Friday, March 14, 2014

How Does Victor Davis Hanson Get Up in the Morning?

Because ulcers.
You know, if deniers spent as much time presenting good, firm science as they do talking about the one or two times when some (usually minor) scientific finding has been found to be false (because ulcers), they might actually make a difference.

Instead, we get this from Victor Davis Hanson:
Until 1982 “settled science” decreed that stomach ulcers were a result of bad diet, too much gastric acid, or undue stress. Then Australian scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren shocked the medical community with an unlikely thesis: The real culprit for peptic ulcers more often was infection by the Gram-negative bacterium H. pylori, a common but sometimes dangerous agent in the gut that could be treated with antibiotics. The practice of gastroenterology was turned upside down.
This somehow leads him to the insight that
In other words, nothing scientific is ever quite settled.
which must make it very difficult to get up in the morning. I mean, how does he know the laws of electrostatics are going to provide a firm footing when he puts his foot on the floor, and that he won't sinnnnk right through to the molten core of the Earth? That he's not going to fly off the surface of the planet because, you know, gravity is not ever quite settled? That his car won't start because the laws of thermodynamics were overthrown in the middle of the night?

Some pundits -- Krathhammer, Hansen and the like -- don't understand science in the least. Or how it arrives at the conclusions it does. That is to say, why we know what we know.

They should have to forfeit all the many good things science has provided in their lives -- which is basically everything -- until they understand that the fundamental laws of thermodynamics, quantum mechanics and  radiation aren't ever going to change. And why.

They seem to be waiting around for the day when scientists say, "Oops! We were wrong about carbon dioxide all this time -- it really doesn't absord infared radiation. And all objects, like, say, the Earth -- they don't really emit radiation. We guess! Who knows? So go ahead and burn all the fossil fuels you want. Our bad!"

Idiots. (And I mean that sincerely.) Worse: dangerous. History has shown that we ignore science at our peril.


Arthur said...

Actually science does change sometimes even at fundamental levels (quantum mechanics changed a lot that was thought settled). But the new understanding rarely invalidates the old, it just expands on it, explaining the same observations in different, more complete or more accurate ways. Newtons laws definitely still work almost everywhere...

David Appell said...

Arthur: How did quantum mechanics change, from a place where it was thought to be settled?

OnymousGuy said...

Yes, Aethur. Enlighten us. I would like to know before I get too far along teaching this semester's course in quantum mechanics to our chemistry undergrads.

George Montgomery said...

From memory, 60-ish per cent of stomach ulcers are caused by H. pylori, 35-ish per cent (and increasing) by over-prescribed and self-prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, and 5-ish per cent by cancer.
The sticking point for the bacterium hypothesis was the widely-held belief that bacteria could not survive in such an acidic environment as found in the stomach.

Your point is well made i.e. that science contrarians embrace a mindset of 'a minor exception provides the rule' to question scientific findings while failing to present good, firm science to back their point of view.

Interestingly, they use an example from the Life Sciences to question the conclusions/ underpinnings of the Physical Sciences. The Life Sciences have their own issues to deal with such as the placebo effect, spontaneous recovery, physiological variability within and across species, the need for double-blind testing, questionable transferability of results for laboratory animals to humans, ethical issues of trials on humans/ prisoners/ lab. animals, etc.

Science contrarians will opportunistically seize on anything to question the science that does not align with their ideologically-driven beliefs. And all the while they blithely go on using technology built on the science they distrust. A pox on them all!

Victor Venema said...

I agree with Arthur and wonder whether the next two comments carefully read what he was saying.

Quantum mechanics is enormously different from the previous consensus/settled science of classical mechanics. And still, for everything we already understood reasonably well, it did not change much. We could suddenly ask new questions and understand new domains and build completely new devises, but the old stuff, for the most part still worked.

Thus even if we find a flaw in one of the sciences that underpin our understanding of the climate, it would most likely not change our understanding of the climate (drastically).

Frank1123581321 said...

David: Is it settled science that increased carbon dioxide is responsible for the current drought in California? No. Then why is our President saying so? Is it settled science that increased carbon dioxide is responsible for increased fluctuation in the "polar vortex" and the cold winter in the US? No. Then why did the President's Science Advisor release a video on the White House website making this claim on the coldest day in DC in several years? Half of Hansen's article criticizes this misrepresentation of climate science. Hansen is correct to criticize this misuse of climate science.

Politicians and political commentators on both sides of the issue - including you - present a one-sided, distorted view of the science of global warming. Unlike science, politics and the law function through an adversarial system where no one can be trusted - as Schneider said about scientific ethics - to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, with all of the caveats, ifs, ands or buts. Unfortunately, even Schneider questioned whether scientists could afford to live by such high scientific standards when "making the world a better place" was a stake. As a scientist and journalist, don't you have an ethical obligation to present both sides of the issue and not explore off areas of legitimate scientific debate?

You are completely correct when you state that no revolution in science will ever cause scientists to believe that carbon dioxide doesn't absorb infrared radiation and reduce the rate at which energy escapes to space. However, none of this settled science says that the result must be warming of at least 3 degC for 2XCO2, or 2 degC or 1.5 degC, or even 1.0 degC. The amount of warming depends on the magnitude of feedbacks from clouds and water vapor; those are not settled science. (Don't waste you time citing the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, when you should know that it only applies to the amount of water vapor present at equilibrium, ie 100% humidity. The vast majority of the atmosphere is not saturated with water vapor.)

I think Victor Hansen (and you) deserve criticism for not distinguishing between responsible and irresponsible criticism of global warming science. One can legitimately question precisely how MUCH the planet has warmed over the last century, but not the existence of warming. (During much of the century, warming was monitored with a system never intended to detect a mean global temperature change of 0.1 degC/decade, but satellite systems have been capable of doing so for 30+ years. ARGO has begun to produce accurate information about ocean warming.) Likewise, one can legitimately question how MUCH warming is due to man (and how much to natural and unforced variability), but some warming must be due to anthropogenic GHGs. (Even Lindzen's papers on negative feedback (TCR 0.67-0.80) imply about 0.5 degC of anthropogenic warming using the IPCC's central estimate of anthropogenic forcing.) One can legitimately question the costs and benefits of future warming and the cost and practicality of reducing emissions enough to make a difference, but a wide range of possible future climates are compatible with our limited understanding of TCR and ECS. The biological and economic aspects of climate change also contain great uncertainties.

By the way, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics are not a fundamental, immutable branches of physics. The development of quantum theory and statistical mechanics shows that it is merely extremely likely that the entropy of a macroscopic system will remain the same or increase; the 2LoT certainly doesn't apply to individual or small groups of molecules or photons. Certain aspects of quantum mechanics (the Copenhagen interpretation, probabilistic not deterministic) remain controversial. However, a revolution in these fields will be compatible with, NOT overturn, laboratory measurements of the interactions between radiation and GHGs that agree with current theory.

David Appell said...

Frank: It's not my job to defend Obama, but here's what he said on 2/14 about the California drought:

"A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher. Droughts have obviously been a part of life out here in the West since before any of us were around and water politics in California have always been complicated, but scientific evidence shows that a changing climate is going to make them more intense."

There's nothing controversial about that at all.

And there's nothing in it about "settled science."

David Appell said...

By the way, thermodynamics and quantum mechanics are not a fundamental, immutable branches of physics.


Quantum mechanics -- by which I really mean its relativistic extension to quantum field theory -- is about as fundamental as it gets. It's passed all experimental tests with astonishing accuracy.

Does that mean people of the year 1 million A.D. will be calculating scattering amplitudes via Feynman diagrams? Perhaps not -- they'll have a theory that includes gravity -- but whatever they use, it will have to give the same answers QFT does in all the regions where QFT works.

David Appell said...

Victor: You're right, I did misunderstand what Arthur wrote.

Still, did quantum mechanics really change a lot that was thought settled, or did it settle a lot that was never understood to begin with? In terms of the working of particles and atoms it seemt to me it was mostly the latter.

Frank1123581321 said...

David: Climate scientists don't know if anthropogenic GHG's and the resulting climate change are going to make droughts in California more or less intense, but the Obama quote you cite states droughts WILL become more intense. Droughts are mostly due to lack of precipitation. The multi-model mean in AR5 shows slightly increased precipitation in most of California at the end of the century! (See Figure 14.18 in AR5 WG1.) However, like most regional projections of precipitation, there is substantial disagreement between models. Even worse, most models do a fairly lousy job reproducing current rainfall in the Western US, overestimating total precipitation by about 50% (according to AR4). We also know that climate models can't currently hindcast decadal changes in climate. Finally, we know from rainfall proxies that past climate change not associated with GHGs has led to periods of droughts far more severe than any projected by models or experienced in the last century. So climate scientists know nothing of REAL VALUE about how precipitation and therefore drought will change in California in the near-term or long-term future. Climate scientists are certain that a warmer planet will be rainier overall, but they don't have any idea if the increased precipitation will land in California.

There are certainly papers using some CMIP3 models that have projected scary decreases in precipitation in California in the future. (Those decreases diminished when the models were downscaled and aren't common in CMIP5 models.) Those older papers represent cherry-picked worst-case scenarios, not consensus science.

We do know something about other factors that can intensify drought. GHG's will make it a little warmer, and that will cause: a) A little more evaporation (that will come down as rain somewhere else, possibly the Sierras where it can be used again). b) More rain and less snow, which leads to more rapid runoff. c) Possibly more intense rainfall, which also leads to more rapid runoff. However, California is arid and most of its precipitation falls in the winter. Basically there is a "drought" every summer that requires collecting winter runoff and irrigating in the growing season. The state can adapt to this changes, but not a major reduction in precipitation.

Frank1123581321 said...

David: Statistical mechanics has explained classical 19th century thermodynamics in terms of more fundamental physics. This reduce the 2LoT from a "law of nature" to a statistical virtual certainty. (Lack of knowledge about statistical mechanics leads to confusion about photons traveling from the cooler atmosphere to the warmer surface.)

QM makes extremely accurate predictions about some phenomena, but it doesn't seem to produce useful calculations for other phenomena. QM is supposedly mathematically incompatible with general relativity. Experiments illuminating fundamental aspects of quantum entanglement have recently been performed. Einstein notoriously spent many years trying to come up with a more fundamental, deterministic theory. We have the Copenhagen interpretation, the many universes interpretation, etc. Dark matter and dark energy suggest that our knowledge of particles might be far from complete. We haven't found gravity waves/gravitons or magnetic monopoles. We don't understand why the Higgs and other fundamental particles have the masses they do. It seems likely to me that the last chapters of QM are still to be written, perhaps even most of the textbook. As I said above, a final version of QM will not change our quantitative predictions of how carbon dioxide interacts with radiation. There is no disagreement about this issue.

J Melcher said...

So, David, regarding the proposition that "nothing in science is ever quite settled" -- how many planets in the local solar system? C'mon, the fundamentals of counting from 1 to numbers approaching those of the sum of all our fingers and toes is surely settled. Why has there been any dispute between the factions of nine and eight?

For that matter, how many chromosomes on a human DNA molecule? Counting up to some integer less than 50 but more than 40 (TWO researchers using all their fingers and toes) in a twisty maze of chemicals under a microscope is admitted tough, but really, why would a count that persisted some three decades suddenly change?

What is this fascination you have with treating science as Tablets Of Stone handed down from powers on high, that never are or can be revised, corrected, or improved?


David Appell said...

J. Melcher: There's nothing scientific about the word "planet" - it's merely whatever people define it to be, for human convenience.

Nor is there anything fundamentally scientific about the number of genes on human DNA -- it's just a matter of counting, and all counts have an associated uncertainty.

David Appell said...

What is this fascination you have with treating science as Tablets Of Stone handed down from powers on high, that never are or can be revised, corrected, or improved?

Of course, I said no such thing -- typical of your endless pedantry and red herrings.

I said that what science establishes as facts don't get undone. The fundamental laws of blackbody radiation will never change. Nor will the absorption spectrum of carbon dioxide. Acting like these laws are akin to ulcer causation is a fundamental misrepresentation of what science is and how it established knowledge.

PJ said...

How come you almost always use physics to defend 'science'?

Is it because other sciences are less certain in their facts and theories?

You are stacking the deck.

Climate science is not only younger than physics it does not have the same access to controlled experimentation as a bedrock.

Modeling complex systems is fiendishly difficult and climate science won't advance any quicker by pretending that it is at the level of physics.

David Appell said...

Because climate science is mostly physics. It's the solution of the equations that describe the physics of climate.

I don't think that implies it's as precise as some other areas of physics. There are subfields of physics that can attain very high levels of precision (quantum physics), and there are subfields that are still difficult to solve in any detail (fluid mechanics, chaos, etc).

But likewise, there are parts of climate science that are very well established (radiative effects), and parts much more uncertain (clouds, aerosols, etc.). But it's still physics.

J Melcher said...

Hi David,

You are never ever going to retreat from the position that "science", as you see it, never backtracks, never revises itself, and CERTAINLY never benefits from, as you put it, "dogged contrarians" who go back and count chromosomes for themselves instead of going along with the incorrect consensus for three decades, are you?

As for "simple physics" -- Newton's Laws indicated a measured wobble in the orbit of Neptune meant there MUST be a large planet in a certain vicinity. No less a giant of science than Percival Lowell made the prediction and spent years with inadequate telescopes looking for the large "Planet X". And Clyde Tombaugh, looking exactly where Lowell predicted with a better instrument and newer techniques, decades after Lowell's death, found what he was looking for. Planet X.

Well, except, you know. Not a "large" planet. Oh, and by the way, the wobbles in the orbit of Neptune have more to do with Einstein's gravity than Newton's. But still, doggedly following the consensus, in this case, led Tombaugh to glory as the discoverer of our ninth planet, exactly as predicted by classical physics.

It has only been recently that CONTRARIANS re-defined planet and dared attribute the accomplishments of Tombaugh following the calculations of Lowell to mere co-incidence.

I defer to no man in a personal love of science as a human activity and a method of approaching truth. I revere those heroes of the past who blazed the trail for all the rest of us. But I see that these are men, not prophets of God. A scientist is not beyond error, nor criticism, nor self-aggrandized hubris.

You diminish science and scientists by pretending otherwise, and by dismissing the examples of heroic figures who defy expectations. Theophilus Painter is less diminished for getting the human chromosome count different from Joe Tjio than the entire field of Climate Study has been via the antics of Michael Mann.

David Appell said...

J Melcher: Counting chromosomes isn't fundamental science -- it's just counting.

The fundamental science is that DNA forms the basis of heredity. That didn't change, and will never change.

Likewise, the fact that CO2 is a heat-trapping gas isn't ever going to change.

Sure, there might be some slight adjustments in climate sensitivity, up or down a degree or so (at most).

But that doesn't matter, given how much CO2 we're emitting, and that our emissions are increasing exponentially.

The CO2 problems is never going to go away. It is a fact -- it changes climate, and we ought to stop treating the atmosphere as a waste dump.

David Appell said...

J Melcher wrote:
Oh, and by the way, the wobbles in the orbit of Neptune have more to do with Einstein's gravity than Newton's.

No, they didn't. You are confusing Neptune with the perihelion shift of Mercury. It was the latter that was one of the first successful predictions of Einstein's theory of general relativity.

And you have totally missed the point. Einstein didn't supercede Newton. He gave a theory that corrected Newton around the edges -- in this case, in the area where gravitational fields were large.

NASA used Newton's physics to get to the moon, not Einstein's.

David Appell said...

J Melcher wrote:
You diminish science and scientists by pretending otherwise, and by dismissing the examples of heroic figures who defy expectations.

You don't understand science at all.

There will never be some new discovery that finds CO2 doesn't absorb infrared radiation, as all scientists believe right now. Never.

There will never be a new experiment that shows a blackbody radiates like


instead of as sigma*T^4. Never. Ever.

These won't happen. Hence, CO2's greenhouse properties are never ever going to change. Ever.

They will be the same a million years from now as they are today -- just as will Newton's law of gravity for weak gravitational fields.

J Melcher said...

David, Climate Science (tm) repeatedly says the discipline fails, not in the science, but in the communication of that science to the public.

As a professional science journalist you own a big part of that failure.

I understand science and the history of science quite well, thank you. It's quite amusing to be your strawman: the commenter (of how many, six?) representing those who "don't understand science at all". You don't engage on Lowell and Tombaugh or any of the examples from science I've offered you. You respond with insults and denigration and you wonder why "deniers" aren't persuaded. And being unwilling or unable to discuss prior revisions to the fashionable beliefs of the scientific community you blind yourself and your (how many, a score or so) followers to the possibility that current fashions may, in time, and given better techniques and evidence, may fall from fashion. Not be proven incorrect, like phlogiston or phrenology or the canals of Mars, but just be identified as a less useful model of how things are, as science has moved on from Rutherford's "plum pudding model" of the atom to the more modern "quark soup" you allude to.

Just for the record, I don't deny that Josef Stefan was quite correct with regard to black bodies. I also am, if you like, perfectly willing to state as a fact that Mark Steyn is the Fred Phelps of climate journalism, at least as much as Michael Mann is the Jerry Sandusky of post-publication academic investigations. Happy now?

But as a matter of law Phelps was entitled to speak, write, and act out opposition to American Heroes, just as Larry Flynt was able to insult, defy, and smear a Christian evangelical preacher. Free speech is, like it or not, a component of science as much as law. Carl Sagan actually agreed to debate the theories of Immanuel Velikovsky. Michael Mann has not got that much courage. And frankly I have seen no evidence you do in this venue, either.