I like both of these two guys and they both, in general, have a point. In the specific, they are revealingly wrong.
They both have the sort of knowledge deficit that makes me despair for science journalism. Yes, I said deficit. And they are off-base in comparable ways.
In short, I think neither of them understands the varying epistemic status of various models, be they writ large as conceptual models or writ small as computational instantiations of those models. So we’re getting an argument that misses the point. I think this is absolutely crucial to understanding modern science, and especially modern environmental science. Yet the issue itself appears invisible.
The model that is under discussion is of low predictive value; it’s the sort of model that arguably may capture some of the dynamics of the real system, not the sort that can make detailed predictions.
Ahmed is out of line attributing the study to NASA, and his defense is hairsplitting. I’d think he’d know enough about science to understand this.
Kloor is out of line trying to dismiss it as garbage.
Ahmed is altogether too credulous about doom, and Kloor altogether too incredulous.
They’re both wrong in trying to defend the study as valid or invalid. It’s not that type of a study. But though it’s a close decision, and this will drive some of my friends crazy, if you ask me, I have to say Keith is closer to the mark on this one. The Motesharrei study is not big news, and Nafeez’s success in going viral with it is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
UPDATE – NASA Press Release
NASA Statement on Sustainability Study
The following is a statement from NASA regarding erroneous media reports crediting the agency with an academic paper on population and societal impacts.
“A soon-to-be published research paper ‘Human and Nature Dynamics (HANDY): Modeling Inequality and Use of Resources in the Collapse or Sustainability of Societies’ by University of Maryland researchers Safa Motesharrei and Eugenia Kalnay, and University of Minnesota’s Jorge Rivas was not solicited, directed or reviewed by NASA. It is an independent study by the university researchers utilizing research tools developed for a separate NASA activity.
“As is the case with all independent research, the views and conclusions in the paper are those of the authors alone. NASA does not endorse the paper or its conclusions.”