occam’s razor

Call me a dullard, but for all my years on this earth there are still a good-many things that I “know of” but don’t really know — things I often confuse with each other just when I want to spring them in conversation or debate. Worse yet, I sometime’s confuse them in my head — like when someone referenced Occam’s Razor in a blog comment recently. My mind raced for a moment, “does that mean the cat is dead?” Yeah, it’s scary sometimes. (And I even remember referencing the dead cat on my old blog, but I can’t remember why.)

So maybe if I write about it, I’ll keep this topic straight in my mind for next time. From Wikipedia:

Occam’s razor (also spelled Ockham’s razor) is a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham. The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or “shaving off”, those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory. The principle is often expressed in Latin as the lex parsimoniae (law of succinctness or parsimony): entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem, which translates to: entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.

This is often paraphrased as “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” In other words, when multiple competing theories are equal in other respects, the principle recommends selecting the theory that introduces the fewest assumptions and postulates the fewest hypothetical entities. It is in this sense that Occam’s razor is usually understood.

Let’s go with the paraphrased “all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.”

I’ve been all wrapped up in the Gore Mansion thing* and the derivative discussions about global warming and environmentalism. I linked in the previous post to a never-ending debate at Reason that demonstrates just how many ways you can peel this onion.

Ultimately, if you didn’t like Gore before, you’ve got more reason to not like him now; if you think he’s swell, this is probably not nearly enough to change your mind. It sounds like there may be some people in the middle that have been swayed away from Gore, but not many; and others who have been swayed to defend him because they trust the source, messenger, and commenter even less.

So let’s go back to Occam and the simplicity-test, and what this might have to do with life on planet Earth.

What is the largest source of heat/energy impacting the planet? Without a doubt, it’s the sun. This doesn’t even require a dissertation on the definition and validity of “scientific consensus” — I can’t imagine a any scientist that won’t agree that the radiation from the sun is directly responsible for the overwhelming majority of the earth’s temperature. (I know, I’m using the same “everybody says so” argument that I rail against when the environmental crowd uses it for their theories, but really, is this arguable at all? If so, I’ll retract the assertion in it’s entirety.)

What would be a realistic estimate of the relationship between solar radiation and the “greenhouse effect” with regards to global temperature — 20:1? 50:1? I’d can’t imagine greenhouse effects could have as much as 10% of the impact as solar radiation. I mean, the sun is really really big.

So what if studies showed that solar radiation (in the form of sunspot cycles) had increased in correlation with global temperature? Obviously, just because factors are correlated does not mean one causes the other. But isn’t that a more straight forward explanation of why temperatures might be rising? I mean, sunspots = energy = heat, right?

[Setting: a couple at home making dinner…]

“I don’t understand why the temperature of this pot of water is rising… It must be because of the lid I put on it, trapping the steam inside.”

“Actually honey, I’ve been randomly increasing the temperature dial on the range over the past 20 minutes.”

“OK, but I think I’ll remove the lid anyhow. It might cost a lot of money to remove this lid, but clearly the gas build-up inside the pot is affecting the water. After all, before there was all this steam, the water wasn’t nearly as hot. Besides, if I don’t remove the lid soon, the water will boil and cities will flood, or this rice will go bad, or something.”

“Um, sure hon, but if I return the range settings back to historical averages the water will return to a reasonable temperature regardless of what you do with the lid. And if I keep increasing the heat because my fusion core is getting out of wack or the thermostat on the range is broken, well the lid is the least of your worries.”

“Why should I believe you, after all you work for ExxonMobil; btw, how was work today?”

So here’s the chart that’s driving my rant:
[click chart for larger version]

Which two pieces of data have high correlation –rising and falling with each other? And which piece of data has been rising continuously and at an increasing rate despite the ups and downs of the temperature anomoly?

What’s the simple explanation for this?

And what is the complex explanation — the one that demonizes CO2, encourages us to cut back CO2 production enough to the reduce quality of life that mankind has acheived, and encourages appropriates individuals choices and re$ource$ through regulation and taxation?

Do you think Al Gore doesn’t have an agenda? You think he does this soley because he’s just concerned about his grandchildren’s future? His grandchildren will be just fine — with his inherited wealth they can avoid virtually all of the ill-effects of global warming. You think he’s so concerned about the rest of the world?

When in doubt, follow the money… Al Gore reportedly “buys carbon offsets” through Generation Investment Management. Interesting since it is an investment management partnershipl is to make money by investing in green companies, ir goarship (the and the only mention of “offsets” is that the company keeps its operations “fully carbon neutral” by buying offsets itself. No mention of offset management for clients or off-set trading for the public. Oh, and Al Gore co-founded GIM and continues to serve as Chairman — hardly an arms length transaction.

* it’s not a revelation, it’s not a news story really, is it a meme? a theory? am I just suffering mental exhaustion? I should get more sleepy time.

[note — I wrote this up a week ago or so, and I thought I posted it.  kelly, I owe you an apology for thinking you scooped your post from me — this was in the queue, honest.]

[just found this, it’s a must see but kick back, it’s 75 minutes long: The Great Global Warming Swindle…  a fantastic rebuttal to Gore’s (misnamed) Inconvenient Truth.



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2 responses to “occam’s razor

  1. I have been sitting here wracking my brain, trying to remember where I recently heard someone mention Occam’s Razor. Imagine my frustration when I realised that it was Jodie Foster in Contact (on TV last weekend)… Grr….

  2. I found this paper which would seem to change that graph you have posted. No HTML skillz, I am afraid:

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