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Complexity and the Clean Air Act

December 17, 2013

McCarthy and Foreign Pollution————“I hate that each sector has 17 to 20 rules that govern each piece of equipment and you’ve got to be a neuroscientist to figure it out”.  — Gina McCarthy, U.S. EPA Administrator

And here’s what’s even more interesting about this quote.  I don’t think a neuroscientist would even try to figure out this complicated system.  A neuroscientist, being a scientist, would first simplify the system and ask what the complexity adds to understanding or solving a problem before trying to understand it’s complexity.  Take for example the laws of accelerated motion:

               S = a + ut + ½gt2 + bt3

Neither Galileo nor any student of physics would consider using a higher degree polynomial in calculating the horizontal distance of an object falling from an inclined plane (see diagram below).  You might wonder, “a higher degree polynomial would increase accuracy—so why would scientists prefer the simpler equation?”  Because adding the higher degree polynomial makes it unnecessarily complicated without significantly improving the law.  And crazy as this might initially sound, the higher degree polynomial actually is likely to yield much larger errors than the simpler quadratic law (see below).

Time to use the scientific method on the Clean Air Act.  Time to simplify the Act so we can better understand the law and reduce the chance of error.  We can make it happen.

Complexity and the Clean Air Act

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