Pattern Recognition in Physics

Some journals have published thousands of issues, and are still thriving; other journals fold or merge. Few can have published less than Pattern Recognition in Physics which was terminated last week after just two issues by publisher Copernicus.

Copernicus is a respected open-access publisher, whose journals include Climate of the Past, which has impressed me when I’ve published there. Pattern Recognition in Physics, with an editorial board that included Nils-Axel Mörner, was terminated for departing from its agreed scope by becoming a vehicle for climate sceptic papers and dubious reviewing practices. The second issue of the journal was a special issue on “Pattern in solar variability, their planetary origin and terrestrial impacts”. Grammar does not seem to be the editors’ speciality.

The closure of this journal has been covered by several others, while over at WUWT, Watts tries to spread blame by accusing the publisher of not noticing they had a problem soon enough.

Time to read some of the papers.

Charvátová and Hejda 2014. Responses of the basic cycles of 178.7 and 2402 yr in solar–terrestrial phenomena during the Holocene. Pattern Recogn. Phys., 2, 21–26.

The sun’s looping orbit about the barycentre, the centre of mass of the solar system, sometime forms a pretty trefoil pattern, at other times it is messy. Charvátová and Hejda believe that this change in orbit prettiness can account for changes in solar activity. They show a plot of the cosmogenic isotopes 10Be and 14C, which correlate with solar activity, annotated with the type of orbital pattern. They claim there is a relationship, but they don’t test it, and don’t propose a physical mechanism. This paper does not even amount to a curve-fitting exercise.

Jelbring 2013 Energy transfer in the solar system. Pattern Recogn. Phys., 1, 165–176

Whatever gems there might be in Jelbring’s rambling paper are slavered in numerology

– 46 siderial revolutions of Mercury = 11.079 (yr)
– 18 siderial revolutions of Venus = 11.074
– 137 synodic revolutions of Moon = 11.077

I am sure if you take a large number of real numbers and multiply them by arbitrary integers, similar coincidences will occur. One coincidence that excites Jelbring is the similarity between a 27.3 day periodicity in the Moon’s orbital motion and in some solar parameters. Sure, the wobbles of a lump of rock, 150 million km away and a hundredth millionth the size, is bound to govern the sun’s activity.

Jelbring makes the interesting claim that the sum of kinetic and potential energy is not constant throughout the Earth’s orbit about the sun. As, even Jelbring agrees, energy is conserved, it must be stored somewhere in space to where it can “disappear and reappear once every orbital period”. Alternatively there is an error in Jelbring’s calculations. By my estimation this second possibility is almost infinitely more likely. I think I can see the logic problem, but I’m not going to get out my calculator and check – it’s not as if I can publish a comment at Pattern Recogn. Phys.

Tattersall (2013) Apparent relations between planetary spin, orbit, and solar differential rotation. Pattern Recogn. Phys., 1, 199–202.

Tattersall demonstrates the fine art of curve fitting. Of the panoply of possible predictors, Tattersall chooses the z-axis displacement of the solar equatorial plane from the centre of mass of the solar system smoothed over 24 years to correlate with variations in the length of day (LOD) on Earth. Ignoring the strong autocorrelation, the fit is quite good, if LOD is lagged by 30 years.  Why this particular predictor is used is never explained, nor is any physical mechanism given as to how solar displacement can provide sufficient torque. Instead, the reader is treated to a page of ratios between solar rotations and planetary orbits.

There is the possibility that some of some of the other papers in this special issue are better than these. But any paper than wants to demonstrate the effects of the planets on the sun have to address the problem that the effects are extremely small: tides on the sun are millimetres high. To amplify such small changes requires the sun to have extremely high sensitivity to planetary effects, and requires strong evidence to be believed. Although the authors of the special issue need the sun to have high sensitivity, I’d bet that they would not argue the same for Earth’s climate, except perhaps to small changes in solar activity.

About richard telford

Ecologist with interests in quantitative methods and palaeoenvironments
This entry was posted in Fake climate sceptics, Silliness, WUWT and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Pattern Recognition in Physics

  1. Very good. I only actually had a look at Tattersall’s paper. I’m pleased to see that my assessment is somewhat similar (the same as) yours. Couldn’t quite bring myself to look at any of the other papers after that 🙂

  2. Hi there,

    Thanks for addressing some of the substance of the papers. You say “it’s not as if I can publish a comment at Pattern Recogn. Phys.”. Do you think you might have done so if the journal had not been closed down? I’m wondering how important you think it would be to post an ‘official’ rebuttal in literature, rather than your blogpost here.

    • I’ve written comments to several papers in the past, all but one have been published, most recently in Nature last year. It is a lot of work, and the original authors get the final word, so have the opportunity to sow more confusion.

      There are too many bad papers to have time to rebut them all. Short criticisms on a blog are much faster. I use some criteria to decide when to write a comment:
      1) The paper criticises my work unfairly
      2) The paper has potential impact and risks people following up a blind alley, or as being used as evidence in policy or other debates.
      3) It is published in a prominent journal, so potentially has more impact, or at least readers, and I get extra brownie points from the department.
      4) There is a novel or interesting error.

      These papers from PRP fail on all these criteria. My work is not involved; no credible scientist is going to start looking for the missing energy in space, the journal probably had more readers the last week than in the rest of its short existence and these types of papers make the same types of error every time.

    • To a certain extent, I think a official rebuttal would increase the impact of the papers. From what I looked at (and I think Richard’s analysis is similar) most of them don’t really say anything other than there is some set of numbers related to period, spin, …. that look the same/similar. I wouldn’t actually know what to rebut – “yes, you’re right – those numbers are similar. So what?”

  3. Pingback: In agreement with anonymous referee #2 | Musings on Quantitative Palaeoecology

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