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The Local Weather Report – Annie’s Newsletter, Jan 12th 2018

… which is also, occasionally, a bipartisan alternative to science

There was a lot of eye-rolling when President Trump tweeted this in December:

Many responses to the tweet, like this piece from The New York Times, pointed out the difference between weather and climate. No matter whether you are a climate change skeptic or climate change activist, one cold snap does not prove or disprove global warming. One data point does not a trend make.

But before liberals rejoice too much at the Trump tweet, take note of this tweet from Bernie Sanders, two years earlier (to the day):


Of course, one heat wave tells us exactly as much about global warming as one cold snap does.

It seems that no matter what side of the debate we are on, if the weather fits our theory, we are susceptible to pointing to it as supporting data. This all made me wonder what the overlap was in those calling Trump out for his tweet and, also, sounding the alarm that Sydney, Australia experienced its highest temperature in almost eighty years (nearly 118 degrees) last Sunday.

… but neither does science denial

All this climate back-and-forth is beautifully explained in Michael Shermer’s (@MichaelShermer) recent article in Scientific American (@SciAm), “Science Denial versus Science Pleasure.” Shermer points out that Democrats and Republicans are equal-opportunity science-deniers…when it suits their political beliefs. From either side of the aisle, we can readily and easily come up with examples of how the other side is anti-science. For example, many on the right might be skeptical of global warming but many on the left are just as skeptical of GMOs. We all need to take a good hard look at places we might dismiss science just because it doesn’t fit our political views because none of us is immune to science denial.

That’s the bad news, but here is the good news.

Shermer’s article is not all about the bleakness of putting party over science. The good news is that “more than 90% of both Republicans and Democrats agreed that … ‘science makes our lives better.’”

That means we all mostly embrace science.

Steven Pinker’s defense of the value of free speech … and his book is coming

Many of the people encouraging speech restrictions on controversial topics are motivated by protecting the sensitivities of minorities and marginalized groups. In this video, Steven Pinker (@SAPinker) provides a reasoned explanation of how speech restrictions on college campuses can end up breeding extremists. Pinker makes the point that if we fail to expose students to uncomfortable truths (and he lays out quite a few of them), we also fail to arm them with the context and reasoning powers to fend off the most egregious, extremist, and reactionary interpretations of those truths. Whether you agree with Pinker or disagree with him, this video is a must-watch.

Pinker’s upcoming book (publication date: February 27), Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, is available for pre-order.

Michael Mauboussin’s fascinating video about outcome bias/resulting

Michael Mauboussin’s (@MJMauboussin) talk from 2013, titled “Why You Don’t Understand Luck,” beautifully lays out how knowing the outcome of an event changes how we think about the quality of the decision. The presence of luck really gums up the machine.

If you like the video, I highly recommend you get his book, The Success Equation: Untangling Skill and Luck in Business, Sports, and Investing, which takes a much deeper dive into the topic and is my go-to source and reference on explaining luck and skill in decision making.



FiveThirtyEight resolves to find out … but recognizes that ignorance, occasionally, is bliss

The science staff of (@FiveThirtyEight) started 2018 with science resolutions, “testing whether our habits and hobbies are backed by evidence.” It’s a great approach for a series of articles, and they did not disappoint:

Like many New Year’s resolutions, the series lasted for just a week. Too bad because the pieces are great. The final installment, “The Wellness Habits We Love Too Much To Investigate,” pointed out that, “Even in a newsroom as obsessed with evidence as ours, there are some things too near and dear to us to risk investigating.” Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the piece canvasses some of FiveThirtyEight’s professional skeptics on the routines they follow, about which they’d prefer not to know the truth.


Humans might be at the top of the evolutionary tree but it’s good that other species occasionally show us they have a trick or two up their sleeves (or hoofs or bottlenoses or whatever). @JuliaGalef, host of the Rationally Speaking podcast (@RSPodcast), tweeted out an article that originally appeared in The Guardian“Why dolphins are deep thinkers,” that shows just how smart dolphins are. The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies trained dolphins to bring litter that fell into their pools to their trainers in exchange for fish. One dolphin, Kelly, gamed the system to an incredible degree, hiding waste paper and tearing it into pieces to get multiple fish from trainers out of one piece of litter.

After trainers also rewarded Kelly with fish for delivering a dead gull, she started using the fish she got for the litter to lure gulls to her pool. She then taught this to her calf, who taught other calves, spreading the behavior.

Brilliant! Bottlenose dolphins have brains 25% heavier than human brains, and Kelly and Co. put their big brains to good use.


… and John Brockman’s This Idea is Brilliant comes out next week

Daniel Pink’s (@DanielPink) latest book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, is out and I’m looking forward to diving in. It’s among the first of many exciting books on cognitive science and decision making (or subjects that resonate on the biggest issues in those disciplines) coming in early 2018.


I’ve also pre-ordered This Idea Is Brilliant: Lost, Overlooked, and Underappreciated Ideas Everyone Should Knowedited by John Brockman (@Edge). Brockman has edited a great series of books and always brings together outstanding groups of contributors. This Idea is Brilliant will be available next Tuesday.