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.