Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
There’s a lovely 2005 paper I hadn’t seen, put out by the Los Alamos National Laboratory entitled “Our Calibrated Model has No Predictive Value” (PDF).
Figure 1. The Tinkertoy Computer. It also has no predictive value.
The paper’s abstract says it much better than I could:
Abstract: It is often assumed that once a model has been calibrated to measurements then it will have some level of predictive capability, although this may be limited. If the model does not have predictive capability then the assumption is that the model needs to be improved in some way.
Using an example from the petroleum industry, we show that cases can exist where calibrated models have no predictive capability. This occurs even when there is no modelling error present. It is also shown that the introduction of a small modelling error can make it impossible to obtain any models with useful predictive capability.
We have been unable to find ways of identifying which calibrated models will have some predictive capacity and those which will not.
There are three results in there, one expected and two unexpected.
The expected result is that models that are “tuned” or “calibrated” to an existing dataset may very well have no predictive capability. On the face of it this is obvious—if we could tune a model that simply then someone would be predicting the stock market or next month’s weather with good accuracy.
The next result was totally unexpected. The model may have no predictive capability despite being a perfect model. The model may represent the physics of the situation perfectly and exactly in each and every relevant detail. But if that perfect model is tuned to a dataset, even a perfect dataset, it may have no predictive capability at all.
The third unexpected result was the effect of error. The authors found that if there are even small modeling errors, it may not be possible to find any model with useful predictive capability.
To paraphrase, even if a tuned (“calibrated”) model is perfect about the physics, it may not have predictive capabilities. And if there is even a little error in the model, good luck finding anything useful.
This was a very clean experiment. There were only three tunable parameters. So it looks like John Von Neumann was right, you can fit an elephant with three parameters, and with four parameters, make him wiggle his trunk.
I leave it to the reader to consider what this means about the various climate models’ ability to simulate the future evolution of the climate, as they definitely are tuned or as the study authors call them “calibrated” models, and they definitely have more than three tunable parameters.
In this regard, a modest proposal. Could climate scientists please just stop predicting stuff for maybe say one year? In no other field of scientific endeavor is every finding surrounded by predictions that this “could” or “might” or “possibly” or “perhaps” will lead to something catastrophic in ten or thirty or a hundred years. Could I ask that for one short year, that climate scientists actually study the various climate phenomena, rather than try to forecast their future changes? We still are a long ways from understanding the climate, so could we just study the present and past climate, and leave the future alone for one year?
We have no practical reason to believe that the current crop of climate models have predictive capability. For example, none of them predicted the current 15-year or so hiatus in the warming. And as this paper shows, there is certainly no theoretical reason to think they have predictive capability.
The models, including climate models, can sometimes illustrate or provide useful information about climate. Could we use them for that for a while? Could we use them to try to understand the climate, rather than to predict the climate?
And 100 and 500 year forecasts? I don’t care if you do call them “scenarios” or whatever the current politically correct term is. Predicting anything 500 years out is a joke. Those, you could stop forever with no loss at all
I would think that after the unbroken string of totally incorrect prognostications from Paul Ehrlich and John Holdren and James Hansen and other failed serial doomcasters, the alarmists would welcome such a hiatus from having to dream up the newer, better future catastrophe. I mean, it must get tiring for them, seeing their predictions of Thermageddon™ blown out of the water by ugly reality, time after time, without interruption. I think they’d welcome a year where they could forget about tomorrow.
Regards to all,