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When does a 'stated science' stop being a science?

  1. science

  2. an inexact science

  3. a high-tech guessing game

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  1. Jan 16, 2017 #1
    I recently decided to examine climate science... it wasn't my field, and I had sort of accepted the statements of general scientific consensus of man-made global warming.

    It really didn't take long at all to become stunned by the intense and immense efforts focussed on data acquisition, only to discover that the methodology of testing, and data extraction was apparently universally wild, and entirely inconsistent... and perhaps even impossible to achieve (to gain useful conclusion).

    Valid error tolerances that spanned entire charts.
    Data sets from different test methods, and different parts of the globe... combined into a chaos of points that could be graphed high or low, depending purely on how the graph is desired to appear.

    Apparently, these graphs are called reconstructions.... where entire periods of warming and freezing can either appear or disappear eg. Medieval Warm Period / Little Ice Age. All dependent upon who is doing the reconstruction.

    I do not doubt the scientific analysis of ice cores, isotopes, nor even the ever improving tree record.
    I'm talking about climatology.

    What does everybody think?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 16, 2017 #2


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    Oh my, not again :wink:

    No, seriously. The main problem with the climatology is that it is a loaded subject, so instead of the scientists trying to find a consensus on things (which is a normal approach in science), polish their models and find a best way of doing the analysis, we have people shouting at each other "you are wrong".

    And truth, as usual, is the first casualty.

    Definitely there is plenty of good, raw data, it just has to be analyzed without an attitude.

    My bet is that the topic will get locked in few hours.
  4. Jan 16, 2017 #3
    The issues you mention seem to be part of any statistical analysis especially one with large data sets. I am sure that the people who study this for a living struggle with these issues daily.

    As a layperson it looks to me as if there is general consensus on very large questions, but the consensus breaks down as you get into the details. Again, is it different than any other science?

    -Dave K
  5. Jan 16, 2017 #4


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    Why do you focus on this? Why not, for example, pick why "Social Science" can be called a science?

    Look at the methodology. Look at the difference between what politicians and TV talking heads claim, versus what can be claimed based on scientific methodology.

    BTW, laymen who think they are equipped to deal with climate science data better than experts in the field are fooling themselves. One only needs to look at the the issue on the "warming pause" and why an intimate knowledge of the nature of the data, how they are collected, and how reliable the data are are all crucial pieces of information beyond just looking at the data alone! This is what most people who are not within this field are not equipped to do. To assume that one can draw a reasonable conclusion simply based on the data without understanding the mechanics and physics surrounding the data is very naive.

  6. Jan 16, 2017 #5
    Yes... I did try to make the differential between the data sets and interpretation.
    But the serious question I'm asking is primarily whether reconstruction (analysis) can be scientific?

    It seemed not to me... so I thought I'd ask others on this independent forum, for their view (rather than trust the press).
    I mean... where else can one go?

    You can't talk to your friend's cos they don't know.
    You can't go on a climate forum, cos they will state their sides views, and contributors may be activists one way or the other.
    So I thought Physics Forums was the best place.

    I thought this too, until I started looking.... then I discovered that the claim of 97% consensus was apparently nonsense, because it included scientists who completely disagree with the stated consensus.
    They themselves stated that they were on the list simply because they had stated that mankind must have contributed something to the climate.
    In effect, the claim could have been 100% consensus.

    This was another big punch in my face.

    RE ZapperZ

    I wasn't claiming to analyse the data as a layman.
    I wasn't claiming to draw any conclusions.

    The question had no relationship to these issues.
    It was purely based upon the inability of experts (not laymen) to produce similar outcomes, as is required by science.
    Hence the questioning of whether this is actually science.
  7. Jan 16, 2017 #6
    Of course. That is pure statistics. Take some time to study it and you'll actually be able to understand why some analyses are done the way they are done.
  8. Jan 16, 2017 #7
    I do have problems with the 97% number because I think it is about the quantity of published research, and yet it is usually stated as being about a number of people.

    If we are talking about people, in particular climate scientists, I think it is closer to 100% if the question is stated broadly enough. (Are humans causing Global Warming?) That's if the scientist doesn't find the question annoyingly broad and ill defined.

    The problem is that scientific research papers don't answer broad questions. The questions they answer are usually highly specific and require understanding of the specialist jargon to even know what they are writing about. In that case, 97% of published research papers agreeing on something seems rather odd (high even) to me.

    -Dave K
  9. Jan 16, 2017 #8


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    But you missed my entire point: the METHODOLOGY.

    Pick something that isn't science - fine arts. Things are based on feelings and opinions, to put it naively.

    Science requires a systematic approach to (i) finding and establishing correlations and (ii) finding and establishing cause-and-effect. It is that systematic approach that many consider to be "scientific". It is why something like social studies can be a "science" based on how it arrives at various ideas and the supporting data.

    Without touching on climate science, many in the public are often unaware that "research front" work is something that continues to evolve, especially when more studies, both theoretically and experimentally, have to be done. As results come in, we continue to formulate and change our ideas, and in many cases, refine our understanding. It is in this area where there can be results that are contradictory, especially when they are done via different methodologies. I have lot count how many times I've seen that occur in the field of high-Tc superconductivity during its heydays in the late 80's and 90's.

    But the thing about science is that as more and more work is being done, the accuracy improves and the degree of certainty improves as well (contrast this with pseudoscience where they are still trying to established the existence of something even after decades and centuries). There is a progression of knowledge, where something is now known even more, with a higher accuracy, and with a clearer picture.

    The nature of climate science is that it is a complex system. That is one huge issue and requires an extensive understanding of dozens of systems. Thus, I will be VERY surprise if, along the nature progression of knowledge, there are no contradictions. In fact, I will be very suspicious if a field of study as complex as this does NOT have a lot of bumps and portholes along the way. Unfortunately, the progression of the knowledge in this area is being played out in public due to the nature of its consequences. It is like the media following the lives of celebrities and publishing all the trials and tribulations on the front page, while the rest of us get to live out the same issues in the privacy of our own home.

    Should experimental data be reproducible? Definitely! I'm an experimentalist, and that is a foundation of a solid piece of empirical evidence. But do I expect that kind of certainty and standard while the field is still being researched on? Nope! So the question that you need to ask yourself is: (i) do you have the latest analysis of the nature of the data that is in dispute? (ii) how were you able to arrive at the contradiction? Did you rely on your own conclusion, or did you rely one someone else's analysis? (iii) was this dispute published? (iv) are there follow-up citations to the published work that either support or contradict the result?

    These are all the processes and procedures that, as scientists, we all have to do when we are trying to sort out contradicting results and opinions.

  10. Jan 16, 2017 #9
    But again, as with Zapperz.... this was not my question.

    I do understand why some analyses are done differently.
    It is logical to analyse using different methods.... the objective being to determine that similar outcomes are achieved.

    This is what the question revolves around.
    How is it that the results can be so different, that entire periods of history are changed completely.

    We are not talking simply about minor discrepancies in temperature (that is anyway clear).
    We are talking about vast graphing differences.... entire climate periods at different ends of the spectrum.

    Which research organisation do you believe?
    ... and can the FACTS be every determined.
    ... and if not, then can this be science?

    Honestly, I'm finding this hard to come to terms with.... primarily because nobody is admitting that the different methods are in fact not producing similar outcomes, and therefore the methodology being used must wrong.
  11. Jan 16, 2017 #10


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    Did you even read the link to the news report that I gave earlier?!

    This is an example where there ARE contradictions in the data taken using different sources. And this is an example where they presented a rational reason why there were discrepancies and how they can be corrected. If you simply got an outdated report, then you'd be under the impression that there are still these unexplained contradiction! So, is your information up-to-date?

    Again, science is done in scientific publication. You have to do the legwork if you are THAT interested in it. Find the publications that contain all the data that contradict each other. Figure out if these data are under question, or if there have been follow-ups. We often do a citation search to those papers to see what subsequent publications say about the it. Have all parts of the data being reproduced, especially via other means?

    There are TONS of questions here that have to be considered, and you might be jumping on this way too early in the process.

  12. Jan 16, 2017 #11
    That's just not true. Different methods leading to different outcomes is part of science, part of statistics. It happens in every science. It's a problem though, a problem that needs to be explained, but which doesn't make it any less science.

    Why don't you research some other field? You'll see the same "problems", which are inherent to the scientific method in fact.
  13. Jan 16, 2017 #12
    I appreciate your last response, and have no dispute at all with what you state.
    The social sciences etc. where results may differ simply down to current attitudes.
    I get all that.

    Let me just state.... I am not some nutter activist.
    Neither am I somebody that reads a blog and uses it as a point of reference.

    The questions that you ask (at end) are very reasonable.
    However, it goes without saying that I cannot draw my own conclusions.

    For my sources... mostly senate type investigations.... where the most respected scientists are interviewed on camera, with their qualifications stated.
    Where they themselves outline at length their testimony, in a very calm manner.

    I do not really want to go into detail, because all this is on public record.
    I used the example of MWP medieval warm period because it is simple stark, and has two opposing spectrums.
    But it is far worse than that, according to those who appear to be scientists at the very top of their profession.

    Hence why I wasn't asking about this.
    I didn't want to get into some lengthy climate debate.

    I just wanted to try to get a view on what others in the general independent science field thought about the scientific accuracy, and testable conclusions.
  14. Jan 16, 2017 #13
    That won't get you a very good knowledge. You'll need to read actual scientific books and papers. If you haven't gone through the technical papers and details, then of course you can't draw any reasonable conclusions.
  15. Jan 16, 2017 #14
    Anyway this chap seems to be important enough to listen to:

    Roy Warren Spencer is a meteorologist, Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and the U.S. Science Team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite. Wikipedia

    Born: 20 December 1955 (age 61), United States of America
    Field: Meteorology
    Don Easterbrook
    Don J. Easterbrook is Professor Emeritus of Geology at Western Washington University. Easterbrook was educated at the University of Washington, where he received the BSc in 1958, the MSc in 1959, and the PhD in 1962. Wikipedia

    Born: 29 January 1935 (age 81), Sumas, Washington, United States

    (There are plenty of others)

    Both lambast the methodology that is being used.
    They effectively call it 'tampering with data'.

    There..... now you can see why I wanted to avoid this avenue of discussion.
    How can you disagree with them?

    That's why I was interested in knowing what other independent thinkers thought of the general subject of climatology.
    I was asking an honest question.

    Edit @micromass
    Please understand..... I was NOT attempting to draw my own conclusions.
    This would be impossible, at a scientific level.

    I have simply listened to numerous top scientists, and have found them to be credible
  16. Jan 16, 2017 #15
    I don't care what top scientists say. You can find scientists doubting 9/11. You can find scientists saying that Einstein or evolution is wrong. You can find a lot of things out there. It doesn't mean a thing. What matters is the data. If you want to find the truth, you'll need to go through the papers and understand them. Just taking a random scientist, saying "this dude sounds credible" and then believing what they say, that's the worst thing you can do. Investigate the topic for yourself and deeply, then you can draw your conclusions, the rest is irrelevant.
  17. Jan 16, 2017 #16
    Well micromass.... I don't feel that response is at all fair.
    If you can't listen to:
    Roy Warren Spencer is a meteorologist, Principal Research Scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and the U.S. Science Team leader for the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on NASA's Aqua satellite.​
    Who can you listen to?

    And it cannot be right to call a guy at the pinnacle of meteorological science "some dude"!
    He heads up the team that actually measure global surface temperature.
    How on earth can I find a better source of information?

    And... there is 'no way' for me to discover the truth, by going through all the papers and drawing my own conclusions.
    This is a physical impossibility.

    It seems like you are twisting the thread completely, from what was an honest question, and introducing white noise.

    Why.... I don't get that at all?
    It just turns the discussion into .... a bad feeling.
  18. Jan 16, 2017 #17


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    This is really skirting the issue.

    Even after all this, even after my explanation and specific examples that I've given, do you STILL question whether a field of study that may have contradicting results can be considered to be a scientific field? This is what you're asking at the beginning of this thread, isn't it?

    Otherwise, then you're attempting to skirt this forum's ban on this topic, and I foresee a painful death of this thread.

    Ironically, your methodology, or lack of it, in analyzing this whole thing is the one I consider to be non-scientific.

  19. Jan 16, 2017 #18
    I don't care what his credentials are. His opinion is a second hand opinion, it doesn't come from the data and the papers itself, and so it doesn't count in my opinion. Now, I'm happy to believe this guy if that's what you're looking for. But the OP came across as trying to uncover what really happens. The ONLY way of doing that is to go through the papers and the books. Believing any authority is contrary to science.

    Climatologist and others seem to be able to do it. If you want a good understanding of what is going on, then that's what you'll have to do. If you don't do it, fine, but then you don't have true understanding.
  20. Jan 16, 2017 #19
    Yes.... I agree 100%.
    This was completely skirting the issue.
    ... and I did respond to your previous post, and stated that I accepted entirely what you said.
    ... and I responded to your end of post questions.
    We were not in disagreement.
    I was continuing the discussion with others.

    RE the ban on this topic.
    I didn't even know that there was a ban.

    As for my methodology on analysing this subject.
    Clearly, I was not going to outline all the research work that I carried out.
    I pointed out, that my research centred around serious scientists operating in this field.
    I could have also stated that my interest was specifically in the differing outcomes of data analysis, and the methodology of gaining final conclusions.

    Overall.... it was the fact of wildly differing conclusions that prompted me to post the question.
    On a personal note, I thought that you gave by far and away the best and most quotable response.
    For that I thank you.

    As for the thread.... it seems to be collapsing into it somehow being about me.
    I don't know why that is.
    Maybe it's just life.
    But I think that it is a sure sign that the thread has run its course.

    Thanks to everybody who shared their views.
  21. Jan 16, 2017 #20
    One of the things I'm dreaming of doing when I finish what I am doing now is to take some of these Coursera courses on climate science. I'm really quite tired of not being able to speak intelligently about the issue other than main talking points with science illiterates.
  22. Jan 16, 2017 #21


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    Closing the thread before we will all regret it even started.
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