Monday, March 19, 2007

This is how science works....

Science isn't a set of facts, or even a sets of theories and hypotheses. Science is a process devoted to uncovering the rules that govern the universe. Unfortunately, the complexity of the universe means that we must resort to models of how the universe behaves, using the incomplete language of mathematics. If those models are to have any value, they must allow us to make predictions that are falsifiable, and which will hopefully provide useful approximations of reality.

Sometimes a model comes along that holds up for a long time. Newton's theory of gravitation was such a model. For over 200 years Newtonian gravity proved sufficient to our needs. But better instrumentation led to a crisis towards the end on the Nineteenth Century: Newton's theory no longer held up in all cases. Eventually, Einstein resolved these problems, and in the process cast Newtonian gravity from the summit.

The point isn't that Newton was wrong and Einstein was right. After all, both merely(!) provided approximations of reality using mathematical models. The point is that we keep working towards a better understanding of our universe. Theories build upon themselves, and often contain the seeds of their own destruction. Without using Newton's work and the work derived from it, Einstein could have never overthrown Newton's conception of a clockwork universe.

But just because science is supposed to work this way doesn't mean that it always does work this way. We humans are imperfect beings, and social beings. Our nature leads us to form groups and cliques. Scientists are no more immune from this sort of behavior than socialites and frat boys. Fortunately, scientists have reality to cut through the bullshit and expose our flaws. The universe is a harsh taskmaster, and doesn't take crap from anyone. Eventually, the truth will out.

Today, in a fine combination of cliquish behavior, political pandering, and mass media propagandizing, one scientific theory has come to completely dominate the public consciousness: Man-Made Global Warming. The ascendancy of Man-Made Global Warming in the public consciousness is virtually complete, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences having awarded its highest honor to the biggest political proponent of this theory.

And the theory must be true! After all, we are globally experiencing the warmest winter on record:

NOAA Report: El Nino, Global Warming Contribute to Warmest Winter on Record

WASHINGTON (AP) -- This winter was the warmest on record worldwide, the government said Thursday in the latest worrisome report focusing on changing climate.
The report comes just over a month after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said global warming is very likely caused by human actions and is so severe it will continue for centuries.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the combined land and ocean temperatures for December through February were 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the period since record keeping began in 1880.

The report said that during the past century, global temperatures have increased at about 0.11 degrees per decade. But that increase has been three times larger since 1976, NOAA's National Climatic Data Center reported.
The evidence seems irrefutable. The measurements are precise. The measurements may well be meaningless.
The entire debate about global warming is a mirage. The concept of ‘global temperature’ is thermodynamically as well as mathematically an impossibility, says professor at The Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen, Bjarne Andresen who has analyzed this hot topic in collaboration with professors Christopher Essex from University of Western Ontario and Ross McKitrick from University of Guelph, both Ontario, Canada.

It is generally assumed that the atmosphere and the oceans have grown warmer during the recent 50 years. The reason for this point of view is an upward trend in the curve of measurements of the so-called ‘global temperature’. This is the temperature obtained by collecting measurements of air temperatures at a large number of measuring stations around the Globe, weighing them according to the area they represent, and then calculating the yearly average according to the usual method of adding all values and dividing by the number of points.

Average without meaning

"It is impossible to talk about a single temperature for something as complicated as the climate of Earth", Bjarne Andresen says, an an expert of thermodynamics. "A temperature can be defined only for a homogeneous system. Furthermore, the climate is not governed by a single temperature. Rather, differences of temperatures drive the processes and create the storms, sea currents, thunder, etc. which make up the climate".
The article goes on to give two seperate methods of calculating an average, and concludes with this:
These are but two examples of ways to calculate averages. They are all equally correct, but one needs a solid physical reason to choose one above another. Depending on the averaging method used, the same set of measured data can simultaneously show an upward trend and a downward trend in average temperature. Thus claims of disaster may be a consequence of which averaging method has been used, the researchers point out.

What Bjarne Andresen and his coworkers emphasize is that physical arguments are needed to decide whether one averaging method or another is needed to calculate an average which is relevant to describe the state of Earth. [emphasis added]
This article is based upon what is no doubt a much heavier article called "Does a Global Temperature Exist?" in the Journal of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics. My point here isn't to say that global warming doesn't exist, or to say that humans aren't playing a significant role. My point is that it isn't as straightforward and "accepted" as some blowhard politicians and scientists who have a vested interest in this theory being true would have everyone believe. Not only is the theory in doubt (as all theories are in doubt), but some of the fundamental tools used for measuring the trends can be legitimately questioned.

Decisions on energy policy and pollution standards are essentially political in nature. That is well and good, and appropriate. But let's not pretend that these decisions will wholly be based on science when the science hasn't been conclusively proven. And please keep the evangelism to a minimum: it is inappropriate in the realm of science, and most unwelcome.

No comments: