Do You Enjoy A Cold Soft Drink More Than A Warm One?

I know I do. The colder, the better. Knowing why will give you some insight into climate change.

Cold water holds more carbon dioxide.

When you open the can or pour it into a glass, the liquid’s temperature rises, and so the bubbles must be released from the water. The pleasure is not only about the taste. The bubbles have a significant effect on your enjoyment.

What if the earth’s oceans behave the same way? If they were warmed, would they release carbon dioxide just like your Pepsi?

What if the temperature rising increases the CO2 in the air? You could see that as a reason to reduce CO2 emissions, but that wouldn’t make so much sense until you knew why the temperature rose in the first place and thus helped the oceans release carbon dioxide.

But, you say, “CO2 is a greenhouse gas, and greenhouses are hot. CO2 is making the temperature rise.” That could be true, but there is not much evidence to support that theory. Most of what we hear about involves models, and models are not facts. Is CO2 driving the temperature or the temperature driving the CO2?

You should learn a simple detail.

Two factors can be correlated with any causation. In this case, it seems that people say higher CO2 causes higher temperatures, but it may be that higher temperatures cause higher CO2. On the other extreme, neither may have any effect whatever on the other.

A recent publication claims the correlation is weak.

The Relationship between Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Concentration and Global Temperature for the Last 425 Million Years

We might learn more from a long history than from the time when thermometers began to be used to keep track of temperature. That was 1888.

What does “weak” correlation mean?

Correlation is a statistical way to measure the closeness of fit between two sets of data. It is called “R” and varies between plus 1 and minus 1. Plus one is precisely correlated. If one factor moves by 10%, the other does too, and in the same direction. Minus one is perfectly uncorrelated. In this case, if one moves 10%, the other moves 10%, too but in the opposite direction. Zero means any relationship between the two is random.

A weak correlation is usually seen to be a correlation of 0.3 or less. Most scientists see above 0.5 as interesting.

The bigger question is which is forcing the other. The correlation coefficient doesn’t tell you. When the correlation is weak, it might not matter.

Correlation does not imply causation.

Of all the human thinking errors, this one is very high on the list of most common. We all know it, and we all fall into the trap. Even a correlation coefficient of 0.99 does not establish anything causative. You will enjoy the idea of spurious correlations. You can find a few here. Thanks to Tyler Vigen for the effort to make us smarter.

From that site, we learn that the correlation coefficient for US spending on science, space, and technology in the period 1999-2009 is correlated with suicide by strangulation, hanging, or suffocation. Your rational minds say the correlation should be zero, random, but it is not. It is 0.99789126. That’s nearly perfectly correlated.

I will leave this as an open question. Does science spending cause this type of suicide, or do the suicides cause the spending?

Okay, so I cherry-picked that one.

How about per capita cheese consumption and death by becoming tangled in bedsheets? That’s 0.9471.

How about divorces in Maine compared to per capita margarine consumption. 0.9926. That might make sense. Maybe people in Maine demand butter.

Here’s a less persuasive one. The number of letters in the word that won the Scripps Spelling Bee and the number of people killed by venomous spiders. 0.8057. Still high.

I suppose there are some near-perfect negative correlations too. I have seen a moderate negative correlation between money spent on education and results achieved. That one is disturbing.

Where to go from here.

You can search Google using the term spurious correlations and find some interesting ones.

You should notice the real world is complicated, and there is rarely a two-variable data set that has meaning by itself. By excluding other factors, you can easily be led astray. With that known, it’s not a bad place to start thinking about what could be happening. Just keep in mind that a critical variable might be missing.

Reality says this.

That’s where sound thinking begins. It’s a place to look first, but it might have no meaning. Keep skepticism in mind while deciding. Do not let something obvious lead you to spurious conclusions. Intuitively obvious is wrong more often than you would think.

The bit to take away.

Thinking is more challenging than you think. That’s why people accept talking points and memes. Be wiser.

 


I build strategic, fact-based estate and income plans. The plans identify alternate ways to achieve spending and estate distribution goals. In the past, I have been a planner with a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency, a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business. I have appeared on more than 100 television shows on financial planning. I have presented to organizations as varied as the Canadian Bar Association, The Ontario Institute of Chartered Accountants, The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food, and Banks – from CIBC to the Business Development Bank.

Be in touch at 705-927-4770 or by email at don.shaughnessy@gmail.com.

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