Posts tagged ‘Lake Wobegone’

Global Warming Ate My House

This has already made the rounds but I can't resist mocking an HBS professors whose classes I assiduously avoided when I was there.  Her house was hit by lightning.  Apparently, this was not the fault of poor lightning protection for her house, but was due to your SUV:

I am not a climate change scientist, but I have come to understand that I am a climate change victim. Our daughter took the lead investigating destructive lightning in Maine. She found that the NASA Goddard Institute estimates a 5-6% change in global lightning frequencies for every 1 degree Celsius global warming. The Earth has already warmed .8 degrees Celsius since 1802 and isexpected to warm another 1.1-6.4 degrees by the end of the century. Maine's temperatures rose 1.9 degrees Celsius in the last century and another 2.24 degree rise is projected by 2104. I learned from our insurance company that while the typical thunderstorm produces around 100 lightning strikes, there were 217 strikes around our house that night. I was shocked to discover that when it comes to increased lightning frequency and destructiveness, a NASA study concluded that eastern areas of North America like Maine are especially vulnerable. Scientists confirm a 10% increase in the incidence of extreme weather events in our region since 1949.

This is one of those paragraphs that is so bad, I put off writing about it because I could write a book about all the errors.

  • The 5-6% lightning strike estimate comes from one single study that I have never seen replicated, but more importantly comes from running a computer model.  Though it may exist, I have found no empirical evidence that lightning activity has net increased with increases in temperature
  • The world has warmed about 0.8C over the last century or two. Congrats.  Infinite monkeys and Shakespeare and all that.
  • We could argue the forecasts, but they are irrelevant to this discussion as we are talking about current weather which cannot be influenced by future warming.
  • Her claim that Maine's temperature rose 1.9C in the last Century is simply absurd.  Apparently she got the data from some authoritative place called, but its impossible to know since in the few days since she published this article that site has taken down the page.  So we will just have to rely on a lesser source like the NOAA for Maine temperatures.  Here story is from 2009 so I used data through 2009

Annual Averages in Maine:

Oops, not a lot of warming here, and certainly not 1.9C.  In fact, there has not even been a single year that has been 1.9C above the average for the century since the early 1900s.  And 2009 was a below average year.
Well, she said it was in summer.  That's when we get the majority of thunderstorms.  Maybe it is just summer warming?  The NOAA does not have a way to get just summer, but I can run average temperatures for July-September of each year, which matches summer within about 8 days.

Whoa!  What's this?  A 0.3-0.4C drop in the last 100 years.   And summer of 2009 (the last data point) was well below average. Wow, I guess cooling causes lightning.  We better do something about that cooling, and fast!  Or else buy this professor some lightning rods.
And you have to love evidence like this

I learned from our insurance company that while the typical thunderstorm produces around 100 lightning strikes, there were 217 strikes around our house that night

What is this, the climate version of the Lake Wobegone Effect?  If all our storms are not below average, then that is proof of climate change.  Is this really how a Harvard professor does statistical analysis?  She can just look at a sample and the mean and determine from that one sample that the mean is shifting?

Finally, she goes on to say that extreme weather in her area is up 10% from some source called the Gulf of Maine Council on Marine Environment.  Well, of course, you can't find that fact anywhere on the source she links.  And besides, even if Maine extreme weather is up, it can't be because of warming because Maine seems to be cooling.

This is just a classic example of the observer bias that is driving the whole "extreme weather" meme.  I will show you what is going on by analogy.  This is from the Wikipedia page on "Summer of the Shark":

The media's fixation with shark attacks began on July 6, when 8-year-old Mississippi boy Jessie Arbogast was bitten by a bull shark while standing in shallow water at Santa Rosa Island's Langdon Beach. ...

Immediately after the near-fatal attack on Arbogast, another attack severed the leg of a New Yorker vacationing in The Bahamas, while a third attack on a surfer occurred about a week later on July 15, six miles from the spot where Arbogast was bitten.[6] In the following weeks, Abrogast's spectacular rescue and survival received extensive coverage in the 24-hour news cycle, which was renewed (and then redoubled) with each subsequent report of a shark incident. The media fixation continued story with a cover story in the July 30th issue of Time magazine.

In mid-August, many networks were showing footage captured by helicopters of hundreds of sharks coalescing off the southwest coast of Florida. Beach-goers were warned of the dangers of swimming,[7] despite the fact that the swarm was likely part of an annual shark migration.[8] The repeated broadcasts of the shark group has been criticized as blatant fear mongering, leading to the unwarranted belief of a so-called shark "epidemic".[8]...

In terms of absolute minutes of television coverage on the three major broadcast networks—ABCCBS, and NBCshark attacks were 2001's third "most important" news story prior toSeptember 11, behind the western United States forest fires, and the political scandal resulting from the Chandra Levy missing persons case.[11] However, the comparatively higher shock value of shark attacks left a lasting impression on the public. According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 76 shark attacks that occurred in 2001, lower than the 85 attacks documented in 2000; furthermore, although 5 people were killed in attacks in 2001, this was less than the 12 deaths caused by shark attacks the previous year.[12]

A trend in news coverage <> a trend in the underlying frequency. If these were correlated, gas prices would only go up and would never come down.

A Bad Week for Public Schools

I am a bit late on this one, but a California judge has determined that giving kids tests that have consequences is unconstitutional:

A judge in Oakland struck down California's
controversial high school exit exam Monday, issuing a tentative ruling
suggesting the test is unfair to some students who are shortchanged by
substandard schools.

If finalized, the unexpected ruling
would block the state from carrying out its plan to deny diplomas for
the first time to tens of thousands of seniors who have been unable to
pass the exit exam.

Note that this standard essentially means that no tests with real consequences (e.g. denial of grade advancement or diploma) can ever be given, because with 1129 high schools in California, some schools will always be below par.  So his argument will always apply -- there will always be kids who can claim their school is on the low end of the normal distribution.  And even if every school were exactly the same, kids within these schools could, I presume, similarly argue to this judge that they had sub-par teachers or sub-par parents or a sub-par reading light or a sub-par dog that ate their homework.

By the way, doesn't this also imply that California can no longer name state champions among high schools in various sports?  After all, isn't that unfair to schools with lesser sports programs?  And couldn't I extend this ruling to say that California state run colleges shouldn't be using high school grades or SAT scores or any other test-based metric in selecting entrants since some of these folks came from low-performing schools?

This confusion of equal protection with equal outcomes is so absurd its not really even worth commenting on further.  I won't even bother, then, asking how the judge expects sub-par schools to be made to improve without testing-with-teeth, or even what objective standards the judge used to determine that any schools were "substandard" in the first place.

For those who support this ruling, and agree with the plaintiff attorney's language that sounds like students have a right to a diploma that can't be denied without due process, here is a question:  What is a diploma?  Obviously, you don't want it to mean that a student has demonstrated basic knowledge and abilities against an agreed upon standard.  Are we reduced to a diploma being a certificate of attendance, indicating that a student grimly sat through 4 years of classes and nothing else?

This same week, the Florida Senate was unable to rescue the very successful state voucher program in the face of last year's insane Florida Supreme Court ruling that vouchers were unconstitutional because the Florida Constitution's uniformity clause:

the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that the voucher program violated
the "uniformity clause" of the state constitution guaranteeing a
high-quality system of public schools. Because the performance of the
voucher kids was superior to those in public schools, the court ruled that education was not uniform -- or in this case not uniformly miserable.

The program in question that was struck down by the court awarded vouchers to students of schools that failed to pass state standards. 

The program at issue is Governor Jeb Bush's
seven-year-old "Florida A+ School Accountability and Choice Program."
For the first time, schools have been graded on the reading, writing
and math progress made by the children they are supposed to be
teaching. (Imagine that.) Any school that received an F in two of four
years is deemed a failure, and the kids then get a voucher to attend
another school, public or private.

One immediate impact -- according to researchers at
Harvard, Florida State, and the James Madison Institute -- has been
that the mere threat of competition caused many inner-city school
districts to improve. The percentage of African Americans who are now
performing at or above grade level surged to 66% last year, from 23% in

What is amazing about the court's decision is that every kid who got a voucher, 90% of whom are minorities, came from a school demonstrated by objective standards to be far below average.  But, according to the court, it is constitutional for these kids to be in schools that are far below average, but becomes unconstitutional when kids are moved to above average schools?  Does this make any sense?  I'ts sort of a reverse Lake Wobegone effect -- the system is constitutional as long as all the schools are below average but once any are above average then its unconstitutional.  LOL.

Here is the reason that the court's logic doesn't make sense:  The real thing they are concerned about with the uniformity clause is not uniform quality, but whether the schools are uniformly controlled by the government and uniformly populated with union rather than non-union teachers.

Note that both these decisions use the existence of flaws within the two states' educational systems (e.g. low-performing schools) combined with a "uniformity" or "equal protection" standard to strike down reforms aimed at fixing these very flaws.  Both are saying that you can't reform the schools until all the schools are equally good,  but of course the schools will never improve without reform. 

Update:  But good news in Newark.  It's depressing but not surprising to see my alma mater's own Cornell West out there fighting against school choice for African-Americans.

Update #2:  Walter Olson comments:

It would appear that from now on a high school diploma is meant to
signify not a student's actual mastery of a certain body of material,
but rather the mastery he or she would have attained had the breaks of
life been fairer. Employers, and all others who rely on California high
school diplomas in evaluating talent, would be well advised to adjust
their expectations accordingly.