Vail Daily letter: Models, math help explain our world
May 29, 2017
I saw the column by Butch Mazzuca followed by the letter to the editor by Jaymee Squires and the response by Tom Chastain discussing climate change.
Chastain's statement that "One cannot site computer climate models' output as evidence of anything" tells me that he does not understand how science works. Science has been using the idea of modeling for centuries. Mathematics has been used for explaining a lot of scientific processes long before we ever had any other evidence.
Johannes Kepler is one of gazillions of examples of how to use "models." In celestial mechanics, a Kepler orbit is the motion of one body relative to another. Kepler made meticulous observations in the 1600s and kept working on the math, "the model," until he found formulas that explained the observations of the planets in the night sky. Science now has Kepler's three laws of planetary motion.
Man had never been to the moon. We got to the moon using Kepler's models as evidence that we would be able to get there, land and get back. At the time, we used computers, (i.e. very smart women with sharp pencils) to figure out the models to get us to the moon. The fact that we now use high-end computers to do that work does not invalidate the results.
Even Kepler's laws have problems. Kepler's laws do explain the motions of natural and artificial satellites orbiting planets and the sun, but they did not account for the perturbing impact of one planet on another. Science developed "computer models" of that effect and we now "slingshot" artificial satellites around other planets to get them deeper into space using the Hohmann Transfer Orbit modeling. That took high-end computer modeling! One evidence of that output is the Curiosity Rover wandering around Mars.
Scientists have to use a premise to build any model — Kepler did. Just like Kepler's Laws that were the best explanation at the time, those models are still true, but they have been tweaked. The proof that the climate model is correct will come in the future. Can we, or our children, afford to ignore those models?
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