Friday, August 30, 2013

Scientific Polling Demonstrated

          I wrote the following letter to the Annals of Irreproducible Research, shortly before the 2000 Presidential election:


Scientific Polling Demonstrated

Dear AIR:

Subject of scientific poll:

Hannah Laila Hellerstein, a human female infant, 11.75 months old, daughter of pollster Nathaniel Hellerstein. (Photo enclosed.)


Scientific poll-biasing methods were used throughout the interview. Three questions were planned:
          1) Will George W. Bush be elected President?
          2) Will Ralph Nader be elected President?
          3) Will Al Gore be elected President?

Interview Transcript:

Pollster vigorously shakes head, makes faces at intently-staring infant daughter; then stops and asks question 1.

Subject hesitates, then shakes head, smiles and laughs.

Pollster alternately shakes and nods head; then asks question 2.

Subject wary; offers no response.

Vigorous nodding by pollster yields no response; so poll is terminated before question 3.

Results of Scientific Poll:

No on G.W. Bush
Undecided on R. Nader


You can fool some of the babies all of the time, and all of the babies some of the time, but you can't fool Hannah.

                                                  Nathaniel S. K. Hellerstein, Ph.D.


          As you can see, infant Hannah called the election correctly; for George Bush did indeed lose the election, as he did not receive a popular majority; but Al Gore neither won nor lost the election, as it was decided against him by a corrupt Supreme Court.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

About Star Wars

         Two things in America go by the name “Star Wars”. One of them is a childish fantasy of magical warfare, an incoherent spectacle whose obvious flaws are thinly disguised by flashy pseudoscience. The other one involves wookies.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On Climate Change 3: So Long Dixie

             A Few Notes on Climate Change, 3:
             So Long Dixie

             Whatever the facts are, and whichever the lies are, it’s a great show in any case. The latest plot twist was brought to me by “New Scientist” magazine, which reports, in their October 23-29, 2012 issue, about the danger of heat stress. It seems that prolonged exposure to “wet-bulb” (100% humidity) temperatures of 35 degrees C is fatal to human beings. It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, and it really can get you. First the elderly go, then the young and the sick, and then even the healthy die if they cannot get to shelter artificially cooled. Fortunately such weather is rare in our present climate.

             But turn up the global thermostat, and it’s a different story; or so New Scientist reports. It says that for every 1 degree C that global temperature rises, maximum wet-bulb temperature increases by 0.75 C; and if global temperatures go up 12 C, then the following lands become uninhabitable without cooling systems: most of Brazil, most of West Africa, most of Australia, Egypt through Jordan, parts of Spain and China, most of the USA’s South, most of the USA’s Eastern Seaboard, and (gulp) almost all of India.

             12 C is a long way to go, and New Scientist, ever alarmist, wonders out loud if that’ll happen by century’s end. And of course they bang the AGW drum. But let’s suppose that it’s all the sun’s fault; and let’s suppose further that only 4 C per century is the rate. Even then, that’s only 300 years until the above-mentioned lands become hostile to human life. Does India decamp? Where to? Do they put solar-powered AC in every hovel for a billion villagers? Do they build a geodesic dome over New Delhi?

             And over Dakar? And Cairo? And Tel Aviv? And Shanghai? And Bejing? And Perth? And Madrid? And Memphis, Jackson, Montgomery, Atlanta, Salem, Richmond, Louisville and Nashville?

             I suppose that’s possible, given time and money, but I’m sure you’ll agree that these are non-trivial technical challenges. I see a science-fiction story in this!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On Climate Change 2: Which Conspiracy?

             A Few Notes on Climate Change, 2:

             Which Conspiracy?

             Michael Crichton had a darker theory for the A in AGW: it’s a hoax, brought to you by climate scientists intent on destroying industrial civilization. This is poor even for fiction. First of all, you’d sooner see an aphid eat a tiger than you’d see a climatologist defeat an oil corporation. And second, motiveless malignancy works artistically if you’re Shakespeare but not if you’re Crichton.

             Mind you, there is a plausible motive for some people to tear down industrial civilization; namely, that we then hire them to build it up again. This is known as ‘creative destruction’, and it is the central engine of capitalism. Schumpter noted this, and celebrated it; so did Friedman; so did Ronald Reagan; and so did Karl Marx.

             Which means that there are two, not one, possible conspiracies involved in AGW. Possibility #1 is that it’s a hoax, ginned up by multinational corporations intent on being hired to rebuild industrial civilization on grounds excluding the oil corporations. Possibility #2 is that AGW is all too real, but the oil corporations have ginned up hoax denial, to protect the sales of their climate-changing product.

             Which of these two conspiracy theories is true? Possibly both; maybe it’s a battle between the oil giants and the other giants, with climatology as their battleground, facts be damned. And possibility #2 has historical precedent; note the tobacco corporation’s deceitful denial of the cigarette-cancer link. But as for possibility #1; how often has a vast disinformation campaign involved every major player except an oligopoly? Surely Microsoft, Merrill Lynch and the Chinese government could find weaker scapegoats than Exxon and BP.

             If I had to choose between conspiracy theories, then I’d apply Occam’s Razor, and favor the smaller, more concentrated, better motivated conspiracy; and that’s Possibility #2.