Limitations of Scientific Understanding and Prediction

Due to rapid improvements in computer speed and expansion of observational capacity (including the deployment of the first weather satellites), meteorologists in the 1950’s and 60’s were extremely optimistic about the future of numerical weather prediction. The general consensus was that this progress would continue unabated, with remarkable outcomes. As late as 1970, Stanford scientists began a compilation on Global Weather Prediction with the proclamation that “within five to ten years it should be possible to make accurate 10- to 14-day weather forecasts.” ...

Scientists were correct only in their prediction that the raw power of computers would continue to expand. ... The computer used today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)40 is approximately a hundred million times faster than the IBM 701 first used for operational forecasting in 1955. ...

Yet despite this exponential increase in computational power, the accuracy of forecasts has increased in a decidedly linear fashion. ... Thus, in 1980, predictions beyond about 5 days were essentially useless; but by 1998 5-day forecasts were fairly accurate (80% anomaly correlation). Looked at in a slightly different way, we can now predict 5 days ahead with the same accuracy as we could predict only 3.5 days ahead in 1980.
- Robin Stewart, Computers Meet Weather Forecasting, 2008

In 1987, after helping to build the U.C. San Diego psychiatry department into a leader in research, he was chosen to take over the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md., the world’s largest source of funding for brain and behavior research.
“At the request of Congress,” Dr. Judd said in an interview after starting the new job, “we have prepared the Decade of the Brain, a research plan designed to bring a precise and detailed understanding of all the elements of brain function within our own lifetime.”

It hasn’t happened. Despite billions of dollars in federal funding and advances in tools — brain imaging, genetics, animal models — the field has yet to deliver much of practical value to psychiatrists or their patients.
- Benedict Carey, Dr. Lewis L. Judd, Advocate of Brain Science, Dies at 88, NYT, Jan. 10, 2019

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