A Science for Everyone, Community

Welcome Back Carter

It’s time to watch the Consumer Price Index again.  The CPI is published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics(BLS) and the recent release shows an inflation level that hasn’t been seen since Obama was a president.

“The Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.6 percent in May on a seasonally adjusted basis after rising 0.8 percent in April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Over the last 12 months, the all items index increased 5.0 percent before seasonal adjustment; this was the largest 12-month increase since a 5.4-percent increase for the period ending August 2008.”

Well, the inflation rate isn’t up to where it was in the Carter years – but it looks to me like the BLS website is going to be worth watching.

A Science for Everyone

Climate Change-A Matter of Perspective

Perspective makes a difference on most things. By training, my temporal perspective is, at the least, the last 20,000 years. As I greet the morning, I see a meadow where just over a century ago there was a lake. I have seen photographs of that lake – a vestige of the glacial lakes that were scattered across northwest Montana. There is some solid evidence off the California coast that until about 18,000 years ago, when the Ice Age began warming, sea level was about 600 feet lower than it is today. Estimates show that another couple-hundred feet of sea level rise is stored on land surfaces such as Greenland and the Antarctic.

I’d be more concerned about the water rising if I didn’t live at 3,100 feet elevation. The highest point in Florida is 345 feet above sea level. The high point in Washington DC is 410 feet above sea level. Glaciers have been where I live. Global cooling and ice holds more significance to me. My perspective would be different if I lived in Florida, or DC, or Paramaribo. Surplus elevation staves off the threat of rising seas.

I reside just a little south of the 49th parallel. As June approaches, I have just finished mowing the lawn for the second time. The last frost (hopefully the last frost) was about a week ago. If global warming extends my short growing season, my garden becomes more productive. It’s a matter of perspective – two weeks more growing season would be nice here . . . but might not be so beneficial in northern New Mexico or southern Colorado. There is a different view as the latitude increases or decreases.

Geologists tell me that there have been five major ice-ages, one where the glaciers reached the equator. Each precedes our modern, technical culture – which suggests that climate change has occurred without human causation. The question becomes how much of the change is due to “natural” events and how much is human caused? There is a difference between a 20,000 year perspective and a 200 year perspective. The world view is different from sea level in Washington DC than from 3,100 ft above sea level on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains.

An agricultural perspective shows that longer growing seasons would produce more crops in Canada and Russia. Construction in our southern states shows that it is cheaper to cool our buildings than to heat them. Climate change is not a simple equation, there are advantages to warming as well as disadvantages – and it’s relevance to our lives depends on where we live.

A Science for Everyone

A Covid Risk Calculator

Johns Hopkins has a covid mortality risk calculator that is both interactive and online: https://covid19risktools.com:8443/riskcalculator 

Remember, I like statistics and correlations, and covid has provided a bit of an enigma since the data came out from the Diamond Princess outbreak last year.  This calculator takes in age, health and location and coughs up your probability of dying from covid.

My own numbers were reassuring – I answered the questions . . . age 71, height, weight, history of asthma, cancer and diabetes, and the model churned out that I was 1.1 times as likely to die of covid as the model’s norm.  Essentially I was at a normal risk.  The analysis was:

“Based on the information you have provided, the tool estimates that you have 1.1 (95% CI: 0.95 – 1.3 ) times the risk of dying from COVID-19 compared to the average risk for the US population.

Based on the estimated risk, you are categorized to be at Closer to or lower than average risk based on the following chart:

Further, based on the information available from pandemic projections in your state of residence, the tool estimates an absolute rate of mortality of 0.6 (95% CI: 0.3 – 1.3 ) per 100000 individuals in subgroups of the population with a similar risk profile to yours during the period of 05/15/2021 – 06/04/2021. This estimate is calculated based on the CDC’s Ensemble mortality forecast data.

*95% CI: Error bounds with 95% confidence.”

It’s a model – and only as good as the data that went into its development.  That said, Johns Hopkins has a pretty good reputation, and I would guess they will continue to refine the model.  Scientific method and statistical analysis do not allow perfect data for the individual.  That said, I like having a model that I can use.  Give it a try with your own data.

A Science for Everyone, Community, Plants

Lilacs Blooming? Time to plant Beans (among other things)

I’ve noticed the lilacs beginning to bloom in Eureka, and remembered that the blooming time of lilacs corresponds to the planting time for some crops. They are an “indicator” species, as it were.

The study of when plants bloom and other seasonal events (such as migration) is phenology. It can be used by observant gardeners to determine when to plant, even across different regions. Lilacs bloom at the same number of growing days, even when they do so at different dates.

Beans, cucumbers, and squash should be safe to plant when the lilacs are in full bloom.

The timing of lilac blooming (and leafing) was studied in-depth by a professor at MSU. We wrote about him last year.

Montana’s Greatest Climatologist

My one class in climate studies was about 40 years ago at Montana State University.  The professor was Joe Caprio . . . yeah, “The Father of Scientific Phenology.”  It’s interesting how many state climatologists make their starts as meteorologists.  Anyway, I was back in school, getting enough credits in ag engineering to qualify as a professional with SCS, and when I took his class on climate, and when he learned of my experience in snow surveys, it became Mike and Joe – a very honored Mike that was told “Call me Joe.” Dr. Caprio’s specialization and research was climate…

Keep reading
A Science for Everyone

Using Science

I noticed a Dilbert cartoon that seemed to epitomize a lot of the comments I’ve seen on Facebook.

The challenge is that there are a lot of folks who believe in science, or at least think they do.  The thing is, science is a method of understanding parts of the world, or universe, around us.  We call it scientific method – and skepticism even toward your own results is an important part.  I too am skeptical of the chipmunk understanding what he heard.

Part of my job description included the expectation of “using science-based information.”  There’s a difference between “science-based” and “evidence-based.”  Court verdicts are based on evidence – and decisions often made based on a jury of reasonable men and women.  Science doesn’t require consensus, agreement, or a majority vote.  It requires formulation and testing of a hypothesis – and if the hypothesis doesn’t meet the test, it is discarded or modified.  If it does meet the test, the hypothesis is tentatively accepted . . . until a better explanation comes along.

Sometimes it’s difficult for scientists to use scientific method in their daily lives – we all have this thing called confirmation bias.  In a meeting on hiring, someone mentioned the high cost of getting a computer background check through the police.  My comment was “Well, we might just require a South Dakota concealed carry permit – that gets the check completed, and only costs $10.”  The reply, from the department head (full professor and  Ph.D) was direct: “I can’t believe that.”  It was the week after my daughter’s 18th birthday – and I had just bought the permit as part of the birthday gifts.  My fact was solid – but there was no space for it in her reality.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Now That’s Inflation

A bit less than 10 years ago, my department head, Donna Hess, retired.  As a gag gift, I bought a million dollar Zimbabwe note – everyone should retire as a millionaire.  It cost me a little less than 8 dollars US on ebay.  The note, and the sentiment, circulated around at retirement events throughout the year.

Today, I noticed that Zimbabwe currency is still on the ebay market, with even more zeros added.   This time it’s ten hundred trillion dollar bills for $4.40 US.  I think part of the reason I’m writing this is just to have an example that lets me count how many zeros there are in a trillion. 

Still, ten bills represent a thousand trillion dollars.  We know that the guy who is selling a thousand trillion dollars Zim for $4.40 US is making a profit – just like the guy who sold me the million dollar note for $8.00 US.

In Zimbabwe, they have added eight zeros to the currency in ten years – and it only buys 1/20th as much when you measure it in yankee dollars.  Now that’s inflation.

 

A Science for Everyone, Community

Electronic Visit to the Snow Course

It still amazes me that I can turn on the computer and, in 15 minutes, get the data that used to take a week’s work to obtain.  Of course it also amazes me that my work is so far in the past that it no longer shows up in the 30-year averages.  Still, some of that data – starting with my first run in the mid-seventies are still available:

As I look at the little squares on the left, I do see that Jay and I did measure the lowest year on this chart, back in 1977.

My closest snow courses are Stahl Peak and Grave Creek. Stahl is listed at 27.7 inches and 75% of average – but still significantly better than the 20-inches of water back in my youth.

Grave Creek is listed at 3.8 inches and 60% of average. 

Banfield Mountain shows 9.9 inches – 66% of average.  The chart shows that this is fairly close to the record low measurements.

Hawkins Lake, in the northwest corner of the county, shows 20.9 inches and 81% of the 30 year average.  The historic peaks chart shows that I measured the record low in 1977, and the snowpack is still above that.

A Science for Everyone, Demography

IQ Testing Government Officials

Donald Trump described himself as a “stable genius.”  Joe Biden challenged another old man to an IQ test competition.  These are things that never happened with George Bush, and I scoured the internet for reliable IQ numbers on politicians.  I learned that a US government official IQ tested a group of German military and political leaders.  So near as I can tell, the only data available on the intelligence of government officials came from the Nuremberg trials after World War II.  An American psychologist, Gustave Gilbert tested the 21 former Nazi officials with an early Wechsler IQ test, with the following results:

Position HeldIQ
Schacht, HjalmarMinister of Economics143
Seyss-Inquart, Arthur Reichkommisar of Netherlands141
Dönitz, KarlAdmiral138
Göring, HermannChancellor138
Papen, Franz vonChancellor134
Raeder, ErichGrand Admiral134
Frank, HansGovernor of Poland130
Fritzsche, HansDirector of Propaganda130
Schirach, Baldur vonHitler Youth Leader130
Keitel, WilhelmField Marshall129
Ribbentrop, Joachim vonMinister of Foreign Affairs129
Speer, AlbertMinister of Armaments128
Rosenberg, AlfredMinister of Occupied Territories 127
Jodl, AlfredColonel General127
Neurath, Konstantin vonMinister Foreign Affairs125
Frick, WilhelmMinister of Interior124
Funk, WaltherEconomics Minister124
Hess, RudolfDeputy Fuhrer (until 1941)120
Sauckel, FritzHead Labor Deployment118
Kaltenbrunner, ErnstSS, Head of Security113
Streicher, JuliusNewspaper Publisher106

All were above average – most, excepting the publisher of the party newspaper and the head of security (Streicher and Kaltenbrunner) above the “normal range” of intelligence.  The only thing I can generalize from the sample is that you don’t have to be dumb to be a nazi, and that isn’t a conclusion I like.

There’s a chart at IQ Comparison that shows the probability of each score.  For example, Julius Streicher, with an IQ of 106, almost made it into the top third of the population.  Kaltenbrunner, at 113, scored in the top fifth.  Hermann Goring, at 138, was statistically the sharpest knife in a drawer with 177 others.  Hjalmar Schacht, with an IQ of 143 was one out of 278 . . . and he was acquitted of all charges at Nuremberg. 

There is a clickbait series on US presidential IQ scores – complete to two decimal points, and it looks unreliable to me – so this seems to be the best available data.  I suspect we could develop some pretty good estimates on recent presidents, if we had their ASVAB or college placement scores – but most of our presidents preceded IQ tests.  In 1916, Terman set the minimum standard for genius at 140 . . . so Trump may well have scored above that – basically, the probability in the general population is 1 in 261.  Biden probably did have a better than 50-50 chance of beating a random 83-year-old in an IQ test.  I’ve seen Einstein listed at 160 – a one in 31,560 probability.

In a nation of 330 million, we have about as many smart people as dumb ones – and, if we extrapolate from the Nurenberg IQ tests, we have some equally bright people in politics, and bright politicians can do some really dumb things.

A Science for Everyone, Demography

An IQ Too Low for the Military

Jordan Peterson has a brief video on youtube describing the IQ cutoff the US military uses in recruitment. (Jordan Peterson | The Most Terrifying IQ Statistic)  He explains that the army doesn’t recruit for people who score below 83 because they can’t be trained. 

I think he has simplified the explanation – the ASVAB is the military test.  While it is not technically an IQ test, it correlates closely.  I’m not about to fact-check Jordan Peterson on a technicality.  He explains that 10% of the population have an IQ below 83, and the chart shows that 11.5% of the population score 82 or below.  Definitely close enough for a short lecture.

I think back among my students, and recall asking the slowest veteran I ever had in a class what he did in the army.  He replied he had been a gama goat driver.  The photo suggests that he probably had skills that would transfer to operating a rubber tired skidder – but probably lacked the forest experience.  My experience tells me that he would have been a good, reliable tail chainman on a survey party – but even at that time, electronic measuring devices were replacing the chains.

All told, I think I understand why Jordan Peterson called it “The most terrifying IQ statistic.”  If he was close to correct – and I suspect he was – we’re looking at somewhere around one person in nine that can’t be trained to perform a minimum military job adequately.  I suspect the civilian world isn’t any more merciful.  Years ago, I had the privilege of knowing Doug.  The army had released him because of a low score – whether IQ or ASVAB makes no difference.  He was in his fifties, and remembered vividly the date when he learned he wasn’t good enough.  He made a living as a ranch hand, mostly working cattle, haying and fixing or building fences . . . he was conscientious and reliable at handloading ammunition, and a cautious, safe driver.  As I watched Peterson’s video, I realized how few jobs there are for folks like Doug.   There was a place for Doug in north central Montana, but few areas have that opportunity.  Doug couldn’t have made it in the urban technical world.   Anything that finds one person in nine untrainable is a terrifying statistic. 

A Science for Everyone, Demography

Non-reproducible research

About 20 years ago, I realized that I had a fairly unique opportunity to test the hypothesis that 4-H was strongest where it was multigenerational – 4-H members grew up to be 4-H leaders, and the program was strongest where the multi-generational membership was the most common. 

I was working with 22 counties, and 4 of them had Extension secretaries with 30 or more years of experience, and full records.  Complete records is more challenging than you might think – when I worked as a County Agent, the records were in the basement, and a cracked sewer line helped me make the decision that they couldn’t be recovered.  Obviously, if I had only 4 counties out of 22, reproducing the research would be difficult at best.  On the other hand, if it didn’t get done in the next year, retirements would make it impossible to do once. 

In 1950, 18% of rural youth belonged to 4-H, with the membership plateau ending in 1976 (Putnam 2000, Bowling Alone), with a 26% decline in membership between 1950 and 1997.  And I was listening to folks who told me that the problem was a shortage of volunteer leaders.  It looked like I could find the numbers in those 4 counties with the oldest secretaries. 

I was on a roll – the secretaries showed that 151 4-H families had at least one parent who had been a 4-H member as a child, 78 families where neither parent had been a member, and the parents of 6 families could not be determined.  We defined 4-H members who had belonged to a club four years or more as persistent, and contrasted their statistics with first-year members.  None of the six families whose 4-H history couldn’t be determined had any persistent members, so the sample, while not particularly large, was clean.

Well, the stats were simple – Chi square was calculated at 45.03, the probability of the distribution occurring by chance was less than 0.001.  The data supported the hypothesis that parental involvement in 4-H (as a club member) is the greatest single predictor of member persistence in 4-H.  Two thirds of the persistent members (4 years or more) had parents who had been 4-H members in their youth, while two thirds of the first-year members had parents who had not been 4-H members.   The kids most likely to drop 4-H were kids whose parents had not been in 4-H and were not 4-H club leaders. 

The evidence was pretty solid that a multigenerational 4-H identity helped keep kids in 4-H – but it was equally solid that 4-H membership wasn’t random . . . it was hereditary, like the British nobility.    Still, making a conclusion about a national program from a sample of 334 people in 4 counties seems to be a stretch.  As I look at the Harry that was once an English prince, I wonder about researching the worldwide decline of royalty.

Non-reproducible research isn’t necessarily bad research, and it can provide some interesting conclusions – but it is better when you know it’s non-reproducible from the beginning.