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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Validation of Models

A TangoMan commented at RealClimate that "a model that is unvalidated doesnt deserve journal recognition". A worthwhile goal for sure, but scientists can't always validate every model they dream up. The nature of the validation process requires an experiment to prove or calibrate the model predictive power. Unfortunately, climate change requires a laboratory as big as the earth and a slippery slope called the future as the experimental timetable. If we do have to wait for the perfect situation to validate a model, and thus pronounce our models perfectly able to predict global warming, its basically too late. A classic catch-20 situation.

On the other hand, oil depletion models have interesting characteristics that make them more amenable to validation. The fact that they show inflection points (the "peak" in peak oil) and that local predictions have meaning (i.e. USA oil depletion) provide test points to oil depletion modelers that climatologists don't have. In essence, whenever a new global temperature data point arrives that does not match some observed trend, the climatologists end up having to spend all their energy defending their models. Something to be said for finite resource modeling, economists excepted.

Michael Crichton apparently abhors models, from a NY Time review:
He was particularly dismissive of the various computer models for climate change, saying, "You have to remember, I come from an experience where you can use a computer to make a photo-realistic dinosaur, and I know that isn't real."
That is a strangely incongruous statement. Granted that designing dinosaurs has no real benefit other than as entertainment, but ray tracing, fractals, diffraction, and refraction count as "real" things to me. And what finally occurred to me as a plot-hole that you could drive a car through in Crichton's book "State of Fear" was the premise that his evil eco-terrorist was able to control the climate ... yet he can't admit that industrial pollution occurring over the course of many years can have any deleterious effect.

How's this for being cursed with an unfortunate last name: One Peter Stott is a climatologist working out of England who collaborated in a Nature journal article titled “Humans May Double the Risk of Heat Waves”. The bad Stott is Professor Emeritus Philip Stott of England who works as a professional anti-environmentalist and climate change opponent in his EnviroSpin blog.

What's up with that? Curiosity got the best of me, and I tried tracking down if there was some relationship between the two Stott's but I could not find anything. If in fact some sort of adversarial kinship existed between the two, it would make for a great documentary. I would title it "Stott Affair", an investigation into the mental battles waged between scientists good and bad.


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