September 30, 2021

The Devil in the Details

This from Jennifer Marohasy:

If you go across to my website you will see there is a subscribe button ( ), if you do subscribe you will get my monthly e-newsletters. What I sent out last night to subscribers follows: The wonderful thing about our 21st Century theory of climate, with its focus on human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide, is that it makes us so relevant in the scheme of things. We are told that by making ethical investments we can fundamentally change the climate’s trajectory. Over the next month we will be told if our leaders fly to Glasgow and promise certain things, they can save the Earth.

But that doesn’t necessarily make it true. If we really care about something, we should even be prepared to become irrelevant, especially if that gets us closer to the truth.

But how do we get closer to the truth?

New Zealand born physicist Ernest Rutherford claimed more than 100 years ago that all science is either physics or stamp collecting. I tend to agree. But what he calls stamp collecting I call ‘evidence’. What he calls ‘physics’ I tend to call ‘theory’.

I’m occasionally accused of bothering too much about the detail, while ‘Rome burns’— so to speak. As though bothering with the stamps/the evidence/the data is irrelevant because we should all just get on with saving the climate. (I personally believe we would all be much better off if we knew how to forecast the climate, rather than save it, but that is a story for another day.)

Of course, once you stop bothering with the detail and become an activist you stop being a scientist. Anyway, I have always much preferred to sit with a book or data of an evening, rather than socialising. So, when I visited Lady Elliot Island – ostensibly on holidays back in May – I spent most evenings in the little library with the books, rather than drinking and talking.

I chanced across a photograph very similar to one I saw in the Sydney Morning Herald some weeks earlier it was in a book entitled ‘Coral Whisperers’ by Irus Braverman published by the University of California Press in October 2018. I’ve since tracked down the original photograph and it appears to have been taken on October 22, 2014. Yet the caption in the book suggests it was taken in February 2016. Perhaps Professor Braverman got the caption wrong because she was copying from the ‘Stop Adani’ Flickr page where the image is promoted for free use by the news media and educators to communicate about the global bleaching event?

Is it so difficult to find bleached coral that the news media and educators must all use pictures of the same stand of coral, that as I explain in a recent blog post, is not even bleached? It may look bleached, but that is a consequence of the physics of light and the type of coral as I explain here:

There is a comment in the thread following that post:

"I think we may have lost the war, the elites and their politicians have got the momentum, but we need stuff like yours as ammunition, so at least we can go down fighting.”

I don’t doubt that some enjoy the fight, and I’m happy enough if my scrutiny of the stamps helps them with the battling.

Thanks for caring!
Dr Jennifer Marohasy

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at 09:46 AM | Comments (4) | Add Comment
Post contains 573 words, total size 4 kb.

1 Here's to "stamp collecting!" Theory is fine, but if you're expecting to do anything with it, you need the data to back up your theory. And if you're a real scientist, you'll look at ALL the data: those which support your theory and those which shoot it down.

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at September 30, 2021 10:28 AM (dmr2P)

2 Agreed Dana. Science is generally boring because it involves pouring over vast sums of data and looking at it with fresh eyes. It's not supposed to be the big sexy theories. It's largely grunt work.

Or it used to be. Now everyone wants to be a celebrity.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at September 30, 2021 08:33 PM (+WEJY)

3 Right. Now it seems to be enough just to come up with the theory -- and if forced to defend it, you can always have some fake data.

Posted by: Dana Mathewson at October 01, 2021 11:50 AM (aTfFy)

4 Bingo!  It's the corollary to the statement "it's now how the public votes but who counts it"; it's not what the real world says but who counts the data sets.

Posted by: Timothy Birdnow at October 02, 2021 07:03 AM (/4O05)

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