Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Follow the Science? Nonsense, I say.

Today I want to tell you why I had to stop reading news about climate science. Because it pisses me off. Every. Single. Time.

There’s all these left-wing do-gooders who think their readers are too fucking dumb to draw their own conclusions so it’s not enough to tell me what’s the correlation between hurricane intensity and air moisture, no, they also have to tell me that, therefore, I should donate to save the polar bears. There’s this implied link: Science says this, therefore you should do that. Follow the science, stop flying. Follow the science, go vegan. Follow the science and glue yourself to a bus, because certainly that’s the logical conclusion to draw from the observed weakening of the atlantic meridional circulation.

When I was your age, we learned science does not say anything about what we should do. What we should do is a matter of opinion, science is matter of fact.

Science tells us what situation we are in and what consequences our actions are likely to have, but it does not tell us what to do. Science does not say you shouldn’t pee on high voltage lines, it says urine is an excellent conductor. Science does not say you should stop smoking, science says nicotine narrows arteries, so if you smoke you’ll probably die young lacking a few toes. Science does not say we should cut carbondioxide emissions. It says if we don’t, then by the end of the century estimated damages will exceed some Trillion US $. Is that what we should go for? Well, that’s a matter of opinion.

Follow the Science is a complete rubbish idea, because science does not know the direction. We have to decide what way to go.

You’d think it’s bad enough that politicians conflate scientific fact with opinion, but the media actually make it worse. They make it worse by giving their audience the impression that it matters what someone whose job it is to execute the will of the electorate believes about scientific facts. But I couldn’t care less if Donald Trump “believes” in climate change. Look, this is a man who can’t tell herd immunity from herd mentality, he probably thinks winter’s the same as an ice age. It’s not his job to offer opinions about science he clearly doesn’t understand, so why do you keep asking him. His job is to say if the situation is this, we will do that. At least in principle, that’s what he should be doing. Then you look up what science says which situation we are in and act accordingly.

The problem, the problem, you see, is that by conflating the two things – the facts with the opinions – the media give people an excuse to hide opinions behind scientific beliefs. If you don’t give a shit that today’s teenagers will struggle their whole life cleaning up the mess that your generation left behind fine, that’s a totally valid opinion. But please just say it out loud, so we can all hear it. Don’t cover it up by telling us a story about how you weren’t able to reproduce a figure in the IPCC report even though you tried really hard for almost ten seconds, because no one gives a shit whether you have your own “theory.”

If you are more bothered by the prospect of rising gasoline prices than by rising sea levels because you don’t know anyone who lives by the sea anyway, then just say so. If you worry more about the pension for your friend the coal miner than about drought and famine in the developing world because after all there’s only poor people in the developing world, then just say so. If you don’t give a shit about a global recession caused by natural catastrophes that eat up billion after billion because you’re a rich white guy with a big house and think you’re immune to trouble, then just say so. Say it loud, so we can all hear it.

And all the rest of you stop chanting we need to “follow the science”. People who oppose action on climate change are not anti-science, they simply worry more that a wind farm might ruin the view from their summer vacation house, than they worry wild fires will burn down the house. That’s not anti-scientific, that’s just dumb. But then that’s only my opinion.


  1. Thank you. Your work is a joy to watch and learn from.

  2. "If you don’t give a shit that today’s teenagers will struggle their whole life cleaning up the mess that your generation left behind fine, that’s a totally valid opinion. But please just say it out loud, so we can all hear it."

    I think that hoping for this kind of transparency is too optimistic. Most people want to see themselves as good, so they'll search for an unscientific bandaid to slap over their actual motivation. "If I can accept this inaccurate premise, I can have what I want and still think of myself as a good person...a win-win!" If you want something to be true and your standard for evaluating arguments is low enough, you can decide anything is "true."

    Think of how comfortable it would be to live in a world where "I want proposition A to be true, and I found someone on the internet who sounds very confident that proposition A is true" actually substantiates proposition A. Well, you can, and the price is as low as turning a blind eye to those your beliefs hurt. A lot of people find this very affordable when the hurting are separated from them by distance, time, or socioeconomic status.

  3. Long personal rant deleted and condensed: our news media suck. Also,

    "The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."--Bertrand Russell, 1933

    1. "The best lack all conviction, while the worst
      Are full of passionate intensity." --William Butler Yeats, 1919

  4. Sabine's pissed, so everyone watch out. Not only that, but she's absolutely right.

  5. Nice rant - thank you.

    It's not just "left-wing do-gooders" it's also right wing, no wing, two wing and indeed any self opinionated do-gooders "who think their readers are too fucking dumb to draw their own conclusions".

    For the vast majority the actual science is meaningless, they (we) lack the knowledge and tools to understand and interpret the data. All of us, unless we're totally cocksure of our own abilities need the science to be interpreted and explained. This of course raises the question who do we trust to do so? The Roman poet Juvenal asked "quis custodiet ipsos custodes", today we may add "who will guard the scientists?".

    We're not Vulcans. Unlike Mr Spock once we move beyond fact to opinion we're in subject to all the traits that make us human. So given exactly the same evidence you and I may well reach different conclusions with regard to effect and action and this will lead to contrary positions. For example "if you're happy to see your next door neighbour reduced to a penniless and miserable old age because his pension is being used to combat drought and famine in the third world then say so". "If you're happy to accept grey outs and black outs when the wind doesn't blow and the sun doesn't shine then close all non renewable power stations".

    Even within our own specialty - the rather narrow closed world of particle physics - we see the effects of different interpretations and opinions, and the divisions and squabbles these can cause. Hands up all those for a souped up LHC, hands up those against.

  6. OK... an headline that is an eye-catcher for reiterating that, after all... we should indeed follow the science !

  7. The flat earth "science" article and this one are absolute gems. Thank you!

  8. Many thanks. I will have to delicately talk over the first 10 seconds as I present it to my year 11s tomorrow. Spot on my topic as I am reviewing BP week and nice confirmation bias to see that I had rightly latched on to that annoying phrase through COVID.

  9. Although my teeth also grate at the phrase "Follow the Science", I think the issue of CC is rather more nuanced.

    If you want to see a somewhat different view of climate change try reading how a prominent environmentalist re-thought the issues.

    People dislike wind farms because they kill a lot of birds and provide electric power which is inherently intermittent so that they need to be backed up by gas generators that need to be idling ready to take up the slack (and emit carbon dioxide).

    The UK is powered in part by 'biomass' - which sounds wonderful until you realise that this consists of trees cut down (or should I say "responsibly sourced") in the US and other parts of the world. These are cut down for the purpose - not remnants from sawmills - and they are then transported across the Atlantic by sea, and the ships aren't driven by wind!

    1. I commented on Shellenberger in my recent video on path dependence. I don't have the patience to suffer through his whole book if he can't get the most obvious facts right.

  10. On the other hand, science offers one a lot of good reasons for not pissing on a high voltage line.

    We're talking about rhetoric, hortatory rhetoric in particular. That's what one uses when discussing what should or should not be done in the future, and there are all sorts of rhetorical techniques that one can use. Science, as a human enterprise, has a fairly good record of establishing a useful set of arguments. People are used to relying on it for improving crop yields, powering lighting and transportation systems and fighting disease. Now, we could argue as to why someone might want improved crop yields, artificial lighting, powered transportation or better health, but once one accepts those as reasonable goals, using an appeal to science is perfectly reasonable.

    For example, once it is established that someone doesn't want horrible burns or a painful death, it is a perfectly reasonable approach to use science to argue against pissing on high voltage lines. "Science says that if you piss on high voltage lines, you may experience horrible burns or die painfully." There are all sorts of counterarguments. High voltage lines might be harmless and one has to piss somewhere. Scientists and the electric company don't know everything; look at my last electric bill. My lucky rabbit's foot will let me avoid horrible burns and painful death. What's so bad about horrible burns or dying painfully?

    A lot of people like having familiar species around, are fond of existing coastlines, dislike hot weather and so on. Those are often unspoken assumptions, much like the debatable assumption that people would not like experiencing bad burns or dying painfully. In common argument, often so as to not sound like an ass, people will take rhetorical shortcuts. That's why we see things like a picture of a cute looking polar bear - real polar bears are not cute - illustrating an appeal saying science says we need to cut carbon emissions.

  11. Noticed you used what I assumed must be the German spelling of the English word "nicotine". But you used two k's and two i's (nikkotiin) instead of what several different English-German translation sources provided - "nikotin". Perhaps you were just in a hurry typing the post. Needless to say I'm always amazed at multi-lingual people. I never learned more than a few words in another language.

    1. David,

      Sorry about that, I have fixed this. What's happening is that I write these blogposts as scripts for the teleprompter. Since I have to read the script, I sometimes add notes where to put an emphasis, where to breathe, and words that I frequently mispronounce I'll spell phonetically. I normally remove these notes before posting the transcript, but sometimes I miss one.

  12. You would think that facts and preferences is an easy distinction but apparently not.

  13. nikkotin in English is nicotine

  14. Your saying in effect what David Hume argued by pointing out the "is-ought fallacy. The polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cigarette smoke bind onto DNA and can induce single nucleotide polymorphisms that causes a cell to malfunction. This can cause cancer. So maybe smoking is a bad idea. Well, ... maybe one actually wants to die early. I mean the future looks sort of grim right now. Then on top of it, why not do as the Rock band Judas Priest has it with Ram it Down? I mean I think George Carlin might be right in his routine Saving Planet Earth, "Earth isn't going anywhere, we are!" Yeah, Homo sapiens can be ended and the biosphere can return to the exuberance it once had.

    Sounds like a plan, and in my country we are electing politicians who are executing it with mastery.

    1. It's always darkest before the dawn.

    2. It seems it's even more complicated than this. As the fact already contains distilled knowledge (by means of reduction/theory), it can be described from many angles. Leaving the unnecessary details depending on the circumstances or presenting an event from a more clear side. Not a problem when you know what you are talking about (already have a model in your head, a structure of relations and worked with its math, applications, quirks, etc.), but a huge problem when you either learn (especially, non-systematically) or "just reading some news", a proverbial five men describing an elephant.

      So there is something like 'things' (or relations to be more precise) that are observable. Some of this relations can be described and organized in some structure (in a functional sense) as close and as relevant as possible, so presenting a description. That is usually the function of math (or computation). And then that structure has to be explained to communicate or transfer intuition. So, basically, already introducing _an_ interpretation.

      And the confusion begins... sometimes the chosen structure is not entirely accurate or does not present the best perspective, hence levels of 'description' and 'interpretation' are tightly coupled and mixed even for a trained mind to unbind. And at one time somebody retorts that, "Your facts are just the same opinions as our UFO sightings, so the science is one of the ways to look at reality but it's not 'the way'!". And it's difficult to explain that science is not an another 'opinion of reality' but is closer to approaching difficult questions or more akin to the way of thinking than to explanation (Feynman with his brilliant lecture, "What is Science?" comes to mind).

      However, most often all arguments happen on the level of 'interpretation' or 'opinion'. And dialectic (or rhetoric, know nothing about the proper use of those words) attempts to 'find some middle ground' by 'the truth is born in argument' argument in order to pacify the participants. Which is just fallacy and while attempting to converge on the level of description, will never reach that level, as the true perspective - or that of the structure of relations - is lost.

      The cure? Fundamental STEM education certainly helps (plus some luck to meet good teachers who will help primarily with the development of thinking, in a sense of 'how', not 'what to'). The problem is, it's not common and cannot be easily generalized or easily shared. There were attempts to come up with the explicit training of that perspective of the structure of relations as means to describe the observed phenomena, hence, working out more balanced approach to knowledge and information and consequently life. Korzybski in his work "Science and Sanity" attempted to introduce helpful means for reflection through language in order to work out "the consciousness of abstracting" so that an aspirant, first of all, holds a structure of knowledge in his mind without taking it to be 'the thing' and then approaches this knowledge more consciously, training in the process the ability to remember at all times (as that is a skill that can be trained) that what we observe around us and how we name it - are different things. Proposing it to be the ground for sanity...

    3. I wrote the above with some tongue in cheek aspect. I am not really advising we rush headlong into self-extermination. Though if we do there may be some future intelligent life that might cite how good it was lest they not be, just as we say about dinosaurs.

      There are loose aspects with defining science. Carnap with his verification system could not really distinguish science from non-science. Popper also could not define all aspects of science with falsifiability. We do though understand science when we see it, and generally know faux science, eg UFOs, flat Earth, anti-vaccination, and so forth.

    4. Vladim,
      Thanks for your thoughtful chat supporting fundamental STEM education as a helpful start to understanding world and other issues. It was a pleasure to read.
      One tool I suggest adding is the psychological basis for communications skills.
      The Technological Institute I attended taught STEM well enough, but a lifetime of often bitter trial and error has taught me some of the values of understanding WHY we think and act as we do.
      BEFORE correlating STEM and data to evaluate opinions. Especially my own.

    5. We rarely (if ever) know 'why' anything happens. It just does. 'Why' is our attempt to interpret things and build meaning (that's how semantics works, i.e. we attach to events based on our stories about them so they acquire more weight). To be more precise, the brain needs to be certain and it builds a representation which attempts to cover all the holes (stories about people who suffered serious brain damage can elucidate many points, where people hallucinate the whole episodes just to 'be sure', which correlates with Penfield's notes acquired during operations on patients with epilepsy and direct electro-stimulation of the cerebrum). That is, it seems to be an in-built function of the brain, which attempts to synthesize the experience into something coherent, whole. Hence, we experience the need 'to make all lose ends to meet'. And, naturally, when we don't have enough data, are not trained properly, and our cognitive models are outdated - we just cook something up of a questionable quality. Hence, we've got beliefs, dogmas, prejudices, inclination to propaganda and manipulation and conspiracy theories. And that is actually understandable. As all those things do not require work, an initially uncomfortable and highly unnatural skill of reflection, investment, finding good teachers, wasting resources, etc. They offer 'a quick fix'. And when the brain is not accustomed to distinguish 'fast food' from 'proper food' it just eats whatever takes less energy on the first sight.

      So, we cannot know 'why' but we can work with 'how'. To understand relations between phenomena, and build a structure that is more sane (and contains in itself an element of revision or even annihilation, to start anew). And that is exactly the place of the scientific method or scientific way of thinking. Which is basically a discipline in directing the process of thinking and accustoming oneself to work with high levels of uncertainty (without the immediate need to run for surrogates). Which only happens gradually and rather uncomfortably for most of us (as it is very unnatural to the brain, which is -always- looking for a quick fix, so it is very taxing, to stop and think). That is, it requires serious perseverance in intention to reach at least some clarity in thinking (i.e. in the process itself, in its operation).

      So in this regard, STEM is a useful material or a proper food which helps on the way to more sane perception, more sane models of reality and higher threshold of tolerance to uncertainty. And that is quite a lot. Especially, when there is nobody around to communicate. But it naturally is not capable to produce something like a general competence or a general intelligence. For that we usually need a good teacher or some people who are either more competent than we are or at least on the same level of competence, and a huge - that is, huuuuge - love for reflection. Environment which can from time to time indicate the ways where we are stuck (caught in local minima, as in ML or any gradient descent algorithm). And that is usually a problem, as competent people are few (and generally do not receive due credit, as they never offer quick fixes) and do not have enough resources on their hands to babysit the bunch. And here we are... on a blog like this.

    6. Vadim ,
      Why things happen is not the same thing as why we react to them as we do.
      The latter is addressed theoretically by behavioral psychology.
      One common measure of how well it is applied is called "People" skills.
      That is all I can tell you about either concept, for sure.
      Now you are on your own.
      Good luck.

  15. As a scientist, you interpret the phrase "follow the science" very literally, and then your conclusion makes sense: it's a dumb thing to say.


    Most people would interpret "follow the science" as shorthand for "follow the science, and act the way a person who cares about {the world, your life...} would act."

    Then "follow the science, and don't pee on power lines" makes perfect sense. (Though "follow the science, and trust me to make the right thing with your donation" often will not.)

    I know people who get upset when someone says, "I cooked a kilo of salmon" using "kilo" and shorthand for "kilogram." But "kilo" really means "1000," they say, so the person incorrectly claimed to have cooked one thousand fish!

    Today, politics is rife with science denial. "Follow the science" often means, "Dude, get your facts straight before arguing for how we should act."

    Next thing we know someone on Fox reads this post and says, "See! Even influential physicists say Greta is clueless!"

    What's more important when it comes to science playing an important part in decision making: 1) that this process is expressed in a literally correct way, or 2) that scientific results DO play a part?

    1. Right. One shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem here is not that there are people who don't care what problems they create for future generations (though that is another problem of its onw), i.e. who prefer a different "ought" based on the same "is", but rather people who don't believe the results of science (which---coincidentally, they would claim---just happen to contradict their own political goals).

  16. Why do you get upset about people who "think their readers are too fucking dumb to draw their own conclusions", but call people dumb, who worry more about the view of a wind farm than wild fires burning down their summer houses?

    And do you think that someone who follows the science could still conclude, that the view of wind farms is more worrying than wild fires burning down their summer houses? (Suppose this someone lives in California, is under 50 and is not a pervert.)

    1. (Many) people *are* fucking dumb. You need a baseline IQ in order to *understand* climate change facts - how they are arrived at and put together - to then be able to draw proper conclusions.

      The media is not wrong that many readers will not possess the necessary IQ to do so without a lot of explanation and hand holding. They are also not wrong that were they to add the necessary explanation and hand holding that a large segment will *still* not possess the attention or curiosity necessary to process it.

      Still, the media err.

      They err by catering to this lowest common denominator instead of producing good content that *does not* conflate opinions with facts and that *does* require the reader to draw conclusions and make inferences. By catering to the lowest denominator they are actively making society as a whole worse and not encouraging the dumb fucks among us to try harder.

      And yes, if you live in California and are under 50 (or care about the next generation) and like the area you live in you'd have to be pretty fucking dumb not to care about it all burning down around you. Of course, that is my and Sabine's opinion as was emphasized.

  17. The first dumb refers to "too dumb to understand the consequences". The second dumb refers to "ignoring the likely consequences". These are two different things.

    1. Thanks for the reply. Since you make the distinction between people who understand the consequences but don't care, and those who are ignorant of the consequences: would you also say its nonsense to demand that the second group "follow the science"?

      And is it right that you assume the first group is lager than the second?

    2. Sorry, I seem to accidentally have posted my response as a new comment rather than a reply. It's generally nonsense to say someone should "follow the science" because the phrase is meaningless. As to the size of the groups, in the sample of people who read climate science news in the left-wing media, the first groups is almost certainly larger, and I sincerely think that editors should be aware of this. They're preaching to the choir. But even the choir gets sick of being preached to.

  18. Sabine, in your book you reveal you are vegetarian, and for ethical reasons. That's what i understood. If I am right, why do you diss "do-gooders"? Why do you feel harmed by them?

    1. It is correct that I am vegetarian. It is incorrect that I am vegetarian for ethical reasons. I am not sure what made you think so. I assure you it is perfectly fine with me that people kill animals to eat them.

  19. Good post.

    Only thing I do not agree with is that people are pretending to mistrust science. I think it is just a natural human trait to believe things that are beneficial. It is called optimism and is usually considered a good thing. Humans in general are amazing at convincing themselves of things.

    Then I think there is a small number of people who use this tendency to spread misinformation, but most people who deny climate change are convinced of their position.

  20. I'm curious why you always say "atlantic meridional circulatio" and studiously avoid the term "Gulf stream". I'm sure there's a reason, but I don't see it.

    1. It's not the same thing. The Gulf Stream, for all I know, is only part of the AMOC. You may find the figure on that page helpful. (Note: I have not read the text on this page and don't know how accurate it is.)

    2. Sabine,

      From the page you linked:

      "Observations of the last 20 years from well located current observatories as well as autonomous drifters have shown that the overturning circulation was fairly stable, and fluctuations were in the range of natural variabilty."

      So, there is no evidence to speak about, no facts. And more:

      "However, based on the current knowledge, a considerable weakening of the overturning circulation is expected until the end of the 21st century. The actual dimension of the weakening is still uncertain and will greatly depend on the fate of the Greenland ice sheet."

      Yeah, in 80 years we might possible see some evidence. Or not. Spending now trillions for such lame evidence is nothing but reasonable.

    3. Andrei,

      I said explicitly above that I linked to this page because the illustration is helpful and that I do not vouch for the accuracy of the written text, which I have not read, and I know nothing about the organization who put up the website or how often they update their pages.

      A recent paper on the topic is here. You also find the observed weakening discussed in the recent IPCC report, see here. That part of the weakening is not due to human activity does not mean human activity plays no role.

  21. Follow the Science in the sense of a process in which own agendas are pushed or supported is not nonsense but something like "Follow the white rabbit".

  22. Sabine there is people who is saying around that climate is an excuse for limiting freedoms. I don't understand whether it's a genuin concern or a hypocritical reasoning. What do you think about it? Thank you

    1. It's rubbish. They are usually the same people who believe that the corona virus is a hoax to limit freedoms.

      These people are well characterized by the final scene in Easy Rider: the same people who will lecture you all day about individual freedom just can't handle it when they see a free individual.

    2. Phillip Helbig11:34 AM, September 24, 2020

      But universal fine-tuning is "rubbish" as far as is known, so you are not in a position to criticise virus hoaxers. From where I'm looking I see little difference between you and them.

    3. I am willing to bet a large amount of money that Stevan Evans has been wrong on one or more occasions and so by his own standard he is also in no position to criticize anyone.

      (I myself have been wrong many times, yet I continue to have opinions and even to publish them at times. I feel this is somewhat of a natural tendency.)

      I tend to agree with and/or learn from Dr. Helbig's comments here myself. He usually is on-topic and not saying the same thing over and over again. I see a big difference in promulgating bad information which will do active harm vs. philosophical speculations which may be unlikely but which will do no physical harm to anyone.

      If it is a question of mental anguish to those who violently disagree with his speculations, then consider also all the mental annoyance caused to some (myself, for example) by continual harping on it when it is not relevant.

    4. JimV5:23 PM, September 26, 2020

      I have admitted it when I was wrong in these comments and was happy to do so, so I am very much in a position to criticise.

      Philip Helbig, and Luke Barnes when he has honoured us with his presence, have never presented any evidence to support universal fine-tuning. They have claimed some famous physicists have expressed support for the idea *off the scientific record*, as if that is supposed to be scientifically relevant.

      This is being presented as physics backed by evidence not "philosophical speculations". In the Enlightenment, a line was drawn - on one side are those who understand that beliefs should be supported by reason, on the other are anti-vaxxers, the religious, fine-tuning advocates and chimpanzees who lob their own excrement at each other.

      It is always relevant until Philip Helbig, Luke Barnes and the fine-tuning apologist mafia admit there is zero evidence for universal fine-tuning. Alternatively, they could just provide some evidence..............

  23. This is a trap. Guys, let's not get fooled here and just go one and "say so". Nobody is going to save your ass unless what you say is as ambiguous as possible so you can talk it through afterwards.

  24. Good call. So here I am: I give no shit. Or more precisely, I do: this part of the world will benefit from the warmer climate. Now what?

    1. I am stunned that you know that your part of the world will "benefit". Do you have your own climate model to make accurate local predictions? Do you even know how much warming to expect? Rainfall? Drought? Do you think you are somehow magically decoupled from the global economy?

    2. If you kill someone and rob them and know that you won't get caught, then you benefit. That doesn't make it right. Same thing.

    3. Yes, it all is in the historic records predating the Little Ice Age. We had climate comparable to today's Croatia.

    4. So, your part of the world will benefit from a warmer climate. Now what? Here's what:

      * If you are right, then rich people coming from less fortunate parts of the world will flock to your area. This "gentrification" process might make your life very painful. So good luck with that.

      * If you are wrong: Do you have sea by your part of the world? It will rise. Do you have forests? They will burn. Dou you have plenty of water resources? They will dry off. Do you have huge green fields? They will turn into deserts. Do you have huge frozen regions? They will melt, and good luck with this also.

      My point being: Global warming is a global problem. You cannot escape from it.

    5. piotrw,

      You seem to have some severe misunderstanding about the nature of climate change. Just because the global mean surface temperature 50 years from now might match the global mean surface temperature of a historic period you would like to live in does not mean that the condition in your part of the world will be the same. Climate isn't a single variable. You'll have to look at local temperatures, precipitation patterns, you'll have to look at how the vegetation has changed, not least, as several have pointed out, you are ignoring that the global economic stress and political instability will hunt you down regardless of where you live. I don't think your risk evaluation is remotely accurate.

  25. Being an older gent, influenced by science fiction shows like the original Star Trek, especially its theme song, I sometimes wax optimistic about our planet’s ecological future, by assuming that technology will someday cure all the environmental problems we currently face. My twin brother and I, while assisting our older brother last month recuperating from a hernia operation, watched Star Trek 4, the motion picture (1986) one evening on his recently purchased, truly gigantic flat screen TV. Watching a movie like this can put you in a warm, fuzzy place where all the turmoil and environmental problems of our early 21st century are magically swept away by the application of fantasized, futuristic technology.

    This movie was particularly special to me as I had visited California many times between 1987 and 1994 with friends exploring regions as diverse as the Bay Area, San Luis Obispo, Yosemite, gold country along route 49, and further afield. So I could relate to the scenes in the movie, set in the California of the 23rd Century. In the movie the Earth is facing a catastrophic environmental disaster as an alien probe, searching for long extinct humpback whales, riles up the earth’s oceans and atmosphere seeking a reply from the no longer existing humpbacks. But its science to the rescue as the venerable science officer Spock (Leonard Nimoy) conceives a plan to return their Klingon warship to the 20th century to retrieve several, then extant, humpback whales.

    One thing that surprised me on visits to the 31st state was the dryness of the climate there, especially the interior where the coastal fog doesn’t penetrate. I remember visiting the foothills of the Santa Lucia range to check out a GPAA (Gold Prospectors Association of America) claim, half expecting to see something similar to an east coast forest, only to be disappointed to find a rather desiccated scrubland with dusty, dry roads and a dry river bed where I set up my rotary sluice. Fortunately I brought several gallons of tap water from my friends home in San Luis Obispo (where they had recently moved) to operate my sluice. As I ran the sluice I had the uncanny feeling of being watched from a ledge above the riverbed. Adding to my discomfort was the sight of several rattlesnakes emerging from gopher holes in the riverbed. At that point I packed up my sluice and prepared to leave. But, before driving away I climbed the steep slope to the flat ledge where the sense of being watched emanated. In the bedrock of this ledge were numerous mortar holes where the indigenous Miwok people had ground acorns, a staple of their diet.

    The Miwok were good stewards of the land in their day minimally impacting the environment. But with our burgeoning populations and energy intensive lifestyles a return to a subsistence level of existence isn’t really a practical option. Perhaps someday the phrase “follow the science” uttered by politicians of our era to gain talking points in environmental debates will have a very different meaning. Advances in science/technology like implementation of controlled fusion, for example, will free us from ever rising fossil fuel consumption. Weather control might even be on the table. Politicians may no longer hold mere opinions, they will be armed with facts on the ground – environmental improvements achieved through the application of science. Hopefully, scientifically more literate politicians of the future in arguing over which science strategy to follow will make the best possible choices for their constituents and the environment.

  26. Yesterday the Governor of Kalifornia announced that by 2035 automobiles propelled by IC engines shall be eliminated (in Kal), not reported was the implication electric cars will replace them. He also didn't mention what proportion of electrical grid energy will be delivered by renewables over fossil fuels by 2035. So here is an example of public policy driven by politicians least capable of deriving wise policy grounded in scientific facts.

    1. Hardly a 'policy' - 2035 is so far off that it smacks of posturing.

      A policy would tax gas now, heavily at the pump.

    2. Whatever happens, it will be better than the current situation.

      Even though Sabine has some valid points, the consequence is not that just because some want to derive "ought" from "is" no-one has to justify decisions at all.

  27. In years past Kalifornia was the first state to institute smog regulations. California is such a huge market that car manufactures had to comply. Compelling only electric vehicles in California by 2035, if it remains a policy goal, will have the same effect. Its relevant to point out that rather than follow the science this is a matter of follow the money.

    In fact if you want to understand client denialism the same thing applies. follow the money. Who benefits from delaying climate regulation via political means? Consider how they go about spreading denialism of science in general.

    One of the ways anti science gets pushed into the political mainstream is by harping on personal liberty and freedom, the completely misused shibboleths of our current right wing. Oh, we can't have climate regulation or business regulation because that would impinge on our freedom and liberty. The reality however is that the ability to freely pillage the planet effects my right to breath freely in a house that doesn't get burned to the ground because of climate change induced fires. After this month's fires in southern Oregon in which my house nearly did get burned down, I take it personally.

  28. I think you may be wrong here Sabine. I agree the spirit and guess we feel the same frustrations. I'm not sure there is real separation between fact and opinion, science and politics and so on. This doesn't stop me knowing (say) evolution is sound and creationism rubbish. I doubt we have a media or politics capable of following the science. There are many theories of distorted communication - Jurgen Habermas drones on forever. Much of the social theory is scientifically dire and/or makes unwarranted abstractions from science, sometimes even regarding scientific method as inhuman. My take is that everything is socially constructed in a biological behaviourism - including science. Historically, we have claimed to be value-free in doing science, but this was a ruse to evade Inquisitions of many kinds. When you (correctly) say you 'don't give a shit' it is palpably obvious you do. Irony can be glorious. Science is actually replete with values and these are connected with how we argue. Humans are generally dire at argument - say Dan Sperber - and there are no experts in the 'opinion world'. This does not fall in a continuum of objectivity - subjectivity. Your subjectivity, admirably advanced, is just better than the agonies of living in opinion. We need a better understanding of how and why. Not least on how science-learning transfers so little into society. The protection of our scientific cabal may be responsible.

  29. Dr. Schroeder,
    I have lived on the west coast about 50 years, first in California, and more recently in Oregon. When I was young enough to ski and my wife and I went up into the Sierras there was plenty of snow and the evergreen trees were all beautifully green. Starting about 25 years ago many of the trees, were brown and dying, and droughts in California became more frequent. This summer in the SF bay area where I used to live there were high temperatures that a never previously saw. Likewise, this was the hottest summer in the six years I have been in Oregon.

    From what friends tell me your experience in the mountains is not all that unique.

  30. I mostly agree, except for the unnecessary and generic jab to "left-wingers" as a whole. I mean, there are also right-wingers who claim that their opinions are science-based.

  31. @Steve Bullfox

    I appreciate the assumption that I completed a Ph.D., but in actuality I didn’t even finish an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering, with a minor in physics, which I pursued at a local college in Teaneck, NJ.

    On the very first trip to California with friends in spring 87, I was struck by how little cloud cover there was from day to day, so different from the east coast. San Francisco, where we stayed for several days before driving up to fabled Rte. 49 in the foothills of the Sierra’s was, however, foggy every morning and pleasantly cool, as I recall. We did an estimated 25 mile walk around the city, on one of the days, and I was amazed at all the tropical, or perhaps, sub-tropical flora. Everywhere the vegetation was well watered as a result of moisture uptake from the fog rolling through the hills and valleys each morning. To me, as a first time visitor this coastal ecosystem was a complete novelty and very exotic. On a later trip about 1990 to San Francisco, after my friends had moved from San Luis Obispo to the city, I had the opportunity to bicycle around the area while my friends were at work. I pedaled across the Golden Gate a number of times going as far north as Simpson Beach along the coast, and three times climbing Mt. Tamalpais on the switchback bike trail. On those excursions I was pleasantly surprised to see vegetation every bit as thick as on the east coast. This was especially so when I hiked in the Point Reyes National Seashore.

    Inland California has totally different climate zones from the coastal region, as we discovered on our trips that traversed the central valley up into the Sierra’s. As my friends became as enthused as I was in my gold prospecting hobby, we visited GPAA claims over quite a wide swath from Lake Isabella in the south to towns near the northern terminus of Rte. 49, over several different years. There must have been a good snowpack in the late 80’s as I remember the rivers out of the Sierra’s were rushing torrents. On later trips out there, I was shocked by how dry the soils were in the northern Sierra’s despite a solid coverage of evergreen trees. Looking at the snowpack from satellite images taken on February 18th, 2019 and February 17th, 2020, the difference is startling. This year’s snowpack was just a thin strip at the higher elevations, while the previous year it looked like half the landmass of California was covered in snow, even coastal ranges north of San Francisco being blanketed in white. That could just be a result of the atmospheric river of moisture being switched off in an El Nina year. But from what you say perhaps El Nina years are becoming more frequent, with the wetter El Nino years decreasing in frequency.

  32. I think your post is a fundamental misunderstanding of the meaning of the phrase "follow the science." In the US, at least, we have a situation where a large fraction of the population, including big chunks of the government, is choosing to take the advice of politicians, preachers, oil lobbyists rather than epidemiologists and climate scientists on the nature and consequences of Covid-19 and climate change.

    You are tilting at a strawman of your own creation - and incidentally lending credibility to a range of crackpots.

    1. I think you are fundamentally misunderstanding the reason I am doing this.

    2. That's for sure. You seem to think "follow the science" is code for doing something that you don't want to do (saving polar bears?). It actually means that science is better at predicting consequences than politicians or talk show hosts.

    3. I don't know what follow the science means in Germany, but I know exactly what it means in the US. It means that if you want to know the effects and hazards of Coronavirus, listen to epidemiologists, not to Donald Trump and his sycophants. You seem fixated on some metaphysical separation of science as a source of fact and public health officials as recommenders of action. I think that is a bit of an idealistic delusion, but I guess that's OK for a theoretician.

    4. You clearly have a big difficulty parsing what I say. It's okay, don't worry about it. I don't write or make videos expecting everyone will understand what I say.

  33. Sabine,
    Your development of our irritating tendency to conflate facts and opinions is timely.
    Since you use President Trump as an example, in fairness you might have touched more on the reality that cited data may not apply to all issues, and that issues may reflect more data than is available.
    Your assessment of Trump's limited understanding of science may be accurate, and appropriate as an example for your Blog topic.
    As a definitive summation of his ability to do his overall job well, it may be neither.
    IMO, he is reasonably competent in many areas important to me.
    e.g.: defending the US Constitution; fairness in International trade; identifying China's global threats; restraining North Korea's nuclear threats; security of our Borders, among others.
    One way my friends have fun fighting plausible conflation when debating issues is to arbitrarily decide the positions we must represent, rather than always pose our personal views.

  34. It isn't so much that people are dumb, its more that people have lives to lead and don't worry too much about political or scientific issues until those issues actually affect their lives.

    That's why climate change is becoming a more important issue to many Americans. But a still significant part of the problem is that big money is on the side of climate denialism and there is not enough money on the other side of the argument to move things forward as quickly as necessary.

    1. Steve Bullfox, you neatly summarize a few of the basic pressures towards political chaos.
      Your simplification also supports Sabine's position that the primary jobs of political leadership are to understand the wishes of the electorate, identify relevant issues, and outline relevant actions.
      I hope you both think I got this right.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. "Follow the science" in politico-speak is merely a slogan put out for future denial of serial incompetence.

  36. K.W.P.D.,
    I think Trump has done some good things. One of which you did not mention is making some progress on mideast piece. I just think he and his party have done a lot more damage than good. One of the terrible things they have done is stall progress on slowing climate change.

    I have seen some posts here and there to the effect that people in the rest of the world don't understand whats going on in America. As I see it the fact of the matter is that we are in an extended period of global change, environmentally, politically, and at least in this country demographically.

    In 1960, when Hawaii was made a state the population over here was 88.6% white. I don't think at that time there was a category for non Hispanic White. As of 2017 that category represents only 60.7% and is estimated to drop below 50% by 2045. My personal opinion is that change explains much of the chaotic news coming out of our country. (the numbers cited are from the US Census Bureau)

    1. Steve,
      Good points, sincerely expressed.
      I lived for my lab, but always enjoyed debating issues of the larger world with my more contrary friends over a few beers.
      Well, I'm 90 now, and any debating I might do would be with with my stepdaughter, who's smarter than me. Also a better shot with other skills like scuba diving and skiing.
      Oh well.
      Stay healthy, Steve. Bert


    Regarding: “Science tells us what situation we are in and what consequences our actions are likely to have, but it does not tell us what to do.”

    It all comes down to raw unlimited nonpolluting power.

    The solution lies in the development by science of a nonpolluting ultra-dense power source (UDPS) that leaves a minuscule mark on the world, is totally safe and totally controllable. The power density of UDPS is so large that UDPS needs little land or virtually no land or resources to produce its power output.

    Computing a hard limit on growth

    “In 70,000 years, Homo sapiens has grown from thousands of hunter-gatherers teetering on the brink of extinction to a global population of 7.7 billion. In Growth, Vaclav Smil explains how we have peopled the planet through our growing capacity for harvesting energy from our environment: food from plants, labour from animals and energy from fossil fuels. Civilization has developed by dominating Earth’s resources. Smil, whose research spans energy, population and environmental change, drives home the cost of growth on a finite planet. It is high: polluted land, air and water, lost wilderness and rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”

    UDPS can enable agriculture to move indoors away from any need for the sun and where food production does not depend on the limit imposed by land use.

    The idea is that we’ll be farming much, or even most, of our food indoors rather than out. Our cities will feature totally integrated high-rise ‘vertical farms’ in which crops grow hydroponically under artificial lights powered by the new power source, with the animals we eat reared intensively under the same roof – their waste products helping to fertilize the crops (some of which are used to feed the animals.

    Stephen Davies points out in an eye opening piece for the American Institute for Economic Research, there would be many advantages:

    “Because the crops can be grown very close to the point of final sale (maybe attached to a grocery store), the transport costs and associated impacts are enormously reduced while the food is much fresher. It is also of higher and more consistent quality, and because it is grown in a controlled environment there is far less of a problem with pests. This means you do not have to use large quantities of herbicide and pesticide outdoors, where it inevitably enters the wider environment…”

    Stephen Davies points out there would be many advantages:

    “Because the crops can be grown very close to the point of final sale (maybe attached to a grocery store), the transport costs and associated impacts are enormously reduced while the food is much fresher. In an optimize environment, food is also of higher and more consistent quality, and because it is grown in a controlled environment there is far less of a problem with pests. This means you do not have to use large quantities of herbicide and pesticide outdoors, where it inevitably enters the wider environment…”

    The UDPS can drive robotic automation in a mass production line to minimize the cost of food production.

    The land now used for agriculture can then be turned to living space for the world’s population. And there would then be land set aside for preserving the wild things in nature for all to enjoy.

    The application of UDPS is limited to its service to humankind only by the imagination of its inventors and implementers. UDPS is so safe and adaptive that Transportation in its many forms and its use in the home and office would also be powered by UDPS.

    This is your task; this is your goal, it’s up to the people whose job it is to understand the Universe and apply that understanding to improve the human condition.

    Science does tell what to do, so people let’s get this job done.

    1. Axil,
      You show a positive attitude, define a worthwhile overall objective, set immediate tasks and urge constructive action.
      However such a process is derived, it's the best way I've observed for progress.
      At times it's led to running up spears to reach the target.
      We all pay the same price for life's options.
      Getting deserving jobs done is good.
      Best of luck, Axil,

    2. From the earliest of times, history is replete with the continuing thunder of rolling cacophony, of unspeakable tragedies, confusion, and disasters. But there has always been a rebalancing to the mean. There has always been a lightning flash of irrepressible and unshakeable good that has rebalanced the bad. In this darkest of times, there will be an advent of good so profound and unexpected, that is so unlikely, and so unexplainable that all the problems of the past will shrink to insignificance from our collective memories.

      In the flower of your youth, they sang the heady song that portended the brightest of futures: “Happy days are here again” and that song will once again resound and be renewed in full throated optimism with all the excitement that it once engendered and this newly discovered explosion of joy and good will likely occur before your days are through. So take heart and gird your spirit in these troubled times buoyed up by the sure and true hope of a bright and shining stretch of tomorrow’s ahead.

    3. Axil,
      Your previous post seemed a call to constructive action for the people of today to preserve our world for those that follow us to also enjoy.
      Your last post seems to posit glorious recovery from tragedy, and so result in an adequate mean, as an inevitable and desirable natural cycle.
      It isn't obvious to me that those of us destroyed by a tragic present will care much about a statistical mean we may not survive to appreciate..
      E.g., those coughing their lungs out as they died from the China virus may have gained little solace from knowing that some day there will be a vaccine.
      The "call to understand and act" of your first post seems preferable to trustingly letting a "smile be your umbrella."
      Kind regards, kwpd.

    4. Sure, an ultra-dense power source is a great idea. The trick is actually developing one. Fusion energy is an attempt at something of this sort. A really great idea would be a traversable wormhole with one opening at the center of the sun so that enormous plasma gushes out into an MHD system. I doubt traversable wormholes are possible though.

      Energy obeys the second law of thermodynamics, TdS = dE + dU, where E = W or kinetic energy, and U is this annoying internal energy that is in effect lost energy or waste heat. Entropy is equal to the number of atoms times the Boltzmann constant Nk, and NkdT = pdV or VdP (V= volume, p = pressure) with the natural gas law. If the thermal energy TS is large this means either the volume is large, say a lot of solar energy coming to Earth, or if compact and the volume V is small and the pressure is huge. This makes things difficult.

    5. Lawrence Crowell: I think physicists tend to get lost in technological complexity.

      What is the simplest solution? Enough solar energy arrives at earth to supply 100x our needs; New ways to inexpensively exploit that, at scale, should be the priority for research; currently it is too expensive and has serious scaling issues.

      Also in the modern world, the more distributed the energy production the better; the less subject it is to catastrophic failure, terrorist attack, institutional corruption and greed for power and money. The more robust it is.

      Even if there ARE economies of scale, with scale comes fragility. There is just one thing to attack. One executive, one weak link.

      Statistically speaking, a million small systems is far more robust than a single system a half-million times larger. It's kind of the logic behind multi-cellular systems and networks; it takes a lot of failures to bring down the whole system.

    6. I worked to develop PVs last decade. I think solar energy is a part of the future energy matrix, but honestly I cannot see it being 100%. Solar energy with other renewable forms have some limitations, such as diurnal cycles and weather etc, that make them intermittent. I think there will have to be what I call an energy stabilizer.

      The two candidates for energy stabilizers I see are nuclear energy and submersible systems that can convert the ocean conveyer kinetic energy to electrical power. The latter is not mentioned much, but I have always thought there was a lot of energy we could get there without perturbing it too much.

      Fusion is a future uncertainty and other somewhat exotic ideas at best off into the unforeseeable future. It will take decades to flip to renewable sources, primarily solar and wind with some geothermal and tidal as 50% or more of our energy sources and then having nuclear as this stabilizer.

    7. Lawrence Crowell: I don't think the intermittent nature is that much of a problem; an energy trading grid averages out the weather, and various schemes like molten salts (already in use for many thermal solar applications, they can hold energy for a week) and hi/lo reservoirs can and have been used to store energy, not just overnight but for weeks; that is just about volume. There are solar projects that use mountain reservoirs in this way.

      But we don't necessarily need a mountain, we have the technology of bulldozers. We can build one. On a flat plain we can dig a hole and use the contents to create a hill, and use excess energy to pump water from the hole (low reservoir) uphill to a higher reservoir, and in times of low or no energy, drain the high reservoir into the low one, through turbines (net loss about 15%).

      We can also use excess energy to create energetic substances and store it that way; e.g. compress and liquify air; I've seen motorized bicycles that run on liquefied air. Or spin up near-zero heavy wheels in a vacuum, which can be a very efficient store of energy.

      There are many devices which can create capacitance, not just electrical batteries.

      I am far more interested in thermal solar than PV, but my point was that if we (governments) devoted engineering and physics time to solar (thermal or PV) we would likely make progress there far sooner than more technical or esoteric schemes, like nuclear power, or fusion, or harvesting ocean currents or tides.

    8. Ask whether solar energy by itself can supply enough energy to produce solar PVs. They take a fair amount of energy to make. Then ask about transportation and so forth. I think renewable energy might serve half or so of our energy needs, but I have a hard time seeing it as 100%.

    9. Lawrence Crowell: Ask whether solar energy by itself can supply enough energy to produce solar PVs.

      Perhaps I am misunderstanding your question, but as put, of course it can; the current global capacity of solar voltaics is currently 505 gigawatts. It can (theoretically) power the entire process, mining, extraction, production, shipping and installation. The bottleneck with solar voltaics is in the materials; some of which are in limited supply on Earth, or found in specific locales which bring politics into the deployment equation.

      Which is why I'd rather support Thermal Solar; which can produce electricity using nothing but common minerals at commodity prices and can be found in abundance nearly everywhere; certainly they are in wide enough supply to bypass any political issues in acquiring them.

      Aluminum, iron, steel and copper. With zero emissions; it is easy to build a closed-cycle steam engine that powers a transformer and generates electricity.

      It can be deployed over most of the Earth, including on floating platforms at sea. The basic technology is more than a century old, but updates and inventions since then have eliminated much friction and wear, and made it much more efficient.

      Better technology in mirrors, ease of construction and deployment could reduce the cost.

      Modern solar home-hot-water heaters can work on both cloudy and cold days.

      I don't have a hard time seeing an all-electric world, or a 100% renewable world; we can do that with common and abundant materials.

      Thermal solar could provide 100% of ALL energy used by the USA (not just electric), occupying approximately 95M acres (about 150K square miles, 5% of area of USA). Roughly 0.29 acres per person. We have well over 150K sqm in unpopulated deserts alone, New Mexico and Arizona have 250K.

    10. Rare earth elements (REEs) occupy atomic numbers 57 to 71, the “lanthanide series” of the periodic table, and also include scandium and yttrium. Their exceptional magnetic and conductive traits make them critical to clean energy technology, such as hybrid fuel cells, electric cars, solar panels, and wind turbine magnets. Although rare earth oxides production worldwide is currently only worth several billions of dollars, yet their extraction produces megatons of thorium waste and uranium products that are problematic to dispose of.

      Wholescale adoption of green energy as the sole source for future world energy production will release into the environment mountains of toxic radioactive wastes that will not decay for billions of years.

    11. This energy production issue is clear. The need for increased energy production is exponential and unlimited, but the use of land to meet that demand is linear and finite. This equation leads to an unstainable future.

    12. @Korean War Photo Documentary

      Regarding: It isn't obvious to me that those of us destroyed by a tragic present will care much about a statistical mean we may not survive to appreciate..

      E.g., those coughing their lungs out as they died from the China virus may have gained little solace from knowing that some day there will be a vaccine.
      The "call to understand and act" of your first post seems preferable to trustingly letting a "smile be your umbrella."

      Do not go gentle into that good night,
      Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light

      Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
      Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
      Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

      Kind regards, Axil

    13. Axil,
      "Rage, rage against the dying of the light". ...
      You quote Dylan Thomas, who died about the time I realized I would live to come back home. His poem applied toward me much more then, than the today when it might seem more appropriate.
      Like most of my friends, I have come to know myself, and so found peace.
      The search for knowledge driving Sabine, and so many readers of this Blog, inspires me, too.
      As the light dies I doubt I will rage: It's more likely I will strain to use it while I can.
      Kind regards back, Bert

    14. Axil: No Rare Earth elements are necessary, as I outlined. Thermal solar (aka concentrated solar power, CSP) needs nothing that isn't an abundant commodity obtainable worldwide. Like I said, Aluminum, iron, steel, copper. Glass, perhaps.

      I also noted there is no land limitation; solar power can be collected at sea.

      To the extent suitable space is limited, we have far more NOW than is necessary to power the world, and thus plenty of time to deal with that issue by moving operations to space.

      Plus there are two things wrong with that contention: First, it is fallacious to believe our current power consumption growth curve will last indefinitely.

      Second: Fossil fuel resources are even more limited than area for CSP and will hit the wall far sooner; rejecting CSP on the grounds that it has a limit it may never reach is ridiculous when the alternatives will run out in very short order.

      There are far fewer negatives attached to CSP than to any alternative, including Wind, Nuclear, PhotoVoltaic Solar and Tidal Power. Either they are not scalable, as you note for PV Solar, or are too dangerous or toxic. Wind power is a reasonable alternative to CSP in specific circumstances where wind is plentiful; but it too is limited in scope for suitable sites; and politically unfeasible in proximity to humans, and disruptive to wildlife. Not as disruptive as fracking or coal mining, of course, but wind farms in avian migratory wind alleys cause people concern; they can be an aesthetic problem in residential areas; and they are more difficult to deploy at sea than either PV Solar or CSP (which in the right configurations operate fine on floating platforms).

  38. It sure would be nice if everyone could understand the science, but we definitely have a problem (on a lot of fronts) with a super-majority of humans being incapable of understanding the science.

    Of course from that perspective, it makes no sense to tell them to "follow it", you might as well exhort them to levitate. You know, just defy gravity! Refuse to accept its power over you. Don't you have any willpower?

    Science can only tell us what has happened, is happening, and will happen (all to varying degrees of certainty). It does not tell us what to DO, but might tell us what will happen if we take certain actions (well-defined enough to use in computing probably outcomes).

    The real problem is human nature and our trust in scientific expertise when we cannot understand the science itself. Trust in science has been undermined, not only as a political strategy to subvert logic, but by many scientists themselves corrupting the scientific process in order to get published, get grants, become famous and personally enrich themselves.

    Appealing to science is just another appeal to authority, one amongst many more emotionally compelling authorities. Instead of telling people to follow the science, it would be a lot smarter to USE science to understand trust in authority, how we lost trust in scientific authority, and what might help us regain it in the future, amongst people that won't ever be able to understand the science itself.

    Without that trust, we produce useless prescriptions.

    Without trust, the only thing scientists can do to combat global warming is invention; inventing a green source of energy so plentiful and cheap that economically, people acting in their own selfish interests around the world will adopt it over more expensive alternatives. Physicists, chemists and engineers of the world, unite!

    A pipe dream, perhaps, but if there is one thing people have historically quickly trusted and universally adopted (like the Internet and smart phones) it is free stuff. Or in this case, significantly cheaper energy they can access without much investment.

  39. UDPS: I would enjoy to know the source of the energy.

    1. If my memory has not failed me, this post pertinent to your desire to know has passed through moderation a few weeks ago as follows:

      The fundamental forces of nature are disposed to form conditions where self-auto amplification occurs. Gravity will produce a black hole. The strong force will self-auto amplify through the neutron based chain reaction. The electroweak force shows indications that Bose condensation of Dirac spinors if properly formed and pumped will produce a electroweak singularity in which the weak force and the electromagnetic force recombine into a state of electroweak unification. There are experiments that show that this electroweak unification is occurring. This mechanism that supports this spinor condensate singularity is metal nano and micro particle interaction with light. The most powerful auto self- amplification occurs in cases where nanoparticles are Hole superconductors. These nanoparticles are metastable, coherent, and can support a state of auto self-amplifying electroweak unification for years… no pumping required. The behavior of these spinor condensates are consistent with the theories proposed for GUT: weak force action at a distance, proton decay, destabilization of matter, instant isotope stabilization, and transmutation of elements.

      I am looking forward to the day when science sees fit to use these naturally occurring condensed matter mechanisms to look more deeply into the secrets of nature that now are not available to existing methods of examination.

    2. When suggesting there some sort of physics, such an electroweak condensate singularity, you should either explain something of the physics or give some reference for research on this. The closest I could find in a quick search is:

      However, this is a Regge trajectory or bootstrap process that is suggested to work in EW physics. This does not sound like what you are saying.

      Physical systems evolve such that the action S = ∫Ldt where the Lagrangian in a generic sense is L = K - V, kinetic minus potential energies, or it evolves to increase entropy. In the case of a black hole the area of its horizon defines a very large entropy. In the case of thermodynamics this means a system tends to evolve to the largest macrostate. OFten though, where you want a system to be is much smaller and things tend to evolve away from configurations we want.

    3. Regarding: "When suggesting there some sort of physics, such an electroweak condensate singularity, you should either explain something of the physics or give some reference for research on this."

      Since you asked...As you can imagine, certain aspects of this research in this area involves high levels of controversy. Leaf Holmlid, a chemist, professor emeritus the University of Gothenburg, has been working on the generation of metallic hydrogen for 42 years. Over that time, he has produced these nanoparticles using a commercial catalyst based on a quantum mechanically driven Rydberg blockade mechanism using potassium clustering as a template for hydrogen clustering: both deuterium and protium.

      This method of ultra-dense matter production is just one of a number of such methods.

      His claims are extraordinary and have resulted in controversy. In my opinion, Holmlid is seeing proton decay. His research paper that describes this process had to be retracted because its claims violated the baryon number conservation law. By necessity, proton decay would violate the baryon number conservation law since mesons are the product of proton decay.

      Also, being a chemist he is not skilled in identifying the decay products coming off the decay of the proton.

      I understand that this paper is controversial and violates the tenets of accepted science but that is to be expected from such an extraordinary claim. But this paper does show where the energy is coming from. When all is said and done, the decay of the hadron will produce near complete mass to energy conversion at energy production levels of just under 50X times that of fission.

  40. I enjoyed watching this video commentary, thank you for sharing. I wonder if you also have thoughts on this recent (somewhat relatable) news from Scientific American:

    I'm not sure if endorsing anyone by a "scientific" magazine is a good idea, but that's just me.

  41. "What we should do is a matter of opinion, science is matter of fact."

    In the 19th century and early 20th science said white Europeans were superior to the rest of humans,
    that was considered "scientific fact".

    1. Are you sure about that? "The Origin of Species" was published in the 19th century.

    2. You ca read about Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) and Julian Huxley (1887-1975) reputed scientists of their time who upheld that theory.

    3. Pubbli Webb12:00 PM, September 30, 2020

      So they were cranks who hadn't read and understood "The Origin of Species". The politicians of the day were "following the cranks" not "following the science".

      The point is to separate the cranks from the scientists. These days, the cranks are proponents of string theory, fine-tuning, the multiverse and inflation as physical theories.

      How to separate the cranks from the scientists? Easy - do they have any evidence or not? No - crank. Yes - scientist.

    4. I am happy with my two cranks, each having one pedal, helping me effectively moving forward. My favourite multiverses are the Iliad and the Odissey. I have a very fine tuner. There are scientists who are not physicists and there are physicists who are not scientists. String theory? I tried the banjo for a year, no results worth mentioning.

    5. You consider them cranks today, but they were scientists in their time, furthermore, Haeckel was the one who brought and spread Darwin's work in Germany.
      That's the point of my comment, what science considers 'fact' today may no be so in the future.

  42. "The problem, the problem, you see, is that by conflating the two things – the facts with the opinions – the media give people an excuse to hide opinions behind scientific beliefs. "

    This is exactly what is happening with the UK govt's handling of the pandemic, and is where the phrase "follow the science was popularised. As well as not it not being true that the govt. is "following the science" and it providing the decision makers with an excuse, it also puts tremendous pressure on the scientists who are then pushed beyond their scientific remit.

  43. Brilliant article, Dr. Hossenfelder. I came to the same conclusions as you did, after seeing how environmentalists oppose measures that actually help the environment. When I see the emissions regulators impose tight NOx emission limits with no exemptions for lean-burn engines or diesel engines that are more fuel-efficient and produce less CO2 but cannot use NOx reduction catalysts, I see environmental fanaticism and impracticality win. Environmentalists simply do not understand that the best is the enemy of the merely good or practically achievable. It is their blind spot and the rest of us have to pay the price.

  44. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced last February that he was committing $10 billion of his personal fortune to fight climate change with the creation of the Bezos Earth Fund.

    If ya'll won’t solve climate change based on your humanitarian feelings, there is money to be had.

    In his Instagram post, Bezos said the international initiative would fund scientists, activists, nonprofits and other non-governmental organizations working to offer a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.

    "We can save Earth, his post said. "It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals."

  45. @Korean War Photo Documentary

    Don't take may reference personally. It applies to all those who you were referring to as a generalization of an appropriate response to mortality. The intended message: Live life to the full to the very last second.

  46. " But please just say it out loud, so we can all hear it. Don’t cover it up by telling us a story about how you weren’t able to reproduce a figure in the IPCC report even though you tried really hard for almost ten seconds, because no one gives a shit whether you have your own 'theory.'"

    Good luck with that; only a small fraction of people will admit that their motives are selfish. A few may rationalize away their selfishness by taking issue with some figure in the IPCC report, but most will be happy with any sort of non-sequitur, half-truth, denial or falsehood that gets the job done from their point of view. You can find some of these in the comments here.

    So, suppose you are a parent, you understand the science, and you are concerned about your children's future (or even that of other peoples' children as well.) Do you just accept that the people who won't face reality are determining their future? If not, one option is to challenge the excuses - the stories that you are objecting to in the above quote - and if you take that path, you can either make up your own counter-stories, or you can make use of the best scientific information available today. The latter is all that "follow the science" means.

  47. Excellent.

    Since 1999 I was promoting to go literally fully nuclear to save the world against climate change. Obviously it didn't work.

    Humans are moral animals, it's rather unfortunate that science is morally impotent. Still we can have some fun discussing moral issues, but don't take these things too seriously.

    1. "Since 1999 I was promoting to go literally fully nuclear to save the world against climate change."

      Alas, all the Uranium ore in the world will last only 5 years if we go fully nuclear (~15TW).

      We are promised Thorium breeders to our rescue, but nobody seems to be able to build a full scale one. And not for lack of trying.

      Then there is Uranium in sea water. That requires pumping around km^3 of water even for a small country (~127km^3/year for the EU). Which has 2 problems: It costs a lot of energy and the waters around the outlet s get depleted of Uranium.

      Why nuclear power will never supply the world's energy needs

  48. I do not believe that science is value free. All models of cognition require a value function. If science and thought were value free you couldn't decide what theory to believe, what experiment to do next, or even what to think next. (Should I keep reading this comment? Is it worth my time?) Our values include things like logic, evidence, skepticism, etc. How intelligent you are depends in part upon how good your value system is. Yes, a brand of scientism. Yes, more leftist than rightwing.

  49. Science is the collection of Data and free and open debate about what the data means, peer review is is the means of deciding a consensus. There are two opposing thoughts on climate but free and open debate is not allowed. global warming caused by man made co2 and an imminent threat to mankind and that we are heading into a solar minimum and will face an imminent threat to mankind. The threats that warming would bring are at best conjecture. History has no tales of crisis caused by warming. That cannot be said for cooling there is plenty of data human records to show what a solar minimum can do Maunder minimum 1645 to 1715 and the Dalton minimum 1790 to 1830. the threat to human life from a minimum at this time with 7.5 Billion people to feed will be tragic yet we spend billions to prevent that which holds imagined threats and ignore a threat we know will soon be upon us. NASA openly writes about a minimum in are near future they think solar cycle 26, we are starting cycle 25 a cycle is 11 years. Many believe that the minimum has already started . We know during a minimum there are more earthquakes more volcano's large hail and colder temperatures. less solar storms weaken the Magnetosphere which allows more radiation which creates more ionization which creates more clouds which cause cooling and radiation stimulates magma thus more seismic activity. how sad will it be if we have wasted all of this time we had to prepare a food growing system indoor hydroponic I don't know but I have to believe that if we put the effort into overcoming the difficulties of a solar minimum we are putting into global warming a lot of life's could be saved and suffering avoided.



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