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Author: Briggs

December 24, 2007 | No comments

Two differences in perception between global cooling and global warming

As is well known by now, a passel of climatologists in the 1970s, including such personalities as Stephen “It’s OK to Exaggerate To Get People To Believe” Schneider, tried to get the world excited about the possibility, and the dire consequences, of global cooling.

From the 1940s to near the end of the 1970s, the global mean temperature did indeed trend downwards. Using this data as a start, and from the argument that any change in climate is bad, and anything that is bad must be somebody’s fault, Schneider and others began to warn that an ice age was imminent, and that it was mainly our fault.

The causes of this global cooling were said to be due to two main things: orbital forcing and an increase in particulate matter—aerosols—in the atmosphere. The orbital forcing—a fancy term meaning changes in the earth’s distance and orientation to the sun, and the consequent alterations in the amount of solar energy we get as a result of these changes—was, as I hope is plain, nobody’s fault, and because of that, it excited very little interest.

But the second cause had some meat behind it; because, do you see, aerosols can be made by people. Drive your car, manufacture oil, smelt some iron, even breath and you are adding aerosols to the atmosphere. Some of these particles, if they diffuse to the right part of the atmosphere, will reflect direct sunshine back into space, depriving us of its beneficial warming effects. Other aerosols will gather water around them and form clouds, which both reflect direct radiation and capture outgoing radiation—clouds both cool and warm, and the overall effect was largely unknown. Aerosols don’t hang around in the air forever. Since they are heavy, over time they will fall or wash out. It’s also hard to do too much to reduce the man-made aerosol burden of the atmosphere; except the obvious and easy things, like install cleaner smoke stacks.

Pause during the 1980s when nothing much happened to the climate.

Continue reading “Two differences in perception between global cooling and global warming”

December 22, 2007 | No comments

The impossibility of there being no truth.

One of the premises frequently used for the argument that “all cultures are equal” (multiculturalism), or for the argument that you should not be judgmental, is relativism, which is the idea that there is no absolute knowledge, that is, that there is no truth. Some would write it, “there is no ‘truth.'” The scare quotes indicate the author’s derision of the word. As the philosopher David Stove has made clear, the scare quotes turn the word from its obvious meaning, that something is true, to something that is only believed by so-and-so to be true. Thus, the quotes also serve to give their users a self-made patina of superiority.

Roger Kimball, in his blog Roger’s Rules, told of his attendance at a colloquium to honor the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski. In a session on ?Enlightenment, Modernity, and Atheism,? one of the participants began her statement, ?I know, of course, that there is no truth.?

And it’s in this sentence that we have the proof that its own conclusion is false. Which is another way of saying that the woman’s statement is paradoxical, and therefore nonsensical.

Why? If it’s not already obvious to you, “to know” can only mean that you are aware of a truth. And the truth that you know cannot be that there is no truth, because then you would not be able to know it.

The original sentence cannot be saved by changing it to “There is no truth” because, as Bill Clinton might remind us, it depends on what that meaning of is is. And the meaning is existential, which is to say, that the thing of which it speaks (truth) exists. In any case, the sentence “There is no truth” is either true or false. If it is true, then there can be no truth, and so the sentence cannot be true, hence a paradox.

All arguments against the idea of truth fail for the same reason. Because no matter how cleverly you couch your language, no matter the strength of your authority, in the end either your argument is true or it is false. If it is true, then there is no truth, and your argument cannot be true, and you’re right back in the same paradox.

The non-existence of truth is then an impossibility, thus true things exist. So the task becomes identifying what those truths are. And that’s no easy task!

What does this have to do with statistics? A lot, actually, because all statistics is based upon probability, the nature of which we first have to understand before we can use any statistical method. One view of probability, and the dominate one in Bayesian statistics, is the idea that probability is subjective, nothing more than a construct in an individual’s mind. In other words, subjective probability is a philosophy of relativism. Those who hold this view believe that there cannot be objective, i.e. true, probability.

Naturally, I believe this is false. Stay tuned for more.

December 20, 2007 | No comments

Can increasing fuel economy standards result in more gas consumed?

Yes.

Congress recently passed an increase in fuel efficiency standards for cars, from 25 MPG to 35 MPG, a 40% jump. So you would expect that, when this law goes into force, gasoline usage will go down. That’s what various congresspersons and “environmentalists” are arguing, anyway.

Unintended consequences

Now, the mandated increase is a very large change, and complying with the law is probably beyond current engineering capabilities. That is, automotive engineers will have a difficult time implementing these standards in the time alloted, unless they do the one easy thing available to them, which is to make cars lighter. Lighter cars get higher gas mileages.

Making cars lighter is not hard. You simply take things out of heavy cars or make smaller cars. Problem solved!

Except smaller and lighter cars, all other things being equal, fare far worse in crashes. People know this, and tend to buy a larger vehicle instead. That is, confronted with a choice of a small, more dangerous, car, they will more likely buy a larger SUV or a truck.

Trucks and SUVs do not have to comply with the higher gas mileage requirements. Mileage for these larger vehicles is about 15 MPG (average of city and highway driving).

So instead of buying a safer car that now gets the required 25 MPG, people will be more likely to buy vehicles that are, on average, 60% less efficient!

Thus, more gas will be used than before the higher standards were in place.

Of course, I cannot prove that my scenario is certain to happen, but it is at least not impossible, and even somewhat likely. If I am right, this will be yet another example of good intentions gone bad.