What Is Good Science?

Written by Dr Jerry L Krause

In a response to Dr. Tim Ball’s article—John L. Daly: A Giant of Early Climate Skepticism—I closed my comments with the following.

“Richard Feynman has proposed a scattering theory of solar radiation by cloud droplets that I seldom, if ever, read as being considered.  Feynman and other theoretical physicists have proposed that a general rule is that a good absorber is a good reflector. science In the context of meteorology and climate I have seldom, if ever, read this rule being considered.  And according to Feynman:  “Einstein assumed that there are three kinds of processes:  an absorption proportional to the intensity of light, an emission proportional to the intensity of light, called induced emission or sometimes stimulated emission, and a spontaneous emission independent of light.”  In the context of the ‘greenhouse effect’ I have seldom, if ever, read about this assumption of Einstein’s.

“Why?  My answer is too many people enjoy debating the intelligence of others than in doing good science themselves.”

It seems commonly known that Newton stated:  “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.  I suspect, but do not know, that one of these giants was Galileo.  Galileo, Newton, Einstein, Feynman, R. C. Sutcliffe, Louis Agassiz, head my list of giants on whose shoulders I try to stand.  I suspect, but do not know, that the latter two names are not familiar to most who might read this article.  Louis Agassiz considered that a scientist was a person who saw what others did not see; so he considered that his greatest achievement was that he taught students to observe.  Because I have studied how Agassiz taught his students to observe, I consider I have learned to see what others seem to not commonly observe.  R. C. Sutcliffe was a meteorologist who predicted weather during WWII for the British and allied forces.  And he was invited to write a book—Weather and Climate—by W. W. Norton & Company as part of their Advancement of Science Series and it was published in 1966.

In his preface Sutcliffe began:  “This is not a textbook on meteorology, neither a general introduction nor a formal course, but it has a serious purpose and that is to explain to the general reader what it is that meteorologists are doing and trying to do.”  However, I consider that how he began the last chapter better describes his purpose.  “If the writing of this book has been at all successful, it will have given the impression of a modern developing science, both intellectually exciting and economically rewarding, ranging over an impressive diversity of ideas and techniques, and having numerous growing points and loose ends.”  And I consider the key phrase of the latter statement to be:  “a modern developing science”.

For in the second chapter Sutcliffe wrote:  “When it became firmly established from observations on mountains and in manned free balloons that the air became steadily colder as the altitude increased, scientists were very ready to generalize and to assume that the cooling went on indefinitely to the limit of the atmosphere.  This was the general belief until in 1899 the Frenchman Teisserenc de Bort, announced to an astonished and even incredulous world that his sounding balloons had reached heights above which the temperature decreased no further.”  The title of this chapter was Troposphere, Stratosphere and Beyond.  Of course, it is commonly known today that it is only in this lowest atmospheric layer, the troposphere, where it is observed that the air temperature decreases with increasing altitude.  And in debate after debate, I can observe this being assumed to be the observed fact by both proponents of the debate.

My purpose at this point is not to describe, or define, what good science is.  It is to illustrate the infant nature of the science termed meteorology and its “growing points and loose ends”.  While de Bort made atmospheric soundings that disclosed that there were heights above which the temperature decreased no further, it seems his actual soundings must have been quite limited.  And it seems until after WWII there was no large scale attempts to monitor the troposphere with sounding balloons.  For, during WWII it was discovered that Japanese meteorologists knew something about the troposphere which other meteorologists had not yet established, or maybe even considered to be possible.  What was discovered (observed) is termed a jet stream that was soon discovered to strongly influence weather although its path and speed is still difficult to predict, I believe.

In case you have not noticed, I consider good science is the consideration of observations.  Sometimes the useful observations have not been made, but many times I observe that many observations have been made which are routinely being ignored.  PSI is a blogsite and I only discovered it May 30, 2016.  And the first thing I observed was there were so many ‘no comments’ at the end of so many articles.  I have been told this is because those who enjoy debating the intelligence of others rather than in doing good science themselves are no longer members in good standing of PSI.  A case in point is the recent Judith Curry article posted on PSI.  It now has two comments.  The same article appeared first on her blogsite and a few days ago it had already generated more than 300 comments.  And I can recognize the names of a few commenters from other blogsites, who had generated a good portion of the 300 comments as they debate with each other the same issues, which they have debated for years without any resolution.  Why?  I have been told it is fun.  

Dialogue is essential in good science.  So I invite any reader to submit what it might be that I consider to be a commonly ignored observation of atmospheric soundings.  And I might learn that there is something I commonly ignore.  And better yet, propose the contexts of the ideas of Feynman and Einstein relative to atmospheric science.

The preceding was submitted to John O’Sullivan as a possible article.  He responded with a review of some early history involving some nasty exchanges of comments between bloggers and commenters in which members of PSI were participants.  And he suggested I might wish to revise my article relative to this history.

 Since these nasty exchanges of comments were exactly the basis of my answer that too many people enjoy debating the intelligence of others than in doing good science themselves, it maybe seemed to John that I had stepped into the messy stuff.

 However, when I began to read some the history John had sent, I got extremely excited.  For I found the evidence for which I had starting writing this article.  And I was so excited that I forgot I had just written:  “So I invite any reader to submit what it might be that I consider to be a commonly ignored observation of atmospheric soundings.”  This evidence was the following very civil comments.

“Ceri Phipps2011-12-22 14:27 Spencer uses an interesting observation which I have noticed myself on many occasions and that is that on a cold clear night with snow on the ground, when a cloud comes along, the air temperature rises. Given that the snow forms an effective insulator, and presumably the air becomes colder with hight, where does the energy come from to increase the temperature at the surface.”

 Latour Reply Posted 1823 cdt 25Dec11 “I observe the same thing, with or without snow on the ground. Air thermal temperature decreases with altitude; solar radiation intensity increases. Nighttime clouds radiate more energy down than the clear night air they displace, because they have greater mass and radiating surface. So the air below absorbs more radiation from clouds and warms. When clouds pass, night air cools. Daytime clouds reflect, scatter and absorb”

 These comments ignore (overlook) the common observation of atmospheric soundings to which I had just asked readers to supply.  To which I had commented on two previous occasions.  The first was relative to the article:  Prevailing Theories Have Been Proven Wrong Before by Keith Bryer on 5/29/2016.  A very interesting title relative to the present purpose.  My comment was made at 10:26pm 6/1/2016. 

“…The addition of these possible factors to the action of gravity upon the atmospheric molecules, which are accepted to cause the density gradient, complicates an understanding of the general existence of the temperature gradient.

“Here, before going forward, we must recognize the importance of the word—generally. For an observed fact is that, given a clear sky condition during the nighttime, by sunrise a not so shallow atmospheric layer at the base is formed which has a temperature gradient that is the opposite (inverted temperature gradient) of that generally considered to ‘always’ exist.”

The second comment was relative to the article:  The Earth’s Gravitation Field … by Charles R. Anderson on 6/20/2016.  My comment was made at 6:16pm 6/24/2016.

“But what astounds me is how many continue to write as if the temperature at the base of the atmosphere always cools with increasing altitude.  Balloon soundings, made shortly before Sunrise, disclose, given cloudless nighttime skies, the formation of temperature inversions.  And at the poles and at lower latitudes, during their dark winter season, I believe temperature inversions are an almost permanent feature of their atmospheres.  I admit I do not know how meteorologists, forecasters, and atmospheric modelers are dealing with these observed temperature inversions about which I seldom read.”

Beside the acknowledgement of observed temperature inversions, a second observation is required to explain how “on a cold clear night with snow on the ground, when a cloud comes along, the air temperature rises.”  Sutcliffe, in his book, wrote:  “The clouds themselves emit heat continuously according to their temperatures, almost as though they were black bodies.”   Hence, a cloud base warmer than the earth’s surface temperature, because of an atmospheric temperature inversion, should be able to heat the colder surface via radiation.  And because this conclusion is solely based upon reproducible observations, I cannot image how this conclusion can be debated (doubted or argued).

As Einstein is said to have stated:  “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

Comments (6)

  • Avatar

    Jim McGinn

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    In case you have not noticed, I consider good science is the consideration of observations.

    Over-reliance on observation is the epitome of pseudoscience. Observation is one part of the scientific method.

    Sometimes the useful observations have not been made, but many times I observe that many observations have been made which are routinely being ignored. PSI is a blogsite and I only discovered it May 30, 2016. And the first thing I observed was there were so many ‘no comments’ at the end of so many articles. I have been told this is because those who enjoy debating the intelligence of others rather than in doing good science themselves are no longer members in good standing of PSI. A case in point is the recent Judith Curry article posted on PSI. It now has two comments. The same article appeared first on her blogsite and a few days ago it had already generated more than 300 comments.

    Curry is not a genuine scientist and she attracts more of the same.

    • Avatar

      Jerry L Krause

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      Hi Jim,

      “Over-reliance on observation is the epitome of pseudoscience. Observation is one part of the scientific method.”

      During the first lecture of the Feynman Lectures on Physics, Feynman taught: “The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific “truth.” But what is the source of knowledge? Where do the laws that are to be tested come from? Experiment, itself, helps to produce these laws, in the sense that it gives us hints.”

      In a natural science like meteorology, the system being studied cannot be brought in the laboratory and experiments performed upon it. So, in natural science experiment can only be observation. And I cannot imagine how one can ever have too many actual observations if we are to understand weather.

      Have a good day, Jerry

      • Avatar

        Jim McGinn

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        Uh, so it’s alright for Meteorology to ignore scientific methods? And you’re suggesting that Feinman would have agreed. Right?

      • Avatar

        Pat Obar

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        “In a natural science like meteorology, the system being studied cannot be brought in the laboratory and experiments performed upon it. So, in natural science experiment can only be observation. And I cannot imagine how one can ever have too many actual observations if we are to understand weather.”

        Meteorology can never be considered a ‘natural’ science! Meteorology is but one of the so called social sciences. The function of meteorology is to fool folk into thinking that someone knows something of how this atmosphere may work. Meteorology invents fantasy like air parcel, hydrostatic equilibrium, adiabatic convection, Coriolis forces, geopotential, and geostropic wind. All of these terms are intended to confuse, never to elucidate! Such is used to help support some academic superiority over the peons!
        Observation and record keeping can help to distinguish the deterministic from the statistical/chaotic. Such observation is not ‘scientific’. Scientific observation (measurement) is that specifically intended to verify or falsify a hypothesis. Meteorology never has anything beyond fantasy conjecture. Scientific measurement can and has been done in situ of this atmosphere. That is strictly a provenance of engineering, never social studies meteorology!

        • Avatar

          Jim McGinn

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          So, why are you telling this to me?

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