20 September 2010

Unity of science and reaching decisons

The next two paragraphs were in a private email list where there was then a request that I make the comments public.  The situation was my response to another scientist, the topic at hand being the scope of the conspiracy that would be involved in pulling of a hoax that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, etc..  I also talked here a while back about the unity of science:

I think a crucial part of that error is a failure to understand how science works.  While you and I (and others) look at it and see masses of scientists from different areas and reach a conclusion, others don't.  The extra piece of knowledge we have is that science has to hang together as a coherent picture.  If climate people were seriously wrong about the radiative properties of CO2, then CO2 lasers would not work.  And so on through a very, very long list.  Conversely, if climate types were seriously wrong about CO2's radiative properties, laser specialists would look at the climate work and point to the errors and that'd be the end of the wrong climate CO2 work.

Instead, they take the view that science is story-telling.  Laser physicists go along with the climate people because the climate folks are telling a story that the laser folks like, not because there's any particular evidence in favor of it.  The "It's a liberal conspiracy", or "They only say this because they want to impose one world government" responses are part of this.  The he said -- she said journlistic line is exactly this, as the science is presented as two stories the reader is chosing between.  They think the scientists are doing the same thing.  (How would they know differently?)

Back to the present:
I'll also mention, in terms of how people could tell what scientists actually do, that John Wilkins is taking ideas on sources for describing how it is that scientists reach conclusions:
How Scientists Think: A Book Proposal
The Scientists Operating Manual
While I'm mentioning John, h/t also to this xkcd cartoon, which captures a certain crowd (an attitude I've occasionally borrowed at least part of) quite well:
xkcd physicists


warmcast said...

It isn't clear in your post when you start reading it, that the first two paragraphs are a part of someone elses emails.

I found it confusing until I got to the third paragraph.

John S. Wilkins said...

I hope that you're going to write one or more of the sections of my proposed manual.

Oale said...

So Co2 lasers wouldn't work too. How about steam engines? The anon post was intended as funny I guess...

Horatio Algeranon said...

The only thing more annoying* than a physicist who thinks s/he knows everything is two (or more) physicists who think they know everything, but who disagree with one another.

*or humorous, depending on your perspective.

Robert Grumbine said...

warmcast: Thanks for the nudge. As you see, I revised it.

John: I'll email also. The thing is, as you've outlined the manual, I'm not really suited to writing any of the sections. Probably the best section for me to write would be one that you don't have in the outline. It'd be something of a preface/personal comment about science being a human activity. Given that we're humans, and fallible, and living in our society (societies), other things follow -- such as the rest of the sections you outlined regarding data, funding, peer review, and so forth.