Unforced variations: May 2012

401 comments on this post.
  1. Joseph O'Sullivan:

    #90 (Lucy Lacie)

    If you want to go into advocacy where your primary job is doing something about global warming and trying to reverse its effects you could focus on getting a job with an advocacy group.

    One path you could take is getting a a BS in science, going to law school then working with an environmental protection group. Lawyers play a very important part in the effort to protect the environment. Another is getting a PhD and becoming a scientist then working with an environmental group. Scientists also play a very important part.

    It is hard to get a full-time paying job with an enironmental group though. There is lots of work to do, but not lots of money to pay people to do it.

    One option is to do what I do, have a job where you make your living at and spend a few hours a week volunteering for a group that works on making a change.

  2. Susan Anderson:

    Lucie Lacey,

    I would strongly second the advice to master basic math, particularly calculus as advanced as you can get it, no matter how difficult it might seem at your level, advanced placement if you can get it, and the physical sciences available to you.

    One of the reasons I falter with science now is that I didn’t continue with calculus after the first part, which was easy. No matter what subject you pursue, it will be of great value to master maths. I don’t know what kind of statistics are available, but that too might be useful. You will have a head start with this and will be able to spend more time with the fascinating ramifications if the math does not get in the way.

  3. Susan Anderson:

    sorry about misspelling your name, Lucy … my bad.

  4. David B. Benson:

    Dedicated to certain persistent posters here:

  5. Charles:

    Hey, Lucy! You’ve received some great advice. As Chris and others have said, you may well change your mind about where you want to go, but even then there will be many options open to you.

    One additional piece of advice. As you move along in your academic career, you may find yourself attracted to the work of certain scientists (or environmentalists, journalists, etc.). Follow their work. When it comes time to go to grad school–especially at the doctoral level–pick a school because you want to work with a certain person or people. Get in touch with them before you apply. That’s what I did, and it was the smartest thing I’ve ever done. That person became my mentor and shepherded me through the trials and tribulations, the joys and ecstasies of grad school. We have published together, gone to conferences together, she helped me get an academic position when I graduated, and we still work together.

    Look at Kate–she is now working in Andrew Weaver’s lab at UVic!

  6. Dan Schillereff:

    Lucy – I will offer my personal perspective which I think highlights points made by many above. I am a Grad student working on lake sediment records looking at relationships between climate and Holocene sediment and carbon flux and extreme events. I studied environmental science and geography at Undergraduate level which was thoroughly enjoyable and extremely interesting, but I made limited effort to focus on maths and physics. That is now coming back to bite me in the behind bigtime… I now emphasise to all UG’s I teach who are looking to select future modules that, at the very least make a committed effort to include maths OR physics in their future learning. Such efforts will certainly be rewarded many times over in a career path which evolves along any branch of earth science.

    Best of luck!

  7. J Bowers:

    According to Heartland, the WMO and every national science academy in the world are, “…murderers, tyrants, and madmen…”, on a par with the Unabomber and Osama bin Laden. Who pulls out of the Heartland Conference and who doesn’t will be a very good filter of who’s grounded in reality and who signs on to crazy think.

    “4. But isn’t it true that 98 percent of climate scientists believe in global warming?
    No, this is just a myth that gets repeated over and over by global warming advocates. The alleged sources of this claim are two studies. “

    Oh, really? Surveys of scientists’ views on climate change

  8. Relucticant:

    Appeal to authority is always a fallacy in scientific pursuit. I think we all agree that in the end the scientific merit of a theory or fact, that is its predictive power or agreement with observations, and what can be inferred from them are what matters. If an authority’s claims are based on ‘true’ premises his expertise is not needed, otherwise it is fallacious. Wikipedia’s definition might not agree, but that article is bad (and an authority ;-)), just read the “talk” page for some convincing arguments. Appeal to authority can be justified under strained circumstances e.g. if there is no time to evaluate the arguments. In such cases, the argumentative portion should be forfeited and the appeal to authority made clear.

    @Ray Ladbury (#71):
    “Appeal to authority is NOT in and of itself a fallacy. The fallacy of appeal to authority occurs when the said authority is not an expert on the question being considered. We would not consult Stephen Hawking on jumpshot technique, for instance.”

    I argue that it is. Expertise is irrelevant when the facts themselves can be examined.

    “The fact of the matter is that an expert’s opinion of the evidence is more likely to have value than that of a layman. Appealing to valid authority is a perfectly valid technique in rhetoric.

    I doubt most people would proscribe to the view that a layman’s opinion is more likely to have value. However, why do statistics with perceived truthiness of opinions instead of the factuality of the claims themselves? If you take rhetoric to be the art of convincing then sure it is allowed, however, so would be ad hominem and the straw man.

    @robert (#74):
    “Relucticant (#61): Dan H’s “appeal to authority” argument is misapplied. Citing the overwhelming consensus of a rather large expert community is not an appeal to authority — it is an “appeal to the conclusions of a rather large expert community.”

    This is semantic juggling; it is a very clear case of appeal to authority. The point of “appeal to authority” being a fallacy is that by doing so you devaluate the absolute importance of facts if you proscribe to expertise itself as being important.

    Scientific data, as you request,is discussed — by the rather large expert community. But detailed discussion of this data among the lay public is pointless. We have expert communities because they are needed. Can you imagine Ed Witten and Steven Weinberg having a detailed discussion of the ins and outs of string theory with the lay public (policymakers, the Heartland Institute, your skeptical uncle)? An “appeal to the overwhelming consensus of a rather large expert community” is entirely appropriate for complex topics, and is not equivalent to an “appeal to authority” as envisaged by our beleaguered Dan H.

    That the “general public” does not have the time or capacity to evaluate the facts does not make it less of a fallacy. They can decide based on authority, but then lose the claim to truth. The only way of using “appeal to authority” to critize Dan H. would be if he said something along the lines of: “Not counteracting climate change is the best policy option because Freeman Dyson says so”, you could use even grander authorities to counteract but even then, without examining the facts, can you really weight experts?

  9. Susan Anderson:

    The latest Heartland madness is indeed beyond the pale. Billboards up, have to admit any requirement to be civil pales in the face of this treasonous poisonous dangerous stuff.


    Tenney Naumer has posted this and an interesting item about how Mark Boslough “abused” Harrison Schmidt because he pointed out a few scientific facts about his supposed “work”:
    substance from:

  10. Ray Ladbury:

    Relucticant: “Appeal to authority is always a fallacy in scientific pursuit.”

    I am sorry, but this is just dumb. Science is more than a simple dry recitation of evidence. It is a creative process of weaving the evidence into an understanding of the underlying system. You can even have two different scientists presented with the same evidence and giving identical interpretations of it, but one scientist’s opinion will be of greater worth than that of his colleague because it is based on deeper understanding.

    Case in point: The seeming nonconservation of energy and momentum in beta decay of nuclei. Bohr and Heisenberg were advocating abandonment of strict conservation of energy and momentum, contending instead that they held “on average”. Pauli posited the existence of third particle in the decay process–which unfortunately had neither charge nor mass, and therefore was undetectable according to the physics of the day. Both positions could account for the observations, but both positions coming from lesser physicists would have been dismissed as absurd. In the end, Pauli won out, and some 20 years later, the neutrino was discovered.

    Another case: Dirac developed a truly beautiful relativistic theory of quantum mechanics–only one problem: it posited that every electron ought to have a shadow particle with opposite charge, etc. Initially Dirac thought the positive counterpart was the proton, but unfortunately the masses were wrong. So Dirac did something unthinkable–he contended that the “antiparticles” were real. He was right because he went beyond what the evidence would support.

    Science is about predictive power even more than it is about observation. To contend that all that matters is evidence and that all the scientists are mere cogs betrays a deep misunderstanding of how science actually works.

    [Response:I’d have to say that I agree with Relucticant on this. He’s basically just saying that relying on authority, per se, potentially gets you into real trouble. And it does. We rely on experts because we can’t all be experts in everything ourselves, i.e. for practical reasons. But such experts are still fully capable of making mistakes, even big ones.–Jim]

  11. R. Gates:

    I would like to know of any current research related to heat flux across the ocean skin layer that anyone knows about. In particular I’m interested in looking at what might be suggested by the affect of increasing downwelling LW on the top of the ocean skin layer in affecting the thermal gradient across that layer. I know there was some research done several years ago, but I can find no real followup to this. Given that the majority of the energy from the imbalance caused by increasing greenhouse gas concentrations appears to be going into the oceans, it seems a mechanism to explain how this energy is getting into the oceans is critical. One could posit that it is not so much that downwelling LW is the actual mechanism warming the ocean, but rather, it is acting as a control knob of sorts, dictating the rate of of flow of energy from ocean to atmosphere. Most of the energy getting into the oceans comes from direct solar SW, but downwelling LW increasing at the top of the oean skin layer might be the regulator for how rapidly this heat flows back from ocean to atmopshere. Any suggested research on this?

  12. J Bowers:

    107 — “Appeal to authority is always a fallacy in scientific pursuit.”

    But appeal to expert authority in making policy decisions and while assessing risks is the wiser person’s path to take.

  13. Meow:

    @110: “Why greenhouse gases heat the ocean” (from 2006) describes an experiment on this topic. Others here will certainly know of more-recent work.

  14. MARodger:

    Further to the comment @107 & the Heartland Conference with its posters & bizarre comments. “This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.
    I was surprised to see the Heartland Institute listing a British MP as a speaker at its conference. Even the most right-wing Tory MP would be hard-pressed to get away with a stint like that without severe repremand & press attention.
    However, the Heartland’s speaker, Roger Helmer, is not an MP but an MEP which is a very different kettle of fish. Until recent weeks Roger Helmer MEP was a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group, “a shoddy and shaming alliance,” according to the Economist & “a bunch of nutters, anti-Semites, homophobes and climate-change deniers,” according to the present UK Deputy Prime Minsiter.
    Helmer felt increasingly uncomfortable even within this grouping as the UK Consiervative Party’s policies (he had to sort of pay lip service to) were not to his liking.
    So he jumped ship and joined the even more extreme and less relevant UKIP. On that basis he will probably enjoy his trip to Chicago and not have the worry of returning to a political storm.

  15. Ray Ladbury:

    My problem with Relucticant’s argument is that he is saying that appeal to authority is a fallacy. It is not. Certainly appeal to authority is not infallible, but neither is evidence. In reality, evidence is rarely ever 100% definitive.

    There is the evidence and then there is what the evidence allows you to say–complete with probabilities and confidence levels. I have little confidence in the analysis of evidence by a neophyte. In the hands of an expert, the same evidence can tell us a lot. Now granted, the analysis of the expert should be replicated independently–but again, that is not simply empirical evidence. A strong, independent consensus of experts provides confidence that the interpretation of the evidence is unambiguous. Varying opinion among experts highlights ambiguity–and those are important conclusions.

  16. Steve Fish:

    I just got my copy of the Skeptic and it has a pretty decent article, Climate Change Q&A, with a section on denial by Donald R. Prothero. Skeptic Magazine vol. 17, #2, 1012, pg. 14. It starts with the recent Wall Street Journal Opinion Editorial.


  17. Susan Anderson:

    MARodger@~114: The Guardian (Leo Hickman) contacted Helmer who had this to say:

    You also have to wonder if any of the scheduled conference speakers are now having doubts about whether they want to be associated with Heartland. One person who is on the list to speak is Roger Helmer, a British politician who has attended previous conferences. Having recently left the Conservative party as an MEP, the prominent climate sceptic is now the UK Independence Party’s spokesperson on industry and energy.
    Earlier, I sent him an email with a link to Heartland’s poster campaign press release and asked him: “Will you now be reconsidering attending in light of this new poster campaign for the conference? Do you approve of or condemn the poster campaign?”

    He confirmed he was still attending, adding:

    I am delighted that the Heartland campaign for the Chicago climate conference has succeeded in its purpose and attracted the attention of the Guardian. I urge Guardian readers to attend the conference if they can, but failing that, to follow it on the web.


    Since they refused Mark Boslough because he dared to point out science to Harrison Schmidt on the basis that he was unfair, .if we want the one true word we have to follow but not critique. So much for skepticism.

    This also speaks to the problem with not acknowledging any level of authority. We can’t go on forever building from the ground up. At some point there has to be a baseline of agreed reality until somebody actually proves it is not so.

  18. Stephen Baines:


    “Expertise is irrelevant when the facts themselves can be examined.”

    Don’t you often need expertise simply to examine the facts? And in assessing the information don’t you by definition gain expertise?

    Isn’t it impossible to function in life without holding opinions on subjects in which we are not expert? Should we not then be judicious in terms of whose opinion we trust with respect to topics in which we are not expert? And is it not best that such judgement be based on the level of expertise exhibited by the source of that opinion?

    I agree that blind appeal to authority makes no sense, but surely the denial of any role of expertise is just a form of naive intellectual nihilism.

  19. Meow:


    [Heartland’s latest actions] also speak[] to the problem with not acknowledging any level of authority. We can’t go on forever building from the ground up. At some point there has to be a baseline of agreed reality until somebody actually proves it is not so.

    You have unearthed denialism’s philosophical root, which is to cast doubt on the concept that we can know anything at all. It’s nihilism all the way down.

    CAPTCHA: Orleans rveingu

  20. Edward Greisch:

    RE: “A Fresh Look at Clouds, and Heat, in the Greenhouse”
    Searching RealClimate for “cloud” gets about 1,130 results. WOW! That is too much for me to summarize.

  21. Russell:

    Boundary layer mixing can cool as well as warm

    Sometimes with spectacular effect- like creating a fogbank downwind and on shore.

  22. Killian:

    “Jesús R. says:2 May 2012 at 2:22 PM

    I thought CO2 couldn’t be sucked from the atmosphere, but I’ve just bumped into this paper (via BNC):

    “The analysis indicates that CO2 capture from air for climate change mitigation is technically feasible using off-the-shelf technology.”

    Stolaroff, Keith & Lowry 2008. Carbon dioxide capture from atmospheric air using sodium hydroxide spray. Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Apr 15;42(8):2728-35. (SI)

    I’d be interested in reading your views on this, especially since, in my view, people tend to be very techno-optimist, in the case of climate change usually making a parallelism with the Malthusian predictions and the Green Revolution.

    [Response: There’s a big difference between technically feasible and cost effective. If it costs $400/ton Carbon, then there are a lot of other things that one would do first with the money that would be more effective. – gavin]”

    The solutions are simple: Plant forests, grow food via carbon farming/regenerative/natural farming. Go ahead, keep debating things that *might* work or that *might* be cost effective and keep ignoring those that already do work and are already cost effective. Lots of other things *can* be considered, but why not start with those things that need no further consideration?

    Natural/Carbon/Regenerative farming: http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/files/Rodale_Research_Paper-07_30_08.pdf

    Regrowing forest systems: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vfuCPFb8wk

    From Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biosequestration

    “A recent report by the Australian CSIRO found that forestry and forest-related options are the most significant and most easily achieved carbon sink making up 105 Mt per year CO2-e or about 75 per cent of the total figure attainable for the Australian state of Queensland from 2010-2050. Among the forestry options, the CSIRO report announced, forestry with the primary aim of carbon storage (called carbon forestry) clearly has the highest attainable carbon storage capacity (77 Mt CO2-e/yr) and is one of the easiest options to implement compared with biodiversity plantings, pre-1990 eucalypts, post 1990 plantations and managed regrowth.[6]”

    Stopping desertification, growing food in the desert: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gPvsl9ni-4

  23. Killian:

    Lucy Lacie,

    We are well past the point where understanding the science is the most integral aspect of change, though I am not intending to dissuade from that path. We are moving into the “doing” phase, however, and it is there that the next round of heroes will be coming from.

    While still in school, get your head full of systems theory, non-linear and chaotic systems, and get to know how the world works – really works – in all phases. When you have an understanding of the underlying structure of the world, develop your climate knowledge, put energy, population, environment and social change into the equation, you’ll then be in better position to decide whether your gifts are best applied to developing the science, social change, activism, or simply building the necessary future.

    You may decide to study science and climate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on to do science. It might be that you use that background in political or social activism, or community-building, etc. I.e., if you’re not sure by the time you start university, that’s OK. Most of us figure that out *in* university… then 50% of us end up not working in the filed our degree is in! Let yourself explore until the light bulb goes on.

    Maybe you love science (I loved biology!), but is science where your gifts lie? You have to know yourself somewhat and be honest about yourself so you don’t try to shoehorn yourself into something that doesn’t fit you.

    My 2 cents.

    BTW, another relatively young, female scientists who is doing important climate work is Katey Walter Anthony. Don’t know her at all, but she’s one of those doing work on the Arctic methane issue. Maybe she’d be responsive to inquiries.

    “what would you tell a young person who says science isn’t interesting?

    “I would say come with me, and we’ll jump around in the lake and watch as our clothes fill up with methane gas like a balloon.”


  24. DSL:

    I would think that consensus has more than a simple rhetorical function. Does it not determine the direction and speed of research? When is enough enough when working on some element of a theory? To use a far away example, how many more papers do we need on the Shakespeare authorship question (don’t say we didn’t need any to begin with; it’s just a harmless example . . . sort of). Consensus, in this way, works very practically through program directors, journal editors, peer reviewers, and grant providers. It’s a hypothesis, anyway. Have at it.

  25. Jim Larsen:

    “I’d have to say that I agree with Relucticant on this. He’s basically just saying that relying on authority, per se, potentially gets you into real trouble. And it does. We rely on experts because we can’t all be experts in everything ourselves, i.e. for practical reasons. But such experts are still fully capable of making mistakes, even big ones.–Jim”

    Yep, appeals to authority don’t belong in scientific papers in the field being appealed to (though citations can perform a similar function), but that’s non-contested and obvious. Indeed, the concept of appeal to authority is foreign inside a field’s scientific loop, but Relucticant’s point is somewhat off-topic in that the rest of us are only talking about outside of science, so to speak, by defining appropriate appeals to authority as within non-expert discussions. In that situation, appeal to authority is not just appropriate, but mandatory. If appeal to authority is wrong in all cases, then science is a fairly useless endeavour, as the rest of the planet would have to ignore the results. Your point, that experts can be wrong, is obvious and uncontested as well (Lindzen and The Team can’t both be right), but to have a productive point, you’d have to provide an alternative for the 99.99+% of humanity who currently rely on appeal to authority.

    I wonder how many climate science papers have been published that don’t rely on stated or unstated geological, biological, chemistry, engineering, or computer science, etcetera appeals to authority. As you inferred, without appeals to authority, advancement would continually slow and eventually hit a wall at the limits of individual lifespan (perhaps 50 years ago?). Calling an absolutely critical component of both advancement and the use of advances a fallacy is an abuse of the word.

    [Response:Yeah sure, but that isn’t even remotely what I said.–Jim]

    That’s probably why Denialists adore the phrase. This reminds me of the “It’s just a theory” argument. Mixing non-expert and expert expectations and appropriate actions and words just destroys discussion.

  26. J Bowers:

    “But such experts are still fully capable of making mistakes, even big ones.–Jim”

    97% of them? 3% seems a bit of an outlier, to me, Jim. Possible, but a slim chance, and one that should only be kept in the back of the mind when assessing risks for policy. Otherwise, we may as well take fifty different theories no matter how bizarre and apply 2% credibility, resources and funding to each, irrespective of the weight of expert opinions.

    [Response:The discussion there was a general one, on the principle of appeals to authority. Relucticant wasn’t specifically referring to views on AGW and neither was I. The more general point is that scientists are not perfect; they can make mistakes, and to the degree possible, one always wants to understand as fully as possible the principles one is relying on when doing whatever one is doing, and not to just take them as some kind of automatic black box. If you do that, you’re asking for trouble, especially in any complex science where there are many variables–and interactions between such–going on. This stuff is rarely if ever cookbook–Jim]

  27. Dave123:

    Responding to 122, grabbing CO2 from any gas stream is a problem of kinetics and thermodynamics. While I haven’t reviewed this lately, industrial processes that I’m aware of do not use sodium hydroxide to grab CO2 because the energy required to regenerate the sodium hydroxide is large compared to using amine compounds. According to Stolaroff’s abstract the cost of regenerating the capturing solution (solution recovery) is not included in the costs. For industrial recovery of CO2 this is where the critical costs occur. Thus the reason for trying sodium hydroxide is one of the kinetics of working with a low concentration source of CO2. Here also, Stollarof encounters costs due to evaporation of water in the contactor. I suspect that working with amines in high concentration in something like ethylene glycol or an ionic liquid would despite having higher capital costs have significantly lower overall operating costs.

    A new article has just been e-published on recovery of CO2 from the atmosphere by RD Schuiling from the Institute of Geosciences, Utrecht University. Unfortunately I’m away from my library connection or I’d look this up (and I don’t have my corporate SCOPUS access yet) (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 25th, 2012)

  28. Ray Ladbury:

    I think that appeal to authority is inevitable in science. Jim Larsen notes the role citations can play. The role of “expert opinion” in developing a Bayesian Prior probability distribution is also reliant on the authority of the expert(s). However, even in frequentist statistics, we rely on expertise every time we use a Student’s t distribution or F distribution or decide to treat data as normal. That we can justify the authority and trace it back to evidence does not diminish the role that authority plays.

    There is also the review process, where peer review represents an “expert opinion” that the research is worth considering. It is imperfect, but I’m a lot more likely to read a peer-reviewed article claiming Einstein was wrong than I am a dog-eared manuscript written in crayon.

  29. SecularAnimist:

    I must say that it is quite sad to watch this thread fill up with discussion of Dan H’s blatantly disingenuous “appeal to authority fallacy” nonsense.

    To begin with, classical rhetorical fallacies are relevant to formal debates conducted according to the rules of classical rhetoric.

    Science is not such a debate. Neither is the public discourse about anthropogenic global warming.

    However, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that we are in high school debate club, where such fallacies are relevant. The proposition before us is then:

    “The scientific consensus, as represented by the views of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who have actually conducted research, and who actually have deep knowledge and understanding of the scientific evidence, is that global warming is real, is caused by human activities, and represents a very real and increasing threat of severely destructive consequences.”

    Arguing FOR this proposition, we point to various polls of scientists, and to surveys of the published literature, and to public statements by a multitude of national scientific academies and international scientific organizations, ALL of which comprise actual data about what the scientific consensus actually is. All of our evidence strongly supports this proposition about the nature of that consensus.

    Arguing AGAINST this proposition, Dan H — who claims that “there is no scientific consensus” but rather “a raging debate” about the existence, causation and danger of AGW — offers NO FACTS, AND NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER to support his claim. Instead, he asserts that by pointing to this wealth of actual data about the actual scientific consensus, we are engaging in the “fallacy” of “appeal to authority”.

    But the proposition being “debated” is not about the reality, causation and danger of AGW. The proposition is about what the scientific consensus on those matters is. We are not presenting our evidence of the overwhelming scientific consensus as an appeal to the authority of that consensus to support any claims about AGW itself — but simply as direct, factual evidence that there IS such a consensus, and that its content is what we say it is.

    In short, the question being debated is “Is there a scientific consensus on AGW, and if so what is that consensus, and how strong is that consensus?” So, Dan H’s assertion that direct factual evidence of such a consensus is an “appeal to authority” is nonsense.

    Someone is engaging in a “fallacy” here — Dan H. Indeed, what he is doing is one of the most primitive and dishonest fallacies of all: changing the subject.

    Of course, since this is not a formal debate, but merely a discussion thread on a blog, complaints about classical rhetorical fallacies are irrelevant and, with all due respect, rather silly.

    And Dan H. is free to change the subject, or to engage in the various other forms of dishonesty which characterize his posts, since he is not engaged in a formal debate, but is merely trying to waste people’s time with BS.

  30. Hank Roberts:

    > Schuiling

    The answer to climate change is “go pound sand” it seems:


  31. Hank Roberts:

    Well, a bit more from Schuiling (smartstones.nl)

    “The strategy for enhanced weathering relies for a large part upon olivine mined in the wet tropics. This material is milled and the grains are spread over the surrounding area. With large olivine mines that are strategically distributed to limit transport distances, the whole operation (mining, milling and transport) will cost around 10 Euro/ton of captured CO2 (Steen and Borg, 2002). Negative effects on the environment are unlikely, because the same process has operated without a hitch throughout geological time.

    Every mine has an impact on the local environment. For olivine mines, this impact can be considerably reduced in the following way. Most dunite complexes in the tropical zone are deeply weathered, and covered with a thick lateritic residual soil, from which major elements like magnesium or silicon are almost completely leached. Iron is relatively immobile, and so is nickel, causing these immobile elements to become enriched in the residual soil. The nickel content may rise to several %, making these laterites rich nickel ores which are mined or explored in a number of countries (a.o. Australia, New Caledonia, Indonesia, Philippines, Madagascar, Malawi, Cuba, Brazil). These nickel-rich weathering crusts are underlain by fresh dunite. This makes them favorable locations for olivine mining as well. No need to clear a new site, the infrastructure for mining is in place, and there is a population that depends on mining for their livelihood. Environmental damage is reduced, the lead time to start an olivine mine is shortened, mining costs are less and the miners can keep their job.


    There is a clear case for enhanced weathering as the most cost-effective strategy for the removal of large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. This mineral carbonation process should not be burdened by needless additional technologies to speed up the reaction. One should adhere to the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) because additional technologies cost energy, and add to the costs.

    Enhanced weathering can be applied on farmland, plantations and forests, on beaches as well as on tidal flats. Collateral benefits are the addition of mineral nutrients to poor soils, increasing the productivity of acid soils, and helping to restore the pH of ocean water threatened by ocean acidification.”

  32. Bob Loblaw:

    Ray makes a point that occurred to me, too: the peer review system. The question in mind is “what gives that person ‘authority’?”

    Using climate as the example, is a person an authority because:

    – he/she has written and published many peer reviewed papers on that particular aspect of climate?
    – he/she has received many research grants for that aspect of climate?
    – he/she has written a book on the subject, used as a text in many university courses?
    – he/she has written a book published in the vanity press?
    – he/she did excellent research in particle physics?
    – he/she studied geology?
    – he/she studied economics?
    – he/she inherited a peerage?
    – he/she wrote hundreds of “letters to the editor”?
    – he/she had the courage to let others strap a rocket to his/her butt and and fly into space?
    – he/she did “weather” on TV?
    – he/she has a blog?

    Some of the above would carry a lot of weight. Others, not so much (when it comes to climatology – they may very well be “authorities” on some other subject). You can’t look at an “appeal to authority” without looking at what it is that the “authority” actually brings to the table.

    Authorities have opinions. As is often said “opinions are like sphincter muscles – every @$$hole has one”. Is it an “opinion”, or is it an “informed opinion”?

  33. Martin Vermeer:

    Certainly appeal to authority is not infallible, but neither is evidence.

    Ray, testimony by presumed authorities is evidence. Of a different kind. The problem of judging what it’s worth is the same.

  34. Ray Ladbury:

    Bob Loblaw,
    Back when I was writing for a certain quasi-popularized physics magazine, we had to assess expertise when evaluating whether a publication merited a news story or who to ask for an article or whether a particular topic was worth an article.

    Certainly one thing we looked at was peer-reviewed articles, but we also looked at citations. Also, over time you discuss scientist’s reputations and start to understand their agendas and whether they can put their agenda aside long enough to give a semi-objective view. There were always a few names in every subfield of physics that came to the top. They were not necessarily Nobel Laureates, but they had a strong record, a broad scope, knew the people in the field and could be relied upon to try to be objective. That is what I still look for today. The opiniions of uch people carry considerable weight, and they can have a significant influence on the consensus.

    OTOH, if a researcher is always pushing an agenda, no matter how good he is, people tend to downweight his opinion.

  35. Timothy Chase:

    Announcing CG (“Climate Guardian”) Detective…

    I put together a search tool for the Chrome browser a little while ago that some may like. On any webpage highlight the text you wish to search for, right-click and select the search. Options include the ability to add and remove searches, but the default set is for searches that may be of value to those interested in climatology. This should be of value to those who participate in online discussions or who are looking for background material on articles they are writing.

    CG Detective: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/cnmkjhpnnabjpnblmmedbiokpmfcadme

    There is a video of my using an earlier version on the other side the link. The most recent version of CG Detective includes over 30 different searches with the top search being of over 100 different websites and blogs. Instructions on how to add searches and other tools are included in the extension itself.

  36. Brian Dodge:

    James Hansen isn’t quite the same authority on climate as the Pope is on Catholic doctrine. Hansen is (generally) right, because he has a command of the science. The Pope is (always) right because he’s the Pope, and in command of the church.

    There’s also a statistical aspect of authority(I would say “expertise”) and consensus. If n people look at a problem, and the chance that any one of them will make a mistake in solving it is x, the probability that the consensus is mistaken is x^n if their mistakes are uncorrelated. In large groups, even when there are correlations, the statistics still make mistakes much less likely. Suppose that the probability of a mistake is 1%, but all 33 Democrats make the same mistake, all 33 Republicans make the same mistake, different from the Democrats, and the 33 Independents consistently make a third mistake. The chances of the group being mistaken on consensus by majority vote is 1/100*1/100*1/100 – one in a million.

  37. Dan H.:

    Who ask what is the scientific consensus. Simple, that the Earth has warmed and the humans has contributed significantly. Your jump to severely destructive consequences is not supported.

  38. David B. Benson:

    There seems to be confusion here between authority and expert.

  39. Susan Anderson:

    The stuff on Schuiling and KISS is fascinating, and one can hope it’s true.

    On authority, the physicist I know best checks references first and if they’re no good he isn’t very interested. Works for him, which to me is a good ref.

    Ray Ladbury puts it well: “The role of “expert opinion” in developing a Bayesian Prior probability distribution is also reliant on the authority of the expert(s).” To me (with my limited understanding of Bayesian statistics thanks to above physicist who took me through it but got a little impatient) that makes a lot of sense. We have to have a baseline or we start over each time, and can use general credibility as a place to start.

    You scientists are so used to being able to judge for yourselves, you haven’t had the experience I have in looking at stuff you aren’t able to completely understand and kicking the tires in other ways. You mustn’t assume that only scientists can think, or you’ve lost before you begin. Someone who has demonstrated themselves blatantly partisan and opaque to truth is less credible. For example, to me Morano’s association with Limbaugh and the Swift boat campaign precedes his Inhofe years, and leaves his work with zero credibility. That helps, because things that arise from that root are not useful, and I don’t have to waste further time on it unless something startling and new changes the background. People who choose to get their info from that corner are dubious at best. Judith Curry I saw fudging and attacking her interlocutors, who were being excessively fair, here, and I’ve been suspicious of her ever since. But that doesn’t mean I won’t look at her stuff if she comes up with something credible. Same with Monckton – he is condemned out his own mouth, but I looked hard at (1) duae quartunciae, (2) Abrahams and more recently (3) t Potholer54. His Nazi accusations and weird attacks make it clear to anyone with an open ear. We have to have these kinds of filters if we are to do anything at all. Otherwise, we’re just babes in the woods.

    And totally OT, just for fun, this on the Pacific garbage patch, apt alliterations artful aid:

    This patch of putrid polymers, plastic pollutants, and processed petroleum products profoundly permeates a plethora of pelagic phyla, particularly Pacific plankton which populate the periphery, and whose present “plastification” produces a pernicious portent, placing them in preeminent peril of poisoning the primary consumers who prey upon them.


  40. Timothy Chase:

    Appealing to the scientific consensus is neither an instance of appealing to an unqualified authority nor appeal to a simple majority but a recognition that science rests on a division of cognitive labor among experts in their fields whose opinions are weighted according to the degree of their expertise in the area under consideration, and that when experts participate in the scientific enterprise, collectively they are capable of far more than any one individual mind in isolation. This cognitive division of labor is necessitated by the interdependence between various scientific theories and disciplines and what it makes possible in the realm of knowledge is lies as far beyond what any one individual is capable of by himself as a nuclear magnetic imaging device. The scientific consensus on climate change and its causes is based on well-supported scientific observations and principles, and both broad enough and, in their estimation, significant enough that on numerous occasions a fair number of scientific bodies have chosen to make this consensus explicit, and outside of a disinformation campaign driven by financial and ideological interests, the science one which it is based is generally taken for granted even by those who oppose it whenever they use the microwave oven or acknowledge the destructive power of a nuclear bomb.

  41. Hank Roberts:

    > The Pope is (always) right because …

    Nope. Almost never

    “ex cathedra” is what you’re thinking of; very limited.
    Extensive argument on the subject; one example:

    Sorry for the digression.

  42. Susan Anderson:

    Timothy Chase @~140

    Wow, lots of links. I think coherentialism is a bridge too far, but the rest will require thought. On the whole, clear and cogent to this reader.

    However, I’m wondering if the list of 32 organizations might need updating. It really is surprising that the same bad actors persist decade after decade, but I do think they morph. They have, however, gotten very skilled at misdirection and metastasized all over the intertubes, politics, the press, etc.

  43. Kevin McKinney:

    Dan H., the ‘jump to severe harm’ is not unsupported.

    A quick and messy search, but one no doubt supplying many instances of potential ‘severe harms’:


  44. Ray Ladbury:

    I’m in the same boat as you every time I look at research in biology, chemistry, astronomy… I have some basics, but no special expertise. I rely on experts, but if something seems amiss or interesting, I look into it deeper. If I follow a field for awhile, it becomes clear who has a consistent story, who has a deeper understanding, etc.

  45. Ray Ladbury:

    In science, expertise determines authority.

    [Response:In a perfect world, yes. In the real world, not necessarily (see here, here, here, here and here) although the assessment of whether or how well this condition holds in particular situations depends on exactly what we mean by the two terms. But I think David’s main point was that the two concepts are getting used inter-changeably here.–Jim]

    Timothy Chase,
    I have maintained that a better metric for scientific consensus is some sort of combined publication + citations thereof. Polls weigh all scientists equally–and science ain’t a democracy.

  46. DP:

    What’s happened to the Cryosphere Today website as they haven’t updated for a week?

  47. SecularAnimist:

    Dan H wrote: “Your jump to severely destructive consequences is not supported”

    That’s a blatant falsehood, Dan H.

    But of course, you know that.

    [Response:Let’s bring some science into this discussion please.–Jim]

  48. Karen Street:

    MIT analysis said wind could warm the Earth (http://web.mit.edu/press/2010/wind-economy.html). Ditto David Keith, et al in PNAS (http://www.pnas.org/content/101/46/16115.full). What is the difference between what was predicted and what was observed?

  49. Timothy Chase:

    Susan Anderson wrote in 142:

    I think coherentialism is a bridge too far, …

    In my view, science requires elements of both foundationalism and coherentialism along the lines of Robert Audi’s “Fallibilist Foundationalism and Holistic Coherentism,” an essay found in the 1993 edition of The Theory of Knowledge: Classic and Contemporary Readings, edited by Louis P. Pojman. My own view extends to what I refer to as “Dual Foundationalism,” which rests on both an empirical foundation and a minimal metaphysical foundation of sorts, the latter of which is implicitly required for a concept of “knowledge,” but the objective of the chapter you read was more simply that of critiquing Karl Popper’s principle of falsifiability in order to show that actual positive justification is transmitted from an empirical foundation, while at the same time showing that there exists an element of interdependence between scientific theories. Ultimately, à la Pierre Duhem, the unit of induction is scientific knowledge as a whole. However, some elements of coherentialism are already implicit in the recognition that competing theories may both receive some justification from different bodies of evidence, and even that the story told by any theory must at the very least be non self-contradictory.

    Susan continues:

    … but the rest will require thought. On the whole, clear and cogent to this reader.

    Thank you. I try to add to it as I can, but in my view, not anywhere near as often as I should. The most recent additions were on metaphor and disease, respectively.

  50. Timothy Chase:

    Ray Ladbury wrote in 145:

    I have maintained that a better metric for scientific consensus is some sort of combined publication + citations thereof. Polls weigh all scientists equally–and science ain’t a democracy.

    Agreed. Based on our previous discussions, I hope to expand on the piece on scientific consensus at some point. Unfortunately I always seem to have too many projects that I would like to work on. I haven’t been able to get to that one as of yet, but I have found and saved all of the material for it. Time permitting, I will get to it, sooner rather than later.