Friday, August 17, 2001

Moving from higher abstractions to lower, from inference to observation

Some scientific measures develop from observation and some from theory. If we combine both methods of analysis and evaluation, we have a higher probability of closing the gap between what we think we know and what we can directly observe and measure. Do we ever nail down the "real" answer though?

Take a look at this story from the Boston Globe about a change in the meaning of the wind chill index. One might infer from the headline that the writer believes that the previous scale did not have any "real" basis.

However, according to this page at the National Weather Service (NWS) on the revision of the scale, they adjusted the parameters used in the wind chill calculation based on new technologies and the result of recent research that more accurately predict the actual experience of a human standing in the wind on a cold day.

In the meantime, an international commission has begun research and negotiations intended to develop a "Univeral Thermal Climate Index" that may go far beyond the NWS definition of wind chill, integrating activity, humidity, and other thermophysiological effects to pin down an even more accurate measurement of the human experience. Will their efforts, due out later this year, come up with the "real" answer? Stay tuned...

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