"The Tantrum that Saved the World"

(Mervin Bitikofer) #50

True. It’s also like arguing about whether the water molecules in our last drink were made by recent chemical reactions, or whether it is “old” water that’s been around a while.

I’m in the middle of a statistics unit for my Pre-calc students, and trying to impress on them the significance of standard deviation on normal distributions. If somebody in a study is recording the results of one hundred 50% chance events (100 coin flips), but I secretly interfered with their study by reaching in and choosing one tails to change to a heads result, would this slight favoring of heads be detectable? Not within that single study of 100 results, of course, since that is still well within 1 standard deviation. But if they continue accumulating these 100-toss studies so they have thousands of results to tally, and I continue interfering at the same “modest” 1% rate, pretty soon my interference is detectable, and eventually even extreme! It strikes me that global warming is like that “modest” interference, though how modest or immodest it is may be in question, especially given our recent hurricane experiences over in this part of the world.

[some rewording added…]

(Jon Garvey) #51

Yes Merv - your hurricanes have so far been rather more notable than our storms!

But didn’t I read recently of an attempt to lower the “signifcant” level of standard deviations amongst some reseachers (not climate change, as far as I know), in order to weed out unrepeatable science?

That reminds us that it’s still a matter of judgement when a series is “significant”. Local variations can be highly skewed, such as a run of 100 coin tosses in a row happening by chance at some rare level. In the extreme it’s been said that, given an infinite and eternal multiverse, the repeatability of the strictest scientific laws might not just be a chance feature of our particular universe, but an entirely aberrant run of coincidences - tomorrow, things might suddenly start falling up or down in some random sequence, revealing the norm for the first time in (astronomically short) history.

That’s what comes of the doctrine of chance if one isn’t careful! In your example, the chances are that 50 heads in 100 coin tosses ispretty unlikely to happen by chance anyway!

(Mervin Bitikofer) #52

That would be interesting to know more about. What sorts of unrepeatable science is anybody targeting with this? I haven’t read up on any of this recently, but I’m under the impression that physicists want to see results out in the 5th or more standard deviation before they are willing to pronounce a result with confidence (I think I saw that regarding the Higgs Boson). And in less exact and messier social sciences they may have to be satisfied at around 3 or more or else there would be very few studies that could meet the bar. Hopefully you or others here will correct if I’m way off base in this.

I agree that any ascribed significance is in the eye of the beholder, and we can’t reach 100% certainty. But the regularities such as we think we see them thus far are all we have to work with, and in many respects they continue to work well. So none of us is going to gamble against them regarding anything important to us.

The run of 100 heads tossed in a row is possible only at an abstract and theoretical level. In reality we are justified in calling it impossible and declaring with certainty to any casual observer claiming to have witnessed such a thing that the event was most certainly rigged. And you are right that we only base that certainty on our commitment to all regularity such as what we’ve seen in prior experience. It is what we are given to work with. And it would seem to me that divine revelation doesn’t ask us to conduct or view our daily experiences any differently, provided we don’t leverage it as a tool to pretend that it excludes the miraculous, which is God doing what God will do.

(Mervin Bitikofer) #53

… which is properly accounted for by normal distributions. You are quite right that the exact 50-50 split is unlikely (occurs on an average of about 7.96% of the time to be more exact). But the range is more meaningful to experience – that between 45 and 55 heads occur about 68% of the time.

(Jon Garvey) #54

Can’t remember where I read it now - or exactly what was said. I do remember how messy results in medicine were! I do remember that the gist was that someone felt too many studies were being done presenting results as assured because they included SD bars, without sufficient context.


Nobody is taking this event only as a sign of change. It’s simply one event in a whole series of extreme weather examples.


I recommend the documentary Merchants of Doubt or the book by the same name by Naomi Oreskes. If you cannot do either, then watch Climate Change: How Do We Know We’re Not Wrong? by Naomi Oreskes. It’s only about an hour. Description:

Dr. Oreskes shares her insights into why the growing scientific consensus on climate change continues to be debated. She describes how a Cold War-era think tank became an influential source of anti-regulation sentiment, swaying public opinion on many topics, including climate change.

You will see that climate contrarians use the same playbook that the tobacco companies successfully used to dodge regulation for many years.

If you can 'do tobacco' you can do just about anything in public relations.

– Peter Sparber, veteran tobacco lobbyist


At the same time, my oldest was was traumatized by the environmental agenda pervading his first few grades. That was followed by the drug education that increased his anxiety.

So yes, there are appropriate levels and communication and proactivity, but there’s also a lot of anxiety some kids are experiencing.


Fair enough. Parents can screen books and videos to determine if they are appropriate for their children. I don’t think this book is heavy-handed, but I’ll have to read it first to see. Hopefully, it will be told in the same spirit as The Great Kapok Tree.

(Note that a regular part of a Christian childhood is hearing about an innocent guy being savagely flogged and getting nailed to a cross.)