Why Science is Important

For our first discussion read the posted article about a claim that has been made that has not been supported by the scientific method. Read Article on the Web Site; Why Science is Important

Answer; Why is science important when people make claims that cannot be supported?
Tell me about the claim that has been made in the article. How can the scientific method prove or disprove this claim?
Finally, come up with your own claim that your read about online. Provide a link to the claim. How can science prove or disprove this claim?

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Why Science is Important Assignment

 

by Adriene Hill
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Marketplace for Friday, August 23, 2013
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STORY
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With choice comes risk: How to pick the electricity plan that’s right for you
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This smart grid can save power — and lives
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Could it possibly be true that watching videos on my smartphone uses as much electricity as two refrigerators?

“This is an example of a claim that sounds interesting, but really has no basis in fact,” says Jonathan Koomey
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, a research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University
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.

Koomey has devoted years of his professional career to fighting this refrigerator analogy. It first came up more than a decade ago, by the same author, then making the claim
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that a Palm Pilot used the same electricity as a fridge.

Koomey says fighting it again now is pretty frustrating, “I’d rather not have to spend time rehashing this stuff.” But, the claim is back. So Koomey is back; figuring out just how much electricity goes into making and using my smartphone.

By his calculation, it’s about 60 kilowatt-hours.

Mark Mills, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and the author of the phone-equals-refrigerator claim, estimates it’s closer to 700 kilowatt-hours.

Mills is author of a report called The Cloud Begins with Coal
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, sponsored by the mining and coal industries. He says he wants to get people thinking about how much electricity these devices use. And he doesn’t think the controversy around the refrigerator analogy distracts people from his bigger point.

“The debate makes it an interesting conversation, like we’re having,” says Mills.

He stands by his calculations and his main assertion: “It is accurate: it uses a lot of electricity. Now if someone were to say, it’s not equal to a refrigerator or equals half a refrigerator or a tenth of a refrigerator, that’s still a big number.”

Why use this analogy again? Why compare a phone to a fridge, when Mills got so blasted the first time?

“If I came up to you and remarked to you that there is a one-headed cat around the corner from your house you would be totally uninterested,” says Bruce Nordman,
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a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory*
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, “but if I said there was a three-headed cat you’d be amazed that it exists and want to go see it; so these fantastical assertions naturally attract people’s attention, whether or not they are real.”

Nordham says the idea that our phones use as much energy as a fridge is basically that three-headed cat; it’s not real. And still, these things get picked up, and passed around.

Which raises another question — why?

“Thinking about a smartphone, a tiny small device, that sits in our pocket using the same amount of energy as a huge refrigerator, seems so amazing that we just have to share us with someone else,” says Jonah Berger,
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a marketing professor at the Wharton school and author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” “It’s a neat little factoid that makes us look smart, even if in this case, it’s not actually true.”

He says the controversy around it helps makes it sticky and it taps into a broader conversation about the environment. “If everyone is talking about the environment, they are looking for something to add to that conversation,” Berger says. “We all know that gas prices are up, what’s there to say that’s new? But if I can plug in a new fact to that conversation, it’s going to get talked about a lot.”

Even if that fact isn’t factual.

This is the summary that Koomey gives at the end of his article disputing Mills claims:

Summary

Just as happened last time
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, Mr. Mills has made attention-getting claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny. He cherry picks numbers to achieve his intended results, and his report has vague or non-existent references (but lots of footnotes). This appears to be a deliberate attempt to convey an air of scholarly care while at the same time obfuscating his methods, but I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions from the issues I describe above.

One way to support the claim that the electricity use associated with an iPhone is as large (or twice as large) as a refrigerator is to combine the high electricity intensity of 2G/3G cell phone networks with the largest plausible data downloads from 4G networks (as the Breakthrough Institute has done). Another way is to use 3G electricity intensities and exaggerate data flows by a factor of 12 (as Mr. Mills has done). In either case, the electricity intensity and data flow numbers are inconsistent and incomparable, so the results are nonsensical. When corrected for more sensible assumptions (including an increase in the electricity use of new refrigerators to reflect the best current data), Mr. Mills is about a factor of 18 too high in his estimates of electricity use associated with a smart phone, assuming we take the written statement on p.3 of the CBC report literally.

The big story here is why the media is paying any attention to this report at all. Mr. Mills proved more than a decade ago that he is not a reliable source on the issue of electricity used by information technology, and his recent work simply confirms this. Unfortunately, it also confirms what seems to be an inability of most media outlets to report sensibly about technical topics, in part because of the pressure to generate attention-getting headlines, regardless of their veracity. In my view, this sorry episode does not bode well for our ability as a society to deal with complex issues like climate change in the 21st century unless we change the way media reporting is conducted on technical issues.

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