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Author Archives: engineeringthinking

It’s A Crazy World: Be Thankful For Engineers! (How They Look at “Global Warming”)

Having been trained in the scientific method, it is both amazing and disheartening to be living in today’s modern era of “fake news.” Important — even critical — issues that affect our society are almost never discussed rationally on the major news outlets. Instead we are subjected to emotionally charged pontifications of politicians, bloggers, and those that call themselves journalists. It is bad enough that the aforementioned generally are incompetent with regard to the use of critical thinking, but compounding the matter immensely is the corruption of many in the science/engineering profession, who, in my opinion, have become all too happy to ignore proper science in return for the perks and privileges bestowed upon them by their masters in the political and governmental classes. But enough generalities, let’s look at “global warming” as a specific example

If one were to unskeptically follow the mainstream news, one would believe that man-made global warming (now often called “climate change”) is an undisputed fact. But let’s look at the issue from an engineering-thinking perspective:

1. Proponents say, “97% of scientists agree” that mankind is responsible for global warming, therefore man-made global warming is a fact.

Even if the 97% figure is true (I’m not sure that it is), the consensus argument is actually proof of ignorance by those who use it, because using consensus to support a position is the logical fallacy known as “argument by authority.”

Science is never determined by a vote of scientists. For example, I’ve never been in a design project meeting where the lead engineer said, “Okay, now let’s take a vote to see which design is correct.” Engineers know that design approaches are based on analysis and testing, not majority votes. One of my favorite true stories on relying on a vote of experts to determine the truth can be found here: “Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)“. (Also see “Global Warming:Consensus Is Not Science.”.)

2. The predictions made by those who believe in man-made global warming have, thus far, been completely wrong; our earth has stubbornly failed to conform to those predictions.

When predicted results do not occur, instead of concluding that the warming hypothesis failed, we see excuses (“our model was a bit faulty”) followed by tweaking of the models. However I have yet to see where the new models are back-tested far enough to actually validate their accuracy; i.e. an accurate model will explain prior climate, as well as recent climate. Experienced engineers, who rely on rigorous analysis and testing, are familiar with the tendency of inexperienced engineers to “tweak and tune” simulation results until the desired result is obtained, regardless of how far the simulation may depart from reality.

Senior engineers may also try to fudge their data to salvage a failed design hypothesis, because engineers are human. That’s why engineers employ a peer review process, to guard against the natural foibles of fellow engineers.

3. There are many respected scientists who disagree with the man-made global warming hypothesis.

These experts offer alternate and reasonable hypotheses, such as the effects of the sun. Indeed, there are some who believe that we are on the cusp on entering a mini ice-age, based on climate correlation to lower solar activity (e.g., “Sun’s activity will cause global cooling“).

On the international stage, however, proponents of global warming try to shut down peer review by qualified dissenters. This is a clear sign that the warmist arguments will not withstand objective scrutiny.

For example, Australian climate expert Dr. David Evans found an error in the climate prediction model used by the warmists (“World will start COOLING DOWN in 2017, claims one of planet’s top climate change experts“), which shows that climate sensitivity to CO2 is small, which negates the “man-made” claim of the warmists.

4. “What can it hurt?” is offered as a reason to implement global warming reduction measures.

This plea is based on the theory that the consequences of warming would be so catastrophic that it is reasonable to have a global big-government effort to reduce CO2. This statement is based on many fallacies; e.g. “appeal to consequences,” “appeal to emotion,” and the “politician’s syllogism” that states “we must do something!” regardless of whether or not that measure will be an overreaction, ineffective, or even make things worse. It is also reflects superstitious and hysterical thinking.

Ironically, some respected scientists have argued that some warming (man-made or natural) is likely good for humanity because maintaining warmer climates helps produce the higher crop yields required for growing populations.

Summary

A majority consensus is not a scientific proof. Science will be determined by the facts, as supported by replicable analysis and test. In the meantime, respect should be afforded minority opinions; there are numerous times throughout the history of scientific advancement when a minority (and often ridiculed) opinion has become generally accepted wisdom. Also, scientific conclusions are rarely “settled,” they will be tentative or conditional, based on the best available evidence at the time.

Is man-made global warming occurring? I don’t know. I do know that the warmists have not proven their case, that they tend to use logical fallacies and emotionally-driven statements to promote their position, that their predictions continually fail (followed by model tweak “corrections” that are not validated by back-testing), that they use ridicule and other ad hominem attacks against qualified scientists who disagree with them, and that they also seem to be closely allied to governmental entities that provide them with salaries and perks, which suggests confirmation bias. And if the warmists are wrong, the consequences of imposing a solution for which no problem exists can not only potentially make matters worse, it can also result in gross economic distortions which cost jobs and drain resources that could otherwise be applied to actual problems, such as earth-threatening asteroids, severe damage to the ocean by nanoparticles and other modern pollutants, ebola and other plagues, etc.

Because engineers are applied scientists, they employ critical thinking to successfully create the wondrous things which make our lives comfortable and fun. They are pretty good at keeping emotions at bay, and are adept at evaluating claims in a skeptical yet open-minded manner. Engineers are also willing and able to change their opinions — pro or con — based on a careful evaluation of new claims. This ability to rationally, albeit sometimes imperfectly, evaluate a variety of issues is one of many reasons why I believe that engineers are often the best ones to evaluate the important issues of the day.

-Ed Walker

 

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A Simple Solution for Businesses Whose Religious Convictions Will Not Allow Them To Serve Gays

melissassweetcakesNote: This post, like a prior one on race (Yes, Race Can Be Discussed Constructively and Civilly), is intended to provide an example of how Engineering Thinking can be used to discuss contentious issues in a good-natured and civil manner.

Engineering Thinking principles tell us that gays are usually gay because they were born that way. A logical analysis supports this. In decades past, gays who were openly gay were risking loss of jobs, loss of societal respect, and in many cases violence. Therefore, it can be argued, with such penalties in force against being gay, why would someone choose to be gay? In addition, studies of animals have found that a small percentage of the members of numerous species engage in homosexual behavior, including same-sex mating.

These factors lead to the strong hypothesis that being gay is simply a natural phenomenon. (If you disagree please provide your logic-based or empirical arguments, and you will receive a respectful and fair hearing, although I reserve the right to question your comments from a science perspective. Also, anti-gay comments solely based on emotion will not be posted.)

But what about those folks whose cultural/religious beliefs prevent them from arriving at this gay-is-okay conclusion? Should they be forced to change their views (e.g. “Christian bakers face $135K fine for refusing to make cake for gay wedding“)? If this is what you think, then you are subscribing to a view that is as unscientific as it is tyrannical.

Although science indicates that being gay is a natural phenomenon, science also says that people who have deep emotional imprints due to long-held cultural beliefs are not going to rapidly change their views, regardless of rapid changes in the general culture. Forcing folks (by penalty of fines or imprisonment) to immediately adopt the latest “politically correct” beliefs (which are often based on junk science) can be just as damaging to society as the maintenance of beliefs that have been shown by science to be invalid.

Here’s the solution: A business that does not wish to serve gays should simply change the business to a members-only club — a private club. Patrons can be charged a modest annual fee to become a member, and membership can be made contingent upon the values held by the club. For example, Melissa’s Sweet Cakes becomes Melissa’s Christian Sweet Cakes (Private Club).

Private clubs can therefore provide a civil intermediate step that allows those with emotionally-ingrained habits to follow their beliefs, until such time as the results of good science — a long-term process — percolate throughout the general culture.

Ed Walker

Related: I Don’t Want To Hear It

 

 

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ET ALERT: Toyota ‘Unintended Acceleration’ Is Still Occurring

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Despite claims that Toyota’s problems with unintended acceleration have been due to driver error, or cured via floor-mat adjustments, a recent case has been reported wherein neither of those factors were relevant. As reported by “Charles” in a message to Engineering Thinking:

The following events occurred on May 15, 2015 while driving from Charleston, SC to Nashville, TN (I-26, I-40) in my 2012 Toyota Highlander.  Normally interstate traffic is so congested it prevents use of cruise control; however, that morning I was able to turn it on and set it on 75 MPH.  As we were coming up on slower moving traffic, I applied the brakes to switch off the cruise control and it did not work – even after pumping the brake pedal.  I then used the off/on on button(switch) on end of cruise control lever to switch off cruise control – and that worked. If that switch had failed – or if I had panicked – then I would have had a “runaway” Toyota.  The car did not accelerate, but when you are standing on the brakes and the car is still “cruising” at 75 MPH it sure feels like it is accelerating.

Later on during the same trip I tried the cruise control again (several times actually) and each time applying the brakes would not switch off the cruise control.  Whatever is wrong with the cruise control system, on this Toyota, it is what we call in my line of work a “solid fault” – not intermittent.  I feel confident that my car will repeat the scenario every time it is tried…

…I am a semi-retired Electrical Engineer with over 40 years in the power industry.  For approximately 5 of those 40+ years I worked as a field engineer, testing and commissioning power control systems.  So I know a little something about how control systems (cruise or otherwise) are supposed to function.  I would like to add, that in my testing/commissioning experience, I only had one programmable relay that failed out-of-the-box, and it was not a software problem.  All the problems I encountered were related to wiring and/or wiring design … I strongly suspect the Toyota “problem” may also be related to wiring (wiring harness, assembly process, etc) not software.

…Please note, our Highlander has the factory floor mats which are held in place by two hooks.  My cruise control issue had (has) nothing to do with floor mats….

Charles

Charles’ expert qualifications and detailed report are compelling evidence that Toyota still has a serious issue that cannot be dismissed by blaming the driver or the floor mats. My thanks to Charles for sharing his experience, and for alerting Toyota owners to the fact that ‘unintended acceleration’ is still a very real possibility.

Prior posts on this issue can be found at the following links:

2011/02/9
Toyota Unintended Acceleration: “No Electronics-Based Cause”: Not True & Misleading

2010/03/09
Customers Claim “Fixed” Toyotas Are Still Accelerating

2010/02/05
Toyota’s “Drive By Wire” Throttle System Suspected As Crash Cause

2010/02/03
Stop Driving Recalled Toyotas

2009/11/10
Toyota Unintended Acceleration Causing Deaths And Injuries

-Ed Walker

 

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Green Energy Storage: We Can’t Get There with Batteries (Why Systems Analysis is Essential for Making Good Decisions)

wind farmThe Catch-22 of Energy Storage” by John Morgan is quite an article. It exemplifies proper systems analysis, which requires one to stand back and look at the overall Big Picture — examine all of the important variables — in order to improve the odds of arriving at a proper solution.

In brief, the point of the article is that using batteries for energy storage actually results in negative energy savings, when one properly considers the energy required to build and maintain the batteries.

It is quite amazing that — because of the lack of a proper systems analysis — enormous sums have been spent on what strongly appears to be a Quixotic attempt at achieving “green energy savings” based primarily on wishful thinking about batteries.

This is not a criticism of those who like wind or solar power, because those who do have been taught to favor those approaches by a media which is largely incompetent with regard to scientific matters, and corrupt with regard to political policy. This deadly brew has resulted in a culture which embraces emotionally-laden “feel good” pseudoscience at the expense of hard-nosed but effective solutions, solutions that may actually help the environment, as well as ease the pain of our overburdened taxpayers.

Related post: “Look the the Big Picture

-Ed Walker

 

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Is Organic Food Actually Better For You?

organicfoodThe typical argument against organic food is that it is more costly, yet does not provide any additional health benefits.

The argument for organic food is that, because it does not contain nearly as many pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and contaminants, organic food is both safer and more nutritious.

Which argument is correct?

One way to find out would be to use what engineers call a comparative analysis. In a proper comparative analysis, two trials are compared, where the only major variable that is different between the trials is the variable of interest. (If too many significant variables are present, they can obscure the actual results and yield misleading or erroneous conclusions.)

Many trials have already been done of organic versus commercial farming of plant-based foods. A recent study (“Nutritional, food safety benefits of organic farming documented by major study“) reviewed the results of these trials, wherein most of the trials were well-controlled to minimize variables. The conclusion was that organic foods were indeed clearly much safer and much more nutritious. “This study is telling a powerful story of how organic plant-based foods are nutritionally superior and deliver bona fide health benefits,” said Charles Benbrook, co-author.

 

 

 

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Women, Protect Your Life: Read The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker

giftoffearEvery so often I come across a book (in this case, it was recommended by a friend) that is worth its weight in platinum. The Gift of Fear by Gavin De Becker is a dazzling presentation of extensively researched facts, many of them contrary to our popular notions, that provide bright insight into our culture’s epidemic of violence. More importantly, De Becker provides practical and essential guidance for those women who may be suffering from domestic abuse, stalking, or even pushy dates, and also for those who may be wondering whether or not they should stay in a problematic relationship. Mr. De Becker also explores the mystery of why some women stay with abusive men, and provides the insight that can motivate such psychologically trapped women to break free.

Although the subject is dark, Mr. De Becker writes in a respectful yet entertaining style, and even manages to adroitly and tastefully inject humor along the way. Using numerous can’t-put-down-the-book true stories to illustrate his points, De Becker captivates while he educates.

Writing a book is tough work, and as a successful businessman for many years, it is unlikely that Mr. De Becker needed the income. It is one of those books that appears to be a labor of love, with the author motivated by a desire to share his deep knowledge and experience in order to improve the safety of women. Towards the end of the book De Becker teaches us all, men and women alike, on how to avoid over-fearfulness while being alert to danger. An impressive balancing act, successfully accomplished.

-Ed Walker

Note: I do not accept compensation, direct or indirect, for any reviews posted in Engineering Thinking

 

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Protect Your Online Privacy

prismAre you fearful that governmental and other busybodies might be monitoring your online browsing and your emails? Here are some tips on helping to protect your privacy: “Privacy Tools: Encrypt What You Can,” by Julia Angwin, ProPublica, 6 May 2014.

 

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