Here at the Cannibal we’re worried about wimps today. Up until now, we had been dimly aware of them, but did not view them as particularly troublesome, even though there are an awful lot of them everywhere. Mostly, they seemed to be pretty innocuous, preferring to go their way with as little interaction with anything as as they could manage, remaining invisible and virtually undetectable except for those few who might actively be looking for them.
At this point we should probably explain that we are not talking about spineless milquetoasts who always wear galoshes when it’s wet out. We are talking about WIMPS, which is an acronym for Weakly-Interacting Massive Particles, and perhaps now you can better understand our concern. Whatever a “massive particle” is — and we’re still not too sure (nor, for that matter, is anyone else) — it doesn’t sound like anything we want to get mixed up in. But we can’t avoid it, because there are a near-infinite number of them. We can’t see them, we can’t feel them, and we can only deduce their existence from certain anomalies in the gravitational field of the universe.
Why worry, then?
Because, up until relatively recently, we didn’t know they were there at all. WIMPS are suspected of comprising so-called “dark matter.” This is important because, according to Wikipedia, “based on the standard model of cosmology, the total mass–energy of the universe contains 4.9% ordinary matter, 26.8% dark matter and 68.3% dark energy. Thus, dark matter is estimated to constitute 84.5% of the total matter in the universe.“
Get that? These scientists we hear from every day, pontificating on everything from calories to carbon dioxide with such suave certainty, had no farging clue until a comparatively short time ago what 84.5% on the stuff in the universe was up to, or where it was, or even that it existed at all. Does this concern you? Because it bothers the hell out of me. I mean, 84.5 %?
Now I’m told that quadrillions of so-called”massive” particles are sleeting through me at near light speed every second, but I shouldn’t worry about it because they are “weakly-interacting.” Why should I believe them? How big is a “massive” particle? The size of a house? A BB? How do they know?
Which brings us to our point. Science is a work in progress, which we all too frequently forget. Just as we think we’ve figured it all out, along comes something to upset the applecart, and previously-cherished notions about how everything works end up in history’s ashcan. Now it seems quaint that learned experts actually believed that planets occasionally but predictably moved backwards in their orbits. That fire was made of tiny particles called “phlogistons.” That “atoms” were indivisible. That stress caused ulcers.
Today, much of what he hear about science seems to have the word “climate” attached to it. And lately, previously-cherished notions about what is or isn’t happening to the climate have come under sharper scrutiny. It seems troublesome that there has been no increase in the global mean temperature for 12 years, which contradicts the iconic “models” so highly prized by those who have no doubts whatever about this topic. One scientist with a hard-to-beat resume, Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, pretty much summed up the main problem. Dyson believes that the planet is warming, and believes that human activity probably has something to do with it. He is not so sure about how much it is warming, or how large a role human activity has played.
What he is sure of is how useful climatologists computer models are. He notes that, having played around with computer models for decades now in the world of quantum physics, it seems very very unlikely that something as complex and as little-understood as the atmosphere can be modeled on a computer with any better predictability than that offered by a Ouija board. He his not, therefore, a climate skeptic, but a model skeptic. And Freeman Dyson, in the world of models, may not be a bad one to emulate.
A money manager I interviewed once drew three concentric circles on a whiteboard. The first, quite small, he said was “what we know about markets.” The second, much larger circle represented “what we don’t know about markets.” I asked him, after a brief silence, what the third circle, by far the largest, represented. He smiled. “That is what we don’t know we don’t know.”
The next time you see some guy in a lab coat on TV gravely explaining with charts and laser pointers how you need to replace all the light bulbs in your house with flickering diodes filled with poisonous vapors in order to “save” the planet, remember: he not only may not have any idea what he’s talking about, he may also have no idea that he doesn’t have any idea. Thems is the most dangerous kind.