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All I Really Need to Know I Learned In High School Science

My high-school had one of the best science departments imaginable. Probably 4 of my top 5 teachers in my life were in that department. There was one lesson we had in 9th grade I wish everyone would have had. I genuinely think it would change the world.

We started the fall semester with an introduction to the metric system and the scientific method. We were required to keep a journal of all our observations about the lessons in class. One homework assignment was that we had to read the newspaper or watch the TV weatherman everyday and record the times for sunrise and sunset. Then we had to calculate the amount of daylight and dark for everyday.

After we had a few weeks of data we were required to graph it and "draw a conclusion" about our findings.

Everyone came up with the same "inescapable conclusion".... We were "losing" about 3 minutes of sunlight a day and by mid-July, the earth would be plunged into 24 hour darkness. As we did the graphs, all but one of us got the joke. (One guy really thought we were doomed.)

After giving us a few minutes to admire our graphs and chuckle, the teacher slammed us with the power of that lesson. Just when you think you have things all figured out, there is another force of nature waiting to impale your finding.

She then followed that with 2 days of giving us the history of every goofy thing mankind "knew" only to be proven mistaken. It was a powerful few days. Science can be humbling.

I think about that lesson- well- daily. There are a few stories in the news today that bring it to mind. One is the photo-essay "In pictures: How the world is changing" run by the BBC. It is a series of photos that are supposed to "prove" global warming is real. One of them, along with its caption was a complete howler.


Some scientists predict that a warmer climate will trigger more violent storms, which will cause increased rates of coastal erosion. This is a section of shoreline at Cape Hatteras in North Carolina in the USA, pictured in 1999 and 2004. Rising sea levels are also expected to speed up coastal erosion.

Oh my gosh, the beach is disappearing! We're all going to drown. -- Or maybe not

Also from my high-school years I remember visiting a civil war fort named Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island, Florida. When the fort was built just 150 years ago, (nanoseconds in earth terms) it was a mere 150 yards from the Gulf of Mexico. But over time the beach has grown! The last time I made the hike from the Fort it was almost a half a mile to the water. In my lifetime I noticed the beach getting longer. I guess there is global warming in North Carolina and Global cooling in Florida!

These pictures are impressive at first glance but they are really little more than political propaganda.

Consider this; El Niño is a cyclical oceanographic warming and that does not fit the neat confines of our solar calendar. We don't know why it happens, how long it has happened or if it will ever stop.

Every 11 years (or so) we get a increase of solar flares sunspots and other activity from the Sun, that disrupts radio communication. Why does it happen cyclically? We don't know. Heck, we know it's about an 11 year cycle but we don't know how long it really was until after it happens.

Here's a graphic of Solar activity: (click for full size)

Notice that around 1900 it was low and now the peaks are relatively higher? Has that caused the minimal change in temp we have recorded in the last century??? We have no freaking clue. More solar radiation makes more sense than the nonsense the BBC is pushing but (in that pesky thing called reality) we have no clue.

There are millions of cyclical things in nature we can not understand. Would it be too surprising if we learned tomorrow that every 1000 years or so the planet raises and lowers a few degrees? Indeed the planet NOT moving would be more surprising.

Every time I see a "news" story like the one above, I think of my high-school science class. Even if we have detected a true warming trend for the last 100 years, without a much greater understanding, that has no more scientific value than my ninth grade notebook.

Update: HA! Read Kevin's post above. My 9th grade notebook is looking better and better.


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Comments (27)

nice post.... (Below threshold)
rorochub:

nice post.

Do you know how many millio... (Below threshold)
julie:

Do you know how many millions, if not billions of dollars we spend a year replenishing sand?

If you add up all beach mai... (Below threshold)
cirby:

If you add up all beach maintenance operations, it's certainly a big pile of money, but you have to realize that all beaches undergo erosion. That's just the nature of water. Now, some have other factors that counter that erosion (lava flows, or deposition of silt from other sources), but it's just plain fact that when you have waves, you have changes in the waterline.

Hmm. My 9th grade science ... (Below threshold)
Drew:

Hmm. My 9th grade science teacher was busted with 350 pot plants, 2 Uzis and a home security system to rival that of a bank vault.

But I agree with your conclusions in this article.

I once heard somebody expre... (Below threshold)

I once heard somebody express the same basic idea this way: "When I woke up this morning, it was 40°. Now, just before lunch, it's 65°. By the middle of next week, it's going to be hot enough outside to melt lead."

Great post, Paul.

But beaches are considered ... (Below threshold)
julie:

But beaches are considered recreational. Besides those on shore, there are all those surfers, divers, and fishermen, and the businesses dependent on them. How do you strike a balance between nature, recreational use, and the poor taxpayer who gets stuck with the bill?

This is cute Paul and Kevin... (Below threshold)

This is cute Paul and Kevin are linking each other awwwww

Can't wait to see Jay's post on the subject! (c'mon Jay, jump on the bandwagon!)

On-topic, though, I don't remember learning about this at all, offhand I really wish I did. I already understand most of this anyway, but I believe every American should understand this (and every politician, worldwide too, phooey on some kyoto-schmoto). Remember Marx? his ideas about the ebb and flow of the market signaling doom for capitalism? Tsk.

Excellent post,I wis... (Below threshold)
patrick:

Excellent post,
I wish some of the extremists on my side of the aisle would stop to think more about science in these terms. Worrying about a lobster feels pain, who has time? Having said that, being vigilente is not a bad thing, rushing to conclusions is. Your science teacher probably did think the environment was important enough to preserve. Finally, that sounds like a great lesson do you mind if I pass these particulars onto some of the better teachers in the science dept of my high school?

That 2004 photo shows the r... (Below threshold)
MMM:

That 2004 photo shows the result of catagory 2 Hurricane Isabel, which slammed directly into the Outer Banks on Sept 18, 2003 (where Cape Hatteras is located).

See
http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/2003/hurricanes03/Isabeltrack.gif

The 1999 photo was probably taken before Hurricane Floyd, which skirted the coast from Florida up until it made landfall a couple of hundred miles to the south of Hatteras at Cape Fear four years (almost to the day) prior to Isabel. The Banks took a some of Floyd too, but damage was minor, and certainly not anywhere near as bad as the clobber sustained by Isabel. Floyd was also a cat-2 storm.

See http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/img/climate/research/2003/hurricanes03/floydtrack.gif

The point is, the BBC attempts to 'prove' such damage is done by "more violent storms" using these two photos, but "more" had nothing to do with it. It was a single storm - Isabel - and the angle of attack which it took that made the difference.

FWIW, the Outer Banks is (are?) not even a shorline in the typical sense. It's more a long narrow breakwater or sand bar. Sand, sand, and nothing but sand. And hot as hell in July.

mmm you rock ... (Below threshold)
Paul:

mmm you rock

- Actually some reputable s... (Below threshold)

- Actually some reputable scientists postulate that the 11 year cycle is a complicated interplay effect between the sHifting "magnasphere" and internal core layer of the Sun made up of mostly dense iron and other heavy elements. Thus the Sun spots, which are cooler area's if memory serves. But even given that the exact causes are certainly not known in detail....

- If you step back and take a breath and just think about the fact that all weather on earth is caused in one way or another by Sun effects....and all geographical changes are to a great extent triggered from those changing weather patterns, our lack of long term data makes the entire idea of drawing environmental conclusions of any kind laughable, much less assigning a "cause" to them...

- The whole thing reminds me of the three blind men describing an elephant by feeling a small local portion of its body and then each one being asked to describe the general size and shape of the Animal just from that information.... Laughable....

I live in is a very remote ... (Below threshold)
bullwinkle:

I live in is a very remote area of Mexico on the Caribbean side. It was only accessible relatively recently, before 1972 the only way to access the area was by boat. About 30 miles from here the government built a pier for a small fishing village in 1902. The pier is still there but no longer usable but last year some students showed up with the original survey and tide charts to get an accurate reading of the rise in sea level since 1902. After two weeks of disappointing results they finally determined that if there was a change between the two dates it was too small to measure. Beach comes and goes just like the picture shows, I've seen 30 or 40 feet variations in the water line (not water level) over night, but if you can look at that picture and tell me that it represents water rising instead of sand washing away I'd like to hear the proof of that. We don't even know at what point in the cycle of tides either picture was taken but i see no evidence of sea level being different in the two pictures. My guess is the 2004 picture was taken right after one of the hurricanes that hit Florida then moved north. Hardly scientific or representative of anything that comes close to being newsworthy.

WAY TO GO PAUL!! Don't let... (Below threshold)
Anthony:

WAY TO GO PAUL!! Don't let the opinions of every reputable scientist in the world keep you from your denial!

f'ing morons...

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6794003/

"These arguments have been voiced most prominently by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonpartisan advocacy organization that issued a statement in 2004 charging the White House with "misrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes."

To date, the UCS statement has been signed by more than 5,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates. UCS issued reports in February and July of last year that documented dozens of cases of alleged tampering with science, including many involving environmental policy decisions."

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6970736/
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6979829/
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6870856/
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6974289/

To date, the UCS stateme... (Below threshold)

To date, the UCS statement has been signed by more than 5,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel laureates.

Almost none of whom have any expertise in the field of climatology.

I used to live in the Outer... (Below threshold)
Eric:

I used to live in the Outer Banks. There is an area called the Wash Woods. It is the remnants of an 800 year old forest that used to grow on the Outer Banks. Today, all that's left is the roots and stumps of the trees sticking up out of the beach and into the surf.

The ocean washed out the forest 800 years ago. Long before man had any impact on the environment.

What was always fun was to drive down the beach in a 4 wheel drive. Some days you can drive down the beach and the stumps are barely visible. After a big storm the same stumps are 5 foot tall towers sticking out of the sand that you have to drive around.

- 100,000 "experts" picking... (Below threshold)

- 100,000 "experts" picking through pepper for flyshit would still have no data at the end of the day. The old liberal acceptance of quantity over quality like everything else they do....

Union of Concerned Scien... (Below threshold)
Sportin' Life:

Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonpartisan advocacy organization

It ain't necessarily so-o-o-o!

I can barely believe the BB... (Below threshold)
Christopher Rake:

I can barely believe the BBC posted those pictures of Cape Hatteras without a proper explanation. Even aside from the effects of hurricanes, the Outer Banks of North Carolina are barrier islands, which migrate over time. What's shown in the photo has nothing to do with "a warmer climate." The key is that sand moves and houses don't.

Here's a brief explanation:

The islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks are the children of the sea. A series of low-slung sand islands stretching in a thin line from the Virginia border to Cape Lookout, they were born at the end of the last Ice Age when huge continental glaciers began to melt and the ocean began to rise. Since they formed ten thousand years ago, they have raced the rising waters westward, migrating as much as fifty miles to their present location...

[A] combination of replenishment and erosion has allowed the barrier islands to move as fast as they do for as far as they do. The vital supply of sand provided by the ocean overwash ensures the western side of the islands will be growing even as the eastern side is being washed away. The process is called island migration, and it's key to the survival of the barrier island chain.

The current set of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks are only one is a series of similar landforms that have existed along the North Carolina coast in the past two million years.

You just know this has something to do with Halliburton.

- AS A CITIZEN JOURNALIST I... (Below threshold)

- AS A CITIZEN JOURNALIST I DEMAND GRANTS FOR RESEARCH ON GIANT ATOMIC POWERED AIR CONDITIONERS FOR EVERYONE....(except Kevin)

Global warming exists, and ... (Below threshold)
name-withheld:

Global warming exists, and the polar ice caps are melting -- on Mars:

Mars Ski Report: Snow is Hard, Dense and Disappearing
MOC Observes Changes in the South Polar Cap:
Evidence for Recent Climate Change on Mars

(and many other URLs).

Great post, thanks for shar... (Below threshold)

Great post, thanks for sharing.

Great article on GW in SciAm this month.

FYI Paul, your graph also shows why we had the Little Ice Age a few hundred years ago.

One of the "cyclical things... (Below threshold)

One of the "cyclical things" in nature no one talks about as it relates to global warming is that fact that the planet has been warming for more than 14,000 years...and I THANK GOD FOR IT EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR!

About 14,000 years go there was a glacier where I'm sitting right now that would have reached a half a mile above my head. Without global warming, I'd be having a terrible time trying to get anything done what with several million tons of ice oushing down on me.

It's this kind of nonsense that has colored this debate and will continue to do so until dissenting scientific opinions are allowed to be examined in a coherent rational manner. Too many scientists now have their reputations and their careers invested in the correctness of the global warming theory. Too many bureaucrats' jobs are dependent on the idea that this theory be "real" (whatever the hell that means).

The economic disaster that would occur in the US if the rest of the world gets their way on GW would be appalling. But that's what the radicals want...to bring down capitalism and with it the United States.

I agree with many here, thi... (Below threshold)
r.a.:

I agree with many here, this is a good post Paul.

There is alot that we dont understand, and alot of these predictions are far from set in stone.

I have wondered about the whole global warming idea...there has been cycles of warming and cooling going on for thousands of years, between warmer periods, intermediates, and "ice ages." The theory falls a bit flat when you go back and look at the climactic changes of the past few hundred thousand years and realize that they've been anything but consistent.

Someone else mentioned this as well...around 13,000 years ago the last ice age ended, and things have been warming up gradually since. There was, as TallDave mentioned, a "mini" Ice Age around 1000 years ago as well...

The earth has been warming and cooling for longer than humans have been around, thats for sure.

Some of the stuff that goes around...well, its pretty out there, and would be like blaming human activity around 14,000 years ago for the melting of the massive glaciers that covered large chunks of the earth...ya...it was all those damn hunter-gatherer societies and their fires, thats what it was!!!!

This reminds me of some studies that were done of pastoralist people in Africa in the 70s-80s....they were being blamed for "desertification" by many scientists, due to overgrazing and other human activities....well it turned out that the effects of the pastoralists paled in comparison to climactic changes and its effects.

Anyway...nice post Paul.

julie wrote:Do ... (Below threshold)
r.a.:

julie wrote:

Do you know how many millions, if not billions of dollars we spend a year replenishing sand?

The southern California town that I grew up in would dredge lagoons and cover the beaches with sand each summer, only to see it wash away every winter. Lots of money was spent, but then there were lots of tourists in the summer, and maybe they balanced it out by buying all those t-shirts!

Seawalls (to protect nice ocean fron homes from falling into the Pacific), jetties, and piers disrupted normal sand flow and erosion, so our beaches gradually shrank in some places over time...thats just what happens when you alter the process, and has nothing to do with global warming.

Great post! I had to link t... (Below threshold)

Great post! I had to link to it... Sounds like you had a great education.

Just saw this thread.. I wo... (Below threshold)
Lostris:

Just saw this thread.. I would be interested to know your opinion on the recent storm activity in the US? Is this not possibly the result of global warming? What about the hole in the ozone layer - does it not exist? Yes, it could well be the result of the Earth's natural changes and cycles, but following your logic of not knowing either way, would it not be more prudent to better prepare for freak weather (as it cannot be denied, is on the increase) rather than argue about the cause?

A wise man named Shultz onc... (Below threshold)
JB Collins:

A wise man named Shultz once pointed out that the evolution of human understanding always progresses from the overly simplistic to the complex to the profoundly simple. We need to do an honest reality check from time to time to assess where our true understanding is on all major issues. Some questions are so important that we must not deceive ourselves.




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