At Large : If the theory fits, or maybe it doesn't
Regular readers of this column will have been intrigued, one presumes, by the January 28 edition, which explored water temperatures in nearby waters. It was an attempt - utterly unsuccessful as it turned out - to get to the heart of the mysteries of winter weather.
Everyone talks about the weather. Everyone talks about climate change. Everyone has an opinion about whether the weather is more wintry this winter than last, whether the trend is toward frigidity or tepidity. What does the data show? What forecast might we make, based upon the data that's ready to hand?
Of course, I know that politicians can analyze a complex set of contradictory data, report conclusively the undetectable trends, and describe earnestly the undefinable dimensions of what lies ahead. It's a gift.
It's a gift few of us have. The lucky ones can forecast that in the first 10 years of President Obama's health care overhaul plan, the deficit will be reduced by $100 billion. The rest of us live lives fogged with grave doubt, fueled by the certain knowledge that nothing we ever planned for ten years in advance turned out the way we expected it would.
In the January column, I reviewed some informal water temperature data and some actual scientific data assembled by actual scientists. I combined that array of data with personal observations of snow accumulations and ice in the Island harbors over, say, 40 years. After extensive analysis, I concluded with great confidence that this winter is "not a winter like last winter, nor like the one before. It's a snowy, rainy, frigid, mild, icy, ice-less winter, better than some I can remember, not as nice as others, and it may change altogether next month."
I'm thinking that my dreams of making a Nobel Prize winning film, based upon my research and trumpeting my conclusions using a lot of astonishing special effects, may not work out. My theory and computer modeling of winters to come is too wishy-washy.
Nevertheless, my research, documented in that January column, attracted some attention, and Karle Schlieff, an actual professional scientist with an extensive technical background, appointed himself to peer review the data I had used. (I use the term peer review very loosely indeed because someone who wins awards for his work in "Remote Sensing Technologies for Phenotyping" is the peer of another sort of person altogether, not me.)
Anyhow, Mr. Schlieff wrote to say he'd used some of the data I'd cited in pursuit of an altogether different theory.
"I saw your article about the water temperatures from WHOI,' Mr. Schlieff wrote. "I downloaded the files and was just as mystified about their meanderings. I let it stew for a few days."
This technique - stewing - is enormously valuable. Never more than when it leads to a decision to abandon some misbegotten idea for a column like that January one. Too often, in personal terms, I do the stewing and ignore the warning signs. It's my gift.
But Mr. Schlieff stewed thoughtfully, then picked up the tattered threads and stepped off in a fresh direction.
"I then tried to correlate them with many other datasets," this scientifically minded reader explained. "Everything was just a big mess."
Although I am not scientific in any respect, I know what he means.
"I submit to you my last dataset. Believe me it is still inconclusive... but interesting," he continued. "It is water temp at WHOI vs. sunspots. Sunspots are storms on the sun, which correlate with massive eruptions of material and an overall crazy corona. But, can it influence the weather...
"I cant tell. But I have noticed that the next solar cycle (roughly 11 years) has been delayed...somewhat."
Wow. That is something I certainly didn't know, and I also no idea what to make of it.
Mr. Schlieff appended some evidence of the comparisons at the base of his inquiry. They accompany this week's column.
"Enclosed is an MS Excel file that has the water temperatures from 1964 (each month is an average) as well as the sunspot numbers (also averaged into monthly numbers). I look forward to visiting the Vineyard again this summer... Thank you for the MV Times and enjoy"
Not at all. Thanks to you, Mr. Schlieff.