Loving science, with skepticism




Science is questioning.

When you question your questioning, you’re doing science on science.


Questioning science is how science works.


This is why it’s entirely appropriate to question man made global warming. It’s not denying, it’s SCIENCE. I’ve asked two groups for their simulation code so I can check their results for myself. Both answered briefly saying essentially, “It’s Proprietary.” Yeah, and my tax dollars funded you to develop it.


Science is difficult, because our brains are inclined to take a stance that agrees with a few things we’ve observed, even if the generalization is not valid. I applaud all those who make the effort to break through this inherent shortcoming of humanity. Even people who question global warming.

Just don’t get me started on religion.


Actually, I came here specifically to comment on how refreshing it was to read an essay about problems in modern science that didn’t insist on including offtopic attacks on religion, so I’ll thank you for not getting started on that.


Amusingly, science gets itself into trouble when it begins to act like religion. The fact that it can change is its one saving grace.

Also, outmoded theories tend to survive until their originators, who are their fiercest proponents, die off and make room in the universities for proponents of the new current truths. I’m interested to see if this cycle shortens in the Internet age, as the New Yorker piece claims is happening.


Damn. You started.


Scientists question global warming all the time, and generally, it is held up tremendously well. This has made many particularly frustrated with fools and liars who pretend questioning means refusing to consider, and so the only true scientists are the ones who ignore evidence. You get bonus points for pretending that reviewing someone’s research means you should be entitled to grab anyone’s whole life work at any time.

Anyway…this is a good article, but as peter is anxious to demonstrate, the problems with science in our society aren’t simply a lack of internal examination or of popularizers keeping the public informed. There are some very powerful groups who don’t like what it comes up with and are working hard to hobble it.

Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks
Creationists on Texas Panel for Biology Textbooks
Republicans put ‘national interest’ requirement on US science agency


Did you mean to say question the theory of man made global warming?


I want to verify their code and the results it produces and they refuse to provide the code. Built on taxpayer money. Of course it makes me doubt their conclusions if I have no way of verification. I’m supposed to take them at their word? Sorry, no. Simply no.


Of course that does happen. People like to think they understand the world and it is difficult when that understanding turns out to be wrong. Sometimes that understanding is based on science and I certainly have seen many who use disproved scientific theories as one would a religion. On a whole though, science is open to new information and ready to change as a result, even if there are a significant number of individuals who do not.

Somewhat related, it does bother me the amount of hero worship there is in the technology field. Elon Musk’s recent Hyperloop proposal was one of the odder examples of this. Questions about it’s viability were met with anger from those who think since he founded PayPal and SpaceX that his ideas are above question. It’s easy to forget that Isaac Newton spent a considerable amount of effort researching alchemy. Today his research in that field is mostly forgotten because it didn’t amount to anything but if we apply the same standard to Newton as has been applied by some to Musk, then Newton’s contributions to science mean that we must accept alchemy as being valid. As this has not happened, despite Newton’s tremendous contributions to the scientific world makes me think that science overall doesn’t lead to religious like followings but it also doesn’t prevent short term religious like thinking about science either.


I agree that they shouldn’t do that, though its probably more out of worries that other research groups will copy their code and scoop them than out of worrying about you examining it. That said, (and I’m assuming you’re talking about AGW,as opposed to just global warming, since there is no question whatsoever that the earth is warming) there is also essentially no question that the warming we are seeing is anthropogenic, and that doesn’t rely on simulations. The simulations are used to try to predict how much warming we will see. There is incontrovertible evidence from isotope studies that the increase in CO2 is due to our releases of CO2. There are also clear predictions from statistical thermodynamics saying that that will increase surface temperature, and, by looking at the sun’s spectrum in space, the spectrum we get at the earth’s surface, and the spectrum radiated by earth in orbit, we have unequivocally confirmed those predictions. None of that requires computer simulations. The simulations are to try to figure out how the effects of that extra energy will propagate. To be honest, the fact that you seem to be unaware of these basic findings of physics and think that AGW rests on computer simulations suggests to me that you probably aren’t qualified to have an opinion on the subject.


I am a physicist, actually. Professionally. And verifying another researcher’s results is the basis of real science. They won’t provide their code and so their results are unverifiable. It’s been this way for years and colleagues of mine have simply given up taking these people seriously. As have I.


I’m also a physicist by training, though I work in industry, and as I said, I do think they should give you their code. Would you mind answering the other points I brought up, and making clear whether you doubt that the greenhouse effect exists and the warming caused by it is anthropogenic, or whether you are simply dubious of specific predictions about how its effects will propagate in a complex system? If it’s the first, please address the standard derivation of the greenhouse effect from statistical physics and the spectral measurements confirming it (and, while you’re at it, why Venus is hotter than Mercury). If it’s the second, you should probably make that clear, otherwise people will see a statement like “it’s entirely appropriate to question man made global warming.” and reasonably assume it’s the first, given the general level of raging idiocy surrounding this question in the public discourse.

Edit: Just to head off nitpicking, I’m aware that not all of the warming we experience due to the greenhouse effect is anthropogenic, only that due to the additional greenhouse gasses we release, and any others which might increase in concentration as a result of that increase in temperature.


In fact, I think that if the code you used to analyze something is any more complex than simply automating a standard procedure, you should make it available with the paper on arXiv. If you are an academic scientist, a good way to address this might be to lead by example. Write up a model yourself and publish your results with the code. If the results are significantly different from theirs they’ll have to produce their code to counter them.


In fact, I thought it was standard practice to document the algorithms/formulas for peer review. Of course that doesn’t require that they send a copy of the code and database, at their expense, to every nay-sayer who writes to them. If you care enough to challenge it, go get the data and run your own numbers… and show them up by publishing your methodology, and code, for peer review.

If you aren’t willing to make that effort, that says something about how serious your objections are.


Actually, there was a time not that long ago when it turned out in my research that all of the papers describing extracting a certain parameter from the class of semiconductors I was working on referred to one set of conference proceedings from the '80s that I couldn’t find for the mathematical method they used to separate it from complicating factors. None of them actually included the method in the article. That pissed me off a lot, but, unfortunately, it’s not exceptional. I wound up figuring out a physical method to eliminate the complicating factors to I could just do my measurements directly and not have to mess with a bunch of fancy math and modeling.


It should be noted that expertise in physics does not necessarily confer expertise in climatology. It may be a good starting point – thermo might be a better one? – but only a starting point, just as climatology doesn’t necessarily confer expertise in physics.


That is true, with some caveats. Many climate scientists are atmospheric physicists, and most top climate science PhD programs require you to have an undergrad degree in physics, or applied math or engineering with some extra remedial physics. In other words, any climate scientist should have a basic BA level grounding in physics. That said, physics is a highly specialized endeavor these days. For example, I might know more than a layman, but I certainly don’t know enough to criticize cutting edge work in astrophysics, particle physics, or, for that matter, climate science. OTOH, I do know enough to criticize work like that in many areas of materials science, even though I’m not officially a “materials scientist.” These things are not all that cut and dry.

In parting, this is a funny,and possibly relevant, cartoon about physicists: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2556