The most important data point. Ever.


Posted by Louis Brandy on 23 February 2009

I am not the first nor will I be the last to report to you perhaps the greatest scientific data point ever found. I imagine in every generation there is a moment when theory and experiment connect and everything changes. Usually the data comes first. Mercury had an abnormal procession of the perihelion. Newton couldn't explain it. Plug the numbers into Einstein's equations, and the answer matches reality. Wow. It must be an incredible moment to be the first to make such a discovery. Follow me and I'll give you a tiny taste.

Let's cut to the chase. The most important data point, ever:

fsm

First, Louis Pasteur boiled some liquid, and inside nothing grew. The consequences of this incredibly simple act are tremendous. There are living things too small to see. They cause diseases. It is not caused by vengeful gods, witches, or spontaneous generation. There is no more need for witch hunts, human, or animal sacirifice to ward off disease. Some, at the time, understood the implications of the simple experiment, others had to be led there. Some of you realize what the above data point means, for the rest, carry on.

Trend #1: A recent downturn in global temperature

This year (2008) appears set to be the coolest globally this century.

bbc

This year is set to be the coolest since 2000, according to a preliminary estimate of global average temperature that is due to be released next week by the Met Office. The global average for 2008 should come in close to 14.3C, which is 0.14C below the average temperature for 2001-07.

guardian.co.uk

Trend #2: A recent surge in maritime piracy

The latest piracy statistics released by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) indicate a dramatic increase in attacks of piracy for the first nine months of 2008.

Unprecedented rise in piratical attacks

The 2008 figures surpass all figures for hijacked vessels and hostages taken recorded by the PRC since it began its worldwide reporting function.

IMB reports unprecedented rise in maritime hijackings

Piracy on the high seas rose to unprecedented levels in 2008

Maritime watchdog reports unprecedented rise in piracy in 2008

The data

The data is quite clear. Ever since maritime piracy was eliminated as a major threat in the early 19th century, you will see a major increase in global temperature. Some might have called it a coincidence. And now, today, both variables have reversed course at the exact same time. You might call it yet another coincidence. Yup, just like the way the discovery of DNA happened to validate both Darwin and Mendel. Beautiful theories are strengthened by future discoveries.

The theory that explains the data

In the year 2005, a revelation was made to one of the great minds of our time: Bobby Henderson. He penned an open letter to the Kansas School Board proclaiming the existence of a supernatural entity. Unlike most supernatural beings, this particular one manifested itself in a testable manner. In other words, Bobby Henderson made a falsifiable and testable prediction that could, in principle, prove the existence of his supernatural deity. I quote for you the most important part:

I’m sure you now realize how important it is that your students are taught this alternate theory. It is absolutely imperative that they realize that observable evidence is at the discretion of a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Furthermore, it is disrespectful to teach our beliefs without wearing His chosen outfit, which of course is full pirate regalia. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, and unfortunately cannot describe in detail why this must be done as I fear this letter is already becoming too long. The concise explanation is that He becomes angry if we don’t. You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

Bobby Henderson, Open Letter to Kansas School Board (2005)

And so it was predicted, in 2005, that global warming was a direct reaction to the number of pirates world wide. In 2008, just three years later, the number of pirates began dramatically increasing, and with it, temperatures plummeted. And like a tiny deflection in a single star's light overturned Newton and enshrined Einstein as the king of physics, so too does this little data point change everything. A testable prediction has been made, and experimentally verified. Now the question is whether we have the courage and the strength to admit to ourselves the full implications.

Finding the occasional straw of truth awash in a great ocean of confusion and bamboozle requires intelligence, vigilance, dedication and courage.

CAAAAARRRRRl Sagan


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