This blog is mostly aimed at a source of criticism and fact checking for the blog 'real science' run by someone who goes by the name Steven Goddard. It is intended that material presented here is informative, neutral, impersonal and well sourced such that any of my claims can be checked and criticized in their own right if necessary.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Robert Wagner article . Opening paragraph

So, I read this article that seems to have caught people's attention recently:

I'm going to have a look at some of the problems with this article, and offer a few refutations. Note I will be quoting from the article, but note this is allowed under copyright law as fair use.

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.
It is my understanding that this quote originates from Richard Feynman. I think it is important to give the full context of this quote. As far as I can tell it originated from a lecture to a teachers association in 1966. Now I have to admit, I have not yet been able to fully ascertain the reliability of the source I am about to give for the Richard Feynman lecture. However there are sources which do seem to corroborate the existence of this lecture as the origin of the quote. So with that caveat in mind I will give a bit of context to feynman's quote (courtesy of

"We have many studies in teaching, for example, in which people make observations, make lists, do statistics, and so on, but these do not thereby become established science, established knowledge. They are merely an imitative form of science analogous to the South Sea Islanders' airfields--radio towers, etc., made out of wood. The islanders expect a great airplane to arrive. They even build wooden airplanes of the same shape as they see in the foreigners' airfields around them, but strangely enough, their wood planes do not fly. The result of this pseudoscientific imitation is to produce experts, which many of you are. [But] you teachers, who are really teaching children at the bottom of the heap, can maybe doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.
The overriding context being a presentation to science teachers about the teaching of science and the danger of 'going through the motions' in a way that isn't critical, reflective or willing to question. I haven't managed to fully wrap my head around the actual quote. But I think the following interpretation provided by Wagner is dubious:

"Science isn't about joining the herd. Science isn't about confirming someone else's work. Science is about looking at the world, looking at the current explanation, deciding that the world is wrong and you are right, and then going out and proving it.
It seems to me like feynman would agree with some of this (incidentally its worth reading the proceeding paragraph to the one quoted by Feynman and preferably the whole thing), science isn't about joining the herd, that is definitely true. I would take issue with the 2nd bit though, because science is about confirming (or falsifying) other people's work. In fact the crux of the scientific method is the idea of empirical reliability. I.e if something is reliable, an independent scientist would expect to be able to achieve a similar result. If a result is not reliable, then it will not be accepted; and rightly so. A well known example of this was cold fusion, the results that were claimed could not be verified by any other scientists so the idea was subsequently dropped. As for the 3rd part, I would also take great exception to this. You do not 'decide' the world is wrong, you do an experiment, or observe a phenomena that casts doubt on conventional theories. And this has been done countless times, for instance Young cast doubt on the idea that light was composed of particles 'corpusculs'. We now universally accept that light does have wave-like properties. Of course Young didn't just decide the world was wrong, but his interference experiment did provide evidence against the corpuscular idea with the wave-like interference property.

"In real science the status quo is the null hypothesis to be rejected, not confirmed.
Yes, this is true. In science an alternative hypothesis is provided H1 'light is wavelike', and evidence is provided that can either confirm the idea is true in a certain confidence limit (for instance there is a 95% chance that the evidence in support of  H1  does not arise from chance - note in some aspects of modern physics confidence limits tend to be very high, and are quoted in multiples of the standard deviation i.e sigma, a '5 sigma' event corresponds to a likelihood of 99.99994%). If the experiment does not meet the agreed confidence limit then we are forced to revert to the null hypothesis 'default position' as it could be argued that the phenomenon can simply be explained by chance. If the confidence limit is met, then the null hypothesis is rejected, and the alternative hypothesis accepted.

"Never in my life have I seen scientists going out to prove the null hypothesis is true...except in the field of climate "science.
Well in this context I suppose the alternative hypothesis might be 'humans are responsible for at least some (significant amount) of the recent warming over the last few decades' (this is just for illustrative purposes, a much less vague hypothesis would in reality be used). Of course in order to confirm this alternative hypothesis within a certain level of confidence, evidence must be provided. Given that there is a consensus that anthropomorphically induced global warming exists, the implication would be that the standard of evidence needed to reject the null hypothesis has been reached. It is possible to find many scientific papers (although abstracts are usually all that is publically avalible) on basic search engines like Google scholar. For instance here is a link to a relativly recent paper in a high impact journal:

but since the view that humans play some role in climate change is so pervasive it is often more common to find articles like this highly cited one from nature:

which do not discuss the existence of AGW but rather go into specific detail about climate change, while implicitly accepting humans have some role in the main body of the paper. Most papers on climate change don't even express a position on AGW which is what the cook et al paper found:

Going out to prove the null hypothesis is true, would presumably mean showing there is no evidence for AGW. Apart from there being a complete lack of scientific journal articles that do that, isn't that what you are saying we shouldn't do? I am a little confused.

"It is called the "scientific method," something people that blindly accept the man made climate change theory apparently know nothing about.
Any blind acceptance is against the scientific method, regardless of the position. I would examine the evidence for man made climate change before claiming such a position is blind. This paper would be an excellent start because it is a meta analysis, i.e it analyses different research done using different methods to produce a representive idea about what is going on - in this case about climate sensitivity and humans.

"Like medieval inquisitors, supporters of climate change "science" don't debate the issue, they insult, intimidate, smear and ridicule.
So that is your alternative hypothesis then? Can you show within appropriate confidence limits that scientists that hold such a view are represented  by 'insult, intimidate, smear and ridicule'. Of course among individuals you should have no problem confirming the alternative hypothesis, but trying to justify this stereotype is harder. I could equally point to 'climate skeptics' that have done similar things, but I don't think it would gain anything. Anyway, this is an argument about tone; and at the end of the day a poor tone is unprofessional but it is still independent of the evidence and a valid argument.

"Real scientists are by nature skeptical, it is a defining characteristic of science.
Of course. So are you skeptical of a round earth, evolution, or the expanding universe? I am, and I would not accept any of them lightly, and I would dismiss them without evidence. But there is evidence for these three things, just as there is evidence for evolution. Part of being skeptical is weighing up the evidence that exists, an unexplained phenomenon that doesn't fit the evidence would be brought to the table as something to discuss, not ignore. That is why dark matter is such a big topic in physics, because our current understanding of gravity fails to adequately explain the rotation of galaxies. Evidence that is not explained by the AGW model would similarly pose an issue and therefore be readily discussed.

"Somehow in Orwellian fashion being a "skeptic" has become an insult, not a merit is climate "science." Skeptics are called "flat earthers," "deniers," and climate "heritics."

The act of being a skeptic is not the reason 'climate skeptic' has become an insult. The reason for this is because it represents throwing out a working model that explains reality well for no reason, just like throwing out a round earth would. So the analog is reasonable, climate scientists are similarly skeptical about a round earth. The crux of the matter is, there is no elephant in the room - rejecting the notion of a round earth would only be reasonable in light of paradigm shifting evidence. Experimental evidence that may arrive tomorrow, although admittedly highly unlikely.

"Skeptics are to be shunned and ignored, and ironically the ones who don't have science on their side.
On the contrary the opposite is true:

This represents some of the issues with the opening paragraph. I will en-devour to examine the rest of the article when I have time.

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