Science Under Attack?

By Ken Perrott 09/03/2011

Well, by some people anyway. It’s the title of an excellent BBC Horizon documentary which went to air in the UK in January. It may never reach our shores but at least you can view it on YouTube. I have embedded it below

YouTube – Horizon: Science Under Attack.

Sir Paul Nurse. Credit BBC

The new President of the UK Royal Society, Sir Paul Nurse, fronts the documentary . He is an excellent communicator and not at all polemical. The documentary delves into the problem of the drop in public trust of science. Nurse uses the topics of man-made climate change, vaccine safety, HIV/AIDS and genetically modified food as examples. All areas where scientific consensus is under attack.

Basically the documentary asks, and attempts to answer, the questions:

  • Why is science under attack? and
  • Are scientists partly to blame for this?

Nurse interviews critics of science as well as scientists. So there are non-confrontational chats with climate change sceptics/deniers/contrarians Fred Singer and James Delingpole (a daily Telegraph well know for his  polemics). On the other hand he also chats with a NASA scientists, about what the overall data is telling us, and Phil Jones about the “climategate” email controversy.

While the documentary gives a more balanced history of the “climategate” issue and attacks on scientists it doesn’t run away from the lessons provided by the scandal.

Dealing with strong views

Nurse believes that scientists must do more to communicate with the public and pay attention to how we communicate. One problem he identified is that of communicating the inevitable uncertainty in science. Also the sceptical nature of science where theories are “tested to destruction. At” the same time he drew a distinction between healthy scepticism and denial.

He believes that the new forms of media and ease of communication have raised new issues for science. We now have to deal more directly with situations where there are strong political and ideological influences. And the new media tends to promote preconceived prejudices better than it does balanced consideration.

As he said that sciences now have to deal with “point of view” as well as the old problem of “peer review.”

A question of trust

The new media have also provided the person in the street with a multitude of interpretations of evidence. Some of them very strong, and with undeclared political or ideological motivations. While on issues like climate change it may be possible for those with some scientific training to make sense of mall this confusion, those without it must get by on trust. They must rely on the trust they have for their information sources.

Nurse leaves the viewer with this message. Today science communication is vital. And so is attention to how it is done.

It is this thoughtful and respectful communication which will help scientists to recover any trust they have lost.

Hat Tip: Nick

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0 Responses to “Science Under Attack?”

  • Ken, I got feeling that what you’re trying to imply here, that science is being attacked by crackpots (Ken Ring is an example), which I agree with you on that. However, it is a different scenario when other scientists with alternative viewpoints attack science of conformists which is something to be endorse wholeheartedly. The 2 cases are completely different. I made a comment on the other thread yesterday on that very point.

    Case #1 :
    Consensus (conformist) scientific theories versus alternative scientific theories

    Case #2:
    Scientific theories (mainstream/consensus/alternative) versus crackpot (non-scientific) theories.

    Case #1, can’t be lumped together with Case #2. Case #1 is healthy for the advancement of science, while Case #2 hold it back.

    If we lumped together Case #1 and Case #2 as the same, then we may as well labeled Einstein’s effort to prove Quantum Mechanics (QM) as an incomplete theory was an attack on Science, but that was healthy. Einstein’s effort during his life-time criticism (culminated in him & his colleagues proposing famous EPR : Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox) of Quantum Mechanics advanced QM. Einstein (& other doubters of QM) had a decade long sparing with the strong proponents of QM as Neil Bohr, Heisenberg & others, often during the Physics International Solvay Conference in the 1920s, 30s & 40s.

    Science attacking science is good and healthy. Crackpots attacking science is the one to be dismissed & resisted at all costs.

  • And what, sir, is the difference between mainstream science and conformist science?

  • Falafulu Fisi: clearly I don’t consider the normal skeptical process of science as being an attack on science. As Nurse describes it scientific skepticism means ideas are “tested to destruction.” That’s how we make progress. And it is the nature of scientific knowledge to be constantly tested and open to review.

    This is different to denial or contrarianism.

  • Global warming is an example. It is conformist. Why are scientists who published scientific papers with opposing views are being labeled deniers? Their work falls within the framework of science. They didn’t come up with outrageous claims/theories based on some psychic vision/dream. They formulate their theories in a scientific manner that’s no difference to the conformists.

    How about you read on Cargo-Cult Science by Richard Feynman (which David Winter quoted in his article) ? See, the example mentioned by Feynman of the Millikan Oil Drop experiment to establish the charge of an electron. Millikan made his measurement and since he was one of the greats in physics at the time, his value for the charge of the electron, wasn’t quite correct. Others who followed up on Millikan’s measurement repeated the experiment & came up with a value that is a little bit different from Millikan’s published value. More followups found a value which were different to all the previous (including the original Milikan’s) published values, but some didn’t want to veer too far from the value that Millikan got when he first measured it. WHY? They thought something was wrong with theirs, since the value found by the great physicist surely must be the correct one. It was truely established later, that in fact , Millikan was wrong.

    So, there is the story. When some one thinking of publishing an alternative, & come up with a conclusion which is different from the conformists, then of course it will lead him/her to doubts, whether he/she is the one who is wrong and those who are conformists.

    There is nothing wrong with being conformists, but we should understand that every theory stays static forever. Improvements come from trying to be a non-conformist (in either a big step or small incremental step).

    As Feynman said, We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of the ways we fool ourselves… But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves–of
    having utter scientific integrity.

  • Falafulu Fisi – I disagree. Climate science is as dynamic as any other. Have a look at Nurse’s programme as it deals specifically with that issue and the attacks on climate science.

    There is a clear diifetence between scientific assessment of published theories and ideas (by climate skeptics) and the cherry picking and distortion of deniers and contrarians. Local attacks on NIWA scientists are an example of the latter. They are disgusting. As are attempts to prosecute honest scientists like Micheal Mann in the USA.

    After you have watched the documentary (it is excellent) have a read of the IPCC science report . It shows the nature of climate science as being far from conformist. Although the document itself is rather conservative, being a little dated and limiting speculation. Scientists are actually now far more concerned than that document implies.

  • Hahah! I was wondering how long it would take Mr Fisi’s contrarian views on global warning to surface here. My question was a bit naughty as I knew the answer perfectly well.
    I submit, Mr Fisi, that your classification scheme above is arbitrary and self-serving.
    Climate science is nothing like the Millikan experiment that you describe. There are numerous completely independent lines of evidence available. It’s insulting to suggest that scientists are indulging in groupthink. I always find it insulting when antivaxers suggest that the majority of medical professionals are duped by Big Pharma – hello, they are quite clever people with, in general, a high level of integrity and a strong code of professional ethics. So it goes with scientists.

  • Ken said…
    There is a clear diifetence between scientific assessment of published theories and ideas (by climate skeptics) and the cherry picking and distortion of deniers and contrarians.

    Now, lets be straight here. Simple question. Was Einstein a denier/contrarian? Just a simple Yes or No? If he was, then you have invalidated your statement above. If he wasn’t, then it is beyond belief to say that he wasn’t when obviously he dedicated the rest of his life (after his boson paper in mid 1920s was published) to attacking QM. Ken, are you being evasive, obfuscating or what?

    Ken said…
    Local attacks on NIWA scientists are an example of the latter. They are disgusting. As are attempts to prosecute honest scientists like Micheal Mann in the USA.

    Well, I’m a skeptic but I’m not one of those who attacked NIWA. I’m not in the same boat as them. My debate on AGW is solely based on what I read in the related literatures for climate science (even though I’m no climate scientist by training but as a physicist, I have no problem at all in reading/understanding their papers). This means that I debate on science and not on politics.

    Prosecuting scientists like Michael Mann is wrong, which is something I don’t advocate. Anyway, I had personally emailed Michael Mann a few years back to ask him question on his methods (even others have raised it before) from his hockey-stick paper:

    “Global-scale temperature patterns and climate forcing over the past six centuries”

    I put it to him of why he used a linear method even though, he thought (see page 2 & 3) in his assumptions that in the relatively unlikely event that a proxy indicator represents a
    truly local climate phenomenon which is uncorrelated with larger scale climate variations, or represents a highly nonlinear response to climate variations, this assumption will not be satisfied
    . The linear method he used was PCA (principal component analysis). He never replied back to my query after sending him a 2nd and a 3rd email. Despite, not replying back to me, I suggested to him some non-linear algorithms (I believe that he wasn’t aware of those or even know they exist) to use, “kernel-PCA”, “Hessian Eigenmaps”, “Locally Linear Embedding” because they’re more appropriate and robust than traditional PCA he was using.

    I haven’t watched that documentary, but I may do when I have time. Documentaries is targeted for the general population, because they don’t read scientific publications. I tend not to watch them since what they usually cover (for & against AGM) is something I already read in the literatures.

  • No, Einstein was not a denier – how could you think that?in

    And he did not spend his life attacking quantum mechanics – except in the normal sceptical way of science (and we wouldn’t use the emotive word “attack” for that – would we?). I fail to seem what you think is so different about Einstein’s behavior. He was not attacking the body of science in the way that climate change deniers do.

    Great – you did not participate in the unprincipled attacks on NIWA. Did you participate in their defence? Or explaining to the attackers where they were wrong scientifically? There were clear issues of science there that they violated. And still do.

    Re Mann – your interest seems to be in the statistical methods used. Care to comment on the Wegmann report and the subsequent revelations of what has been going on with his group (plagiarism, etc.). Or perhaps comment on the way the deniers use the Wegmann report and ignore the NRC report?

    If you are a sceptic rather than denier I expect in future you will justify any comments (like the sweeping claim you made about climate science being “conformist”) by reference to the science details rather than political prejudice. It’s those sort of pejorative statements which leads to the “denier” label.

    You should watch the documentary – as a physicist it concerns you.

  • Isn’t it heartwarming to think that Mr Fisi and Ken Ring have some common ground, in not accepting mainstream climate science? Heh.
    Yes, I know, cheap shot. Sorry.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    ” I got feeling that what you’re trying to imply here, that science is being attacked by crackpots (Ken Ring is an example), which I agree with you on that. However, it is a different scenario when other scientists with alternative viewpoints attack science of conformists which is something to be endorse wholeheartedly. The 2 cases are completely different.”

    In science it all comes down to the evidence doesn’t it. If a scientist promotes an “alternative” viewpoint but has no evidence to back it up, then how is he any better than a “crackpot”. Yes, he could suggest an alternative hypothesis but if it is untestable, what is the point.
    Einstein’s work involved the development of hypotheses/theories that explained “gaps” that were appearing in physics theories of his time. He then developed experiments to test these ideas. And while Einstein’s theories were revolutionary and resisted by some, I don’t ever remember hearing of him being classed as a contrarian.

  • Carol said…
    I was wondering how long it would take Mr Fisi’s contrarian views on global warning to surface here. My question was a bit naughty as I knew the answer perfectly well.

    Carol, how many climate-science related papers have you read so far, both for and against?

    Now, before you ridicule me, how about you try and read both sides and then evaluate. Don’t take snide from the sideline as if somehow you understand the arguments because you’re clueless. Have you read James Hansen’s application of control theory to climate system? I have. It is available from his NASA’s site (see below). Well, his model is simplistic and inappropriate for modelling of climate system. WHY? Climate is a complex system (in short, it is simply very difficult to model due to its high non-linearity & self-emergence dynamical properties. See below, Dr. Rossow’s paper of NASA for the critique of Hansen’s linear control model.

    Well, I’ve read many papers on climate modelling, and not just a few. I’m no climate scientist, but I’m well-informed in the debate.

    Ok, here we go Carol.


    #2) Inferring instantaneous, multivariate and nonlinear sensitivities for the analysis
    of feedback processes in a dynamical system: Lorenz model case-study
    by William ROSSOW et al (NASA).

    Paper #2, described why models in paper #1 is inappropriate. So, the question for you Carol to ponder is if paper #2 is taking a contrarian view? If you answer yes, then you should shut up, because you’re not engaging in a scientific debate instead you’re taking snide against others who are debating science.

    I mentioned on the other thread on Ken Ring of why earthquakes are unpredictable? Geophysicist Didier Sornette established that such physical phenomenon does conform to SOC (self-organized critically) behaviour, which is a property of complex system. Is climate predictable? Well, no. How about earthquakes. Again no. You cannot predict SOC phenomena (climate or earthquakes, economies, etc,…) and anyone who thinks he/she can, there is millions to be made in the insurance industry. Take your luck there.

    Carol said…
    I always find it insulting when antivaxers suggest that the majority of medical professionals are duped by Big Pharma – hello, they are quite clever people with, in general, a high level of integrity and a strong code of professional ethics. So it goes with scientists.

    Oh, that’s an idiotic comment. My comment here on AGW cannot be equated to antivaxers. Did you read my first comment on this thread at the very top for Case #1 and Case #2? Antivaxers (Ken Ring , et al) falls in Case #2. Climate skeptics who publish their work in scientific journals are in Case #1. Case #1 is healthy while Case #2 is an attack on science.

    Can I ask you a John Campbell type question Carol? Which branch of science that you are in? If you’re not from the physical science, then I recommend that you sit on the sideline as a spectator and watch us who have backgrounds there arguing the science. You can clap your hands when you see that the AGW opponents are being demolished, and then boo boo, when the proponents are getting the upper-hand in the debate.

    How about that suggestion, huh?

  • Falafulu Fisi,

    “If you’re not from the physical science, then I recommend that you sit on the sideline as a spectator and watch us who have backgrounds there arguing the science.”

    Who are you to recommend that someone who is not a physical scientist should sit on the sidelines?
    It is not much of an extension of your argument to say that someone who is not a climate scientist should sit on the sidelines, which would probably eliminate virtually all of us.

  • I have a PhD in chemistry, Mr Fisi. Last time I checked, it was a physical science.

  • Michael Edmonds said…
    Who are you to recommend that someone who is not a physical scientist should sit on the sidelines?

    So, you have no problem with Ken Ring participating in the debate on climate science then? Ok, bring in Ken Ring to the debate, because although he doesn’t have a background in physical science, he may have something useful to contribute.

    Mr Ring, if you’re reading this, the Sciblog authors and commentators do welcome your insightful scientific knowledge on climate change to the debate. May be you know something Mr Ring that climate scientists don’t.

  • And, in the same vein as your comment, I can add that I write scientific papers, I review them and I am on the editorial board of an international journal.
    How about you?
    At the very least perhaps you could stop being so patronising.

  • Falafulu Fisi,

    Are you basing your rejection of AGW on the basis that you believe James Hansen’s modeling approach in a single paper was incorrect? Or do you have arguments for rejecting the many other papers published which conclude that AGW is occurring?
    Beliefs around climate change can be quite complex so I was wondering if you could clarify
    1) Whether you accept there is evidence that global warming is occurring?
    2) If so, do you accept that there is evidence to show humankind has contributed to this warming?
    3) If you answered yes to 1) but no to 2) what do you think is the reason for global warming?

    The issues around climate change can get quite complex so it is always useful to see where differences lie early on.

    ps My answers to 1 and 2 would be yes.

  • Edmonds & Ken, we’re not going to argue on Semantics here on Einstein’s view on Quantum Mechanics, are we? Look, Einstein distanced himself from QM researches because of his disapproval after his major contribution to QM with his paper on BEC (bose-einstein condensation) in 1925. After that he dedicated himself to finding a unified theory which he hoped that will either make QM redundant or replaced it with, but he didn’t achieve that goal. He died on his bed with his unfinished papers on unified theory scattered on the floor .Was his view at the time contrarian or not? I’ll leave that to you to figure that out.

  • Actually, no I have no problem with Ken Ring participating in a debate on climate science, as within about the first 2 minutes it would become obvious to everyone that he didn’t know what he was talking about.
    What I do have a problem with is someone who undoing the work of those who are trying show that scientists aren’t arrogant and condescending!

  • “then I recommend that you sit on the sideline as a spectator and watch us who have backgrounds there arguing the science”

    Crikey, Mr Fisi, that is really tempting. But, you know, I have a stack of data that really needs writing up.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    “I’ll leave that to you to figure that out.”

    Are you sure you don’t want to figure it out for us?

    I fail to see the relevance of Einsteins’ disapproval of QM or his uncompleted work on a unified theory. If he had developed a unified theory that gave a better description of nature, that still would not automatically invalidate QM as a tool.

    “we’re not going to argue on Semantics here on Einstein’s view on Quantum Mechanics, are we?”
    Actually I believe you are the one who started playing with semantics when you challenged Ken to tell you whether Einstein was a contrarian or not.

  • Carol said…
    I have a PhD in chemistry, Mr Fisi. Last time I checked, it was a physical science.

    The only computational modeling side of Chemistry is, well computational chemistry (quantum chemistry is one). The methods being used in that area, are similar to methods used in physics & climate modeling. So, a background in computational chemistry or quantum chemistry definitely gives someone an understanding of climate models even though that person doesn’t have to be formally trained in climate science. Sorry to disappoint you, but being a chemist doesn’t give you the necessary background to argue on climate modeling. If you believe that your background is relevant, then read the papers I quoted for you above, then we can discuss. If you can’t because you lack the mathematical/physics background, then I’m correct to say that you should stop taking snide from the sideline on a scientific topic that your scientific knowledge is less relevant or applicable to.

    Research papers (I co-authored) when I did post-doc (before working in the private sector) were published in a varieties of journals, IOP- Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter , IOP – Journal of Semiconductors, Euro Physica A : Statistical Mechanis, IEEE Transactions on Signal Processing, IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control, SIAM : Applied Dynamical System, SIAM : Numerical Analysis, SIAM : Optimization.

    As I said before, I never studied Atmospheric Physics or Climate Science, however I do read various papers from that area just to be informed.

  • Seriously (and not being snide, yes I know it is a weakness of mine) why don’t you debate all this stuff over at Hot Topic? We are getting well away from the original topic of this post.

  • Edmond…

    1) Whether you accept there is evidence that global warming is occurring?
    2) If so, do you accept that there is evidence to show humankind has contributed to this warming?
    3) If you answered yes to 1) but no to 2) what do you think is the reason for global warming?

    1) YES
    2) YES (insignificant which is indistinguishable from gaussian noise – Proponents have blown this out of proportion)
    3) No applicable to your question, since I answered YES to 1) and YES to 2), however, IMO I believe that the science is not definitive yet.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Thanks for answering those questions.

    So your main criticism of AGW, is not AGW itself, but the way scientists have fallen behind it based on what you consider flawed modelling?

  • Falafulu – I am dissappointed that you avoided all my questions. Particularly that related to your unwarranted description of climate science as “conformist.” Given your advocacy of scientific support for positions that seems rather prejudiced. And unethical for a sceptic surely because it is an underhand way of avoiding the science issues by labeling.

    Perhaps you can answer another question which your attack on Carols science background makes relevant and in the interests if disclosure.

    What industry do you work in?

    (My self disclosure us that my degrees are in chemistry and my research career in this – mostly soil and agricultural areas. I am now retired).

    Your response to Michael’s question on human inputs is strange: ” YES (insignificant which is indistinguishable from gaussian noise”

    That is the same as saying NO!

    Have you reached that position after considering the evidence that it has been impossible to model temperature effects over the last 50 years by ignoring human inputs? That inclusion of human inputs enable adequate modelling?

    The IPCC report (have you read it?) describes this.

    As for Ring’s participation – he is certainly welcome to contribute here as Michael points out. No one has suggested otherwise. It is not honest to suggest I have.

  • Ken C. – “how do you feel about this Blurb by an accredited Scientist at the top of his game?

    What is your point? I have in the past attempted to indicate to that blogger the way he was misrepresenting statistical analysis of sea level changes. He just deleted my comment. I don’t see that bloger as making a credible contribution.

  • Sorry! I wasn’t referring to the Blogspot and MS the post master, I was looking at his latest entry, from John Christy.

  • FF said: As I said before, I never studied Atmospheric Physics or Climate Science, however I do read various papers from that area just to be informed. Now that is both patronising & also rather contradictory – you’ve just told Carol that her PhD in chemistry makes her unable to comment on the work of climate scientists because she’s not qualified in the right area. That would seem to apply to yourself as well, given your comments here.

  • Alison said…
    you’ve just told Carol that her PhD in chemistry makes her unable to comment on the work of climate scientists because she’s not qualified in the right area. That would seem to apply to yourself as well, given your comments here.

    That’s not patronizing. It is a fact. The short answer is Alison, Carol thinks that I have no clue to the debate on Climate Science therefore my skeptism is something to be equated to the views hold by crackpots such as Ken Ring, et al, which she is wrong. My domain area of expertise is closer/similar to climate science than hers and she knows that. So, I’m better informed than her on climate science.

    I’m not talking about myself here. I can quote you thousands of mathematicians, engineers, & physicists , who have published peer review papers related to climate science even themselves didn’t have a formal training in Atmospheric Physics, Climatology, etc,… As I say that there are thousands out there, but here is a couple of examples. See the following papers:

    #1) A Parallel Non-negative Tensor Factorization Algorithm for Mining Global Climate Data

    #2) Independent Component Analysis of Climate Data: A New Look at EOF Rotation

    Take a look at the authors and ask who they are? They’re not climate scientists (in the formal sense of training/education), except 1 author from paper #2. They’re computer scientists, engineers, statisticians, mathematicians. That paper #1 above was published in a computer science/engineering journal (by Springer) and not climate science journal. Paper #2 in climatology. Anyway, the algorithm described in the paper #1 above is relatively new, which I’m pretty sure that most climate scientists from around the world are still unaware of it existence and its power of analysis. The algorithms are not domain specific but they’re used in a variety of data analytic tasks from statistics, engineering, scientific, even in bio-informatics (in which Grant may be interested).

    Why would non-specialists in climate science such as the authors of the papers above, want to dabble in climate science modelling? The answer is? A vast junk of climate science involves number-crunching and numerical model development. There shouldn’t be any surprised there to find that any domain of science which does involve numerical modelling can in fact found some commonality with other similar domains. The methods being used (even they’re different domain to climate science) are similar to a large extent. So, can I call those authors of the papers shown above climate scientists? Nope! Are the authors more informed in climate science issues than others from non-mathematical/physics branches of science? Yep, definitely. Is that patronizing? Nope! It’s facts.

    So, quoting patronizing here is an attempt to evade facts/reality. What’s the big deal here, when I imply here that I didn’t formally train in climate science or atmospheric physics but I’m more informed than Carol? None!

  • Carol, an interesting article. It’s funny but I actually found some of the writers comments very arrogant.
    I’m sure there are arrogant scientists in every branch of science, as well as every occupation.
    One thing I will say for physicists, is that some of the best science communicators have come from physics backgrounds (e.g. Carl Sagan, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Feynman), using a generally non-arrogant approach.

  • Carol thanks for that article. Physicists have been called arrogant by scientists from other branches of science perhaps for fear of non-specialists (viewed as a foreigner) invading their territory.

    Here is a similar view from a former particle physicist ( a decade old article) who is dabbling in biology.

    “From Cells To Whales: Universal Scaling Laws In Biology”

    Economists hold the same view about Econo-physics ( Econophysicists have contributed something new to economics over the last decade and their publications are still mainly published in physics journals and not mainstream economics. Econophycists have pin-pointed some flaws in the neo-classic economic theories which is still dominant in todays teaching of economics at Universities. Here is are 2 quotes from an econophysicist (Jo McCauley) in his reply to some economists who have criticized physicists for dabbling in economics.

    #1) ..that ideas of production in economics theory are ignored by econophysicists. The problem with that criticism is that neo-classical models of production are no better than neo-classical exchange models: there is inadequate or nonexisting empirical basis for any neo-classical assumption. Econophysicists are safer to ignore the lessons taught in standard economics texts (both microand macro-) than to learn the economists’ production ideas and take them seriously (see Dosi [17] for non optimizing models of production, and see Zambelli [18] for a thorough and very interesting study of the degree of computational complexity of neo-classical production models). To be quite blunt, all existing ‘lessons’ taught in standard economics texts should be either abandoned or tested empirically, but should never be accepted as a basis for modelling.

    #2) Physicists have gone into biology and econophysics because that’s where the interesting problems are. Turbulence and quantum coherence (mesoscopics)
    remain the outstanding unsolved problems of physics. We meet real complexity in nature in cell biology, also in quantum computation, along with econophysics they’re
    the fields of the future in physics. Every physics student should be required to take a good, stiff course in cell biology from a text like „Fat Alberts“ [51], as Ivar
    Giæver calls it.

    The full is shown below. You should read it because I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It is also informative.

    Response to “Worrying Trends in Econophysics”

    Physicists are now dabbling in social science (Socio-physics).

    I wouldn’t be surprised if sociologists start attacking physicists for dabbling in their field. I can think of an attack line. “Physicists are arrogant to think that they know sociology better than us”.

    The fact of the matter is and that’s irrelevant if physicists are arrogant or not, physics will continue to invade other branches of science.

  • Michael said…
    I fail to see the relevance of Einsteins’ disapproval of QM or his uncompleted work on a unified theory. If he had developed a unified theory that gave a better description of nature, that still would not automatically invalidate QM as a tool.

    Let me go back to my first post on this thread for Case #1 and Case #2.

    Einstein & colleagues published what is known as EPR (Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen) in Physical Review Letters in 1935:

    “Can quantum-mechanical description of physical reality be considered complete?”

    If is can’t be seen as an attack on Quantum Mechanics, then I don’t what is. The reason for devising EPR was to show that QM is incomplete or philosophically wrong. Now, irrelevant whether EPR was correct or wrong, it doesn’t change the fact that it was an attack, critique, contrarian view to QM, whatever word that we can call it. Sure, as you stated, that Einstein was trying to improve the theory of QM, but QM as still relatively young field at that stage, it was already a star theory, because everything it predicted (prior to experimental confirmations in the lab) were right on the dot.

    The question to ask here is. Why would Einstein want to continue to be a critique, denier (again, choose the word to use) of QM at the time when in fact, QM was successful in the predictions it made? Just ponder that question for a minute? Einstein refused to accept QM in its entirety.

    Anyway, here is a modern critique of EPR:

    “The Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Argument in Quantum Theory”

    Ok, let me take you to another angle here, which is right at the heart of the matter for the discussion relating to Ken’s post about science under attack. Look at the scientific publications of global warming skeptic, Prof. Richard Lindzen. Some are freely available and some are not. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a skeptic or a warmist, just read what you can from some of his papers, and try to understand which angle he’s coming from. Don’t take his papers alone as a confirmation that global warming as something that is not real. Also see the citations at the end in some of his publications to find other articles (ie, from warmists’ side) that he’s criticising. Also get those articles as well and then compare. Most of them are freely available online (just Google for the titles). My opinion on AGW is not based entirely on Prof. Lindzen’s work alone or other sceptics, but also from the warmists’ side as well. One has to look at some of the papers in climate science that use linear trend to estimate of what’s going to happen in 100 years time. It is laughable. No one can predict by using linear trend of what’s going to happen in a few years ahead let alone 100 years. Complex system is unpredictable even in the short term.

    If Prof. Lindzen is a contrarian, denier, doubter (again choose the word) about global warming, then why would his opposing views be any different to that of Einstein? What is the difference here folks? Why demonise Prof. Lindzen but Einstein is relatively untouched, because to me, they are the same in their criticism of the mainstream?

    Is what Prof. Lindzen’s doing in his criticism of consensus of global warming healthy? Yes, that brings me back to Case #1. Prof. Lindzen criticism of global warming is scientific and not a figment of his imagination (Er! Ken Ring). I do support Case #1 and that’s how it should be, but not Case #2 (science versus crackpots). Prof. Lindzen’s work is not an attack on science, but he’s contributing to critical thinking in science.

  • Ken, am I being moderated or what? I have 3 posts in reply to other commentators here that are still in moderation. If you don’t welcome my comments here then indicate so that I stop commenting on your blog.

    • Sorry about the hold up Falafulu Fisi. They were in moderation and there had been no email notification. ScibLogs changed their commenting system recently and there should be no moderation on this blog _ which is really just a syndicated copy of my real blog.

      I will see if there is anything wrong in the settings.

  • My last short comment went thru. I think that the comments which are awaiting moderation because they’re too long. So, I think that I’m not being moderated, but perhaps my 3 comments (awaiting moderation) are too long, which may have automatically triggered to be routed to the moderation or spam folder.

  • Length will not have been a problem. Inclusion of links might have – there is usually a maximum number.

    But my concern is that if comments are moderated I should get email notification – which I haven’t.

    Oh well – i will pass the problem over to the SciBlogs administrators. Although an alternative is just to limit comments to my original blog (where I have full control) as Hot topic does.

  • Carol – thanks for the article. I have downloaded and will read at my leisure.

    Clive Hamilton makes what may be similar points in his book Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change. (I reviewed this in Why we deny climate change). He is commenting on the fact that several physicists have been running denial campaigns of years on issues like star wars, smoking and climate science.

    Mind you I don’t like singling our a single area for charges of arrogance. I think arrogance can come from all quarters. I actually found Falafulu Fisi’s comments excluding chemists arrogant (or at least naive). Having worked in the agricultural area I am familiar with the problems of modeling (and their advantages). Similarly in soil science their is not exactly a dearth of challenging mathematics.

    I wish Falfulu has stuck with the original questions instead of making ad hominem attacks like this.

  • Falafulu Fisi – you are descending to this labeling again – “warmist.”

    I don’t buy your attempt to label Einsteins attempt to argue against the philosophical and some scientific issue of quantum mechanics as “attacks.’ His approach is exactly what we expect from science.

    You seem to advocate that this scientific approach (which, yes many climate sceptics will be using) is OK and I agree. But if you must take a stand why not take that stand against the case #2 crackpots, as you describe them. Did you take a stand against the deniers who attacks NIWA scientists, and still do? Did you contribute to any discussion forum in defence of science then, in the manner you do now?

  • “Carol, an interesting article. It’s funny but I actually found some of the writers comments very arrogant.”
    Michael, the writer does show some self-awareness of his own arrogance, I think.
    Ken – I think the writer of that article makes a reasonable point which is that physicistis tend to think that only they can frame the debate and that their perspective is superior to all others, which I think Mr Fisi demonstrates very nicely here.

    Mr Fisi – you are completely misrepresenting me if you think that I think you have no clue about the climate debate. Clearly you have plenty of clues about certain areas of it. What I said was that you don’t accept mainstream climate science, and I stand by that assessment.

    You recommended that I sit out the debate on the sidelines. Well, here is a recommendation for you. Go and find some physicists to debate these issues with. You seem to have so little respect for the contribution that any other discipline than your own can make that it is completely pointless.

  • Oh, and by the way, Mr Fisi, I’m not seriously equating you to cranks like Ken Ring. That was a JOKE. So you can get right off your high horse on that one.
    Although I think it actually a valid point that both you and Mr Ring are rejecting the scientific mainstream position on climate change, albeit for different reasons.

  • Hey Carol how about we have a truce (and make peace) and stop strangling each other’s neck?

    Ken, a change of topic what’s your opinion on paranormal research? They do now have formal studies & researches into it , which they called scientific research:

    If they’re being attacked, can they be defended since after-all it is an attack on science?

  • @Fellow full of faeces
    The ASSAP site doesn’t quite call their work scientific research, and one of the examples that you can download for free includes the statement Unfortunately insufficient data was consistently captured in each of the trials to allow a robust use of an inferential statistical test,.
    The statement means the experimental design was seriously deficient.
    I think the ASSAP people would like their work to be scientific but don’t quite understand what they need to do to reach that standard. It is encouraging to see them trying to lift their game.

  • Yes, good idea, Falafulu. I think we are both, basically, on the same side here. Life would be boring if everyone agreed about everything!

    As for that journal you just linked to – it isn’t peer reviewed, which immediately sets it apart from being scientific research as we would understand it.

  • Falafulu Fisi – I am now very intrigued by the lack of response. I would really like to know what industry you work in.

    All sorts of mystics, charlatans, woo artists, what ever you want to call them, make claims about reality. So of course their claims can be investigated by science.

    As with any science one has to be careful of personal prejudices and biases of the researchers – the scientific method needs to be applied rigorously and peer review should be good.

    I am very much against those people who try to ring-fence parts of reality – to claim science is out of bounds there and only psychics or theologians can tell us anything. I am also against those politicians of science who push a “methological materialism” myth, claiming that there are areas where science should not go. I think that is opportunist and not honest. science is about evidence and testing against reality – not about arbitrary definitions of natural and supernatural.

    You don’t say who or what is being attacked – and by who. So i can’t really comment further.

    I can comment that there are plenty of cranks with PhDs, even working for scientific institutes. Just have a look at the recent paper in the Journal of Cosmology and the specialist comments on it.

    Scientists are human after all. Some of us are too human. They fall victim to terms like “warmist’ and hiding their profession?

  • Possum, have you look on the other link from the same page?

    BTW, try to engage in the discussion (my brain which is full of faeces according to you) by making a comment . I have listed lots of references for lurkers like you here to read then engage. I can only infer that the reason you haven’t engaged is that your brain is full of that stuff you’ve just quoted.

    Read, then engage in the discussion.

  • Carol, may be that journal is not peer reviewed but I have come across peer reviewed papers in paranormal research that have been published in psychology journals. Here is a recent one that was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,.

    “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect”

  • From the second ASSAP link: However, consider the following. If a person sees a ghost then something scientifically measurable has happened. There may be something physical to see or hear which could be photographed or recorded. Even if there is no detectable physical ghost, there might be a measurable stimulus (like a magnetic field) that is inducing the experience in the witness. Even if that is not true, we are only a few years from being able to measure and read the sensory input and its interpretation inside human brains. So even if a ghost only appears in the brain, we will soon be able to see where it comes from.
    a) ‘even if, even if…’ – can be read as ‘we think that ghosts are real but even if they aren’t…’ – hardly a scientific approach as there is a real risk of basing hypotheses on a priori assumptions.
    b) measuring & reading ‘interpretation’ inside brains? I find this a hard one to swallow, given where we currently are in neuroscience. Being able to detect areas of activity is not the same as understanding what underlies that activity.

  • “Falafulu Fisi – I am now very intrigued by the lack of response. I would really like to know what industry you work in.”

    Ken, I think it has to be a pseudonym – a nom de web – as FF doesn’t appear to exist outside of the blogosphere (where he/she is extraordinarily prolific). Nothing wrong with that – it’s an observation, not a criticism.

  • Carol, are you indicating that he/she may not be a physicist with research experience as claimed?

    This sort of thing disturbs me because why should I commit time and effort when the discussion partner is not serious?

    I think there is a case for requiring commenters to provide some sort of identification as a good faith indication of seriousness.

    In the past I had a problem from s particularly active troll who was using a singer’s email address. When exposed he/she resorted to sending porn links. In another case of a similar troll I managed to find his facenook page and accidentally leaked it. Boy was he upset but my belief is that people should be prepared to stand by their wild claims. They should not be able to attack others while remaining anonymous.

  • Ken, I have been involved as a design engineer in photonics/opto-electronics field, largely for medical instrumentations, Have been in the industrial control area as well, building automated image vision inspection system for the semiconductor industry. I largely work in developing data-analytics software these days, even though I occasionally do consult to companies in electronics manufacturing industry for embedded design of DSP (digital signal processors) algorithms.

    I’m dabbling in implementing financial/economic models in a commercial software that’s use by financial analysts (such as financial trading securities evaluations/pricing, risk assessments, time-series forecasting, etc,..).

    I don’t develop original models of my own in this area. I just scanned the economics/finance/mathematics/statistics/physics journals on a regular basis to see if there is some recent publications that are interesting for potential implementation. Some of the forecasting models are the same ones used in climate science. If you’re curious and may want to ask me if I have made millions with those forecasting models, the answer is big NO. Perhaps those published peer review forecasting models that I have implemented in the software are not any better in predicting various financial time-series trends than Ken RIng’s guess work in predicting the weather.

    Why do you ask Ken? Do you want to hire me?

  • Ken said…
    They should not be able to attack others while remaining anonymous.

    Ken, how about Carol? Is her full name carol? There is a reason why people post anonymous or use pseudo-name on the internet. Jeez, are you advocating that we attend church, then come here to comment? Can you tell me, how many commentators here that are using their real names?

    Get on with discussing science and stop this nonsense hissyfit about verifying who is who on this blog.

  • So you are in private consulting? To the medical industry? Financial industry?

  • I would have thought my description of experiences with commenters should indicate where my concerns are. I object very much to malicious and offensive time wasters (quite common on the climate science issues) and have no qualms about exposing them.

    As for the science, you have not responded to a number of questions I posed. That’s what makes me concerned about your seriousness.

  • Ken, I wasn’t implying that at all. Lots of people use pseudonyms on the net, for a range of reasons, some of which are, well, reasonable.

    Falafulu: yes, my actual name is Carol. Stewart. In various other places where I post now and then, my avatar has my whole name; I don’t quite know why it doesn’t appear here. Go ahead and Google me. It’s quite a common name, but you’ll find evidence that I do actually exist and there’s various bits of
    work out there in the public domain with my name on them.

    But can you not see Ken’s point that at some level it is difficult to take people seriously if they will not post in good faith in their own names?

  • Come on guys, let’s get back on topic. Just came back from watching a panel discussion by Publicaddress bloggers. they said they have one rule about commenting “don’t be a dick”. I’m adopting their motto here and feel we are getting deep into dick territory at the moment…

  • This guy (a physicist) was under attack (from other physicists) when he first proposed his TEW (theory of elementary waves) in the mid 1990s. Some even label TEW as a crackpot. TEW (according to its developer) had identified major flaws in Quantum Mechanics (QM). In QM, waves travel from the source to the detector (ie, forward wave), but in TEW, waves travel in the opposite/reverse direction , ie, from detector to source. In TEW there is no such thing as wave-function collapsed at all. TEW is local & causal, while QM is non-local & non-causal.

    Watch the TEW inventor here for some of his videos in which he explanations the theory.

    “Explaining the modern version of Aspect experiment at Innsbruk”

    There are more videos on the same page.

    TEW has other obvious flaws, but it gives some good intuitive explanations of why the famous double-slit experiment (DSE) is not weird after all. Particles are not at 2 places at once as infered from DSE. TEW says that each particle went thru one single slit at a time and never thru both slits at once.

    “Dr Quantum – Double Slit Experiment ”

    The original TEW paper which was published in Physics Essays, is here:

    “The Theory of Elementary Waves ”

    Here is one critique of TEW:

    “Problems with the Theory of Elementary Waves”

    Putting aside, whether TEW is wrong/crackpot or correct. The point that I’m trying to make here, is that contrarian/opposing views like this is healthy in science. This is Case #1 as I’ve said right from the beginning of the thread. Some here seemed to still lumped together Case #1 & Case #2 as somehow they’re one and the same thing. The TEW author is not some psychic mind reader or anything like that.

    What TEW is proposing was exactly the same thing Einstein was hitting at Quantum Mechanics when he ferrociously trying to prove it wrong (or incomplete), with his EPR thought experiment. Eintein’s problem with QM was its non-causality & non-locality. TEW is trying to addressed that. IMO about TEW, it is weak, however scientific skeptism like is something to be endorsed, not ridicule and label them as denier.

    Finally, Ken, I come here to make comments when I have time. I don’t owe you or anyone a comment or a reply. If I do, that’s great, if not, then don’t demand one from me, since I don’t get paid to post a comment. I find that the more I make comments the time, that I need to spend replying, which is time I don’t have.

    • Of course you don’t owe a reply Falafulu Fisi. But you are haring off onto other subjects quite irrelevant to the post or initial discussion.

      I raised with you at the beginning your description of climate science as being “conformist.” I think you are wrong – and a read of the IPCC science report should confirm my view – but I have asked for you to justify that claim. Since then you seem to go on about irrelevant things.

      What about some evidence for your proposition? You claim to be a sceptic rather than a denier. Well what about some scepticism? What about justifying you label? Or at least explain why you use it.

      Of course contrary views are healthy in science – they are surely part of doing science. But what the hell is the relevance to this discussion. No one denies that.

  • Ken, my last comment went into moderation again. I think that it is the number of links () in my post, that triggers it.

  • Falafulu Fisi

    Some of the debates you describe amongst physicists don’t necessarily seem like opposing theories per se – rather they are different alternative theories which in the absence of an experimentally provable theory serve to help physicists work through what isn’t yet understood. It all comes down to the evidence not being able to show which of these alternative theories is correct. I think there are similar debates around string theory and multiple universe theory.
    This situation is therefore (in my opinion) quite different from climate change where there seems to be an abundance of evidence which seems to converge on the fact that climate change is occurring and that humankind has a role in this change.
    Your objections to anthropogenic climate change seem to focus on one single area – climate change modelling by James Hansen. While several of us have asked, you have not made any comment on other evidence for climate change – ice caps melting, changes in weather patterns, or even modelling by other researchers.
    Using one single area of research to discount AGW, while not acknowledging other areas seems a little bit shortsighted. Perhaps you have arguments to show that these other areas of research do not actually show AGW. If so perhaps you would like to share them with us?

  • Pardon me shifting tack somewhat after such a lengthy diversion into matters related to climate change, but if I may I’d like to chuck in my 2c worth regarding the original article:
    (Disclosure: I haven’t watched the video as getting an hour of content down my third-world Internet connection would take a very long time indeed, so my comments are based on the article).

    There is indeed a great distrust of science out there, I don’t think there is much dispute over that. But why, and whether scientists are to blame, are curlier questions. I think one big issue is that science has become too obscure and insular. People can’t as easily trust that which they can’t understand. This (if correct), would argue in favour of better science communications – but I think there’s another factor that makes the issue more complex.

    Science and technology have clearly delivered many great things in the past, and few would willingly choose to return to a more primitive and less “science-y” society. However, if it was all one way, then the default position would be for those outside of the science community to tend to view science positively, and trust would increase over time. I submit that this is not occurring – science trust seems to be waning, at least based on my informal observations.

    Looking at the gains from science, they do seem to be offset by ever-increasing costs. Science may now be highlighting the dangers of climate change, but without the chemistry that enabled petroleum refining (and use of other fossil fuels) we would undoubtedly not be in the position we are today. Without Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch (or Borlaug) we wouldn’t have been able to feed everyone we have, sure – yet there is still a large and increasing number of hungry on the planet, and the negative environmental impact of industrial ag is ever more obvious with each passing day. Medical advances are vast, yet there have been clear cases where negative unintended side-effects have emerged down the line. Materials science has made great progress – yet some may cause cancer or have other adverse health effects. Nuclear tech is amazing but not without problems. And GMOs, whether or not they create intrinsic problems (infertility etc), undoubtedly cause political and economic issues (entrenching corporates, reducing choice) and increase pesticide use.

    I would go on but you get the picture. Our use of the results of science is helping to destroy the planet and our societies. As more of these chickens come home to roost, the case against science is easier to make by those inclined against, and harder to defend by those inclined towards. And I’m not talking about minor issues – these are the biggies: loss of life, destruction of biodiversity, wrecking the planet’s atmosphere… (Obviously offset by positives, but it’s really not a slam-dunk anymore).

    Now I’m not some neo-Luddite advising a return to random mysticism – the good old days weren’t so good, after all; and besides, I am a science student – but perhaps it’s time for science to step up a notch and take a more holistic view of the work it does, and enables. Provide honest and complete assessments of risk. Condemn those that don’t consider consequences. Refuse to research things that will likely cause harm. And a touch less arrogance wouldn’t go amiss either – instead of talking about the.”inevitable uncertainty in science” perhaps the message should be more along the lines of “we got it wrong and this is what we are doing to avoid making the same mistake”.

    So yes to more and better science communication – but as long as it’s not spinning and shilling for big corporations, and as long as it’s tempered by a good deal more humility and honesty about the risks.

    p.s if any of this makes no sense please excuse me, I’m fighting a head cold.

    p.p.s. regarding posting under a pseudonym: At one stage I blogged and commented (not here) under my real name, but in this age of google-before-hire I will wait until employers open their minds a bit further before repeating that experience. Holding outlier views can be costly; pseudonyms can enable greater honesty.

  • I appreciate the point you are making Rainman. To some extent this represent a more mature appreciation of the nature and role of science in society. The public had a more positive take in the early part of the 20th century and nuclear arms busted that bubble.  We no longer have such an idealistic picture.

    I do think science communication can help a little. But I actually think we do a good job overall. Compare how scientists come across on our TV with the daily slot for financial advice! We certainly are not that bad. And I have always been impressed at overseas conferences at how much better NZ and Aussie scientists are at communicating than others.

    But it is extremely difficult to get the public to appreciate what we mean by uncertainty. Science us just not intuitive. It’s usually not a case if a cock up – just that our science is imperfect.

    I guess the answer lies in a more active role of science in political processes. This did occur over the nuclear issue. It is occurring to some extent over climate change.

    But there us the problem that people like Hansen face. If that take an advocacy role they get accused of not being scientific. If they refuse to take an advocacy role they are typical cold blooded and inhumane scientists.

    At the beginning of my career, though, Rachel Carson was much maligned and scientists kept away from her. Now days there us a much more holistic approach in areas like agriculture. Her sort of voice is more accepted and a more ecological approach is taken. It could be better, but it is certainly much better than it was.

    And there is a real problem with advocacy when it becomes ideologically captured. As it is, for example, with some organic movements. When that happens the basic methodology of science is violated.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful comments, rainman (and yes, I do accept that people have a range of reasons for commenting pseudonymously – it would be a pity if they were discouraged from doing so if this option wasn’t available).
    You seem to be arguing for a system of ethics within science, and I agree with just about all of what you say.
    My only comment would be that you could perhaps give a little more credit where due – to give a currently relevant example, seismologists are extremely upfront about their current capabilities with respect to earthquake prediction, and they get criticised for this. (One commenter on this blog berated geologists for not being able to provide people with more ‘comfort’ and certainty, which seemed a bit odd). THe problem isn’t so much lack of humility, as an unwillingness to accept that science can only get us so far. Same thing in medicine. If you are unlucky enough to have cancer, an oncologist will tell you what the treatment options are and what is known about the chances of success with each. They won’t promise any false hope.

  • rainman,

    I think you raise some good points and would like to ask the following question;

    Is it science that has caused many of the unwanted effects to the environment/human health or the use of science by society, which typically is under the control of business and politicians?

    Scientists may produce the tools but once “the genie is out of the bottle” they have very little control over them.
    As an example, geologists in Christchurch argued that some housing developments should not go ahead because of the ground would undergo liquifaction in an earthquake and initially the Courts supported this, but developers mounted a legal challenge and had the decision overturned then went ahead and built the houses, many of which are now unlivable.

    However, I think in recent years more scientists are paying more attention to how science is used in society and arguing with politicians and big industry. Ironically, some are now being told they are no longer good scientists because the have lost their objectivity.
    In my opinion it is not an option for scientists not to develop a technology because it might be abused, because this would also eliminate the benefits of the technology.

    I think one of the major solutions is for society to move away from economic and developmental models that focus on “growth” and focus on sustainability. Scientists can certainly play a part in this, but so will business leaders and politicians.