When my colleague Bill Kenealy wrote recently about the same Al Gore IASA keynote on which I opined last time, I was alerted that his take might be different than mine—and that I might want to address the differences for your entertainment and enlightenment.
First, let me surprise you by saying that I have very few differences with Bill’s rather thorough take on what Gore said. Really, it’s the first sentence of his blog that raises my contrarian hackles. To wit: “Even his harshest critics will acknowledge that Al Gore has considerable insight and wide interests.” I can’t say for sure that I am among Gore’s most scathing critics, but I’ll admit to being in the general neighborhood. That being said, I have trouble acknowledging what Bill calls Gore’s “insight,” because I don’t consider the reckless use of statistics as insight. In fact, it is rather the opposite.
Let me explain. As Bill notes, the former vice president did provide some interesting statistics about computing power and the power of networking, which is fine and good. When he began spouting what he alleges are facts about climate change, however, the manipulation—manipulation truly worthy of a politician—began in earnest.
From Bill’s blog: “He noted that a warming atmosphere can carry more water vapor and may leader to fewer but more destructive storms. AIR Worldwide noted Monday, for instance, that the storms and tornadoes that swept the United States in the single week of May 20 to 27 caused somewhere between $4 billion and $7 billion of insured losses to automobiles, buildings and their contents.”
The problem with the first statement is that while it may well be true that more water vapor in the atmosphere leads to more destructive storms, there is no proof whatever that the increased water vapor is the result of mankind’s activities—yet Gore makes his living on making us believe that the blame rests entirely on human shoulders. The problem with the second statement is that while the recent U.S. storms did indeed cause huge amounts of damage, there is no proof that I know of that this is attributable to more water vapor in general or, of course, to the evil actions of humankind.
Some might say that there seems to be a correlation between man’s carbon-producing activities, high water vapor levels and severe storms—that is, that the three seem to occur together. Even the most elementary student of statistics, however, learns the mantra that “correlation does not imply causation.” I think Al Gore knows this, but to acknowledge that it may apply to climate change would be, for him, an inconvenient truth (pun quite intended).
So when someone tells me Al Gore has insight, I tend to think that it’s something more like whatever it is that makes a snake oil salesman able to sell his wares. Gore may simply be unaware of the basics of statistical interpretation, or—and I think this is more likely—he is acutely aware and is doing his best to misdirect the public in service of his own ideology.
If Gore is a “recovering politician,” it would seem he has fallen off the wagon.
Ara C. Trembly (www.aratremblytechnology.com) is the founder of Ara Trembly, The Tech Consultant, and a longtime observer of technology in insurance and financial services.
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