Strategies of Communication on Climate Change

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The problem with pattern recognition

The news is spreading about the shutting down of "Pattern Recognition in Physics" by the publisher, Copernicus. In the message announcing the demise of the journal, they say that it was closed, among other things, because of " the editors selected the referees on a nepotistic basis"

That, however, is just a part of the story and most of it had to do with the denialist stance of the editors on the matter of climate. But the problem with this journal was even deeper. What is exactly to be intended as "pattern recognition in physics"? I mean, when you studied physics, did they teach you about "pattern recognition?" If you are doing research in physics, you detect signals, apply theories, build models and things like that. But when do you do "pattern recognition? It is, at best, the "curve fitting" approach to physics which may be a lot of fun, but if it is not based on a good physical model is just normally an exercise in irrelevance.

So, the very concept of a physics journal dedicated to pattern recognition, alone, is very doubtful, to say the least. Then, it is no wonder that a (so-called) physics purely based on pattern recognition in physics results arrives in the denial of the physical basis of climate change. 

To understand what's wrong with pattern recognition as intended in this journal, you  may look at look to this comment. However, you can find an even better comment on pattern recognition in Shakespeare.

Hamlet. Do you see yonder cloud that ’s almost in shape of a camel?

Polonius. By the mass, and ’t is like a camel, indeed.

Ham. Methinks it is like a weasel.

Pol. It is backed like a weasel.

Ham. Or like a whale?

Pol. Very like a whale.


  1. "Pattern recognition" is the name of a rigorous and sound subdiscipline of computer science.

    I don't believe the Copernicus journal had anything much to do with it, but the name itself is not a problem.

    1. Yes, there are fields of science where "pattern recognition" is an acceptable method. I believe, though, that in physics this approach results in bad physics.

    2. This one should have been named "Wiggle Matching in Physics"

    3. About "wiggle matching" in climate science I think we all know the person we are referring to, even though I didn't want to mention his name explicitly

  2. To further adapt from Hamlet:

    Those theories thou hast, and their adoption tried,
    Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel,
    But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
    Of each new-hatched, unfledged denialist meme.

    This was quite the denier dream team, by the way. But they lacked a big scorer.

  3. "Patterns in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts"
    Come dire, saltare alle conclusioni prima ancora di aver visto i dati. O forzare i dati a mostrarti il pattern che vuoi tu: "Methinks it is like a weasel"