And they called it science …

Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy summarises his view of science thus, Popper …

 … repudiates induction and rejects the view that it is the characteristic method of scientific investigation and inference, substituting falsifiability in its place. It is easy, he argues, to obtain evidence in favour of virtually any theory, and he consequently holds that such ‘corroboration’, as he terms it, should count scientifically only if it is the positive result of a genuinely ‘risky’ prediction, which might conceivably have been false. For Popper, a theory is scientific only if it is refutable by a conceivable event. Every genuine test of a scientific theory, then, is logically an attempt to refute or to falsify it, and one genuine counter-instance falsifies the whole theory. In a critical sense, Popper’s theory of demarcation is based upon his perception of the logical asymmetry which holds between verification and falsification: it is logically impossible to conclusively verify a universal proposition by reference to experience (as Hume saw clearly), but a single counter-instance conclusively falsifies the corresponding universal law. In a word, an exception, far from ‘proving’ a rule, conclusively refutes it.

From that viewpoint a theory that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide will produce global warming can be tested by comparing global temperature with CO
levels. If CO
goes up and temperature does not then the theory is refuted.

It is a useful theory because it is a falsifiable theory. If it doesn’t hold true you don’t necessarily have to toss it in the bin. You can take it back to the drawing board and tinker with it and see if there is a related theory that better explains the facts. To be useful the new theory must also be capable of disproof. A theory, for example, that predicts that increasing CO
will produce temperature rise, temperature decrease, increased rainfall and drought is a tough one to falsify.

The University of Michigan brings us news of a study that will soon be published in the journal Global Change Biology. Be afraid, be very afraid because it is clear from the study that “scientists may be underestimating the impacts of climate change on animals and plants because much of the harm is hidden from view.

I will quote selectively, you may feel obliged to see if I have distorted the tale by reading the whole saga <HERE>.

Between 1978 and 2009, Finnish scientists used light traps at night to catch 388,779 moths from 456 species. Eighty of the most abundant species were then analyzed.

Hunter used a statistical technique called time series analysis to examine how various ecological forces, including climate, affected per capita population growth.

The study analyzed populations of 80 moth species and found that 90 percent of them were either stable or increasing throughout the study period, from 1978 to 2009.

There is an obvious conclusion to be drawn here and the authors thought of it …

On one level, the results can be viewed as a good news climate story: In the face of a rapid environmental change, these moths appear to be thriving, suggesting that they are more resilient than scientists had expected, Hunter said.

… and rejected it. In favour of …

The findings have implications that reach beyond moths in Lapland.

If unknown ecological forces are helping to counteract the harmful effects of climate change on these moths, it’s conceivable that a similar masking of impacts is happening elsewhere. If that’s the case, then scientists are likely underestimating the harmful effects of climate change on animals and plants, Hunter said.

And they called it science …

Vaccination …

Currently a warm topic in Oz because Bill Gates has just endorsed the practice and because of recent legislation in NSW.

I heard a discussion on your ABC recently of the great good that vaccination can do. Talk back radio being what it is, a nicely spoken gentleman called in to disagree. The thrust of his argument was that the gold standard investigation is a double blind cross over trial, since this hadn’t been done for vaccination the practise should be abandoned. He was a polite version of the terrorists in Pakistan who are shooting the health workers who are getting close to eradicating the scourge of polio.

I doubt he is reading but I am sure he would be interested in this paper by Smith and Pell in the British Medical Journal BMJ 2003; 327


Objectives To determine whether parachutes are effective in preventing major trauma related to gravitational challenge.

Design Systematic review of randomised controlled trials.

Data sources: Medline, Web of Science, Embase, and the Cochrane Library databases; appropriate internet sites and citation lists.

Study selection: Studies showing the effects of using a parachute during free fall.

Main outcome measure Death or major trauma, defined as an injury severity score > 15.

Results We were unable to identify any randomised controlled trials of parachute intervention.

Conclusions As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

Indeed, with his profound interest in the wellbeing of our community he might even volunteer for the study.

Peer review …

A couple of years ago I had a vigorous discussion of climate change with a young lady in the first year of her PhD studies. She had great faith in the peer reviewed literature. She hadn’t read it but she felt the consensus could not be wrong because it was peer reviewed.

In the meantime, someone has done some research on the peer review process …

Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published articles, submitted again

Douglas P. Peters and Stephen J. Ceci

Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 5, pp 187-195.

Department of Psychology, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, N.D. 58202

Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. 74853


A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables.

The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices.

With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated.

If the null hypothesis was that the journals reject 80% of articles at random it was not disproved.


Intellect free …

Jo Nova brings this advert to our attention …


You may already be laughing or perhaps crying. If not, may I remind you that sugar is sucrose which is one molecule of glucose joined to one molecule of fructose by a glycosidic bond …


Those things marked C are Carbon atoms. Take all those out and you are left with 22 hydrogen atoms and 11 oxygen atoms … in other words 11 molecules of water.

Next time you have a glass of water think of it as carbon free sugar.

Next time you meet someone talking about carbon pollution you can suggest they switch to Domino sugar …


Consensus …

When the truth of an issue is easily knowable one would expect consensus to be at a high level. When an issue is complex, observations difficult to interpret and the conclusion untestable one would not expect consensus to reach 97%.

Entire industries face extinction as the world’s governments seek to impose trillions of dollars of taxes on carbon emissions. The New York Times’s Thomas Friedman approvingly writes that Australian politicians—not to mention public figures through the world—now risk “political suicide” if they deny climate change. But if carbon dioxide turns out not to be the boogey-man that climate scientists have made it out to be, tens of trillions will be wasted in unneeded remediation. Much of the world—billions of humans—will endure a severely diminished quality of life with nothing to show for it.

Click the link to read an interesting essay by BRUMBERG and BRUMBERG.

All is revealed …

There is an answer to every question, a solution to every puzzle, an explanation for every event. It’s called religion. Science, on the other hand can only answer some of the questions. The difference is in the extent to which you can trust the answers.

The reason you might trust the scientific answers is to be found in the process, it’s public … the methods, the results, the discussion, the conclusion are all out there to be checked. If they are not reproducible they are rejected. There is considerable cut and thrust in all this. Religious folk trust the answers, even though theirs are mostly wrong while true scientists never trust the answers even though theirs are mostly right. The science ain’t ever settled.

If every scientist had to check every experiment in person before accepting the result progress would grind to a halt. This leads to a paradox, for all scientists most science is revealed doctrine, sourced from the gospel of the scientific journal. The worst of mistakes are hopefully avoided by the peer review process. This makes a nonsense of any argument than runs along the lines 70% of scientists agree that …

A particularly unsettling example can be found in the paper The mystery of recent stratospheric temperature trends, D. W. J. Thompson et al, Nature 491: 692–697, Nov 2012. The paper is concerned with a data set originally processed by the UK Met Office and later by America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The background …

The surface temperature record extends for over a century and is derived from multiple data sources. In contrast, the stratospheric temperature record spans only a few decades and is derived from a handful of data sources. Radiosonde (weather balloon) measurements are available in the lower stratosphere but do not extend to the middle and upper stratosphere. Lidar (light detection and ranging) measurements extend to the middle and upper stratosphere but have very limited spatial and temporal sampling. By far the most abundant observations of long-term stratospheric temperatures are derived from satellite measurements of long-wave radiation emitted by Earth’s atmosphere.

The longest-running records of remotely sensed stratospheric temperatures are provided by the Microwave Sounding Unit (MSU), the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU), and the Stratospheric Sounding Unit (SSU). The SSU and MSU instruments were flown onboard a consecutive series of seven NOAA polar-orbiting satellites that partially overlap in time from late 1978 to 2006; the AMSU instruments have been flown onboard NOAA satellites from mid-1998 to the present day.

The widely accepted, continuous record of temperatures in the middle and upper stratosphere going back to 1979 was based exclusively on SSU data. The SSU data were originally processed for climate analysis by scientists at the UK Met Office in the 1980s and further revised as newer satellite data became available in 2008.
NOAA recently reprocessed the SSU records and published the full processing methodology and the resulting data.
Met in blue NOAA in red, and the outputs kind of resemble each other, a bit. Why don’t they match? That’s a mystery. The pair diverge  from about 1985 and grow further apart with time. How did the Met Office handle the numbers? That’s also a mystery, the method was never published and is now lost to human knowledge.
The global-mean cooling in the middle stratosphere, that’s about 25–45 km in altitude, is nearly twice as large in the NOAA data set as it is in the Met Office data set or in the words of  the Nature article: “The differences between the NOAA and Met Office global-mean time series shown in Fig. 1 are so large they call into question our fundamental understanding of observed temperature trends in the middle and upper stratosphere.
So science triumphs again, it’s all fixed now.
Just one problem, it’s the old data set that the climate modellers have used to forecast thermageddon. And that might be just one of the reasons that observed temperature trends stubbornly refuse to comply with the IPCC predictions. Garbage in, garbage out.
You can buy the original paper <HERE> or read another review of it <HERE>.