Monday, June 11, 2018

Physics is the Simplest Science

Physics is the simplest science, a hard won truth that Eli has reached after many years in many fields. A bunny can do a lot of physics with pencil and paper, maybe even without those if enough homework has been passed in and marked.

This may seem, perhaps, a bit simplistic to some and mistaken to your average physicist, but consider, science is done through a mix of observation and computation. Physicists in the 17th century didn’t have to observe very much before they could start generating computational theories using pen and paper and testing them against observation. Physics is simple enough that one only need observe a few things before starting to build theories and compute results that could be compared to observations.

Other areas, not so simple. Lavoisier put it well, you cannot have a science without an agreed nomenclature because without you cannot talk about anything.

“The impossibility of separating the nomenclature of a science from the science itself, is owing to this, that every branch of physical science must consist of three things; the series of facts which are the objects of the science, the ideas which represent these facts, and the words by which these ideas are expressed. Like three impressions of the same seal, the word ought to produce the idea, and the idea to be a picture of the fact. And, as ideas are preserved and communicated by means of words, it necessarily follows that we cannot improve the language of any science without at the same time improving the science itself; neither can we, on the other hand, improve a science, without improving the language or nomenclature which belongs to it. However certain the facts of any science may be, and, however just the ideas we may have formed of these facts, we can only communicate false impressions to others, while we want words by which these may be properly expressed”
A useful working definition of science, a well liquored and tasty combination of observation, ideas and discussio.

Just to pick the next simplest science chemistry, the nomenclature is voluminous, systematic though it might be, to occupy a huge database and committees of learned souls called together by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry to deal with new discoveries. Biology is worse. A lagomorph might argue that biology began with Linnaeus’ nomenclature for living organisms and for quite some time stayed there. And then we have geology and the rest of the alphabet soup of the geosciences each with their own dictionary that has to be mastered.

Eli conceptualizes this as the cladistic dimension. The physics dictionary is pretty thin by comparison except where physics meets materials and the other sciences bring their descriptive overload in.

Computationally a lot of physics can indeed be done with pen(cil) or paper depending on how many mistakes are to be made. You can do damn near no chemistry with pencil and paper beyond simple physics applications such as thermo or stat mech.

When Eli moved over to chemistry in the 1970s, theory was an object of derision and, as general chemistry today, required a series of rules, sequentially setting forth any number of simple models for chemical bonding and reaction following the historical development of the science. As each model was stacked on the next to extend them and handle myriad exceptions to each, students struggle. Why each of these simplifications works and their limits of applicability was not obvious, or at least not so until reaching the quantum basis of atomic and molecular structure. At that point, perhaps, when it became obvious how each of the historical models is an expression of quantum mechanics everyone, hopefully nods their heads and says "Oh yeah".

By the 1970s computational chemistry was a hungry beast posed to devour computer cycles. The formalism was prepared and a few brave souls had seen the future, working out relatively simple cases on several reams of paper, or with mainframe heat pumps filled with vacuum tubes.

The driving force is interesting. About twenty years ago it became clear that observation could never be complete enough to describe all the chemistry that was wanted. One could never measure any chemical process for all of the conditions possible and even if one could and could do a statistical parameterization of the results it would be flying blind because there would be no understanding of the underlying chemistry. It would all be handwaving, perhaps statistically valid handwaving but handwaving none the less, and worse, it would not be clear under what conditions the handwaving would fail.

Computational chemistry, validated against observational chemistry is today’s gold standard.

Eli would posit that atmospheric science has passed through this same progression enabled by computational forcing, but more so. Not only can we not make all the observations that would be needed to fully describe the Earth’s atmosphere, but absent a time machine and a large ensemble of Earth, or at least Earth like planets, we could never do so.

Thus Earth System Models, if you like Global Climate Models grown up.

Part II will add a few dimensions to the Kuhn Cycle and Part III will use all of this to illuminate the crisis in fundamental physics

Friday, June 01, 2018

Tobis' Rule

MT has come up with an interesting observation, which Eli has dubbed Tobis' Rule

 If a large data set speaks convincingly against you find a smaller and noisier one that you can huffily cite.
There are any number of wonderful examples of Tobis' Rule.  All the bunnies have observed that the mean global sea level rise since 1880 has accelerated in the last twenty years.  The record is built on tide gauges and in recent decades on satellite observations.  Tamino has been all over this one time and again

So Eli asks, what is the smaller and noisier one that our friends at denial central point to?  Hold the Bunny's beer:

 carefully selected from the NOAA tides and currents data base.

Who amongst us Eli asks has not observed that the global temperature anomaly is rising

Well there are a lot of Okies out there

This being the Stanley Cup final weeks, the classic hockey stick based on a large number of proxys

Of course, there are a lot more where that came from

 and if you get a cast of a thousand or so paleoclimate people out pops Pages 2K but what does Eli see without end on blogs, twitter and so forth, why a sketch from HH Lamb that appeared in the first IPCC report based on the Central England Temperature series
A bunny could make a hobby out of tracing down all the "enhanced" variations of this sketch which had it's origin in the 1960s, but that, of course is another story

Humble readers, in Eli's humble opinion Tobis' Rule ranks right up there with the Gish Gallop.  Make it so.  Make it so

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Quoted without comment, from "The Fortunes of Africa"

Page 581:

With relentless propaganda, the Nationalists played on the electorate's racial anxieties at every opportunity. They paid particular attention to working-class Afrikaners facing competition from cheap black labour. By 1948 about half of the white Afrikaans-speaking population lived in urban areas. A large proportion were miners, railwaymen, transport, factory and steel workers for whom the Nationalist slogan of apartheid, promising protection of white jobs, had a potent appeal....

The National Party won the 1948 election by a narrow margin. In his victory speech, Malan declared: 'Today South Africa belongs to us once more. For the first time since Union, South Africa is ours, and may God grant that it will always remain our own.'

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Kicking the gas engine scooters while they're down

Interesting article on Electrek, with small gas-engine scooter sales in Europe plunging:

New figures report that sales of gas-powered scooters and motorcycles dropped by 6.1% in the first quarter of 2018, as compared to the same period in 2017. The largest decline in sales has been attributed to smaller scooters and mopeds below 50cc.

Sales of scooters and mopeds under 50cc have dropped by 40.2% over the same period. In France, which is the largest moped market in Europe, sales dropped even further by 41.5%.

Electric scooters and motorcycles sales are rising rapidly but only account for about a quarter of the equivalent gas engine sales, so they're only part of the picture. The rest of the picture:

Electric bikes aren't registered so they don't have the same level of recent data, but their range, speed, convenience, and cost are eating into the small scooter market. (Side note: I can speak to this personally, the Ford GoBike program I use now has electric bikes and they make my commute even easier.)

So good news if not exactly the biggest news in the world, but is there a policy implication? Yep - the market is proving that right now that there are great substitutes for small gas engine scooters, so ban the sales of new ones. If that's too dirigiste for some, then ban the gas engines that don't pay for an equivalent amount of lifetime operational carbon emissions, or just require a hefty fee of the ones that don't - it'll have the same effect.

One might argue the effect, regardless, is zero because the market is probably going to eliminate these scooters within several years. My response is that probably doesn't mean certainly, and cutting off a long tail of dwindling sales is a good thing. Even more important though is the cultural and political precedent showing that gas engine vehicles are on their way out, and we're going to give them an additional push in that direction.

While these things barely exist in the US, maybe the mostly-dreaming legislative bills here in California to eventually ban gas-engine cars could take a baby step for now by banning these scooters.