In the July 8 Wall Street Journal, Robert J. Caprara describes the process of computer modeling, and the motivations of the modeler. He was a consultant charged with building a detailed computer model of the nation’s fresh water sources, including drinking water intakes and sewage discharges. He tuned and tweaked the model, and was happy with his preliminary conclusion: the EPA program he had been asked to study had reached a point of diminishing returns and should be wound down.
Confessions of a Computer Modeler (Paywall)
Any model, including those predicting climate doom, can be tweaked to yield a desired result. I should know.
When I presented the results to the EPA official in charge, he said that I should go back and “sharpen my pencil.” I did. I reviewed assumptions, tweaked coefficients and recalibrated data. But when I reran everything the numbers didn’t change much. At our next meeting he told me to run the numbers again.
After three iterations I finally blurted out, “What number are you looking for?” He didn’t miss a beat: He told me that he needed to show $2 billion of benefits to get the program renewed. I finally turned enough knobs to get the answer he wanted, and everyone was happy. …
I realized that my work for the EPA wasn’t that of a scientist, at least in the popular imagination of what a scientist does. It was more like that of a lawyer. My job, as a modeler, was to build the best case for my client’s position. The opposition will build its best case for the counter argument and ultimately the truth should prevail. …
Surely the scientific community wouldn’t succumb to these pressures like us money-grabbing consultants. Aren’t they laboring for knowledge instead of profit? If you believe that, boy do I have a computer model to sell you.
A terrific op-ed; you should read it all if possible.