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Category Archives: 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

 

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Can Spinal Injuries Be Cured?

We’llspine know soon. InVivo Therapeutics, whose spinal scaffolding treatment has restored the ability to walk in primates with severely damaged spinal cords, has received FDA approval to perform human trials. The trials should start very soon, with results expected in approximately a year or less. It should be noted that InVivo is cautious about expecting a “cure,” but is optimistic that some improvement or restoration of function will be achieved.

If these trials are successful it will be a magnificent achievement, and a reminder of how much we all owe to the scientists and engineers who devote their lives (and risk their fortunes) in developing advanced technologies.

Disclosure: I have recently purchased shares of InVivo (NVIV). Some interesting background on InVivo can be found in this article by PropThink: “InVivo’s Solution To Spinal Cord Injury Is A Billion Dollar Opportunity.” Despite the glowing review, I consider this stock to be highly speculative and do not advise buying shares unless you can afford to lose your entire investment.

-Ed Walker

 

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Proud About Your Family Tree? Look Down Into Its Roots And You’ll Find A Worm

Please see “Human origins traced to a worm

Credit: Jean-Bernard Caron/Royal Ontario Museum

 

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ET EXTRA UPDATE: Man-Made Global Warming? Apparently Not

Scientists at the CERN particle-physics laboratory in Geneva have recently presented results that tend to confirm that the Big Gorilla affecting the earth’s temperature is — the sun. The results appear to be based on good science, and accordingly have created a commotion amongst the “man is causing global warming” crowd that appears to be motivated more by a lust for government money than the search for the truth. (Also see the earlier ET post, “Globaloney Warming,” and “Global Warming” in the 3rd Quarter 2008 DACI Newsletter).

A nice summary of the reactions to the CERN results can be found here: “Sun Causes Climate Change Shock” by James Delingpole, 27 Aug 2011, The Telegraph

-Ed Walker

 

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Man-Made Global Warming A Scientific Fact? Not So Fast

Excerpts from “Update: 59 Additional Scientists Join Senate Report…More Than 700 International Scientists Dissent Over Man-Made Global Warming Claims“:

“Fifty-nine additional scientists from around the world have been added to the U.S. Senate Minority Report of dissenting scientists, pushing the total to over 700 skeptical international scientists – a dramatic increase from the original 650 scientists featured in the initial December 11, 2008 release. The 59 additional scientists added to the 255-page Senate Minority report since the initial release 13 ½ weeks ago represents an average of over four skeptical scientists a week.  This updated report – which includes yet another former UN IPCC scientist – represents an additional 300 (and growing) scientists and climate researchers since the initial report’s release in December 2007.

“The over 700 dissenting scientists are now more than 13 times the number of UN scientists (52) who authored the media-hyped IPCC 2007 Summary for Policymakers. The 59 additional scientists hail from all over the world, including Japan, Italy, UK, Czech Republic, Canada, Netherlands, the U.S. and many are affiliated with prestigious institutions including, NASA, U.S. Navy, U.S. Defense Department, Energy Department, U.S. Air Force, the Philosophical Society of Washington (the oldest scientific society in Washington), Princeton University, Tulane University, American University, Oregon State University, U.S. Naval Academy and EPA.”

Science and the public are not well-served when scientists succumb to the financial rewards offered by the government in return for touting politically correct views, rather than true science. Fortunately — as indicated by the uncorruptable scientists mentioned above — science has a correcting mechanism, albeit a lagging one, which tends to elevate the truth over the self-serving interests of scientists that are corrupted by government grants.

-Ed Walker

 

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ET EXTRA: McYukky Burgers

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

Step Right Up Folks, and see The Amazing 12-Year Old McDonald’s Yukky Burger

-from “12-Year Old McDonald’s Hamburger, Still Looking Good,” Robyn Lee, 25 Sep 2010

Photo by Karen Hanrahan

An interesting counterpoint analysis can be reviewed here:

The Burger Lab: Revisiting the Myth of The 12-Year Old McDonald’s Burger That Just Won’t Rot (Testing Results!),” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, 5 Nov 2010.

ET is not convinced that the conclusion from the above analysis is correct (the conclusion suffers from the logical fallacy that correlation proves causation), but it is otherwise the type of thought-provoking science-based inquiry that we love to see.


 

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How Do You Make Decisions?

Concerned about your job? Need to improve your relationships? Worried about your health? Confused about which candidate is the best? Afraid of being ripped off when you purchase goods or services? Fearful about the safety of your retirement investments?

Your ability to deal positively and effectively with such issues depends on whether you are an emotional reactor, or a rational thinker.

From all appearances, rational thinking is in short supply these days. Our culture seems intent on placing the emotional caboose in front of the logical engine. We feel that something must be so, because, well, that’s how we feel! Sometimes our feelings are based on assumptions that have been pounded into us since childhood. At other times these feelings are based on the latest snippets of pseudo-news fed to us by the cackling heads in the media. So we just grab the dogma that suits our style, pull it around us like a comfortable old shawl, and rock away our concerns.

And why not? To actually justify a feel-good conclusion would require careful research, skeptical review of the data, and the application of logic. After all that effort, we may not even arrive at a solid conclusion, only a probable one. Therefore, why bother? Why not just skip to the emotionally satisfying and crowd-pleasing conclusion, and dispense with all that intermediate hard work?

The problem with a feel-good approach to life’s issues is that it creates hidden hazards, serious hazards that can threaten your pocketbook, your freedom, and even your life. If you fail to invest in the modest work required for rational thinking, then you are like a sailboat without anchor or rudder, dependent on nature’s whims and unlikely to reach safe harbor, particularly when the seas are boiling.

To many of your fellow citizens, particularly those less desirable types who make a living off of manipulation, or those who are intent on selling you the latest inferior service or doodad, if you are an emotional reactor then you are also a sucker, a pawn, a patsy.

The antidote is Engineering Thinking (see the Why Read This Blog? page).

A point that should be emphasized is that engineers are not necessarily better or smarter than anyone else. For example, engineers blabbing about politics or sports over a beer can be just as emotionally and irrationally exuberant as those without a science background.

The difference is the context in which engineers do their serious thinking. When constrained by the discipline of peer review, Engineering Thinking provides engineers with a tool that, on average and over time, yields better answers. The proof is in front of us. As mentioned in the Introduction to this blog, “Engineering thinking is a proven method for achieving success. Just take a look around you and count the number of gadgets and gizmos that make your world comfortable, productive, and fun.”

In brief, Engineering Thinking teaches us how to minimize our emotions and to maximize our logic. This does not guarantee perfect results, but it greatly improves the odds of making wise decisions. If you want to improve your chances for success in any aspect of life — tuning up a relationship, advancing your career, investing wisely, avoiding scams — you can use Engineering Thinking to your advantage too.

-Ed Walker

 

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Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)

Doctors, financial advisors, and other professionals — even engineers — can be wrong. They are not in the same category as the deliberate frauds discussed in the previous post, but bad advice is still bad advice, and it can be just as dangerous.

Some professionals get too busy to keep up with the advances in their field, and their knowledge becomes outdated. Others have become so specialized that they have a financial incentive to recommend only those procedures or investments that help pay their bills; i.e. they lose the required objectivity to properly meet your needs. In other cases some professionals may feel threatened by new ideas that undermine their cherished beliefs and diminish their status.

Scientific Sins

Science professionals, being human, are quite susceptible to emotional blockage, bias, and sometimes even fraud. (A very interesting older book on this topic is Betrayers Of The Truth by Broad and Wade; Simon and Schuster, 1983.) The scientific method tends to weed these folks out over the long run, but for the short run (which may take years, or even decades), you can hear scientific “conventional wisdom” that is wrong, even damaging.

For example, up until the late nineteenth century, when Louis Pasteur formulated the germ theory of disease, it was common hospital practice for doctors to perform their work without washing their hands. Many years prior to Pasteur’s germ theory, however, Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis discovered that washing the hands with an antiseptic solution dramatically decreased the incidence of a fatal fever. He did not link this to any underlying theory of germs or other explanation; it was simply an empirical observation, but a significant one.

One would think that Semmelweis’ findings would have quickly ushered in a new era of clinical cleanliness, with Semmelweis receiving appropriate recognition for saving many lives, but no. In an ironic and sad example of the stubbornness of humans — even those with scientific training — Semmelweis’ urging of physicians to wash their hands was not only ignored, he was ridiculed and dismissed from his job at the hospital. When he persisted in writing angry letters encouraging physicians to embrace his sanitation methods, he was considered to have lost his mind, and was rewarded with a residence in an asylum. His stay was short, for he was beaten to death by guards within two weeks of his arrival.

Although Semmelweis’ story is an extreme one, it illustrates the fact that favored concepts, even among scientists, die hard. This truth was noted by Max Planck (1858-1947; a German physicist considered to be the father of quantum theory), who said,

“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing
its opponents and making them see the light,
but rather because its opponents eventually die,
and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

In many important regards things are not much better today, not because we drive our maverick scientists to madness, but — perhaps even more troubling — because we are experiencing a proliferation of broad systemic corruption in science. Abetted by the shoddy state of journalism, this makes it exceptionally difficult for average folks to evaluate scientific opinions that can impact their pocketbooks, health, and freedom.

The bottom line is that scientific “truth” can lag reality for a very long time. There are two important points to be learned:

It is not whether a scientist, or 99% of scientists, make a claim,
what matters is the evidence and logic that are presented to validate the claim.

Second, a claim should be stated in clear terms that the average person can understand. Unscrupulous people try to win arguments by saying that only the “experts” can comprehend an issue, and therefore the rest of us, the average citizens, must trust them. This is nonsense. The average person is quite capable of understanding basic physics, basic economics, or other basic matters of science.

Demand clarity.
If someone tells you, “You wouldn’t understand,” tell them,
“Oh, yes I would, if you would speak plainly.”

Tips For Obtaining Advice From Professionals

1.  Before you seek an opinion, verify the credentials of the professional from independent and competent persons or organizations of unquestioned integrity.

2.  Obtain two or more opinions on any important issue. Make sure the professionals have no significant business or social relationships with each other.

3.  Avoid the opinions of those who have a vested interest in their answer (e.g. do not ask a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy for cancer if you need radiation therapy; the predictable (but potentially biased) answer may be “yes,” even though other more objective doctors may say “no”).

4.  Be cautious of those whose advice is coupled to extra products or services that they sell (e.g. doctors who recommend supplements, and who just happen to have those supplements for sale in their clinic). A sign of integrity in such cases will be that such folks will readily provide recommendations for comparable products/services from other independent sources.

5.  Do your own research and ask questions. (If the professional can’t find the time for a full discussion, or resents being challenged, it’s probably best to find someone else.)

6.  Seek those who have previously demonstrated that they will offer advice that may be at odds with their own natural inclinations or financial self-interest. (Such folks are hard to find, but if you do find them, file their names in your “trusted source” folder.)

Next Post:

Internet Hazards, Junk Journalism, and Movie Malarkey: Who Do You Trust? (Part 3)

 

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