Monday, 9 February 2015

My name is Pat Lane and I'm a Crack Pot

At least that's what my dear wife Pam tells me.

I'm a nerd and I'd like to use this blog to rant about some of my interests, particularly physics and global warming.

The term "crack pot" was first used in our household a few years ago.

I had spent some time learning about chaos theory and had read Edward Lorenz's excellent book The Essence of Chaos among others. The media claims that "scientists" could predict the temperature of the entire planet hundreds or thousands of years in advance caught my eye. "How can this be?" I wondered.

The father of Chaos Theory (Lorenz) says that since the climate is chaotic, weather prediction of more than two weeks is impossible.

On closer examination of some of the claims, I found a simple explanation: "weather" is different from "climate".  Science can't predict weather, only climate. Simple, huh?

I'm always a little skeptical when changing a word makes the impossible, possible.

A few more things added to my interest:
  • The predictions were all based on "advanced" computer models. I'm an IT professional and, in particular, a software developer. For fun, I write code in Mathematica. Computer models are not scientific experiments.Tell me the results you want and I can write a model that will give them.
  • "Global warming" as it used to be called, is purported to be terrible, leading to the end of civilisation as we know it. I was brought up in Wisconsin where, in a bad year, hell has been known to freeze over. A little warming seemed like a good idea.
  • Anyone who questioned the "facts" about global warming was vilified.After reading Nigil Lawson's book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming and Lawrence Solomon's The Deniers, I also spent some in the blogosphere. I was shocked at the vitriol poured on anyone questioning the global warming menace. I was particularly intrigued with the idea that "the science is settled". Science is never settled.
  • After looking a bit closer at how the climate models work, I was not surprised to find that they are vastly complex systems of non-linear partial differential equations that, being chaotic, are devilishly sensitive to initial conditions. How could a system this complex, I asked myself, predict the future? Sure, the model will generate output.  Whether it has the slightest relation to reality is an entirely different matter.
My wife is always helpful when it comes to keeping my feet on the ground. "So you know more that all those scientists?" she questioned. "Good point." I had to admit.

Then one wonderful day, after listening to more climate doom and gloom on the ABC News (the doom always scheduled, conveniently, twenty years in the future), Pam said those magic words:

"You know, you might just not be a crack pot".

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