Posts Tagged global warming
My flight yesterday from Minneapolis to Santiago got held up for de-icing. Being so near to the year-end solstice, the change in seasons from Minnesota to Chile could not be more dramatic—a swing of 45 degrees in solar angle relative to the ecliptic plan. So it’s out of snow (storming today back home) and into 80+ degrees and pure sun. : )
Things are wackier than I’d thought in regard to where one might expect to find ice nowadays. For example, who would have thought that water could freeze on Mercury? But that’s what NASA recently reported based on a shout out from their spacecraft Messenger, which detected polar hydrogen via neutron spectroscopy. See the details here. I enjoyed the quip by Sean C. Solomon, the principal investigator for Messenger, about there being enough ice to encase Washington, D.C., in a frozen block two and a half miles deep.* That might be what’s needed to cool down all the rhetoric about the fiscal cliff.
Meanwhile the worries about the warming climate melting Earth’s icecaps just keep coming on. Concerned about contrails contributing to the greenhouse effect, the Washington Post is now demanding the Santa’s sleigh be grounded. Read this 12/4/12 blog and weep. : (
According to my morning newspaper (St. Paul Pioneer Press), yesterday’s record temperature made it hotter hereabouts than a billy goat in a pepper patch, or the devil’s underwear (I hope he is not a tweeter like that New York Congressman), or two bears fighting in a forest fire (down in Arizona, I suppose). Even so, a vestige of the once 60-foot high pile of snow dump in downtown St. Paul remained intact. Perhaps it will disappear today. I hope so, because it will be back in the 60’s by Friday – colder than a basement toilet seat as Minnesotans like to say.
Check out this link* to an interview by Fareed Zakaria of “gap minder” Hans Rosling. This Swedish statistician, with a focus on global health, uses dynamic bubble graphs to dramatize world developments that are closing the gap to USA’s lead in well-being.
It really is mesmerizing to see Rosling dramatize statistics via his moving graphs. See his recent hour-long BBC special “The Joy of Stats” at this GapMinder website. You will find it very entertaining and enlightening, I am sure.
“I kid you not – statistics is now the sexiest subject around.”
- Hans Rosling
Fortunately for all of us, Google bought the technology for these motion charts to make them widely available. For example, fiddle with the graph correlating life expectancy and fertility at this Google Labs’ Public Data Explorer posting.
Who would have ever thought that statistics could be so much fun!
*Thanks to Paul Sheldon, an independent consultant specializing in quality and productivity tools, who provided me the heads-up.
The June 10th “Views” section of the International Herald Tribune (the global edition of New York Times) offered a few choice bits for me to savor after nearly two weeks traveling abroad without an American newspaper.
- A pie chart reporting on a June 1-7 telephone survey by Stanford University of 1000 American adults asking their opinion on belief in global warming. A pie chart illustrated that about 75% do believe in global warming, 20% do not, and 5% “don’t believe in pie charts”. I suspect that the author of this editorial, Jon A. Krosnick – a professor of communications at Stanford, meant this last bit of the chart to represent those who are undecided, but the graphic designers (Fogleson-Lubliner) figured they’d have some fun.
- Olivia Judson’s comments on “Galton’s legacy” note that this preeminent British statistician once published a comment in Nature (June 25, 1885 “Measure of Fidget”) that correlated boredom by how the audience squirmed during particularly wearisome presentations. I wish I would’ve thought of this “amusing way of passing an otherwise dull” lecture before attending two statistical conferences over the last several weeks. Based on this 2005 assessment of “Nodding and napping in medical lectures”, the more things change the more they stay the same, at least so far as presentations are concerned. The only difference is cost. For example, the authors figure that at a typical 1 hour talk to 100 high-powered professionals, say master statisticians, perhaps as much as $20,000 goes up in snores.
“Nodding was common, but whether in agreement with the speaker or in reverie remains undetermined.”
– Kenneth Rockwood (Dalhousie University), Christopher J. Patterson, McMaster University, David B. Hogan (University of Calgary)
Perhaps the size of this creature is explained by findings of marine geologist Justin Ries of the University of North Carolina, who reports that rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide may lead to larger crabs, shrimp and lobsters.
See a summary of Ries’s research and a picture of a monster lobster in this post by NPR. Wow, these exoskeletoned creatures really like carbon!
PS. All this talk of large lobsters reminds me of an illustration of evolutionary operation (EVOP) by Box and Draper.* Their process improvement method calls an ongoing series of two-level factorial designs that illuminate a path to more desirable manufacturing conditions. I will talk more about this in a future blog.
*Box, G. E. P. and N. R. Draper, Evolutionary Operation, Wiley New York, 1969. (Wiley Classics Library, paperback edition, 1998.)
This story by Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, is sure to create a lot of heat from those who dispute global warming. Without revealing what the numbers represented, his news organization gave temperature data to four independent statisticians and asked them to look for trends. They found no evidence of any decline – only a long-term increase over the last 130 years, thus taking away fuel for the fire that the world is now cooling.
I like the idea of this being a blind analysis, although I wonder if these four statisticians might’ve seen through this. Also, what is a good sample size for statisticians? Four seems meager. Do you pick statisticians at random, or what?
Anyways, I am more concerned about my Minnesota Gophers going to a new outdoor stadium in what will turn out to be one of the coldest Octobers ever in this region. They play Saturday night, which is Halloween – scary enough on a college campus –but it might be wickedly cold as well. Fortunately I have a good collection of Gopher shirts, sweats and jackets to put on layer-by-layer. I noticed something funny about being outdoors after so many years of under the Metrodome: People clapping with mittens on just doesn’t work as well for cheering purposes.
(For the record, I do not drive an SUV, my furnace is a high-efficiency gas burner, my windows are double-insulated and the attic was recently blown with ultra high r-value fill. In other words, please do not question my dedication to reduce fossil fuel use by any reasonable means. Furthermore, I enjoy hiking, biking, canoeing, ice and roller skating — any outdoor activity that does not involve an engine. In other words, I am in favor of environmental protection.)
Tuesday night, at my brother-in-law’s invitation, I listened to a lecture by a professional from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) who added fuel to the fire for reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The venue was the men’s club for a local Methodist church. The talk was introduced with an appeal for environmental stewardship as a Christian mission. It began with an explanation of the science behind greenhouse gases. To be fair, the speaker suggested that without any carbon dioxide, we would likely be a bit chilled — perhaps by 60 degrees Fahrenheit! Next we saw the usual graphics on global warming over the the past century and back to the Middle Ages (for example, see this site by Woods Hole Research Center (protecting the integrity of the global evironment). Several people then pitched in with comments about how Al Gore dramatized this in the movie “An Inconvenient Truth” by climbing up a ladder to the peak of temperature. (I am suspicious of politicians and Hollywood actors preaching science, so this film remains unscreened.) One fellow, a retired PhD scientist, had the temerity to speak up that the connection of carbon dioxide to global warming is not yet proven and that other causes, not manmade, could have far greater impact on temperature increases or decreases. Seeing others in the audience squirm uncomfortably and even make faces to indicate how crazy this was, I knew that the earth’s fate was sealed — we are soon to be cooked in an atmospheric stew of our own making. The speakers then broke the church members into small groups to select from a handout of action items some things they would pledge to do (see the MPCA’s “What Can We Do”). I am thinking about buying a bunch of cloth bags to bring my groceries home (one of the items). I’ve already done most everything else on the list.
What worries me more than global warming itself is the intermingling of politics and religion with climatology, for example the demands of a group led by Reverend Rich Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals and Nobel laureate Eric Chivian of Harvard to make changes in values, lifestyles and public policy to avert global warming. Cizik told a news conference that “…Evangelicals have a responsibility to be even more vigilant than others. We will not allow the Creation to be … destroyed by human folly.” An opposing view is offered by Massachusetts Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist Richard Lindzen — a critic of California’s proposed legislation against global warming: “It’s kind of pathetic because we have almost no understanding of major changes in climate over hundreds of thousands and millions of years…we’re forecasting climate when our success in explaining it is about zero.” (Source: CBS Broadcasting .)
Seeing the recent California freeze play havoc with citrus must give that state’s citizens pause in their rush to join the global-warming evangelists.
On March 16th I blogged about the sharp upturn in global temperatures that some liken to the blade of a hockey stick. The blog provides a link to a graph reproduced by the BBC which goes back 1000 years. Aside from questions about how data are fitted, simple changes to scales and other attributes of the graphs themselves can paint very different perspectives on seemingly straightforward scientific questions such as whether we ought to be worried about global warming. Andy Sleeper shows this in part 7 of his white paper titled HOW TO LIE WITH STATISTICAL GRAPHICS. The color-coded graph generated by the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration is very alarming. However, it only provides 122 years of history and the y-axis scale is restricted to about 2 degrees C. A few figures later in Sleeper’s paper one sees another graph based on 400,000 years of temperatures estimated from core samples of Antarctic ice. It reveals cyclic temperature swings of 12 degrees C! In this context, should a less than 1 degree increase in global temperature be considered abnormal, that is, due to a special cause such as man-made carbon dioxide?
PS. Here’s something to really worry about. The November issue of Sky and Telescope features a heads-up on “The Most Dangerous Asteroid Ever Found” — a 1000-foot pile of rock called Apophis. It will just miss the Earth on April 13, 2029. If Apophis hits a narrow zone — called the keyhole, it will be dragged enough by our gravity to put it on a course that collides with Earth seven years later. One can only hope that NASA’s proposed gravity tractor will pull the asteroid off target and save the planet.