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The Scientific Method

Posted on 31 March 2013 by rockytom

Now and then it is useful to pause, take a step back, and think once again about what one is doing and how it is being done; thus, the following discussion about the scientific method.

The scientific method is difficult to define because it is more than one method.  Perhaps one of the best approaches is to illustrate the method used by most scientists by listing the steps taken along with some concrete examples from actual scientific papers.  This is the concept used in the new Farmer and Cook textbook, “Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis, Volume 1, The Physical Climate.”

The scientific method is basically that method or methods used by scientists to do their work.  The scientific method can be thought of as a series of logical steps; but often it is simply trial and error.  It is hopefully more trial and less error.

Scientists today are often part of a team conducting original research into an area of study for which they have received funding.  Funding for research is often obtained by writing a proposal and receiving a grant if the proposal is accepted.  This is not always the case and was less so in the earlier days of scientific work.  In work done prior to the 1960s, scientists often labored alone on a project that they designed and that they carried out supported by the institution or company for which they worked.  Often the institution was a university or government, or an institution supported by a government. 

A preliminary look at the scientific method involves at least the following steps:

  1. Define a problem that needs a solution;

  2. Formulate an explanation for the problem;

  3. Determine or deduce a prediction based on the explanation;

  4. Perform tests or experiments to see if the explanation is valid.

The four steps above form the basis of a scientific inquiry; they constitute a simple model for the scientific method.  One possible sequence is 1, 2, 3, and 4.  If 2 is true, what are the consequences?  Testing (4) should include considering the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2.  If 2 can be disproved, then start again with step 1.

There must be a fifth step.  What good are steps 1 through 4 if no one knows about the results?  The fifth step is communication; publication or presentation.  The results of scientific research are usually made known to colleagues by discussion, presentation, publication, or all three; and in the modern world, discussion is largely done by email or in the halls at conferences or the written word.  Publication is usually done in peer-reviewed journals; hopefully those with wide circulation.

Scientific research is the most important way to determine the causes, trends, and possible solutions to climate change that we see occurring today.  Science is an important part of society and the advances made by scientists have been important to human beings’ continuance and well-being on Planet Earth.  Scientific research in climate science involves all aspects of Earth’s climate; present, past, and projections into the future with the use of climate models, mainly general circulation models (GCMs).  As some have said, we are living the experiment (4 above) and there is no second chance; Planet Earth is the experiment.

Scientific discoveries are usually made by following the logic of the scientific method, and sometimes discoveries are made because of accidents.  Serendipity (as in the “Three Princes of Serendip”) in science is a discovery made by accident and this has played a role in research in the past and will certainly play a role in the future.  Scientific research will usually lead to the advancement of human knowledge, which is the primary purpose of conducting scientific research. 

Scientific research has already led to many advances beneficial to humans in the medical sciences, such as drug research, and innovations which continue to make life better for humankind; Velcro, plastics, solid state electronics, synthetic fabrics, microwave ovens, the personal computer, laptops, ipads, smart phones, etc. are the result of scientific research.

Scientists do their work in many different ways.  Some use data they collect themselves; others use data collected by someone else.  Some work alone; others work in teams.  Most publish their work as soon as possible; others keep their research secret, publishing rarely if at all.  Some scientists are brilliant; others are not so smart.  Scientists are human; some more so than others.

This post is not intended to be the end of the discussion of the scientific method as I hope it starts a dialogue that expands on the topic.  The scientific method is as varied as those scientists that use it and possibly we can share thoughts and examples as we go forward. 

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 62:

  1. The link to the textbook fails and there's a font problem with "The four steps above form the basis of a scientific inquiry; they constitute a simple model for the scientific method. One possible sequence is 1, 2, 3, and 4. If 2 is true, what are the consequences? Testing (4) should include considering the opposite of each consequence in order to disprove 2. If 2 can be disproved, then start again with step 1."

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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed; thanks!
  2. When I introduced undergrads to the scientific method, I used to emphasize the iterative nature of the process:  tests of hypotheses may lead to theories, but the testing continues.  That in turn may require reformulated hypotheses, but even those aren't worth much if they can't be tested and survive testing.  I wanted to emphasize that science isn't an ideology (accepted for faith once and for all time) but a process of approaching the best representations of facts in nature.  Pseudo-skeptics accuse scientists of the same kind of faith that religionists praise, and I tried to do my bit to defuse that idea.

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  3. You write, "..what good is it if no one knows of the results?" The reality is the result.

    The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself.

    This specific attribute regarding the scientific method sets it apart from all the other sciences.

    GCMs are the creations of necessity to prove the hypothesis of AGW. The results of those models fall short of actual reality, concluding in a less than certain hypothesis. If the GCMs can't accurately predict the resulting evidence of actuality, maybe the models need to take into consideration other phenomena previously omitted from them.

    Climatologists, in defense of their models, either blame weather patterns for less than perfect predictions, or others simply confess that these weather anomalies is a result of a theory, despite their hypothesis.

    In order to strengthen the predictions of their hypothesis, these anomalies previously omitted from GCMs, should be concluded.

    Those anomalies are jet stream currents, ENSO, UHI, and possibly Illuminosity.

    Climatologists need to change their hypothesis to allow predictions prove true, in order to mirror reality, rather than make excuses as to why their models failed in comparison to empirical data.

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    Moderator Response: [DB] As an addendum to John Russell's comment below, please take further discussion of Climate models (it is noted you conflate weather models and climate models) to a more appropriate thread. Weather models are off-topic.
  4. A good riff on "science is what scientists do" is by Dan Berger.

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  5. Here are some entertaining and often enlightening quotes on scientific method.

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  6. @Climate4All

    You're making unreferenced assertions that lack any basis in reality.

    Global climate models are not, as you so accusingly describe them, "to prove the hypothesis of AGW ". They were firstly created to enable meteorologists to provide more accurate weather forecasts. Their use in making long term climate projections has been a secondary development. All factors considered, they are remarkably accurate and getting better all the time, though, of course, increased resolution, enhanced computing power and further research will always improve their accuracy.

    To suggest that climate scientists wilfully choose to ignore 'anomalies' such as you describe, indicates a lack of understanding—and your agenda. There's nothing any climate scientist wants more than to improve the accuracy of their models.

    Here's more reading.  And more; and more.

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  7. One important step omitted from the "preliminary look" is the checking of auxilliary hypotheses.  As noted by Pierre Duhem and Willard Van Orman Quine, scientific hypotheses cannot be used in isolation to make emperical predictions.  Rather, you need a conjunction of emperical hypothesesis to make such predictions.  That is, you need the primary hypothesis, and the first auxilliary hypothesis, and the second auxilliary hypothesis etc.  When the prediction fails, you know that one of clauses of the complex conjunction (set of sentences connected by the logical operator "and") is false, but you do not know which one is false.

    Checking auxilliary hypothesis has led to some of the greate scientific discoveries.  For instance, Ole Romer made carefull observations of the moons of Io in the seventeenth century to test Newton's hypothesis of universal gravitation.  When he noticed a discrepancy, he did not consider himself to have falsified Newton's law of gravitation, but rather the auxilliary hypothesis that Light travelled at infinite speed (which till then was also accepted by Newton).

    In an (oddly) more famous intance, Urbain Jean-Joseph Le Verrier predicted the location and mass of Neptune based on disturbances in the orbit of Uranus.  The search for, and discovery of Neptune at the correct location by Johann Gottfried Galle confirmed Le Verrier's auxilliary hypothesis (the existance of another planet) which saved Newton's hypothesis (universal gravitation) from falsification.

    Auxilliary hypotheses extend to such things as the correct calibration of instruments.  The history of the UAH temperature record is one of the repeated checking and adjustment of auxilliary hypotheses so that a record originally touted as falsifying AGW turns out merely to have had many false auxilliary hypothesis.  Once these were corrected the record confirmed global warming.

    As Imre Lakatos has explained, the fact that hypotheses never face refutation alone means that scientists are rightly resistant to concluding that core hypotheses are falsified.  Theories are tested not by single crucial experiments but by continued failure. In particular, a "scientific research program" (see line above) is not abandoned until it is clear that the adjustments to auxilliary hypotheses involved in retaining it are increasingly ad hoc, ie, that the predict no novel emperical content.  Newton's law of universal gravitation survived many apparent falsifying instances because the revised auxilliary hypotheses required to save it resulted in novel, and successful predictions.  Eventually, however, it was supplanted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity because Newtonian auxilliary hypotheses to explain discrepancies in the orbit of Mercury were were either falsified, or unfalsifiable; whereas General Relativity not only explained the discrepancy but predicted novel empirical content (the bending of light near the sun).

    The existance of auxilliary hypotheses needs to be urgently learnt by so-called "skeptics" of the IPCC concensus.  They repeatedly, and absurdly assert the falsification of AGW because they ignore auxilliary hypotheses about the temperature record.  Most recently, the ignore the effect of ENSO on that record in the short term.  Of course, they can easilly falsify AGW (if it is indeed false) by showing the auxilliary hypothesis (that El Ninos warm the Earth in the short term, and La Ninas cool it) is false.

    Good luck with that.

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  8. @John Russell #6

    Once again, please don't put words in my mouth that I do not utter. As the post suggest, Scientific research includes GCMs, but there is no mention of reformulation of them. But that is the Scientific Method. If not a large part as rockytom said,"mainly."

    From IPCC DCC, this disclaimer is stated:

    "Moreover, many physical processes, such as those related to clouds, also occur at smaller scales and cannot be properly modelled. Instead, their known properties must be averaged over the larger scale in a technique known as parameterization. This is one source of uncertainty in GCM-based simulations of future climate."

    RC posted on the subject of GCMs and the problematic behavior of ENSO:

    "...the question about how ENSO will respond to a global warming is still not settled. However, it seems that one common trait among some climate models is the indication that a global warming may result in a more a general El Niño-type average state."

    Peterson 2003 also stated, a leading climatologist for the IPCC also wrote:

    “Contrary to generally accepted wisdom, no statistically significant impact of urbanization could be found in annual temperatures.” This was done by using satellite-based night-light detection of urban areas, and more thorough homogenisation of the time series (with corrections, for example, for the tendency of surrounding rural stations to be slightly higher, and thus cooler, than urban areas)."

    So pardon me for engaging in a thought analysis that is part of the scientific method.

    There is no agenda here other than drawing out some conclusions regarding the scientific method. As the previous quotes I highlighted above, which by the way is sources derived from either, The IPCC or the authors that participated in the Assesment Report. They as much claim, as indicated, to the enherit difficulty predicting the exact anomalies I posted in a previous message.

    Why is it considered poor taste if i remotely cast doubt on climatology, when the authors of climatology express the same doubt, but you and others feel it necessary i do so for some agenda. Why dont you ask the authors of climate science why they are not complete sure of their predictions, rather than attack me?

    I only suggest this to open communication on the scientific method and just made reference to the posters on admission of GCMs as the main predictive factor in the method in how it applies. 

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  9. Climate4All@3, you said:

    In order to strengthen the predictions of their hypothesis, the anomalies [ jet stream currents, ENSO, UHI, and Illuminosity] previously omitted from GCMs, should be concluded(sic).

    Assuming sic is just typos (you mean "included", otherwise your sentence does not make sense), your very basic misunderstanding of climate science concepts is that you confuse climate with weather. You look at any single weather event and don't try to understand the big picture, as if you looked at a single tree and did not try to understand the tree is part of the forest.

    A better analogy would be the description of termodynamic properties of gas in a cylinder. You don't look at what each particle is doing (it's velocity, exact paths, how often it comes in contact with other particles, etc) when you want to describe the overall properties of gas: temperature, pressure, saturation. You can only say, that say the average velocity of particles increase with temperature.

    The exactly same distinction aplies between climate science and weather events. Climate scienists never say that that "these weather anomalies is a result of a [climate change] theory". They actually say that "probability of weather anomalies changes as the result of climate change".

    Please do your little homework and make sure you understand the basics before you blame the climate scientists and their models for misrepresenting the reality. They actually understand the reality far better than you because they can see the world through both larger/longer (average conditions) and shorter (weather events) perspectives. For example, climate models already know the influence of ENSO and can predict the effects. But you cannot, because all you do with your current attitude is look for one tree and deny the existence of a forrest.

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  10. @chrsikoz #9

    You write,"Please do your little homework and make sure you understand the basics before you blame the climate scientists..."

    You obviously wrote that before my second comment, otherwise I doubt you would had not made such an ill conceived notion as to my understanding.

    I don't make this stuff up. 

    How can tis broader audience be educated to which rockytom emphasizes, when there are contradictory responses among the (-snip-)?

    NOAA scientists suggest that,"higher global temperatures might be increasing evaporation from land and adding moisture to the air, thus intensifying the storms and floods associated with El Niño," while other scientists that RC post that ENSO may enter an average state. This is two completely different hypothesis from well-respected climatologists.

    (-snip-), that Climate Change is not the same as weather, you may want to ask the climatologists that are blaming recent weather patterns on AGW. Skeptics aren't blaming ENSO on Climate Change, the Climatoligists are. The Skeptics aren't blaming record snowfall on AGW. Climatologists are. So says the news.

    Please don't detract from the discussion on the Scientific Method please. Lets stick to the discussion of how to improve communication on the practice. (-snip-). 

    If I bring up any doubt, its only because if we can improve the method, we must first point out the flaws. Not the theory. The results of a correct prediction formulated on models will be all the facts I need.

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    Moderator Response: [DB] If you cannot take this model-centric discussion to one of the pages devoted to models here, then you will force the moderation staff to intervene more stringently. Inflammatory tone snipped.
  11. Climate4all - yours is a common misunderstanding about ENSO. There doesn't seem to be any consensus on how it will evolve in the future. Whether it will intensify or weaken, or whether we may see a shift to either more El Nino's or more La Nina's. The climate models are equivocal in this respect.

    But warming of the planet means the atmosphere warms and can therefore hold and redistribute more water vapour - intensifying the global water (hydrological) cycle. This occurs because the increased water holding/redistribution capacity increases at a rate faster than the warming (the Clausius-Clapeyron relation). So, when moisture is converged in a warmer atmosphere there is simply more of it, relative to areas where moisture diverges. The end result is more intense downpours (convergence), and more intense droughts (divergence).

    La Nina & El Nino represent two extremes of the global weather, which is why they exert such a dominant influence on year-to-year sea level fluctuations - see the recent SkS post: Earth Encounters Giant Speed Bump on Road to Higher Sea Level. La Nina & El Nino are part of Earth's circulatory system. Even if warming does not cause this circulatory system to change in any significant manner, the warming will continue to intensify the global water cycle because of the enhanced capacity to transport moisture. 

    SkS will have some posts on this, showing some of the modelling results, in the near-future - it's on my to-do list.  But the point here is that there is no discrepancy between what NOAA and the Real Climate post say - it simply boils down to a misunderstanding on your part. A common misunderstanding to be sure.

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  12. "Theories are tested not by single crucial experiments but by continued failure."

    Thank you Tom for this most valuable reminder.

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  13. Speaking of the scientific method, could somebody please point out how it works again to The Australian's invaluable (sarc) 'Environmental Editor', Graham Lloyd? My jaw just drops every time I come across his articles - and he's the one charged with bringing a 'balanced' editorial view to the paper's supposedly more sophisticated readership.The scientific method does not involve trawling the literature for the odd paper which can be spun, using cherry-picked quotes and out-of-context analysis, to make it appear as if the science is contentious or that those silly old scientists can't make up their minds.... This week, yet again, he misrepresents the surface air temps as representative of global warming, repeats the likely misquoting (via indirect quotes) of the IPCC Chairman (and James Hansen to boot!) and alleges that modeling completely mismatches reality.I know this is slightly OT but I am truly appalled at the kindergarten coverage provided by an Env Ed. on such an important issue. Does he actually care about the truth?
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  14. I work on a different level.

    I just do not know.

    I find out what is known.

    I then pull apart all that I have found out.

    If I have new information or insights I then publish to see what others think.

    The others will soon let me know how far wrong I am.

    When morons doubt the findings of this method because of their ignorance I wonder why I bother.

    I should just make definitive statements about a subject I have no idea about and defend this position with even more definitive statements without foundation.


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  15. Would it be worth including the differences between deductive and inductive reasoning in scientific theories? The notion of 'proof' is often misapplied.

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    Moderator Response:

    In the new textbook, Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis, deductive and inductive reasoning are discussed, pp 38-40.

  16. Ray, your comments would make sense if there was some scientific debate actually in progress. However, the "discussion" is between non-climate scientists, (ideologically-driven for most part), trying to fool the public with misinformation; and real scientists who on the whole are inept in public communication. If there was real debate, then it would be reflected in the exchange in scientific papers. There isnt. The "entrenched" position is a preference for reality over distortion.

    By all means discussion alternative hypotheses backed by data and published papers but good luck finding them. 

    Hansen's comments by the way represent no change in climate theory at all - merely a wondering about the actual value of a poorly measured forcing. Not a single equation in climate science is changed.

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  17. Well put scaddenp. And further to that Ray, if you'd actually done your homework and understood what's known with relative certainty and what remains to be pinned down with better precision, there's no way you'd be so easily mislead into thinking James Hansen had experienced some epiphany whereby he'd changed his thinking in some major way. Keep reading. As scaddenp said, the illusion of some great argument among the true experts is exactly that, a delusion born of ignorance. It is even more telling that you think that this imaginary 'blinkered' scientific thinking is somehow peculiar to climate science, a convenience of politics perhaps? M
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed name spelling.
  18. An article on the scientific method without a mention of Popper is a startling development. However it maybe no bad thing.

    Ray brings up Thomas Kuhn, but is already trumped by Tom's Imre Lakatos further up the thread. For anyone wanting to understand how normal science really works I'd definately recommend reading at least as far a Lakatos - in particular the distinction between progressive and degenerate scientific programs is particularly revealing with respect to climate science.

    A very brief stufy of the sceptic literature reveals that there is no skeptic scientific program, but merely a collection of inconsistent claims supposedly refuting the consensus program. At the same time there are constant challenges from within the progressive program re-evaluating parts of that program - a hallmark of a progressive program. While the greenhouse effect is clearly a part of that hard core, GCMs clearly aren't, which is where Climate4All misunderstands the shape of the program.

    Having said that, I think to fully understand the situation in climate science we need to go beyond Lakatos and understand not just the philosophy but the sociology of science.

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  19. I'm sorry scaddenp but having re-read the topic posted I can't quite follow the points you are making.  The article under dicusssion is on the scientific method and the comments I make on the scientific method are, as far as I can see, entirely relevant.  I presume therefore you are referring to my comment "However in the field of climate science this discussion is severely hampered by the entrenched positions on both sides of the debate."  Is this inaccurate?  There are discussions on climate science between  Dr Pielke Snr, Dr Pielke Jnr, Dr Roy Spencer, Dr John Christie and Dr Judith Curry who have some reservations about CAGW and Dr Gavin Schmidt, Dr Phil Jones, Dr Michael Mann, Dr Kevin Trenberth and Dr Eric Steig who have few reservations about of CAGW.  All of these are clmate scientists and it his hard to see how Drs. Christy, Spencer, Curry et al fall into your category "However, the "discussion" is between non-climate scientists, (ideologically-driven for most part), trying to fool the public with misinformation;.  Similarly I wonder if Drs.  Schmidt, Jones, Mann et all would be flattered by your comment  "real scientists who on the whole are inept in public communication."  All of these scientists publish and comment on the publications of others which seems to cover your point that " If there was real debate, then it would be reflected in the exchange in scientific papers." It is my opinion that there are entrenched positions but I accept that you don't consider this to be the case.  I respect yoiur opinion.   (-snip-).  

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    Moderator Response: [DB] Off-topic snipped.
  20. Ray,

    Dr Hansen's scenarios are discussed here.

    Science is not a game with two teams and "victory" going to the team that "scores" more accurate predictions. It is seldom that simple, and then only with very sketchy theories like caloric, the lumeniferous aether or the Steady State Universe. The last two were demolished by a single set of observations - but a complex set of observations and hypothesis like the Standard Model of Particle Physics could not be overthrown by a single experiment - though it might be modified.

    Dr Hansen's paper has to evaluated on the basis of the assumptions made, or the "auxiliary hypotheses" described by Tom Curtis in #7. You will find it emerges as far stronger than you give it credit.

    The outcome is no reason to abandon AGW as a theory.

    The failure's of Newton's theory to predict the orbit of Jupiter did not lead to its abandonment - it led to the discovery of Neptune. Newton's theories had made two many successful predictions to be given up lightly. Scientists are instinctively conservative and will not abandon a complex and sussessful scientific theory overnight - indeed Max Planck said they wait until followers of the old theory die out!

    PS AGW is a handy shorthand. What is CAGW? C standing for what, exactly?

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  21. Sorry Ray, false balance there my friend. Just because you can name three or four contrarian climate scientists (whose opinions are notably fringe in their field) who have at least managed to be published, doesn't mean the other three or four you pluck out of the consensus field should share equal billing with this mob and that'is all there is to it..... Oh no! Have a look at Hansen et al and at their publishing record and their citation indices etc then get back to me. It's like selecting a representative of EACH of the many and varied theories as to who wrote Shakespeare's plays and then chucking a single historian amidst this crowd who believes the evidence suggests that, hey, actually Shakespeare himself wrote them. This is not a fair representation of the 'expert historical opinion' out there and is a very contemporary phenomenon - as I said, false balance. It's the very crime I've been accusing the Murdoch press of above, esp The Oz.
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  22. shoyemor@20,

    Although the first hit on google translated said acronym as:


    Citizens Against Government Waste

    but I also found:

    Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming

    and that's almost certainly (I guess at least 3sigma) what Ray meant.

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  23. An alternative to the four steps of scientific method listed in the post is the notion of "strong inference" discussed by John R. Platt:

    Strong inference consists of applying the following steps to every problem in science, formally and explicitly and regularly:

    1) Devising alternative hypotheses;

    2) Devising a crucial experiment (or several of them), with alternative possible outcomes, each of which will, as nearly as possible, exclude one or more of the hypotheses;

    3) Carrying out the experiment so as to get a clean result;

    1') Recycling the procedure, making subhypotheses or sequential hypotheses to refine the possibilities that remain; and so on.

    Incidentally, the paper following Platt's paper in Science in 1964 might also have historical interest to some: "Glacier Geophysics" by Barclay Kamb: "Dynamic response of glaciers to changing climate may shed light on processes in the earth's interior."

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  24. chriskoz @22

    Ray is obviously sloganeering as the addition of the C to AGW is always done with pejorative intent. However there is no CAGW theory in the scientific literature so the faux-acronym is out of place in this discussion.

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  25. Thanks for the comments although it appears that you are all focussing on some remarks I made about climate science rather than on the scientific method.  Many of the comments I made on the scientific method including the "blinkered" comment were first enunciated by Kuhn whose work, incidentally, formed the basis of the subsequent work by Lakatos referred to by others  But to revert to the areas that appear to have ignited passions.   (-snip-).  And fiinally  there are very few scientists including me, that don't believe in climate change.  That said however, so far as I am aware there has been no direct observational or experimental studies that conclusively that global warming is primarily due to human production of CO2.  If there are such studies I would be very grateful for links to them as it is apparent such studies will be very relevant to this discussion of the scientific method

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    Moderator Response: [DB] Off-topic snipped.
  26. BillEverett @23

    Denial fails at 1) because they rarely come forward with alternative hypotheses. Platt's procedure seems to me to be fair enough, but many of these procedures miss out on the "hidden hand" of science - there is a big dependence on replication by more than one experimental group, groups which are often fierce rivals, as much as commercial organisations are rivals.

    Science does keep itself honest and self-correcting, though sometimes notorious cases slip through.

    My opinion is that long-standing scientific theories are rarely simple enough to stand or fall on a single experiment. A great example is the "neutrinos-faster-than-light" controversy of last year. First of all, no one got over-excited, awaiting replication of the results. Secondly, no one suggested abandoning Einstein's major axiom overnight. Short-cuts through higher-dimensions and other contrivances were suggested to "save the theory". In the end, it turned out to be error in the apparatus.

    A Richrd Feynman anecdote tells the same story. Feynman and Gell-Mann put forward a new theory of beta decay. They published and 6 months later, the first experimental test results came in - the theory failed.

    Gell-Mann said to Feynmann: "What do we do now?"

    Feynman shrugged. "We wait" was all he said.

    Another few months, and more results came in - the experimenter admitted a technical hitch, and the new results were confirmatory. it all tends to show that overthrowing a scientific theory is not a simple matter of totting up experimental predictions.

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  27. Ray,

    You are very adept at rounding up the usual suspects.

    Firstly, the group of climate scientists you name are one of the few groups you could possibly name in the category, whereas I could name hundreds of groups of four or five scientists who would not see eye to eye. One you get past the Heartland Institute annual jamboree of "climate science", you are at a loss. How about Prof Scott Denning,  Prof Richard Alley, Dr Ben Santer and Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan? Kindly enumerate where their "predictions" did not meet your standards.

    Secondly, what is your judgment on Dr Roy Spencer's many predictions of imminent cooling, and arctic ice recovery? Does this not suggest his "alternative theory" (if he has one) is falsified. You might care to read some of the slip-ups of climate misinformers by clicking the link on the top left of the page.

    I have been trying to emphasise the collegiality of science and its powers of self-correction. I would put by faith in the science as a whole, and not in your "Gang of Five".

    You seem uninterested in checking out the assumptions Dr Hansen made in his 1988 paper, despite being supplied with the means to do so.  A strange reaction for a scientist.

    It is also a strange attitude from a scientist to say that you "don't believe in climate change" and invite others to supply you with "evidence". Surely as a scientist you should check the evidence BEFORE you make decisions about your beliefs, expecially when it contradicts your prior assumptions. I expected you to be as familiar with the evidence as anyone else on the site.

    There is evidence out there (a lot of it on this site, if you could rise to checking it out) but few of us are in the business of making up the deficiencies of the intellectually slothful or the closed-minded.

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  28. Shoyemore.  I think debate is very stimulating ndf very useful but think you have misunderstood what I stated so perhaps I didn't state it clearly enough.  You say "It is also a strange attitude from a scientist to say that you "don't believe in climate change" and invite others to supply you with "evidence". Surely as a scientist you should check the evidence BEFORE you make decisions about your beliefs,  I did not I didn't believe in climate change but on rereading I can see why you thought I did as I phrased it poorly by saying " And fiinally there are very few scientists including me, that don't believe in climate change."  To make it perfectly clear I do believe in climate change but have yet to be convinced that climate change is caused only by humans.  But I have to apologise for some very poor phrasing which has created a false impression of my stancer om this topic

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  29. Feyerabend was correct in many points, about the messiness of how science really is and should be done.  You need not buy into his fully anarchistic view, to appreciate the truth of many of his points.

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  30. RAy,

    I think you need to show us where a claim was made that climate change was caused solely by humans. There is none on this site AFAIK and none in the scientific literature I ever heard of.

    You clearly have a lot of reading to do.

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  31. shoyemore,

    Over the past 60 years (1951–2010), the study finds that global average surface temperatures have warmed 0.6°C, while in climate models, greenhouse gases caused between 0.6 and 1.2°C surface warming. This was offset by a cooling from other human influences (mainly from aerosols) of 0 to 0.5°C. These results are consistent with all prior studies of the causes of global warming (Figure 1).

    Figure 1: Net human and natural percent contributions to the observed global surface warming over the past 50-65 years according to Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, light green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), Wigley and Santer 2012 (WS12, dark green), and Jones et al. 2013 (J12, pink).

    This is a quote from the "New study - Same result" posting here on SkS.  In this posting, "Humans" by causing the increase in ghg are responsible for between 100% and 200% of surface warming.


    I believe this satisfies your demand of Ray.

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  32. Thanks very much for your information Kevin which certainly fills in gaps in my knowledge and it would seem, may provide information of which shoyemore was also unaware

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    Moderator Response:

    [DB] "may provide information of which shoyemore was also unaware"

    Please cease with the strawman argumentation.  This venue is not about scoring rhetorical points.  Shoyemore's point

    a claim was made that climate change was caused solely by humans

    is not the same as

    ghg are responsible for between 100% and 200% of surface warming

    Shoyemore is certainly aware of the difference, as are the vast majority of the participants in this venue.

  33. Ray,

    I... have yet to be convinced that climate change is caused only by humans.

    What evidence have you seen that it is?
    What evidence have you seen that it is not?

    To what does the application of the scientific method point?

    [There is a wealth of evidence available, in a variety of forms.  At this point in time, there is no reason for there to be any doubt in this matter.]

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  34. Ray @27, I don't think it is fair to Lakatos to say that is work "followed on" from Kuhn.  It would be better to say that it "followed on" from Popper (whose student Lakatos was), differing from Popper almost exclusively in properly accounting for the Duhem-Quine thesis.  Despite that, both Kuhn and Lakatos recognized the remarkable similarities of their theories.  Indeed, both agreed that where it not for one issue, they would be essentially the same theory.  That issue was "incomensurability", Kuhn's thesis that paradigms could not be understood from within the framework of competing paradigms.  Lakatos rightly rejected that thesis as irrational, and clearly false.

    The problem is, it is that thesis, and only that thesis that you appear to have drawn from Kuhn.  You have flushed away all that is valuable in Kuhn, and retained only the dross.  The simple fact is that if "paradigms"/"scientific research programs" are not incomesurable (as Kuhn would have it), then an acceptor of one paradigm can recognize what is valuable and what is dross in another paradigm.  Given that, while there may be biases against unpopular or improbable theories, these biases will be a consequence of the fact that scientists are human and have human emotions.  They will not be systemic, and they will not preclude original or valuable advances with any merit.

    Indeed, the history of climate science shows that climate scientists are willing to try any theory that shows minimum plausibility.  The extent of funding for research into Svenmarks theory of climate modulation by cosmic rays shows climate scientists do not, in general, supress rival theories.

    Unfortunately the authors of those rival theories are not so generous.  They appear to want their theories to be accepted without first meeting the tedious requirement of empirical confirmation that has been met by the standard theory.  Indeed, the only epistomological bar placed on alternate theories is not empirical success, but only that it be "anything but CO2".

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  35. The image below is taken from the SKS article Kevin quotes, and clearly show both natural and anthropogenic contributions to global warming.

    Ray's point 

    I... have yet to be convinced that climate change is caused only by humans.

    Is clearly valid when talking about climate change in general, but incorrect when talking about the specific instance of the climate change that is happening now, where have anthropogenic contributions have been shown to predominmate.

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    Moderator Response: [RH] Fixed image width.
  36. [Science] is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. ... The obvious is sometimes false; the unexpected is sometimes true.
    — Carl Sagan

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  37. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. - Richard Feynman

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    Moderator Response: [JH} Posting quotes without providing context is skating on the thin ice of sloganeering. Please cease and desist.
  38. Climate Newbie - "...if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong"

    Indeed. With that in mind, it's interesting to see how 'skeptic' predictions fare against the IPCC (skeptic predictions fare poorly). Raymond Pierrehumbert discusses some successful predictions here, and there's an interesting overview of successful climate model predictions - dating back to Arrhenius. Not to mention that has theory has repeatedly proved out over initial (incorrect) measures such as the UAH temperatures

    'Skeptic' predictions, whether of temperature, Arctic ice, or pretty much anything else? They don't fare very well against the data; they are (so far, at least) wrong. 

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  39. My own point of view is that the four step process outlined above is a better definition of engineering than science. My main beef is with the first step. Science is not about solving problems, it is about answering questions. When one presumes the existence of a problem, there is already an inherent bias toward prescibing a solution. Real science must start with the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. If that knowledge identifies problems, and possible solutions, that's wonderful, but that is not the essence of science.  

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    Moderator Response: [JH] Your prior post was deleted because you provided no context for your quote.
  40. Climate Newbie, 37,

    Many people misapply that Feynman quote.  You might want to look at what I wrote about it a few years ago (after taking the time to put the quote into context by reading the entire speech from which it came, and recognizing the audience and goal of that speech).

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  41. Climate Newbie, 40,

    I'm not saying you're wrong, but I think you're being a bit pedantic.  So if we rephrase it are you happier?

    1. Define a question that needs an answer;
    2. Formulate an explanation for the situation;
    3. Determine or deduce a prediction based on the explanation;
    4. Perform tests or experiments to see if the explanation is valid.
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  42. I kind of get what CN is saying. We have no 'need' to work out how the universe began, nor is the the matter a 'problem' that requires us to solve it. We ask because we are curious.

    1. Define a question that may be answered analytically.

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  43. Kevin #31,

    Ray did not say "surface warming". He said "climate change", and climate can be influenced in many directions when it comes to a range of phenomena.

    Phil's chart (#37) shows that climate change is a multi-factor process, of which the human contribution is only one.

    Ray was unaware of this, exposing his lack of understanding ... a strange lack for a scientist who (one would have expected) have examined the evidence for what he was propounding.

    Phil actually summarises it very well. Human factors may dominate (that is the claim Ray should have been discussing), but there are other influences.

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    Moderator Response:

    [RH] All further discussion of "human contribution" needs to be taken to a more appropriate thread.

  44. A brief comment on models in relation to the scientific method. First, there are big theories with names, etc., and there are little theories. Each theory is an expression of our understanding of how a part of the observable "real" world works. Big theories explain a reasonably large part; small theories explain a small part. Hypotheses or conjectures are "reasonable" proposed amendments to a theory.

    A theory can be stated in words. A theory stated only in words is rather imprecise and open to multiple interpretations. A better statement of a theory is a mathematical equation (or system of equations) relating quantities representing measurable aspects (observables) of the world. Some equations are exactly solvable (analytically). Many equations are not exactly solvable. Many different techniques of numerical analysis have been developed (and are currently being developed) to deal with equations that are not exactly solvable. The large majority of contemporary numerical methods involve "computer simulation" approaches, and there are many different computer simulation techniques. (All the preceding statements about equations apply equally to systems of equations.) Hard science is not interested in imprecise theories that are open to multiple interpretations. Hard science is interested in precisely stated unambiguous theories, which means mathematical equations relating quantities that represent observables.

    In this context, "theory" and "model" are essentially synonyms. The theory (model) is not the words we use to discuss or describe it. The theory (model) is the equations and the operational definitions of the measurable quantities involved in those equations.

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  45. John Russel "Global climate models are not, as you so accusingly describe them, "to prove the hypothesis of AGW ". They were firstly created to enable meteorologists to provide more accurate weather forecasts."

    A 5 fold improvement in the case of the UK, Met Office.

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  46. Ray - first, show me any science that uses the term CAGW. This is strawman material.

    Continuing, the scientists mentioned are indeed climate scientists who have created true scientific discussion in the correct way - by publishing paper in which their methods etc. have been available for examination. The scientific method has kicked in and tested these ideas against experiement - and tossed them all out. "A" for effort, but still no other hypotheses in the air at the moment. I applaud the effort in one sense because, although motivated by ideology (eg see Spencer on what he thinks his role is) rather than the scientific quest, science depends vitally on a constant search for alternative hypotheses. This is doing it right.

    Doing it wrong is saying one thing to your peers and another to the naive (public, congress); and pushing misrepresentations of science of political objectives (noting that environmentalists can be guilty of this too). In my opinion, doing it wrong it also trying make reality conform to your political prejudices but I think the scientific method and publication conventions are robust enough to filter out any poor science resulting from such an approach.

    Hansen and the others change models as data and methods improve as indeed they must. Compare say Mann 98 with say Mann 2003. You want others? Idealogues dont change at all. All of your list fortunately agree on all the basic climate theory. They have however, all tried valiantly to find something else in the climate system that might give a low enough value for climate sensitivity so that action to mitigate isnt necessary. I wish they would put some of that energy into finding effective mitigation measures that is compatible with their political philosphy instead.

    So are you looking for a good theory which accounts for climate - or an excuse to discount current theory  because mitigation actions proposed so far are discordant with your politics? If the former, then perhaps take your specific questions about attribution of climate change to the appropriate topics here (use the search tool).

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  47. This has to be one of the weirdest myths out there — a belief that science is so "fragile" that if some people are doing it "wrong" they can somehow create thousands of independent lines of envidence that all converge on the same, wrong conclusion.

    What is even more remarkable is that there are people out there claiming to be scientists who think climate scientists are doing it "wrong", thus exhibiting two breathtaking displays of ignorance — first, that the scientific endeavour depends on people doing it the "right" way and that the normal standards of publishing, replicating, and responding won't sort out the wheat from the chaff in this case; and second, that they have somehow failed to notice that the whole of climate science and associated fields is a demonstration of normal scientific practices anyway.

    Papers get published; others respond with refutations or enhancements; new data is added to the mix, bolstering some and refuting others; science progresses.

    Mann's hocky stick is a perfect example of science progressing while non-scientists are still going on about whether the methods used in the original paper, fourteen years ago, were good or bad. Mann himself stopped using those methods long ago, yet still manages to produce hocky sticks along with a whole host of other researchers using new and different techniques.

    Climate models, too, keep having more and more details added to them as computing power and techniques allow in the ongoing attempt to make them more useful and capture as much behaviour of the real world as practical. Science progresses. Failures fall by the wayside.

    One of the great ironies, of course, is that the darlings of the "skeptical" movement — some of whom were mentioned already in this thread — are the very same people who have a history of trying to construct theories to support their preconceived beliefs, and of repeatedly being shown to be wrong, and then of effortlessly moving on to the next contrarian theory ("anything but AGW") hoping that they'll get it right this time (or, in some cases, simply refusing to acknowledge that the data has disproved their theory or their logic was flawed). Most of us don't care if they are putting the cart before the horse and doing their science "wrong" because we know that they're unlikely to arrive at the truth that way and therefore their ideas will fall by the wayside, but those who seem to care most strongly about doing it "right" also seem to have a massive problem actually recognising those who are doing it "right" and those who are doing it completely "wrong".

    It seems instead to be the last, desperate refuge of those unable or unwilling to accept what the science has to say; if you don't like the result, assert that those who established it didn't do so "correctly".

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  48. Thanks to all of the above for your comments regarding the scientific method post.  I especially enjoyed the links provided by Tom Dayton and have read most of the statements in the links.  In our textbook, Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis, we discuss the scientific method and attempt to distinguish hypotheses from theories although I'm not sure of the success of doing so.  We illustrate the "scientific method" by giving examples of results; Darwin's "uncluttered mind" in formulating new hypotheses/theories (origin of atolls, the 'descent of man,' natural selection); T. C. Chamberland's 'multiple working hypotheses' and a few more.

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  49. Hi,

    I apologize for being so off topic here and wish a suggestion on where best to post this inquiry. There is a great new paper out in Science:

    New article by Parennin, et al .  

    Science Magazine

    This shows that if one corrects carefully enough for the "lock in" effect in ice core analysis you remove such a large inherent bias towards temperature apparently leading CO2 that  for EPICA dome data you go  from 800 years CO2 lags temperature with error of 600 years to CO2 and Temp in consilience within 100 year error bar.

    I posted a technical question on the only thread that seems to get into the intricasies of dating ice cores, post 5 on SKS thread "New Research from Last Week 23/2002."

    But I am nor sure where the best place to post this inquiry is, especially in a more upto date thread people are likely to read.. Any suggestions?




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  50. ecgbehrt, why do you think that your post will be removed? Did you read the comment policy? If so, did you knowingly deviate from it? If yes, what did you expect? If you took care in following the comment policy, why then would you think that it will be removed? Since this thread is more about epistemiology than "hard" stuff, on-topic requirements are obviously less rigid. Although it is not exactly on-topic I do not see that your post deviates from the comment policy further than what will get you a possible warning, which the moderators of this site routinely do when veering too far off-thread. I expectthat it will stay. If it does and that surprises you, I would like to know why. If it is indeed removed (which would surprise me), I know that the mods will furnish an explanation, another thing they routinely do.

    Being open minded does mean that one should fill his mind with useless junk. Catering to people who make absurd claims does not constitute open-mindedness. In matters of science, absurdity is not so subjective. A point of view about physical reality does not have validity only by virtue of its existence. Some points of view are worthless; they stem from ignorance, incomprehension, are ill-informed or any combination thereof. Others are dishonest, nonsensical, self contradictory or stupid. Making that clear does not constitute closed-mindedness. Such point of views do not even gain a modest foothold in science because they do not withstand even the earliest stages of application of the method. That is a good thing.

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