Friday, September 24, 2010

Einstein, the scientific method, and the bounds of global warming

Einstein and the scientific method

We are all familiar with Einstein by now, but less so of his years in early adulthood. He despised the rote method of learning as taught in schools and universities, preferring to follow his curiosity under mentors. Perhaps because of that attitude, his teachers described him as a lazy dog, stubborn and unwilling to listen.

Perhaps partly because of his recalcitrance, Einstein ascribed at least some of the blame for his inability to find a teaching job in any institution after his graduation to one of his teachers.  For two years he subsisted on tutoring before finally procuring a position as a patent clerk.

And perhaps that is where his story would have ended had it not been for the scientific method and his earth shattering theories; a potential unrealized despite a brilliance in physics that had been long evident in his schooling.

Imagine then, when in 1905 Einstein published 3 papers, two of which became the most cited papers pre-1912 in the history of physics.  Four years later he was offered a position as a professor.  But it would take until 1919 until the leading observatories in the world overcame their skepticism and validated his theory of special relativity.

The long delay would have been longer if it were not for a recent PHD graduate by the name of Erwin Freundlich, who was conducting observatory visitor tours and compiling a star catalog when one of Einstein's colleagues convinced him to help Einstein prove his theories.

Despite the refusal of his boss to participate, Freundlich's stubbornness and enthusiasm for the upstart Einstein proved contagious to the rest of the astronomy profession.  Einstein's growing popularity in Germany didn't hurt either.

Still, it was decades before skeptics both in astronomy and physics finally accepted the proofs of Einstein's published work. In fact, his Nobel prize in 1921 for his work on the photoelectric effect was delayed a year because of the controversy still hovering around his greatest contribution of gravity and time and the nature of the universe.

In a very real sense though, Einstein's story is the story of the scientific method; broadly and intensely skeptical especially of unknown authors, and minutely tested from a variety of disciplines.  Scientists publish their theories and invite anyone, including patent clerks, to offer alternatives or rebuttals.  Science is based on theories, repeatable proofs and debate. Skeptics to Einstein's theories persisted for decades.

From General relativity at Wikipedia:
In 1917, Einstein applied his general theory of relativity to the universe as a whole, initiating the field of relativistic cosmology.  In line with contemporary thinking, he assumed a static universe, adding a new parameter to his original field equations, the cosmological constant to reproduce that "observation".[3]  By 1929, however, the work of Hubble and others had shown that our universe is expanding. This is readily described by the expanding cosmological solutions found by Friedmann in 1922, which do not require a cosmological constant. Lematre used these solutions to formulate the earliest version of the big bang models, in which our universe has evolved from an extremely hot and dense earlier state. Einstein later declared the cosmological constant the biggest blunder of his life.[5]
The fundamental advantage of the scientific method is that it places science ahead of political funding and egos.  As seen in bold in the quote above, even Einstein makes mistakes.  But by publishing theories in the public realm, even lowly patent clerks can contribute to the advancement of knowledge.

The scientific method transforms science into a self-autonomous scale free network where disparate ideas are tested and resolved.  There is no authority except success as defined by the science.

The scientific method and global warming

Unfortunately, the scientific method is not what we have in the global warming debate. In fact, the free form exchange of ideas does not appear to be the prevailing norm at all.  And without the free flowing network of ideas, the scale free network collapses along with emergence, and the scientific method is suppressed.

McIntyre and McKitrick, funding their own private research, eventually successfully refuted the famed hockey stick graph that formed the icon of the 3rd IPCC paper.  They have never been published in a formal science journal.  Perhaps they should take positions as patent clerks in order to get more attention.  They are currently reduced to appealing to the Freedom of Information act in order to obtain the results of theoretical research.  That is a far cry from scientific method.

Further, virtually no global warming scientist publishes their models.  There is very little avenue to test those models.  There is no method for statisticians to validate model design.   The largest recipients of public funds decry any challenges to their results. Where is the scientific community if dissent is silenced?  There is only a cabal of believers.

It gets worse. Even in this era of technology, the publically funded data is not readily made public.   It was the horrendous state of data integrity at the IPCC that was the most damning of illuminations resulting from the hacker, despite journalists' preoccupation with scientist obfuscation and politicization of their research and results.

What can be made of data that is not only stored in reprehensible fashion, but massaged behind closed doors?  The storage of the data at the IPCC, the epitome of the AGW edifice, was rife with omission and error.

The scientific community heaped more scrutiny on Einstein's theories, models, and proofs than the global warming crowd.  And yet we are supposedly preparing to spend trillions of dollars on their suppositions.  We are living in a world of denial.

Minimal AGW proponent requirements

Following is the minimal bar that AGW proponents must hurdle before citizens take up their overwhelmingly political and expensive suggestions.
  1. Publish the models and data, like any science must, that proves AGW. No one has done this yet. Skeptics are forced to infer the models, which in the last 15 years have all been wrong (the planet has cooled. What is 'average' temperature anyway?). Science also dictates that since virtually all government funding favors proofs of global warming, a significant percentage of that subsidy must be allocated to the opposite hypothesis, just to be sure. The observer effect is real.
  2. Prove that AGW is bad. Since most of the population lives between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn BECAUSE IT IS WARMER THERE, and all plant life loves CO2, this postulation is difficult to argue.
  3. Prove that government imposed taxes and control which spend trillions in altering our current society is less expensive and effective than eventually innovating out of it. Likewise, prove that decentralized solutions and constructs that cost relatively little (Example: rezoning cities so people can walk to work, or get a beer) are also not as effective.

It appears AGW proponents are still stuck on number 1.

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