Wednesday, March 07, 2007


On wooden shoes, sails, paradigm shifts and unlicensed engineers


Hendrik Tennekes from Unlicensed Engineers (pt 2):

Thomas the giant who put the study of scientific evolution on the map. He found that science progresses in a saw-tooth way...A new “paradigm” – an old word that obtained its current significance through Kuhn’s book – topples an earlier one all of a sudden, and then the slow rise toward bloated organizational structures begins... The best-known example, of course, is how Einstein toppled all of Newtonian mechanics in a single year’s time. When will the next Einstein arrive? Isn’t it an omen that the world physics community needs such expensive, massive research factories these days? I still giggle when I recall Kuhn’s description of the work all these thousands of scientists do. They are “mopping up” the last crumbs of an antiquated paradigm.

Contained in part one is a cool discussion of wooden shoe sailboat models. The comments to part one make for some highly engaging reading.

The two essays are attacks on global climate modeling. From part one:

I am of the opinion that most scientists engaged in the design, development, and tuning of climate models are in fact software engineers. They are unlicensed, hence unqualified to sell their products to society. In all regular engineering professions, there exists a licensing authority. If such an authority existed in climate research, I contend, the vast majority of climate modelers would vainly attempt certification. Also, they would be unable to obtain insurance against professional liability.

From another essay, A Personal Call for Modesty, Integrity and Balance by Dr. Tennekes:

In 1976, Steve (Stephen H.) Schneider published a book entitled The Genesis Strategy. It made quite an impact on me at the time, primarily because Schneider did not promote technological fixes, but a global strategy of what is now called Adaptation, an idea reluctantly and belatedly embraced by IPCC. Those were the days of Nuclear Winter, weather modification, Project Stormfury, stratospheric ozone destruction, and the sick idea of seeding all Arctic ice with soot to prevent the next ice age. In the preface to his book, Schneider quotes Harvey Brooks, then Harvard dean of engineering:

“Scientists can no longer afford to be naïve about the political effects of publicly stated scientific opinions. If the effect of their scientific views is politically potent, they have an obligation to declare their political and value assumptions, and to try to be honest with themselves, their colleagues and their audience about the degree to which their assumptions have affected their selection and interpretation of scientific evidence”.


I've spent a good bit of time at Climate Science: Roger Pielke Sr. Research Group Weblog since the site first came to my attention - thank-you Al Masetti! - and I've been impressed with the level of discourse. Tennekes is an uncommonly good writer, regardless of his position on global warming.

Hendrik Tennekes is a retired Director of Research with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, former Professor of Aeronautical Engineering at Penn State and is an internationally recognized expert in atmospheric boundary layer processes.

The Flying Dutchman


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