Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sustainable Energy without the hot air

You may have noticed it's sometimes hard to get good data on issues of current importance. We read and hear adjectives, but we too rarely hear numbers. When we do, they're often presented in ways that are not conducive to clear understanding. I've written about that from time to time, for grounding decisions in good data seems to be a fundamentally important skill.

I've also written about the environment, for I think we do and will face challenges of the sort our ancestors never had to address (There: more descriptive phrases! Relief is on the way.).

Today Andrew Gelman pointed to David MacKay's free book Sustainable Energy -- without the hot air as an example of a book that brings data to the fore of the discussion about sustainable energy. In general, he likes the way the data is portrayed, although he doesn't attempt to vet the book for its content. While I haven't yet double-checked any of the numbers, I have begun to read the book, and I find the data clearly, cogently, and interestingly put (quite a change from William Farr's advice to statisticians). I like that he seems to use a significant number of clear time series ("behavior over time") graphs, and the time horizons are long enough to see useful patterns developing. So far, it appears as if this work will help me put events in perspective; I'll be curious to see what I learn and what reactions I have as I finish the book.

While I'm reading it, I encourage you to get a copy, too, and see what you think. Perhaps we'll all learn something important, both about living on the planet successfully and about presenting data effectively.

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