Is science sometimes in danger of getting tunnel vision? Recently published ebook author, Ian Miller, looks at other possible theories arising from data that we think we understand. Can looking problems in a different light give scientists a different perspective?

Merry Christmas All

At the end of the year it is traditional to survey the major events as seen by the surveyor, but I must confess that this year struck me as one in which, for chemistry at least, a massive amount of data was added to the literature, but there was little that really grabbed my attention. This may say more about me than the year.
One example that struck me was Curiosity rover on Mars. What struck me the most was that everything we have heard so far is more or less what we might have predicted. The dust has the same composition as dust analysed elsewhere, the rocks were the same basalt as seen elsewhere, there was evidence of water, but the evidence was more or less what would have been predicted. So what is the problem? For me, if you send the same set of instruments, you will get the same set of results, and the instruments are designed to be sure to get results. There will be no gene sequencing equipment because we do not believe there are genes to sequence. Nevertheless, do we really need more billion dollar dust analyses? Could the money have been better spent? Worse, there was evidence of organic material, but only because we detected carbon dioxide, methylene chloride and chloroform after pyrolysing the sample. What does that tell us about Mars? (Other than there is a strong oxidizing surface and chlorine present, which we knew.)
Another recent event was that in Chemistry World, the question of why chemists are more likely to be climate sceptics was raised, and the answer – chemists are ornery. At the risk of being labelled ornery, perhaps I should mention that I am sceptical, but not about the planet being warming. I am sceptical about the relevance of computations, and of the effectiveness of politicians. Regarding the modelling, models consistently state that as the climate warms, Australia will get progressively drier. The trouble is, observation says that rainfall at Alice Springs has actually increased steadily since about 1930. Regarding effectiveness of politicians, gas emissions are steadily increasing. Carbon trading might seem a solution to economists, but is it not just another excuse to generate paper, and derivatives, and make lots of money?
Finally, this will be the last post for the year. (As a partial ex-seaweed chemist in the middle of summer, the beach calls!) However, I should leave readers with something to think about, especially those buried in the depths of winter. In my view, science is not about generating data, although that is necessary, but rather it is about drawing conclusions from them. So, a quick commercial and a problem. I have also published at Amazon some fictional ebooks in which I try to show something about science, and the latest, Athene's Prophecy, has this problem: a young Roman soldier must prove the heliocentric theory. He starts by reviewing the literature (as available in the first century) he does a couple of experiments to correct one of Aristotle's mistakes (Aristotle did not apply his own methodology twice!) but then he has the problem: how can he prove the Earth goes around the sun with what he could see? Could you? Try it over the festive season. Meanwhile, I shall post again in mid January.
Merry Christmas to you all, and may the molecules behave as desired through 2014.
Posted by Ian Miller on Dec 16, 2013 12:54 AM Europe/London

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