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So, About That Peer-Review

Posted by greg2213 on August 12, 2011

WUWT has an article on a new Hockey Stick: the increase in the number of peer-reviewed papers that are retracted.

The Wall Street Journal reports that retractions of scientific papers have surged in recent years, with the top 3 journals issuing retractions being PNAS, Science and Nature.  The graph above shows the increase in the rate of retracted papers.

Here: The newest hockey stick

It’s also on Pielke Jr.s site: Surging Retractions in Scientific Publishing and he comments: “One thing you’ll notice is that most of the attention to retractions occurs in the medical sciences. Here is a leading question — is that because that area of research is more subject to error or fraud?”

The main study is in the Journal of Medical Ethics

A WUWT commenter says, “0.035% of publications are retracted. Always watch the actual numbers. It is certainly interesting that the rate is up from pretty much zero thirty years ago. But the actual numbers suggest very few papers actually are retracted. ”

But really…

It looks to me like the number of retractions is small enough to be considered uninteresting.

Of course, given that trend lines are the “important thing” in science, this means that in a few years all scientific papers will be retracted. Perhaps before they’re published. It’s very definitely worse than we thought! In a very few decades there will be no science!!!”

Drawling a line between 2000 and 2009 we have a 5 fold increase in retractions. Draw the line and you’ll see the approaching catastrophe. Clearly there’s no choice but for the UN to take over all scientific research and publishing. There are only a very few years left in which to act to save all of science!



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A Comment About Climate “Science”

Posted by greg2213 on August 16, 2010

JoNova has some fun with one of the clueless climate wags, but it’s in the comments that some other interesting things pop up. Once is about how science is performed, which is appropriate since the wag she’s poking obviously has no clue about science or logic.

Those of us in the modern world tend to ridicule the beliefs of “less advanced” people, favoring our own. The commenter makes an excellent point:

In the upper Brazilian jungle, there lives a tribe of indians known as “Os povos da galinha da torneira” – literally, “The people of the cockerel”.

They get this name because they worship the male cockerel, for it is the cockerel who gets up before dawn, and crows loudly enough to wake the sun and cause it to rise at the start of the day, warming the people and causing the plants to grow.

Now, if civilised and educated people of the west have read thus far, you will probably be thinking that these are uncivilised savages with little or no understanding of how the world really works – no understanding of science.

But let us pause to apply the scientific method to their belief system. They have amassed observations over time, and have established a correlation between the cockerel crowing and the sun coming up. They have also identified causation, because the cockerel always crows before the sun rises. Furthermore, they can demonstrate the mechanism, in that the cockerel has to crow loudly enough, and long enough to wake the sun. What they have not done, is to consider the null hypothesis, that the sun would rise anyway, even if the cockerel did not crow.

So our unsophisticated indians demonstrate four of the five requirements for the scientific method. Eighty percent – not a bad score for uncivilised savages.

So let us compare their performance against, say, climate scientists. Climate scientists have amassed observations over time, and have established a correlation between an increase in global temperature and the level of atmospheric carbon. But they have difficulties in identifying causation, because the global temperature always varies ahead of the levels of atmospheric carbon, but they want to believe that the causation affect is the other way around – that atmospheric carbon variations precede global temperature variations. They also cannot demonstrate the mechanism whereby the causation occurs (presumably because they have the causation wrong). And finally, what they also have not done, is to consider the null hypothesis, that the changes in atmospheric carbon, and the changes in global temperature, are simply natural variations.

So climate scientists correctly demonstrate two of the five requirements for the scientific method. They score forty percent – not as good as the uncivilised savages, and hardly a pass mark.

Now, what were we saying about people having little or no understanding of how the world really works – no understanding of science?

We should all keep in mind that we know what we do because someone told us and we “learned” it, same as the people of that Indian tribe. Is it too much to ask that our scientists spend a bit more effort to get their facts and theories straight and a bit less effort on ridiculing those who disagree?

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What is a Hypothesis?

Posted by greg2213 on February 14, 2010

Here’s an interesting article which nicely hits two points. The first, of course, is What is a Hypothesis/Theory? Also discussed is the topic of proving a theory/hypothesis.

The second point is discussing a soft science, such as fisheries, and noting that it’s very hard to study that topic in the lab. Also discussed is why it’s hard and what is done instead.

But to just look at the part which answers the above question:

…previous information is synthesized into a theory, the theory is stated explicitly in the form of hypotheses, predictions are deduced from these hypotheses, the predictions are tested through experimentation or observations, the theory is modified or expanded on the basis of results of these tests, and the process starts again.

Hypotheses are rejected or fail to be rejected depending on study results. When data support a hypothesis, it cannot be concluded that the hypothesis is true, only that it has not been rejected. In addition, a hypothesis is only rejected or not rejected at some statistical level. The scientific method cannot “prove” that a hypothesis or theory is correct, only that alternative hypotheses or theories are rejected.

For example, the Theory of Evolution (just to pick a topic that’s a hot button for some) can never be proven, but the research into developing said theory might disprove other ideas.

Now, if Idea B comes along and attempts to disprove idea A it needs to gather supportive data, wrap it all up, pass tests, and do a better job of explaining/predicting things than A does.

If hard data is found that contradicts A then A can be proven wrong, but B will never be proven right. It will always be merely the best theory available at this time, even though it may make correct predictions. Quantum mechanics lets us make lasers that read our BluRay disks, but it’s still a theory.

To read the rest of this paper, go here: Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and the Scientific Method

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