Friday, March 21, 2008

Climate models : climate :: map : territory

I casually tossed off a quote ["the map is not the territory"] from Alfred Korzybski's Science and Sanity in a post below that was supposed to be about Eliot Spitzer. On further reflection, it seems to me that there is a connection between this line and the global warming hysteria. This whole post is encapsulated in the title; if you know how to read that punctuation, all that follows is redundant. Reading the title out loud, one would say, "Climate models are to the climate as the map is to the territory."

Maps or models may be good, better, not so good; none of them is the actual thing, therefore all will have non-correspondences to the actual thing. The only way to build a perfect map of Rhode Island involves a lot of water, earth, and stone, and a table about 75 by 40 miles on a side. Thousands of years of history would have to be included, also. You would not want to forget the arrowheads beneath the ploughed land. The trick is to get the model to correspond closely enough to the thing being modeled that it is useful.

I submit that current climate models have not reached a degree of accuracy such that they are actually useful. And that the makers of such models who think they are useful are overly enamored of their own brilliance, and should take a step back to look at the real world, whose complexity is far greater than the calculations of human beings. In order to create a computer model, one first must list all the factors. If you think you have listed all the factors, then you need to re-examine your assumptions, because it's that close to certain you have left something out. Or as Donald Rumsfeld said, "[A]s we know, there are 'known knowns;' there are things we know we know. We also know there are 'known unknowns;' that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also 'unknown unknowns' — the ones we don't know we don't know." Neglecting the existence of the unknown unknowns is a sure path to the kind of fall before which pride goeth.

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