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Challenging the Settled Science

Film review: Einstein and Eddington - New Scientist

Eddington was Einstein's bulldog - championing the German's ideas in an England fiercely defensive of Newton. He had gone to Africa to observe an eclipse and conduct the first experimental test of relativity.

The world waited for the results: would Newton's ordered universe be replaced by - as the English saw it - an Einsteinian madness that would require an entirely new philosophy?

These events have now been dramatised in a BBC/HBO film, Einstein and Eddington....A few things in the film are altered for the sake of drama....But no matter; the story movingly invokes the passion of the two young scientists, reminds us how creative and exciting science can be, how it is rebellious, sometimes, and world-changing...

And how real scientists are prepared to be open and challenge the consensus. Gravity - the science was settled. Civilisation was literally built on the Newtonian theory. But it didn't quite fit at the edges so it was capable of being, if not overturned, then fundamentally revised. I wonder why it is that challenging the far flimsier foundations of the AGW theory is verboten.

Comments

I wonder why it is that challenging the far flimsier foundations of the AGW theory is verboten.

It depends exactly what part you're challenging and how you're challenging it.

Perhaps because it is so flimsy, oh yes, and too many people are making a lot of money out of it. Would you be after taking the money off Al"gor"blimey, shame on you, all those houses he has to keep up.

As DWB points out some people are making a lot of money out of it. With Einstein's theories no-one stood to lose or gain financially - except, of course, the trivial (in global terms) rewards to Einstein for becoming the most famous and celebrated scientist of his time. But Einstein's prime motivations were not money or power or even fame whereas Gore and Hansen and Mann and Stern etc etc . . . . . . . .

...it's precisely the authoritarian attitude by the AGW brigade that is stimulating blog comment worldwide. I'm probably wrong, but have to say that when AGW is discredited as being over the top alarmism, the blogosphere will be able to take a great deal of the credit...

As DWB points out some people are making a lot of money out of it.

I'm not amongst them; I make relatively little.

knirr

"I'm not amongst them; I make relatively little."

Tough! It seems Gore has made about $100 million out of the scam so far. In another world it was Stalin or Lenin who said that if you kill one man it's murder; if you kill a million it's a statistic. In today's world, if you con your way to $1,000 you're a crook; if you con your way to $100 million you're a guru.

Tough!

The tough part is that there are some people doing decent research on this topic and yet we're all viewed as dodgy because of the activities of a few green extremists or greedy politicians. It may surprise you to know that Gore is not very well thought of around here and it isn't because he makes more money than us. Here, for example, is a lecture in which he is criticised for not understanding physics.

My last comment seems to have been eaten, so here's another go.

Al Gore is hardly popular amongst the physicists of my acquaintance and this is not related (as you may think) to envy. Here is a link to a lecture wherein his lack of understanding of physics is pointed out.

knirirr

It doesn't surprise me at all that real scientists (who should all be professional sceptics, particularly in their own speciality) disapprove of Gore. The problem is we don't hear much about such disapproval. All we get is the doyen of science in the UK shamefully saying this in response to a mildly critical programme on Channel 4. Then the major broadcaster in the UK which is legally obligated to report impartially allows its environment correspondent to issue this memo and keep his job.

It's left to amateurs like Steve McIntyre to discredit the Gores and Hansens while the professional scientists appear just to "tut tut" while holding on to their government grants. I can see why they opt for discretion as the better part of valour - lucky for me, I've never had to face such a dilemma - but it's hardly a triumph for science or truth.

BTW the link you posted doesn't seem to work.

I can see why they opt for discretion as the better part of valour - lucky for me, I've never had to face such a dilemma - but it's hardly a triumph for science or truth.

Communicating science to the public has always been a bit of a problem. This is a good post on the topic and the flowchart is well worth a look.

BTW the link you posted doesn't seem to work.

Sorry about that. It's a Microsoft (who fund much of the climate research in which I'm involved) format video stream. Here's a direct link to an mp4 file (about 450MB). It's a lecture to prospective Oxford physics undergraduates.

knirirr

Thanks for those links - particularly the one with the flow chart.

My perception of climate change research is that the "peer review" mechanism has broken down. If the only "peers" who review the work are in sympathy (to say the least) with the conclusions - or the implication of the conclusions - of the paper then there is (more than) an argument to say that they might approve dodgy methodology and logic because they approve the message. Also the main protagonists of AGW appear not to release all their (raw or massaged) data or detailed methodology into the public arena simultaneously with the papers which are based on that data/methodology. Presumably the first "hockey stick" paper by Mann was peer reviewed. If so the review was badly done since - as McIntyre later showed - the algorithm (which I believe McIntyre had to back-engineer to start with until some years later the algorithm was disclosed) would have created the hockey stick profile no matter what the input was.

I agree that the popular press (including the BBC) tend to pick up and spread the more sensational aspects of scientific research which creates difficulties for genuine researchers. However, dumping the results of early and relatively crude research into the public arena is one way of creating public pressure on the gatekeepers of tax-funded research resources. I suspect that this game is played by a sufficient number of scientific researchers to skew the allocation of funds disproportionately. I don't kid myself that there was a golden age when funding from the public purse has not had a political dimension. However, it seems to me, that the science of climate change in particular has been - and continues to be - corrupted by the politics, the money and the power at stake. One signal of corruption is that mountebanks like Gore are able to increase their net worth by $100 million on the back of questionable - maybe that should read "unquestioned" - science.

Thanks.

My perception of climate change research is that the "peer review" mechanism has broken down.

Perhaps so, but not necessarily in the way you might think.

If the only "peers" who review the work are in sympathy (to say the least) with the conclusions ...

The scientists who are selected to review papers are those who are considered by the journal editors to be respectable and knowledgeable in the field, which means that they're very unlikely to be those who hold very unusual or unsubstantiated views. Editors usually include those who might have a differing viewpoint to the authors amongst the review panel where they can. Nevertheless new stuff still gets published. I do not think there is any kit of conspiracy going on at this level, although the peer review system in any scientific field is not necessarily perfect and sometimes draws criticism.

Where I think there's a problem now is in the "shooting your mouth off" part of the flowchart. It's now pretty easy to complain that one's work has been rejected; here's an example. Perhaps he is correct, perhaps not, but it would be very difficult for the non-physicist to tell and such persons' opinions would almost certainly be influenced by their political opinion. What would a journalist make of that?

Also the main protagonists of AGW appear not to release all their (raw or massaged) data

Releasing data is in fact my job. However, it's raw data and probably of little interest to anyone but atmospheric physicists (please e-mail me using my name at gmail.com if you want more info.).

the science of climate change in particular has been - and continues to be - corrupted by the politics, the money and the power at stake.

That is not an unreasonable conclusion, but even if your're right it's not all corrupt, and not necessarily even mostly corrupt.

knirirr

I'm not a scientist and I take your point that the release of raw data means very little even to the interested (but inexpert) observer. The non-scientific world relies on the good faith and competence of both researchers and those who analyse their work. Unfortunately, sometimes this reliance is severely abused. For instance, I come back to the specific case of the hockey stick (sorry about that but it's one of the clearest instances to me where the discipline of scientific enquiry has been fatally relaxed). For years Mann refused to release the algorithm on which his conclusions (and much of the justification for AGW) are based. How "scientific" is that? It also appears that Mann's good faith and scientific credentials continue to be severely compromised by what appears to be deliberate obfuscation of the statistics he has released and on which his results should be able to be replicated: a vital part of the scientific method. McIntyre also had to fight to get Hansen to admit that at least one of his scientific "facts" was plain wrong (that 1998 was the warmest year on record). Although Hansen finally admitted the truth he dismissed its importance because 1998 was not the warmest by such a small margin (ie it was only a "little" lie).

I also take your point that most of climate change science and, by implication, most of its scientists are not corrupt. However, how many climate scientists have to be corrupt to sully the whole science? And not necessarily corrupt, just human. It's not only bankers who are (alledgedly) greedy. We're all greedy to an extent. Climbing on the bandwagon of bad climate science is easy and profitable and, in the words of Sam Rayburn, the supreme political realist, "if you want to get along, go along". It would obviously be harder and less profitable for biddable scientists if those reporting on climate science were more sceptical and less open to reporting the latest climate scare - whatever its provenance - as holy writ. Nevertheless, we are where we are and the warmists (for want of a better word for those who brook no opposition - scientific or otherwise - to their beliefs) have got both the public face of climate science and the media in thrall.

And not necessarily corrupt, just human.

This is a good point and very relevant to such things as you mention above (i.e. that hockey stick). I can think of anecdotes from my own experience of scientists getting up to no good in various ways or reporters misrepresenting their work. I have no time for scientists who would falsify or obfuscate the evidence; we should follow the results of experimentation wherever they lead.

At this point I'd normally say that though we are only human the whole point of the scientific method is that it is designed to test hypotheses and reject those that don't work, and we have good criteria to do so. As long as most scientists are adhering to the proper ethics it should all work properly and eventually uncover the “truth.” Unlike politics...

Nevertheless, we are where we are...

Indeed, and that is in a bit of a bind.
One worry that I have is that things will not turn out to be anywhere near as bad as the most extreme predictions might have us believe then all the blame will be placed on scientists and the public will swallow it due to the perverse persistence of the belief that politicians are just there to help us (as long as the correct party gets in).

By the way, your "severley compromised" link doesn't work - would you mind reposting it, please?


k

"By the way, your "severley compromised" link doesn't work - would you mind reposting it, please?"

Sorry for the delay. This is the reference - http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=4449 For some reason the "a" tags don't work.

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