The Wright Stuff

I’ve spent my life building models. As a boy I built model buildings, and I bombarded model soldiers in model fortresses with model shells fired by model artillery pieces. And I built model dinosaurs from matches. And I built model boats and model airplanes (some of which actually flew) and model hot air balloons (some of which also flew). And I wrote books (which are also models) in which I constructed model societies with model histories. And I drew pictures of model worlds filled with model people. And when I became an architectural student I built model buildings out of cardboard, or drew them on large sheets of paper. And when I became a postgraduate I built heat flow models of buildings. And after I got my own computer at the age of about 30, I started building economic models. And at the age of about 50 I started building orbital simulation models of planets and asteroids. And now, at the age of 70, I’m building climate simulation models of rock and air and water.

Whenever I get interested in anything, I always want to build a model of it. If I’d ever been interested enough in 9/11, I’d have built a model of the World Trade Center, and flown model planes into it. And if I’d been interested enough in the JFK assassination, I’d build a 3D model of Dealey Plaza, with Lee Harvey Oswald in the Texas School Book Depository, and another gunman behind the picket fence on the grassy knoll, and a third gunman in the storm drain beside Elm Street.

For I think that you can really only understand something if you’ve built a working model of it. Only then can you begin to get an idea of how it might work. And even then you’ll only get a faint idea.

Pretty well all my models are computer simulation models. They’re mathematical constructions rather than physical constructions. If I want to look at geodesic domes, I wouldn’t build a model using sticks and string and glue and paper: I’d construct a geometrical model of one inside my computer. That way I’d avoid getting my room filled with bits of string and paper, and my hands covered in glue. And I have built such model geodesic domes, and used them to model balls bouncing on floors, and learned a little bit about bouncing balls.

I think there’s no substitute for such models. I don’t think that purely imaginary mental models are good enough. The other name for such mental models is dreams. And it’s very easy to get lost in dreams. And absolutely anything can happen in dreams. You always start out with a dream, but you then have to make the dream come true. And building a model is the first step on the road to making the dream real.

Orville and Wilbur Wright started out building model planes out of sticks and paper long before they climbed on board a scaled-up version of one of those planes and flew it for a few hundred yards over the sands at Kitty Hawk. The Wright Brothers weren’t great scientists. They were pretty much high school dropouts. But they could build mechanical models:

In 1878 their father, who traveled often as a bishop in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, brought home a toy helicopter for his two younger sons. The device was based on an invention of French aeronautical pioneer Alphonse Pénaud. Made of paper, bamboo and cork with a rubber band to twirl its rotor, it was about a foot long. Wilbur and Orville played with it until it broke, and then built their own. In later years, they pointed to their experience with the toy as the spark of their interest in flying.

Back then a great many illustrious scientists thought that powered flight was a physical impossibility. But most of them had probably never built any kind of model planes. They had no experience. But with their little model helicopter the Wright brothers gained a little bit of experience of powered flight. And for the next 25 years they built box kites and gliders until finally one day they took off in a powered aircraft and proved all the experts wrong.

There’s no substitute for models. The first thing I’ll ask anyone with an idea about anything is: “Show me your model.” And if they haven’t got a model, then all they’ve got is a dream.

But even if they’ve got a working model of something, that doesn’t mean that the real thing is going to work. The climate scientists with their predictions of global warming have very elaborate climate simulation models. But the models don’t work. The real world doesn’t behave like their climate models. So there’s something wrong with their models. And I think that one thing that’s wrong with them is that they only model what is above the surface of the Earth, and not what is beneath it. They don’t think that what happens beneath the surface matters very much. And I think they’re engaged in groupthink. And that’s why I’ve been building my own climate simulation model, that extends all the way down to the centre of the Earth.

It’s only a simple model that I’m building, but even a simple model is better than no model at all. The climate scientists are to be commended for building models. They should only be censured for placing too much belief in those models, and being unwilling to admit that they went wrong somewhere, or that they really still don’t know very much about climate science.

About Frank Davis

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19 Responses to The Wright Stuff

  1. garyk30 says:

    Depends on the science.
    Einstein was famous for his thought experiments.

    But then, it is hard to model what happens at the speed of light.

  2. Joe L. says:

    The climate scientists are to be commended for building models.

    Agreed. At least the Climate Change Alarmists constructed models to explain why they believe CO2 is responsible.

    Whereas the Antismokers have never built a model to explain why they believe Smoking Causes Cancer. Hell, they don’t even have a working hypothesis. All they’ve done is gather statistics and mold them in such a way to support a claim that there is some unknown correlation between smoking and developing cancer some 30+ years in the future. Yet it is upon that inconclusive claim with which the gospel belief that Smoking Causes Cancer was constructed.

  3. Smoking Lamp says:

    Joe is correct there is no causal model for disease from smoking or tobacco. Rather the anti-tobacco extremists rely on an ideology of persecution based on a dogma of fear.

    It would be interesting to build a model that shows the likelihood and mechanisms of tobacco control/s ultimate demise. After all tyrannies always collapse under their own weight of persecution and oppression.

  4. Smoking Lamp says:

    Another outbreak of antismoker oppression seeking home smoking bans is now developing in Vancouver. The Vancouver Sun reports that a self-righteous ‘mum’ has started a petition. There is a poll and space to comment. “Daily Poll: Should multi-unit dwellings ban all smoking?”

    • smokingscot says:

      68% in favour of banning at the moment. Their Trolls must be working overtime.

    • waltc says:

      10:45 EDT, still 66.9 v 33 with 1472 total votes

    • RdM says:

      More important, I think (and I voted) is the linked article with comments:

      I tried to comment there, but it required me to sign up with Facebook to do so.
      Which I wont, or cant.

      Well, this poor woman

      Sandra Ngoh-Fonseka
      I am going through the exact same experience. I live in a stacking townhome, above a chain smoker who has already forced 2 previous owners before me to sell and vacate because of his smoking. I have been forced to use a blow up mattress in my living room because the smell of smoke has taken over most of my home. I run 4 air purifiers 24/7, and just pruchased a heavy duty air purifier which cost me close to 1K, and am installing a house ventilation system which is going to cost me another 2K, and I don’t even know if these steps will help. I have tried talking to my neighbour, and have gone through the strata council…. to no avail. I am at my wits end, and am continually afraid for my health, and my state of mind. I am stressed to the hilt, and do not know what else to do.

      clearly has an induced state of mind of Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI)

      Idiopathic environmental intolerance (multiple chemical sensitivity)

      Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI), formerly called multiple chemical sensitivity, is a subjective illness marked by recurrent, nonspecific symptoms attributed to low levels of chemical, biologic, or physical agents. These symptoms occur in the absence of consistent objective diagnostic physical findings or laboratory tests that define an illness [1,2]. Many experiments and observational studies consistently identify psychopathology in patients with IEI, and implicate behavioral or psychiatric causes for this illness [3]. This indicates that the underlying illness in many cases of IEI is actually a psychiatric disorder, such as a somatoform, depressive, or anxiety disorder [4].
      Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance: A Comprehensive Model
      Idiopathic environmental intolerance refers to a group of poorly understood health conditions characterized by heterogeneous somatic symptoms that occur in response to environmental triggers, but for which no physiological causes can be found. We focus on three varieties, namely symptoms attributed to (a) chemical substances, (b) electromagnetic fields, and (c) infrasound and vibroacoustic sources. As no clear link with organ pathology or dysfunction has been established so far, we review critical evidence about alternative causal mechanisms as a platform for a novel unifying model of these conditions. <b?There is consistent evidence that expectancy and nocebo mechanisms are critically involved. Using recent predictive coding models of brain functioning, we describe a comprehensive new model to explain how symptoms come about and become linked to specific environmental cues. This new model integrates phenomenally different pathologies, suggests testable new hypotheses, and specifies implications for treatment.

      (my emphasis)

      Managing environmental sensitivity: an overview illustrated with a case report.
      (full text at that link)


      While the adverse impact of certain environmental agents is well established and affect individuals in a predictable dose-dependent manner, the validity of some exposure syndromes, such as environmental sensitivity, attributed to the influence of environmental chemicals in low, usually harmless doses, is less certain. Diagnosis of environmental sensitivity is subjective, and both standard medical and complementary and alternative treatment often fails to provide clinically meaningful functional gains. Existing evidence suggests that in many individuals with these syndromes, psychosocial factors play a prominent role. In this article we present an approach to managing patients presenting with sensitivities to environmental agents that includes identifying and managing organic disease, obtaining a thorough biopsychosocial history, confirming a diagnosis, and developing a rehabilitative process that focuses on support and improvements in function. A case of multiple chemical sensitivity illustrates this approach.


      In my opinion – and what I might have commented (but re-worded in empathy!)

      For the original complainant, and some of the commentators describing ‘symptoms’, this is a clear case of IEI – which has been induced by the entirely false fear-mongering propaganda from anti-tobacco activists, a shrill and pervasive lot but yet a minority, who falsely claim harm from ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) even in minuscule, homeopathic or less dilute proportions in outside air (or even inside!).

      The harm from ambient tobacco smoke molecules ranges from zero to infinitesimal.
      As much or more harm from a candle, an incense stick, a barbecue, cooking meat.

      Just because you can smell tobacco doesn’t mean that it is harming you.
      Many people enjoy the scent of fresh tobacco. Especially pipes, cigars, RYO.

      Just because you can smell a dead mammal doesn’t mean you will get cholera.

      Many have been brainwashed into thinking that the scent of tobacco smoke hurts.
      Objectively, it doesn’t. There is no danger. it’s just another ambient smell.

      The blame for this social harm is clearly attributable to ‘Tobacco Control’ …

      They have caused these panic attacks and extreme anxiety through propaganda.

      Much more to clarify …

      Perhaps it might seem cruel to suggest that “it’s all in their head”.

      But an awful lot of people are going to need to be de-programmed, as from a cult.
      Or thoroughly persuaded by counter-arguments that they have been badly misled.

      Cynically misled, deliberately, carelessly, as pawns, collateral damage, by the
      neo-prohibistionists of big pharma sponsored tobacco control, and the ideologues even further behind the scenes…

      No care for those suffering from extreme fear and anxiety from their propaganda.

      Just usage of them to further their agenda.

      The link within to the Physicians-for-a-Smoke-Free-Canada.pdf even more appalling.

    • RdM says:

      Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(4):235-46.
      Idiopathic environmental intolerance: Part 1: A causation analysis applying Bradford Hill’s criteria to the toxicogenic theory.
      Staudenmayer H1, Binkley KE, Leznoff A, Phillips S.
      Author information

      Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI) is a descriptor for a phenomenon that has many names including environmental illness, multiple chemical sensitivity and chemical intolerance. Toxicogenic and psychogenic theories have been proposed to explain IEI. This paper presents a causality analysis of the toxicogenic theory using Bradford Hill’s nine criteria (strength, consistency, specificity, temporality, biological gradient, biological plausibility, coherence, experimental intervention and analogy) and an additional criteria (reversibility) and reviews critically the scientific literature on the topic. The results of this analysis indicate that the toxicogenic theory fails all of these criteria. There is no convincing evidence to support the fundamental postulate that IEI has a toxic aetiology; the hypothesised biological processes and mechanisms are implausible.


      Toxicol Rev. 2003;22(4):247-61.
      Idiopathic environmental intolerance: Part 2: A causation analysis applying Bradford Hill’s criteria to the psychogenic theory.
      Staudenmayer H1, Binkley KE, Leznoff A, Phillips S.
      Author information

      Toxicogenic and psychogenic theories have been proposed to explain idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI). Part 2 of this article is an evidence-based causality analysis of the psychogenic theory using an extended version of Bradford Hill’s criteria. The psychogenic theory meets all of the criteria directly or indirectly and is characterised by a progressive research programme including double-blind, placebo-controlled provocation challenge studies. We conclude that IEI is a belief characterised by an overvalued idea of toxic attribution of symptoms and disability, fulfilling criteria for a somatoform disorder and a functional somatic syndrome. A neurobiological diathesis similar to anxiety, specifically panic disorder, is a neurobiologically plausible mechanism to explain triggered reactions to ambient doses of environmental agents, real or perceived. In addition, there is a cognitively mediated fear response mechanism characterised by vigilance for perceived exposures and bodily sensations that are subsequently amplified in the process of learned sensitivity. Implications for the assessment and treatment of patients are presented.

    • RdM says:

      Even the geriatric doyen of Anti-Smoking, Simon Chapman, weighed in on this:
      (In his own twisted way, of course – but read to the last paragraphs)

      Evidence, ethics, hubris and the future of second‐hand smoke policy

      Also see – from the same author – while SHS/ETS is deadly, wifi radiation is harmless

      Which it may well be, but so is dilute ambient scent of smoked tobacco.

      Well, now there are people having anxiety panic attacks about smelling smoke…

      That it will kill them…

      WHO is to blame for this unnecessary and debilitating fear?

      And how shall they be held to account?

    • RdM says:

      Idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI), formerly called multiple chemical sensitivity, is a subjective illness marked by recurrent, nonspecific symptoms attributed to low levels of chemical, biologic, or physical agents. These symptoms occur in the absence of consistent objective diagnostic physical findings or laboratory tests that define an illness [1,2]. Many experiments and observational studies consistently identify psychopathology in patients with IEI, and implicate behavioral or psychiatric causes for this illness [3]. This indicates that the underlying illness in many cases of IEI is actually a psychiatric disorder, such as a somatoform, depressive, or anxiety disorder [4].

      This topic provides an overview of IEI, including clinical management of this condition. Related topics are discussed separately.

      Patients with idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI) typically report sensitivity to multiple, chemically unrelated substances and becoming ill with heterogeneous, nonspecific symptoms when exposed to low concentrations of chemicals [5-7]. Patients attempt to minimize exposure by modifying their lives, sometimes in far reaching ways.

      These “chemically sensitive” people are sometimes treated by “clinical ecologists” or “environmental clinicians” who believe the disorder is acquired, highly prevalent in the general population, and goes unrecognized by most other clinicians.

      The most frequently used term for this condition is “multiple chemical sensitivity,” but many other terms have also been used, including “environmental illness.” The World Health Organization in 1996 proposed the term “idiopathic environmental intolerance” (IEI) be used instead, because it avoids unsubstantiated assumptions of etiology, and many people attribute symptoms to environmental agents other than chemicals, such as food or electromagnetic forces [8].

      To continue reading this article, you must log in with your personal, hospital, or group practice subscription.

  5. peter soakell says:

    nature is a pretty good model)

  6. waltc says:

    I assume they have an abstract model in tneir mind of what their smoke-free society looks like. Everybody busily engaged in “healthy eating” “healthy sports” and “clean thinking.” A cloudless dystopia.

  7. Doonhamer says:

    A model, a prototype is always essential. The model inside your head will have missed some finicky little detail that causes the whole thing to fail.
    I used to love working with an experianced, ie veteran, artisan , fitter / machinist / fettler. He would look at your sketch and specification and if he liked you be would tell you exactly why it would not work. If you were a snotty know-all he would give you exactly what you asked for, and serve you right.
    Then later in my career working with software controlled stuff being given the first off to trial and after the failure, the software engineer’s winge. “Why did you do that? You are not supposed to do that.” Happy days.

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