The Existence of Expertise

On easy way to see if your pursuit is real or bullshit is the existence of experts. People in science often see it as a battlefield wherein truth is approached through bitter struggle between competing factions supporting incompatible models of reality.

On this, the fools and leaders of fools capitalize.

Unlike silly detective shows, the world does not really lend itself well to discovery. Large effects have been known since ancient times. Think of these as a first order approximation. Less obvious effects took more time, but are still old by most standards. These are second order approximations. Then, through numerous iterations, we achieve finer and finer approximations of reality. This, now, is where we find ourselves. Scientific argument has reached the point where, in most fields, academic disagreement is on scales which are not accessible to those outside narrow focal areas. My late thermodynamics professor (if you’ve used dive tables, you have used his work) said with some pride that an important constant had been changed within his lifetime. He had been born in the 1920s, and I think that it may have been Avogadro’s number that had changed in the third decimal place.

I wasn’t taking notes, sorry.

Simulations I create of movement of objects through the atmosphere rely on work done from the 17th Century to the early 20th Century. From Galilean relativity and Newtonian mechanics and gravitation, through a rotating frame of reference (Coriolis), to simple models of atmospheric resistance originating with Bournouilli and standardized by Prandtl. More complex models exist to account for geographic variation in gravity, and to more closely approximate acceleration due to drag, and to incorporate gravitational effects of the sun and moon, and include relativistic effects. For real-world simulations, however, difference in estimate impacts between the two are small.

That is where science is. As far as modeling the world, it is being done deep in the decimal places. Discoveries and inventions still appear and do improve our understanding of the world, but not very much of it noticeably alters our lives. A 10% improvement in energy storage per unit of mass (say in batteries) would be dramatic from an engineering standpoint. It wouldn’t really make much difference to an individual, though. Your iPad would be slightly lighter or last slightly longer.

We have reached a point where any person whose model would overturn major established theory can be dismissed as a crackpot out of hand. Absent overwhelming supporting evidence, we can safely dismiss any such theory out of hand.

By marc

I am a scientist interested in laser safety, modeling and simulation, and statistics. I speak some Spanish, German, and Chinese.