Much of the work in climate science involves using proxy measurements. I got to wondering what other things in life could be done using proxies in place of actual measurements.
- You pull up to the gas station and fill your tank. A fill is your only option due to a new system that removes pump metering. Before you start to fill, you snap a quick shot of your gas gauge using the digital camera provided at the pump. After filling your tank, you go in to pay. A calculation is made: your car has an 18 gallon tank, the gauge says ¾ empty to start, so you pay for .75 x 18=13.5 gallons.
The assumptions are that the manufacturer was accurate in stating gas tank size and that the gauge is accurate as manufactured. The math is straightforward, so use of the proxy should be acceptable.
(My Subaru has a 14 gallon tank—at ¼ tank on the gauge, the proxy says I bought 10.5 gallons. Under the “old” system, I would have bought 8.5 to 9 gallons when metered at the pump.)
- A business’s time clock begins to malfunction. Sometimes it registers, sometimes it doesn’t. New time clocks are expensive, so the owner decides to instruct his bookkeeper to pay as follows:
Any time card with missing values should be paid the average number of hours the other employees worked—8, 8.5, 9, etc. Since most workers have similar schedules, this should result in payment very close to what the time card should have shown. The bookkeeper notes this will not work with employees F, R, and Z. F seems to show up half an hour late regularly– his coworkers have complained about this. R and Z work half an hour to an hour overtime routinely. The bookkeeper is given permission to apply the corrections to the paychecks.
- A construction company has all of its levels, tape measures and some other tools stolen. They are in a remote area and it would take days to get replacements. All materials were brought in at once with the idea they would finish and never have to make a trip back to civilization in the middle. The crew decides that employee A has a shoe that is very close to one foot in length. He is designated the official “foot” measurement person. Employee R has a finger with approximately 1 inch between knuckles. He is the “inch” measure. Employee S has good spatial skills so he is designated the “level” person. Since mortar and grout will still need to be mixed with no way to measure, employee K, the person with the most experience using mortar and grout, is designated the “mix” person. The crew is confident these substitutes will work fine. The crew has years of experience and have no doubt they can finish the home without problems and the homeowners will never know what has transpired.
- A medical professional is working with a very remote tribe. The sight of a thermometer nearly caused an international incident. As an alternative, it is discovered there is a woman in the village who can measure “not sick”, “sick”, “quite sick” and “very sick” by touching the patient. She seems to be basing this on the amount of warmth the person is emitting. You have two choices:
(a) medicate the “quite” and “very” sick people with antibiotics, maybe even the “sick” ones, too, and risk antibiotic resistance 10 to 20 years down the line or
(b) only medicate the “very sick” and risk children dying if the woman with the “touch” is off by a couple of degrees in her judgement.