Thursday, July 29, 2010

Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts”

“Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” is how the great Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman defined science in his article “What is Science?” Feynman emphasized this definition by repeating it in a stand-alone sentence in extra large typeface in his article. (Feynman’s essay is available online, but behind a subscription wall: The Physics Teacher (1969) volume 7, starting page 313.)

Immediately after his definition of science, Feynman wrote: “When someone says, ‘Science teaches such and such,’ he is using the word incorrectly. Science doesn’t teach anything; experience teaches it. If they say to you, ‘Science has shown such and such,’ you should ask, ‘How does science show it? How did the scientists find out? How? What? Where?’ It should not be ‘science has shown.’ And you have as much right as anyone else, upon hearing about the experiments (but be patient and listen to all the evidence) to judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at.”

And I say, Amen. Notice that “you” is the average person. You have the right to hear the evidence, and you have the right to judge whether the evidence supports the conclusion. We now use the phrase “scientific consensus,” or “peer review,” rather than “science has shown.” By whatever name, the idea is balderdash. Feynman was absolutely correct.

When the attorney general of Virginia sued to force Michael Mann of “hockey stick” fame to provide the raw data he used, and the complete computer program used to analyze the data, so that “you” could decide, the Faculty Senate of the University of Virginia (where Mann was a professor at the time he defended the hockey stick) declared this request — Feynman’s request — to be an outrage. You peons, the Faculty Senate decreed, must simply accept the conclusions of any “scientific endeavor that has satisfied peer review standards.”

Feynman’s — and the attorney general’s and my own and other scientists’ — request for the raw data, so we can “judge whether a sensible conclusion has been arrived at,” would, according to the Faculty Senate, “send a chilling message to scientists … and indeed scholars in any discipline.”

According the Faculty Senate of the University of Virginia, “science,” and indeed “scholarship” in general, is no longer an attempt to establish truth by replicable experiment, or by looking at evidence that can be checked by anyone. “Truth” is now to be established by the decree of powerful authority, by “peer review.” Wasn’t the whole point of the Enlightenment to avoid exactly this?

Appeal to authority establishes nothing. “Experts” who claim otherwise are thereby showing themselves to be non-experts. The University of Virginia faculty members who supported this anti-science resolution have shown themselves to be unworthy to teach at an American university. They have shown themselves to have no understanding of the meaning of the word “scholarship.”

There are all too many such professors at the leading American universities. Which is why Feynman defined science to be a belief in the ignorance of such people. They are ignorant. Feynman used the expression “cargo-cult science” to describe the “science” done by such people.

In the South Pacific during the Second World War, the locals noticed that cargo planes would fly into airports that had been established on their islands, and unload vast amounts of goodies. The natives wanted the wealth too, so they hacked runways out of the jungle, made “radar antennas” out of wood, and sat at “radio sets” they had also fashioned out of wood. To their eyes, it looked like the real thing, but alas, no planes arrived with cargo. The native “cargo-cult” airport had the superficial appearance of an airport, but not the reality. Many areas of “science” today have the superficial appearance of true science, but not the reality. Climate “science” is an example.

How does one distinguish between science and pseudoscience, between true science and cargo-cult science? Many believe that Karl Popper’s falsifiability criterion provides it, but Popper’s criterion has numerous difficulties, which philosophers have pointed out. Feynman has provided a much better way to test for true science in his essay “Cargo-Cult Science”:

… there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. … It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Compare Feynman’s scientific integrity with the continual attempts by the leaders of climate “science” to prevent skeptics from checking their data. True scientists would be extremely pleased to provide all raw data, and they would make the data available to all on the Internet. A state attorney general would not have to file suit to make them disgorge.


More on the "For the children" scam

(1) 'Children born today will not be in a position of influence for 40 years, and by then it will be too late.'

The claimed lack of influence of children is belied by the efforts of Schools Low Carbon Day to make them into political and commercial actors, influencing their parents and others to change lifestyles, and purchase so-called 'green energy tariff' electricity from a particular company.

I have found several more such sites. They are intent on indoctrinating children to toe the 'party line' on the environment. Children old enough to be scared, old enough to be influenced, but too young to fight back against the propaganda.

Here is one EU-funded boondoggle explaining itself: 'The main idea is to enable the pupils to learn about the challenges of global climate change and sustainable energy use and, at the same time, acquire the competences necessary to develop and subsequently apply adequate solutions.'

by means of: 'The European project “Schools at University for Climate & Energy (SAUCE)” offers a series of one-week on-campus education programmes for pupils ages 10-13 on the topics of energy efficient behaviour, renewable energies and climate change.'
Source: (2).

They were at it in London in June, where they set out to: 'develop education in climate awareness, offer smart energy choices for 10 to 13 year olds'

Too young to answer back, old enough to hassle their parents. Does that explain this sinister choice of target group?
For more see: (3)

Here is a site which is quite blatantly majoring on fundraising via children: 'School children across the world have made an incredible difference to rainforest protection by fundraising for Cool Earth.'

and they note: 'Schools play a really important part in raising awareness about climate change'
Source: (4).

Here is another site not so convinced that 'children will not be in a position of influence for 40 years'. They ask: 'What do you think will happen if one million of us marched, each in our own home towns, to send a message to the “ruling generation” that is so powerful that it actually causes a real shift in our world? Sign up to be an organizer, leader or marcher!' Source: (5).

Here is the Pew Centre, a prosperous-looking lobbying organisation by Washington DC, getting in on the game: 'To help more kids better understand global warming, the Pew Center recently collaborated with Nickelodeon to research children's and parents' attitudes and behaviors toward the environment. Nickelodeon is using the information for an interactive campaign called The Big Green Help. There's a lot you can learn about global warming. To help, this page provides answers to six key questions about global warming, how it occurs, and how you can help to stop the process.'
Source: (6).

Or how about this anonymous site, probably in the UK, and aimed at 5 to 11 year olds: 'If your parents must use the car, ask them to avoid using it for very short journeys if possible, as this creates unnecessary pollution. Try to encourage them to share their journeys with other people, for example when they go to work or go shopping. Also encourage them to drive more slowly as this produces less pollution and less carbon dioxide.'
Source: (7).

What kind of results are such sites and initiatives getting? I only have some 'for-instances'. These folks are pleased: 'Because children are such strong catalysts for social change, the program has had wonderful results.'
This quote from a campaigning site aimed at children by a couple who were convinced by, of all things, 'An Inconvenient Truth'.
Source: (8).

And in the news this week from Boston: 'Totalitarians throughout history have understood the power of co-opting youth, and here is an organization advocating what can only be called the indoctrination of a generation of students in our country's public schools, beginning in kindergarten, into radical environmentalism and advocacy for "equitable social systems" -- at the expense of reading, writing and arithmetic! Similarly, the physics teacher quoted above states: "Our goal as educators is to help students understand how to get to a sustainable world." Isn't your goal as a physics teacher teaching physics? The disregard for the essential purpose of education -- -imparting knowledge -- is aggressively blatant.'
Source: (9).

Not so recent, but alarming all the same is the set of often illiterate letters from pupils organised by a teacher in a Californian school, to berate the Heartland Institute for not taking the correct line on climate. They include such gems as:

'In the past couple of months, we have read articles about Global Warming and we know facts about G.W. The 1st article is Diesel traffic makes asthma worse. The article explains that diesel traffic can worsen lung function in people with asthma. The 2nd article is Air pollution shrinks fetus size. This means that if mothers have higher exposure to air pollution, the child's fetus will shrink. The 3rd article is World Must Fix Climate in Less than 10 years. This means that if we don't fix the climate, everything will be destroyed and we won't be able to survive. Those are all the important articles we read.' The anonymised letters can be downloaded from: (10).

I leave the last word on this misuse of schools and exploitation of children, to an American journalist offended by some climate change ads using children for scaremongering. I'd extend his remark to include all those initiatives in and around schools on climate scaremongering: 'I don't know about you, but irrespective of my position on this issue, I find using children in this fashion to be indefensible and way over the line of decency.' Source: (11). .

(2) 'The inertia in the climate system ...'

The 'inertia of the climate system' is not defined, but it may refer to remarks by James Hansen in 2009.

From the climategate emails, we read a message from Trenberth, on 12th October 2009, cc'd to, amongst others, Hansen: 'The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. The CERES data published in the August BAMS 09 supplement on 2008 shows there should be even more warming: but the data are surely wrong. Our observing system is inadequate.' Source: (12).

Hansen speaking about two weeks later in over-the-top demented alarmist terms well-suited for the Club of Rome, has found somewhere to hide the missing heat: in a pipeline, aka a timebomb. His talk was entitled 'Global Warming Time Bomb', and his slides included one with the device 'Climate Inertia -> Warming in Pipeline'. Source: (13).

A more temperate scientist, Roger Pielke Snr writes in January 2010: 'But unless observations document that significant heat is accumulating deeper in the ocean, there are no major amounts of unaccounted for Joules in the climate system. There is therefore no “unrealized heat” and, thus, no “heating in the pipeline”.' Source: (14).

I'm more convinced by the analysis of Pielke, than by the conjecture of Hansen. No pipeline, no timebomb, no scary headlines.

(3) '... means that without action from us, by the time they can change the world, catastrophic warming will almost certainly be factored into the system.'

Why would that be? The 'almost certainly', as we have seen in earlier posts in this series, ought to read 'almost certainly not' given the complete lack of evidence of any extraordinary cause for concern, in particular from CO2. Many scientists accept that CO2 alone could change average temperatures anywhere between a modest decrease to an increase of around 1C. No grounds for catastrophe there.

Any such changes would scarcely be detectable against the background variation which is part and parcel of our climate. So, it comes back to the computer models. The Club of Rome had such an impact with their now widely ridiculed modeling, that I can't help but feel the plotters behind the IPCC were keen to make the most of the climate modellers' arts. Especially those who invented a positive feedback mechanism that allowed the modest impact of CO2 to be converted into a dramatic effect due to water vapour.

They might well have hoped to rely on the same lack of critical review which the media gave to the Club of Rome, and if so they were surely right. No one expects high standards from the media, but once upon a time, we expected it from science. Scientists once revered as objective seekers after truth have been transformed into jobsworths seeking security of tenure and larger research grants, both of which were jeopardised by going against the received wisdom on climate.

But hope springs eternal: the recent rebellion by fellows of the Royal Society was one bright spark, and here is another from a journalist recognising failings in her profession:

'These are desperate days for global warming advocates, and they should be. The two groups we rely on the most to be skeptical and detail-oriented, scientists and reporters, have continued to badly fail us.' Source: (15).

In my more charitable moments, I suppose that the founders of 'Schools' Low Carbon Day' were merely badly failed by scientists and reporters. At other times, I wonder at their enthusiasm for scaring schoolkids in order to advance their 'green agenda'.

SOURCE (See the original for references)

More on the amusing "Warming => more illegals" paper

Note: The lead author of the "study" is an environmental activist -- he serves as a 'science advisor' to the pressure group Environmental Defense Fund

Reuters and dozens of other sources promote the craziness of the day, namely a bunch of statements by a Michael Oppenheimer of New Jersey and his pals, Shuaizhang Feng and Alan B. Krueger. The paper was edited by the late Stephen Schneider a month ago.

He and his friends essentially claim that global warming is going to be the main reason of the Mexican illegal immigration. Between 1.4 and 6.7 million Mexicans will arrive to the U.S. by 2080 because their agriculture will get worse, and so on. Of course, this statement is completely preposterous but the media make it even worse when they exclusively quote the upper "6.7 million" figure in the title.

The number of Mexicans who actually move because of the temperatures may be counted in thousands, not millions. If you check an encyclopedia, the daily temperatures in Mexico City go from 6 to 21 °C in January to 12 to 26 °C in May (the figures are average lows and average highs in the months). In average, there's no excessive heat over there. And the agriculture is not getting worse because of the climate change.

You may check that e.g. Sao Paolo in Brazil, the agricultural powerhouse of Latin America, has temperatures by about 6 °C higher than Mexico City. They're even higher in Rio de Janeiro. Warmth is surely not a problem.

I think that only insane people may have doubts that what drives the overwhelming portion of the immigrants is the economy. The Mexican GDP per capita is 5 times (nominal) or 3 times (PPP) lower than in the U.S. Well, such things make a difference.

The hypothesis that the desire for a cooler weather plays an important role in the Mexican immigration can be easily falsified by anyone who actually wants to know whether it's true or not. The simplest way to see that it is bogus is to notice that the Mexicans are satisfied as soon as they cross the borders and many of them stay in the Southern states of the U.S. Even though the climate can't change too much a few miles away, the new place is good enough for them.

I've heard amazing testimonies of several people who visited the U.S.-Mexican border along the Rio Grande river. The vast difference in wealth makes it look like two different worlds. The difference has clearly nothing to do with the climate.

It's not hard to see what is the driver behind similar "research": they want to attract some conservative people - people who are genuinely afraid of immigration, especially the illegal immigration (whether or not their fears are justified) - onto the global warming bandwagon by giving the global warming fears some new "anti-immigration flavor". I think that the descendants of J. Robert Oppenheimer should sue Michael Oppenheimer and prevent him from using and contaminating the name of their ancestor and their families - and the good name of physics.

SOURCE. See also Pielke Jr.

The Medieval warm period happened amid LOW levels of atmospheric CO2 -- suggesting that CO2 is, if anything, a minor factor in climate change

Discussing: Chen, F.-H., Chen, J.-H., Holmes, J., Boomer, I., Austin, P., Gates, J.B., Wang, N.-L., Brooks, S.J. and Zhang, J.-W. 2010. Moisture changes over the last millennium in arid central Asia: A review, synthesis and comparison with monsoon region. Quaternary Science Reviews 29: 1055-1068.


The authors write that arid central Asia (ACA, an inland zone in central Asia from the Caspian Sea in the west to the southern Mongolian Plateau in the east) is "a unique dry-land area whose atmospheric circulation is dominated today by the westerlies," further stating that it is "one of the specific regions that are likely to be strongly impacted by global warming," which could greatly impact its hydrologic future.

What was done

In an attempt to obtain this important knowledge, Chen et al. evaluated "spatial and temporal patterns of effective moisture variations," using seventeen different proxy records in the ACA and synthesizing a decadal-resolution moisture curve for this region over the past millennium, employing five of the seventeen records based on their having "reliable chronologies and robust proxies."

What was learned

The nine researchers report that the effective moisture (precipitation) in the ACA has a generally inverse relationship with the temperature of the Northern Hemisphere, as portrayed by Moberg et al. (2005), China, as portrayed by Yang et al. (2002), and Central Asia, as portrayed by Esper et al. (2007). That is to say, as they describe it, the "wet (dry) climate in the ACA correlates with low (high) temperature." And stating it in yet another way, they indicate that the ACA "has been characterized by a relatively dry Medieval Warm Period (MWP; the period from ~1000 to 1350 AD), a wet little Ice Age (LIA; from ~1500-1850 AD)," and "a return to arid conditions after 1850 AD," which has been slightly muted -- but only "in some records" -- over the past 20 years by an increase in humidity.

What it means

Chen et al. "propose that the humid LIA in the ACA, possibly extending to the Mediterranean Sea and Western Europe, may have resulted from increased precipitation due to more frequent mid-latitude cyclone activities as a result of the strengthening and equator-ward shift of the westerly jet stream ... coupled with a decrease in evapotranspiration caused by the cooling at that time," which cooling was brought about by the gradual demise of the Medieval Warm Period, which in turn speaks volumes about the great significance of that centuries-long period of much-lower-than-present atmospheric CO2 concentration but of equivalent or even greater warmth than that of the Current Warm Period, which ultimately suggests that the 20th-century increase in the air's CO2 content may have had little, or maybe even nothing, to do with 20th-century global warming.


A BOOK REVIEW OF "The Hockey Stick Illusion - Climategate and the corruption of science"

Review from the magazine of the Geological Society

In 1998 a graph, which was to become famous as the ‘Hockey Stick’, made its debut in the pages of the prestigious journal Nature. The graph, constructed by climate scientist Michael Mann and colleagues, purported to show that late 20th Century temperatures were unprecedented in at least 1000 years. For many this was the smoking gun of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW). Before long the Hockey Stick became the icon of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and took (unacknowledged) centre-stage in Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. The scientific community immediately, and virtually unanimously, accepted the Hockey Stick at face value, even though it eliminated such familiar episodes of climatic history as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age; these were explained away as regional or diachronous phenomena.

Not everybody, though, was prepared to take this new climate history on trust. Foremost among these sceptics was a Canadian mining engineer, Steve McIntyre. Over several years, in the teeth of resistance from the paleoclimatological community, he laboriously collected the raw data (mainly tree ring measurements) from which the Hockey Stick was derived. McIntyre identified numerous shortcomings with the reconstruction. The charges included cherry picking of data, use of invalid proxies and poor statistical techniques, which together produced a picture of exceptional 20th Century warming that was not present in the underlying data.

The response of the ‘Hockey Team’ (as Mann and colleagues came to be known) was to circle the wagons. McIntyre was dismissed as a crank, or a flunkey of the oil companies. Attempts were made to prevent publication of his analyses in the scientific press. When these tactics failed to silence him, the Hockey Team claimed that many independent studies confirmed their results. McIntyre, though, was able to show that these ‘independent’ studies used the same flawed data sets and techniques as the Hockey Stick and inevitably reached the same erroneous conclusions. The debate eventually reached Washington where two congressional committees concluded that Mann’s statistics could not support the conclusions he drew from them. Nonetheless the Hockey Team, with the support of the IPCC, pressed ahead with their depiction of the Hockey Stick as ‘settled science’.

Andrew Montford tells this detective story in exhilarating style. He has assembled an impressive case that the consensus view on recent climate history started as poor science and was corrupted when climate scientists became embroiled in IPCC politics. His portrayal of the palaeoclimatology community is devastating; they are revealed as amateurish, secretive, evasive and belligerent. But the most serious charge is that they have simply failed to demonstrate any scientific integrity in confronting McIntyre. The University of East Anglia emails, which appeared just as Montford was completing his book, suggest that the Hockey Team were more interested in knobbling McIntyre than in addressing his arguments.

The wider scientific community does not escape criticism. No serious effort was made to subject the Hockey Stick to independent scrutiny, despite its profound implications for the future of the planet and its inhabitants. In response to external challenge the scientific establishment’s reflex action was to side with the paleoclimatologists without bothering to check the evidence. This approach, no better than that of any other vested interest group, should dismay everyone of genuine scientific spirit.

Montford’s book ends on what is perhaps an inevitable low note, because the Hockey Team has not conceded that its temperature reconstructions are seriously flawed. However, if The Hockey Stick Illusion provokes a truly independent review of the evidence it will have served its purpose.


The great wind power bait and switch

HOW MUCH are you willing to pay for green energy? Almost any ratepayer would say that if the electric utilities could obtain a significant amount of their power from a renewable source, and do so without raising rates, then that would be a good deal. It would certainly appear to be a good deal if they could obtain the power and at the same time reduce their rates.

For years Cape Wind Associates, which plans to build 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound, told us that it could supply renewable energy to the New England market and save ratepayers $25 million a year. Considering the cost of installing and operating the system (about $2 billion in present-value terms), it was always unlikely that Cape Wind could deliver on this promise. Yet, it seemed possible that by adding significantly to power supplies, Cape Wind could bring about at least a temporary decrease in the price of power.

Now we learn, however, that ratepayers will pay more for their electricity if Cape Wind builds and goes online. Recently, National Grid entered into an agreement to buy power from Cape Wind for almost 21 cents per kilowatt hour. It costs National Grid about 9 cents per kWh to get the same power from conventional sources. Under the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard program, the electric companies charge ratepayers an additional 6 cents per kWh for that portion of their service (currently 5 percent) that the power companies are supposed to obtain from renewable sources. Hence, power that previously cost 15 cents will now cost 21 cents. National Grid’s biggest customers are protesting this price increase.

Under the agreement, National Grid, which supplies 40 percent of Massachusetts’ residential electric power, will buy half of Cape Wind’s output. The proposal to buy the power at the contracted rate (which allows for an annual increase of 3.5 percent) is now before the state’s Department of Public Utilities for its approval. If the National Grid deal goes through, it won’t be long before another electric utility finds itself under pressure to buy the other half of Cape Wind’s power.

If that happens, ratepayers are going to end up paying $82 million annually more than what they currently pay for the power to be supplied by Cape Wind. That is far cry from paying the $25 million less that Cape Wind originally promised. It’s a case of bait-and-switch: Promise something at a cost saving. Then reveal at the last minute that the cost will be greater, not less. It’s a practice that would have the authorities swooping down on any retailer that tried it.

The Cape Wind project was always a bad deal, in the larger sense that the subsidies needed to bring the project online were far greater than justified by such green-energy benefits as it would confer. And now we find out that the subsidy needed by Cape Wind in order to attract investors is more than twice what we could originally have expected.

It is no answer to say that the National Grid deal is good for ratepayers because fossil fuel prices might rise in the years to come. The Federal Energy Information Administration does not expect the real cost of electricity generation to rise for more than a decade. Yet fossil fuel prices would have to more than double to make the National Grid deal a bargain for ratepayers.

Nor is there a lack of cheaper sources of renewable energy. Currently, the state does not permit the electric utilities to apply hydro or wind power bought from Canadian suppliers to their Renewable Portfolio Standard requirement. By eliminating this rule, the state could get all the renewable energy it wants without compelling ratepayers to pay more than the 15 cents per kWh they currently pay. The only reason not to use Canadian power or some other source of cheap, renewable energy is to keep the Cape Wind project going. But Massachusetts ratepayers should not be expected to bear the burden of supporting this project when there are cheaper sources of renewable energy available. The regulators should tell National Grid to find another supplier.



For more postings from me, see DISSECTING LEFTISM, TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here


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