Blinded by "Settled" Science

Headline in today's local paper "BP's rosy spill plan vs. the grim reality" reflects a feeling that I have had for a number of years. It talks about how BP said they could suck up most of the 20 million barrels of oil, but the oil is now covering over 3,300 square miles. About how the blowout would have "no adverse impact" on marine animals, but it obviously has. And about how the blowout site was too far offshore to necessitate shore cleanup concerns, but the reality is that the currents are spreading the oil to the shores to the north and east as well as potentially to the eastern coast of the US.

Please note that this is not a BP bashing post. There is enough of that from other bloggers and from the White House. This is a post about 'settled science'.

Don't get me wrong. I love science. I am constantly amazed at the new products and services we get every day because of advances in science. But the untold secret is the fact that for every advance, there are huge numbers of failures. When you get right down to it, science is the art of persistent, targeted guessing. Did I just say what I just said? Science is an art? Of course it is. Math is more of a science than science is itself.

So when scientists say with certainty that we are having global climate change because of human-caused reasons, I have doubts. When anyone predicts anything, I have severe doubts. Heck, we can barely explain why things that have already happened have occurred. And if politicians and activists want us to commit enormous sums of money and time toward a prediction based upon 'settled science' when related professionals cannot even reliably predict ocean currents in the Gulf over a six week period, I am skeptical. Very skeptical.

Bring up CNBC or Fox Business Channel and watch the programs where four pundits sit around and talk about stocks and investments. They will be no consensus by more than two people on any point raised. Listen to the talking heads about the results of this election or that. What caused the result and what does that portend for the next election? Theories abound, but no one really knows.

Sure, a blind squirrel will occasionally find a nut. And when a pundit or politician or scientist gets something right, they are hailed as a genius and the 'go-to guy' on that subject, but does that person ever repeat their prognostificatorial prowress? Not usually. There are people on political talk shows that, as consultants, have one win and ten losses under their belt and they are still dragged on-screen for their opinion as if it really matters. What really matters is quantity, not quantity.

Bottom line: science is experimentation and experimentation is educated guessing. When we rely on science to fix something that has never occurred (an oil well blowout at an ocean depth of one mile) we are going to get experiments which means that we will get more failures than successes. BUT... next time it happens, we will be ready.

Comments

Anonymous said…
"Bottom line: science is experimentation and experimentation is educated guessing. When we rely on science to fix something that has never occurred (an oil well blowout at an ocean depth of one mile) we are going to get experiments which means that we will get more failures than successes. BUT... next time it happens, we will be ready."

So, you are saying lets try uneducated guessing?
BTW BP cut corners and lied. This is not science
The Asterisk said…
Anonymous - No, not uneducated guessing. I am not arguing the fact that BP lied and people died. This will all be sorted out once Oliver Stone comes out with the movie. My point is that science is the action of narrowing the search until you trip over the solution. Just like Edison's lightbulb experiments.

Until a disaster like this one or the next one, or the next one occurs no one will have the solution because you just cannot test a real life fix for EVERY scenario.

No matter how sure people are, the attempted solutions will be a SWAG until the fix is finally discovered.

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