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Let Me Model That For You...

By Email author - Wed, 05 Oct 2011 14:15:00 GMT
Let Me Model That For You...

Let me start by nailing my colours to the mast: I am an analytical scientist by training; I measure things with known accuracy and precision (trust me, I modelled it!). Therefore, by predilection and practice, I believe in tangible things that can be observed and measured.

Increasingly, I fear that standards within the scientific community are slipping, the underlying reasons for this is another topic on its own. Within science, more "information" gets into the literature than ever before without rigorous peer review; although it has gone through the process.

Take for example the plethora of organometallic species that researchers claim to have unambiguously "identified" that actually elute from the chromatographic system within the void volume - older, wiser heads shake in disbelief!

Within the wider community, ignorance about science and scientific method is at its worst in a generation. Scientists are lionised and vilified in equal measure.

Journalists preface any piece with "scientists (or experts) agree…" gaily lumping the broad spectrum of scientific endeavour into the same white coat, in blissful ignorance of the wide range of specialities in each of the main streams of science - scientists do not agree, thank you very much!

There has been an explosion in "modelling" everything from the weather to ocean acidification. These models must be taken on trust by the public, the media and politicians.

The output of these models never seem to come with any proper evaluation of the uncertainties associated with the system, but are often given as bold "facts" which will support whatever you like since the details are never held up to public scrutiny.

But politicians and policy bodies love models - we modelled it and the results show… It's just so seductive.

I attended a lecture where a model that looked at the deposition of "marine snow" was modelled. In order to get numbers out of the system, the authors assumed that the detritus falling through the water column was perfectly spherical (really?); unaffected by currents (come on!); fell with uniform velocity and did not interact with anything else within the water column on its decent to the sea bed. The underlying assumptions are so off that the model would be worse than useless, but it had been "modelled", so it had to be correct, didn't it?

I am sure that modelling has a place in the greater scheme of things, but any model should be backed-up by field measurements and it must come with a clear description of assumptions, limitations and the results that it derives must be put into proper context with a clear indication of their reliability. Alas, in the modern "sound bite" world of journalism, I don't see this happening anytime soon.

Green Opinion is an Earth Times Blog. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Top Image Credit: Scientist working at the laboratory © alexraths

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