As greenhouse gases go, methane is one of the most ferocious. That’s why it was big news last year when some scientists reported that plants may be generating huge amounts of it. Was our role as polluter of the ecosystem overblown? According to Carl Zimmer’s latest post, this contrarian tidbit was picked up by pundits like Rush Limbaugh, who apparently remarked, “Well, hot damn. God is to blame for global warming.” Zimmer goes on to describe how the methane conclusion was recently debunked although, predictably, this time the news cycle didn’t care.
The whole episode got me thinking about how data gets put to work in the real world. Since the dawn of civilization, people have reached their conclusions first and looked for justifying data second (see “truthiness“). Very few of us are so virtuous as to observe and then conclude. Rush Limbaugh, for example, already knows in ample gut that global warming is nothing more than the sophistry of tree-hugging crybabies. When he sees a story that supports that belief, he reports it. Any story to the contrary simply slides by unnoticed. It’s just human nature.
In this spirit I propose a web service called ProveMyPoint in which you draw the curve or trend you believe to be true, no matter how offbeat or absurd. Push a button and my automated web service goes and finds data to support your assertion. Suppose you want to prove to your local zoning board that cell phone towers are leading to more electrical storms because of the electricity that they put into the air. Sounds plausible, eh? On ProveMyPoint.com, you would sketch a quick curve going up and to the right against the two axes for cell phone towers and electrical storms. My righteous research bots would find respectable data sources to fill in your plot.
Here’s what the output might look like for a hypothetical case in which you’d like to assert that Saddam Hussein might be up to some mischief. Given little more than the notion that bushy moustaches are menacing, my site might create this nifty piece of infographic demagoguery.
What do you think? Would you like to invest in my little venture? I’ve got some interesting data that suggests it’s very likely to pay off big…