As a disclaimer, I know there are exceptions. There are some universities and professors who are extremely diligent in their search for the truth. Also, there is rarely any one correct answer to any field.
However, it has become apparent to me (studying kinesiology and nutrition) that in certain disciplines, the commonly accepted viewpoints are completely off base from the true nature of the issue.
Any obvious example to everyone here is nutrition- no need for further detail on that.
Also medicine as it is normally practiced.
After taking several economics and poly-sci classes and doing a lot of outside reading, I've decided that economics fits in to this category as well.
I don't have the information to evaluate this properly, but climate may be another one.
We have a lot of really smart people with a wide variety of specialties on this board, and I'm interested to hear what you think
What other academic disciplines do not represent the preponderance of quality evidence?
asked byTyler_S (801)
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on January 25, 2011
at 02:06 AM
So... since I was asked... and this seems to be a respectful group (and I know I'm opening myself up for the kind of headaches I get all over the place, from which I actively shield myself to some degree)... I'll write a little about what I do and why I decided to become a climate researcher.
I started out on my Bachelor of Science almost 4 years ago because some local environmental issues (a proposed industrial site, literally 'in my backyard) led me to learn something about myself: I love research. I had already been studying climate issues as a lay person for quite a few years, and especially reading up on whatever the latest denier arguments were. it usually went like this: I'd start with an open mind, start to really embrace what the denial argument was about, research further, and start to realize that Parts A, B and C were either omitted from the argument against the science, or some major aspect of their argument was simply wrong or without evidence completely. And then there are folks like Monckton, who just plain old make up lies. After dealing with him live in action for one of his lectures (for which he's paid an enormous amount of money), I can honestly say that I think he's convinced he can convince anyone of anything, and that's what he's currently getting off on. I think he really believes that as long as he behaves authoritative and condescendingly enough (he presents himself as an absolute genius, above all he encounters) that he can talk all of us simpletons into anything he feels like - mercury is safe to eat, DDT is harmless and banning it killed people (complete with sad pictures of poor starving African children) when basically, he's just a shill for Big Business. Not all deniers are shills for Big Oil or Big Business, but he most certainly is. He uses graphs that are zoomed into an area that shows a change in seasons while he talks about climate on a decadal scale. You have to really watch to see this, but he does it, and so convincingly and over the top. he's one who still insists that the Earth is actually cooling (and uses those zoomed in graphs from spring to winter to show it) when 2010 has turned out to be the second hottest on record. To be fair, I can be condescending myself, and it's something I've been working on, but this guy is way, way over the top.
Some of the others, like Heinrich Svensmark, just seemed hell bent on one idea and making a name for themselves and their pet idea. Svensmark thing is galactic cosmic rays. Unfortunately, he hasn't addressed the fact that we're in a deep solar minimum and average Earth temps are still increasing, for too long for his lag time to account for it.
And the other major problem - and this is perhaps more relevant to paleo (diet kind of paleo) is that even if pumping massive amounts of CO2 from out of the Earth and into the atmosphere wasn't causing the global temperatures to rise, it most certainly is turning the oceans acidic, and that's a huge base of the food web. When forams can't make shells, massive extinctions occur across the oceans, and evidence for such events can be found in the rock record.
So instead of climate modelling which seems to be the only kind of climate science most people are familiar with, I started studying how climate has changed in the past (paleoclimate). The Earth has seen some big changes, and there are only a few known big drivers for climate change, and of course, these factors can work together or against each other (feedbacks) in big or small ways. That's where the big unknowns for us today and going into the future. It's not "If" but "What and how much and how fast?" basically.
The main drivers are:
Milankovitch Cycles: this is the change in the Earth's axis, orbit and "wobble" which affect how much energy the sun's rays have when they hit the Earth. The Wikipedia entry has some good pictures and more details. These aspects are affected by the Sun and the gravitational pull from Jupiter and Saturn, and operate no 1,000-10,000-100,000 years, all too small to be noticed in a few generations.
Changes in Atmospheric Chemistry (Greenhouse gases): before human times, this would come from massive volcanic eruptions (like the Siberian Traps) or meteor impact, and some theorize conditions where massive upwelling of deep ocean water (where millennia of decayed stuff resides) could bring massive amounts of methane and other gases into the atmosphere. These sorts of changes could happen abruptly, say over decades or 100s or 1000s of years, which is still a blip geologically.
Plate Tectonics Geography: Pangea was one massive land body, so some areas would have been more sensitive to small changes than others. Once it started to break up and continents stared moving around again, climates in those locations would change dramatically, but over 10s of 1000s and 100s of 1000s of years and more.
Surface Albedo: This is how much of the sun's energy is reflected back off of the Earth's surface. The sun's rays come in as shortwave radiation, and are reflected back up off the Earth as longwave radiation, some of which is blocked by greenhouse gases, while some of it escapes back towards space. Albedo is more of a feedback than direct cause, but is a huge part of the Earth's energy budget. Light surfaces like snow, ice and even deserts reflect more of the sun's energy away than forest cover. As sea ice disappears, that dark open water won't be as reflective, and will instead slowly absorb and retain the incoming heat.
I know I'm probably missing something because I'm tired and haven't been feeling well over the past few days. A couple of good books to read are "The Two Mile Time Machine" which explains the ice cores and a lot of the science, and "Snowball Earth" which looks at the controversy about whether the Earth was once covered in ice, and the science behind it, and a lot about how some researchers might go about their work.
Something else I'd like to mention... one of the big misconceptions about "academics" that I have seen is that the profs are wealthy fat cats with lots of privilege. Maybe at expensive private schools, but I've only experienced researchers at state universities. They have to teach classes, deal with undergrads and grad students. Yes, they have TAs, but that also comes with training, oversight and meetings. They have to scramble for grant money so thay can pay for students to go to school and bring in equipment, and part of this is encouraged by the university to bring prestige to the school. They have a lot of meetings, they have to promote the department, they have to set up lecture series, they have to advise students, have office hours, and oh yeah... do their own research and get published... regularly. I often don't know how they do it or how they manage to have lives outside of the U.
Well, that was a book... honestly, I was so tired when I started writing that I didn't think I'd have much to say... hope some of it is useful. What I come away with at the end of the day with all of this is that ocean acidification is probably as bad or worse than the effects of warming, because once ocean life dies off, a lot goes with it, and feedstocks and balance are already stressed by overfishing. The other thing I take away each day is that it's sad to me that we don't live by the Precautionary Principle, and instead, leave every thing from chemicals to pharmaceuticals to global climate to chance instead of putting safety first.
on January 24, 2011
at 11:30 PM
Well, it depends.
A lot of stuff gets proven right, instead of trying to be proven wrong.
What I am saying is for something to be accepted as right, first you must set out to try to prove it wrong in every possible way, if you can not prove your statement wrong then it is accepted as right.
At least when it comes to health and nutrition, i'm sure pretty much all other academic disciplines are similar it depends on were the funding for the research is coming and what that person/company funding the research wants the end result to be.
Not saying this is how all researchers operate, however I believe that the many that due out weigh the few.
on January 25, 2011
at 04:01 PM
Quantum physics seems to be based on more spiritual/metaphysical ideas of the universe. Mostly theoretical things of course that can't be proven, but are fun to talk about. Parallel universes, time travel, etc.
I don't see time as a physical force that these physicists seem to. Time is just how we measure motion. Even without the movement of the Earth and the Sun (upon which our system of time is based), time would still be needed to organize our lives. Its existence in our life socially does not mean it is a real physical force.
The idea that a universe splits off based on possible events on Earth is just silly. That would need some kind of consciousness to the universe to organize the splitting off of universes based on observations of events.
Not that I am closed minded but these things are taken for granted by a lot of these quantum physicists. I think they would be let down if time travel was not possible.
on January 25, 2011
at 03:53 AM
Physics is supposed to be a hard science right? But in my opinion, they have no clue. Once they got enough tech to look at what goes on at a very small level, what they found was total weirdness that they couldn't explain and they are still flailing to explain. Things like being in two places at once, spooky action at a distance, etc. They have no clue really. They don't even really understand basic things like gravity. It's all mostly just wild theory with little evidence at this point. But still very interesting and I don't blame them because looking at what they've found in the last 20 or 30 years, it's all just mind blowingly strange stuff!
Edited to add: Really the reverse question is what interests me.
What academic disciplines DO represent the preponderance of quality evidence? Are there any?
on January 25, 2011
at 02:23 AM
You might pick on any of the soft/social science. Think of psychology, sociology, economics, etc. Most of these fields make great claims to truth. Their attempts at explaining behavior, much of the time, end up being dressed up, jargon-y statements of trivially obvious phenomena. Pretty much any "science" of human behavior is a joke.
on January 24, 2011
at 11:49 PM
I've been studying climate science for a few years now. It's grossly, disturbingly misrepresented out there, and sometimes I ask myself why I put myself through that kind of aggravation! I'm a paleoclimate researcher, which is entirely unrelated to paleo diets. I look into what climate was doing in the past, currently during the Quaternary but my older research went way back into the Devonian.
I think a big problem with anything scientific (including nutrition, about which there is so much to still learn) is that reporters are generalists. They get things very wrong because they're just skimming the surface of ideas. They might go from a science story to a newborn animal at a zoo to a crime scene investigations, etc. They don't have time to dig deep, and then it becomes the Telephone Game among the viewers. With climate science, people are often protective because they don't want to feel responsible for changing their ways, so they read or hear what keeps them protected. And then the need for headlines...
I know someone who was an early researcher on zinc lozenges and colds. Their research was showing that if taken early enough and in high enough doses, prevention or lessening of severity of the cold became more likely. This is what their press releases stated (far more eloquently, I'm sure) but the headlines read "Cure for the Common Cold!" which was frustrating for the researchers.
The other problem is that people are busy (and some are lazy) so doing research, or knowing where to look for accurate information, is difficult, so they go by the sound bites they hear.
For these reasons, I think there will always be a strong level of disconnect between any kind of complex research and public knowledge about it.