Been away on holiday as well as busy with marking the last few weeks, so not really had time for blogging.
Before I went away, I stumbled on a paper by a one Professor Nasif Nahle, which claims to contradict the general accepted theory that Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas. Naturally the deniers lapped it up, like a fish swallows a worm without even thinking (then again, thinking or reading has never exactly being they’re strongest point).
However it actually exposes how the dishonest nature of the denial machine works, the very limited technical knowledge of most deniers and how they are increasingly become a cargo cult, trapped in an echo chamber of anti-intellectual delusion.
First thing that tripped me off was a lack of any reference to his alleged “peer reviewed” paper on Science direct.com. This is a clearing house for scientific papers online, often the first port of call for genuine academics like myself. A lack of mention on science direct does imply this paper has not been subject to proper peer review.I finally found a copy, but on a site called “principia-scientific.org”. However this is not a reputable science journal, just a site posing as such, but run by a known climate denier Tim Ball and John O’Sullivan, another known denier with a habit of miss-representing himself.
Further a profile of the author Nasif Nahle on Wikipedia (apparently self penned) reveals his principle expertise to be in the field of herbal medicine….not climate physics! Furthermore he appears to be a (self-appointed) “Professor” of a small back alley lab (view their own profile here), one without any official backing, i.e. not a university, etc. Another blogger did a similar review of the author and also found Mr Nahle lacking in credibility…to say the least! So we have a paper that is going out of its way to try to appear to be from a reputable source, when in fact it is nothing of the sort.
But what about the actual contents of this paper? Does it make any sense? Well no! As one climate blogger points out Nahle’s paper can be dismissed as little more than the work of an amateur who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. A large part of his failure here is he seems to take the term “greenhouse effect” a little too literally, as he assumes that the atmosphere acts exactly like the windows of a greenhouse, but of course it’s not quite as simple as that.
I would further chip in my two cent’s that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This paper includes none. It appears to be built on a dubious theoretical model “verified” by a couple of bench experiments build using cardboard and sticky tape. It’s Blue Peter science at its worst!
That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas is not controversial, except among deniers. And I mean the lunatic fringe of the denier movement. Those climate skeptics with any vaguely creditable qualifications (such as John Christy or Richard Lindzen) know enough to not dispute this fact, as they understand that’s about the scientific equivalent of supporting “intelligent falling”. But of course the loony “lord” Monkton brigade of the denier camp will not hear any of it. Unwilling to concede any ground, they insist on the fact that carbon isn’t a greenhouse gas, even though they are ignoring basic chemistry by doing so.The physics and heat absorption properties of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been known about for over a century. Carbon dioxide’s infrared absorbing properties were determined experimentally in the 1890’s, leading eventually to Svante Arrhenius making his famous hypothesis (although the significance of this early work was not entirely understood at the time). I have seen similar experiments to John Tyndall’s 1850’s research performed in a lab before. We rig up an infra-red camera with a candle and a flask between the two. By introducing carbon dioxide into the flask, the candle appears to vanish thanks to the increased heat absorption properties of the CO2. Like I said, it’s fairly basic chemistry we’re talking about. In fact here’s a link from a website advising schools as to how to perform such experiments. Indeed the US TV program Mythbusters conducted one such experiment a few years back (supervised by a child for some reason), demonstrating the effects of various green house gases.
But of course such experiments extend to simply quantifying the properties of a greenhouse gas. One cannot simply assume that the whole atmosphere will behave the same as a cardboard box. This was in fact part of the problem in the early days of research into climate science, as this assumes the atmosphere is scalable in such regards and such analysis ignores various processes in the atmosphere, such as convection cells, cloud formation, geological activity, interaction with the biosphere, that big shiny thing in the sky, etc. that have a combination of net positive and negative effects. This is why real climate scientists use super computers or experiments with weather balloons.The effect of greenhouse gases within the atmosphere has been verified numerous times over the past few decades by masses of real world experiments and data collection records going back at least 60 years (excluding ice cores and other proxies that is, which go back even further). Perhaps oddly enough the first large scale atmospheric studies into GHG’s were conducted not by environmentalists, but by the US military back in the 1950’s. The US military weren’t trying to prove global warming, but support the development of new heat seeking missiles. The lone black sheep
In short, even if we ignore this author’s dubious background, the fact that he has chosen to publish his work through a mechanism that seems designed to misrepresent his work as that of a respected organisation, that his research is full of holes and obvious miss-conceptions….and that a ten year old appears to be smarter than him ;D. He fails to address the obvious question – Why is his research is at odds with all the past research over the last 150 years?
One cannot prove or disprove a theory like global warming with one paper (badly researched or otherwise). That’s not how science works. Without him or his supporters addressing how this research ties in with the masses of seemingly contradictory research (e.g. how is it that those heat seeking missiles can hit their target when they are programmed to assume the atmosphere behaves in the way chemistry says it should?), then one is forced to draw the obvious conclusion – he either faked everything or screwed up royal and his work can be dismissed as the ravings of an oddball crank.
A similar controversy as that surrounding Mr Nahle’s work has brewed up around a paper by a J. E. Postma. However, as with the Nahle situation, dig a little and you quickly find the same script of dubious misrepresentation of qualifications, questionable sources …and that’s even before we look at the “science“.Changing tactics
I would argue that these sort of shenanigans represent a change in how the denier camp do business. Back in the old days, those denying climate change, had to look to a small handful of scientists with vaguely credible qualifications, such as the aforementioned John Christy, Richard Lindzen or Patrick Michaels (and presumably drive up too their house with a truck load of cash!). Monbiot does an interesting take down of one of one such distortion by Fred Singer (via David Bellamy, who got in way over his head) in the Guardian a few years ago.However one assumes that, given the increasingly strong consensus as regards the science to support global warming, very few credible scientists are now willing to be made fools of by endorsing these views.
Plus there is now clear blue water between the genuine “skeptics” (such as John Christy or oddly enough James Randi) and the hard core (referring one assumes to the thickness of they’re skulls ;o ) deniers, such as Lord Monckton. While the skeptics will generally concede that yes, global warming is happening and that humans are at least partially to blame (they’re main argument is to what degree we are to blame). The deniers instead are going for presentation over content. Creating things that looks like proper science (to non-scientists anyway!), but in fact is little more than amateurish technobabble.Of course given that more Republicans believe in demonic possession than climate change, it’s no surprise that we see a sort of “emperor’s new clothes effect”. i.e. Many of those in the denier camp don’t understand big words or equations, so they don’t dare question a paper like this for fear of looking stupid in the eyes of their peers. Hence we see this herd effect among its bloggers, without any attempt at critical thinking.
In much the same way that many on the right have resorted to increasingly insane and fundamentalist political positions, be it the sort of lunacy we see coming out of the Tea Party or in particular Ron Paul, or Bible literalism, or creationism, we are seeing a lurch to a type of “climate literalism”, which clings to equally bizarre notions.