The American Physical Society has been proceeding with a review of its statement on climate change. Judith Curry and Eli Rabett, among others, have posted the latest draft from the APS Panel on Public Affairs, which has been made available to the APS membership for commentary (each member is allowed one comment of limited length) before being given final edits and provided for a vote of approval to the council. I include below the draft statement and my comment.
There exists a widely quoted story about [18th century philosopher/mathematicians] [Denis] Diderot and [Leonhard] Euler according to which Euler, in a public debate in St. Petersburg, succeeded in embarrassing the freethinking Diderot by claiming to possess an algebraic demonstration of the existence of God: "Sir, (a+b^n)/n = x; hence God exists, answer please!"
This story turns out to be (at least in detail) false, but it was likely invented and resonated because it embodies an underlying truth almost any of us in the sciences have seen: once a mathematical equation comes out, it tends to blind the naive, and even the experienced will often skip over the equations on a first reading of any complex argument. A minor error in a mathematical expression (a forgotten minus-sign being the most common example!) can completely change its meaning, and reasoning about such things requires detailed understanding, it's something that's intellectually demanding, requiring time and mental effort. Sometimes we are willing to put that time in, but more often than not we just don't have the time, or the requisite background, and just skip over the math, hoping that it makes sense to somebody else.
Of course, there is an equation that's proof of amazingly beautiful self-consistency in mathematics, that some have taken as evidence for God:
ei π + 1 = 0
but the beauty of that expression isn't something I intend to get into right now.
What brought to my mind the apocryphal story about Euler and Diderot was a pair of recent posts by Dr. Judith Curry, who I've criticized here before. The first post seemed in some ways to finally be a response to my earlier queries about the no-feedbacks question - about which more below. But in the second she oddly chose to highlight 3 comments which claimed the whole thing was ill-defined, with one of them chock-full of equations that seems to have blinded her and others to the fact it made no more sense than Euler's apocryphal equation, ending with a claim that it's all nonsense:
... it is impossible to evaluate these 2 integrals because they necessitate the knowledge of the surface temperature field which is precisely the unknown we want to identify.
The parameter dTa/dFa is a nonsense
which is the sort of language that should remind my few regular readers of our friends Gerlich and Tscheuschner...
It's hard to believe that Professor Judith Curry can spend so much time writing blog posts and not seem to have the time to make sense. I've not bothered to follow the drama in any detail, my earlier interaction with her proved rather pointless - she appeared to learn nothing from it, even repeating essentially the same provably false claims about the bare no-feedbacks response in this Scientific American profile.
Anyway, this is intended as a very brief post just to highlight some of the people who've tried to understand Dr. Curry in recent weeks, and found her claims completely without foundation, as I did in the no-feedbacks case. I strongly recommend Coby Beck's latest post getting to the essence of her conspiracy-theory mindset:
there is another plausible explanation for the formation of the IPCC, the rise in funding of climate science and the emergence of the very strong consensus that climate change is happening, human caused and going to get worse. That explanation is this: science revealed a potential problem for human society, society used its institutions to watch for and investigate this problem, honest research has found strong evidence that the problem is real and serious, and virtually all experts, using their best and sincere judgment, have advised the world that the problem is deadly serious.
No conspiracies, no alterior motives, no malfeasonce, just geeks doing science. I know it is not Hollywood material, but sometimes reality is just that dull.
Dr. Judith Curry is chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, and has an extensive background in studying Earth's climate, particularly regarding changes in storms, hurricanes, and the like under changing climate conditions. She recently coauthored what seems a very interesting paper on the growth of Antarctic sea ice - apparently the effect of a moderate degree of warming such as we've seen so far is to actually increase sea ice extent in the southern ocean, thanks to increased precipitation in the form of snow. Higher sea temperatures mean more evaporation of water (mostly closer to the equator) which in turn leads to higher levels of precipitation (mostly further south), and if it's cold enough to snow, then paradoxically the result is actually more ice on the water surface, not less.