Archives

A sample text widget

Etiam pulvinar consectetur dolor sed malesuada. Ut convallis euismod dolor nec pretium. Nunc ut tristique massa.

Nam sodales mi vitae dolor ullamcorper et vulputate enim accumsan. Morbi orci magna, tincidunt vitae molestie nec, molestie at mi. Nulla nulla lorem, suscipit in posuere in, interdum non magna.

Strings and Warming

I finally had a chance to watch The Great Global Warming Swindle this weekend, the British expose on the history and questionable claims about the global warming scare. So, when I read this review of a pair of books exploring the problems with string theory, I was primed to notice some interesting parallels with the corruption of science described in the documentary.

In a chapter on sociology, Smolin introduces the concept of ?groupthink? — the tendency of groups to share an ideology. This creates a cultlike atmosphere in which those who disagree with the ideology are considered ignoramuses or fools. Most physicists tied up in the string mania, Smolin believes, have become groupthinkers, blind to the possibility that they have squandered time and energy on bizarre speculations that are leading nowhere.

A portion of the documentary deals with the same subject — the trouble AGW dissenters have when they raise objections to aspects of the theory or the validity of data used to support claims made by its proponents. Gardner doesn’t say whether string theory skeptics are tarred with the highly-objectionable epithet “denier”, but it would seem unlikely given the less politically-charged nature of string theory — in that respect, AGW skeptics have it worse.

Gardner then quotes Sheldon Glashow, Nobel physics laureate and co-predictor of the charm quark:

Until string people can interpret perceived properties of the real world they simply are not doing physics. Should they be paid by universities and be permitted to pervert impressionable students? Will young Ph.D?s, whose expertise is limited to superstring theory, be employable if, and when, the string snaps? Are string thoughts more appropriate to departments of mathematics, or even to schools of divinity, than to physics departments?

A similar line of speculation came up in Swindle, in regards to those who have become heavily invested in AGW over the past two decades. With climatology (not to mention other disciplines…wildlife studies is used as a humorous example by one interviewee in the film) becoming so warped by AGW hysteria, and specifically the need to perform research in support of AGW or to wrap one’s unrelated research up in global warming catastrophism in order to tap into the large pool of grant money being thrown at proving global warming as a means to certain political ends, what happens to those ensnared in the cult five or ten years from now when anthropogenic global warming collapses under its own contradictions and the weight of contrary evidence?

And just as the documentary shows how global warming catastrophism was preceded by global cooling catastrophism, Gardner’s review touches on a discredited predecessor of string theory:

In the nineteenth century, a conjecture called the vortex theory of the atom became extremely popular in England and America. Proposed by the famous British physicist Lord Kelvin, it had an uncanny resemblance to string theory…

Kelvin published two books defending his conjecture. It was strongly championed in England by J. J. Thomson in his 1907 book The Corpuscular Theory of Matter. Another booster of the theory was Peter Tait, an Irish mathematician. His work, like Witten?s, led to significant advances in knot theory. In the United States, Albert Michelson considered vortex theory so ?grand? that ?it ought to be true even if it is not.? Hundreds of papers elaborated the theory. Tait predicted it would take generations to develop its elegant mathematics. Alas, beautiful though vortex theory was, it proved to be a glorious road that led nowhere.

Amusing…or it would be amusing, if the consequences to other human endeavors of climatologists continuing to feed the AGW beast were as trivial as those of physicists clinging to strings or the ether vortex theory.

6 comments to Strings and Warming

  • Paul Dietz

    Before believing that TV program, you might want to see what the climate scientists have to say about it.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/swindled/
    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/swindled-carl-wunsch-responds/

    In addition to getting the science wrong, or misrepresenting what it means, the producers of the program appear to have used dishonest editing to misrepresent what Carl Wunsch actually said.

  • Aaron_J

    There seems to be plenty of that on both sides of the “debate”. Ain’t politicized science a hoot!

  • “In addition to getting the science wrong, or misrepresenting what it means, the producers of the program appear to have used dishonest editing to misrepresent what Carl Wunsch actually said.”

    Funny…I could say much the same about the supporters of the anthropogenic theory. The science is contradictory or inconclusive, the popularizers misrepresent what it means, and the producers of big ballyhooed international reports on the subject misrepresent or ignore what scientists actually say about their subject so as to imply their concurrence.

    “Before believing that TV program, you might want to see what the climate scientists have to say about it.”

    Do you deliver similar admonishments to people who rave about “An Inconvenient Truth” and other hysteria-peddling films and TV programs?

    You appear to imply that I accepted the program’s information and conclusions uncritically. In reality, I watched the program with two friends who are environmental engineers (who no doubt have a greater degree of knowledge relevant to the subject matter than a mechanical engineer who designs spacecraft), and *I* was the one reflexively questioning the data and reasoning presented throughout the film. Believe it or not, I do think for myself.

  • Paul Dietz

    > Funny…I could say much the same about the supporters of the anthropogenic theory. The science is contradictory or inconclusive,

    You could say that, but you would be mistaken or would be lying. To the extent the evidence is contradictory is because all scientific evidence about a messy system has some inconsistencies; taken as a whole the evidence is convincing — which is why there is a consensus among the part of the scientific community that spends its careers studying the matter.

    The science behind AGW is rather solid. Radiation transport through the atmosphere must become impeded by increased CO2; this is a conclusion based on very well understood physics. To avoid AGW, there has to be some unknown, undetected countereffect that prevents this increased forcing from causing net warming. No such countereffect has been detected (and they’ve looked for, for example Lindzen’s IRIS).

    Of course it won’t be proved well enough to convince denialists until it has occured. Perhaps denialists would also object to defending against an asteroid on a detected probable impact trajectory until after it’s hit?

    > Do you deliver similar admonishments to people who rave about “An Inconvenient Truth” and other hysteria-peddling films and TV programs?

    AIT got most of the science right, you know, denialist misrepresentations notwithstanding.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=299

  • To you, the evidence is convincing. I am unpersuaded. If what those who are concerned about AGW want is for people to accept the validity of AGW and to then do something about it, in spite of the unknowns and in spite of climatology being a messy system with inconsistencies, some element of persuasion is required. But that hasn’t happened in my case.

    This is partly because of the inconsistencies you admit to, and partly because there is something suspect in the way AGW is promoted. The constantly shifting predictions of scientists as to temperature change and sea level rise, for example, indicate to me that the science simply isn’t mature enough to motivate any radical actions. The hysterical and wildly unrealistic apocalypse scenarios promulgated by scientists themselves (not just the presumably less-expert layman popularizers of AGW) undermine my willingness to simply accept their authority on the subject. The cult-like behavior of proponents — experts and laymen supporters alike — makes the entire subject of AGW suspect to me, since demanding adherence to a particular strain of thought and punishing those who question it is the mark of a religion turned bad and not of science explaining the facts.

    It is possible to persuade me to accept that AGW is real and a problem despite the immaturity of the science behind it, but that’s not what’s being done…even by you. Persuasion isn’t demanding adherence to a particular viewpoint and punishing deviation.

    It’s also possible that, having persuaded me to provisionally accept the reality of the matter in the absence of (to me) unambiguous proof, I could be convinced that taking action against it may minimize and/or mitigate the effects. However, that is another area that raises suspicion in my mind as to the motives of AGW proponents — the fact that, all too often, the proposed remedies are both draconian and futile, appearing to be aimed at achieving completely unrelated political-economic ends rather than actually doing anything constructive about the environmental problem they are ostensibly intended to resolve.

    While I may heap derision on those who cultishly peddle the AGW “crisis” and their questionable “solutions” to it, and while I have questions about the objectivity and intellectual honesty of the scientists associated with AGW, I maintain an open if skeptical mind about the subject…open, that is, to persuasion and proof, but not to dogmatic proselytization.

  • Robert Horning

    When I hear people discuss “Global Warming” as a topic, I also get disgusted at the seemingly religious POV that tends to come across by those who address either side of the debate.

    Furthermore, the distinction of anthroprogenic global warming and simply a general warming of the Earth by natural causes (perhaps modestly pushed along by human causes) is simply lost by those advocating fixes. Nor is it easy to explain how a coal powered electric generation plant in western Utah (used to provide power for the city of Los Angeles) is causing a rise in the temperature of Caribbean coral reefs.

    One other problem is that those advocating AGW try to divide the world into those who accept the theories and those who don’t, and characterize those who don’t accept them as being environmental destroyers. While I don’t completely accept AGW as a proven scientific fact, I accept the argument that we need to be responsible stewards for those resources we do have and should not engage in wanton waste and destruction of our environment. There are many very legitimate reasons to try and wean the economy of the USA off of using petroleum as a primary energy source, which has favorable arguments from both a politically conservative as well as liberal viewpoint. The reason there isn’t progress in accomplishing this goal is because of political attitudes on how to accomplish this goal, not that the ultimate goal should happen or not.

    In many cases I’m also not convinced that the solution to help fix this situation is necessarily better than the problem it is trying to fix. Or that those proposing a given solution to help fix side effects of AGW have necessarily considered all of the consequences of those solutions. For those who are pushing for the development of hydrogen or ethanol as alternative automotive fuel sources, there certainly are some long term destructive environmental effects for using either of these approaches. Using ethanol production in particular, Brazil has been using this approach to supply fuel to their motor vehicles for some time. But to do this they have also been clearing out the Amazon rain forest to accomplish this goal. So which activity (petroleum production or clearning rain forests for growing sugar cane) does more or less environmental harm? And why is that? Which one produces more CO2 per mile driven? How do you document that fact?

    Another example is the heavy promotion of florescent lighting (such as those with the standard 100 watt light bulb socket) to replace standard incandescent lighting. While the use of reduced wattage lighting may seemingly be useful and may give the person installing those lighting appliances a warm fuzzy that they are helping the environment, is there any thought that goes into the environmental side effects of that decision? What is the behavioral side effects and other health concerns of widespread usage of florescent blubs vs. incandescent bulbs with children? How much energy is needed to produce one of these florescent bulbs compared to incandescent? Is an incandescent bulb safer or more dangerous on the environment than having landfills full of mercury (required for the florescence process in the florescent bulbs) from the disposal of the alternative? What else is being compromised with this sort of lighting source switch? What about simply using tallow candles instead, and what are the consequences of going that route for a lighting source? Are you sure you have thought all of this completely through and have considered other quality of life issues?

    Even the most radical solutions besides mass genocide of mankind as a whole (or even that solution!) all have other environmental consequences that IMHO have not been thought through completely before they are implemented. I find the debate of this issue to be substantially over simplified and solutions not very well thought through.