The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Scientific Method

As I write this, I'm living through Hurricane Irma, hunkered down in my house with outside wind speed howling at a sustained velocity of 65 mph (projected to go to 80 mph) with gusts of 85-100 miles per hour. Trees are down everywhere, power is out, and the howl of the wind is unrelenting. I do have cellular connectivity, and I noticed a tweet by one @michaelianblack who writes: "As a massive hurricane bears down on us, please remember that one political party literally does not believe in science."

As a PhD engineer with reasonably extensive training in mathematics, physics, and engineering; as the author of multiple textbooks for STEM students and industry professionals, and as an ex-professor, I think it's reasonable to suggest that I do have a true respect for the scientific method. Having said that, I literally chuckled when I read @michaelianblack's tweet. It is, to be blunt—ignorant to the max, not to mention really tedious.

Consider this. With terabytes of data collected in the past few days that defined every meteorological aspect of hurricane Irma (a killer Cat 4/5 storm) and with at least 10 different scientific models that are used to predict the path of the Hurricane, the forecasters got it wrong. Over a period of five days the consensus was that the storm would pass over the center of Florida, generally sparing the west coast and devastating the east coast of the state. In the last 36 hours, those forecasts and consensus changed as the path of Irma headed straight for the west coast of FL. So ...terabytes of data and the best meteorological models currently available could not accurately predict a single weather event. As more data was gathered, the consensus changed. That's perfectly okay, if a bit unsettling for those of us in Irma's path. After all, it's a really complex problem.

The implication of @michaelianblack's tweet is that those who question the accuracy and validity of climate models that attempt to predict climate not 5 days out, or 5 months out, or 5 years out, but 50 or 100 years into the future, are somehow "deniers" who don't "believe in science." The problem is really, really, really complex, and yet, many suggest that it is settled and solved. The hubris and outright idiocy of that implication is so obvious it is stunning, yet folks like Al Gore (a man with no scientific background whatsoever) make it regularly.

I, for one, care deeply about the environment, but that doesn't mean I should accept flawed models and cherry-picked data as a scientific standard. Like any true scientist, all of us should question every model, every claim, and every "consensus" conclusion, forcing those who build the models, make the claims, and form the "consensus" to defend their position on a regular basis. That is NOT a rejection of science. It is, instead, an embrace of the scientific method.