The Science Isn’t Wrong

But it ain’t right, either. Mayday! Mayday!

“The science is fixed,” Science Friday host Ira Flatow keeps selling^H telling us.

In the “Robot Sadism” episode of Science Friday, associate producer Christie Taylor went to JPL to find out how to build a wheel that lasts.

In 2013, rover operators had noticed a gaping hole in Curiosity’s left front wheel as it moved across the Mars landscape. After some investigation, they realized “it wasn’t just one little mishap that caused a puncture or one particularly awful rock,” said engineer Patrick DeGrosse. “It was just the first symptom.”

Mr. DeGrosse is a member of the Tiger Team that tests copies of Curiosity’s wheels here on Earth.

Size of a Football Field on EarthIn the Mars Yard, a not-even-football field-sized test track in Pasadena, a test rover demonstrated whether the wheels slip or get bogged down or can climb a rock. (Do click the pic to see.) “Physics equations can’t tell you any of that,” Ms. Taylor said about the myriad of tiny interactions with the surface of Mars.

“You don’t sit down at your computer and draw up the complexity of sand grains and rocks and what all those friction coefficients are and how they tumble over each other when a wheel hits them. We’re just not at that stage yet,” Mr. DeGrosse said.

We’re not?

And yet, the science is fixed! We can map the earth and the GPS in our car will always direct us to the next location!

The science is fixed! We can cure the common cold!

The science is fixed! The sun’s corona is millions of degrees hotter than the surface and we don’t yet know why.

The science is fixed! 70-95% or humans are right-handed but we still cannot describe why we use one hand instead of the other.

The science is fixed! The planet Saturn has a massive, continuous hurricane up near the pole. Earth’s hurricanes are powered by warm ocean and wind down as they hit land or cold water. Saturn has no oceans and is really cold. Huh.

The science isn’t wrong. But the political and lay interpreters ain’t right, either.

And that’s the lesson for today.

 

3 thoughts on “The Science Isn’t Wrong

  1. “You don’t sit down at your computer and draw up the complexity of sand grains and rocks and what all those friction coefficients are and how they tumble over each other when a wheel hits them. We’re just not at that stage yet,” Mr. DeGrosse said.

    And yet. And yet, scientists starting with Norman Phillips’ Navier-Stokes equations to NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton and on to the political scientists at IPCC tell us they sat down at their computers and drew up the complexity of sand grains and rocks and what all those friction coefficients are and how they tumble over each other when a breeze hits them. Apparently they believe we’ve indeed been at that stage and we’ve been there for a couple of decades.

    I recognize and accept global climate change. The globe warms; the globe cools. Unfortunately we recognize that we can’t model a 1.1 acre football field accurately for a mile in the life of the Rover but we have the hubris to think we can model the 126 Billion acre planet for a week in the life of our weather, let alone a century in the life of the climate.

    The earth is going to heat up and ice down. Water levels will rise and fall. We’d be a lot farther ahead if we spent our political capital mitigating the effects and letting the scientists work on figuring how to predict the changes instead of funding only the studies that prove a political position.

  2. That sun thing caught my eye. It isn’t like I had never heard that… but it hadn’t sunk in, I suppose.

    It turns out that in 2011 it was reported that we have detected plasma jets which shoot up into the corona and heat it.
    http://www.livescience.com/13208-sun-mystery-explained-plasma-jets.html

    And since the sun’s core is the hottest part of the sun (which, thank God, makes sense) if the jets were like volcanoes spewing hot core plasma up into the corona thus just heating the corona, well that makes sense. Or does it? How can the surface of the Sun, located BETWEEN the two hottest layer of the sun, be FAR cooler?? Nothing I learned in undergraduate Heat Transfer prepared me for that one.

    Oh! Wait. In 2013 it was reported that ” It is believed that the cause of the increased temperature is due to magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves that distribute the energy generated below the star’s surface to the outer layers of the Sun’s atmosphere.” Oh. Not plasma jets. OK.
    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130204094608.htm

    But I STILL don’t see how the photosphere (the sun’s surface) can be cooler than the core AND cooler than the corona…. UNLESS those “MHD waves” are generated from some process AT THE SURFACE which draws massive amounts of energy from that area, effectively pumping heat from the photosphere by converting it to magnetic energy and transferring it to the corona.

    But they didn’t say that. It’s been a few years … they may have figured that out. And I wonder how all this is impacted by the overall magnetic field of the sun?

    Since the sun is where +/- ALL of the Earth’s heat comes from, I would think understanding the sun should be AT LEAST as important as understanding what the Earth does with that heat when it gets here as radiation.

    We still have a LOT to learn. Thanks for posting this, Dick.

    • “We still have a LOT to learn.”

      Bingo.

      Or, “Let me point out that science is not like passing a law,” Princeton physicist William Happer told CNN. “You don’t have a vote to say how many are for the law of gravity and how many are against — it’s based on observations.”

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