## The "Value" of Mathematical Models

Back in the '60s I developed an idea for using electrostatic
charges to de-salt seawater, and other partly ionized fluids,
using little energy. The process would probably also be useful
for mining of seawater. I submitted it in writing to a couple of
companies, but didn't find anyone interested. I found it was quite
difficult to make a working model. I let the idea sit until recently
when I rewrote the description, redrew the drawings, and showed them
to a college physics professor.

He said, apparently based on intuition, that it wouldn't work for
several reasons, to the point that he didn't consider it worthwhile
to make a mathematical model. Items he mentioned indicated that in
some cases he didn't understand my description. Other cases were
simply my intuition versus his. Since he relies on mathematical
model, I doubt that his intuition is any better than mine.

But the point is that he said a mathematical model would be the
only sensible way to test it. I said that I would put more trust in a
physical working model. He said that was just my bias. I agree that
his model would be cheaper, but it certainly would't be the final
answer, unless it actually convinced me. Actually neither would a
physical, full-scale model that didn't work be "final", for me.

I could have gone on to say that, speaking of math models, he was
claiming the percent of probability of him being wrong was less than
the proportion of the cost of testing the idea compared to it's
eventual value. A math model might take several days work on a
computer. Testing it with a physical model could cost in the range of
$5000. Cheaply separating seawater into fresh water and various salts
could greatly improve the world's ecology and economy. Can anyone be
that sure they're right?

And I thought we were supposed to have discarded the idea that pure
theoretical science was valid along with Aristotle and the inability
of bumblebees to fly.

Send me your thoughts.

**Dan Robinson, danrob@efn.org,
Eugene, Oregon **

My home page:
http://www.efn.org/~danrob/