An interesting way of explaining scientific certainty and climate change


I hate to repeat myself, but what is the meaning of certainty and consensus within the context of a PhD program which systematically weeds out grad students who question the dominant ideology?


MR: When you first thought of writing this book, you were in graduate
school, right?

JS: Yes, that’s right. I got interested int he topic when I was going
to professional training myself, getting a PhD in physics at the
University of California, Irvine. It seemed like the best of my fellow
graduate students were either dropping out or being kicked out. And by
‘best,’ those were the most concerned about other people and seemed
less self-centered, less narrowly-focused, most friendly people…they
seemed to be handicapped in the competition. They seemed to be at a
disadvantage not only because their attention was divided, but because
their concerns about big picture issues like justice and the social
role of the profession and so on, caused them to stop and think and
question, whereas their unquestioning gung-ho classmates just plowed
right through with nothing to hold them back. As I mentioned, there’s
about a 50% drop-out rate for students entering University programs in
all fields; and what I found was that this weeding out is not
politically neutral. To put it bluntly, the programs favor
ass-kissers. I don’t know if that’s an acceptable term on KFAI, but
that’s the fact of the matter…

(From an interview with Jeff Schmidt, author of Disciplined Minds, and former 19-year editor for Physics Today. Schmidt was fired for writing this book, but more than 700 researchers (plus Noam Chomsky) signed petitions and wrote letters in his defense, forcing a large settlement and reinstatement of his job by the American Institute of Physics.)

To the extent that certainty within one idea is a function of awareness of all possible ideas, one has to imagine that the construct of certainty can be altered by decisions to selectively teach various ideas and controversies at the level of the PhD program.

The public is under this apparent impression that consensus in science involves a process of each individual scientist deciding, without interference from others, and of their own free will, that a particular theory is correct. Jeff’s book suggests rather plainly that this is not how the graduate programs actually work – that we need to also consider the possibility that the consensus we see in various scientific theories is an artifact of the way in which we train the scientists.

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So is this posted today to refute global warming or are you arguing against the definition of scientific consensus in general?


This person’s entire post history seems to be complaining about science and science education (while also promoting that book).


95% certain huh? That’s how we know Global Warming is a big hoax, because with God I get 100% certainty that the world is made for me and everything on it is intended to be used by me.

Your science has failed you! God is the only way.

Note: Creationists actually believe this, they call it wedge theory. If there is a tiny sliver of doubt, then a theory cannot be proven correct, whereas your theories are always correct by the grace of God. Ergo, you win.


Well, it was an interesting intellectual exercise at the beginning, but I have no idea what to make of it now, especially under the subject here. But that’s okay.


I can’t imagine that anyone actually has 100% faith. Even one of the most famous characters in the bible, Jesus Christ, questioned his own. Therefore, since the faith is, at most, 95%, doesn’t that negate the certainty of god?


Twas ever thus in science education, and somehow we’ve muddled along. Here’s an n = 1 anecdote, though I’m sure I’m not alone: I match the description outlined in the OP, and I managed to get a Ph.D. I found people throughout my academic career that appreciated who I was and helped me. Until I got a “real” job, where I found that I didn’t fit in in academia, for the same reason. Yet I’m working on (and freaked out by) climate change issues and happy with my impact in the world, such as it is.

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Unfortunately, the most likely (95%?) result of this comparative exercise will be that climate deniers will start huffing down cartons of Marlboros on principle.


Your first statement, given your recent post history, strains your credibility in a general sense.


Wait, which god?


The one true God of course. None of those imposters.

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I am 95% certain that I can hear an axe being ground.

I hate to repeat myself, but

Your comment history indicates that hating to do so appears to slow you down not at all.

What is the consensus definition of the phrase ‘I hate to X, but…’


Has it occurred to anybody here that I am not the one making the claims?

Also, to the extent that people are willing to rush to belief in global warming while simultaneously dismissing very specific claims that the consensus is being manufactured, I think this is a statement on its own.

I mean, you could just read the book – which, btw, has excellent Amazon reviews – instead of reading the tea leaves on whether or not to believe the messenger (me).

If they had any honesty they would be already. Most people who have published claims global warming isn’t happening, or isn’t caused by humans, are connected to a few think-tanks like the Heartland and Fraser Institutes. As it happens these have a long, sometimes foundational, history of trying to downplay the relationship between tobacco smoke and cancer. Why anybody listens to anything they say is beyond me.


It seems that not even 700+ researchers + Noam Chomsky can convince the people of BoingBoing to learn about the politicization of our PhD programs.

Just talked to her, she said you misunderstood the anecdote. Also she said try using the internet made without science/scientific method, then you can start claiming science has failed. Her words not mine.

Nobody is reading tea leaves. Everyone is reading your words. It’s not personal, its that your approach to these issues is both logically incorrect and (less importantly) condescending.

Edit: That’s my opinion. It’s not about you as a human. It’s about the form of argumentation you are using here, which seems to include appeals to authority, herd behavior, and personal attacks slipped into arguments decrying personal attacks.

You’ve been heard. No amount of policing the thread will make you more appreciated or agreed with.


What does this have to do with me or my style? This is about the physics discipline’s biggest freedom of expression issue in its history – which many people who claim to care about science insist upon ignoring and discrediting, apparently without ever engaging the subject.

Interesting, but I would have preferred an actual explanation of what confidence means in such a context, due to the fact that since we can’t measure ALL the data, we have to relate the results we get from limited measurements to the answer we’d get from measuring ALL the data.

For example, say we’re tasked with finding the average weight of bricks from a production line where we know there is some amount of variation. Obviously there exists an average weight, but we probably can’t weight every single brick. So we measure a representative sample of them and calculate the average of that.

It’s expected that while our measured average of the sample isn’t equal to the average of the total population, but we can mathematically determine limits as to how confident we are with our result.

So if an omniscient being determined that the true average weight was 5.000 pounds, and the average from our sample was 5.047 pounds, a confidence level gives us a range where we know that 19 out of 20 representative samples will be within some known amount of error.

Where I think a lot of the misunderstanding comes in is that if our measurements find that the average weight is 5.047 pound with a confidence level of 95% that doesn’t mean that there’s a 5% chance the actual average is 10 pounds, or a hundred pounds; mathematically 95% is much better than it sounds.

So, since we can’t measure every temperature that ever was, or every ice cap thickness, etc, we measure what we can, and from that get CLOSE, with a calculable range of error and probability thereof, to what the actual result would be if we COULD measure everything.