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Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future

Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future
Author: Orrin H. Pilkey - Linda Pilkey-Jarvis
ISBN 13: 9780231132138
ISBN 10: 231132131
Edition: N/A
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication Date: 2009-06-29
Format: Paperback
Pages: 248
List Price: $27.00

Writing for the general, nonmathematician reader and using examples from throughout the environmental sciences, Orrin Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis show how unquestioned faith in mathematical models can blind us to the hard data and sound judgment of experienced scientific fieldwork. They begin with the extinction of the North Atlantic cod on the Grand Banks of Canada, and then they discuss the limitations of many models across a broad array of crucial environmental subjects. Case studies depict how the seductiveness of quantitative models has led to unmanageable nuclear waste disposal practices, poisoned mining sites, unjustifiable faith in predicted sea level rise rates, bad predictions of future shoreline erosion rates, overoptimistic cost estimates of artificial beaches, and a host of other problems. The authors demonstrate how many modelers have been reckless, employing fudge factors to assure "correct" answers and caring little if their models actually worked.

Library Journal

Environmental models are critical to understanding and predicting natural phenomena. Geologists Pilkey (emeritus, Duke Univ. Sch. of the Environment; A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands) and Pilkey-Jarvis (department of ecology, Washington State) have written a fascinating book on the issues surrounding the mathematical models used to formulate environmental policies. To reflect better the book's content, its title should be Environmental Policies and Mathematical Models: Reliability, Issues, and Case Studies. The authors discuss the relevance of mathematical modeling as a means to predict future large, complex, and evolving environmental issues; chapters as case studies explore such issues of regional and global importance as invasive species, groundwater contamination, beach erosion, global warming and rising sea levels, underground storage of nuclear waste, and depleted ocean fish stocks. The strongest sections address the history and development of environmental issues central to understanding the reliability, appropriateness, and assumptions behind modeling behavior. Written for nonspecialists, this book is devoid of mathematics and easy to read, yet it includes a limited number of pictures, notes, references, and figures. Recommended for all undergraduate academic libraries supporting environmental and ecology programs.-Ian D. Gordon, Brock Univ. Lib., St. Catharines, Ont. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.