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Useless Arithmetic


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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.

About the Author

Orrin H. Pilkey is the James B. Duke Professor of Geology emeritus and director emeritus 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, and is the editor of the twenty-four-volume series, Living with the Shore.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.


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.

This book is a welcome antidote to the blind use of supposedly quantitative models. -- Carl Wunsch American Scientist This is an easy and persuasive read. -- Fred Pearce New Scientist Useless Arithmetic dispels many myths and is a 'must read' packing in case studies and insights on faulty thinking. The Midwest Book Review [This] readily accessible book should be read by any activist who's ever had to face off against the opposition's engineers. Earth Island Journal A concise, powerful, and readable book. -- Steven R. Carpenter Issues in Science and Technology This book should be in every library... Essential. Choice Useless Arithmetic will surely excite any reader. -- David Simberloff BioScience

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