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Author: Briggs

January 15, 2008 | 1 Comment

This is what happens when you allow actors to speak without a script

Tom Cruise rules the world

From the video where Mr Cruise identifies scientologists:? “You can see the look in their eyes, you know the ones who are doing it. And you know the spectators, the ones who are going, ‘It’s easy for you’ … I’ve canceled that in my area of my mind. So it’s our responsibility to educate, create the new reality. We have that responsibility to say, ‘Hey, this is how it should be done.'”

Be sure to watch the last minute.


What can we learn about global warming from poor reporting?

From today’s Syndney Morning Herald comes the headline: “Global warming to impact health“.

First, by impact the reporter almost certainly means influence, a more accurate, but far less energetic and “actionable”, word. But never mind that. Our lesson instead comes from the story, one of a breed which appears almost daily in some major newspaper somewhere in the world.

But before we can get to it, you first have to learn, if you do not already know it, the definition of tautology. A tautology is a statement which is always true; that is, no matter what happens in the word, no matter what conditions eventually hold, a tautology will be true. Some examples: “Either it will rain tomorrow or it won’t” and “Marxism is a stupid theory or it is not.”

Here, from the article we are studying, is the lead sentence; it is a tautological fragment, “Rises in temperature produced by global warming could result in an increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital with kidney disease, heart disease and mental illness in Australian cities.” To make this into a grammatically correct tautology we need only add the implied clause “or the rise in temperature will not result in an increase, etc., etc.”

So the reporter has written something which is true, which will always be true, and will be true regardless whether mankind influences the climate or not. But he has written his tautology in such a way to show where his sympathies lie, much as I did in my second example. In any case, we have no grounds for criticizing the reporter on the grounds of accuracy. All such attempts, which I have seen from the skeptical community, are doomed to failure.

We now have to look at the “study” on which the reporter did his article. This will require some work from us, but it is exceedingly important that you understand this study, because it is entirely typical of academic work in this area. You will see more of its kind, and with increasing frequency, so it is imperative that you learn to recognize it and ascertain how to properly criticize it.

Here are the second and third sentences

The study, by a team of academics and senior health professionals from across the country, compared the number of hospital admissions, ambulance trips and the deaths in Adelaide during heat waves, with those in normal weather conditions.

The heat waves – defined as a periods of three days or more in which the average temperature exceeded 35 degrees – produced a seven per cent increase in admissions to hospital and a four per cent increase in ambulance trips.

They also tabulate rates of kidney disease and mental illness under non-heat wave and heat wave conditions, finding these maladies increase during heat waves.

Here is their argument: since, they conclude, more cases of some diseases are present during heat waves, and heat waves will increase with global warming, and that global warming is true, we will see more cases of these diseases.

The structure of their pleading is in perfect logical form, and is correct; that is, their conclusion is true given their premisses. I emphasize: you cannot criticize the form of their argument, since that form concludes something which is true. Or I should say, conditionally true. We will see more disease if it is also true that more cases of some diseases are present during heat waves, etc.

Are their premisses true? I will offer a series of alternate possibilities and likely faults, but I am sure to miss some, which I hope my readers will help supply.

Statistical sample criticisms:

  • Did the authors look through the data to find diseases that increased in frequency during heat waves? If so, it is highly improbable that if we look at future heat wave data, we would see the same high levels of the diseases, most would have “regressed” to their mean level. And other diseases that they did not study will be found to have increased in frequency.
  • What period of data was used?? Presumably, the epidemiology of these diseases have changed through time, certainly “ambulance driving” has.? The time series component to these data should have been accounted for.
  • How many diseases did they find that did not increase in frequency during heat waves? These should have been noted.
  • How many diseases did they find that decreased in frequency during heat waves? These should have been touted as benefits of warming.
  • What were “non heat wave conditions”? Cold waves? All other periods of time? If cold waves, then how many diseases increased in frequency during cold waves? These should have been touted as benefits of warming. If all other periods of time, then they have chosen a poor sample: cold waves should have been separated out.

Medical criticisms:

  • Are there rigorously clear and certain connections between humans living in heat waves and the diseases noted? If not, then the uncertainty associated with each should have been detailed.
  • Again, the diseases increasing in frequency under cold waves were ignored.
  • What benefits for other maladies are there for increased warming? It is foolish to say there are none, for, at the least, fewer people would die from extreme cold.

Technological criticisms:

  • It is not at all certain that, given that heat waves will increase in frequency, people will suffer in them as they suffer now. It is highly probably that technological advances will, for example, increase the availability and efficiency of air conditioning.
  • Medical science, too, will almost certainly increase in efficacy and, with high probability, lessen the number of people susceptible to the diseases under question, therefore, even if heat waves increase, the rate at which people suffer will decrease.

Global warming criticisms:

  • Even if global warming is true, it is not certain, and even unlikely, that heat waves will increase in frequency. Assuming the models which predict warming are accurate, they predict more warming at nighttime and a more evening out of temperatures (reducing the diurnal swing of temperatures) than an increase in severe weather. In any case, the uncertainty inherent in these forecasts of increasing heat waves must be taken into account, and it was not.
  • All other possible benefits of warming were ignored.
  • And, finally, the uncertainty that global warming will continue was not accounted for.

Every criticism I offered did the same thing: increase the uncertainty, or decrease the certainty if you like, that we should have in the conclusions, in my view, to such an extent that the study is nearly worthless, and should not have seen publication.

But the authors were not content with their “findings”, they progressed to naked speculation: said one of them, warming “might also bring a significant increase in previously uncommon diseases such as Dengue and Ross River fever to Australia’s rural communities” and that we “could see both a worsening of existing diseases as well as the spread of diseases usually associated with warmer region.” Of course, we could; it is mere tautology to say we could, but to offer such a prediction without evidence and without an expression of uncertainty can rightly be called fear mongering.

I hope you have learned a little about how to properly criticize studies of this type. But whatever other criticism you offer, you cannot say this study, and others like it, are “not science.” It is science, but it is bad science, poorly executed science, and irresponsible science.

January 14, 2008 | 3 Comments

A video worth watching

Take three-quarters of a hour and watch the following video interview with Anthony Daniels, a.k.a. Theodore Dalrymple.

Daniels is one of our most thoughtful, intelligent, and compassionate writers on culture. A quick Google search will bring you many of his books and articles.

The streaming video, first appearing on Dutch public television, is here.

| 1 Comment

First documented casualty of anthropogenic global warming

It may finally be time to start worrying. The horrible effects of global warming look to have begun

It is estimated that at the Battle of the Somme in World War I, one million soldiers were killed or wounded. The men were subjected to continuous bombing and machine-gun fire, engaged in hand-to-hand combat, as well as endured poison gas attacks. On the most hideous day of the fight, the British lost over 50,000 troops. It has been called one of the bloodiest battles in all of history. It is not surprising, therefore, that a few of survivors reacted negatively, and experienced shell-shock, which is a complete mental breakdown. Incidentally, the term originated in that war.

Some of the distressing symptoms of men suffering from shell-shock are: shaking and tremors, sweating, nausea and vomiting, abdominal distress, urinary incontinence, palpitations, hyperventilation, dizziness, insomnia, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, heightened sense of threat, anxiety, irritability, depression, substance abuse, loss of adaptability, suicide and disruptive behavior, mistrust, confusion, and extreme feeling of losing control.

So it is with some anxiety that I read that Ted Scambos and his fellow glaciologists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, were, he said, “shell-shocked” that the rate of loss of glaciers on Greenland might be occurring at a rate faster than some glaciologists have predicted.

This is worrying for at least two reasons. The first is that since it is well known that Boulder is one of the nation’s top spots for hand-wringing, the last thing the therapists who live there need is an increase in psychiatric cases. They will not be able to cope with the patient load and we might have to bus emergency relief shrinks in.

The second, and more important reason, is that, if Scambos’s statement is true, and not just an exaggeration said to a reporter over-eager to emphasize the possible dark side of the future, then we can officially count Scambos and his colleagues as the first casualties positively attributable to anthropogenic global warming! Even worse, this new form of shell-shock might be infectious, and could spread not just to other glaciologists, but to other climate scientists as well. There is already good evidence this is the case, judging by what you see printed daily in the headlines, so don’t be too quick to dismiss or scoff at the idea.

So get the word out, my friends, raise awareness of this new and debilitating form of illness, before it becomes epedemic in proportion, and before you find that you too have succumbed to this dread malady.