Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mutterings from elsewhere

Models used in teaching are not so much wrong as they are incomplete because they are designed to illuminate issues or ideas. Experiments in lab courses are simplified so that those ideas can be actualized. The wave/particle duality issue is a excellent example of this, we can model/observe behavior that illustrates either, but the reality, which is what the maturing student begins to appreciate, is that the issue is not wave OR particle but wave AND particle and that he or she needs to understand when one type of behavior dominates or when both manifest simultaneously. Calling this Orwellian doublespeak is evidence of scientific immaturity.

The price of adding complexity to models of actual situations is a loss of casual understanding at the price of increasing accuracy as one attempts to trace the influence of various factors. Climate models are good examples of this. The broad outlines of the situation can be had by fairly simple models. Adding additional complexity (better models of oceans and clouds for example) makes things, well, more complex, perhaps more precise but not necessarily more accurate and certainly more difficult to understand.

Testing very complex models requires pushing inputs one by one to extremes to discover where the model fails. Fortunately for the climate modelers, many people appear to favor doing so.


Ron Broberg said...

Which climate models should the student seek out?

Which papers are good at outlining the points of failure?

Beside 'institutional knowledge', where are the strengths and weaknesses of various models catalogued?

EliRabett said...

That is why you pay tuition

Ron Broberg said...

My spider-sense is tingling ...

The Inbreeding Coefficient of Superheroes