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Hard versus Soft Science

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When is a theory a theory? Long ago we  commented briefly on the Climategate revelations that the global warming books have been cooked to support the theory. There are a great many blogs dedicated to tracking how that miserable field is regressing, so I have felt no need to beat an obviously dead and cooling horse. But physicist blogger, Lubos Motl, questions why a 2-sigma result (1:20 chance of being accidental) of climate warming (a highly contested result, not supported by data contends Roy Spencer) should cause the American Physical Society to claim “incontrovertible proof” when a 6-sigma result  (1:Million chance of being accidental) from a neutrino detector is doubted by all concerned.

In effect,  Motl, makes the old argument that there are “hard” and “soft” disciplines within science, and that “hard” scientists tend to need more sigmas in their data, but also give much more significance to the “priors”, the body of evidence that support a theory. So when a well-established theory is contradicted then “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. (I’ll come back to the strange origin of that phrase, and its degenerate character.) However, Lubos goes on, the “soft” sciences are so squishy, that one never gets better than a 2-sigma effect, and so the criteria are much lower by comparison. By the same token, there isn’t much benefit in promoting a novel theory in the soft sciences, say, by imposing a tax on everyone, because these theories are so full of exceptions and prone to reversals. While one would hope that climate science is eventually going to be a “hard” science, the field is young and still quite “soft”, which is why Motl sees the exaggerations and politics surrounding climate warming as so egregious.

My own view is that the “soft” sciences are soft for a very good reason–they involve humans.

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Could you give details, Gil? Or at least an example? Elizabeth Liddle
It was so long ago I don't remember where I got it. I have it on my hard drive. If you Google foi2009.zip it looks like there is a bunch of links. If you can't find it reply here and I'll upload it to my website and provide a link. GilDodgen
Gil, do you have a link for this zip file? Enezio E. De Almeida Filho
Gil, You have my greatest respect! I didn't have the stomach for it. When I saw the few exerpts on their treatment of critics, and saw the "fudge factors" in their computer codes, I had already written them off as lost. Whether global warming is true or false, these fellows should be banished from practising science anywhere and at any time, much less funded by honest working people's tax dollars. If Bernie Madoff deserved life for deceiving a handfull of investors, these fellows deserve multiple life terms for deceiving millions. Robert Sheldon
I downloaded the ClimateGate FOI2009.zip file and checked out the contents. You have no idea how bad things were at East Anglia. I not only read the e-mails but checked out the computer code. To call this junk science would be to pay it an undue compliment. It was fraud, deception, manipulation, and utter corruption at every level. Millions of dollars in research funds would be lost if the evidence did not support catastrophic-global-warming-as-a-result-of-human-produced-CO2 theory. As we all know, scientists are far more ethical than the rest of degenerative humanity, and would never even consider fudging the data or committing outright fraud in an effort to keep those research dollars flowing. GilDodgen

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