Loving science, with skepticism

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.

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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.

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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

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As always, there’s also a relevant xkcd.


@anon62122146, @Taymon: Good citations. And good observation.

It’s not just physicists, of course. Experts in many fields have to beware of the temptation to assume that they know enough to make assertions outside that own field But physics is so basic that it’s particularly tempting to make that leap. And, ok, maybe everything can be derived from physics – but that doesn’t mean the derivation is simple or obvious, or that trying to manipulate it at that level is at all practical. In some sense, the physicist outside his area is like the doctor outside his – the basic training is the same, but the advanced techniques, and the experience to work with them while avoiding errors, aren’t.

I’m not a scientist. I’m an engineer. I generally don’t argue with tools that have been demonstrated to work until/unless I can provide a better tool and demonstrate that it’s better… and I’m very aware that “better” always has “for these specific domains” attached to it. So: If you have a better climate model, PROVE it, don’t just assert it. Everyone will be absolutely delighted if you can do so. Or publish it and let folks help you refine it.

Also remember that there’s a perception issue. People who rant on the Internet in nontechnical spaces about “they won’t let me see their data or code” are mostly cranks. @peter_jones905, you may be the exception, but the fact that you are complaining here is more likely to make us doubt you than support you.

This year the journal Science published a headline grabbing “confirmation” of the Hockey Stick but a simple Peer Review 101 plot of the input data falsified instead of supported what a co-author led NY Times reporter Revkin to describe as a “super hockey stick” and which Mike “Hide The Proxy Data Decline” Mann repeatedly celebrated on Facebook:

(A) Plotted Proxy Data: http://s17.postimg.org/mvmsorb2n/image.jpg

(B) Snoopy Dance: http://s15.postimg.org/5x1hmvhcr/Mann_Celebration2013.jpg

Marcott 2013…look it up, to discover the bizarre doublespeak nature of climate “science.”

-=NikFromNYC=-, Ph.D. in carbon chemistry (Columbia/Harvard)

Right. So your first graph shows a bunch of lines, left unlabeled for our inconvenience, but some holding more or less steady above 20° and some gradually sliding from 20° to 10° over the last ten millennia, and some fluctuating near 0° all showing a sharp jump at the end.

So you’d guess an appropriate combination, even something simple like the mean, might end up showing a long decrease and sharp jump. Which is pretty much what Mann’s graph shows, but of course we should trust it doesn’t work out, with your usual graphs-not-stats analysis. Well, sorry, but your past arguments leave you very far behind Science as far as trust and doublespeak goes.

Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.

The mind likes a strange idea as little as the body likes a strange protein and resists it with similar energy. It would not perhaps be too fanciful to say that a new idea is the most quickly acting antigen known to science.

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Lawyers. Everything. Under The Sun.

“we’re comfortable with what we know, but learn from what we don’t”

I am a physicist, and I generally like physicists, but, to be fair, we’re notorious for that for a reason. Part of if is because the way training as a physicist teaches you to wrap math around physical phenomena to model them actually does have the potential to be applied to a very wide variety of situations, but there is also a certain myopia that comes with that attitude, which I think I tend to notice more than a lot of physicists because I came to physics later in life, after a couple of other careers.

At some point I want to track down the rumor that the first edition of a particular textbook suffered an unfortunate typo on the cover, and went out the door as “UNCLEAR PHYSICS”.

You probably know the old joke about the time a mathematician, a scientist, and an engineer were sharing a hotel room, but I’m going to retell it anyway… It seems one of them had been careless with a cigarette, and some time after they’d gone to sleep the paper in the wastebasket caught fire.

The mathematician smelled smoke, woke up, saw the problem, thought about it briefly, and went back to sleep – having convinced himself that there was an elegant solution.

The physicist was next to be woken by the smoke. He saw the problem, quickly decided exactly how much water would be needed to put the fire out, got up and filled a pitcher, and went back to sleep – having provided a solution.

Finally, the engineer woke up, saw the fire (but apparently not the pitcher), got out of bed, and pissed on it.

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Thanks, BB, for leaving my main post, even though you deleted the flame war chaos.

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