Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Science can know about creating storms.

Natural phenomena are what science is all about. Science aims to create a theory about natural phenomena. A  scientific theory is an explanation and not just any explanation, it is an explanation based on observations and data and not on a mere conjecture or assumption, or something taken on faith or authority. Because it is based on observation and data linked with the observations, then it is empirical and objective.

Scientific principles are based on the “objectivity of logical relations” as philosophers would call it. For us non-philosophers this would mean certain events have a cause and that cause can be logically established. In the process of doing science, where we propose a hypothesis to a scientific question, the hypothesis has a logical relation with the evidence,what we can call a cause and effect. A hypothesis is an answer to the scientific question. At first it is a guess but with evidence it could be right or wrong.

Nature is a complex phenomenon and the challenge for scientists is to make sense of this complexity to come with a simple explanation of nature. Science has contributed to human society’s advancement for that principle alone. For example we know that the human body is complex.Diseases may have complex origins. But we have lifesaving medicines and medical procedures today that cure or prevent many of these diseases. Doctors over the centuries have logically come to the conclusion that certain medical procedures that are supported by evidence can heal the patient better than those that are not.  Thus no responsible doctor today would prescribe a drug where the evidence that it can contribute to a patient’s health is weak. Doctors do not take the outcomes of their prescriptions on faith, but on science and that is why it takes more than 15 years of systematic study to become a good doctor.

The natural phenomenon of climate and weather is another complex system. Unlike the human body that has been systematically observed and studied for more than 1000 years, climate and weather have only been studied by observation and experiment only for the last 200 years.  Our scientific understanding of anthropogenic climate change only began in 1896 when the chemist Svante Arrenhius proposed the hypothesis that carbon dioxide can affect the temperature of the atmosphere.  Climate and weather science is young and we have not fully understood the complexity of the nature of the atmosphere. But this does not mean that we should accept explanations for this complexity that are not supported by evidence. The fact is that we should be challenged to look for the logical connection between evidence and hypothesis and come up with theory.

The evidence should be empirical and repeatable. In doing so we have to rule out chance in linking evidence and hypothesis. Chance may makeit appear that the two are linked but fails to prove cause and effect. A scientific theory cannot be built on chance. This is where the hypothesis that microwave bursts may have CAUSED the formation of supertyphoon Haiyan epically fails. The proponent has this argument; there is a system of microwave transmitters along the Pacific Ocean operated by the US military. These send microwave transmissions and in using a technique used by navigators, a triangulation, they intersect at the points where Haiyan formed. Now is this evidence that the transmissions caused the typhoon? Or is it due to chance or coincidence?

To propose a logical answer to this we have to go back to the principle that nature is complex and that science knows how and why by coming up with a simple explanation. Also we have to realize that science builds upon basic theories and even more simple explanations that you may have learned in grade and high school. Your high school physics or chemistry teacher most likely taught you the kinetic molecular theory (KMT) which says that molecules move when there is sufficient energy to keep start them moving. If there is enough energy, let us say that these are water molecules, the water molecules will lose their attraction to each other and water becomes a gas. Now this is the same reason why you can boil a cup of water in a microwave. But this requires a lot of energy.  In the case of microwaves, the molecules spin in opposite directions thus generating heat and when heated they move in random directions since the magnetic field in a microwave oven changes in its orientation.  This is what physicists call as dielectric heating.

Put some coffee and cream in the cup, heat it in the microwave and you come up with a cyclone since there is convection in your coffee, and the microwave turntable is spinning. You can notice this if you observe closely.

But does what happens in a coffee cup is the same thing that happens in an ocean basin? Yes. But the planet is not a microwave oven. All weather and climate process are driven by the Sun’s energy. This is a huge amount of energy. Here we come to the reality of scale. Scale is another property of the complexity of natural processes. And while the same processes may operate in a coffee cup, we have to find a cause and effect that can be logically scaled up. And in this case involves scaling up the energy needed to create a Haiyan scale cyclone from the amount of energy needed for Typhoon Coffee! So aside from the KMT and dielectric heating,  there needs to be logical links to evidence and scaling theory to even consider the microwave transmission hypothesis plausible.

Science requires not mere citing of theories and linking them to each other. The links should by logically consistent and this is where cyclogenesis “expert” Dutchsinse epically fails again. The use of illogical links between theories to make them appear consistent is a sure sign of pseudoscience. Pseudoscientists use science as a front for a political or ideological agenda. They are easily identified for they usually have no training in science; they cherry pick data and theories to fit preconceived beliefs and blog or post vlogs (YouTube) about it. And if they are debunked they usually go ad hominem in their response.

In summary, we have to think logically if we value what science has contributed to human culture.  While science cannot answer all our concerns or provide all solutions to our most pressing problems, the fact is that it has advanced our understanding of nature and from this we can hope that we can surmount many problems.

No comments:

Post a Comment