Scientific American is one of the best general purpose science magazines in the world. Its articles are usually well written and very on point about matters of science and technology. But this week, they published a doozy.
Here is the article. See this — “Yet standard air-conditioning systems have ensnared us in a negative feedback loop: the hotter it is, the more people crank the AC — and the more energy is used (and greenhouse gases are emitted) as a result. “We’re in a vicious cycle,” says Nicole Miranda, an engineer researching sustainable cooling at the University of Oxford. And ‘it’s not only a vicious cycle, but it’s an accelerating one.’ ”
It means to say positive feedback. What the article describes is a self reinforcing cycle. Where each loop causes a bigger instance. It quotes a person, Miranda, who calls it, correctly, a vicious cycle. In case you’re wondering, the cycle causes more cooling. But the latter results in even more warming of the environment outside the room that is being cooled. This is what the ‘accelerating one’ referred to by Miranda is about.
The SciAm author makes the common mistake of confusing negative with bad. In science, a negative feedback loop is when damping happens, and this constrains the loops. While a positive feedback loop is misunderstood as good. In most practical instances of positive feedback, the phenomenon gets bigger and bigger. Out of control.
In the 2008 Great Recession worldwide, there were many reports about the business effects. Often citing negative feedback. It tells you that hose writers do not come from a science or technology background. The SciAm article is written by “a tech reporting fellow at Scientific American. Previously, she has covered environmental issues, science and health.”