Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Running down the up escalator

             In ancient times, when the pyramids were built, knowledge - especially mathematical knowledge - was equated with magical and religious power. There is something inherently magical in mathematics' ability to capture reality and describe important qualities of it in a tiny space. Ancient rulers, before modern weapons and mind control techniques, armed themselves with the predictive power of astronomer-divines to awe and control the masses. One announced that on a given date the Dark Dragon of the Abyss would rise up and swallow the life-giving sun. Preparations were made to magically defeat the Enemy of Light. As the sun went into eclipse, great sacrifices were made across the land and lo! the Forces of Evil were turned away, the sun emerged once again from the belly of his Enemy and began to shine. The world grew bright and rejoiced! The world was saved, Light triumped over Darkness!

             The glass bead game of manipulating reality through numbers has grown a bit more sophisticated, the masses probably (??) a bit less gullible, but similarities remain. Mathematics can still be tweaked to "prove" what you want (especially if your interlocutor doesn't understand math..) Math can still be made to lie to serve the interests of a ruling elite.

               A fascinating example comes up in recent arguments by global warming "sceptics". Statisticians call it running down the up escalator. Let's say you have a trend which is rising gradually, say temperature globally is rising 5 C per century or one twentieth of a degree per annum but this "signal" is buried in a lot of "noise", random variation in temperature from one year to the next. The long term trend, a century, will effectively show an approximately 5 degree rise but you can always "cherry pick" and find relatively short series of years over which the temperature is falling. The overall 5 C per century rise is the "up escalator". Cherry picking the short series of declining temperature is referred to "running down the up escalator". The escalator ultimately wins of course but if your interlocutor is ignorant of math then you might win the argument: "you see, temperatures have been generally falling for the last 7 years. Therefore, global warming is a fraud, perpetuated by university profs who want to make trillions by cornering the carbon trading market early in the game".

                Interestingly, this "follow the money" argument never focuses on the billions that oil company execs and stockholders are making from fossil energy sales! "
How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you don't see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you'll see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Luke 4:42

                 The following link gives a beautiful graphical demonstration of "running down the up escalator". Don't miss this one! The blue lines in fig 1 are cherry picked declining temperature intervals. These are products of randomly fluctuating "noise" in the climate machinery. The red line shows the long term rising trend.

                  These, of course, are extreme examples of non-transparency in the communication of "information" from "official" or "authoritative" sources. Data is being twisted - by cherry picking selectiveness - to say the very opposite of what it actually does!

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