Science v science [part 2047]

Yesterday, I clearly didn’t satisfactorily explain the point about small s science and Capital S Science.

One is real science, using tried and trusted methods and publishing the results.  The other, e.g. in Scientific American and from the Royal Society is political in focus and is meant to push a certain agenda.

An example of the latter is the pseudo-science debunked at Watts-Up and to zero in on one of these only, let’s look at the worst US drought:

They chose the U.S. Drought Monitor “map” to support the World Bank’s claim that the U.S. just had its worst drought in 50 years… The U.S. Drought Monitor only has a 12-year record length. If they had only bothered to look at the historical drought trend (or lack thereof) they would have found that we just had the worst drought in a bit over 10 years (not 50) and that droughts of this severity occur about once every 8 years.

The drought of 2012 was pretty bad, about as bad as the droughts of 2000-2001, 1988, 1981, 1963, 1940, 1925, 1917 and 1910… But not nearly as bad as the protracted droughts of 1953-1956 and 1933-1936. And there is no increasing trend of drought severity or decreasing trend in precipitation over the last 117 years.

That’s the sort of thing which constitutes Capital S Science.

[H/T Chuckles]

15 comments for “Science v science [part 2047]

  1. December 6, 2012 at 08:50

    James, I have been following your blog on the capitalisation issue.

    Why not just call it pseudo-science, which does not require interpretation of obscure runes.

    Then we could get back to directing our energies at the bad guys, rather than each other.

    Best regards

  2. Amfortas
    December 6, 2012 at 09:46

    Bravo. Watts Up is a great source of critical analysis of Climate ‘pseudo science’. In Oz we have a splendid lady, Jo Nova, who regulalry used Watts Up and various other excellent contributors on her own excellent, hard-hitting blog at

    ( I hope you do not mind me putting her URL here).

    Whether one wishes to use upper and lower case or ‘pseudo’ or even ‘junk’ is of lesser moment than the need to spread the available critique of the cheats and their cheating as far and as deep as possible.

    I would hazard, James, that Joanne is your kinda gal. She certainly is mine.

  3. Amfortas
    December 6, 2012 at 10:11

    Darryl Huff must be spitting chips that his publishers put so high a price on his splendid book that only Universities bought it. (Huffograms) It was written so that the general public could spot the graphic misuse of statistical data. It was on the book-list when I did my BA and focusing on stats but I wanted a copy for my pleasure.

    Personally I thought at the time (it was long ago) that the price was right enough for me to buy it, but I did suspect at the time too that it was akin to writing the definitive book on Bank Robbery, detailing every aspect of the task. Clearly many University people thought so too, but they saw the potential of the Public Purse rather than the bank in their local High Street

  4. December 6, 2012 at 11:47

    I agree with Nigel. If you are accusing work of being pseudo-science then say so clearly. To the rest of the world science and Science mean the same thing, and it is silly to expect either casual or regular blog visitors to remember your strange code.

    And, re yesterday, if you meant to lump the Higgs Boson work and String Theory in amongst pseudo-science it might be interesting to hear why. Then we could discuss things sensibly

  5. December 6, 2012 at 11:52

    Higgs Boson simple – it wasn’t discovered. I linked to the relevant post a few days ago. String theory was yesterday’s I think – Can’t discuss anything sensibly if you won’t follow the links.

  6. December 6, 2012 at 13:08

    I followed the links, You have a despairing tendency throughout your blog to think that one link to one set of opinion from anywhere proves anything, ignoring all the other data you don’t wish to agree with. I give up. I really do give up. Better things to do.

  7. December 6, 2012 at 13:21

    However… the whole point about the Higgs debate is that it is science working as it should, as I said yesterday. I was inviting you to explain why you think that this standard to and fro of interpretation and counter-interpretation that is the hallmark of science in action should be categorised by you as pseudo-science (if that is what you mean by Science with a capital S). But I do give up commenting on this issue entirely now. I shall resist my every inclination to revisit it.

  8. December 6, 2012 at 13:38

    You have a despairing tendency throughout your blog to think that one link to one set of opinion from anywhere proves anything

    Well you would say that, DQS, given the line you are pursuing. 😉

  9. December 6, 2012 at 15:21

    Well one thing I am sure we can agree on James is that there is an awful lot of nonsense out there being dressed up in the guise of “science”.

    I will read on with interest, as ever.

  10. Amfortas
    December 6, 2012 at 15:28

    I am pretty sure a wee dram or three can find hills and glens of agreement between us all, high roads and low roads notwithstanding.

  11. December 6, 2012 at 16:05

    I’m sure you are right Amfortas. I am personally extremely critical of much that goes under the guise of professional science (especially cosmology), but I do see all that as part of the to and fro of proper science in action. But I don’t like sweeping generalisations about science (or Science) when the reality, as I see it, is such an incredibly complex mixture of sense and nonsense, genuine mistakes, understandable human stubborness and people clinging to positions…. but then in places descending into the blatant abuse and fraud that, thankfully, eventually gets exposed even if on a much longer timescale than we would wish. Slowly though, we stumble onwards. Anyway, enjoy you drams and I will share my virtual dram with you all. (And this is me not commenting on the issue again eh. Ach well, we are allowed to change our minds 🙂 )

  12. james wilson
    December 6, 2012 at 18:07

    “The free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.”

    Follow the money. A science degree is no guarantee of employment. Just as the last sixty years have seen an explosion in higher education and a proportional lowering of higher standards, the great numerical increase in scientist has largely introduced needy and mediocre scientist to the needs of government . A conscience will generally follow a paycheck. The global cooling-warming-change-goldilocks bullocks is a giant second-rate scientist employment agency and first rate political boondoggle involving incredible sums already, and that is only the fuel to light their further ambitions. Chicken Little is no longer an outlier, he is running the show.

    When a hoax is perpetrated, whoever seeks to examine it through the approach of even handedness has just bought the hoax.

  13. December 6, 2012 at 22:41

    I’m not sure I believe the map.
    It shows my home state in a drought, but it is just experiencing normal weather that I remember from the past fifty odd years.

  14. December 6, 2012 at 22:44

    Why not just call it pseudo-science

    I agree with Nigel Sedgwick, I think that is a good description to explain the problem.

  15. December 6, 2012 at 22:46

    Well, I was going to but now you give it your approval, Cherie, what else can I do?

    Thanks also Bob, James, DQS, Nigel and Amfortas.

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