Category Archives: Independent Verification

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.


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 Cup of Teavana? No Thank You

teapotAre Teavana Teas contaminated?

Yes, according to a November 2012 report by Glaucus Research (found here). Thirteen Teavana samples that Glaucus had tested by an independent testing laboratory yielded the following disturbing conclusions:

  • 100% of the tea samples contained pesticides that exceed U.S. food pesticide standards
  • The teas (with one exception) were not organic as claimed

(Please see the report for complete results.)

It should be noted that Glaucus is a “short seller” company, who was positioned to profit if Teavana stock share prices fell. However, being a short seller has no bearing on the issue raised by Glaucus: were the Teavana samples contaminated as claimed, or not?

Teavana responded to the Glaucus report by saying that each batch of their teas undergoes testing, but did not specifically dispute the Glaucus test results. Starbucks, who subsequently purchased Teavana, likewise issued no specific rebuttal of the Glaucus test findings.

So I emailed Teavana the following:

I have seen the recent report by Glaucus Research, and your response, related to pesticides in your tea products. Could you please forward to me via email attachment a copy of the most recent independent third party test results that you use to validate the purity of your teas?

During this time, Teavana was bought by Starbucks, who finally responded as follows:

Hi Ed –

Apologies for the delayed response.  Teavana’s IR website is not actively monitored since the acquisition closed and there was miscommunication in directing you there.

Starbucks has reviewed the report issued by Glaucus Research Group, a short seller that had a vested interest in lowering the value of Teavana stock.  Tea sold in Teavana stores is safe and meets Starbucks high quality standards.

JoAnn DeGrande
vice president, Investor Relations | Starbucks Coffee Company

To which I asked Ms. DeGrande:

Thank you.
Is it possible to see a copy of the report that validated safety? These are generally provided by independent third-party testing laboratories.

To which she replied:

Your request is for non-public documents, which we do not provide.  Thank you for your interest in our companies.

To which I responded:

Well, can you provide anything that formally confirms the issue? E.g. a copy of the safety or quality standards that you meet (just their titles and issue dates), or a statement by a corporate official citing the quality/safety standards that are met; etc.? I’m sure you can appreciate the need for some sort of cited standard.

Which was ignored.

My conclusion: Because Teavana/Starbucks did not respond directly to the specific test results presented by Glaucus, and instead only issued generalized corporate public relations statements, and because they did not produce any documents defining their quality standards or compliance with same, it appears that it is likely that the tested Teavana products were indeed contaminated. Therefore I will not consume Teavana products.

If you are a regular Teavana consumer and have had any unexplained health issues, it might be worthwhile having some samples of your Teavana teas tested by an independent lab.

Teavana/Starbucks: You are welcome to comment, plus please, no PR spin or generalities, and answer the following questions:

1. Were the Glaucus test results correct, or not? If not, why not?

2. What specific standards do you follow to ensure the quality of Teavana teas?

3. From the November 2012 time period, please provide a pdf of a certificate issued by the independent testing agency that validated the quality of Teavana teas produced during that time.

-Ed Walker


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Flying the Flaming Skies: Should You Trust the Boeing Dreamliner?

dreamlinerWhen a serious safety issue occurs, the normal engineering process tends to become quickly corrupted by management misdirection and stonewalling. Some prior examples of this are the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, and Toyota’s more recent “unintended acceleration” fiasco. And now, as I recently discussed in the DACI Newsletter, we have fires on Boeing’s new Dreamliner aircraft (“Boeing’s Flaming Lithium Batteries: Was This A Risk Worth Taking?“).

In the Challenger case, although the root cause was immediately known, it took a long time for the NASA managers to admit what they knew. This is because, prior to launch, they had ignored the pleas of their engineers, who had been very concerned about the possibility that a large and critical o-ring seal might fail catastrophically due to unseasonably cold weather. This is indeed what happened, but that simple fact was deliberately buried under NASA’s confusing jargon and misdirecting blather, until physicist Richard Feynman cut through all the nonsense with a simple science demonstration. At a hearing on the disaster, he showed how the o-ring became too brittle to perform its function when exposed to a frigid temperature. (You can see him dipping the o-ring material into a glass of ice water here; start at 1:57.)

With regard to the recent Toyota unintended acceleration issue, Toyota likewise tried to downplay the problem, until forced to address it because of the growing number of fatal incidents. (Note 1)

boeing_batteryToday, Boeing is faced with a crisis: the lithium batteries used in their new Dreamliner aircraft have caught on fire during some initial flights, forcing those flights to be aborted, and the fleet to be subsequently grounded while the problem is investigated.


1. I have no proof of this, but it is my firm belief that there are engineers at Boeing who strongly recommended that lithium batteries not be used on the Dreamliner.

2. Using the batteries was not wise, since lithium batteries have a history of catching on fire. If the battery properties were clearly understood, there would not be incidents of lithium batteries bursting into flame in cell phones and laptops, and of being the cause of the tragic crash of UPS Airlines Flight 6 in December 2010.

3. On January 30 (after the flaming battery incidents), Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said, “We feel good about the battery technology and its fit for the airplane. We have just got to get to the root cause of these incidents and we will take a look at the data as it evolves, but there is nothing that we have learned that causes us to question it at this stage.” At the time of his statement, lithium batteries were known to have a history of catching on fire, which is at odds with Mr. McNerney’s purported optimism.

4. The steps to reassure the flying public that the Dreamliner battery system is safe should include:

a. Generation of a detailed analysis, vetted by an independent third party review, of the battery properties that affect the tendency of the batteries to catch on fire; e.g. chemistry, mechanical tolerances, operating temperature, charge/discharge rate, etc. The lithium batteries used by Boeing would be redesigned accordingly.

b. Confirmation of the analysis by a demonstration showing that the redesigned batteries, with proper construction and application, cannot catch on fire when subjected to the worst case combination of variables (e.g. high ambient temperature, high charge/discharge rates, shock/vibration, aging, etc.)

c. Even after the battery system has been redesigned, the possibility will remain that a rare and unintended event (e.g. extreme shock, or higher than normal discharge) could ignite the batteries. Therefore there should be a demonstration that a containment design will successfully prevent a fire in the battery system from breaching the containment and threatening the flight. (Such second-stage protection is routine for critical hazards, and is especially necessary because of the extreme volatility of lithium.)

A much simpler option, as I earlier recommended, would be to discontinue the use of the hazardous and unstable lithium batteries, and replace them with stable batteries such as nickel metal-hydride. (Following this logic, Airbus has recently pulled lithium batteries from its new A350 design.)

The bottom line: We cannot expect zero risk, but we should expect that proper engineering be applied to known hazards. For example, gasoline and other fuels are highly flammable and very hazardous, but because of proper engineering we all feel comfortable with the gas tanks that are strapped under the cars we drive, and with the large containers of fuel that accompany us on the planes we fly. We do not expect gas tanks to spontaneously ignite, ever. The same reasonable expectation should apply to batteries.

Note 1. Although Toyota has maintained that a faulty floor mat was the root cause, I believe that there was an additional serious problem in the electrical system, based on the report of a driver who experienced uncontrolled acceleration until he turned off his cruise control (see “Toyota Unintended Acceleration: “No Electronics-Based Cause”: Not True & Misleading.” Related posts are listed under the Protect Yourself tab, Health & Safety, here). My guess is that the cruise control design was inadequate from a safety standpoint, and that the problem was quietly remedied by Toyota.


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Protect Yourself: Four Ways To Tell If Someone Is Trying To Emotionally Manipulate You

That salesperson may be trying to fool you. And perhaps your new boyfriend/girlfriend is, too. How can you tell?

As mentioned before (“How Do You Make Decisions?“), the reason that engineers are so successful at creating useful products is not because they are smarter than everyone else, it’s because their ideas are subjected to rigorous review. An engineer will be challenged by others during the review, mercilessly, to make sure that lousy ideas are squelched before they can do harm to the company’s profits or reputation. (Fear of embarrassment is a good motivator, so most engineers are well-prepared when they have to make a presentation.)

Therefore, whether you are considering the purchase of a product, the establishment of a new relationship, or for whom to vote in the next election, act as though you were going to have to justify your decision to a room full of tough-minded engineers. Remember, they will want to see your decision supported by research and logical analysis, not emotions or slogans.


1. Take My Word For It

People who are trying to sell you something can be very persuasive. But if they can’t back up their pitch with independent data (think Consumer Reports), beware. A lack of independent data is one of the best indicators of a dubious or fraudulent claim (e.g., see “Is EasyWater (The “No Salt Water Conditioner”) A Scam?“). Another example: Before you commit too much to a new relationship, find out what your prospective partner’s friends, acquaintances, and co-workers really think of him/her. Since many people will not offer negative information unless they’re asked, you might be very surprised at the answers you receive; e.g., “My son’s a lazy bum; I’m surprised you’re going out with him.”

2. Don’t Question Me, I’m The Authority

Be very wary of folks in positions of authority who bristle at your desire to ask questions, or to seek a second opinion. Although someone may speak with authority (“you need chemo”), there may be other equally-qualified experts who have different views (“whatever you do, don’t take chemo”). As a rule of thumb, true professionals will welcome your questions and encourage you to get other opinions.

3. This Will Solve All Your Problems

Avoid products or services that promise to quickly and simply solve all of your health / weight / relationship problems (a single vitamin supplement, an eat-all-you-want weight-loss plan, a “how to attract the man/woman of your dreams” with a breast/penis enlargement pill.)

4. Vote For Me And I’ll Protect You From Those Evil Folks Who Are Trying To Rip You Off

Unscrupulous politicians will try to gain your vote by:

a. trying to make you envious of others who have more money
b. running “us against them” ads
c. trying to make you feel that others who have a different skin color or ethnic background are out to take advantage of you
d. avoiding a discussion of specifics and resorting to generalized name-calling, such as:

-successful folks are greedy
-folks getting welfare/unemployment benefits are lazy cheats
-bankers, Wall Street workers, and insurance companies are crooks
-those who prefer community-based solutions, rather than federal mandates, are Social Darwinists who want to push grandma off a cliff
-folks who prefer a strong federal government are socialists or communists

e. using meaningless but emotionally-charged slogans (ET comments are in brackets):

-“tax breaks for the wealthy” [Who are the wealthy and why should they pay more? If  a person is very wealthy that does not mean that you must be less prosperous; in fact, the opposite is usually true. See “Why Pizzanomics Is Immoral“]

-“take back the country” [Is it missing? Has someone checked behind the couch cushions?]

-“affordable health care for all” [Why not food, clothes, autos, and iPads for all?]

-“liberals are un-American” [Which persons, specifically, and why?]

-“social justice” [A code word meaning, “we should eliminate income inequality.” But how can we make incomes equal without penalizing the industrious, the thrifty, and/or the lucky; i.e., without creating moral hazards?]

-“conservatives are stupid” [Which persons, specifically, and why?]

-“the 1% against the 99%” [See “More Thoughts On Forcing The Rich To Pay ‘Their Fair Share‘”]

-“only criminals want gun control” [As logical as “only gun owners want criminal control”]

-“we need government investment” [Governments do not invest; they just move money from the pockets of some citizens into the pockets of others, inefficiently (see “An Antidote For The Folly Of Government ‘Investment’“) and often in a corrupt fashion.]

-Ed Walker


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PolitiFact’s Analysis of Cain’s 9-9-9 Plan is Fatally Flawed

PolitiFact, as we’ve mentioned before (“PolitiFact Earns ‘Pants On Fire’ Rating“), has the annoying habit of claiming to impartially fact-check various statements made by public officials. Unfortunately, PolitiFact does not really analyze (using the accepted science definition of the term), it simply offers two-cent opinions masquerading under the haughty label of “analysis.”

Case in point: PolitiFact claims to have analyzed Herman Cain’s statement that his 9-9-9 plan will result in lower taxes for someone making less than $50,000 a year, and rates the claim “Mostly False.” (“Cain’s ‘9-9-9’ plan no pal of working poor,” headlines the edited version in the 17 Oct 2011 edition of the St. Petersburg Times; the full online version is here).

1. The first major problem with PolitiFact’s analysis is that it was not shown to be objective. PolitiFact selected three tax accountants to provide an opinion, but since Cain’s 9-9-9 plan — if implemented — will substantially reduce the need for tax accountants, they are the last folks that should be asked for an assessment.

(Oddly, after touting the three accountants, Politifact barely mentions them. The newspaper version of the article only cites the comments of one of the three, who happened to be very critical of Cain’s plan. The online version quotes a second accountant who had a positive comment. There is no mention whatever of the mysterious third accountant.)

2. Politifact states in the online version, “For this fact-check, we’ll only be talking about the personal income tax and the sales tax since the business tax directly affects only business owners and corporations.” This assertion is nonsense, however, since everyone’s effective income is directly impacted by the prices that business owners and corporations charge their customers, and those prices are greatly affected by federal corporate and payroll taxes.

PolitiFact completely ignores such taxes, which are often hidden taxes that the Cain plan eliminates. For example, when most folks purchase a loaf of bread, they are aware of the state sales tax that’s added at the checkout counter, but they may not be aware that a portion of the price tag on the bread contains hidden federal taxes; i.e. the basic price is not only what the baker charges to bake the bread, it also includes an extra amount to cover some or all of what the baker has to pay the federal government in taxes.

Bottom line: PolitiFact’s analysis is fatally flawed. Its analysis of Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan does not prove anything, one way or the other.

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Pocketbook: No, Your Car Will Not Run On Water

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

ET Extra is proud to announce the presentation of its highest-rated Five Baloney Award to web sites (e.g. Extreme Fuel Savings) that sell books or kits that supposedly will allow you to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen that is then used as added fuel for your car.

Is extracting fuel from water plausible? The basic science is this: it takes more energy to separate oxygen and hydrogen out of water than can be obtained by recombining those elements to release energy for fuel. Furthermore, if some hitherto undiscovered principle of science were involved, there would be an uproar in the scientific community, likely involving a Nobel Prize. But this has not occurred, plus these sites provide no independent objective evidence to support their claims.

Can A Company Be Trusted?
If It Doesn’t Provide Independent Test Data To Support Its Claims,
Then Probably Not

When extravagant claims are made by those who are trying to sell you something, it will typically be found that they are either (a) outright frauds, or (b) self-deluded, stemming from a poor understanding of science.

“On the whole, scientific discoveries, even accidental ones, are most likely to be made, investigated, and exploited by folks who have a very good understanding of the relevant principles of existing science. Ignorance of well-established science causes many sincere and dedicated people to waste lives and careers chasing moonbeams.”

-Donald E. Simanek, The Museum of Unworkable Devices

-Ed Walker


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