Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


Wizards is Global!

Wizards of Oz is officially global! Today, at 10:40am, we had our first visitor from the continent of Africa -- in particular, the nation of South Africa. We've had visits from all other continents (except Antarctica) in our first three months of blogging -- so "Baie dankie" to Midrand, Gauteng!

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Climate Change: Yes, but Why?

Personal opinion: I believe too many people are accepting what the mainstream media feeds them regarding climate change without digging into the data.

Is climate change happening? Certainly -- the receding polar ice is indisputable evidence of increasing temperatures. Where the train runs off the rails is when we try to ascribe causality.

We too easily accept the conclusion ("accusation"?) that humankind MUST be the cause -- that the increase in alleged "greenhouse gases" must be why temperatures are increasing, so therefore let's cut emissions -- reduce coal burning power plants -- buy E85 vehicles
-- spend BILLIONS on carbon scrubbers and other retrofits to "dirty" systems.

But too few are questioning the models that present that data. Too few are asking about those funky "weighting" factors to make the models fit the data (e.g., why methane gets a 1.1 multiple but CO2 gets a 1.4). I've asked a few climatologists, who have answered they don't know. Which proves the dictum, "All models are WRONG, but some are useful." In fact, one can correlate the data showing Republicans in the U.S. Senate to observed sunspot number. Gotta be a causal link, right?

Then I ask why, if CO2 is the cause, we haven't seen similar increases in atmospheric temperatures at higher altitudes over time. Wouldn't it make sense that the "greenhouse gas blanket" that traps heat would trap more heat at the ambient altitude of the gases? (And don't cite the planet Venus as "evidence" of CO2's infrared transport capacity -- Venus's atmosphere is nearly 90 times as dense as Earth's,with no carbon cycle for surface reclamation of carbon emissions, and their daily rotation is slower than their "year" around the sun.) Same answer from the scientists -- nobody was willing to assert causality when challenged with specifics (instead a couple retreated to "confidence levels", the refuge of the risk averse who don't really know for sure what they're talking about).

Prof. Freeman Dyson, harshly maligned by climate change ideologues, has some good points in A Many Colored Glass that challenge the popular theories. But Dyson's main point is that there are not enough "heretics" in science -- that we need more people to stand up to popular opinion and challenge presumptions, at risk of their own reputations. I'm reminded of the late U.S. Air Force Colonel John Boyd, who would tell his subordinates that they will come to a choice: they could either be somebody (and fit in the "corporation" with its individual rewards) or they could do something (and make a real difference).

Of course, it's easy to accept as fact the slick presentations of a former-politician-cum-businessman. But ask yourself, next time you see "An Inconvenient Truth", why the preponderance of data shown only goes back 80 years. And why polar caps on Mars are receding at an even faster clip than on Earth. And why there is such intolerance of debate -- especially by noted professionals who suggest decertification for meteorologists who disagree with human-based causality.

Bottom line: we are good at reductionist analysis -- breaking problems into tiny pieces and solving each one in turn. But we are lousy at the complex interactions of billions upon billions of entities. And if you want to see for yourself the paucity of research in the infrared transport properties of greenhouse gases (or any gas for that matter), check out this query from Google-Scholar showing a grand total of six articles -- including one related solely to Venus, and one to financial transactions.

So, take the leap. Remove the veil. And ask the hard questions, rather than simply accepting what the Wizards tell you.


Endnotes: I do not work for the oil industry (or any energy-related industry, for that matter). I have no vested interest in any kind of policy (or lack thereof) regulating carbon emissions. We have over 100 trees on our property, so our calculated "carbon footprint" is negative (and certainly far less than fellow Tennessean Al Gore's, even with his "purchased offsets"). And a hat tip to Dr. Ed Smith Jr., from whom I grabbed the photo at the top of this post -- it's Earth, but it's upside-down and sideways.

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Large Numbers

A famous thought experiment postulates that a monkey, strumming unintelligently on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, would eventually create all of the works of Shakespeare. Although often attributed to T.H. Huxley, a 19th century English biologist, it is a metaphor used in a 1913 essay by Émile Borel to describe large, random sequences of numbers.

During the 2007 Boyd Conference in Quantico, Virginia, LtGen(ret) P.K. Van Riper, USMC, described the rapidly-escalating variance in chess moves. Even though the chess board is a tightly constrained "battlespace" (8x8 grid, 32 pieces), after five moves there are more than 800,000 possible combinations. After six moves, this number increases to more than 9,000,000. And Wolfram's MathWorld shows that the possible number of positions after 40 moves is more than 1E120 -- a "1" followed by 120 zeros. This is nearly a billion-trillion times larger than the number googol (1E100, or the inspiration for the unintentionally-misspelled Internet search engine Google).

To give this number context, scientists today postulate that there are only 1E80 particles in the visible universe. And the age of the universe is estimated at 1.4E10 (14 billion) years.

So let's go back to our monkey. As an undergraduate physics major at Berkeley, one of the first homework problems in my thermodynamics class was a variation of the "infinite monkey theorem": we had to determine the probability of a trillion monkeys, typing randomly without pause at 10 keys per second, to randomly type the words of Hamlet. By assuming Hamlet was comprised of approximately 100,000 characters, and that a typical keyboard has 40 keys (without regard for punctuation or capitalization), the probability of a random string is 1/40 * 1/40 * 1/40 ..., repeated 100,000 times.

Despite having a trillion (i.e., 1E12) monkeys typing continuously at 10 keys per second, our solution was that it would still take more than 1E1000 years -- in other words, nearly googol (1E100) times the age of our known universe -- before reaching a 50% probability.

This is important for anyone charged with analysis or decision making responsibilities. We live in a world where just three significant figures (e.g., 99.9%) is considered accurate enough, and "six-sigma" (six significant figures, "1-in-a-million") is the ultimate achievement in performance. Too often we overlook the dynamics of our complex world, and we tend to dramatically underestimate variance in subsequent effects of actions.

So, if someone suggests to you that they can predict future actions in, say, a battlefield, just remember these facts:
  • The number of chess moves after a 40-move game is 1E120
  • The fastest computers in the world process about 1E15 operations per second
  • There are 1E80 particles in the visible universe
  • We still can't predict the weather accurately -- and nature isn't trying to deceive us!
Caveat emptor...

(H/T to Zenpundit for the post idea.)

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