Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bill Gray has passed. An appreciation and depreciation of style in science

William Gray, a person who had the most deep down understanding of  hurricanes than any other, passed yesterday. His former student, protege and collaborator, Phil Klotzbach, has written an appreciation of Gray

With rare exception Rabett Run's policy is to speak no evil of the dead, or even the retired (Eli will soon join the tribe), still Gray reminded Eli of a number of senior guys he knew who did their training when theory was a weak reed and worthy only of derision, but by careful observation developed a set of ad hoc models, which turned out to be way wrong but extremely useful for prediction. 

Joel Achenbach had the ultimate read on Gray back in 2006 when he was already retired.  Read it if you have not

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301305.html

As Eli noted at the time, Gray was not one to go quietly into the night, but he also was not one to consider that he was ever mistaken.  Owning an area of knowledge, if only for a minute tends to do that to people.

16 comments:

Chris_Winter said...

I've been a fan of Joel Achenbach's writing since reading Captured by Aliens.

http://www.chris-winter.com/Erudition/Reviews/OuterSpc/Achenbach_J/Alien_Capture.html

I'll read his piece about William Gray carefully.

caerbannog said...


From http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/23/AR2006052301305.html

"In just three, five, maybe eight years, [Gray] says, the world will begin to cool again."

Bernard J. said...

Interesting to read Curry's comments of ten years ago. It was probably about the last time she followed the consensus; 2006 was the year that Curry's disengagement began.

Russell Seitz said...

Koltzbach's churchyard worthy elegy on Gray recalls Hansen's eulogy for Bob Jastrow.

Hard as they try, few proteges succeed in getting their mentors to publish retractions in advance of their funerals.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

I myself, not being affilated with corporatism and academia, am not bound by your phobias and delusions of cultural significance.


William Bill Gray, along with Reid Bryson and Max Mayfield, have done more damage to the United Ststess reputation in these sciences than any other individuals, and are almost single handedly responsible for full two decades of the many decades of delay on action in this problem. That makes them dishonorable Americans in my humble opinion.

E. Swanson said...

Eli, Thanks for the link to Joel Achenbach's piece. It's 10 years gone and TCS has vanished into the archives, yet their list of reports claimed to show no warming continues to reappear. Inhoffe used to post it on his Senate web site. That list especially pained me, as the first report was one by Loehle which I found contained serious errors. I passed my findings on to Gavin and he did a great smack down on RealClimate, which, of course, never appeared on the web sites which posted the list. The second report was a reply to a letter to the editor I wrote published in E&E, the list ignoring my comments there as well. So it goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Lust, greed and money rule our lives, until the planet spits us back into the ooze from which we arose to be the top of the evolutionary pile. It could be so different...

BBD said...

Russell



:-) You are a literate physicist. Not sure if many will get the allusion, though.


You don't by any chance have a link to Hansen's remarks on the passing of Jastrow, do you? I should like to read that.

Russell Seitz said...

Hansen was magnanimous- but you'll have to google it. It was in a climate blog, possibly RC

EliRabett said...

Bill Gray is still dead, which is why nil nisi is good policy

BBD said...

Bill Gray is still dead, which is why nil nisi is good policy

Of course, Eli.

@whut said...

Gray used the quasi-biennial oscillations (QBO) of equatorial winds as input for his hurricane forecasts.

Too late for Gray, but the QBO is trivially explained as a forcing of the lunar nodal cycle -- that is, a simple atmospheric tide.

http://ContextEarth.com/2016/03/06/forced-versus-natural-response-not-a-secret/

From reading on Gray, he didn't believe in mathematical models, so its not surprising how it turned out for him. Only so much one can do with heuristics alone.

Mal Adapted said...

BBD, @Russell: "You are a literate physicist. Not sure if many will get the allusion, though."

I've always thought of myself as one of those flowers born to blush unseen ;^).

BBD said...

Sorry Mal. My bad :-)

@whut said...


"He has had to put his own money, more than $100,000, into keeping his research going. ...


Gray believes in the obs. The observations. Direct measurements. Numerical models can't be trusted. Equation pushers with fancy computers aren't the equals of scientists who fly into hurricanes."


So why do the observations of QBO numerically agree with that of the lunar cycle?
http://contextearth.com/2016/02/13/qbo-model-validation/

Must be cuz of that fancy old PC costed couple hundred bucks.

John Farley said...

The case of William Gray illustrates how change comes to the sciences. Young people, new to the field, easily assimilate the new consensus. Old timers, stubbornly resisting change, pass away and are not replaced.

More briefly:
Question: how does change come to medical education? (for example)
Answer: people die.



@whut said...

Farley said:
"The case of William Gray illustrates how change comes to the sciences. Young people, new to the field, easily assimilate the new consensus. Old timers, stubbornly resisting change, pass away and are not replaced. "

Gray was likely one of the last of the "Farmer's Almanac" climate scientists, thriving on heuristics and gut feel. Curry may well be another of those.