Fred Hutchison
July 11, 2007
Untrustworthy computer models and bad climate science
Letter to First Things
By Fred Hutchison

I applaud everything Thomas Dyer said about the politicalization of global warming. I admire his correlation of long term climate cycles with solar cycles and his revelations about the non-correlation of historical climate cycles with carbon dioxide. However, I was disappointed that he did not mention the dependence of scientists on untrustworthy mathematical computer models. Let me count the fallacies of these computer models.

1) The fallacy of the closed system. Mathematical computer models have to be interlocking closed systems to make the math work. Unfortunately, the atmospheric cycles are not closed systems. There are discontinuities between the earth's atmosphere and the near void of outer space resulting in the lack of a defined boundary for a closed system. There are discontinuities between molecular chemistry and the quantum behavior of sub-molecular particles. The absorption and radiation of heat by the earth's atmosphere is a classic open system.

Contrary to Einstein who believed that the cosmos is a closed system there might be discontinuities between matter and energy. This could account for the patchwork of fixes which are used by scientists to make his model work such as dark matter, black holes, string theory, and patches on the many punctures of big bang theory.

2) The fallacy of reductionism. Mathematical computer models are, of logical necessity, reductionistic and deterministic. The realities of nature must be reduced to numbers to find a place in the model. Chunks of reality must be compressed and distorted in order to be squeezed into the system. Distorted input results in garbage output. Perhaps the worst distortion of such models is the exaggeration of the interconnection of variables to produce a tightly woven system.

3) Einstein's brittle universe. If the tightly interlocking system of computer models is true of nature, then nature is brittle and will shatter if the slightest factor is out of synchronicity. In the same way, an engine will blow its block if the pistons are not perfectly fitted and a watch will stop if one gear is not perfectly meshed.

This may be why the science establishment periodically warns of catastrophes which never happen. They really believe in a brittle and tightly wound universe. Their addiction to computer models leads them in this direction. After all, the computer will crash if the model falls short of perfect integration.

Einstein insisted upon an absolute interconnection of everything that exists. As long as the science establishment worships Einstein, scientists will think they are living in a fragile and brittle universe, always on the edge of disaster.

However, if the universe is more loosely knight together than Einstein decreed or computer models require then nature is rugged and resilient. Lo and behold, the natural world all around us seems to be behaving in a rugged and resilient manner.

4) The continual tweaking of models. The mathematical rationality of models gives them the appearance of integrity and objectivity. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a workable multi-variate mathematical computer model which is free of the selective manipulation by the model builder. Such manipulations cannot be free of private agendas.

We know from chaos theory, that a slight change in one variable of a mathematical computer model often results in a radical change in output. As a result of this instability of models, the first iteration of a model will invariably produce results which are outside of the ball park. Many tweaks are needed to get an outcome which is inside the ballpark of possibility.

During WWI, the Germans bombarded Paris with a large gun fifty miles to the north of the city. The first shot, aimed through mathematical calculations, missed the city. With the help of artillery spotters, the cannoneers made many fine adjustments to the elevation and direction of the cannon until they were hitting the target to their satisfaction. This is what tweaking a model is like except the computer model is harder to tweak because of its inherent instability. One fine adjustment of a systems model for bombarding Paris might overcorrect the trajectory of the shell resulting in missing Paris by miles.

Do model builders tweak their models until they get the output they expect? Yes! Does this mean, the model builders lacks personal integrity? No! If the model builder wants a result that is not absurd (such as missing Paris by miles) he must tweak the model to make it work. If he believes in global warming he must tweak the model to give him global warming. The fact that different climate models give radically different predictions of the rate of global warming reveals the arbitrary and awkward nature of the tweaks the model builders must perform to give them a usable result and to keep the computer from crashing.

Einstein understood how hard it was to make the math work in a closed system model while getting the results he was seeking. He had to use plug figures, like the "cosmological constant" to make the math work.

5) The illusion of certitude. Is the certitude of Al Gore about global warming the sign of an opinionated fool? No. Many scientists also have a vigorous certitude about global warming. Should not a seasoned scientist be wary of rash certitudes? Yes. Amazingly, the seasoned scientists are precisely the ones most bewitched by the illusion of certitude.

The seasoned scientist has spent most of his life in Einstein's world. His mind thinks in numbers as he works inside his closed system computer models. He understands the mathematics because it was developed by man. But this does not mean that he understands nature which was created by God. Even if the model works for some practical applications, it remains a simplistic, artificial, reductionistic human construct quite unlike the sublime creations of God.

However, few scientists with seemingly workable models can resist telling themselves, "I understand this model. The model works. Therefore, the model shows how nature works. Therefore I understand nature." This is the exact point where the illusion of certitude begins and the point where the scientist is cut off from nature. The more absolute the certitude, the more complete the divorce from reality.

Why does a seasoned scientist persecute someone who rejects the global warming model? The scientists sincerely believes that such a person is a crank living in a false reality. However, it is the scientist who is living in a sand castle of his own making.


A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at Amazon.com.

© Fred Hutchison

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

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Fred Hutchison

Frederick J. Hutchison attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an undergraduate, and Cleveland State University to get his Master's degree in business... (more)

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