Friday, April 18, 2008

Kristen and Nico: a comparison

Several people have asked me why my comments about Kristen Byrnes' website, "Ponder the Maunder", are more favorable than those about Nico Marquardt's calculation of the path of the asteroid.

That's a sufficiently complex and interesting question for a whole posting, the 2,222nd posting on this blog, officially posted at 22:22:22. :-) Let me start by saying that I am almost absolutely convinced that both of these young people or children are well above the average in their abilities, to say the least, and both of them indisputably represent the sort of children that the institutionalized science should try to get and keep. They have many of the features that are expected from a good scientist. It doesn't follow that they will be the next Einsteins or Zweisteins but it is more likely for them than for others.

At the same moment, both of them are still kind of children, to one extent or another, and even a priori, it is unlikely that they have everything they need to revolutionize their favorite disciplines and outsmart the conventional scientists and engineers. I have already said that even in the absence of known details, I wouldn't believe that Nico has made a better calculation than NASA. So let me also say that I doubt that Kristen is, at this moment, a better climatologist than Lindzen, Spencer, Christy, Michaels, Singer, or McIntyre. Sorry for that, Kristen. ;-)

But the main question was whether it was reasonable to expect that the kids' results contradicting the results of a majority of officially paid professionals are more correct than the experts' results. In this question, there exist substantial differences between the cases of Nico and Kristen. Virtually all of them make Kristen's chances higher than Nico's chances. Let me start from the simplest and most obvious ones:
  1. Kristen is 3 years older than Nico. It is a significant difference in maturity for such kids, more important than e.g. the gender differences.
  2. Kristen's work and arguments were available to all of us, Nico's work and arguments were not. We know that Kristen's work is not trivial but we don't know the same thing about Nico.
  3. To be relevant, Nico's results had to be an outcome of original research that had never been done by anyone else in the world. Kristen's website may be characterized as a review of well-known but, for certain reasons, not widely taught or published facts and data. It means that Nico really has to be more or less the smartest boy in his discipline if he wants to be right. Kristen doesn't have to have this status because she is just organizing the knowledge that already exists.
  4. Nico not only had to claim that the professionals are wrong but he also claimed that a very unlikely event involving asteroids and satellites will occur and he was moreover able to calculate it. Kristen doesn't really predict any extraordinarily surprising or unlikely event in the future, quite on the contrary.
  5. Kristen talks about a relatively new scientific discipline whose dynamics is very complex, whose theories are not too reliable, whose predictions are not too accurate, and whose top experts are not particularly ingenious and impartial. Nico talks about an old scientific discipline whose dynamical laws are almost completely understood and have been tested very accurately (often ten significant figures) in millions of situations. The discipline requires several layers of scientific and technological expertise. And the experts contradicting Nico are, well, rocket scientists whose IQ could be 15 points above the catastrophic climate scientists in average.
I could continue with several additional differences. Each point is pretty much independent of others and increases the ratio of the probability that Kristen is more right than the consensus climate scientists and the probability that Nico was able to make a calculation much more accurately than NASA, obtaining a much higher impact risk, by a few orders of magnitude.

When I combine all these orders of magnitude, I think that
  • the probability that at least one teenager similar to Kristen somewhere in the world is able to analyze the key questions of the climate debate better than the consensus scientists, journalists, and activists is comparable to 10%
  • the probability that there exists a 13-year-old kid such as Nico who can make a better and much more dramatic asteroid calculation than NASA is comparable to 10^{-6}.
I just don't think that the two situations have the same odds and anyone who thinks that the numerical results must be identical is overlooking all the points listed above and many others. He or she is simply making an unqualified guess.

Incidentally, the far left blogosphere has aggressively attacked both NPR - comparing them to FoxNews (that is a real insult haha!) - and Kristen Byrnes. They literally plan how to destroy her, sue her, intimidate her, humiliate her, eliminate her from science and technology. It is just very inconvenient for them that the most intelligent and independent kid who is known to the public as a self-taught researcher in climate science happens to be a skeptic.

Kristen's writing may have flaws but try to compare her with the stupid kids who are repeating 2-sentence stories about the judgement day and the need to change light bulbs. In comparison with them, Kristen is a genius and a full-fledged scientist. This inconvenient truth drives some people up the wall.

I find it breathtaking that they are ready to go this far. In my opinion, many of them - such as David Appell and several others who have been harrassing Kristen for many months, as they proudly boast - deserve an electric chair. The degree of my exaggeration is nonzero but it is not too high either. Let me say this: I've met quite a lot of children and very young people who were clearly excited by science - e.g. theoretical physics - but they were holding some opinions (about time travel, classical origin of quantum mechanics, and so on) that one can easily obtain by reading newspapers or popular books.

It has always been a very difficult dilemma to decide what to tell them because if I tell them the truth, it is very clear that their enthusiasm for science will drop. If I don't tell them the truth, it is more likely that their excessive independence will rapidly bring them on a wrong track which could be fatal. There were actually cases in which I didn't try to debunk their naive opinions. But whenever I was expected to be a kind of educator, telling them what I believe is the established answer and its explanation was more important than their enthusiasm.

But at any rate, it is a subtle question and it was never quite trivial to decide. Even if Kristen were wrong about some essential points, I just can't comprehend how someone may want to prepare plans to hurt her (and her family). As far as I know, the German Nazis were behaving more respectfully with respect to German children (and not only German children). The amount of religious zeal and aggressivity of the believers in global warming is comparable to the excitement during the witch hunts a few centuries ago.

She is smart but she is just a girl! I think that every sane person knows that even if the smartest climate kid in the world were a skeptic, it doesn't prove that climate skeptics are right. Such an observation might marginally increase the qualified estimated probability that the truth agrees with the skeptical ideas while the alarmist ideas only thrive because most people are lazy to check the data. But does someone really find such a marginal change of people's opinions and expectations so threatening or devastating that they would prefer to hurt a 16-year-old girl? It's just unbelievable.

And that's the memo.

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