Thursday 3 December 2009

On insufficient cynicism.

As some of you may know, my motto is "The only problem with being cynical is being right."

Well, in light of recent developments, I'd like to say that I wrote this three-and-a-half years ago:

As you almost certainly know, lots of scientists these days — especially climatologists — draw conclusions about the real world from computer models. I have therefore compiled this handy list. It's a list of the questions you need to ask any scientist who has used a computer model to reach a conclusion — and I'm not just picking on the climate-change crowd here; they may be the most prominent in the news, but there are lots of other guilty parties out there in all sorts of scientific fields. If a scientist doesn't give confident and reasonable answers to these questions, take their conclusions with a handful of salt.

I set out some of the basic problems of programming and debugging as part of a team, in terms designed to make it clear to laymen that computer models may not always be all that reliable. But I admit that I always assumed that the models used by scientists were basically quite well built yet prone to the same inherent problems as every other bit of programming. It simply never occurred to me that prominent climatologists might be unable to replicate their own models' results or would be building models based on data that they had lost. I was just writing about the long-known problem of the blurring of lines between using computer models to examine and test data and using them to generate information. It didn't occur to me that our lords & masters might be considering destroying the global economy on the say-so of a bunch of "scientists" who'd lost sight of the scientific method.

Had I been more cynical, I'd've been more right. That'll learn me.

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