidly on the East Coast, where CO2 concentrations are highest.

This is, of course, sufficient proof, but Hersoug is a diligent man and sought an airtight case. What happened next will be the stuff of scientific legend:

Hersoug…conducted…an experiement [sic] in which six young men were placed in special climate rooms for seven hours. They were then given the opportunity to eat as much as they wanted, and those who had been exposed to increased CO2 levels ate six percent more than those who had not.

His theory? (For there is always a theory, which is much to be preferred to data.)

Hersoug believes that hormones in the brain are affected by CO2 and may in turn alter our appetite and metabolism. He also suggests that CO2 in beer may be to blame for beer bellies and recommends spending more time outdoors, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and engaging in vigorous exercise to pump excess CO2 out of the bloodstream.

Now what about the other half of the circle? Enter researchers Phil Edwards and Ian Roberts who say “When it comes to food consumption, moving about in a heavy body is like driving around in a gas guzzler.”

This wasn’t just a cutesy quip. For everybody already knew that fat people eat more than thin people, and thus fat people are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions. What makes the research of Edwards and Roberts unique is that they are the first to figure the increased fuel it takes to cart all that blubber around. CO2 comes from fuel, folks. Hard to argue with the physics, here.

E & R wish everybody could be just like the Vietnamese, a race of slim, low-BMI people. There is a culture that is good for the planet, boy. The only real surprise in this research is that they did not directly ask that high-BMI populations be drugged to make them tinier, like academic philosophers at the Future of Humanity Institute boldly called for. To be fair, E & R’s work came before that famous bioethics paper.

It is true, though Edwards and Roberts don’t use the word, that gluttony is on the rise (or on the swell). We do not choose to label over-indulgence with this most “judgmental” word. We instead hint that the sin against the planet is worse than the sin against the self, and that by hurting the planet you are thus hurting others, albeit indirectly; sort of like second-hand gluttony. This strikes me as a poor line of attack.

But never mind. Feedback has been found. The science is settled.


Thanks to reader Bob Ludwick for suggesting this topic.

This Page Intentionally Left Blank

I was, as regular readers know, in the U.S. Air Force. I was a crypto specialist. Top Secret stuff, code words, all that. Part of the job required reading and maintaining super secret books, documentation on the machines which we fixed.

A couple of times a year we were required to go through these books, each one, and page count them. That is, we opened the books, turned the pages one by one and made sure the Russians were not able to sneak onto the base past the sentries, then into our fenced, barbed wire, windowless building, and then break into the locked and passworded room where the locked cabinets were and to steal a page, then sneak back out.

I page counted hundreds of books and, thank the Lord, never found a missing page. Nobody ever did. But it was in this capacity that I first saw these words:

This page intentionally left blank

printed on blank pages—no longer blank, and therefore a self-defeating message—but put there to tell us that the Russians had not learned a way to suck all the ink off one side of the paper.

Anyway, since I am still busy, I have nothing to offer today except to say, in the same vein,

This page intentionally left blank.

Steven Chu Walks To Work

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a winner of the Nobel physics prize and therefore in the mind of the public a certified genius, walks to work. At least part way. He engages in this strange activity because the gentleman does not own a car.

This is not especially eccentric. For example, yours truly also does not own a car, and has not owned one for twice seven years, a period of time that threatens to stretch even unto infinity. The difference between Secretary Chu and people like me is that I do not own a vehicle because of penury (and because I live in a metropolis where it is nuts to drive). Chu, a beneficiary of the bureaucracy, can afford a fleet of cars but chooses not to own because of religious reasons.

Chu walks (or rather is driven in a taxpayer-funded car) to “save the planet.” The danger that imperils the “planet”—a very large and historically robust astronomical object—is, according to Chu, gasoline. In 2008, Chu was asked about his animus regarding this miraculous substance, a driver of a large proportion of the world’s economy, and he said,

Somehow we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels of Europe.

Now the reason he said this is because he does not want people buying gasoline. He figures that if it is ridiculously expensive, as it is in Europe, that people will buy less of it. It is Chu’s economical theory that if people buy less of it, less of it will be used, and that therefore the planet will be “saved.”

It is also his view that if gasoline is prohibitively expensive, for all but the rich and for government bureaucrats who are driven wherever they wish to go and who never have to visit a gas station, innovation will be spurred and that “alternate fuel sources” will be developed.

There is a kind of logic at work here. But not of the kind found in textbooks. It is true, on average, that if a thing that is wanted is too costly, people will strain their gray matter to develop alternatives or workarounds. These replacements often, but not always, succeed. They also do not always meet needs in the time required.

But it is possible that by artificially increasing the price of gasoline—by taxing it, say, and adding the money to the Washingtonian beast—that some bright person will figure a way to replace that fuel by a new one. It does not of course follow that the new fuel will be “better for the planet” than the old fuel. It may even be, as seems likely, that gasoline is, among all alternatives, the best fuel.

At least the way the transportation system of the United States is now constructed. Most people in this grand country live far from everything: far from their jobs, far from grocery stores, far from their friends and relatives. Walking isn’t in it; driving is a necessity. It is thus exceedingly highly probable that abruptly increasing the price of gasoline to Chu-friendly levels will have the exact opposite effect as that intended.

That is, innovation will not be spurred because people will not be able to afford to do anything except pay for the fuel to drive them to work. The economy will suffer, as all evidence indicates it does when fuel prices rise “naturally.”

And that means that the money that comes from taxes (of all kinds) must decrease. The effect of that will be either larger deficits or increased taxation, or both, actions which further depress the economy. Even to the point of not having the funds to build “public transportation.” It should also be clear that the taxes raised on gasoline will decrease, even though the tax rate has been raised.

Well, so much is obvious, at least to average citizens. But not to Chu, who like many intelligent people, confuse their ability to know a lot about very little—Chu’s prize was for “for development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light”—into thinking they know a lot about everything. Even this would be okay, except that they conjoin this mistake with the additional belief that people who are not credentialed in knowing a lot about little, know nothing about anything.

Now that Mr Obama is up for re-election, and Chu’s earlier comments have been discovered, he has, in Washington speak, “backed away” from his economic vision and said that certainly he meant by saying that he wanted higher prices that he actually wanted lower prices.

Jay Carney, the president’s spokesman, finally forced to respond said, “I know that it’s part of the fun for folks to find these quotes and suggest that they have some deeper meaning.” I’m not sure what Carney means, because I find no humor in Chu’s words.

Fourth Annual Bad Joke Day

I have told this, my favorite joke, at locations the world over. It may be that I have not mastered the timing, or the art of the simultaneous eyebrow waggle-punch line delivery, but this joke never fails to not produce a laugh.

These two cannibals are eating a clown. One says to the other, “Does this taste funny to you?”

At one of the farthest reaches from home, I related this tale to a group. An hour passed and then somebody spoke up (not in English). As it was translated to me, “I thought about it and I thought about it. But I just don’t see why this joke is funny.”

As the Duke had it, never apologize, never explain. It is not only a sign of the weakness of the joke, but a personal failing as well. If somebody doesn’t laugh at your tale, you must make them feel it is their fault, not yours. That your humorous depths cannot be penetrated except by the keenest and most perspicacious of minds, the kind of mind your listener evidently does not have.

So since I am still busy, I thought this would be an opportune time to let us air our best bad jokes. Tell them below, and may the most obscure win.

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