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

by Orrin H Pilkey and Linda Pilkey-Jarvis Columbia University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 248 pages
AU$54.99 NZ$58.25
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Noted coastal geologist Orrin Pilkey and environmental scientist Linda Pilkey-Jarvis show that the quantitative mathematical models policy makers and government administrators use to form environmental policies are seriously flawed. Based on unrealistic and sometimes false assumptions, these models often yield answers that support unwise policies.

Writing for the general, nonmathematician reader and using examples from throughout the environmental sciences, Pilkey and 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 a riveting account of the extinction of the North Atlantic cod on the Grand Banks of Canada. Next they engage in a general discussion of the limitations of many models across a broad array of crucial environmental subjects.

The book offers fascinating case studies depicting 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 thorny 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.

A timely and urgent book written in an engaging style, Useless Arithmetic evaluates the assumptions behind models, the nature of the field data, and the dialogue between modelers and their ''customers.''
Useless Arithmetic will surely excite any reader.
Orrin H. Pilkey is the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Geology and Director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment. He has written numerous books, including A Celebration of the World's Barrier Islands (Columbia), and is the editor of the twenty-four-volume series, Living with the Shore. He lives in Hillsborough, North Carolina. Linda Pilkey-Jarvis is a geologist in the state of Washington's Department of Ecology, where she helps manage the state's oil spills program. She lives in McCleary, Washington.Orrin Pilkey is the emeritus James B. Duke Professor of Geology and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Duke University. He is the recipient of many awards, most notably the AGU award for outstanding public communication in 1993 and the Jim Shea Award for Public Service from the NAGT. He is series editor of Duke University Press' Living with the Shore series, composed of over 20 volumes, and the author of several books, including A Celbration of the World's Barrier Islands.

Linda Pilkey-Jarvis is a geologist in the Department of Ecology of the State of Washington.