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Flawed Mathematical Models

Date: 01-28-07
Host: Art Bell
Guests: Orrin Pilkey

Duke University Professor Dr. Orrin Pilkey discussed how unquestioned faith in mathematical models can misrepresent future situations and lead to unmanageable plans. Quantitative models that predict where, when, and how much, are typically inaccurate, and can lead to bad decisions, he outlined.

For instance, the plan to dispose of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain in Nevada tries to look ahead one million years and presupposes that it may fail someday with leakage into the groundwater.

A better way to look at such issues, he argued, is the qualitative model, which asks how, why, and what if. Considering various contingencies can offer more flexibility in long-term solutions. For instance, in Sweden nuclear waste is buried 1,000 ft. underwater, with the possibility in mind, that over long stretches of time, another ice age may hit the area. Pilkey also addressed how global climate change, AIDS and other issues are hampered by quantitative models.

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