FEE – Climate Modeling: Settled Science or Fool’s Errand?

3 Oct

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Climate Modeling: Settled Science or Fool’s Errand?

I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read Daniel Sarewitz’s recent piece Saving Science in the New Atlantis, but it is causing all sorts of ripples across the scientific community, and deserves even more attention from both scientists and policy makers. I interviewed Sarewitz for RealClear Radio Hour this weekend and would like to dig into just one of the many issues we discussed, and that is the misuse of climate models. But first, a little background.

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Like the quip about England and America often misattributed to George Bernard Shaw, science and engineering are two professions divided by a common language. That language, or course, is mathematics, a symbolic abstraction through which we can describe, explain, and sometimes transform the natural world. That matters, for the differences in the way scientists and engineers use mathematics can have profound political consequences when those calculations drift too far from observable reality.

When mathematics jumped from paper to computers, elegance was turbocharged with brute force. This allowed scientists and engineers to develop computer models that simulated physical phenomena. Eventually, some of these simulation models became good enough that “what if” experiments could be conducted more rapidly and conveniently on a computer than by performing physical experiments. Propelled by Moore’s Law, improvements in computing delivered billions of calculations per second, and the most advanced simulation models took on breathtaking levels of sophistication.

To read the rest of the column, click here.

 

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