The Naked Scientists

The Naked Scientists Forum

Author Topic: Scientific Disagreements  (Read 2569 times)

Offline Airthumbs

  • Hero Member
  • *****
  • Posts: 958
  • Personal Text
    • View Profile
Scientific Disagreements
« on: 17/01/2013 02:51:15 »
Consensus reports are the bedrock of science-based policy-making. But disagreement and arguments are more useful, says Daniel Sarewitz.

http://www.nature.com/news/2011/111005/full/478007a.html


 

Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 6321
  • Thanked: 3 times
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
Re: Scientific Disagreements
« Reply #1 on: 19/01/2013 08:44:47 »
I think many scientists like a good debate.  And, I would agree, for the betterment of science, debating issues is always good.

Who would Einstein be if he didn't have somewhat different ideas from others (although, obviously many of his ideas were based on the research of other contemporary scientists).

"Climate Change" is complicated, because it is inherently both scientific, and political.  And, the semblance of a united front helps with the political side of the debate. 

The intergovernmental panel on climate change did a tremendous job at trying to incorporate a variety of opinions.  However, there are also shortfalls with basing so much on models.  And, perhaps with the goal of creating a comprehensive consensus document, they got caught with their pants down by incorporating a few memorable poorly reviewed articles.

A great risk, from the translation from science to "the media" is considering a slight statistical perturbation suddenly the cause of all evils in the world.  A 49%/51% difference can be statistically significant, where 49/100 of whatever would have occurred regardless of the trigger being studied, and only 2/100 (which are often unknown which ones) are actually attributed to the triggering event.

And, with more data supporting long-term changes in the environment, people are always wanting to peer into the future, a murky proposition at best.

One thing that is obvious is that our climate has been changing since the formation of the planet and the evolution of terrestrial life.  And, it will continue to change with or without humans.  We have, however, made extraordinary environmental changes over the last 10,000 years.  With some changes seemingly occurring at a pace that will not be sustainable. 

Is our current environment "ideal"?  Certainly I could imagine ideal weather being slightly different this time of year.  Yet, what is more frightening is the unknown.
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
Re: Scientific Disagreements
« Reply #2 on: 19/01/2013 14:30:44 »
Good comments Clifford. To expand on one aspect... All future predictions are based on some sort of modelling. The climate and the economy being two recent examples albeit of very different kinds. Development and understanding of such models, which are necessarily complex, relies on the expertise of comparatively few individuals. All such work should be peer reviewed but I get the feeling that, as far as the economy is concerned, that such models are not so open to critical examination. I would be interested for others more knowledgeable about this to give their opinion; although governments make many decisions based on a few financial indicators, it seems to me that the predicted outcomes are often in error and, as we have found out in recent times, can be wildy wrong. Is this because these models are not always open for public review? Unlike the climate, which (at least up to now) has been considered to be data that is available to the world, economic predictions can be said to involve greater parochial interests for nation states.

The climate models are generally open to peer review however, and there are many such models independently developed though often with commonality where there has been some general agreement as to model aspects or use of a common database for measurements. Despite political and media rhetoric to the contrary, the vast majority of scientists versed in climate science are in general agreement that there is global warming and that this is largely a man-made phenomenon due to the production of greenhouse gases. There is much scientific debate about the magnitude and timescales for any resulting outcome, but not regarding the prime factors involved. Maybe there is an "Einstein" with a contrary view but it is not wise for governments to decide on who they should believe based on want they wish to hear. 

In the case of climate change, politicians reflect more often the view of whatever groups support their own positions of power and, in some cases, personal wealth. This position may or may not also reflect the advantage of the country they are serving but it is often the case that this is only in the relatively short term. This position is also backed up by some of the media to whose short term advantage is also served by reflecting the popular view of their customers rather than any considered opinions. The effect is to apply some positive feedback to maintain an unscientific and false view. Such a view can "flip" but it takes a lot to make this happen.

So here we have a case where there is significant scientific consensus about an issue but where it is contrary to what is to the short term advantage of a number of politicians and to their support networks which will include large media organisations. A good example is Canada which is largely regarded as being a "green" country but where there is wide scepticism about climate change. It is not a coincidence that Canada has huge oil resources and is the USA's largest supplier of oil. With the vast reserves in the Alberta oil sands, Canada has the potential to be an even bigger world exporter as this becomes more economic to extract. It is interesting to see how this has influence on public opinion, even amongst those people in Canada who are totally unaware of the economic advantages to their country.

I appreciate I may have drifted slightly off subject here :-)
 

Offline CliffordK

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 6321
  • Thanked: 3 times
  • Site Moderator
    • View Profile
Re: Scientific Disagreements
« Reply #3 on: 19/01/2013 23:10:04 »
The link, of course, was to a link about Climate Change.

I believe that many of the models do remain as "black boxes", although at least high level discussions of the algorithms being used should be contained in scientific discussions of the models.

Looking at the changes in the Arctic over the last few years, as well as the number of times we seem to be hitting near all time temperature maximums, I am getting more and more convinced that there are significant changes in the climate afoot.  Yet, I also believe there will be a lot to be learned during this coming decade with the comparatively weak solar cycle that we are in.

The problem that comes up is how does WATER fit into the climate projections.  Obviously humanity prefers ....  not too much water, not too little water.  It is best if it is just right.

Droughts are often associated with heat waves.

But, that doesn't necessarily mean less water overall, but rather, less water in the right place.

The association between "heat wave" and "drought" may not in fact be causative.  So, more global heat doesn't necessarily mean less global water.  And, in fact, it may mean more evaporation and more rain, at least in some places. 

One of the things that the global warming crisis has brought about is a multidisciplinary discussion, from archaeology to space technology.  And, more multidisciplinary data needs to be incorporated.
 

Offline graham.d

  • Neilep Level Member
  • ******
  • Posts: 2208
    • View Profile
Re: Scientific Disagreements
« Reply #4 on: 20/01/2013 14:29:30 »
My comments were aimed at the surprising and hard-to-detect effects of political influence on how people think. It is often hard to appreciate as a subject of such influences, and we all are subject in this way. The first thing to understand is that we all are biassed by the information (in all forms) that we receive including, in many cases, that which we choose to receive. By making such a choice, and we all do to some extent, this further polarises our views.

Because of these influences I would certainly not put myself outside this position either, but I am sure that the vast majority of people are unaware of how much their views are effectively manipulated by the weighting of the information they receive. This is rarely anything to do with a small group of men in smoke filled rooms (or nowadays, smoke free rooms) controlling world events, but just how the status quo works. This could be a scientific subject on its own. The future path selected by such means is distinctly short term however and falls far short of what we need in the world today.

On the specific subject of climate change, which is certainly subject to the above influences, it may well turn out to be the case that we are too late to affect the outcome significantly. I don't know whether sufficient measures are practically possible at this late stage to overcome the damage already done, at least sufficiently to reverse it. Or is this is the next, and probably only acceptable fallback position, for "climate change deniers"? Whatever happens in the next 100 years or so is not going to matter to us anyhow, but will affect those many millions of people to whom sea level rise (for example) will be a disaster on a genocidal scale. How more innocent are we than the concentration camp guards of WWII? I do not think we are entitled to think within the bounds of national self interest anymore but I fear that is exactly what is happening, especially in the USA, which is certainly the most influencial state in the world today.

A scientific solution, that does not involve any lifestyle changes, is really a great idea but regrettably may not be found. It seems to me that this single approach is inadequate given that no solution may be found.

And in all this, the rest of the western world is little better. Europe (with the possible exception of Germany) is also not doing nearly enough but are able to sit on the slightly higher ground of at least admitting that there is man-made global warming. The third world, and up-and-coming, tiger economies are being used as an excuse (not alltogether invalid) that their growth will involve more carbon emissions that the developed world can counter by reductions in their own emissions. And these third world countries will ask why should they damage their growth because the world has already been damaged by the now wealthy western world.

A tricky issue!
 

The Naked Scientists Forum

Re: Scientific Disagreements
« Reply #4 on: 20/01/2013 14:29:30 »

 

SMF 2.0.10 | SMF © 2015, Simple Machines
SMFAds for Free Forums