RSS

Category Archives: Bad Science

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

 

Tags: , ,

ET ALERT: Toyota ‘Unintended Acceleration’ Is Still Occurring

fire

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

 

Tags: , , ,

5 Big Reasons Why “Global Warming Is A Fact” Is A Lie

burningearthIs man-made global warming occurring? Despite what you may read or hear from the media, man-made global warming has not been established beyond a reasonable doubt. Here are five big reasons why:

1. Many experienced and credible scientists with good character do not believe that man-made global warming has been proved.

2. Proponents of man-made global warming claim that warming is a fact because of “consensus”; i.e they say that a majority of scientists agree that man-made global warming is happening. But consensus is a logical fallacy, and a sign of junk science. There have been numerous instances where a minority of scientists have ultimately been proven correct, regardless of the prevailing consensus of the day. Science is based on fact, not on a vote of scientists.

3. Proponents of man-made global warming, if they truly believed in their research and analysis, would welcome the views of skeptics, because only by such challenges does science eventually converge on the truth. Instead, many proponents of man-made global warming do not welcome criticism or skeptical inquiry, and instead wage personal attacks on the skeptics. (Personal attacks are an example of the “ad hominem” logical fallacy.)

4. Proponents of man-made global warming base their beliefs on data that cannot be replicated by other scientists.

5. Proponents of man-made global warming are continually adjusting the “models” they previously created and used for predicting today’s weather, when today’s weather is not what was predicted by their earlier models. And rather than admit failure, the proponents try to obscure that fact by making up excuses and continually tinkering with their models.

A couple of interesting and thorough overviews of the junk science underlying the proponents of global warming can be found here (both by Robert Wagner):

Global Warming ‘Science’; What Investors Need To Know, Don’t Just Trust The “Experts

Climate ‘Science’ Bombshell May Be Getting Ready To Burst

The following recent article is also of interest:

The game is up for climate change believers” by Charles Moore.

(Be sure to check the comments at the end of the article by Exton, “Word of the Environmentalist.”)

p.s. I’m finding less time to compose in-depth posts, so am trying to provide brief updates of interesting news bites through twitter, which you can follow here: http://twitter.com/engthinking

-Ed Walker

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

GOVERNMENT FOOLISHNESS: Incandescent Bulbs Banned? No Problem, Just Buy A Rugged Version

incandescent_light_bulbHere’s an option to bypass our busybody government’s anti-freedom and anti-science ban of incandescent light bulbs: buy a “rough service” version. “Rough service” lamps are the same as standard incandescents, but are more rugged and not affected by the ban. One source for such bulbs is Newcandescent.

Also see:

Unintended Consequences: Nanny Engineering,” 2nd Qtr 2011 DACI Newsletter

GOVERNMENT FOOLISHNESS: Incandescent Bulbs Banned? No Problem, Just Buy A Heat Ball,” 1st Qtr 2012 DACI Newsletter

-Ed Walker

 

Tags: , ,

Yes, Race Can Be Discussed Constructively and Civilly

colors1Note: I sometimes issue posts that are deliberately a bit provocative, hoping to stimulate thinking or to spark a debate. “Mr. President: I Am Not a Racist and Neither Is Anyone I Know” was one of those posts. For my small blog, the post had wide distribution (several hundred at last count), and I’m happy to say that, except for one flippant comment, all responses have been constructive. One notable response, sent by Mr. Keith Fong, was an exemplary example of civil debate. I am responding to Mr. Fong’s comments in this post, to help demonstrate how engineering thinking principles can be productively applied to controversial topics.

Dear Mr. Fong:

Thank you for your constructive and even-tempered comments in response to my post.

You said:

You argue that you, personally, have never met a racist. Really? How have you been searching for them? What is the analytical approach that you’ve taken? Perhaps you don’t see racism and haven’t seen racism simply because you’re not looking for it. “The Invisible Gorilla” is a fine book on the science of not seeing what you’re not looking for.

You are questioning my veracity or my self-knowledge, which is a fair question; I address those issues further down the page. Regarding improper observation, self-delusions, faulty memories, etc., I agree that learning about our limitations is essential for proper science. A listing of books on “bad science” that I think are worthwhile can be found here: DACI Resources.

Regarding some references on racial research, I suggest Race and Culture by Thomas Sowell, who makes a convincing case that culture is really the important factor.

You said:

Perhaps there is an issue of definition here. What is racism to you? Do you have to burn a cross in the yard of someone of another race to be a racist? If a waiter in a restaurant doesn’t offer the same level of service to a person of a particular race as to people of other races because the waiter “knows” people of that race aren’t good tippers, is that racism?

Good question. How about this for a definition:

“A racist (or sexist, or other “ist”) is someone who, when they interact with an individual and notice a certain group characteristic, will reflexively have a strong overriding emotional reaction. They are not really seeing the person, they are seeing an image in their head that has nothing to do with the person. Their subsequent interactions are guided by this mental fantasy, and not by objective evaluation of the individual.”

There is however a subtle but important difference when one is asked about a hypothetical person; someone that you are not interacting with, face-to-face. In such cases mental profiling occurs: one will review what is known about the person’s group’s characteristics, and assess the odds of interfacing productively with a random member of that group. This is not evil, it is simply a natural matter of playing the odds, based on a knowledge of the characteristics that are typical for the group. As a recent example of this point, please see “10 Black child geniuses you should know” by Amir Shaw, 28 June 2013, Bayview.

Excerpts:

“If you only watched the evening news or depended on pop culture to paint a picture of young Blacks, you would probably think that the majority of Black youngsters were only ambitious about sports and music – or caught up in crime and debauchery.

However, the face of Black success isn’t limited to the fields that are occupied by Jay-Z, Beyonce and LeBron James. There are a multitude of young Blacks who are achieving at a high level in science, math, classical music, chess and other knowledge-based areas and preparing to change society.”

You said:

If you are going to make a sincere evaluation of whether racism still exists, you would have to use more than your limited experience. You would also have to establish and challenge your assumptions (the first of which is that your personal experience is meaningful and significant to whether or not racism exists).

Where would you search for evidence of racism? I think the criminal justice system is a fine place to start. There is plenty of data available that is broken out by race: The rates of drug use, the rates of incarceration for drug crimes, the rates of murder and the rates of death sentences.

Another place to look would be voting rights. Why are the laws to access to voting becoming more restrictive? Who are the people most affected? The justifications I’ve seen are to prevent fraud, but where is the evidence of fraud?

Interesting points. However, I did not claim to make an evaluation of whether or not racism still exists; in fact, I said the opposite (“Yes, there are some racists out there, around the fringes; we’ve all read about them.”). I suppose you may be taking issue with my characterization of racism being a much smaller issue than portrayed by the general media, and your points would be a way to help quantify the extent of racism. But the primary thrust of my post was about the logical fallacy of implying someone to be a racist because of their group membership.

However I can see that a lack of clarity on my part may have caused you a bit of confusion. I should have defined the related engineering thinking principle — fallacy of composition — where it is illogical to conclude that what is true of some parts of a population is true of all parts of the population.

You said:

Do you know that you are not racist? Have you evaluated yourself? Have you ever taken an “Implicit Association Test?” I have and, I have to say, I learned some things that contradicted my self image that I’m an exemplar of unbiased thought and action.

I agree that it’s always possible to learn more about oneself. However, based on the definition of “racist” provided above, I can state that I do not reflexively have strong overriding emotional reactions when meeting other people, based on their group characteristics. Furthermore, it is not scientifically appropriate for me to be expected to prove that I am not a racist, because I have made a testable and verifiable assertion. To invalidate my assertion would require knowledge of me as an individual. None of those I mentioned in the earlier post know me as an individual, therefore it is scientifically invalid for any of them to suggest that I am a racist. (For them to assume that I am without knowing me, because they may know some racists in my group, is a fallacy of composition.)

You said:

To roll this up, yours is an opinion post. You make an assertion without evidence and proceed to take personal offense. That is *not* engineering thinking. Where’s the data? Where’s the dispassionate analysis? Where’s the assumption that you’re wrong and you’ve shown that the data indicates you’re right?

Your comments about not providing supporting evidence are quite correct. From a practical standpoint, providing a thorough evidence- and/or analysis-based paper on any controversial topic would require much more time than available to me, so I have to shorthand my arguments with references and/or brief analysis. This is consistent with what I state in my Home page (par. 5), “…the purpose of this blog is not to convince you of a particular view. The purpose is to present some important principles and show how to use them to arrive at useful — even vital — conclusions. You are encouraged to question everything I say, and to do your own research and fact-checking to see if you agree or disagree. Such independent verification is itself an essential component of engineering thinking.”

You seem to be implying that I made a claim that there are no racists. But my key assertion was the one in the title: I am not a racist, and neither is anyone I know. This is a happy fact that you can disbelieve if you think I am a liar or deluded, but if you knew me personally I think you would believe the assertion’s sincerity and accuracy. Because I am not a racist I take offense at those who imply that I am, simply because I am a member of a group. For example, in responding to the President’s comments on the tragic Trayvon Martin case, Senator John McCain said, “Events like this highlight and emphasize that we have a long way to go.” We? Who is “we”? As for myself and for the folks that I know, we don’t have a long way to go; we’re already there, and have been for a long time. Perhaps the senator’s comment would have been more accurate if he had said, “There are still a few in this country, a small percentage of the populace, that have a long way to go.”

burglarSometimes it helps to illustrate a point by removing emotionally-laden words and replacing them with ones that are non-controversial. For example: There are burglars. However I am not a burglar, and I don’t know anyone who is. Therefore I would be offended if someone were to suggest that I was one, or that I had latent burgling tendencies unknown to myself, and that I should take sensitivity training to detect such innate tendencies. Ridiculous? Yes, but it’s equivalent to suggesting that someone is a racist simply because of group affiliation.

In my view, the ill-willed racist society that is strangely and illogically portrayed by much of the media appears to be a sad and troubling hallucination of their own invention, easily discounted by observation. Although some racists and other “ists” of all types surely exist (as do burglars), in the main it is a bright and tolerant America that I see and experience.  Just take a look at gatherings in offices and restaurants and malls and sporting events and parks and parties, and you will find folks of all races, ethnicities, religions, etc., mixing together productively and harmoniously. If you know of some place where this is not the case, perhaps we can invite President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Candy Crowley, Chris Mathews, and Senator McCain to visit those poor souls and provide some counseling.

Again, Mr. Fong, thank you for your comments. Since I’ve always thought it unfair for editors to have the last word, if you like, I will publish any follow-up comments you may provide without editorial intervention.

-Ed Walker

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Mr. President: I Am Not A Racist, and Neither Is Anyone I Know

multicolorsDear President Obama, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Candy Crowley, Chris Mathews, Senator McCain, and all the rest who feel that America is full of racists: You’re wrong.

For decades I have worked beside folks of all colors, religions, ethnicities, genders, left-right handedness, and other irrelevant characteristics, and have not yet met a racist. The folks I know are concerned only with whether or not a person has good character; whether or not they are trustworthy. Secondly, as an employer or co-worker, the only other consideration is whether or not they are competent at what they do.

That’s it. That’s all. Yes, there are some racists out there, around the fringes; we’ve all read about them. But they are largely irrelevant today. Eliminating racism is yesterday’s battle, fought and almost completely won.

So — and I suspect I am speaking for millions of my fellow citizens — I am absolutely outraged that you think that the color of my skin is enough to label me a racist. I am not, and neither is anyone I know.

If you know a racist, then point them out — name names — and let the law take care of them. If you’re not willing to be specific, then keep quiet. Enough with generic group guilt accusations, based on nothing. You are practicing Bad Science; drawing conclusions from emotional predilections rather than objective review and analysis.

All of you who engage in this racial victimization nonsense, from the President on down, owe me — and millions like me — an apology.

-Ed Walker

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Global Warming: Consensus Is Not Science

Proponents of the idea of human-induced global warming often claim that there is an overwhelming consensus among scientists that such warming is a fact. For example, consider this recent article:

Consensus Confirmed: 97 Percent of Climate Papers Agree on Manmade Global Warming
by Brendan DeMelle, 22 June 2013 Huff Post Green

burningearth“A new survey conducted by a team of volunteers at Skeptical Science has definitively confirmed the scientific consensus in climate science literature — 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers agree that global warming is happening and human activities are responsible.

“It does not get any clearer than this. It should finally put to rest the claims of climate deniers that there is a scientific debate about global warming. Of course, this bunch isn’t known for being reasonable or susceptible to facts. But maybe the mainstream media outlets that have given deniers a megaphone will finally stop…”

The problem with grandiose statements such as the one above is that consensus is simply a collection of opinions, it is not scientific proof. In fact, when “consensus” is presented as “proof” then you can be sure that the presenters do not actually have verifiable proof. Instead they are merely practicing junk science.

And what about the opinions of those scientists who hold a minority view? Should their opinions be ignored because they have less votes than the majority? No, of course not. The role of true science is to determine which group is correct.

Science converges on the truth by requiring that scientists provide verifiable
evidence of a hypothesis, not by counting scientists’ votes for or against the hypothesis

Still not convinced? I agree that it may seem intuitive that scientists’ beliefs, as confirmed by a consensus of their peers, should be used to guide us when proof is not available. But this is just gambling; there have been numerous times throughout scientific history when the consensus of scientists has been completely wrong. For example, at one time the near-unanimous consensus of doctors was that it was perfectly fine to perform their work without first washing their hands: see “Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2).” (For other reasons to be cautious about allowing intuition to be our guide, see “Why Not Go With The Gut?“)

Bottom line: Those who promote “consensus” as being equivalent to a scientific proof do not understand how science works, and should be ignored.

-Ed Walker

 

Tags: , , ,