The Dismal Office Hour

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“Hi Professor.”

“Oh, hello, RP, come on in. Great to finally have a student come by for office hours! What can I do you for?”

“Well, Professor, I think I’ve narrowed down my undergraduate thesis topic, and I wanted to run it by you and see what you think.”

“Certainly, my boy, that’s a great idea. Much better to get some input on the project near the beginning so you don’t end up going off the rails later on! So, have a seat and tell me what you were thinking.”

RP remained standing.

“Well, eventually I want to prove that global warming isn’t so bad.”

“Whoa, hold on a second, that’s rather begging the question, don’t you think? We don’t prove or disprove something like that. We propose hypotheses and them and the data and the science lead us where they may. I’m pretty sure global warming has a down side, but even if I didn’t know that, I wouldn’t think you’d start out an undergraduate thesis with a presumption it is good or bad.”

“Well, professor, I get that, but I actually wanted to look at the damage cost of bad storms, how that goes down rather than up over time, but first I just wanted to show that there are fewer hurricanes.”

“Um, RP, you can ask the question, ‘Is there a change in hurricane frequency’ for a certain time range, or ‘is there a change in damage costs’ then see if it goes up or down, but you can’t set out to ‘prove there are fewer…’”

“Oh, I’ve got data, Professor, I just need to work out the statistics. So I have a plan.”

“Well, OK, then, what’s the plan, then? Tell me about your data? A quick warning, first. Hurricanes are actually rare beasts, when you think about it. Think about most statistics. To characterize a population you want minimally dozens of observations. To look at change over time you might want dozens a year. That’s the only way to track something like hurricanes.”

“OK, fine, professor. Well, first, I am going to look only at Atlantic hurricanes.”

“RP, the Atlantic hurricane basis is the smallest one, it has the fewest hurricanes. Plus, under global warming while tropical storms are expected to increase, it is thought the Atlantic may experience frequent years with significantly attenuated tropical storm activity owing to Saharan dust and teleconnections with …”

“Right, then, I’m only going to look at the biggest ones, maybe just Category 3 and 4.”

“RP, that is exactly the opposite of what you should do, that reduces your sample size even more you should include all…”

“Then, I’m only going to count landfalling hurricanes.”

“RP, you have pretty much guaranteed that your sample sizes are going to be too small, you’ve latched on to the part of the system with the highest variability and …”

“So thanks for the great advice, professor, I’ve got to go!”

RP steps out into the hallway and sees his friend. “Hey, wait up, Andy, I’m done with my meeting about my thesis!” The door closes behind him.

Office hours can be so lonely. Even when a student actually shows up.

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