Sunday, June 21, 2020

Facts, Myths and Alternative Facts at an Important Juncture

We live in an extraordinary time in modern human history. A global pandemic did the unthinkable to billions of people: a nearly total lock-down for months.  Like many universities in the world, KU closed its doors to students since early March of 2020, and all courses were offered online.

Millions watched in horror when George Floyd was murdered, and when a 75 year old man was shoved to the ground and started bleeding from the back of his skull...

Meanwhile, Trump and his allies routinely ignore facts, fabricate alternative facts, and advocate often-debunked conspiracy theories to push his agenda. The political system designed by the founding fathers is assaulted from all directions. The rule of law and the free press are attacked on a daily basis. One often wonders how we managed to get to this point, and if the political system can survive the constant sabotage...It appears the struggle between facts, myths and alternative facts hangs in the balance.

In any scientific discipline, conclusions are drawn, and decisions are made based on verifiable facts. Of course, we are humans, and honest mistakes can be made. There are others, who push alternative facts or misinformation with ulterior motives. Unfortunately, mistaken conclusions and wrong beliefs are sometimes followed widely and become accepted myths. Fortunately, we can always use verifiable scientific facts to debunk them.

There have been many myths in CFD, and quite a few have been rebutted. Some have continued to persist. I'd like to refute several in this blog. I understand some of the topics can be very controversial, but I welcome fact-based debate.

Myth No. 1 - My LES/DNS solution has no numerical dissipation because a central-difference scheme is used.

A central finite difference scheme is indeed free of numerical dissipation in space. However, the time integration scheme inevitably introduces both numerical dissipation and dispersion. Since DNS/LES is unsteady in nature, the solution is not free of numerical dissipation.  

Myth No. 2 - You should use non-dissipative schemes in LES/DNS because upwind schemes have too much numerical dissipation.

It sounds reasonable, but far from being true. We all agree that fully upwind schemes (the stencil shown in Figure 1) are bad. Upwind-biased schemes, on the other hand, are not necessarily bad at all. In fact, in a numerical test with the Burgers equation [1], the upwind biased scheme performed better than the central difference scheme because of its smaller dispersion error. In addition, the numerical dissipation in the upwind-biased scheme makes the simulation more robust since under-resolved high-frequency waves are naturally damped.   

Figure 1. Various discretization stencils for the red point
The Riemann solver used in the DG/FR/CPR scheme also introduces a small amount of dissipation. However, because of its small dispersion error, it out-performs the central difference and upwind-biased schemes. This study shows that both dissipation and dispersion characteristics are equally important. Higher order schemes clearly perform better than a low order non-dissipative central difference scheme.  

Myth No. 3 - Smagorisky model is a physics based sub-grid-scale (SGS) model.

There have been numerous studies based on experimental or DNS data, which show that the SGS stress produced with the Smagorisky model does not correlate with the true SGS stress. The role of the model is then to add numerical dissipation to stablize the simulations. The model coefficient is usually determined by matching a certain turbulent energy spectrum. The fact suggests that the model is purely numerical in nature, but calibrated for certain numerical schemes using a particular turbulent energy spectrum. This calibration is not universal because many simulations produced worse results with the model.


  1. Hi ZJ,

    Interesting article. I'd also add "Filtering is dissipation" to Myth No.1.


    1. Hiro, could you elaborate a bit on that? I've been using filtering a lot under the pretense that it is de facto equivalent to an artificial dissipation. Is that not the case?

    2. Hiro,

      You do not agree that filtering is numerical dissipation?


    3. Sorry for confusion. I meant "Filtering is dissipation". Dissipation is introduced not only by time stepping schemes but also by filtering. It is also introduced by applying a central scheme to an averaged NS system: e.g., a central scheme for a modeled "Reynolds stress" term acts as a kind of dissipation. Zero dissipation scheme is a myth.

    4. I agree with you, Hiro.