by Judith Curry
Newtons Laws of Expertise and the 4th Law of Thermodynamics.
Some entertainment for Sunday
William York has a clever article entitled Climate change violates one of Newton’s laws. Excerpts:
The claim that the science debate over cimate change is settled violates the most important of Newton’s Laws. This violation is not of the famous Laws of Motion but of a little known set of derived bylaws, Newton’s Laws of Experts, a major contribution to understanding social dynamics.
Newton’s Laws of Motion may be simply stated as:
- First Law: every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force;
- Second Law: the rate of change of momentum is directly proportional to the applied force; and
- Third Law: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The bylaws, Newton’s Laws of Experts, are as follows:
- First Law: every expert persists in his state of rest or opinion unless acted upon by an external grant;
- Second Law: the rate of change of opinion is directly proportional to the applied grant; and
- Third Law: for every expert there is an equal and opposite expert.
The First Law of Experts is well known and can be demonstrated in countless universities, institutes and research bodies. First, the need to appear relevant to the wants of society means engagement in the great issues of the day. This has been brought on by well intentioned but misguided policy that assumes innovations, financial, technical or other, spring fully developed from academic research and national needs should determine the areas of research interest.
The second and much more worrying influence comes from the coupling of politics to science. If this is coupled to saving the planet and giving rise to a better world then there is a resonance between politics and academia.
As a result governments, often subject to marginal politics, have created opportunities for endless grant applications for any research perceived as relevant to these issues. It is often the case that the envisaged research was not aimed at the target set by the government, but simply represents the dressing-up of a proposal in a way which would attract the grant.
This discussion leads to the Second Law of Experts. There is no doubt that large grants, leading to the establishment of new institutes, departments or divisions, have the effect of moving experts into positions where they will represent these new initiatives. The lifetime of these organisations is subject to the continuous feeding from grants, so there is every incentive to emphasise the importance and relevance of the research, thus providing strong and positive feedback.
The Third Law of Experts is one that is most commonly encountered in the Law. Expert witnesses are frequently called by both sides for explanations. So, rather than experts advising the bench, each side presents the most favourable explanation that helps its own case.
Where are the experts speaking against the position that climate change is caused by human activity? They are scarcely to be seen or heard at this time. Within the academy, one expert will not willingly place himself between another expert and a grant-giving body, unless he has immunity from subsequent retribution.
And finally, I spotted this one on Twitter:
“The fourth law of thermodynamics” @pkedrosky The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.