A letter to the paper – part II

Most of the letters in response to my original letters confirm my proposition that belief in Climate Change is ideological rather than scientific.

There was however one notable exception from my former colleague, Neil White.

Neil White’s Letter – 27 November:

John Reid seems to be bound up in an ideological strait jacket.

Physical systems don’t change at random, they change because of what is happening around them and in them.

The belief that the temperature time series looks like a random walk
(a) has been demonstrated to be wrong and
(b) is irrelevant anyway as this explanation ignores well-understood physics.

Unlike the other letters, Neil’s argument is not ideological blather. What is going on here?

A bit of philosophy – bear with me.

French scientist, Laplace. In 1814 he said:
We may regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its past and the cause of its future. An intellect which at a certain moment would know all forces that set nature in motion, and all positions of all items of which nature is composed, if this intellect were also vast enough to submit these data to analysis, it would embrace in a single formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the tiniest atom; for such an intellect nothing would be uncertain and the future just like the past would be present before its eyes.

This is the philosophy of Determinism.

It held sway until the end of the century when people like Boltzmann and Planck discovered that much of physics could be explained in terms of very large numbers of molecules bumping into one another at random. This is the alternative statistical or stochastic view of the world. At the same time the discovery of radioactivity confirmed that in Nature things do indeed happen at random. Boltzmann and Planck had laid the foundation of statistical physics and quantum mechanics.

Brownian motion is named after the botanist Robert Brown. In 1827, while looking through a microscope at pollen grains in water, he noted that the particles moved through the water but was not able to determine the mechanisms that caused this motion. They move in a jerky, random way called a random walk.

Armed with these new statistical concepts, Albert Einstein published a paper in 1905 that explained in precise detail how the motion that Brown had observed was a result of the pollen being bombarded by the random thermal motions of individual water molecules. This explanation of Brownian motion served as definitive confirmation that atoms and molecules really do exist.

Nowadays stochastic process pervades the physicist’s view of the world. It leads to the second law of thermodynamics (heat never flows from colder to hotter, i.e. entropy never decreases) and the idea that information and entropy are two sides of the same coin.

So we can take with a grain of salt Neil’s statement that physical systems don’t change at random. It is a 19th Century concept. His statement (a) is just plain wrong. My forthcoming paper will explain why it is wrong but it is too technical to go into here.

One field of science in which the stochastic model has had zero effect is fluid mechanics which is firmly trapped in the 19th Century. The fundamental equations of fluid dynamics are deterministic and cannot even handle the most fundamental phenomenon in fluid dynamics which is turbulence. Turbulence is a stochastic process. Hence Neil’s statement (b) is also somewhat optimistic; equations which cannot account for laboratory-scale turbulence can hardly be described as “well-understood”.

In fact fluid dynamics is not really a science at all. It is a branch of applied mathematics. Applied mathematicians confidently predict how the Universe ought to work, physicists strive to discover how it actually does work. There is a big difference. Applied mathematicians are rather like Dorothy Parker saying: I have made up my mind. Don’t confuse me with facts.

This may not have mattered too much. Applied mathematicians could have gone on in their ivory towers teaching students how to solve differential equations and pursuing their various arcane hobbies.

Then two things happened:

  1. people started wondering about whether increases in CO2 from industry could affect the climate and
  2. electronic computers gave the world unprecedented computational power.

So the fluid dynamics people, who already used fluid dynamic computer models to make weather forecasts, told everybody they could do the same thing for climate. Obviously, they thought, if you can predict the weather a week ahead, with a bit of tweaking you can predict the climate centuries into the future and so estimate the effect that CO2 will have on the planet.

No one stopped to ask whether this was in fact possible!

So what these guys did was to take Laplace’s deterministic world view and code it up for a super computer.

They took a modelling technique which is ideally suited to predicting the behaviour of machines and celestial bodies and applied it to the fluid processes of an entire planet.

It has failed dismally.

All the computer models predict exponentially rising temperatures but the real world fails to follow suit; exponentially rising temperatures have not been observed. But now so much money and effort have gone into this project that no-one can admit that it is a failure. Instead they desperately clutch at straws while science administrators and science PR people become ever more implausible in their excuses and ever more hysterical in their predictions.

If you look carefully at 135 years of good global average temperature data, it is a random walk like the movement of a pollen grain under a microscope. The supposed rising trend is just a random excursion. These apparent trends in random walk data are well known in Economics (spurious regression – Granger and Newbold, 1974). So far this idea has not filtered through to climate science.

There is no evidence of climate change; climate is a random walk.