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Also it is interesting how something that has been under quiet dicussion for decades (e.g., in my 1965 Geology book) in the scientific community can suddenly become "debateable" in the popular press. Will we soon have talk radio hosts arguing about whether black holes can emit energy? (Probably.)

I have no problem with that as long as the discussion is on rational grounds (which most of the time it is not, I know).

The good thing about science is that it is democratic in the sense that everyone can participate (as long as providing sound arguments).

And decisions based on "scientific consensus" are sometimes debatable and sometimes gross mistakes. So, a "scientific consensus" is not a guarantee of truth.

Also, being cynical, one could discuss the interest of the scientific community at large in global warming: It is a good justification for more funding. In fact, many research that I know of has global warming as a rationale (in many different areas of science).

Don't take me wrong, I am in the "science business" - I am very far from being an anti-science type. But as I think it is a gross mistake to think all politicians are crooks, I also think it is a gross mistake to think all scientists are saints.

by t-------------- on Thu Jul 31st, 2008 at 12:19:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]

The good thing about science is that it is democratic in the sense that everyone can participate (as long as providing sound arguments).

The bigger problem is when folks with a self-interested agenda and deep pockets seize upon, or even sponsor, research favorable to their interests and then use their deep pockets on TV ads that relentlessly drill that one sided view into the minds of the public.  We grossly underestimate the effects of such campaigns.  They work.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 31st, 2008 at 12:36:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"I also think it is a gross mistake to think all scientists are saints."

That's completely true, but there is no claim that scientists are saints. The claim of the scientific community is that science proceeds by an open process that allows anybody to reproduce the results. And the problem here is that the global warming science has been tested and reproduced to a great degree (not as strongly as something like relativity, but close) and there is no serious dissent about the vast majority of the claims. The problem is entirely on the side of the skeptics, who are openly funded and supported by people and organizations that have an obvious financial or political interest in the subject.

There is no comparison between the cynical possibility of additional funding based on global warming (one can much more easily get funding as a skeptic) and the open and obvious advantages that the politicians and talk show hosts and oil companies hope to get by supporting the skeptics. I'm pretty sure that the discussion about this topic in the scientific community over the past century have not been based on funding discussions--that only became a possibility within the past decade or so...

by asdf on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 09:00:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]

The claim of the scientific community is that science proceeds by an open process that allows anybody to reproduce the results.

That claim is sometimes true, sometimes completely false (lets call it propaganda). It some areas, with todays high competition, data is hidden in as much as possible, and many scientific journals accept it that way.

This is true, e.g., in conservation genetics where most people try to maintain their data as close as possible even after publication (so that they can milk it in as much as possible). I am writing this now from a conservation genetics lab, so I know what I am talking about.


And the problem here is that the global warming science has been tested and reproduced to a great degree (not as strongly as something like relativity, but close) and there is no serious dissent about the vast majority of the claims. The problem is entirely on the side of the skeptics, who are openly funded and supported by people and organizations that have an obvious financial or political interest in the subject.

You cannot test predictions in any reliable way. By definition predictions can only be tested in the future. Yes, you can fit the past in your models, but that is no guarantee that the behavior in the future will hold.

Isn't it funny that the same guys that cannot do reliable weather forecasts for TOMORROW, suggest that they can predict the climate in 10 years? The argument is that weather predictions and climate predictions are qualitatively different so that the former are more reliable in some way. Bullshit: climate prediction models hold precisely because they cannot be put to test in such a blunt way as weather models. It becomes a rethorical argument, more than anything else.

For the economists here, think quantitative finance and the ability of "smart" Wall Street people to predict the housing/mortage crisis. The underlying mentality is the same: lets use some computational models to predict the future. The result is, I argue, also the same... utter bs.

by t-------------- on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 01:42:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Isn't it funny that the same guys that cannot do reliable weather forecasts for TOMORROW, suggest that they can predict the climate in 10 years? The argument is that weather predictions and climate predictions are qualitatively different so that the former are more reliable in some way. Bullshit: climate prediction models hold precisely because they cannot be put to test in such a blunt way as weather models. It becomes a rethorical argument, more than anything else.

Isn't it funny that the same guys who can't compute reliable space-time coordinates for atoms in gasses nonetheless claim to be able to predict their macroscopic properties? The argument is that prediction of the macroscopic and microscopic properties of gasses are qualitatively different so that the the former are more reliable in some way. Bullshit: Gas-phase thermodynamic models hold precisely because they cannot be put to test in such a blunt way as microscopic models of the behaviours of gasses. It becomes a rhetorical argument, more than anything else.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 07:17:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Has anyone ever claimed to be able to predict the weather forecast for August the 8th, 2058?

Thought so.

So, it's a meaningless comparison indeed. The climate for tomorrow can of course be predicted with ASTONISHING accuracy (in fact, even the weather forecast for tomorrow is pretty good), so it's no argument against the possibility to predict it in the more distant future.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Thu Aug 7th, 2008 at 09:43:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, being cynical, one could discuss the interest of the scientific community at large in global warming: It is a good justification for more funding. In fact, many research that I know of has global warming as a rationale (in many different areas of science).

Come on! Most of the science people doing global warming are tenured professors. As long as they keep publishing something, don't steal the coffee money and don't sleep with their students, they have damn good job security. And unlike - say - high energy physicists, they don't need ridiculously expensive equipment either.

Now, if you want to talk about getting more research funding for political purposes than can be scientifically justified, let's talk about CERN, LHC, nanoscience and materials science. Oh, and the people who like to shoot fancy (and expensive) gizmos into space.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with those areas of science. They're all interesting and worthwhile to pursue. But they're punching way above their purely scientific weight when it comes to funding. Climate science may or may not be over-emphasised funding-wise compared to the rest of geophysics, but geophysics as a whole certainly is not. And singling out climate science as having political attention lavished upon them is misleading in any case.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 10:35:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What tiagoantao says can be applied to any perceived issue studied by science. So I don't think it's valid.

There is a danger that global warming is being picked up in a lot fields to which its relation is questionable, because it's such a hot topic.

But do we see the aggregate science budgets exploding? Not as far as I know.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 10:51:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Come on! Most of the science people doing global warming are tenured professors. As long as they keep publishing something, don't steal the coffee money and don't sleep with their students, they have damn good job security. And unlike - say - high energy physicists, they don't need ridiculously expensive equipment either.

Funny, most scientists that I know are post-docs (no job security), PhD students (like me). In most science labs that I know (and I know a few), tenured profs are less than 10% of the people doing research. And they normally are swamped in administrative/political tasks.

I would argue the exact opposite: for the vast majority of scientists that I know, job INSECURITY is the norm. So, pandering to get accepted (ie published) is quite common.


Now, if you want to talk about getting more research funding for political purposes than can be scientifically justified, let's talk about CERN, LHC, nanoscience and materials science. Oh, and the people who like to shoot fancy (and expensive) gizmos into space.

This is not my line of reasoning at all. I work in both conservation genetics (think species near extinction) and malaria epidemiology - I profit nothing from money going to hard sciences. I am just drawing attention to 2 issues: a) computational prediction models are unreliable in many situations and b) scientists are not saints.


And singling out climate science as having political attention lavished upon them is misleading in any case.

If climate science is not having political attention, than I cannot think of any area in science which is on the political radar.

But my point is not just climate scientists. If you go to some maths departments, or medical departments (just to cite a few), much funded research is justified on "climate change". The scientific community at large is reaping some (funding) benefits from climate awareness. So, I am just suggesting that scientists might be (consciously or unconsciously) quite happy with the climate scare status quo.

Again, I have no opinion on the issue of climate change in itself. I have not studied it, so I am as neutral as you can find. What I am just saying is that on the basis of predicative computational models arguments are unreliable.

by t-------------- on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 01:59:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I guess we'll all have to return to the middle ages, since science is all hogwash.

I think that you are consciously trolling here. If your PhD friends are so desperate for money, by far the easist thing for them to do would be to join ExxonMobil and deny climate change. They will get paid big bucks for leveraging their credentials. Your argument is completely backwards.

And if you are going to continue to insist that scientists are so easily corrupted to retain their jobs, then why do you want to be a member of that community? I suggest that you re-evalute your career choice and take up something honorable.

by asdf on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 06:56:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I think that you are consciously trolling here. If your PhD friends are so desperate for money, by far the easist thing for them to do would be to join ExxonMobil and deny climate change. They will get paid big bucks for leveraging their credentials. Your argument is completely backwards.

I am not saying that we are all corrupt scientists. Or that we spend all day conjuring to get more tax/private money. You are seeing what you want to see in my words.

I am just noticing that we have to eat, like anyone else. And that consciously or unconsciously in some varying degree that has an impact on scientific work. Some people do 99% of there work just to get published, some people have almost no concern for their track record. But if you think that science is a realm of purity where everything goes smoothly and idyllically, then I would like to remind you that science is made by humans.

I know of people that hide their data (as I know people that open up all that their do). By the way, in some areas I am afraid the first (hide data) group is bigger than the second.
I know of some scientific based decisions that were done in the past that have very bad consequences (as we all know of good ones).

Anyway, I will stop here, because I don't think this line of semi-offensive comments benefits anyone.

by t-------------- on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 07:19:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Big words to conflate serious issues that are actual in science, and which I personally, as a PhD student in a different field, can also observe almost on a daily basis. To be "corrupted" has nothing to do with it.

Your personal assaults are equally unnecessary.

by Nomad on Sun Aug 3rd, 2008 at 02:56:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I profit nothing from money going to hard sciences.

Be that as it may, your argument, such as it is and what there is of it, rested on the notion that climate science is uniquely corrupted by their temporary fame and political attention (and their need to keep said fame and attention). Noting that many other branches of physics, at present and over the years, have had far greater funding and political attention lavished upon them (without notably impairing the quality of their scientific output - although a case can probably be made that their cost-effectiveness has dropped) is thus a relevant objection.

Funny, most scientists that I know are post-docs (no job security), PhD students (like me).

Ph.d. students in physics do not generally concern themselves with funding, which was what you were talking about. They have their funding, at least for the nonce. The people who worry about funding are the tenured staff. At least in the places I know of.

If climate science is not having political attention, than I cannot think of any area in science which is on the political radar.

Ah, ah, ah, that's not what I said. I said that singling out climate science as particularly - or even uniquely - culpable in this game is a dishonest rhetorical slight of hand. It is, to be blunt, reminiscent of the Creationist trick of pointing out that Evolution is a theory and as thus should be approached with an open mind and critically considered. (Which is, of course, true in the same sense and to the same extent that the theory of gravity should also be approached with an open mind and critically considered.)

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 07:29:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, sorry for replying with big intervals, I am currently traveling around...


fame and attention). Noting that many other branches of physics, at present and over the years, have had far greater funding and political attention lavished upon them (without notably impairing the quality of their scientific output - although a case can probably be made that their cost-effectiveness has dropped) is thus a relevant objection.

That is why my first post on this thread was about making a separation between hard-sciences (where no simplifications at all are made in order to study nature - this is my personal definition) and "other sciences" (part of physics, some of chemistry falls here). "Other sciences" is actually almost everything else (I will get back to this).


Ph.d. students in physics do not generally concern themselves with funding, which was what you were talking about. They have their funding, at least for

Oh yes they do: The are concerned about the job that they will get AFTER their PhD ends. You see, myself and all the PhD students that I know of are precisely in the situation you describe (In my case I am funded until 2011), and trust me, we talk and think about the future AFTER. And our future (getting a tenure, or at least a post-doc) depends on our ability to publish.


Ah, ah, ah, that's not what I said. I said that singling out climate science as particularly - or even uniquely - culpable in this game is a dishonest rhetorical slight of hand.

I am not singling out climate science at all, I think I started by saying that the use of computational models everywhere above simple chemistry are to be not trusted in predicting the future (they have other uses).
Also, regarding the moral of the scientific game, I am not singling out climate scientists at all (apologies if that was understood from my words). I am also not trying to be moralistic. I just want to remind that scientists are human beings and thus prone to human issues (they need to eat, they like recognition, etc)


It is, to be blunt, reminiscent of the Creationist trick of pointing out that Evolution is a theory and as thus should be approached with an open mind and critically considered. (Which is, of course, true in the same sense and to the same extent that the theory of gravity should also be approached with an open mind and critically considered.)

There is a big difference between gravity and evolution. And that is one of my points - hard-science versus soft science. Comparing gravity with evolution is like comparing apples to potatoes, makes little sense.
Don't take me wrong, I am a strong supporter of evolution (been involved in the organization of several courses, attended workshops on the subject, published papers), but the scientific approach is to doubt and criticize. Of course creationists take a very good initial approach to then sell utter untestable bullshit on top. But their core argument is sound. Evolution is a theory and the correct intellectual stance is to try to challenge it (not in the way they do it).

Anyway and let me be provocative, it seems that ET is quite full of science fundamentalists (a contradiction in terms - there seems to be a need by some to have unquestionable truths in some form), but let me ask you this:
In the field of economics (which I don't know that much) the mainstream seems to be some form of neoconservativism (the only way to get published in top journals?). More, should we talk about computational models and quantitative finance (maybe in the light of current events)? Economics is peer reviewed like everything else we talked about here (and with lots of cool math authority like game theory and such), but do you take it as "the word"?

This is not a discourse against reason (it is the precise opposite: never forfeit your critical abilities in front of an authoritarian argument), this is just a simple reminder that science is made by humans and that science touches many ares for which it is impossible to have (near)perfect models of reality and as such there is lots of space for peer-reviewed rhetorics and human "imperfections" to creep in.

The reason that I am in the science business, is that, in spite of these and many other flaws, it still is the best path I know of to understand nature. But if you are searching for a emotional replacement for the "perfection and authority of god", then this is not place.

Finally I would like to reiterate that I have no opinion on climate change (never spent much time studying the subject, I must admit). I just totally distrust computational modeling to predict the future of anything bigger than a molecule.

by t-------------- on Thu Aug 7th, 2008 at 11:44:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That is why my first post on this thread was about making a separation between hard-sciences (where no simplifications at all are made in order to study nature

That version of "hard science" went out of style a couple of centuries ago and was declared definitively dead by the time people started doing quantum mechanics in a serious way (not because of anything special about quantum mechanics - it just involves a lot of non-separable PDEs, and non-seperable PDEs are usually not analytically solvable, so you have to do approximations).

Almost nobody does physics today about anything without significant simplifications.

But their core argument is sound. Evolution is a theory and the correct intellectual stance is to try to challenge it (not in the way they do it).

Of course. In the same sense and to the same extent that one should test the germ theory of disease, if you dislike the use of universal gravity as an example. But I propose that this is also true for universal gravity (it was in fact tested and found to be incomplete; general relativity supersedes it in several notable cases).

In the field of economics (which I don't know that much) the mainstream seems to be some form of neoconservativism (the only way to get published in top journals?). More, should we talk about computational models and quantitative finance (maybe in the light of current events)? Economics is peer reviewed like everything else we talked about here (and with lots of cool math authority like game theory and such), but do you take it as "the word"?

Part of the difference is that whenever I dig out a theory in physics and shake it to see how much of it falls off, it seems to be on the level. On the few occasions where I have attempted to take a good, hard look at economic theories, I have with disquieting frequency come to the conclusion that it's full of crap (most notably the theory of how stock markets operate - actually that's Migeru's conclusion, but I can follow his logic and from what I can see it's sound).

Another important part is that I often see people with fancy degrees from various and sundry bizniz schools who are supposed to be literate in economics use numbers to support their argument in a way that would have gotten a master student in physics kicked out on his ass from any half-way respectable university.

Finally, I simply disagree with defining economics as a science independent of political underpinnings. Unlike physics - which works because the world enforces various rules upon us - economics works because society enforces various rules upon us (consider, for instance, how economics would look if society did not enforce the rule that people are not generally allowed to kill other people).

Since those rules are inherently political, the rules that are explored by economists are more than likely to be substantially influenced by political decisions (and, of course, vice versa). This adds a layer of variability that is not found in the natural sciences (and provides a feedback between our understanding of the phenomena and the way the phenomena behave that is definitely not present in natural science).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Thu Aug 7th, 2008 at 12:44:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]

That version of "hard science" went out of style a couple of centuries ago and was declared definitively dead by the time people started doing

I think I've explained myself wrong.
As far as I remember you can only solve analytically the energy equations for an electron and a proton (and even so I suppose the story doesn't end here - by my knowledge of physics ends), from that point onwards you used ab-initio methods, then, when the system gets too big semi-empirical methods, then Newtonian mechanics, then you are out of computational biochemistry... The bigger the system you study the bigger the number of unknowns.

This grading can be roughly seen in sciences:
basic physics, chemistry, biochemistry, medicine/biology, economy/sociology.

The degree of "fuzyness" and unknown increases as you go along the line. The bigger the "fuzzyness" the large the space for creeping in of human cultural factors.

You can see that in biology where, though evolution is consensual then the role of selection, competition, mutualism or neutrality are far from being consensual (and if you look at the buzzwords, you see that they can be highly influenced by politics and society).

The space for gross mistakes induced by culture increases exponentially as you go along that line (heck, in things like biology, sociology and economy, the scientific process in itself in participating in changing the whole picture in itself).

Black swans everywhere...

by t-------------- on Thu Aug 7th, 2008 at 01:02:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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