Andy Long's 2010 Talk to the NKU Department of Math and Statistics

PowerPoint of my Talk to the Department, Mathematical Excursions on the Data of Global Climate Destabilization - 3/19/2010

My Plan:

  • 3:00 Welcome: what we're going to do today
  • 3:05 Personal Background
    • My bias
    • Stewards of the Earth
  • 3:10 What is science?
    • Falsifiability
    • Nothing is certain
    • Correlation versus causation
    • Avoiding to/admitting bias
  • 3:15 What is non-science?
    • Scientific illiteracy
    • Pew Data
    • Logicalismasmagoria (Looks like logic, but isn't.)
      • GCC says T rising; It's cold in DC; Hence, GCC is false.
  • 3:20 Keeling Data
  • 3:25 Model
  • 3:30 Linearization and analysis
  • 3:35 Prediction and Models of 450
  • 3:40 Peak at Temp and CO2
    • Denier's reply
  • 3:45 Conclusion


While it is possible to make a strictly scientific study of the elements of global climate change, the monstrous economic impacts have meant that the issue has become a political and social football. There are really just two major salient questions:

  1. Is the Earth warming?
  2. Is the warming human-related?

The next questions only come into play provided the two important questions are answered in the affirmative:

  1. What can humans do about global climate change?
  2. What shall humans do about global climate change?

In fact, it's the difference between the two, represented by our actions, that is under our control. Doing nothing is a choice, too…..

An exercise in logic:

  • If the Earth's temperature is not changing, then we don't need to worry about climate change;
  • If the warming is not human-related, then humans should just buckle in for the ride (of figure out how to either live with it, or how to affect the weather — e.g. seeding clouds)

What data will be discussed?

Before we address those various possibilities, let's talk a little about some data. Now data comes in all shapes, sizes, and types. In this mathematical/scientific context, we're usually focused on numerical data. But I want to start with a little bit of personal background data, followed by some general sociological data, some scattered media data points from recent times, and then the numerical data that is more amenable to mathematical analysis.

Personal background data

How did I get here? Letting the days go by? I was raised in a Presbyterian home by social activists. Early in my youth I was taken to see great speakers like William Sloane Coffin, and was led to protests such as those against the nuclear power plant at Davis Besse, in the Toledo area. My green, left-leaning credentials are still intact. Why is that important? Well, because of bias. A scientist (mathematician, statistician) strives to eliminate bias. I have a bias against large corporations, for example. I've noticed, over the course of almost 50 years, that they tend to do a lot of sneaky things that hurt a lot of people, then deny any responsibility. Let me introduce some evidence of late:

If corporations were people, I'd be more inclined to the death penalty! But that's just my bias.

What is science?

So, the only really interesting new and novel concern is in the event that there's a temperature change, and that it's human-related (and hence we can presumably do something about it). In that case, what's the worst that can happen? This author (for )
introduced me to Confirmation Bias — the notion that we overlook what we don't agree with, and accentuate what we want to hear: starting with belief and then looking for evidence.

  • falsifiability: if a theory isn't falsifiable, it's not useful.
  • Scientists must be unbiased — they must have no dog in the fight.

At this point the talking heads in the popular media kick in. And not just our media heads, but also our political talking heads.
Clearly, we may not be able to do what we want to with our atmosphere: I once heard our predicament likened to the two minutes in the movie Titanic, when the ship is heading for the iceberg, and the engines are fully reversed, and they're trying to turn like crazy, but the ship just keeps heading straight for it. There's a lot of momentum in this system, and we're not able to turn on a dime. So our powers are limited, and we'd better be proactive, rather than reactive.

Correlation versus Causation

What is non-science?

denialism: what happens “when an entire segment of society, often struggling with the trauma of change, turns away from reality in favor of a more comfortable lie.” (Firing Bullets of Data at Cozy Anti-Science, Michael Specter)

Americans don't know their science.

To prove it, I'm going to quote four of our fearless leaders (Source:

  • Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) jabbed at Gore on Twitter Tuesday, writing that “it’s going to keep snowing in D.C. until Al Gore cries ‘uncle.’”
  • When Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked Tuesday about passing the climate change bill, he quipped, “Where’s Al Gore now?”
  • Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity brought up the former vice president while introducing a story about the massive snowfall during his Fox News show Monday. “It’s the most severe winter storm in years, which would seem to contradict Al Gore’s hysterical global warming theories,” Hannity said.
  • And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich mocked Gore on Twitter on Saturday after the first full day of snow. “Historic snowstorm in Washington — third this year — where is Al Gore to explain it snows this heavily as a sign global warming is imminent,” the former Georgia Republican wrote.

Americans want "proof", but science is not about proof:

Scientific Opinion versus Public Opinion on Climate Change, and some snapshots from that report:

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License