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Ozone Hole Leaks and Other Tales

Filed under: — group @ 5 April 2007 - (Türkçe)

Guest commentary by Figen MekikGrand Valley State University

“But Figen, humid air feels oppressive, heavy!” students told me, almost in unison. A very treasured moment indeed. I just got a glimpse of probably a long held misconception: water vapor is heavier than dry air. So, we took out our periodic tables and calculators, and went on to calculate the molecular weight of H2O and how it compares to that of N2 and O2 (most of the atmosphere). Happy that I corrected a major fallacy, I didn’t see the rest coming.

Apparently, there are many other sinister fallacies lurking just underneath the surface of the heavy wet air idea. One student asked “is the formula for water vapor the same as for liquid water?” and was astonished to find out that it is always H2O regardless of phase, even in ice! I said “we like to keep things simple in science” and a couple of ladies giggled “as if!”

Then another admitted that he always thought water split into H2 and O2 upon evaporation which would make wet air heavy. Another student answered him with “No way man. When water vapor condenses to liquid, the molecules get bigger which is why liquid water is heavier than vapor.” So we had a long discussion about molecular dynamics of evaporation and condensation. Also, once I helped the students realize the stark contrast between what they think they know (water vapor is heavy) and something else they know from the Weather Channel (low pressure means rain), the cognitive dissonance (the psychological tension created by conflicting knowledge) drove them to question both “bits of knowledge” and to adjust their ideas. By the end of the hour, they were saying this is SOOO weird, humid air rises. Who knew!

Here are some other common and very tenacious misconceptions:

[1] Seasons are caused by cyclical changes in Earth’s proximity to the Sun. The main causes underlying this one likely are that [a] intuitively it makes sense and [b] textbooks frequently exaggerate the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit to the extreme that such an idea is logical. The problem is this misconception is extremely popular, from kindergarten to high school physics teachers. A very confused young man once told me openly “Well, my third grade teacher told me that the Earth’s axis is tilted and that is why we get different seasons and it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, when it’s summer in the southern hemisphere. My high school earth science teacher told me during the summer we are closer to the Sun and summers are hot everywhere. Now you are saying my grade school teacher was right all along. And there is all this hype about sunspot activity being the real cause behind global warming. Since the Sun causes our seasons for whatever reason, that sounds believable to me. But you say it’s CO2 in the atmosphere causing global warming. How do I know I can trust you?”

He has a point! And it is very difficult to address the inconsistencies in his education convincingly. I could have told him about my PhD and that I am a climate scientist, but that really doesn’t have much currency in such situations. So I acknowledged that he has a valid point and devoted the next month to demonstrations and data and error margin analysis to empower the students to the point that they could understand the science for themselves. We couldn’t cover coastal geology that semester because we ran out of time, but I think it was worth it anyway.

[2] The hole in the ozone layer and atmospheric pollution (including but not limited to aerosols) cause global warming. Like the previous one, this one is also very tenacious and difficult to dispel because it is often presented this way in the media and most primary and secondary school teachers share the same fallacy. Perhaps one of the underlying faulty notions here is that the Earth receives heat from the Sun, instead of radiation. So, the thinking here is that the ozone layer shields our planet from the Sun’s harmful rays and its heat. And because there is a hole in the ozone layer, the extra heat seeps in and gets stuck under the ozone layer causing the greenhouse effect. I know, yikes!! I try to dispel this misconception by explaining that though the sun is indeed quite hot, there is all this empty space between the Sun and our planet and heat travels to Earth as infrared radiation from the sun, but the Sun’s output of infrared is only a fraction of its output as visible light. Energy from the sun mostly reaches us as visible light and ultraviolet radiation. (Minor edit to remove confusion with sensible heat and radiation. Sorry about that!).

However, the notion that global warming and ozone depletion are linked is not entirely wrong. As was discussed earlier on RealClimate (Ozone depletion and global warming), original CFC’s as well as ozone itself are powerful greenhouse gases and stratospheric cooling caused by the increase in atmospheric CO2 actually accelerates ozone loss there. Even the replacement gases to be used in lieu of CFCs may have significant greenhouse warming potential. BUT, ozone depletion (“the hole in the ozone layer”) does not cause global warming.

This discussion eventually lends its way to a discussion of aerosols (see Aerosols: the Last Frontier) and although aerosols tend to scatter or absorb incoming solar radiation (hence a warming effect), their net effect is in the direction of cooling because they have a positive influence on the nucleation of clouds which increases our planet’s albedo (ability to reflect light).

[3] The greenhouse effect and global warming are the same thing. This is another yikes!! Perhaps the root of the problem here is that the discussion of the greenhouse effect in the classroom is often tightly linked with that of global warming. It needs to be explicitly pointed out to students that without the greenhouse effect our planet’s surface would be about 30 degrees C cooler and with wild differences in temperature between night and day. Not exactly habitable. But anthropogenic global warming is caused by the human-induced increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, particularly CO2. Most of the past changes in climate on glacial-interglacial timescales can be explained by invoking changes in solar activity and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, sure. But the warming we have been experiencing in the last few decades cannot be explained if we do not include the effect of greenhouse gases released by human activities (see the IPCC 4th Assessment SPM, and Avery and Singer: Unstoppable Hot Air, just to name a couple).

[4] Toilets flush in opposite directions in the northern and southern hemispheres. This one is kind of a pedagogically useful misconception because although it is absolutely wrong, the idea behind it is correct and it is primarily a matter of scale. Having said that, I find the Coriolis effect to be one of the most challenging topics for students to grasp as soon as we move beyond its initial descriptive definition. There is often lots of confusion between “to the right” and “to the east” in the northern hemisphere. Plus when we add another dimension to the mix (vertical) in discussing tropical hurricanes, this becomes a serious barrier to understanding. So, I try to avoid any directional terms, like east or west as well as clockwise or counter-clockwise. Not because students are too young to know a non-digital traditional clock, but because from satellite images hurricanes look like they are rotating counter-clockwise. Really can’t argue with what the students are seeing for themselves. But if we keep the terms simple, “moving objects in the northern hemisphere are deflected to the right within the frame of reference of the moving object,” it becomes a little easier to understand, though still challenging. Another challenge here is that the Coriolis effect comes across as a force and it is difficult for students who have not had physics to distinguish between a force and a deflection (an effect).

Perhaps you are now thinking “this may be true in some university in west Michigan but surely in other, more prestigious universities the students know better!” If only this were true. A Private Universe is a video documenting lingering misconceptions among Harvard graduates about the causes behind seasons and lunar phases. The problem is misconceptions are hard to detect because most students are adept at answering questions with exactly what the teacher wants to hear and with correct terminology but without any real understanding of the science. After nine years of collegiate teaching I now know to encourage a casual “say whatever is on your mind” attitude with students. This way, I am hoping to get them to inadvertently voice their misconceptions so I can address them.

And one may be tempted to think this is solely an American problem because the American system of education has been exposed to some serious criticism of late. Again, not so! It’s a global problem. Here are some examples from a couple of quick Google searches. Greek kindergarten teachers harbor deeply rooted confusion about the “ozone hole” and the “greenhouse effect;” while Greek primary school teachers think the ozone hole causes climate change. Australian university students believe a large portion of the ozone hole is over Australia and that the high rate of skin cancer is largely caused by this hole. Junior high school students in Israel seem to understand various processes within the hydrologic cycle, but believe its beginning point is the ocean and the end point is groundwater. And some Turkish in-service physics teachers believe that the moon does not rise and set while Turkish pre-service science teachers think summer is warmer than winter because the Earth is closer to the sun in the summer time.

How about you? Take this quiz to see where you stand ;) Update: Apparently the quiz has been taken off line…

I think, however, there may be some room for improvement in the wording and explanations in this quiz because some questions are very obscure, ambiguous and Chicago-centric. I would like to know what commenters think about it.

Where do misconceptions come from? Personal experiences and intuitive understanding play a large part in fostering misconceptions, and most false notions are reinforced through school and the media. I would like to share with you this delightful and brief story of how personal experiences color the judgment of a bunch of 4th graders about the nature of heat. They have a wise science teacher who broaches the topic with a question: “can you give me an example of something that is hot?” She is expecting answers like the Sun, or a stove or maybe even Britney Spears. But the students say sweaters, hats, and coats. One says “rugs are wicked hot.” The teacher says “when I touch your sweater it doesn’t feel hot.” The students say “Ooh, it’s a matter of time. With time it can be 200 degrees!” Hmmm.. Can you blame them? They spent at least nine years in cold Massachusetts winters and their parents and teachers always told them to put on their warm clothes.

Like this example, some of the problem underlying misconceptions stems from language. “Warm clothes” implies clothes that emit heat, “greenhouse gas” suggests greenhouses are warm because of their gas content, “the rise and set of the sun” suggests the sun is moving across the sky, not the earth is rotating on its axis, and “the theory of relativity” implies all things are relative when actually the theory is based on the constancy of the speed of light.

Let’s go back to our 4th grade class to see how this very experienced teacher addressed the problem. She could just come right out and say “that’s ridiculous, you’re clothes don’t emit heat, they trap the heat your bodies emit.” That would certainly save time to cover more content; instead she decides to do something else (e.g. concept/inquiry based learning for the educators out there). She says “Tomorrow I want everyone to bring something hot from home.” The next day sweaters, scarves, hats and even a down sleeping bag arrive. The teacher puts a thermometer into each one and they wait until the next day for them to get hot on the inside. The students are convinced the down sleeping bag will be 400 degrees! They rush in the next morning and quickly check their thermometers. 68 degrees! They’re shocked. But convinced? Not a chance! They are not going to dismiss 9 years of personal experience just like that. “Cold air got in there!” says one little girl. “When I sit in the car with the windows up, it gets hot. We need to hide our clothes.” So sweaters and hats get put into drawers and closets with their thermometers snuggly in them. Another night goes by. The next day they rush in and check their thermometers again. Again 68 degrees! Except one student has 69 degrees. They all applaud. Still not convinced, after all there has been indication in the right direction! Several nights go by like this. Finally serious doubt begins to ensue. So the teacher says “I want everyone who believes clothes are hot to walk to this corner” and she points left; “and the ones who think clothes trap the heat our bodies emit to this corner” and she points right. Most of the students go to the right but three stubborn ones go to the left. Guess you will always have the denialists! But no matter what, these students experienced two things more important than heat: the scientific method in action and sometimes the way something feels is only that and not reality.

So, are misconceptions barriers to understanding or helpful pedagogical tools? That will largely depend on the individual teacher’s (professor’s) style and interests. But the important thing is to [1] challenge misconceptions, [2] demonstrate their faultiness through carefully devised experiments (ideally by the students), [3] help develop multiple working hypotheses to understand the meaning of the results of these experiments, [4] devise more experiments to test and retest each hypothesis, and [5] NEVER let a student leave the classroom with a diagnosed misconception uncorrected. And, perhaps the most effective method for eradicating misconceptions at every level is going to be investing large quantities of time, money and effort into educating primary and secondary school educators. NSF has many programs that fund such efforts, but much more effort is clearly needed on a global scale.

Disclaimer: I am not an educational psychologist. I am simply a college professor and ocean/climate scientist enjoying a rich and intense teaching career in the Geology Department at GVSU. Also, my anecdotes and all my quotations are intentionally fictionalized to protect the confidentiality of students. The ideas expressed in the quotes are amalgamations of multiple repeated ideas expressed to me from students, professors and colleagues alike since I started graduate school in 1991 at Middle East Technical University in Ankara, Turkey; and the misconceptions I mention are not unique to any of my students but are listed in over 7000 published misconceptions about science.


260 Responses to “Ozone Hole Leaks and Other Tales”

  1. 51
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    I’m aware of studies that show the ozone-GW confusion…and people thinking all they have to do is stop using hairspray (which no longer has CFCs in it anyway) to halt GW. In fact I gleaned that from a study I did on General Social Survey data around mid-90s.

    One of the problems mentioned is that these 2 problems happened close in time to each other (& they both involve the atmosphere). You have to understand that most people don’t pay avid attention to the news, and the newsperson may even get things wrong. So they hear snippets as they walk past TV stores or from someone’s radio on the bus. And they use their existing world view to cobble together something that makes sense to them.

    And, shame shame, they really should have paid more attention during high school science class, so they’d have a better foundation on which to build.

    And unfortunately the height of respect for science was in the 50s & 60s (I remember listening to Sputnik’s dog’s heartbeat for an hour in my 6th grade class — science was king, I was going to be a scientist), and now respect for science has waned, with attacks from the religious right, the post-modern academic elites, and industry getting its act together after Rachel Carson’s SILENT SPRING broadside. And all the “science” being done by creationists and industry wonks (some of whom are even imprisoned for out&out fraudulent science) has only fed into a general disrespect or at least enlightened skepticism about science. Like, who’s to believe the latest Chocolate Industry study that chocolate is good for the heart (or those “studies” they allude to in TV commercials). No one likes to be taken for a dupe.

    Then there is the way statistics are presented. So, if I say “there’s a 20% chance you will be in a car accident over the next 10 years driving around Chicago,” that sounds a whole lot worse than, “there’s an 80% chance you will not be in a car accident over the next 10 years driving around Chicago.” And unfortunately the way hypothesis testing is set up focusing on the null hypothesis….well, it makes GW & other environ problems seem not so bad. Afterall, there’s a five percent chance nothing’s happening. We’ll take our chances.

  2. 52
    Eli Rabett says:

    Greg makes an important point, anykid with half a brain after taking all the “high stakes” multiple choice tests learns that she is smarter than whoever wrote the test and how to game the system. With certain teachers, you learn that it is a lot easier to give the right wrong answer than to try and engage in a dialog, kid version:god you’re stupid teach, teacher: you flunk and I want to see your parents.

    Lots of bright and normal kids have learned that that the way to an A is to find the answer that the test wants, which is not the right answer.

    The net result is you build a society of the collegekids who Figen and I teach.

  3. 53
    Eli Rabett says:

    Kaotin, I put three climate on-line texts on my blog roll, and a number of tree killer text books can be found in a post There are some reviews in the comments, especially with respect to difficulty. I have to get back to complete the circle by listing atmospheric chemistry and biogeochemistry books.

  4. 54
    Elizabeth says:

    This is a comment for Kaoten regarding number 42. Go back to school. I always wanted a science degree and I started back to school in my 40s, while working full time at a physically difficult job. When I was on the night shift I took my 10 minute breaks and studied my calculus. I had to start my math series way back at intermediate algebra because I lacked a good high school education. It was very difficult, but by the age of 55 I had a masters degree in Geology with a good solid foundation in math, chemistry, and physics. It has changed my life and I did this for myself so that I could better understand our world and the changes that we have made to it.

    Elizabeth

  5. 55
    Hank Roberts says:

    >There was no NUCLEAR explosion in the Chernobyl reactor …

    However, a nuclear reactor has far more and varied radioactive material in it than a nuclear bomb, and even a very dirty ground or underwater nuclear bomb explosion puts far less radiation into the environment than failure of containment on a reactor that’s been operating for a while and is full of transuranics.

    Look how hard they’re working to keep the Chernobyl-type reactors operating, eh?

    http://scholar.google.com/scholar?num=100&hl=en&lr=&newwindow=1&safe=off&q=cache:RyAOPQEJFsgJ:typhoon.tokai.jaeri.go.jp/icnc2003/Proceeding/paper/2.18_106.pdf+chernobyl+fast+critical

    unfortunately the original PDF isn’t showing up, this gets you the HTML version

  6. 56

    Don’t know if this comment got through last time — I got a data access error, which seems to happen a lot with this site — so I’ll try again. Apologies if this is a double post.

    Sai Greisch, you left out a crucial component of nuclear bombs, the things that make it possible for them to explode when reactors do not. (Reactors do explode sometimes, but it’s usually a steam explosion, not a nuclear one.) Since this blog gets a lot of viewing, I won’t say what the missing component is, but the other physicists here will know what I mean.

  7. 57

    [[most people think nuclear power is dangerous. They have never heard of background radiation. They don't know that ancient mummies are dated by radioactive carbon.]]

    I think nuclear power is dangerous, and I know about background radiation (about 120 millirads per year in most places, isn’t it?), and I even know about carbon-14 dating. I’m going on the fact that there have been a couple of dozen nuclear reactors accidents with fatalities involved, and, more importantly, the fact that a really big accident could kill a really big number of people.

  8. 58

    [[How do I learn? Where do I start? Between job, family and my shocking lack of education, going back to school isn't really a possibility, I think. But what books did you lot chew through in school? Which do you throw at your students?]]

    Isaac Asimov’s collections of short essays were very valuable to me. For specific sciences, try to find used copies of high school and college introductory textbooks. And study as much math as you possible can. You should at least have a good grasp of algebra and a little trigonometry to follow what’s in most textbooks. (To actually do professional scientific work you’ll usually need to add calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, vector analysis and vector calculus, and statistics, and for some fields, especially physics, tensor and spinor calculus. No, I don’t know all that stuff either. :) )

  9. 59

    Eli, you make a good point. In one of my novels, where a teenage alien girl is hosting a teenage Earth girl for a year (alien year, different length), host girl, Throsu, is studying astronomy and recites a list of so many satellites of each of her system’s planets. Earth girl, Joanna, replies that Earth scientists have surveyed the outer system and report a much higher number of moons for the outer planets. Throsu replies, “The right answer is the answer the teacher wants to hear.”

  10. 60
    Robert Bergen says:

    Kaoten: visit a local Community College or University and go to their bookstore. Freshman texts on subjects you like will help. At my Community College, there are also reference librarians who can help you find books, and even better, may also help you put together a reading list. Better still, enroll in a community college. As a former Professor at a local community college for 15 years, I had many students older than 30, some in their 50s coming back because their job was eliminated. Community colleges are also becoming more and more oriented to students like you, providing services and courses under an open admissions policy. At my college, about half the students were working full time, taking classes at night. And you can always audit a class.

    Good luck to you. I admire your spirit.

  11. 61
    Scott Vinson says:

    Re #52 (Eli) I’ve experienced test-gaming as a student and now as an educator, agree it’s a concern. An upside may be the development of critical thinking skills that become useful later in life as students go on to face others in positions of higher, or at least different power, e.g. bosses, politicians, judges, lawyers, and maybe even in everyday situations like dealing with folks in sales and customer service.

    As a middle school teacher, I’ll take testing problems over some of the other educational/societal challenges I face daily in the classroom, e.g. inadequate parent support, student obsession with pop culture and entertainment electronics, and inappropriate funding to name a few. All of these issues, I think, contribute to present and probable future state of society with its concerning lack of intellect.

    Figen and RC, thanks – I enjoyed the commentary and quiz, scored 83% ‘correct’, but the grade doesn’t really matter. I learned some things (from the response comments as well), and at a very reasonable cost!

  12. 62
    James says:

    Re #57: [...here have been a couple of dozen nuclear reactors accidents with fatalities involved...]

    Against how many fossil fuel and hydropower accidents with fatalities? Thousands?

    [...a really big accident could kill a really big number of people.]

    And really big fossil fuel & hydropower accidents could kill really big numbers of people, too. Have done, in fact, which is more than can be said of nuclear power.

  13. 63
    Figen Mekik says:

    About heat can’t travel through a vacuum… My apologies indeed. I stand corrected by your comments and I got help from Raypierre in putting together this response. I was thinking of the heat insulating properties of a thermos. But heat can indeed travel through space as infrared radiation. It’s just that the Sun is so hot (about 6000K for the photosphere), and that at those temperatures the infrared is a small proportion of the Solar output. Nonetheless, solar near-IR does reach the Earth and other planets in sufficient quantities that it needs to be taken into account in climate models, — and is.

  14. 64
    Lynn Vincentnathan says:

    RE “The greenhouse effect and global warming are the same thing” being a problem, I think we can overdo scientific correctness.

    Of course GW can be caused by other forcings, aside from GHGs (which the contrarians so love to point out). However, for the common layperson I think it is OK to interchange these terms, hopefully with the understanding that there is a natural greenhouse effect that makes life on earth possible, but that we are now in a human-enhanced greenhouse effect situation.

    If I recall, I first learned about GW from the media as “the greenhouse effect,” and this term has held for a long time for people who don’t pay much attention to the media. Now the avant-garde is on to “climate change” (doesn’t it always change and is change always bad, some ask). When I heard CC, I thought, they’re trying to water down this big problem.

    There is really no good term for the current situation. Words fail us. Global warming, yeah, less snow plowing in winter, or maybe we don’t have to go to the tropics for vacation, the tropics will come to us. Warming to warm our hearts & spirits. Warm & fuzzy feelings.

    And greenhouse effect has the lush feeling of greenhouses growing orchids — paradise in a glass enclosure.

    Then there’s “an inconvenient truth,” but to me it’s more like a “moral failing.” Science just can’t quite get at the whole of GW.

  15. 65
    Karen Kohfeld says:

    I tried to post this comment yesterday – thanks, Figen – your summary brought me back to my days of teaching Introduction to the Atmosphere for undergraduates and high school teachers! You’ve done a great job of putting words to common experiences. (I once had a student who emailed me a picture of an flushing toilet in Australia to help dispel the toilet flushing myth.)

    The quiz you posted reminds me of why I loathe giving T/F and multiple choice exams to students. The sad truth is that these ARE the types of exams (and test bank questions) that are used to test knowledge. What else can you do with a class of 200-300 students? What I appreciated about the quiz was the explanation line (if it is used).

  16. 66
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kaoten, almost forgot. Have you heard of the Open Courseware project at MIT. They are putting on line all of the course ware for most of the courses they teach there. Quality varies, but you can find some great resources. Check it out:

    http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html

  17. 67
    Phillip Shaw says:

    James (and other pro-nuclear advocates),

    You need to face the fact that you have an uphill battle ahead of you to get nuclear power to be widely adopted in the United States. You’re correct that coal and hydoelectric plants have killed more people than nuclear. So what? Mentioning nuclear power causes a visceral reaction in many people (voters) which makes this an emotional issue, not an intellectual one. A single National Geographic Magazine article on the ghosttowns around Chernobyl is more persuasive than a whole binder of facts and statistics.

    The nuclear power industry has itself to blame for much of its poor public image. For example, it lobbied for caps on liability for damages, while at the same time promoting itself as a safe energy source. That’s pretty hypocritical in the opinion of many people. Or how about promoting itself as a cost effective power source while making the taxpayers pick up the tab for perpetual waste storage. If the nuclear power industry wants better acceptance, it needs to earn it. Removing the cap on liability (the reactors are safe, aren’t they?) and internalizing the lifecycle costs (from the first bucket of uranium ore on) would be a start. If they are not willing to do that they should quit whining. I, for one, will be too busy installing PV arrays to listen.

    Renewable Regards,

  18. 68
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 42 Kaoten: I’ll put in a plug for ‘Reading the Mind of God,” by James Trefil (http://www.amazon.com/Reading-Mind-God-Principle-Universality/dp/0684187965). Trefil (a physicist at George Mason Univ) is an oustanding writer of science for the general public. I’ve enjoyed several of his books (e.g., A Scientist at the Seashore). In “Reading the Mind of God,” he explains how astronomers and cosmologists study the origin of the universe and our solar system (while he examins the Principle of Universality).

    Another book I found very useful at shoring up my knowledge of physics is “Clouds in a Glass of Beer: Simple Experiments in Atmospheric Physics,” by Craig E. Bohren (http://www.amazon.com/Clouds-Glass-Beer-Experiments-Atmospheric/dp/0486417387). Bohren (a physicist who taught meteorology at Penn State) is still a bit skeptical of AGW, I think. Nevertheless, he does a very good job of explaining common atmospheric phenomena in this book.

    RE The topic of this thread: Another popular misconception (if not total ignorance) among college science majors is why high tides (in the ocean) occur simultaneously on opposite sides of the earth.

  19. 69
    Paul Dietz says:

    But heat can indeed travel through space as infrared radiation

    There’s nothing special about ‘infrared’ radiation in this respect. Heat can be transmitted as radiation with a thermal spectrum, which in some temperature ranges peaks in the infrared. In other temperature ranges, it peaks at longer or shorter wavelengths (microwaves, visible, X-rays, etc.)

  20. 70
    Paul Dietz says:

    We burn all that coal to make electricity because most people think nuclear power is dangerous.

    No, we do it because it is cheaper to burn the coal, because the cost of the CO2 emissions are not included. Utilities in the US are often required to use the lowest cost sources of power.

  21. 71
    David B. Benson says:

    Re #42: Kaoten — If your interest is primarily climate, I strongly urge you to read

    W.F. Ruddiman
    Earth’s Climate: Past and Future
    W.H. Freeman, 2001

    This is a fine beginner’s book, IMO…

  22. 72
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #58 Isaac Asimov’s essays (Barton)

    While I am already familiar with most of the math subjects you mention, I am a fan of Asimov’s and would like to read more of his scientific work. Which essays are you referring to?

  23. 73
    Dick Veldkamp says:

    Re #58 Isaac’s Asimov’s scientific essays (Barton)

    Should have done my homework first. Complete list of all 450+ books with reviews to be found at: http://homepage.mac.com/jhjenkins/Asimov/Asimov.html

  24. 74
    James says:

    Re #67: [You need to face the fact that you have an uphill battle ahead of you...]

    The same could – still can – be said about trying to convince the public of that AGW is a real problem. Or indeed, to challenge any of the myths that have been mentioned in this thread. Should we then just give up, and accept popular belief as reality?

    As to your arguments re liability and costs, I have no problem with any of that, just as long as all forms of energy generation are placed on an equal footing. The government foots the bill for the damages that accidents to hydroelectric dams might cause – why should nuclear be treated differently? Fossil fuel plants get to dump their waste into the atmosphere, leaving the public to deal with the problems and foot the bills. Why should nuclear have to meet a different standard, and then try to compete on costs?

  25. 75
    Jim Dukelow says:

    In #57, Barton Paul Levenson wrote:

    “I think nuclear power is dangerous, and I know about background radiation (about 120 millirads per year in most places, isn’t it?), and I even know about carbon-14 dating. I’m going on the fact that there have been a couple of dozen nuclear reactors accidents with fatalities involved, and, more importantly, the fact that a really big accident could kill a really big number of people.”

    Like Ronald Reagan, it’s not so much the things that Levenson doesn’ know that are the problem, it’s the things he does know that aren’t so.

    Those interested can visit Wikipedia’s rather detailed description of background radiation, at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_radiation, and its rather detailed listing of civilian nuclear power accidents, at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_civilian_nuclear_accidents, and its list of military nuclear accidents, at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_nuclear_accidents to discover reality.

    Reality is that average background radiation worldwide is on the order of 360 millirem. Reality is also that there have been two civilian nuclear reactor accidents with fatalities, the RA-2 criticality accident in Buenos Aires in 1983, which killed one reactor operator, and the Chernobyl accident, which Wikipedia says killed 50 plant staff and emergency responders and was responsible for 9 thyroid cancer deaths. An accident at the SL-1 military reactor in Idaho in 1961 killed three operators (there is some evidence that it was a murder-suicide).

    The two accident lists include a wide variety of other civilian and military accidents (mostly military), particularly US Air Force Broken Arrow incidents and a stunning array of Soviet navy nuclear submarine accidents.

    A sizeable (and highly variable) fraction of the background radiation is due to radon, part of the decay chain of uranium and thorium in the ground. Curiously, the importance of radon as a contributor to background radiation was first discovered when a nuclear plant worker in Eastern Pennsylvania (the Reading Prong of high-uranium concentration rocks and soil) set off a plant radiation monitor when he was arriving for work one morning. He lived in a house with particularly high radon levels.

    The “really big accident” that Levenson writes about is hypothetical, in the sense that it has never happened, but might some day. Its “really big” consequences are also hypothetical, with predictions depending on assertions about the relationship between radiation dose and cancer induction, extrapolated down to doses far lower than anything we have actual data for.

    As another writer noted, there have been “really big” accidents with “really big” consequences in the fossil fuel industry and associated with hydropower facilities: 225,000 dead in the 1975 failure of 63 dams in Henan province in China, 2000 dead downstream from Vaiont Dam in Italy, hundreds dead in each of at least a dozen gas/LPG/natural_gas explosions and fires around the world (see any World Almanac). These are not hypothetical, they have really happened and continue to happen, with a frequency of several per decade.

    Best regards.

  26. 76
    Hal says:

    I am confused about the discussion about hurricanes and Coriolis force. You write, “from satellite images hurricanes look like they are rotating counter-clockwise. Really can’t argue with what the students are seeing for themselves.” And yet, it is true that hurricanes (in the northern hemisphere, which is where that word is used) do in fact rotate counter-clockwise. Why would you suggest that reality is different from what students see for themselves, if both point to the same direction of rotation?

    http://observe.arc.nasa.gov/nasa/space/centrifugal/figures345.html

  27. 77
    Tavita says:

    Kaoten, as far as general education resouces, you may find this site useful,

    http://stingyscholar.blogspot.com/

  28. 78
    Tavita says:

    Now, if I could just learn to spell! That would be *resources.

  29. 79
    Roger Smith says:

    “The “really big accident” that Levenson writes about is hypothetical, in the sense that it has never happened, but might some day. Its “really big” consequences are also hypothetical, with predictions depending on assertions about the relationship between radiation dose and cancer induction, extrapolated down to doses far lower than anything we have actual data for.”

    Such an accident could provide valuable hard data to help assess the effects of future accidents. I’d personally prefer to do everything possible to keep this in the hypothetical realm, however.

  30. 80
    Figen Mekik says:

    Some responses:
    Chuck Booth: Yes tides makes the top of my list also in the “difficult to explain and comprehend” category.

    Tavita (#19): Thanks for the paper. I downloaded it and am in the process of reading it. It is lengthy!! But I’m looking forward to it.

    Hal: The confusion lies in saying things rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere without taking into account movement in the vertical direction. Subtropical gyres (major subtropical surface ocean currents) do rotate clockwise in the northern hemisphere when you look at the world from space. But this is because on a broad scale subtropical gyres are downwelling zones. So if in the subtropical northern hemisphere you were to take a picture of a hurricane from space, the rotartion would look counter-clockwise seemingly in defiance of the Coriolis effect. BUT in reality Coriolis tells us moving objects will be deflected to the RIGHT in the northern hemisphere within the frame of reference of their movement direction. Hurricanes are low pressure zones, so in essence air is moving up. So you would have to look at the hurricane from the land or sea surface and not from space to determine its direction of rotation. And if you looked up from the surface at the hurricane, it would be rotating clockwise (deflection to the right). Hope that makes sense.

    Paul Dietz: By heat I mean infrared (long wavelength) radiation. So we get all kinds of radiation from the sun, but what I understood from what Raypierre told me is that because the sun is so hot, most of the radiation it emits is in the shorter wavelength range, though it does emit infrared also. This is all within the context of “the ozone hole does not leak solar heat” idea which is the misconception under discussion in relation to this topic :)

  31. 81
    Hank Roberts says:

    Jim, one difference between advocacy and science is that to do science, you are responsible for fairly presenting all the information, while as an advocate you may honorably present only that most favorable to your desired result.

    Would you add this information to your file, if you’re representing what you know as being science?

    “Table 2 shows the change in reported cancer cases before and following the Chernobyl accident. The
    post-accident incidence per million rose by as much as a factor of 200 from pre-1986 levels with an
    apparent latent period as short as 4 to 5 years. Tronko et al. (1999) report 577 cases of thyroid cancer in
    Ukraine between 1986 and 1997. Buglova et al. (1996) report that the incidence in boys is 50% higher
    than in girls. Goldman (1997) predicts that the ultimate number of cases will reach between 3000 and
    6000. The normal incidence of child thyroid cancer is low, typically less than 0.5 cases per million.”

    and

    “Before the 1986 accident, natural background radiation levels in Slavutych were 0.009 to
    0.012 mrem/h (78 to 105 mrem/yr). Measurements made by the Radioecology Department of the
    Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1999 show that approximately 14.8 mrem/yr could be attributed to accident-
    related contamination. Background radiation levels in the wooded areas surrounding Slavutych are on the
    order of 0.03 mrem/h. ”

    Original document here:
    http://www.osti.gov/bridge/servlets/purl/15001501-53Vm14/native/15001501.pdf

    Note the title at the top of page 1 is unrelated to this content, which begins at page 4.
    HTML here:
    http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:A0o92AolbjYJ:www.osti.gov/bridge/servlets/purl/15001501-53Vm14/native/15001501.pdf+%2Bchernobyl+%2B%22exclusion+zone%22+%2Bchange+%2Btransuranics&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=4&gl=us&client=firefox-a

    It’s basically an optimistic report.

  32. 82
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re #42 Koeten:
    Another book you might want to read is “Great Ideas in Physics,” by Alan Lightman (McGraw Hill). Lightman, a physicist turned professor of humanities at MIT) discusses fundamental concepts of physics (first and second laws of thermodynamics, theory of relativity, and quantum mechanics) from a conceptual and historical point of view, keeping the mathematics to a bare minimum.

    By browsing in used book stores (esp. in a college town), you can find old textbooks on virtually any subject that interests you. However, the problem with reading an introductory college text on, say biology, is that it has so much information it can be overwhelming; that is where a formal course can be useful, as the instructor can help guide you through the most important topics. But, when it comes to science, perhaps more valuable than any book, or college course, is just observing the world around you: If you are not already doing so, go for walks outdoors, at different times of day, in the woods, along the beach, in the mountains, along a stream, and just observe nature; or set up a bird feeder in your back yard and start watching the birds that show up; plant a garden and start thinking about the lives of plants, and what is going on in the soil; spend a couple of hundred dollars on a decent telescope (or a good pair of binoculars) and start watching the night sky (and listening to the sounds of nocturnal animals, while you are at it). And ask questions about what you are seeing, and hearing. Then, start looking for answers… you’ll probably find that simple questions usually lead to more questions, and you’ll end up digging deeper and deeper into subjects you never thought about before. That is how scientists learn – they tend to be very curious, and ask a lot of questions. But, unlike most people, they need answers, and they get frustrated when they can’t find answers, or when they find answers that don’t seem to make sense. So, they start looking for answers on their own, and they often end up somewhere very different from where they thought they were headed. That is basically how the history of science progressed over several hundred years, and it is how the research careers of many, perhaps most, scientists progressed.

    While I agree with others that it is never too late to enroll in college, you don’t need a college degree, or even a college course, to be curious and to start finding answers to your questions on your own (esp. with the resources now available on the internet).

  33. 83
    Glen Fergus says:

    #76 Perhaps the point is that if you look at the hurricane from our side, looking up, instead of from the astronaut’s side, looking down, the (northern hemisphere) rotation is clockwise.

    A feel for the nature and scale of the Coriolis “force” can be had by considering a Foucault pendulum. The huge pendulum’s swing rotates slowly in our frame of reference because of the Coriolis effect. A moment’s thought will lead to the obvious conclusion that the effect is going to be far to slow and slight to influence a toilet flush or bath plug vortex…

  34. 84
    Kaoten says:

    First of all, thank you so much, all of you. Your encouragements, help and brilliant attitude is heartwarming and deeply appreciated.

    I’ll be spending the evening (and the rest of the weekend) examining the suggestions you’ve made so far, including trying to figure out how feasible it is to sign up for classes. Hopefully it’ll give me some idea of how to address my ignorance Monday, as I’ve already arranged to take the morning off.

    As I said, I’m enormously grateful for your support, but I think I need to make a couple of things clear, and I’d like to comment on a few of your suggestions as well.

    Obviously I’m looking to learn more than simply how the world I live in works. I want to know why. It’s the same curiosity that got me to start a business. I never had a problem understanding what my old bosses told me, but the why was rarely obvious to me. Now I understand, earn less, and my hair’s gone gray.

    The big difference between the two, from my perspective, is that I at least knew the trade, but don’t in this case. Obviously I’ve had to learn quite a few things no 8th grader can be expected to know, but I think I need to make it perfectly clear that it’s at most things that will be of incidental use in trying to understand how nature’s put together. So at the chance of sounding like a complete tosser, I think it’s best if you attempt to make your suggestions relevant to an 8th grader. Like I said, I’d like to understand why things work like they do, not just that ‘they do because they do’. If nothing else, it’d be awfully nice to be able to explain to the kid we’re having, why clouds don’t fall down.

    “Even scientists at the pinnacle of their careers with degrees from prestigious schools are confronted with their ghastly ignorance about something every day.” – Figen Mekik

    This may sound a bit selfindulgent, but I can’t shake the feeling the scales involved are different by an order of several magnitudes. It’s the ‘special knowledge’ versus ‘general knowledge’ thing, I think. But I’ll send you ignorant scientists/science nerds a kind thought when I chew my way through your suggested reading ;)

    “The first question I have for you is: What is it you want to learn? You will have much more success getting through the inevitable dry parts of any subject if you know you’ll be rewarded with understanding something that interests you down the road.” – Ray Ladbury.

    Everything? I don’t know that I need to learn anything about language, but I’m in no position to be sure. I absolutely need to learn a great deal of math. I’ve obviously had to learn some already, but far from enough. Especially since I rely heavily on software to do much of the work for me. Isn’t it curious how computers allow even a comparative savage to run a company?

    My interest is completely general. I know nothing of physics, chemistry, biology, geology or any other -ology. To be blunt, I don’t understand the world I’m part of, but I greatly desire to. I’m no mystic or anything, but the test made it perfectly clear to me that I simply don’t know anything at all, about anything. It’s clear to me that my entire worldview consists of vaguely formulated induction, and that’s simply not satisfactory to me. If nothing else, I want to at least be sure that my participation in the democratic process isn’t based in what can only be called superstition. I’m painfully aware that’s what it has been, so far.

    “Good luck and feel free to contact me offline as your program progresses.” – Ray Ladbury.

    Thank you very much. I just might do that.

    “Go back to school.” – Elizabeth.

    I’d like to, and hopefully I’ll have cleared up by Monday if it’s at all possible for me right now. Unfortunately I doubt it is, but fortunately I have quite a lot of experience in self study (I’ve taught myself this language, for example). So hopefully all’s not lost if classes aren’t an option.

    “visit a local Community College or University and go to their bookstore.” – Robert Bergen.

    I will, thank you. I don’t consider my age an obstacle (I’m only 30), I just don’t have a lot of maneuvering room in my schedule.

    “Have you heard of the Open Courseware project at MIT.” – Ray Ladbury.

    It would be fantastic if some decent teachers with enough spare time, got together and organised some real online education. Hopefully it’ll happen soon, but in the mean time; if you have the resources to try something like that, do give it a shot. I’ve spoken to a number of the people I associate with since my last post, and while I’m alone in my desire to seriously educate myself, I know at least 12 people who’d jump at a chance to learn a bit of maths, physics and biology if there was an easy way to get started.

    “No theory of everything jazz, just the basics like classical mechanics and thermodynamics and the like that affect things most people come in contact with.” – Bruce.

    Thanks a lot. String theory and the like is all very amusing, but you’re completely right that it’s not what I’m asking. I’d need a PhD. in physics to understand it, and though I’ll not rule out I might want one some day, some basic maths and chemistry is more relevant just now.

    Again, thank you all. You have been incredibly kind and helpful, and please don’t stop if you have further suggestions. I’ll be checking back regularly and try to find out what to buy, who to talk to and what to talk to them about. And I am deeply humbled by your eagerness to get me on the right track. I hope I’ll be able to return the favour to someone, some day.

    Have a great weekend all of you. Regards, Kaoten.

  35. 85
    BillOGoods says:

    As an educated “layman,” my question for Ray Ladbury, comment 29, who said:

    “Ironically, this fear can be even greater if the “layman” is educated in some specialized discipline, but not, say, in climate. In this case, much of the ego of the layman may be tied up in considering himself intelligent–and not to tell him he doesn’t understand something may be considered an affront. I think it was Mark Twain who said, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    (a) Why do you exempt “climatologists” from Twain’s aphorism? Why should “laymen” presume they “know” anything about what is causing short term warming when they can’t explain warming or cooling in any of the periods in the earth’s long past. Who’s thinking scientifically now?
    (b) Why do you paraphrase Twain, then place it in quotations as if this is precisely what he said? Isn’t that a misrepresentation and potentially misleading?
    (c) Good analogy to information asymmetry, “IA,” however, and why people might reject what they intuitively know they don’t understand. Since economics is really just the study of human action and, therefore, one of those “useless” social sciences, it unfortunately doesn’t appear to have gotten the currency it deserves here. The warmists and climatologists ought to have a little more understanding about “IA” and, then, maybe they’d have a bit more honesty about revealing what they don’t know or understand.

  36. 86
    Chuck Booth says:

    Re # 85 BillOGoods:
    You seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding of science and scientists. Scientists confront their ignorance every day – that is why they do research, to find answers to that which they do not know. There is no question that some scientists are arrogant in thinking that they know more than they do about a particular topic, and they often get rebuked by other scientists (and non-scientists) for that arrogance -unfortunately, that is simply human nature, esp. with people who make a living by learning vast amounts of information. I’m quite sure there is not a significant field of human inquiry that isn’t full of unanswered questions. But, just because scientists (or economists, or historians) don’t know everything, doesn’t mean they know nothing. If you read the posts by the RealClimate scientists at this site – not the comments, most of which are by non-climatologists- you will see that they readily admit what they do, and don’t know. For you to suggest that “they can’t explain warming or cooling in any of the periods in the earth’s long past” is, well, a sign of your ignorance of climate science.

  37. 87
    James says:

    Re #75: [The "really big accident" that Levenson writes about is hypothetical, in the sense that it has never happened, but might some day.]

    I think it can be argued that Chernobyl was that “really big accident”: that it was pretty close to being as bad as a reactor accident could possibly be. A large chunk of the core melted down, and (since there was no containment at all) was dispersed about the landscape by the graphite fire. And the effects on the public were magnified by Soviet-era policies of concealment & disinformation.

  38. 88
    Philippe Chantreau says:

    Kaoten, age is irrelevant. I had to go back to school a first time at 28 and a second time at 35 for complete career changes. I had the advantage of having a rather solid fundation in science from my high school days, which definitely made things easier, but motivation was the key. I went to a community college where I had to do a number of basic courses before starting the specialized practical stuff, and I loved it. Sometimes I used to just deambulate in the library and look at books by subject matter, dreaming that I could have the time to learn at least basics in every one of them!

    If there is one practical tip I can give you, it would be this one: take some math courses and don’t let go of any subject in those before you are comfortable with it. In high school, I studied biology, chemistry, physics, and maths. Of all these, maths is an outstanding way to learn intellectual rigor, good reasoning, even logics. It shapes the mind in a way that enables you to tackle any other scientific subject, and many non scientific ones. Even though I did not perform very well in maths in high school (I was too lazy to do the necessary homework!), what little was left of it years later was still invaluable. I am looking forward to learning more as soon as life circumstances will allow.

  39. 89
    John Sully says:

    On the Coriolis force: I learned back of the envolope forcasting of wind direction (from yacht racing) with the rule: in the northen hemisphere wind flows from high pressure to low pressure with a twist to the right. In most cases this works on the short term in normal conditions. For hurricanes (with an intense low pressure center) should rotate counter clockwise since from any point on the outside of the low pressure center the wind flowing in would be deflected to the right (when looked at from above). What am I missing here?

  40. 90
    Edward Greisch says:

    See: http://www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26-34/text/coalmain.html
    The average coal-fired power plant puts as much radiation into the environment as the Chernobyl accident did, but over a period of about 7 years. The difference is that nobody measures the radiation from the coal-fired power plant.
    At least 73 elements found in coal-fired plant emissions are distributed in millions of pounds of stack emissions each year. They include:
    Aluminum Chromium Molybdenum
    Antimony Cobalt Nickel
    Arsenic Copper Selenium
    Barium Fluorine Silver
    Beryllium Iron Sulfur
    Boron Lead Titanium Thorium
    Cadmium Magnesium Uranium
    Calcium Manganese Vanadium
    Chlorine Mercury Zinc
    Chinese industrial grade coal is sometimes stolen by peasants for cooking. The result is that the whole family dies of arsenic poisoning because Chinese industrial grade coal contains large amounts of arsenic. Coal from Perry, Illinois contains up to 103 parts per million of uranium.

  41. 91
    Fredrik says:

    Figen, I have read your post and comments about the Coriolis effect and I cant understand what you are trying to say. Post 89 is correct. The wind rotate counter clock wise around a low pressure system (as a hurricane) and clockwise around a high pressure system (seen from above but in the reference earth reference fram). Why should the vertical motion matter when it is very slow compared to the horizontal motion? I might start to understand what you are trying to say but your use of reference frames is confusing.

  42. 92
    pete best says:

    All of this just goes to show why Governments and hence nations rely on a small number of experts (2500 in the IPCC’s case) to give us the diagnosis that the Earth is becomming a little ill. The reason why everyone is so up in arms about its findings and reticence is rife is simply because humanity is not that strategic in nature. No one can currently see past the fossil fuels that we currently use and vested interests are so deeply entrenched and fortunes made and lost in this arean that I sincerely doubt that 2 deg C tempeature rise will be avoided before we move to something else if that something else exists at all.

  43. 93
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Re 85: BillOGoods, I don’t know if you’re just a post ‘n run skeptic or whether you’ll check for replies, but here goes. First, climate scientists are not immune to the foibles of humanity, but one is more likely to err the further one strays from ones field of expertise. We see this in climatologists when they stray into fields like economics. In order to understand climate, one must have at least a reasonable understanding of meteorology, so a climatologist is probably less likely to say something astoundingly stupid about meteorology.
    Second, it is not arrogance to insist that one know what one in fact knows. Climate science is actually a fairly mature science. We understand the drivers of climate and mostly how they interact. We can predict the effects of perturbations, such as the Pinatubo eruption. To contend that we do not understand past climate is a mischaracterization. The further one goes back the more difficult it becomes to reconstruct all the factors, but at least in broad outline, we understand Earth’s climate history going back hundreds of millions of years. Do we expect economists to understand everything about the economic forces that gave rise to feudalism in Medieval Europe? Yet we feel we understand the period sufficiently well to see how it fits into European history as a whole. I’m sure I’ll be accused of becoming Helen Quinn’s biggest fan, but I again suggest reading her essay from the January Physics Today:
    http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-60/iss-1/8_1.html
    BTW, the Twain quote is as close as I can reconstruct it, and I have seen this version many times. Twain, however, had a tendency to paraphrase himself, and reuse many of his best lines over and over. Therefore, I consider any quote attributed to him both a quote and a paraphrase.
    I for one do recognise the value of economists in this debate. However, in concert with the admonition of Mr. Clemens, would it not be more reasonable for economists to ensure that remedial action on climate change is economically sound rather than trying to discredit the science in which they are not expert. There are plenty of climate experts looking over each others’ shoulders for the slightest flaw in their rivals’ research. If they find such a flaw–particularly one that implies a revolutionary change in our outlook on the climate–it is strongly in their interest to publicize that flaw and enhance their own reputation.
    Again, as Chuck said, climate scientists are very clear about what they do and do not know. This clarity is sometimes obscured in media reports (usually erring on the side of the science being more uncertain or the consequences more sensational). In this, climate science is not unique, but the high profile of the subject draws more attention to such media distortions.

  44. 94
    Figen Mekik says:

    Hello John Sully and Fredrik,

    Sorry my wording was confusing, but we are saying the same thing. Of course winds rotate counter-clockwise (in the northern hemisphere) in low pressure systems (which is what I said-or tried to say). But the confusion students have is if everything is deflected to the right in the northern hemisphere, how come subtropical ocean gyres rotate clockwise and hurricanes rotate counter-clockwise (opposite directions)? To explain what looks like opposite I tried to say we are looking from space and not within the frame of reference of the moving object. That’s my point. So there is no directional paradox, everything is deflected to the right in the northern hemisphere, whether it is ocean or air. But, when looking at Earth from space (like a thought experiment if you will) in high pressure (air) or downwelling (ocean) zones the rotation appears clockwise, and in upwelling (ocean) or low pressure zones (air) rotation appears counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere. Subpolar ocean gyre rotate counterclockwise (in the northern hemisphere) for the same reason.

  45. 95
    Figen Mekik says:

    I just posted a reply to John and Fredrik that will be up soon, in case this goes up before that. But maybe I should have said perpective instaed of frame of reference, though perspective implies a subjectivity which may make it more confusing. Anyway, Glen Fergus (#83) has a more eloquent explanation.

  46. 96
    David Warkentin says:

    Kaoten -
    Here’s a link to MIT’s OpenCourseWare site:
    http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html
    A large number of courses have at least some content on line; some have quite a bit, up to and including video of lectures.

    Here’s a page with Real Media video of a complete set of lectures for 8.01, MIT’s first semester physics class (Physics I: Classical Mechanics):
    http://ocw.mit.edu/OcwWeb/Physics/8-01Physics-IFall1999/VideoLectures/index.htm

  47. 97

    [[While I am already familiar with most of the math subjects you mention, I am a fan of Asimov's and would like to read more of his scientific work. Which essays are you referring to? ]]

    For decades Asimov wrote a monthly column for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (“F&SF” in the trade) where he could talk about anything he wanted to. Most of the essays were about science, and they were collected in books in groups of seventeen. Some titles I remember offhand are The Tragedy of the Moon; Opus 100; Opus 200; The Sun Shines Bright; Quasar, Quasar, Shining Bright, etc. There are also recent expensive hardbacks with collections of 100 essays at a time (The Tyrannosaurus Prescription is available through Amazon), and a web site has a number of them available for free:

    http://www.asimovonline.com/oldsite/essay_guide.html

    Note that the early ones will have details or sometimes even concepts wrong, reflecting the times when they were written (roughly 1962-1992), but they often clue you in to general principles in a very useful way, and later ones sometimes correct or re-evaluate earlier ones.

    Essay collections by Carl Sagan (Broca’s Brain, The Cosmic Connection, etc.) are very good for astronomy, and those of Stephen Jay Gould (Hen’s Teeth and Horse’s Toes, The Panda’s Thumb, etc.) are great for evolutionary biology, with occasional forays (like Asimov, and Sagan) into other subjects.

  48. 98

    [[Reality is also that there have been two civilian nuclear reactor accidents with fatalities]]

    No, that’s not reality, that’s industry spin. Partly it depends on how they disingenuously define “civilian” deaths. There were fatalities twice at a Virginia reactor, at a Russian reactor, at a Czech reactor, in fueling operations happening back to the Manhattan Project, and several times in Soviet nuclear sub reactor accidents (not “civilian,” like the American SL-1 accident, which, incidentally, may have been the first case of deliberate nuclear sabotage, a problem which remains). I’m getting a list together which I’ll post publicly when I have the time.

    Again, the danger is of a big accident, which Dukelow very rightly notes hasn’t happened yet. Of course, there isn’t much of a worldwide nuclear industry yet, except possibly in France. What are there, 200 nuclear power plants worldwide? Or 500?

    There are also the problems involved with storing the wastes, and with the opportunities for terrorists when large amounts of nuclear materials are moving around the country. There have been many incidents where soldiers sold or stole weaponry, even advanced weaponry, from US military bases. Are reactor operators less corruptible?

  49. 99
    Fredrik says:

    Figen, I still dont understand what you try to say.

    “To explain what looks like opposite I tried to say we are looking from space and not within the frame of reference of the moving object. That’s my point. So there is no directional paradox, everything is deflected to the right in the northern hemisphere, whether it is ocean or air.”

    I belive you haven’t understood the forces involved. Everything should be measured against the earth.

    Different forces act on the air (wind) and water in the oceans. First the air. A parcel of air feels a force in the direction of the center of a low pressure system. It wants to move in that direction but get deflacted to the right by the corolis force. After a while is the corolis force and the force from the low pressure system equal in size and of opposite direction. Thus the air is moving counter clock wise around the lowpressure system. No different perspective or anyting.

    http://earth.usc.edu/~stott/Catalina/Oceans.html

    The gyres seems to be equalent to a high pressure system. Thus the difference in rotation.

    The corolis force only acts on objects that is moving and the properties on the force that make the movement determine the direction of rotation. An airplane with a force in the moving direction is going to make a large slow clockwise circle. A particle in a attracting radial (correct name?) force field is going to rotate counterclock wise around the center and a particle in a reppelling radial force field is going to rotate clockwise around the center.

  50. 100
    Fredrik says:

    I did a misstake in my post above. The lowpressure force and the coriolis force is not going to be equal. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Coriolis_effect10.png


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