Announcing the Spin Cycles and Our First Award

Judging from the November electoral tsunami, whose epicenter was in coal country, people aren’t taking very kindly to the persistent exaggeration of mundane weather and climate stories that ultimately leads to, among other things, unemployment and increased cost of living. In response, we’ve decided to initiate “The Spin Cycles” based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth.

Like the popular and useful Fujita tornado ratings (“F1” through “F5”), or the oft-quoted Saffir-Simpson hurricane severity index (Category 1 through Category 5), and in the spirit of the Washington Post’s iconic “Pinocchios,”, we hereby initiate the “Spin Cycle,” using a scale of Delicates through Permanent Press. Our image will be the universal vortex symbol for tropical cyclones, intimately familiar to anyone who has ever been alive during hurricane season, being spun by a washing machine. Here’s how they stack up, with apologies to the late Ted Fujita and Bob Simpson, two of the true heroes of atmospheric science with regard to the number of lives their research ultimately saved.

And so, here we have it:

Delicates. An accidentally misleading statement by a person operating outside their area of expertise. Little harm, little foul. One spin cycle.

Slightly Soiled.  Over-the-top rhetoric. An example is the common meme that some obnoxious weather element is new, thanks to anthropogenic global warming, when it’s in fact as old as the earth. An example would the president’s science advisor John Holdren’s claim the “polar vortex,” a circumpolar westerly wind that separates polar cold from tropical warmth, is a man-made phenomenon. It waves and wiggles all over the place, sometimes over your head, thanks to the fact that the atmosphere behaves like a fluid, complete with waves, eddies, and stalls. It’s been around since the earth first acquired an atmosphere and rotation, somewhere around the beginning of the Book of Genesis. Two spin cycles.

Normal Wash. Using government authority to create public panic regarding climate change, particularly those omitting benefits, in an effort to advance policy. For example, the 2014 National Climate Assessment. Three spin cycles.

Heavy Duty. Government regulations or treaties claiming to save the planet from certain destruction, but which actually accomplish nothing. Can also apply to important UN climate confabs, such as Copenhagen 2009 (or, quite likely, the upcoming 2015 Paris Summit), that are predicted to result in a massive, sweeping, and world-saving new treaty, followed by self-congratulatory back-patting. Four spin cycles.

Permanent Press. Purposefully misleading commentary on science which will hinder actual scientific debate and credibility for generations to come, especially those with negative policy outcomes. Linking extreme weather events to climate change, the perpetually impending demise of the polar bears, the Federal government attempting to convince you to sell your beachfront property before it’s submerged. Five spin cycles.

 

INAUGURAL SPIN CYCLE AWARD 

DOES MERCURY FROM POWER PLANTS MAKE US STUPID?

In State of Michigan et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA contends that the costs to reduce and then eliminate mercury from power plant effluent are justified because current emissions are lowering I.Q. scores. The result will be to eliminate all coal-fired generation of electricity, [double entendre ahead] currently around 40 percent of our total electric power.

You remember IQ (“Intelligence Quotient”) tests, right? Oh, well, maybe you don’t, because public schools can’t use them anymore. Whether or not they measure intelligence (whatever that is) or not, not all socioeconomic groups score the same, so they can’t be fair (whatever that means). But they do predict, within certain humongous error ranges, lifetime income—which isn’t fair, either.

Which, means, according to EPA, that power plant emissions of mercury are harming…whom?

So—we can’t make this stuff up, the EPA invented a population of 240,000 nonexistent women who fish day in and day out, in order to feed themselves. We won’t get into the fact that, given the cost of, say, a can of mackerel, these folks are paying themselves far, far below the minimum wage. No, instead, they eat—or should we say gorge—up to 300 pounds of hand-caught freshwater fish per day. And then they go home and do the sort of things that lead to children., whose IQ scores are lowered thanks to the mercury in those fish.

Nevermind that U.S. power plants emit less than 0.7 percent of the total mercury input to the atmosphere each year, or that the total U.S. contribution is a mere two percent, or that East Asia, (mainly China) contributes around 36 percent.  Given that mercury can stay in the atmosphere for weeks before it is deposited on the surface, their contribution to our mercury deposition is huge compared to what comes from our homegrown power plants.

The average IQ score is 100. The measurement error for practical purposes is +/- 5 points (one standard deviation). That means if you score 140, your true score is likely between 135 (“highly intelligent”) and 145 (“genius’), or about the average score of our readers.

Those hard facts weren’t enough to keep the EPA from confidently stating that the average IQ reduction in the hypothetical children of the hypothetical fish-obsessed women will be (drum roll!) 0.00209 IQ points. In other words, the average IQ of these sorry tots will read 99.997, with a real value of between 94.997 and 104.997.

Nowhere did the EPA say that avoiding such an IQ loss could impact future earnings, but they still proceeded to translate the value of 0.00209 IQ points to a value of up to $6,000,000 per year across 240,000 hypothetical kids.

One gets the impression that people who think they can find a needle of precisely 0.00209 IQ points in a haystack of 10.0000, or two-hundreths of one percent of the error range, might not score too high on such a test. Of course, since they are most likely government bureaucrats making around $115K per year, that shows how good IQ tests are, after all.

For “thinking” that we can measure 0.00209 IQ points, and, for that, we will shut down power plants that produce 40 percent of our juice, the inaugural recipient of the Spin Cycle award, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, gets five spin cycles, or Permanent Press.