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."