“Revolutionary” Cover Story in RadCom July 2022

I’ve mentioned this work in various episodes of the ICQ Podcast as well as on social media in my Twitter account and now it’s published. Dr. Scott McIntosh and I collaborated since my original feature interview with him in Episode 332 of the the ICQ Podcast back in 2020. He paid a return visit with me for a follow-up feature interview by Martin Butler M1MRB in Episode 377 recently. The article by Howell and McIntosh, “On the Cusp of A Scientific Revolution,” is the cover story in RadCom, the magazine published by the Radio Society of Great Britain. Here’s the cover with a very nice photo of the sun and the ESA Solo satellite facing it. Kevin M6CYB, layout and design specialist at RadCom, put this cover together using resources from the ESAATG Media Lab, for Elaine Richards G4LFM, Editor of RadCom.

Elaine G4LFM is a delightful Editor to work with! As my readers no doubt know from previous posts on this blog, I served as Editor-in-Chief for Springer Media, a very large scientific publisher based in The Netherlands. So I’veb oo that side of the editorial desk for both journal articles and book manuscripts. Moreover, the untimely loss of her Technical Editor, Giles Read G1MFG (sk), added to her workload recently. But she handled all of that, plus her pending retirement, with the utmost aplomb. There’s no muss, no fuss in submitting a paper. No waiting for 6-8 weeks or more for the Editor to “maybe” get back to you. I highly recommend RadCom as a potential outlet for your work.

This is Part 1 of a lengthy and detailed paper. Part 2 is scheduled to appear next month, in the August issue. It’s not an elevator speech so be prepared to read it like you would read a schematic diagram. We think it will be worth your time.

There are some other great articles in this month’s edition of RadCom. Here’s a screen shot of the Table of Contents so you can take a look at both the regular columnists and contributions by authors such as Scott and me.

So what’s all of this about?

We place the current situation of significantly different Cycle 25 predictions of sunspots into the framework of how science works. I’m not speaking of which test tube or microscopic plate to use, for that involves the mechanics of each specific scientific field (Yep, I realize just how outdated those examples are but you get my point.) How does “science” as an institution work?

This diagram illustrates how Thomas Kuhn depicted “scientific revolutions” in paradigm change:

Model of Kuhn’s Paradigm-Change in Science (courtesy of Dr. Jessie Hamner)

We argue that understanding the solar cycle is in the model competition stage of this diagram.

Dr. McIntosh is the solar physicist. I’m not. But I taught philosophy of science, research design and modeling various scientific phenomena in obscurely named course titles like Structural Equation Models with Latent Variables and Spatial Analysis. I also edited and created a few journals in my career, too. Moreover, I’ve worked for NASA in their Commercial Remote Sensing Program at Stennis Space Center and managed peer-review panels in Washington, DC. So I’ve witnessed how this works in several fields of science, especially when I’ve been invited to reconcile disputes in funding or peer-reviews (e.g., integrated pest management).

When I interviewed Scott in 2020 for the ICQ Podcast, it was clear as a bell to me that the issues he and his colleagues were having in getting some of this “revolutionary” work published in solar physics outlets reflected a clash of theoretical paradigms. Pure and simple. It represents a competing paradigm attacking many of the anomalous findings (or lack thereof) involving the amplitude and cycle transition. Afterwards, he asked me to read a draft of a key paper establishing the linkages between the Hale Magnetic Cycle and the Solar Cycle in which I made voluminous comments and suggestions on the data, modes of analysis, and how to deal effectively with reviewers as a former editor. I’m sure I made a number of “rookie mistake” comments since I’m not a solar physicist, lol. But he was very kind to not mention those, only suggesting other sources for me to read and review.

When it was published, I was greatly touched to have received an acknowledgement for my impact on the final paper (see Scott W. McIntosh et al. (2020). Deciphering Solar Magnetic Activity: 140 Years of the ‘Extended Solar Cycle’ – Mapping the Hale Cycle. Solar Physics (2021) 296:189 (https://doi.org/10.1007/s11207-021-01938-7). Considering that this could be a seminal paper among those published by the McIntosh team that might precipitate a paradigmatic revolution in our understanding of the solar cycle and sunspot amplitude and the transition from one cycle to another, it’s an even greater honor to receive this acknowledgement outside my own field of science.

Scott and I have developed a close collaborative relationship and I’ve learned a lot from him and his published work. He is just a delight in “elmering” me about solar physics. But have no confusion: he’s the solar physicist and I’m the statistician and philosopher of science. We hope that through this collaborative paper, his team’s theory, models and data reach the wide audience that is amateur radio. We hams are one of the significant consumers of this slice of solar physics. But we decided that my expertise would help identify the paradigm boundaries of Scott’s new paradigm as well as some other facets of communicating outside of solar physics. Perhaps even within solar physics, too.

As we “shockingly” disclose in RadCom, the current NASA/NOAA “official” predictions for Cycle 25 do not release any of their methods or assessments to the public. (Insert record scratch here.) Yet, their forecasts are decidedly lower in amplitude than those published under peer-review by my co-author, Scott McIntosh, and his team of collaborative scientists. Amateur operators, however, view the official NASA-NOAA Panel predictions over the past several solar cycles are the Holy Grail source of sunspot activity. We’ve seen this movie before:

While Scott has published beaucoup papers documenting his team’s explicit theory of how these aspects of the sunspot cycle (as amateurs like to call it) work together, our RadCom article attempts to lay it out in comparison to those “official” predictions by the NASA-NOAA Panel. One team will ultimately be proven to be more correct as Cycle 25 matures; the one based upon Panel votes of “expert opinion” or the one based upon a peer-reviewed alternative paradigm.

Those who see SSNs as the critical daily index shaping their amateur radio operations will want to see which team is “right.” To facilitate this, there is a website where the NASA-NOAA predictions, the McIntosh team predictions, the average SSN over the horizon, and the observed SSNs for each month are published in clearly annotated graphs for all to see. No “smoke-filled rooms” where just a professional opinion is offered, but observable empirical data, updated monthly.

Hmm. I wonder whether I’d trust a team of physicians who just met in a conference room and voted to see if I had cancer (which I did in 2005) or a team of physicians who took X-Rays, MRI’s, blood samples and so forth to aid in their diagnosis and treatment plan. Which one do you think is more worthy of your trust? Well, it’s largely up to the observed SSNs and the two sets of predictions, even though one is formally devoid of a stated theory, isn’t it?

Here’s the money graph here:

Time-Series Graph of observed and predicted sunspot numbers from 2019 through 2024

As the reader can see, the McIntosh predictions (in black) are decidedly closer than the “official” NASA/NOAA/ISES Panel’s predictions (two different blue lines) to the actual observed smoothed sunspot numbers as of July 2022 (green lines).

This is not unlike how the educated world awaited a specific set of photographic plates from an eclipse to determine whether the famous Sir Isaac Newton or the (then) young, whipper-snapper Albert Einstein was correct about Relativity. That was how the Newton-Einstein debate was largely resolved. The McIntosh team has put it’s scientific reputation on the line with observable data, which is how science has moved over the centuries since its emergence in modern societies.

Who now reads Newton for science, except for history?
Howell and McIntosh, RadCom, July 2022

You can find out more about Dr. McIntosh at NCAR (his research center), on Twitter, or by listening to the two podcast episodes I noted above on the ICQ Podcast website. In addition, Scott has given many talks to amateur radio clubs on this team’s work. Youtube is your friend here. I’m already scheduled for late July to talk about this RadCom article to the Denby Dale Club. If you’d like a talk on this to your club, feel free to email me and I’ll do my best to accommodate you. I’m good on QRZ.

Frank Howell, K4FMH, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Mississippi, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

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