Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The 4 Cs of Physics

Sabrine Hossenfelder has a post about why physics is not about beauty although many physicists may think so

And I can’t blame them. Because nothing else is happening on this planet. There’s just me and my attempt to convince physicists that beauty isn’t truth.
Nature has no obligation to be pretty, that much is sure. But the truth seems hard to swallow. “Certainly she doesn’t mean that,” they say. Or “She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” Then they explain things to me. Because surely I didn’t mean to say that much of what goes on in the foundations of physics these days is a waste of time, did I? And even if, could I please not do this publicly, because some people have to earn a living from it.
Now Eli does not disagree with this, nor with the Capitalist Imperialist Pig who is on a Greek Philosopher Beauty and Truth kick, but Eli does want to engage with a challenge that the Pig threw down at Back Reaction
Beauty may be an unreliable heuristic, but the challenge for the doubter is to come up with something better - I mean something that works.
This was not well received by the host
I also don't know why you or CIP or anyone else thinks it's my task to come up with something to replace criteria from beauty. I am pointing out using them is bad scientific practice, and that's that. If people who use them cannot come up with anything better, maybe they shouldn't be scientists. I don't know why I should give them something else to do.
 Eli suggested something else and the Bunny would like to discuss it here, especially as his responses appear to have issues getting through there besides which he could use the hits and values the occasional intelligent comment.

It ties back to discussions ongoing where science is under attack, the existence of a consensus and why such a consensus exists.  The sorely missed Andy Skuce had a nice post and Michael Tobis has always skillfully parsed that problem. Eli has also played in the sandbox, most recently pointing out that the consensus is created by a coherent and consilient set of models or three Cs

By this is meant that the theory does not contradict itself, that it explains a great deal, both of the observations as well as extending beyond the immediate issue under consideration.  To this Eli wants to add another C, concise.

Especially for physics, concise takes the place of beauty.  Valued physics theories are concise, they may not necessarily be simple, in the spirit of Einstein's
It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.
After all, ask mom or dad what a LaPlace operator or a Hamiltonian is (no coaching and no moms or dads who are professors of physics), but concise is a good description, terse also, but terse starts with a t.

Engineering does not much like concise, it is much more concerned with precise.  The value of everything is important, the meaning less so or sometimes not at all.  Computers have made this tendency worse.  Chemistry is, with difficulty moving from moleculat engineering to first principles.  Computers have enabled this  Climate science from stamp collecting to calculation with complex models. 

Physics values precision as a secondary issue, but it is focused on understanding and understanding requires a small number of general principles from which precision flows with added complication. 

So truth is not beauty, but it is a creature of a few symbols and a modicum of words explaining much.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

The impeachable offense that doesn't have to be a crime

Good article in Vox, if somewhat over-skeptical, about the Steele Dossier. It acknowledges the dossier was proven correct, in advance of general knowledge, about the extent of contact between Russia and the Trump campaign. It then says the dossier focused on six claims, none proven as of yet.

This is the key one:

4) Trump’s team knew and approved of Russian plans to deliver emails to WikiLeaks, and offered them policy concessions in exchange.

The dossier claims that Trump and his campaign team had “full knowledge and support” of Russia’s leak of the DNC emails to WikiLeaks, and that in return, Trump’s team “had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue.”

This is obviously a subject of ongoing investigation, but none of the conversations about Russian dirt on Clinton that have come to light so far demonstrate what the dossier claims.

If true, it means Trump betrayed America's interest, not to mention the Ukrainian people threatened and killed by Russian forces, in order to collaborate with a hostile authoritarian for purposes of sabotaging American democracy for Trump's personal benefit. Regardless of whether collusion is illegal, this easily satisfies grounds for removal. Republicans who think Hillary should be locked up for careless email security could hardly deny it, although they will.

I can think of two defenses for Trump: first that he was too incompetent and uninvolved to actually know about the deal, and second that he thought the revised Ukraine position was actually in America's interest.

As to the first, I think it fails when the changed campaign platform on Ukraine came to light in July. Trump should have inspected and found out what was going on. Incompetence is an impeachable offense if it's bad enough, and this hits that mark. As to the second, I find it unbelievable that Trump would actually care enough to change the GOP position, and it still involves after-the-fact collusion with potential espionage without alerting the FBI.

The political question for Democrats is whether they should get serious about impeachment, even assuming it's justified. Trump won't get removed when you need two-thirds of the Senate, so it won't actually accomplish the goal. I think it is clear that Democrats should investigate the hell out of all this, I just don't know, if they take the House and possibly the Senate, whether they should push impeachment.

My final, ironic note is that I actually agree that the US shouldn't be overtly arming Ukraine with lethal weapons - we should do it covertly, with about as much of a fig leaf as the Russians are using. That really has nothing to do with the Trump campaign motivations, however.

Friday, January 05, 2018

Renewables and Reviewables

It used to be you got your phone from AT&T and your electricity from the local owner of the telephone poles, but these days you can shop for anything, which makes it totally confusing, but then again merely training for picking health care plans.  In Eli's burrow, a bunny can source his or her electrons from different sources.  Eli chose the one that only sources green electrons.  For one thing they come on a green plate

However, and more to the point, they also provide a yearly summary of where they are getting those little tasty guys from as compared to the average for the other suppliers.

This gives Eli a good idea of what is available but of course it varies between suppliers.  What is particularly interesting and should be watched is the decrease in coal use for electrical generation, which has mostly been driven by replacement by gas since 2014, falling from 45% to 33% while gas has risen from 15% to 26%.   Still driving down coal use is progress and the availability of 100% renewable electricity is also progress.

The extra cost of the renewable electrons? About $50 per year over the past three years.