"System change is now inevitable. Either because we do something about it, or because we will be hit by climate change. '...

"We need to develop economic models that are fit for purpose. The current economic frameworks, the ones that dominate our governments, these frameworks... the current economic frameworks, the neoclassical, the market frameworks, can deal with small changes. It can tell you the difference, if a sock company puts up the price of socks, what the demand for socks will be. It cannot tell you about the sorts of system level changes we are talking about here. We would not use an understanding of laminar flow in fluid dynamics to understand turbulent flow. So why is it we are using marginal economics, small incremental change economics, to understand system level changes?"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Celsius, Fahrenheit and Journalists

Unfortunately, comments are closed on "Find the Error" on RealClimate.

So I'll use this space to point out that the error (equating a difference of 1 degree C equivalent to a difference of about 34 F) is not without precedent. The following is a submission from myself to the what was then the comp.risks usenet group in 1995.
I thought the RISKS readership shouldn't miss this gem, posted in sci.geo.meteorology by stevenb@pauli.jhuapl.edu (Steven Babin at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory):

> There seems to be some confusion over the giant iceberg. [...]
> The Reuters news agency reported that the iceberg was 656 feet 2
> inches thick, implying a tremendous accuracy of measurement. It
> is actually 200 m thick and the reporter converted this to English
> units. Reuters also reported that this event was the result of a
> 36.5 F increase in temperature since the 1940's. It was actually
> a 2.5 C increase. The reporter apparently converted this to F
> as a temperature rather than a temperature difference.
> I don't know whether this speaks more for the educational level of
> reporters or more for the fact we should all be using SI units.

The risks of the transmission of technical information by people who don't know what they are talking about will be familiar to RISKS readers. Perhaps more striking is the risk that something as simple as a Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion algorithm can be misused by making invalid assumptions about context.

Michael Tobis tobis@skool.ssec.wisc.edu

I am pleased to note that the RISKS Digest ("Forum On Risks To The Public In Computers And Related Systems") is still in business and still moderated by Peter Neumann. Or displeased. I'm not sure. There's too much to read....

2 comments:

Cassandra_Moderna said...

I know that one comment had already mentioned a 5 and a 9, but I just had to laugh at the rounding of 91 up to 100.

Unfortunately, such is the state of our educational system these days that it is no longer surprising that such nitwits hold sway.

Anonymous said...

At least NASA wouldn't make this kind of mistake. Heck, English and metric systems are basically the same when launching Mars probes.