I’m no great mathematician. But I probably do more mathematics these days than I ever have before. I have an ever-expanding RK4 Newtonian simulation model of the solar system, which I’ve recently extended to include the Oort cloud of distant comets with Keplerian orbital equations.
Using this model I’ve been able to show that the fireball that fell on Chelyabinsk on 15 Feb 2013 could have been a companion of asteroid DA14 that passed near the Earth on the same day, despite NASA saying on the very same day that it came from the “wrong direction” to be a companion. But my companion body, trailing 25 million km behind DA14, passed closed to the Earth at about 10:15 UT on 15 Feb 2009, orbited the Sun three times over the next four years, and finally came in over Chelyabinsk on precisely the right radiant at 03:20 UT 15 Feb 2013, just like the real thing.
The astronomical community won’t have it, though. Spectroscopic analysis of the two bodies shows they’re made of different materials. And NASA has also told me personally that asteroids don’t have companions. Case closed.
But even if I haven’t managed to convince anyone that the two bodies were companions, using my simulation model I could at least make a good case for it. How many people can do that? One in a thousand? One in ten thousand?
Whatever the number, it means that very few people were able to disagree with NASA when they declared that the two bodies were unrelated to each other. Most people simply don’t have the mathematical skills or the mathematical tools to do so.
And the same applies when statistics are used to prove that smoking causes lung cancer, or global climate models are used to show that carbon dioxide is causing global warming. Most people can’t do much in the way of statistics, and even fewer have got simulation models of global climate. So they can’t argue. They can’t engage in the debate. They can only listen.
Being able to read and write and rationally debate is increasingly no longer enough. Fewer and fewer people have the mathematical skills and tools to engage in the real discussion. They can’t participate. And so the real debate is increasingly conducted within a select high priesthood, over the heads of ordinary people.
In this circumstance, people either unquestioningly believe everything the experts tell them, and repeat what they’re told as “proven scientific fact”, or else they become increasingly uncomfortable with expert advice of every kind – particularly if the expert advice is contradictory, or runs counter to common sense or everyday experience.
How many people who believe (or disbelieve) in global warming have their own global climate simulation models? Probably none of them do. I don’t have one. So they’re either just believing what they’re told by experts, or they’re disbelieving. They either trust scientific authorities, or they don’t. And it all comes down to blind faith (or lack of blind faith).
And what we have now, in the absence of the skills and tools to seriously examine these matters, isn’t really rational, because there is very little rational basis for people either believing or disbelieving what they’re told. And there’s no rational way for believers to change disbelievers’ minds, or vice versa.
Personally I tend strongly towards disbelief in so-called experts, because I don’t think any of them are anywhere near as ‘expert’ as they would have us believe, or imagine themselves to be. And that’s why when NASA declared on the same day as the Chelyabinsk fireball and the close approach of DA14 were completely unrelated events, I simply didn’t believe them. And I have the same attitude to global warming, smoking and lung cancer, and all the rest of the scare stories.
But lots of people are believers. Maybe most people are. They believe what they’re told. They trust authorities. And nobody is ever going to be able to shake their faith, because there’s no rational basis for that faith.
And these days one of the deepening divides in our society is between these kinds of believers and disbelievers, whether it’s about belief in global warming, or smoking causing lung cancer, or anything else. And there’s no way of resolving the dispute while it all boils down merely to belief or disbelief, and not to actual science – because nobody (and maybe not even the experts) really knows how to do the science.