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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
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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
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