Problems of models and scientific prediction — a physicist heretic

Russell Roberts at CafeHayek posted excerpts from Freeman Dyson’s article “Heretical thoughts about science and society.” Dyson, professor of physics at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, lays out cogent and wonderfully reasoned heretical thoughts about global warming. Read the whole article. It’s brilliant. Here’s a sample:

My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.

Dyson concludes with a wonderful lesson in scientific prediction gone awry. He tells of advising Francis Crick not to go into biology but to stay in physics because that’s where the future of science lay. Frick didn’t take his advice and seven years later with Watson discovered the double helix — the structure of DNA, which “gave birth to the new science of molecular genetics.”The website where this appeared is maintained by the Edge Foundation. Read more about them here.