Steve Burnett’s Hard vs. the Soft Sciences Essay; An Ongoing Debate Central To Climate

Guest essay by Dr. Tim Ball

Steve Burnett’s “Hard vs. the Soft Sciences” essay is interesting but misses the problem in studying climate and other generalist areas in an era of specialization. It also misses information about the nature of the brain and what it is to be human.

A book that addresses the issue is Antonio Damasio’s Descartes Error subtitled, Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain published in 1997 and followed by a sequel in 2003, Looking for Spinoza. Responses to this Burnett’s essay would usually include complaints about being off topic but because it speaks to the few who demand it stick only to “hard” science it will likely stand. People’s reaction to the essay will be tempered by their abilities and training.

There is no more common error than to assume that, because prolonged and accurate mathematical calculations have been made, the application of the result to some fact of nature is absolutely certain.” – A.N.Whitehead. (1861 – 1947) British Mathematician, Logician and Philosopher.

As far as the laws of Mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. – Albert Einstein

I am sorry to say there is too much point to the wisecrack that life is extinct on other planets because their scientists were more advanced than ours. – John F Kennedy

 

The problem is encapsulated in the names climatology and climate science. The former is a generalist study trying to put the pieces of a vast puzzle together; the latter is the work of individual specialists that include the hard sciences. This battle has gone on ever since the word scientist was applied to certain specialist areas. Darwin is now considered a scientist but in his lifetime he was a naturalist. At that time only two faculties existed in western universities, the Natural Sciences and the Humanities. Today Social Sciences, which those in the ‘hard sciences’ consider an oxymoron, are the largest faculty. As a climatologist I take a systems approach and try to put each specialist piece in the general puzzle. If it doesn’t fit I want to know why and too often “hard” scientists are unable to offer an answer.

This was the theme of my presentation at the first Heartland Climate Conference in New York. Weaver and Mann inferred it was an issue in their lawsuits against me. The problem the “hard” scientists have is an inability to explain what is wrong with the political use of climate because generally 80 percent of the population doesn’t understand, avoid the topic, or are proud of not understanding “hard” science. Sadly, Gore exploited this reality with great effect.

Burnett’s essay smacks of the superiority of those who think because they can practice the “hard” sciences their knowledge and understanding is superior. Lord Kelvin was even more narrow, “All science is either Physics or stamp – collecting. This can become almost pathological, as we have witnessed in the climate debate. However, it is only true because “hard” science has convinced society it is superior. The adjectives “hard” and “soft” illustrate the point. The former is sharp precise immutable, while the latter is vague, imprecise, pliable and therefore subject to change. Burnett’s title doesn’t advance the debate much because the very title is combative and divisive.

Burnett’s essay is based around an introspection of his abilities and life experiences. Ironically, they provide information that would interest many people in different subsets of the “soft” sciences especially psychology, but especially psychoanalysts. It appears his view is tempered by his abilities and life experiences. We all see the world through the prism of our nature and nurture.

I experienced several examples of the battle between “hard” and “soft” climate over the years and Burnett’s essay illustrates it continues. When I began studying climate it was to deal with the lack of long term records. Hubert Lamb set up the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) to address the problem.

“…it was clear that the first and greatest need was to establish the facts of the past record of the natural climate in times before any side effects of human activities could well be important.”

Lamb understood you couldn’t do “hard” science without data. One of the IPCC solutions is to create “data” in a computer model, parametrization, and inject it as real data in another model. As Sherlock Holmes, through his author Arthur Conan Doyle said,

I have no data yet. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.

That is a good description of the activities of the “hard” scientists at the IPCC.

I wrote an Honours Thesis on why the “hard” sciences ignored the role of humans as an agent of change. The Masters thesis measured and scientifically analyzed energy inputs in creating depositional environments. My doctoral thesis combined the Arts and Sciences by using scientific quantification and analysis of historical sourced data. It was categorized as historical climatology, which only fit into Geography in the academic discipline divisions. After a presentation to the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton I was asked by a “hard” science faculty if it was true I was denied funding by the two major government-funding agencies. I was not denied because I never asked. The “hard” science funding didn’t cover the historical and “soft” science funding didn’t cover climatology. Fortunately the National Museum of Canada, which tries to explain the world, recognized the problem and provided funding.

“Hard” science people use the accusation of being a geographer as a put down to denigrate my skepticism about global warming and latterly climate change. The University of London determined that I graduate with a science degree but through the Geography Department because there was no Climate Department.

The underlying theme of the essay is redolent of logical positivism and that is fine up to a point. It is based on the idea of the ability to measure, but as Jacob Bronowski noted, that also determines the limit of our understanding. Consider the changes to our ‘understanding’ of the world caused by the introduction of the microscope and telescope.

The IPCC is a bizarre product of all these biases and prejudices complicated by deliberate misuse and misdirection. Burnett’s claims about purity for the “hard” sciences were grossly distorted by the IPCC. They built computer models supposedly built on “hard” science with completely inadequate data. They created data called parameterization, which is supposedly based on “hard” science but creates different results depending on which “hard” scientist is in charge. As the IPCC notes,

The differences between parameterizations are an important reason why climate model results differ.

The results of this “hard” science are merged with “soft” sciences, particularly economics, in the Reports of Working Groups II and III.

The dominance and arrogance of the “hard” sciences are displayed in the adage that, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist”. This assumes rocket scientists are smarter than everyone else. I substitute a different area of work to illustrate the societal bias. “You don’t have to be a farmer” brings laughs but I challenge people to run a modern farm. They would learn that it requires a generalist approach combining a multitude of specializations from soils through marketing.

I learned as a child that if I heard a rocket, the German V I “doodlebug”, I went directly to an air raid shelter. That rocket was sent courtesy of a “hard” scientist, Wernher Von Braun. Mathematician song writing satirist Tom Lehrer wrote about Wernher and used the verse ,

Don’t say that he’s hypocritical

Say rather that he’s apolitical

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down

That’s not my department,” says Wernher Von Braun

The problem is not the “hard” science per se, but how it is achieved and then used.

In the laboratory strict adherence to the methods and procedures of science is required, which the IPCC failed. When you claim your “hard’ results are valid and promote them to influence public policy through the vague imprecision of “soft’ science, another set of responsibilities apply.

This value difference between “hard” and “soft” science provides proof that the IPCC is not practicing proper “hard” science. “Hard” science makes predictions, which if wrong indicate the science is wrong. “Soft” science makes predictions that invalidate themselves. For example, an economic study identifies issues and makes predictions. People read and react seeing economic and political opportunities that invariably counteract the study and invalidates the predictions.

Burnett implies that today’s “hard” science is definitive – it is settled, but it isn’t yesterday’s “hard” science and it won’t be tomorrow’s. It also implies that all “hard” scientists agree. The IPCC conclusions are based on the conclusions of “hard” scientists in Working Group I The physical Science Basis. It is “hard” scientists who disagree with their work, but there is even disagreement among these skeptical “hard” scientists.

Elvin Stackman said,

Science cannot stop while ethics catches up – and nobody should expect scientists to do all the thinking for the country.

No, not all the thinking but at least some. Surely, the problem with the IPCC “hard” scientists is they are trying to do all the thinking for the world. The leaked emails called it “the cause”, which was the original political objective of those who created the IPCC.

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71 thoughts on “Steve Burnett’s Hard vs. the Soft Sciences Essay; An Ongoing Debate Central To Climate

  1. Lord Kelvin was even more narrow, “All science is either Physics or stamp – collecting.”

    It was Rutherford not Kelvin. It is always best to check historical data.

  2. Tim

    “It is “hard” scientists who disagreements with their work, but there is even disagreement among these skeptical “hard” scientists.”

    There’s something about this sentence…

  3. It has been reported that a disproportionate number of climate skeptics are scientists, engineers, programmers, and other techical people. This is perhaps because they understand the limits and pitfalls of science, and recognize when things go pear shaped. In particular, they know that when someone declares that he or she can reliably predict a system which is stupendously complicated, chaotic, and ill-understood, then that person is blathering.

  4. I found this essay quite challenging. I’d never thought of Mann et al as, “Hard” scientists at all. One lives and learns, do one, as Fats Waller nearly said.

  5. since Burnett’s was trained in both the hard and soft sciences I’d say his essay weights them both and finds the soft sciences wanting in rigor, consistency and data … “smacks of the superiority” seems to be an overly sensitive reaction to being told you field is lacking in rigor, consistency or data … seems like he hit a hot button issue for you … I notice one of your defenses of soft science seems to be that soft scientists are just as smart as hard scientists … nobody said otherwise … you are just wasting your time on the soft science is all he said … doesn’t make you stupid … foolish maybe but hardly less intelligent …

  6. “Burnett’s essay smacks of the superiority of those who think because they can practice the “hard” sciences their knowledge and understanding is superior. Lord Kelvin was even more narrow, “All science is either Physics or stamp – collecting.” This can become almost pathological, as we have witnessed in the climate debate. However, it is only true because “hard” science has convinced society it is superior. The adjectives “hard” and “soft” illustrate the point. The former is sharp precise immutable, while the latter is vague, imprecise, pliable and therefore subject to change. Burnett’s title doesn’t advance the debate much because the very title is combative and divisive.”

    I’m not familiar with Dr Ball’s writing style, and it could very well be that it wouldn’t be to my personal taste even if I was, but I read HIS essay twice and I’m STILL not sure what his intention was, or if he achieved it.

    He seems to make a LOT of assumptions about Burnett…what Burnett “thinks”, how Burnett sees the world etc and repeatedly lumps him into a category that might be called “ALL HARD SCIENTISTS”, which I object to for several reasons. First, it’s unscientific to imply that ALL of some group or another are IDENTICAL so he cannot possibly know what Burnett thinks or feels without asking/verifying such things. And second, he poisons the well (category) he keeps trying to put him in with phrases like “almost pathological” and “combative” and “psychoanalysts”.

    All I see is one man’s “view [that has been] tempered by his abilities and life experiences” being criticized by another man whose views have also “been tempered by his abilities and life experiences” as “interesting” but “missing the problem” as man #2 sees things.

    But maybe it’s just me…

  7. Dr. Ball — I think Burnett may have stepped on your sore toe on this issue. His essay was extremely insightful regarding many of the problems facing Climate Science the way it is practiced today. You may have taken a much too binary view not intended by the author. He certainly wasn’t arguing the old hard-soft dichotomy you speak of — at least not the way I read it.

    The part I liked best was that he pointed out that like in the softer sciences, experiments are not constrained to one variable, results are often interpretational, not determined necessarily by the actual findings, yet are declared, none-the-less, definitive–sort of like in psychology.

  8. A more pragmatic approach to the distinction between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ would be to acknowledge that ‘hard’ science has hard tests… hypotheses are directly testable against nature and the results are directly observable… therefore the hypothesis is directly falsifiable. That is the ‘hard’ part… not merely the mathematics. e.g. Chemistry was developed long before activation energy could be calculated, but it was verifiable and repeatable…

    Soft sciences – regardless of their mathematical clothing – are ‘soft’ when they cannot be directly verified with tests against nature…

    Science is corrupt when it avoids repeatability, when practitioners hide data to defeat and obscure the efforts of other practitioners to repeat them… when they use societal pressure to stop experimentation, when self-referencing (e.g. table-driven with hypothesis-recursive data) models are presented in place of actual nature-checked experimental data… when contradictory data is suppressed and mis-represented.

    It’s time to start holding up the standards of behavior… the tests for ‘hard’, ‘soft’ and corrupt to public scrutiny. There is not enough money or time left to allow the practitioners of category 3 to quietly slide off stage as their actions are rolled back.

  9. Most of the supposed “hard” science of the IPCC is a charade. Window dressing.

    It’s a political organisation that trys to pretend to be scientific to claim an authority and a false objectivity which it is not due.

  10. My problem with the social “sciences” is that each assumes what the other exists to demonstrate. Economics assumes human behavior not always in evidence to a psychologist, cultural anthropologist or sociologist.

  11. The IPCC is stuffed with activists pretending to be scientists and scientists trying to be activists.
    Without clearly and openly showing the huge uncertainty contained in the current state of knowledge and dropping the “show of hands” expert opinion , there is and will never be anything hard about IPCC science.

    It’s politics and social engineering , not hard science.

  12. You give too much credit to IPCC “scientists.” IPCC stands for InterGOVERNMENTAL panel on Climate Change. They’re politicians.
    Yes, they hired some scientists. They did not ask these to study the matter and find out the truth. They asked one batch to study ONLY human-caused mechanisms. The second batch was asked to find consequences–assuming the conclusions of the first batch were true.
    The third batch was to find solutions to the double-distorted “problems” cooked up.
    The point of the whole thing seems to be how to grub more MONEY out of the general public by scaring them half to death.(Carbon tax, from which Gore would make millions).

  13. William Sears says:

    Lord Kelvin was even more narrow, “All science is either Physics or stamp – collecting.”
    It was Rutherford not Kelvin. It is always best to check historical data.

    ==

    Especially if one claims to have a doctorate based on studying historical data !

    Ah well, that’s soft scientists for you.

  14. Only the naive or the deluded believe that an AOGCM with dozens (or hundreds) of adjustable parameters represents “hard science”. No valid method exists to find a unique set of optimized parameters that best reproduce current climate. No valid method exists to place a confidence interval around the mean output.

  15. Distinguishing between the Hard sciences and the Soft sciences does not mean that one of them has to be “dissed” or “put down.” I have known for about 40 years some soft scientists who have done absolutely brilliant statistical work on migration trends in the USA. There is no need to “put down” that work. It was brilliant and useful. However, it was not science. It produced no universal generalizations at all much less some that are held true today. The statistics of migration in the USA between 1940 and 1990 is necessarily limited by the phenomena occurring at that time. Unless that time repeats itself, which is a very deep philosophical question, that statistical work has no immediate application to other migration patterns.

    Hard science that succeeds always produces one or more highly confirmed universal generalizations that are held to be true for all time or until a prediction from one of them is found to be false. The simplest such generalizations are pure empirical generalizations. Kepler’s Three Laws of Planetary Motion are the first examples in astronomy. Newton introduced his Theory of Gravitation which contains some theoretical terms but was able to explain Kepler’s Laws from his own work as a special and limited case. And Newton’s Laws can be obtained from Einstein’s Laws as a special and limited case. Older, less sophisticated, universal generalizations remain alive as special cases of the more comprehensive theories that replace them. Hard science is cumulative. Soft science is a creature of its time and place.

    I have challenged anyone and everyone to produce from the soft sciences at least one universal generalization that is highly confirmed and is accepted by all scientists as true until further work reveals some prediction from the law that proves false. There is no such law and there never will be.

  16. The most pressing issue for “the cause” today is simply to raise awareness of “climate Change” as meme that somehow must be important. “The cause” must somehow leave the impression with the masses that man’s unrelenting use of carbon fuels is somehow causing all manner of “weather” things from hot summers, cold winters, droughts, floods, forest fires, and even ever higher food prices. But quite the opposite are careful considered analyses of those items strongly suggests that is increased CO2 release (more energy use) which can solve and mitigate all those natural climate variability-related phenomena.

    Why is it simple awareness “the cause” now seeks, even if not succeeding to convince? Nobel-winning economist Daniel Kahneman identified it in his best-seller, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” where he writes, “People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory – and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the medi. (p. 9)”

    “The cause” is about a very expensive (and easily argued unnecessary) drive to re-align society and its focus away from individualism to collectivism. A collective is easier to control and manipulate for a privileged class of rulers and enablers (in Russia enablers are called oligarchs, in the US they are simply billionaires like Steyer and Buffett). And in that cause, the ends are seen as fully justifying the means, no matter how intellectually dishonest, including hard and soft “science”.

  17. From Steve Burnett’s essay and Dr. Tim Ball’s above response, they both appear to have different definitions of “hard” and “soft” sciences. Dividing sciences into “hard” sciences and “soft” sciences is unnecessary and false.

    Why is it necessary to categorize economics, psychology etc as “soft” sciences? If somebody starts trying to convince everybody that 2 + 2 = x, and that “x” is dependent on the climate of the day, does that make arithmetic a soft science? Wouldn’t it be proper to conclude that the so called “soft” sciences are valid sciences but that we have not discovered the foundational principles that govern those sciences. What if somebody does discover those foundations? Then, will the “soft” sciences graduate to “hard” sciences?

  18. I have challenged anyone and everyone to produce from the soft sciences at least one universal generalization that is highly confirmed and is accepted by all scientists as true until further work reveals some prediction from the law that proves false. There is no such law and there never will be.

    Parkinson’s Law? (“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.)

  19. I started reading Steve Burnett’s article when it came out and dropped it after about page of it not seeming to be going anywhere.

    This article prompted me to give it another look and I found it quite worthwhile.

    Thanks.

  20. [snip - sorry, no drive by clues. If you think something is wrong, come right out and say it - Anthony]

  21. German V 1 was a cruise missile, not a rocket. Wernher Von Braun had nothing to do with it. A hard scientist should be more careful about facts.

  22. Prior to reading this essay, I posted this comment on a “accepter” site:

    “The world is fill with simple, easy-to-understand wrong answers. Science is filled with consensus that were wrong. Whenever the science is settled, you can be assured it is wrong. Does man contribute to climate changes? Sure. Most notably from land use changes. Is CO2 correlated to temperature change.? Somewhat, however geologically there is a relatively poor correlation.

    The hyperbole surrounding AGW is astounding considering most of it is based on computer models that have consistently overstated temperature increases. It would be better to understand the dynamics of climate variation, including all natural and man-induced changes before running amok like Chicken Little. That is not a conservative or liberal position; that is a scientific position… and by that I don’t mean “popular science.” Climatology is far removed from the rigors of physics. Today it is closer to alchemy.

    Now, let’s get to the point: earth has been warming for several centuries since the Maunder Minimum of the late 17th century. Of course, that warming has not been linear… climate change is never linear. Earth is approaching a “warm” period similar to that during the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages, but still within a geological cold period… a warm interlude that is not unprecedented within “modern” times.

    What is unprecedented is the level of government funding and competition among the mundane science of climatology for these funds. But the money grab is not limited to the hyperbolic feeding frenzy of academics. Environmentalists, nascent industries, and former politicians have benefited enormously from this fountain of money. Is that bad? Well, only in the sense that it is an incentive to prove a conclusion rather than find the complete truth. Money guarantees that the answer will always support the continuation of the money supply.

    In science, it does not take a consensus to find what is correct; it takes one scientist who is correct and others to verify. Politics relies on consensus, not science. Science relies on falsifiable evidence. Computer models are not falsifiable evidence. There is much more work to be done. The first step should be the verification of the raw data which has been the biggest source of contention, most notably data revisions and inconsistent measurement techniques. Then skip the computer models and move to real analytical efforts that don’t involve “earthquakes caused by global warming” type of hyperbole.

    Of course, the consensus of “accepters” will not like that approach. Consensuses rarely do. Real science, such as physics, always does. Doubt and skepticism is the hallmark of real science. Any area of science that relies on ad hominem attacks on those who question consensus is not real science.”

    *************

    Consensus or acceptance of a prevailing idea is not proof. Science is never settled. Even when theory significantly aligns with observation, it is always necessary to be open to new possibilities. With regard to 1] climate and 2] projections about climate, the factors first part are partially understood which should lead both the “hard” and the “soft” scientist to temper declarations about the future.

  23. This is like when the AGU last year struck from its bylaws the words Geophysics, Geophysicists and Geophysical and inserted the phrase ‘Earth and space science’.

    So the AGU went from a “Hard Science” to a soft science.

    No doubt AGU is using membership money to fund their Political activism and legal funds of Gleick and Mann.

  24. dorsai123 says:
    May 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

    “..since Burnett’s was trained in both the hard and soft sciences I’d say his essay weights them both and finds the soft sciences wanting in rigor, consistency and data …”

    Agreed. Burnett’s essay to me is a valuable contribution in terms of where climate science is indeed. I plead guilty to having in the past argued that geography fulfilled it’s mission over a century ago when the earth had been “graphed” and today it is remapped hourly. I take nothing away from the great Ptolemy, Mercator, et al – remarkable stuff- but the reason we can map it hourly is the work of physicists and engineers. Similarly, climate science should be a matter for the “hard” sciences if we are looking for theoretical explanations of phenomena, forecasts of where we are going, and a foundation for making policy. “Soft” sciences gather data such as it is, fiddle with it and see what simple patterns can be teased out of it – usually leaving a scattering of other variables out of consideration. Sketchy data and lack of consideration of other variables makes it possible to argue any political philosophy, economic school of thought, direction for educational policy… Their product is largely qualitative prose about an apparent tendency for this or that.

    Geography’s classical contributions to climate are descriptive “it never rains in southern california”, “the prairies average 25″ of rain a year”. Back when that was what we were interested in as far as climate goes it was a part of geography, like coffee grows in Brazil. If you honed all the right tools but circumstances forced you to get degrees in an anachronistic discipline, don’t plead the case for geography, convert yourself to a hard scientist. BTW, there is no such thing as a rocket scientist… ah that would be engineer.

  25. This was an interesting read, I am feeling that both essays were dealing with somewhat different subjections. They were both personal and delved into areas of research be it hard science or soft science and perhaps murky grey areas where the two collide. I liked Burnett’s story of dropping a book during a lecture to provide a demonstrable experiment that gravity exists, hard science, to counter the lectures premise that nothing could be definitively proved. I found that very human. I am not sure there is much disagreement with these two essays, they are both pointing to a kind of failure of the “sciences” and the end result of media, policy, and professions and politics being at cross purposes with very deep pockets engineering settled science to advance agenda. If this is correct then indeed…”Houston, we have a problem!”

  26. The way I see it is it’s nothing but groups playing follow the leader.
    “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” – Rahm Emanuel.
    And that’s all it is.
    I believe the scientists, politicians, the media, bureaucrats and their unions, academia, the green industry, the financial industry and ngos et al are finding what they need in CAGW and they’ll not let their purpose nor their causes go to waste.
    Whether it’s selling more newspapers or controlling trillions in hedge funds… chasing the money or following your dream, it’s there in CAGW. Even if it means denying reality.
    The problem is they just inch along in the same direction getting their way as they say “See, the climate’s changin’, Gimme Gimme.” This will be very hard to stop.
    I think the first thing that must be exploited is the legal system. As long as judges recognize our US Constitution the takers can be stopped or at least slowed down. Somehow, as Mark Steyn and Tim Ball are showing this is our greatest hope and we must create ways to stop the tide there.
    Actions like Brandon’s in the face of UoA bullying show they know they don’t have a leg to stand on.
    We need to keep forcing the FIOA and scream to the heavens and their superiors when they start pushing citizens around. They tend to be a bit hypocritical about bullying.
    Another thing that might slow things down is to push their differences.
    Bird choppers must have some natural enemies. Some greens are pro-nuke and at least some in their movements must truly care for the poor. We need to somehow use that capital.
    cn

  27. Theo Goodwin says:
    May 23, 2014 at 12:45 pm
    ******
    I agree with everything you said except the last sentence:
    There is no such law and there never will be.
    .
    Now to discuss what we do agree with. If we use the narrow definition of science as stated by you, which I fully agree with, then those who discover such universals are called scientists, which by that very definition are very very few. But we have many many who study and use the discoveries of the very few. Are they scientists by that definition, or is anyone outside being the discoverer of universal principles a scientist?

    SK says:
    May 23, 2014 at 1:16 pm
    *****
    Then, will the “soft” sciences graduate to “hard” sciences?

    Precisely – I believe Theo has answered that question. The problem with this discussion is that everyone has a different understanding/definition of science, hard science and soft science.

  28. Which is harder: the “hard problem” of consciousness, or that of proving the existence of the Higgs boson? At the moment, the consensus is that the former has not been solved (and may prove to be inherently insoluble) and that the latter has.

    “Hard” science tackles problems that can be comparatively easily framed and tested and are usually susceptible to mathematical modelling. The modelling and test equipment may be very sophisticated, and few may be able to grok the physics, so it’s hard in that sense, and also in the sense that there is some hard evidence. But the objects of study are simple in the sense of being fundamental or elementary.

    Mathematical models are useful, but they aren’t reality itself. No one has a clue what, say, gravity or electrons represent: they are understood in terms of the models. The harder we look at the fundamental elements of reality, the more insubstantial they become, even though there may be very precise mathematical descriptions of them. “Shut up and do the maths” may be the advice to students of QM, for example.

    Some people, especially those who can understand our physical models of reality, think those models *are* reality rather than utilitarian ways of describing it. That they aren’t reality itself is demonstrated by the fact that they change over time, whereas reality itself, whatever it might be, presumably doesn’t. Indeed, isn’t that built into the philosophy of science?

    Precise understandings of complex realities like consciousness or the climate system or organisms or human behaviour or global economics are well beyond the reach of current “hard” science. This is where the truly “hard” problems lie. Their study can’t yet be modelled in precise mathematical terms, and who knows, may never be. So: should we not study them, or label them as “soft” in a pejorative sense on that account?

    The issue as I see it is that so-called “soft” scientists, who in actuality attempt to study the most difficult problems, think they can be understood by superficially mimicking the approaches of “hard” science like physics. Alas, the objects of their study aren’t elementary forces, particles, waves etc.

    Moreover, it isn’t clear whether all complex systems can be reduced to physics: the opinion that they can is based on the utilitarian success of physics working at the elementary level. It’s a metaphysical assumption that everything is reducible to physics, but even if it is, we still don’t know what the actual reality of elementary forces, particles, waves etc. is. The whole thing is a human construct, limited by the capacity of the human mind. The true nature of reality, for all we know, may be inherently beyond human capacity to understand.

    I sense in some contributors here that they think, possibly because they are skilled in physics and/or mathematics, that they see a truer reality than those who aren’t so skilled. I think Tom Ball is on the money when he says: “Burnett’s essay smacks of the superiority of those who think because they can practice the “hard” sciences their knowledge and understanding is superior”, though I might have put it a little more diplomatically. Indeed, I actually did try to do that in Burnett’s thread.

    There are different ways of trying to understand reality, and the application of physics/mathematics is but one. But useful and clever as it is, it hasn’t elucidated one iota of information about what reality, in and of itself, is. We’re no further forward in that than our cavemen ancestors, and still ask the same questions they did, because physics and mathematics as currently conceived of are inherently unable to answer them.

    Will this ever change? I remember reading a story by a science-fiction author whose name I can’t recall which posited a society which had advanced to the point that it could deterministically predict human behaviour and future outcomes of their present actions. I sometimes think that many “hard” scientists (admittedly not all–some have more humility and subtlety of thought) think that in principle that’s possible; that everything will eventually dance to the tune of their present ways of grokking reality: but it ain’t necessarily so.

  29. The difference between soft and hard science is like a man holding a gun pointed at another human being. It’s hard science that dictates what happens when that trigger is pulled 100% of the time. But soft science is just trying to determine what made the man decide to pull the trigger and somehow try to control his behavior.
    cn

  30. Sorry DR. Ball, there are too many soft scientists that know how to sound good but their ideas are not testable or disprovable yet these ideas are spread as if they are fact. This is the problem with “soft” science, it is not science at all!!!!!
    v/r,
    David Riser

  31. You can argue about hard sciences and soft sciences, but on the face of it “soft sciences” were simply the sciences that run into difficulties with precise answers to “how”, “why” or “when” soonest. Soft sciences rely almost solely on qualitative data and drivel like the recent “data” collected to characterize AGW sceptics as kooks, filtered carefully and craftily or incompetently through statistics. They are thus inherently fuzzy and generalizing.

    Sociology and anthropology encountered the problem almost immediately after stepping out of the door. They are (well ‘were’) able to study “savages” living far away (if the subjects lived far away, they were subjects for study almost by definition – and you got travel too), but you couldn’t stroll into someone’s home next door, especially one of the moneyed elite, to see how things worked there. They also carried profound baggage with them, the kind that Bacon’s empirical and laboratory methods would not help with. Your average European social scientist was just as certain about how things “ought to be” as your average Baptist, Democrat, Republican, Marxist, Climate Team, or Tea Party member is. As long as one is quite certain how things ought to work, you are frequently blind to the reality that while things are “wrong” they are still working. The “ought” then is neither universal nor diagnostic nor natural law.

    Hard sciences run into trouble in a different fashion. When studying geology I took classes with a fellow whose ambition was to see the day that a “real” geologist would never step out of doors. He would literally grind his teeth anytime someone countered that things like plate tectonics could never be discovered in the lab, nor was it likely that earthquakes would ever be predicted unless the lab was on top of the fault, and then only that fault. Among hard sciences there are in fact lab sciences and field sciences and sub-disciplines within sciences, and the competition for funding, rivalry, antagonism and politics is as vicious as anything we might see in climatology or climate science. When you consider “soft” answers, consider just how unnerving it is to discover that a “natural law” doesn’t hold up beyond a certain scale. If we really understood gravity, there would not at present be the flailings about dark matter and Modified Newtonian Dynamics that have been prevalent in cosmology lately. You even see proponents pointing out that MOND is predictive and thus a real theory, while dark matter is prescriptive and therefor risible.

    All science is soft when pushed far enough, usually just beyond the lab door. History on the other hand is fiction with footnotes.

  32. Well it seems that I struck a chord.

    The original point to the essay was to point out, in a soft voice the fundamental differences in rigor between the two. I am not familiar with Dr. Balls work and he may have the utmost care and respect for the scientific method. That’s also irrelevant.

    The point of the essay was not to bash scientists who practice in soft fields but to examine the fields of study themselves. Psychology has ample crap studies and Carol Gilligans work was simply one example of what irritated me in my classes. There have also been some phenomenal experiments with true predictive results.

    For instance we know that when subject to indirect pressure to conform a subjects actual perception will change. This was demonstrated in an experiment where a subject was surrounded by confederates and mistakenly identified the longest line when the confederates did the same. In the Zimbardo experiment we discovered that tribalism and the stripping of an individual’s identity makes it far easier to dehumanize them. We even know that only 25% of people will resist a strong authority figure ordering them to progressively harm someone.

    While I was studying psychology I had one class, not for the semester but simply as a guest lecture, where they brought in an alumnus working on his masters thesis at another school. The experiment and analysis he presented are both what I would consider “hard” science.

    The issue between the hard and soft sciences is not per Se the researchers. As I mentioned it’s not a methodological error. The problem is cultural. If the masters student was representative of the field as a whole perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the need to shower after every lecture.

    I have never made such a resounding point as when I dropped the book in my research methods class. Carol Gilligan should be psychologys piltdown man, it’s phlogiston but instead she’s a textbook case for adolescent development. In climate science the hockey stick curves get destroyed within a few weeks of publication. The fact that they pass peer review is exactly the point.

    Every field has shoddy researchers. Every field has some very stupid theory or evidence that was accepted for some period of time. Those are teaching moments for the hard sciences. But they are a regular occurrence for the soft sciences. In the hard sciences the research and associated scientists are cast out and forever marked and ridiculed. In the soft sciences the Wagons are circled and for the most popular hypothesis, tenure.

    Trying to breakdown and examine the differences between hard and soft sciences is like trying to study a mosaic from the individual tiles. Each individual is irrelevant, it’s only when you step back and look at the whole ensemble do the differences become clear.

    Like I mentioned the hard sciences are like a rock. Given time pieces will fall away exposing more rock. The soft sciences are like sand, easy to mold and shape but the next wave washes away any impact.

    The success of the hard sciences in advancing society is indisputable. The respect that hard scientists [receives] is why everyone wants scientist or engineer in their title. But as much as custodial engineers may seek the title they are in reality still janitors. Soft sciences by the same token, are still closer to experimental philosophy than they are to the rigors of [naturalistic] determinism.

    Any soft scientist is welcome in the hard sciences. I wouldn’t disparage anyone from participating in the field. Just remember to keep your hypothesis testable, your results reproducible and to leave your emotions at the door. The hard sciences are about searching for reality, the idea that perception is subjective is why we use instruments and math.

    Everything else is opinion, and opinions are like sphyncters everyone has one. If you don’t accept or expect your field of study to be knowable and predictable than you are no closer to the hard sciences than theology.

    [This sentence reads oddly: "In the soft sciences the Wagons are circled and for the most popular hypothesis, tenure." How should it be corrected, if at all? .mod]

  33. It is actually the “hard” scientists who are naïve ,simplistic, and lacking both in common sense and scientific competence when they mistakenly believe that they can make useful predictions of future climate. Only small volumes of time and space and a carefully selected small number of variables are subject to useful analysis by the equations of classical physics. For example – Newtonian -Einsteinian gravity works with great utility at the scale of the solar system but fails hopelessly
    at galactic levels. Like the climate scientists the cosmologists are so wedded to their mental constructs that they immediately invent epicycle like theories – in their case dark matter and energy – to preserve their equations which they revere like commandments brought down from the mountaintop.
    The GCMs are basically local weather forecasts scaled up to global levels spacially and to time periods well beyond any possibility of accurate computation. Once again see and accept

    The notion that climate can be forecast with a handy dandy climate sensitivity to CO2 equation is simply risible . That most of the establishment scientists appear to support, or at least do not dare speak out against, this misguided notion is a sad example of the parlous state of government funded academic science in general during the latter half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st.
    Climate science is, in its essentials, an historical science. Readers would do well to read Vol1
    of The Geological Time Scale 2012 Gradstein et al Eds Elsevier to gain some understanding of the methods of Historical Science. Do not doubt that this is a hard science in that billions of dollars are spent every year to test the accuracy of its predictions in the oil and mining industry.
    For a forecast of the possible coming cooling based on the 60 and 1000 year quasi periodicity in the temperature data and using the Neutron count and 10Be record as a proxy for solar activity see

    http://climatesense-norpag.blogspot.com.

    This type of prediction is in reality “harder” than anything produced by the IPCC modelers which depend on a myriad of subjective speculative assumptions concerning the variables and processes involved. The validity of the models is given credence merely by the pronouncement of some mystical “expert” consensus achieved at occasional conclaves of self appointed climate cardinals.

  34. The distinction between hard and soft science is itself, at best, soft science. Therefore, my dear hard scientists on this thread, shut up, like Wittgenstein – “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” – or accept that hard science does not have all the answers we seek, and that there is a legitimate place for soft sciences.

  35. Much enjoyed Dr. Ball’s article. Always informative and thought provoking. Reminds me of the difference between classical and applied mathematics. One get the exact answer, but can only be applied in limited cases. The other gets and approximate answer, but can be applied to a wide range of cases.

  36. There is no such law and there never will be
    ===========
    Occam’s Razor
    The 80-20 rule
    No pain, no gain
    Bread always falls butter side down.

  37. There is no such law and there never will be
    ============================
    and the grass is always greener on the other side

  38. My training is as a historian (Ph.D., UCSB, 1970) and in finance (MBA, USC, 1975). My reading and studies in these disciplines, plus the material available to me regarding climate, suggest to me that the distinction between “hard” and “soft” science, as usually posited, is not useful. The real distinction should be between information gathering by sound procedures (in history, this is reference to source documents, in finance, it is analysis of business performance), and speculation and empty assertions. I find it really rather easy to differentiate between speculation and empty assertions, on the one hand, and grounding in verifiable, reproducible observed physical data on the other. Some of that verifiable, reproducible observed data, I would hasten to point out, is to be found in the historical sources, the writings and other records of past ages which demonstrate what the climate was like in those past eras.

    This is the real distinction worth noting here, I think: basing claims on speculation or empty assertions (i.e., climate models) or on properly systematically gathered physical data (the procedures which I have generally observed climate skeptics to follow, in drawing their conclusions).

    Based on my reading of the historical record, I am confident in asserting that in this source alone there is information – hard data – sufficient to debunk the global warming alarmist meme. The hard science concerning CO2, solar activity, ocean currents and the like is a necessary adjunct to this historical evidence, but the historical evidence by itself is sufficient in my view. For this not to be, one would have to deny that farming took place in Greenland in the Middle Ages, or that wine grapes grew in England, or any number of other amply attested events. These are facts at least as hard as any physical property of CO2.

  39. It is “hard” scientists who disagreements with their work,

    What sense make this does?

    [Corrected, thank you. .mod]

  40. “””””…..Dr Norman Page says:

    May 23, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    It is actually the “hard” scientists who are naïve ,simplistic, and lacking both in common sense and scientific competence when they mistakenly believe that they can make useful predictions of future climate……..””””””

    Well I have to disagree.

    Real scientists know a priori, that there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of “making useful predictions of future climate”.

    The problem with being able to make predictions; particularly about the future, as folklore says Yogi Berra put it, is that the ability to predict the future endows one with the knowledge necessary to disruptively alter the future; thereby falsifying the prediction.

    If I could predict (with certainty), that I was going to die in a car crash, in five years time; I can prevent that from occurring, by jumping in front of a train tomorrow.

    Yogi Berra was correct. Predicting the distant future is logically impossible.

  41. The problem I have with soft science is they seem to think that they are doing hard science. When it comes to the global temperature one cannot say if it is truly going up or down, the error bars are far to large, the work to determine it is monumental. The real answer is our best guess at this time is, April may have been the warmest X on record. Yet you never hear that, instead you get April 2014 was the warmest X on record. The reality is our measure stations are full of errors and we really have no idea what UHI is doing to them. I stated to my wife today a real study on UHI would require measuring station in a grid pattern not more than five miles apart running at least a hundred miles out from the city center and if it was a mega city at least two hundred miles. The disturbing thing is we have the technology to do it but no one will spend the time or the money to do it. Instead like the Red River Valley flood prediction comparing today with 50 years ago, back then a dedicated group would spend the entire winter collecting hard data and then would predict the flood forecast, to day they do it with computer and now the go from oh it not a problem this year to hey Fargo you have a week to prepare for the larges flood ever, then after two more large floods science then, last year it was hey Fargo be prepare for a huge flood and it was nothing to worry about, I was driving around during the melt and it was oblivious there simple was not enough water in the snow that was melting to mount any kind of a threat. Computer models are no better than the data feed into them and if you are not will to gather the data instead rely on your assumption instead of hard work you end up with a pile if garbage for output. The reality is the human race all live in micro climates and none of us know how and of it affect the macro. Lastly we occupy such a small part of the earth 78 percent is cover with water, on continent is total uninhabitable as is over 50% of the rest, If you doubt me add up Siberia, the deserts, the tundra, mountain regions and the semi arid regions and see what number you come up with. that leave us puny humans less than 15 of the land mass and yet that is where we measure the temperature and than have the balls to extrapolated it over the entire world. I think we are terribly delusional in what kind of number we really have. The satellite records are the best thing we got we have such little history with them we cannot have any idea what they are telling us. Maybe climatology in it present state should not even be labeled a soft science I think we should create a now label for most of what passes as soft science today , it should be called disillusion science.

  42. Michael Larkin says:
    May 23, 2014 at 4:20 pm
    “”Will this ever change? I remember reading a story by a science-fiction author whose name I can’t recall which posited a society which had advanced to the point that it could deterministically predict human behaviour and future outcomes of their present actions. “”
    ————————————————————————————————————————————-
    Isaac Asimov,s “Foundation” series?

  43. Theo Goodwin:
    I have challenged anyone and everyone to produce from the soft sciences at least one universal generalization that is highly confirmed and is accepted by all scientists as true until further work reveals some prediction from the law that proves false.

    Not sure I’m ready to take your challenge, but I would put forward a couple of candidates from my own field (linguistics).

    1. The establishment of regular sound change in Indo-European languages (ref: the Grimm Brothers), often referred to as ‘sound laws,’ created quite a stir in the 19th century, as it appeared to be the first major case of human behavior that could be hindcast and verified by further investigation.

    2. Roman Jakobson’s Kindersprache, Aphasie und allgemeine Lautgesetze made a case for a very specific development of phonology that describes normal language acquisition by all children, for all languages. Jakobson’s proposals were being taken quite seriously during my grad school days (way back in the 60s), though I haven’t kept up to date.

    3. The MIT linguists in the second half of the 20th century have very effectively re-opened the issue of linguistic universals. What is it that is common to all natural languages? The was that there is no known way a child can, on the basis of what he hears in his first years, discover the structure of language that he soon demonstrates. Inference: Significant and specific knowledge about natural languages is ‘built in’ to the human brain. Search is on to specify and verify that knowledge.

    I toy with the idea of asserting that at least some part of linguistics could be considered a hard science, ultimately based on empirical evidence. But even though theory is based on observable behavior, attempting to hypothesize and prove underlaying causes involves longer chains of inference than are comfortable. One hopes ultimately for more and better empirical data.

  44. “Surely, the problem with the IPCC “hard” scientists is they are trying to do all the thinking for the world. The leaked emails called it “the cause”,”

    ‘The Cause’ is based on Malthusian ideology, and it has some predictable patterns.

    (It is based on the idea that society faces an insolvable problem that will cause it to inevitably decline or crash, unless acted on by new forces and/ or ideas outside the ‘normal’ operations of society. The ‘normal operations of society’, in their view, will ultimately only cause society to crash in a Malthusian inevitability.

    The International Panel of Climate change should really be called the International Panel of Social Change, as that is their basic foundation and motivation.)

    Here are some patterns related to the ‘Malthusian cause/ideology':

    -It is very resilient to external criticism, as all serious criticism is labelled as originating from protecting society and its operations the way they are, which in their view is the very problem to begin with. So all such criticism is ruthlessly ignored and suppressed, as in the climategate emails etc.

    -It is a very flexible cause, since, because the future is both certain and inevitable, whatever errors arise or modifications need to be made, these are only speed humps along the road to the inevitable. They do not significantly affect the underlying ‘Cause’.

    -It is not based on actual data, so is not falsifiable by actual data, moreover data is not even really much ‘valued’ anyway. Data has to fit ‘the cause’ to be of value.

    The point to make right here is that this position of Malthusian inevitability is not a scientific position; if it is not based on data, then it is not science. End of story. All of its underlying assumptions are highly questionable, from an inevitable crash. to lack of resources, to unacceptable ‘pollution’.

  45. goldminor, thanks: yes, I believe it was Isaac Asimov; just looked it up on wiki and the word he used was “psychohistory”.

  46. Soft science is like a poison to hard science – even a little bit in the mix kills the objectivity. Climate models, proxies, consensus all fall into the poisonous category – not science. Get over yourself.

  47. My discipline is good science. Your discipline is bad science. But at least we are still speaking to each other. That guy over there who we both refuse to even speak to is from pseudo science. How did he even get in here? My point is science will save the world.

    “Don’t touch that son, that’s science”
    – Me to my young son at tidal motion model exhibit, Agricultural Show 1994.

  48. There’s the related tension between observational/empirical science and theoretical science.

    When calculating the age of the earth Kelvin dismissed the concerns of geologists and biologists because he had the model and the maths.
    The science was settled,

    e.g. http://gilkalai.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/answer-lord-kelvin-the-age-of-the-earth-and-the-age-of-the-sun/

    A shame that his final calculated age of 20 million years was about 4.18 billion years short of the mark.
    However it’s also true that the dispute with Kelvin forced geologists to begin to think quantitatively, something which they had managed to avoid previously [and still do if possible].

  49. Thanks, Dr. Ball, for this excellent piece. The distinction between hard and soft science is not tenable, as a lot of work in Philosophy of Science has shown. And even if it were tenable (or we ignore the issue and use our intuitive definitions of these concepts) it would not help us to make progress on the climate debate.

    But then again, Philosophy of Science is of course a soft science, and maybe my humble mind is just too limited to get Burnett’s point. After all, I haven’t “been a scientist since before I had proper memory formation”, or gave lectures about condensation trails from airplanes at 13 months of age. I suspect I was still learning to walk and speak at that age, actually.

    But someone who spends the first 450 words of a 2300 words essay to emphasize what an exceptional god’s-gift-to-manking type of genius he is may be well advised to go and talk to a qualified soft scientist about how to improve his impression management skils.

  50. thingadonta says:
    May 23, 2014 at 11:27 pm

    (expanding upon)
    “Surely, the problem with the IPCC “hard” scientists is they are trying to do all the thinking for the world. The leaked emails called it “the cause”,”

    ‘The Cause’ is based on Malthusian ideology, and it has some predictable patterns.

    (It is based on the idea that society faces an insolvable problem that will cause it to inevitably decline or crash, unless acted on by new forces and/ or ideas outside the ‘normal’ operations of society. The ‘normal operations of society’, in their view, will ultimately only cause society to crash in a Malthusian inevitability.

    Good commentary. Thank you.

  51. @ferd berple:

    Occam’s Razor
    It is philosophical principle, not a principle for soft sciences.

    The 80-20 rule
    That is a general heuristic. It works many times, but many times it also doesn’t.

    No pain, no gain
    Again, that is a general heuristic (this time, more reliable than 80-20 rule) for biophysical activity, not soft science.

    Bread always falls butter side down.
    That is a witticism.

    Where is sociology or anthropology?

  52. Golden says:
    May 23, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    You do not have to be a discoverer of universal generalizations. You only have to contribute.

  53. John Slayton says:
    May 23, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    I regret having little time to respond to your very interesting post. Because Chomsky focuses on syntax rather than semantics, his program might produce true universal generalizations. But my guess is that they will exist more as mathematical or engineering principles that limit the capabilities of certain parts of human consciousness. Study of semantics is study of meaning and will remain a “soft science”, but not an unimportant discipline.

    We must be patient. Our understanding of human consciousness is roughly the same as ancient Egyptians’ understanding of the movements of the planets.

  54. The only difference between hard and soft sciences is the availability of data. There is a lot of hard numerical sociology and geography going on. Ironically, the collection of data is usually in the realm of soft.

  55. Curious George said:

    German V 1 was a cruise missile, not a rocket. Wernher Von Braun had nothing to do with it. A hard scientist should be more careful about facts.

    Yes, but the V1 flying bomb attacks on London were soon followed by the V2 rocket attacks and the V2 was developed by Wernher Von Braun. In fact the Peenemünde Research Centre was responsible for both weapons although different teams worked on them.

  56. It’s all semantics. I have always heard of soft and hard scientists, but the word, soft, was always meant to cast the so-called social sciences as non-sciences. (nonsense?). What we have are science, and non-science. It either is or isn’t.

    I stick to the saying, “You don’t have to be a farmer to know when you have a rotten egg” when discussing whether somebody has to be a scientist to see where the IPCC has gone off the tracks.

  57. Michael Palmer says:
    May 23, 2014 at 6:57 pm
    The distinction between hard and soft science is itself, at best, soft science. Therefore, my dear hard scientists on this thread, shut up, like Wittgenstein – “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” – or accept that hard science does not have all the answers we seek, and that there is a legitimate place for soft sciences.
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    Strongly disagree.

    Hard science drives consensus (yea, yea; I know consensus isn’t proof…) by rigorous use of the scientific method; soft science, not so much. Reality is a very tough master.

    Activities this discussion calls “soft science” may indeed deliver value – it just isn’t science (or it’s not yet science). I suspect “soft science” wishes to be considered “real science” to share the credibility and influence (e.g.: climate science) that’s been hard-won by Newton, Einstein, Feynman, et al.

  58. The problem that I have with blaming climate science’s flaws on the hard/soft science distinction, aside from the hard/soft science distinction itself being intrinsically soft, is that there are far more glaring flaws in climate science, with one of the most glaring being that from its early infancy it was heavily politicized.

    Many so-called “hard” sciences have been politicized in the past. Physics is not immune. Biology is not immune. Geology is not immune. Linguistics is not immune. And from the fact that carbon dioxide is often referred to as carbon by people who call themselves scientists, and otherwise normal apparently educated people can be easily gulled into signing petitions to ban DHMO, even good old chemistry is not immune.

    So, of course, it’s easy to blame economics, sociology, or psychology for “contaminating” all those “hard and pure” sciences somehow, in that those “soft” sciences in which there is a lot of ideological influence on interpretations because they can’t really do fully controlled experiments, and where it is easier for politics and groupthink to show themselves, are obviously not really “scientific”… but I don’t think climate science deserves to get off that easy.

    Climate science did not need to be contaminated. It was corrupt from its inception.

    I remember lots of economists objecting to the IPCC’s scenarios because the IPCC people weren’t using reasonable methodology by the economists’ “soft science” standards, and the IPCC people brushing them off and not making any changes at all…

  59. Daniel G. says:
    May 24, 2014 at 9:01 am

    “Where is sociology or anthropology?”

    Good question. I was told by a Chief Justice of Nigeria 50 years ago that sociology was the study of European society (all white people were called Europeans there) and anthropology was the same thing for non-white societies.

  60. rocket drive ain’no science at all. not to say ‘hard science’. ridicoulos.

    At best it’s technics.

    Wehrner von Braun’s

    V1
    Vengeance1
    Vergeltung1

    was Kindergeburtstag, Halloween, Hollywood, Spielberg, Las Vegas.

    So many people to die whilst building. The poorly miltary outcomes.

    Sole scientific base Ziolkowski: scifi for nonadults.

    V1 was driven by dark emotions, no science at all: just try and fail.

    We dear need soft science to protect us from hard doomsday technicians.

    Was 911 science?

    brg Hans

  61. “It has been reported that a disproportionate number of climate skeptics are scientists, engineers, programmers, and other technical people. This is perhaps because they understand the limits and pitfalls of science, and recognize when things go pear shaped. In particular, they know that when someone declares that he or she can reliably predict a system which is stupendously complicated, chaotic, and ill-understood, then that person is blathering … ”

    Everyone is conservative about what he knows best … Conquest’s First Law ( … of Politics But it works here, too.)

    The other two are:

    2. Any organization not explicitly right-wing sooner or later becomes left-wing.
    3. The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.

    Those work on this issue, too.

  62. I have challenged anyone and everyone to produce from the soft sciences at least one universal generalization that is highly confirmed and is accepted by all scientists as true until further work reveals some prediction from the law that proves false. There is no such law and there never will be.
    Theo Goodwin, WUWT May 23, 12.45pm

    There is a universal law developed in soft sciences that applies also to all sciences, and it is simply this:
    ‘All scientific conceptions of the Universe are influenced by the social milieu, linguistic heritage, political environment and personal psychology of the scientists who make them’
    In my experience as a science and policy analyst, having been involved in environmental issues specifically involving computer simulations and prediction, and at all levels of policy development from government to inter-governmental, I have hardly ever come across a ‘hard’ scientist who understands this law – most are unaware of its existence. More specifically, they are unaware of the extensive literature in sociology and social anthropology on the way that hard scientists conduct themselves. Barry Barnes’ seminal Interests and the Growth of Knowledge showed many years ago that even mathematics and geometry were not free from such pervasive influences.
    With regard to climate science, there are some clear patterns:
    • Foremost, is a ‘belief’ that model simulation on a planetary level can deliver adequate predictive ability. The evidence from a long list of failures does not support that ability (CFCs, PCBs, Acid Rain, mercury in the marine environment, dispersion of radio-active elements, thresholds of effects for toxic substances) but this fact illustrates another point –
    • That environmental science consistently covers over the tracks of its failures, thus failing to learn from its mistakes and perpetuating the belief in its abilities;
    • Thus, the construction of complex models in itself is a social and political act masquerading as hard ‘science’, precisely in order to have social and political impact (through policy recommendations), this is because:
    o The world of model construction is a social world supported by government or science institution funding with the express purpose of making a policy recommendation – in any area that is already deemed in need of such;
    o Models are very expensive and almost impossible for ‘outsiders’ to replicate;
    o Critics of parameterisation are challenged to produce their own model, rather than have their criticisms actually listened to;
    o All ‘research’ within the model community tends to produce clone models because the community acts as a normative influence;
    o Thus the modelling community comes to occupy a key position within the policy process and gains position on policy-relevant committees, panels and advisory commissions.
    • The resultant community of scientists then colludes with some economists (foremost of the ‘soft sciences’) but with great naivety with regard to the social obstacles to policy, as illustrated by the recommendations to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions despite all the evidence that shows this is not compatible with economic policy;
    • This naivety is further demonstrated as the policy makers then collude with the corporate and financial world to develop technology and financial instruments that a) cannot fully address the (perceived) problem – such as renewable energy supplies and carbon trading; b) are not actually affordable.
    There is also a raft of psychological factors evident in the model construction. The main of which relates to the male mathematical mindset that continually ignores the ‘feminine’ mathematics of spirals, chaos, irregular periodicity and cycles – with which climate data is intrinsically pervaded – some would say ‘plagued’ . With regard to solar factors, the ‘dark’ side of the Sun – its invisible, magnetic and periodic nature, was at first completely misunderstood (solar visible wavelength activity was regarded as ‘constant’ until the advent of the satellite era, and even after several decades of study, the magnetic cycles are entirely unpredictable). The early models had no parameters to represent magnetic cycle influences such as cosmic ray modulation and cloud-seeding effects, and only the very latest post-2010 models are attempting to factor in far-UV variability and the behaviour of the Jetstream.
    The fact that solar variability is so unpredictable doubtless influences its derogation as a major influence on climate dynamics, despite a very large science literature that shows past influences and modern evidence of remarkable recent changes in solar behaviour.
    ‘Hard’ scientists are involved in a very wide spectrum of apparently scientific endeavour – from the purist physics in laboratories unconnected to the policy world (if such really exist!), through the manic biochemistry and genetic analyses conducted in the world’s pharmaceutical labs with all of the complexity of desire to keep humanity healthy and well whilst earning a tidy profit for shareholders and paying an expensive personal mortgage; and on to the rarefied world of the UN’s panels on climate and energy policy. At no point do they ever operate in a social, political or psychological vacuum. Even the questions and hence hypotheses that the purest physicist can conceive of, are subject to the universal law of pervasive social influence.
    What is remarkable, though easy to understand, is the fact that ‘hard’ scientists pretend otherwise and for the most part get away with it.

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