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Filed under: — stefan @ 4 May 2010

The new novel Solar by Ian McEwan, Britain’s “national author” (as many call him) tackles the issue of climate change. I should perhaps start my review with a disclosure: I’m a long-standing fan of McEwan and have read all of his novels, and I am also mentioned in the acknowledgements of Solar. I met McEwan in Potsdam and we had some correspondence while he wrote his novel. Our recent book The Climate Crisis quotes a page of McEwan as its Epilogue. And of course I’m not a literature critic but a scientist. So don’t expect a detached professional review.

In interviews McEwan describes his difficulties in approaching the topic of climate change: “I couldn’t quite see how a novel would work without falling flat with moral intent.”

One solution is that he makes his protagonist who tries to “save the world”, the Nobel laureate physicist Michael Beard, thoroughly pathetic and unlikeable. (Actually quite unlike any scientist I know, but certainly less boring than us at Realclimate.) The only redeeming feature of Beard is his sarcastic humor. When his business partner is worried that claims of global warming having stopped will ruin their grand solar energy scheme, Beard (after expertly refuting the “no warming since 1998” myth) retorts:

Here’s the good news. The UN estimates that already a third of a million people a year are dying from climate change. Even as we speak, the inhabitants of the island of Carteret in the South Pacific are being evacuated because the oceans are warming and expanding and rising. Malarial mosquitoes are advancing northwards across Europe… Toby, listen. It’s a catastrophe. Relax!

This is McEwan’s funniest book. The humour in it is another way around the moral gravity of the subject. In an interview he said:

The thing that would have killed the book for me, I’m sure, is if I’d taken up any sort of moral position, I needed a get-out clause. And the get-out clause is, this is an investigation of human nature, with some of the latitude thrown in by comedy.

Half-way through the novel Beard gives a riveting speech on climate change to an auditorium full of pension-fund managers (representing 400 billion dollars of investments) – a speech that I’d be almost tempted to steal and use verbatim myself at some occasion. But what could have been tedious – a whole lecture embedded in a novel – is turned into a hilarious scene where Beard is engaged in a losing battle with his bowels, trying to continue speaking while swallowing down “a fishy reflux rising from his gorge, like salted anchovies, with a dash of bile”.

McEwan showing off that he can write such a speech better than a scientist is reminiscent of his novel Enduring Love, to which he appended an entire scientific paper about a psychological disorder (De Clerambault’s Syndrome) that allegedly inspired the book. Later he admitted this “paper” was part of the fiction. He’d even submitted it to a journal, but one of the reviewers smelled a rat.

McEwan’s deep (and often playful) affinity to science is one of the hallmarks of his writing and of course one reason why I like his novels. The other is his stunning power of observation; he seems to be reading people’s minds, cutting right through their delusions to get to the deeper truths. In that, his analytic work as a writer resembles that of a scientist.

McEwan is a forceful rationalist and well-versed in science culture, and his witty observations on that are a big part of the fun of his books. In Solar, for example, he pokes some hilarious fun at the social constructivists. Beard chairs a government committee to bring more women into physics, and a social scientist on his committee introduces herself with a speech on how a particular gene is not discovered by scientists, but is rather a social construct.

Beard had heard rumours that strange ideas were commonplace among liberal arts departments. It was said that humanities students were routinely taught that science was just one more belief system, no more or less truthful than religion or astrology. He had always thought that this must be a slur against his colleagues on the arts side. The results surely spoke for themselves. Who was going to submit to a vaccine designed by a priest?

This develops into my favourite subplot. At a press conference of his committee, the journalists are “slumped over their recorders and notebooks” and “depressed by the seriousness of their assignment, its scandalous lack of controversy”, as “the whole project was lamentably worthy”. Beard makes some fairly harmless remarks about the efforts of bringing more women into physics perhaps reaching a ceiling one day, because they may have a preference for other branches of science. The social constructivist explodes (“Before I go outside to be sick, and I mean violently sick because of what I’ve just heard, I wish to announce my resignation from Professor Beard’s committee.”) Predictably, that makes the predatory journalists spring to life, and in the following McEwan spins a completely credible story how Beard’s remarks turn into a media storm where Beard’s love life is dragged into the tabloids and his “genetic determinist” views are linked to Third Reich race theories. One journalist, “more in the spirit of playful diary-page spite”, calls him a neo-Nazi.

No one took the charge seriously for a moment, but it became possible for other papers to take up the term even as they dismissed it, carefully bracketing and legalising the insult with quotation marks. Beard became the ‘neo-Nazi’ professor.

McEwan knows what he is writing about: he became subject to a media storm about his Islam-critical views a few years ago. I read Solar in February (thanks to an advance copy that the author had sent me), in parallel with the unfolding surreal, but real-world media campaign against IPCC, and found that McEwan dissects the mechanisms beautifully.

McEwan says that the idea to make a Nobel laureate the main character of his new book came to him in Potsdam, when attending the Nobel Cause Symposium organised by our institute in October 2007 (and on page 179 his hero Beard returns from a conference in Potsdam). At the time I discussed with him whether this wouldn’t be a good topic for a novel: humanity facing an existential threat that is well-understood by its scientists, but largely ignored by a population who prefers to delude itself in creative ways about the gradually unfolding disaster. McEwan responded: everything there is to say about this situation has already been said by Thomas Mann in his novel Death in Venice.

I’m glad he tackled the topic of climate change nevertheless. It’s McEwan at his best. Intelligent, funny, and full of insights. Read for yourself!

Link: Here is McEwan speaking about Solar (and about his views on climate change) in a TV interview.

726 Responses to “Solar”

  1. 451
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Does the transient ionization of Nitrogen in the atmosphere by GCR and high energy radiation from the sun cause the development of dipole moments and allow conversion of thermal energy to IR emission?”

    Not to any measureable extent: there’s a lot of other Nitrogen etc out there and the recombination is pretty quick. And you only have a small window of energies to throw out an electron but NOT split the N2.

  2. 452
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “And frankly, Ray still has it wrong,”

    Are you arguing from your authority???

    Most people would disagree (in fact, it looks like everyone does). Since definitions of terms is a human construct and not an abstruse logical edifice, you’re wrong.

  3. 453

    FurryCatHerder: Xyrus #437 has it right. Logical proof applies to logical propositions. In most areas of science, theories rest on evidence, not logic. You may have a theory that is mathematically based, but it stands or falls on evidence. Newton’s Laws are beautiful mathematical constructs, but they are subject to experimental testing, not logical proof. Even though they fell apart around the edges in the 19th century, they still fit the evidence well enough that no one is going to use general relativity to design a bridge.

    The critical thing in argument by evidence is to avoid the pitfall of relying on a reliable source to exclusion of any cross-checking. This is not the same thing at all as a flawed logical argument. The anti-science crew regularly raise “Appeal to Authority” as an objection, because they have no one with authority on their side. They do not understand logic either because even if Appeal to Authority were a valid objection, Appeal to Ignorance is not a better form of argument.

    Why do you consider it so important to win this argument anyway? Will it make you an authority? :)

  4. 454
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “And all Ray and I said was that an appeal to authority wasn’t a logical fallacy.”

    Should have been “wasn’t always a logical fallacy”.

  5. 455
    Ray Ladbury says:

    I think the problem you and others are having is that not all arguments are “logical”. Some are over matters of fact. For instance, suppose we are arguing about how to spell the word “fish”. You claim it is f-i-s-h, citing Websters. I claim it is g-h-0-t-i, citing George Bernard Shaw. How are we to resolve our differences:

    1)Pistols at 20 paces
    2)an argument following the rules of formal logic
    3)establish which of our authoritiis has the greater bona fides

    I’m rooting for 3), personally. Formal logic does not admit authority or even empirical observation into evidence. It cannot resolve matters of fact or convention. It also leads to absurd results sometimes when applied to real-life problems, viz. the Logician’s sketch from Monty Python

  6. 456
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    CFU # 449 “All of them.” …

    “The *rate* is different for different wavelengths ?because? it isn’t a black body radiator.”

    CFU, I know about all that. I just thought that as people are making pronouncements about Venus someone might actually know the main cooling frequencies. Obviously the energy carried away is different for different wavelenghts period, not “because” of not being a black body. But never mind I know you’re fed up and all that, and do know about black bodies. My question is about the specific situation. If anyone just happened to know, the question would I think have been answered by now. No problem, I’ll get too it sometime.

  7. 457
    Hank Roberts says:

    > The partial pressure of CO2 matters not a fig because Motl says …
    > … the gas that is causing Venus to be so hot

    Erm, CFU, most of Venus’s atmosphere is CO2.
    Grasp his argument and you can refute it as a whole.
    Argue every little scrap separately by using logic instead of citations, and you prolong the argument.

    I’m sure that’s not your intent. But look at how it’s taking over the thread and who’s participating in it.

  8. 458
    SecularAnimist says:

    CFU wrote: “And all Ray and I said was that an appeal to authority wasn’t a logical fallacy.”

    You are wrong. FCU is right. “Appeal to authority” IS a logical fallacy a.k.a. a classical rhetorical fallacy.

    A logical argument must stand on the validity of its own structure, without reference to externalities. In that context, an “appeal to authority” is to say “such-and-such an authority agrees with my argument, therefore my argument is valid”. Bzzzzzt. Fallacy. You lose.

    To appeal to “an authority” on a point of fact is not the same thing, nor does it arise in the context of formal logic, which has nothing to say about facts.

    The problem is that the rules of formal logic and classical rhetoric have limited applicability to actual discourse about actual things.

    In actual discourse, we are rarely making or evaluating purely logical arguments. We are presenting and correlating and evaluating, a collection of facts, estimates, beliefs (of varying degrees of certainty), values, etc. in order to arrive at some conclusion about something.

    Of course we care about the views of wise and knowledgeable “authorities” on these matters. As we should. And the question of how much weight to give to the views of various “authorities” is one of many factors that we have to deal with in our considerations and discourse.

  9. 459
    Hugh Laue says:

    #442 FCH Sorry – you’re wrong. Firstly, let’s use “reference to authority” not “appeal” – “appeal” is foreign to the scientific process. “Appeal” is used in Politics and Law, perhaps.

    Logically, if the premise is true then deductions arising from that premise must also be true. Agree?
    The premise COULD be that what A says it’s true (what A says of course, may not be true). Agree?

    If A is a generally (mainstream) authority in the field (peer reviewed publications, track record, demonstrated scientific integrity, etc)then the premise is credible (but may still not be true). Agree?

    ANY scientific theory is ALWAYS only provisionally and relatively “true”. Agree?

    It remains the BEST theory until replaced by a better one (one that explains more facts, has better predictive power, withstands the peer review process, etc).

    So FCH, referencing an Authority to support an argument IS LOGICALLY valid – it’s used all the time in science.

    If you wish to contest the truth of the premise you obviously will have to demonstrate that what A says is not true (OR, that A is NOT a recognised authority in the field).

    Until then the premise stands.

    Insofar as climate change is concerned the IPCC reports are regarded by mainstream science as authoritative. The theory has not only NOT been falsified but NO CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE theory that explains ALL the FACTS better has been presented – one that has withstood peer review.

    Therefore (logically) your Einstein example does NOT support your rejection of “reference to authority” as not valid in drawing logical conclusions.

    It rather supports the conclusion that you misunderstand both the scientific process and logic.

  10. 460
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    @ 361 Steckis to Gavin:

    But Gavin, can you please show me the equations and figures that support the concept of Greenhouse Theory being able to explain the majority of the temperature on the surface of Venus. I really would like to see the calculations.

    [Response: Really? I suggest you read a textbook on planetary atmospheres, there are a few around. David grinspoon’s books have dealt with it as well. But this isn’t hard. The upward IR from the surface is thousands of W/m2, while at the top of the atmosphere the outgoing value is even smaller than on Earth….-gavin]

    Venus is not noted for being cool nor for having a ruddy glow, so what is the outgoing radiation?

    [Response: It’s around 190 W/m2, corresponding to an effective emission temperature of around 240ºK (less than the 255ºK for the Earth). – gavin]

  11. 461
    John E. Pearson says:

    416 Richard Steckis wrote: “Actually the DALR (Dry Adiabatic Lapse Rate) is about 10.4 C/km for Venus. I think in the case of the density of CO2, the relationship remains logarithmic regardless of the density. That is covered by Beer-Lamberts law. ”

    I am sure that Hansen’s value for the Venusian adiabatic lapse rate (7K/km) was the real (measured) adiabatic lapse rate and not calculated via g/C_p. Others have addressed the rest of the quoted nonsense. I’ve seen the Beer’s law claim in blogscience before. It is an incoherent claim. You want to learn science you need to start by reading real science; the published literature and textbooks, not contrarian blogs. Once you’ve understood the real science you will be in a position to evaluate contrarian claims made by blogscientists.

  12. 462
    Completely Fed Up says:

    If you could have been more specific about what you DID know and what you were asking, that would have made a pithy response redundant.

    A google for “venus atmospheric absorption bands” gives the following:

    But you could get the same result without the graph by asking for the composition of the venusian atmosphere which is measured by these absorption bands.

    And I’m assuming that the “main cooling bands” are actually the main absorption bands.

    Shows the concentration of various elements.

    If you want more than that, you’re looking at technical documentation for which you should be conferring with NASA/ESA/… or the astronomical societies in your capital city.

  13. 463
    Patrick says:

    Will you be reviewing “Merchants of Doubt” Naomi Oreskes account of how a few smart men generated the doubt and confusion campaigns since the SDI era?

  14. 464
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “If the Earth’s surface at sea level is taken as the reference point, molecules at a higher elevation have higher potential energy.”

    ‘course I could now BS you with “but if the atmosphere is not falling down, it must be in orbit, therefore it must be moving FASTER..!

    This is what happens when you take a fact and see that it will support your preconception if you don’t try to test your proposition.

  15. 465
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “CFU wrote: “And all Ray and I said was that an appeal to authority wasn’t a logical fallacy.”

    You are wrong. FCU is right.”

    And I misspoke. “isn’t always a logical fallacy”.

  16. 466
    Ike Solem says:

    By the way, how would the plot of this book by McEwan worked in the pre-Bayh-Dole era? Before the Reagan-era revision of patent laws, university research results were available to anyone for use in their work – which made sense, since it was taxpayer-financed research. The notion of a greedy scientist being able to seize control of a new industry by getting his name on all the relevant patents – that’s a very modern take on our corrupt academic system, isn’t it? Independent scientists are persona non grata in the institutionalized academic-corporate environment.

    As an example, are you aware that BP’s Chief Scientist, Steven Koonin, is now the second-in-command at the DOE, which is also charged with leading the national energy research program? No conflicts-of-interest there, are there? How about that oil spill, huh? What are the long-term ecological effects of the oil spill? What are the long-term ecological effects of global warming in the Gulf of Mexico? Speaking of which, see the latest anomaly SST maps for the Gulf of Mexico (0), the Atlantic Warm Pool (+2C), and the Labrador Sea (+2C):

    Oh, wait – is the oil spill off-topic? Are SST’s off-topic? Should we get back to discussing Venus and 1950’s era radiative transfer theory instead?

    Face reality: In the United States, academic and government and media institutions are largely under the thumb of consolidated corporate interests in the energy sector. BP and their shareholders have their fingers in UC Berkeley, the DOE, and all the major networks. Their chief scientist is the #2 guy at the DOE – and yet all the academics and the bureaucrats meekly go along, like so many pathetic sheep – regardless of the long-term consequences, which include the stifling of basic science, cronyism in promotions, and rampant incompetence when it comes to responding to any serious problem.

    Most troubling is that the current crop of institutionalized scientific bureaucrats has grown up with this system, internalized its values, and now truly believe in it. That’s pretty frightening, I’d say.

    Whatever it is, though – it’s not science. This may be why Ian McEwan’s main character seemed so strangely unscientific in outlook – the reason is that as political cronyism becomes a route to institutional success in academics, then that attracts political opportunists and political operatives, aka ‘parachutists’, people who are very familiar with the rules of cronyism, even if they are largely ignorant of the rules of nature. That’s how Lysenko flourished, in his day – and he held up genetics research in the Soviet Union for about half a century.

    That’s also why the “zero-emission clean coal” claims have persisted for over a decade, all in the absence of any evidence that such a zero-emission scheme could ever produce any usable energy, or even break even. The academic institutions, the government agencies and the media outlets are simply unreliable sources of information on issues where large corporations have a direct financial interest – that’s the only consistent explanation for the steady drumbeat of distortion.

    Nevertheless, there are ways to tell good science from propaganda… but you have to look at the details yourself, and not trust the pronouncements of newly minted ‘experts.’

  17. 467
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Erm, CFU, most of Venus’s atmosphere is CO2.”

    Most of ours isn’t.

    We still have 1bar atmosphere and if the warmth of Venus is due to pressure alone, then the relevant change isn’t the CO2 partial pressures, but the pressure of the atmospheres in toto.

    1 vs ~90.

    If the partial pressure of CO2 is going to be the important thing, then this would presume that the change in surface temperature is NOT due to pressure, because N2 manages to produce pressure just as well as CO2.

  18. 468
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Grasp his argument and you can refute it as a whole.”

    Hank, I’m trying to get to the argument. At the moment, it fails solely on the fact that if pressure is the cause of temperature, then 1 bar vs 90 bar is the relevant issue.

    If this is accepted, then the difference in surface temperature is not explained by the pressure difference. ~12C is. Not 400C.

    If this is not accepted, then why?

    I’m getting them to illuminate their argument. And roaches flee from the light.

  19. 469
    Jacob Mack says:

    This appeal to authority argument is getting way out of hand. Logic and opinions cannot over throw empirical evidence and good measurements, well, atleast in science, the public opinion is too easy to sway without evidence.

  20. 470
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “By the way, how would the plot of this book by McEwan worked in the pre-Bayh-Dole era? Before the Reagan-era revision of patent laws, university research results were available to anyone for use in their work – which made sense, since it was taxpayer-financed research.”

    Not all research was done in the US.

    And, in fact, not all research was solely financed by government.

    Even before Reagan et al.

  21. 471
    John E. Pearson says:

    Do the blogoscientists argue that the temperature a kilometer deep in Earth’s oceans (where the pressure is 90 bar) is 476 C? Or do they invoke some other new physics to explain why not? Just wondering.

  22. 472
    Ray Ladbury says:

    SA@458, says: “To appeal to “an authority” on a point of fact is not the same thing, nor does it arise in the context of formal logic, which has nothing to say about facts.”

    Well, except in the case raised here, the argument WAS over a point of fact. I was saying that appeal to authority is not a logical fallacy in such an argument over a matter of fact or convention.

  23. 473

    “The wonderful thing about Logics, Is Logics are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber, Their bottoms are made out of springs. They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, Fun, fun, fun, fun, FUN! But the most wonderful thing about Logics is… Logic’s the only one.”

    I’m feeling… illogical :)

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    ‘Fee & Dividend’ Our best chance for a better future –
    Learn the Issue & Sign the Petition

  24. 474
    SecularAnimist says:

    Ray Ladbury wrote: “I was saying that appeal to authority is not a logical fallacy in such an argument over a matter of fact or convention.”

    I agree exactly.

  25. 475
    CM says:

    From tonight’s bedtime story: “The sun must be furry — how else could it keep us warm?”

    Get ready for WUWT’s expose on the Solar Fur Hypothesis. But remember, you read it here first.

  26. 476
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 456 Pete Dunkelberg – this might not be as detailed as you like, but,

    assuming the greenhouse effect on Venus is based mainly on absorption/essission (as it should be for gases in general), there will be emission to space distributed over the whole LW spectrum, but the greatest brightness temperatures of the radiation will come from those parts of the spectrum where the atmosphere, or at least some upper portion of it, is more transparent. When the atmosphere is more transparent, more of the photons emitted from lower layers, or the surface, escape to space, and, if the LW-albedo can be neglected (as it typically can be to a first approximation), the brightness temperature will correspond to the temperature of those layers. Where the atmopshere, or some upper layer of atmosphere, absorbs more radiation from below, it replaces the missing upward flux with emission of it’s own, but the flux will have a lower brightness temperature if/because the layer is colder. The flux is larger at larger brightness temperatures, though for any given brightness temperature, the flux varies as a function of wavelength.

    (PS that was a somewhat general description – if the atmosphere is sufficiently opaque over the whole LW portion of the spectrum, then very little of the emission from the surface would reach space, but the region within the atmosphere from which the radiation is emitted can still vary over wavelength (and also over space and time with varying cloud cover or composition, if/when that is variable).

  27. 477
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 471 John E. Pearson “Do the blogoscientists argue that the temperature a kilometer deep in Earth’s oceans (where the pressure is 90 bar) is 476 C?”

    I would really enjoy going into this more later; for now, I’ll just point out that adiabatic lapse rate is a function both of composition and gravity, and physical state – it tends to be considerably less in solids and liquids. For example, the Earth’s mantle has an adiabatic lapse rate that is … I want to say approx. 0.7 K/km, though I’m not quite sure offhand.

    And: considering the full three-dimensionality or four-dimensionality of a convecting system, the lapse rate is not necessarily at the adiabatic (dry or moist/other) lapse rate everywhere.

    And: the ocean recieves very, very little heating within it’s depths or from the bottom (from geothermal heating, dissipation of tides and currents/waves), relative to the solar heating in the upper ~ 100 m or so. The solar heating beneath the surface with LW cooling restricted to the surface, and concentration of salinity due to evaporation at the surface (absent freshenning by precipitation, etc.), can drive density-variation driven convection in the upper ocean…

  28. 478

    Hugh @ 459, Ray @ 472:

    =All= “Appeal to Authority” arguments are fallacies because they include “Whatever XYZ Authority Says is True” as an implied term. This is why the counter-argument is always presenting an instance in which XYZ Authority is wrong. However, since it’s impossible to prove that XYZ Authority is always right, you can’t insert “XYZ Authority is always right”, that is, “For all x, XYZ(x)” is false, where “XYZ(x)” is “XYZ Authority says ‘x’ is true”.

    The way to disprove a Theory that’s been presented as part of an argument is to falsify the theory, the same as science always does.

    Phillip @ 453:

    Because the rules of logic have the ability to slice and dice through all the denialist nonsense. And if some denialist argument is able to stand, then go after the facts that are being used to support the bogus argument.

  29. 479

    John E. Pearson @ 471:

    No, because at 1 kilometer the pressure should be more than 90 bar and therefore the temperature significantly higher than 476C.

    Which is amazing, because I’ve been in water at 6 bar and it sure as heck wasn’t 6 times the air temperature at the surface.

  30. 480
    Geoff Wexler says:

    Re: #445

    Patrick. Interesting comment, except that it might be better still with an abstract ,introduction and conclusions. I just skimmed it. You weren’t content to describe the Beer-Lambert law but appear to be progressing towards a derivation of Schwarzchild’s equation for radiation transfer. But shouldn’t ‘blackbody’ here

    U# = blackbody radiation intensity I# (blackbody I

    be replaced by ‘Planck function’? No functions, apart from the exponential are equal to their own integrals.

  31. 481
  32. 482
    David Miller says:

    John asks in 471:

    Do the blogoscientists argue that the temperature a kilometer deep in Earth’s oceans (where the pressure is 90 bar) is 476 C? Or do they invoke some other new physics to explain why not? Just wondering.

    I read the threads for a while and learned some interesting new things:

    Temperature differences between the top of Everest and cities at the same latitude is due primarily to the adiabatic expansion in the altitude.

    Canyons are hotter than plains they split because of their increased atmospheric pressure.

    Pressure of sea water is irrelevant because it’s (nearly) incompressible. PV=nRT, but W!=PdV I guess….

    In the follow-up article Goddard explains that the pressure at the surface was due to temperature; P=nRT/V, you know. If the sun went out and the temperature dropped to near 0K the pressure would drop PV=nRT. Apparently the volume of the atmosphere wouldn’t change on the Venus in Goddards world.

    (noted by other posters, agreed to by Goddard) Pressure is clearly the important factor, not CO2. Venus has lots of CO2, but it’s hot because of pressure. Earth has only a little CO2 but more pressure, so it’s kind of in the middle. Mars, otoh, has almost no pressure, and even though it’s all CO2 it’s really cold there. QED, pressure causes the temperature effect, not CO2 trapping IR.

    There were quite a number of other jaw droppers. I had to quit reading when Goddard stated very clearly that he was well aware that CO2 wasn’t an ideal gas – that’s why it didn’t follow an isotherm as it was compressed.

    I guess that a one-eyed man is king in the valley of the blind. I haven’t wandered through the valley recently though. The funny part is that no matter how many posters showed where he was wrong he continually defended the proposition.

  33. 483
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “=All= “Appeal to Authority” arguments are fallacies because they include “Whatever XYZ Authority Says is True” as an implied term.”

    Says an authority?


    “XYZ has said this is true, and they’ve been right many times before, they study this and they produce treatise that stand the test of peer review of similarly educated people. I trust their judgement.”

    Or is trust a non-existent property in psychology?

    But that statement is NOT a fallacious appeal to authority.

  34. 484
    Completely Fed Up says:

    ” Patrick 027 says:
    11 May 2010 at 1:34 PM

    Re 471 John E. Pearson “Do the blogoscientists argue that the temperature a kilometer deep in Earth’s oceans (where the pressure is 90 bar) is 476 C?””

    How about a bathysphere at 90 atmospheres underneath 1km of ocean?

  35. 485
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “And: the ocean recieves very, very little heating within it’s depths or from the bottom”

    Not according to Monckton, where underwater volcanoes are erupting with tens of thousands of times the ferocity and emission of all land-based volcanoes.

  36. 486
    Completely Fed Up says:

    “Because the rules of logic have the ability to slice and dice through all the denialist nonsense.”

    When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  37. 487
    Walter Crain says:

    pardon the interruption, but you guys are my “go to” source….

    1)what is the current thinking on the geographic extent of the “medieval warming period”?
    2)how warm is it thought to have been? (i’ve heard things like 3-4 degrees C warmer than today. true?)

  38. 488
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 450 Completely Fed Up Re me Re 398 CFU

    “Uh, we have 1 bar atmosphere.”


    “The partial pressure of CO2 matters not a fig because Motl says that it is merely the pressure of the gas that is causing Venus to be so hot. And all gasses produce pressure. ”

    Yes, according to Motl, whom you (and I and others) agree is wrong about the temperature (larger than that of an approximate blackbody that would radiate to space the same flux that Venus absorbs from the sun) being due to pressure and NOT the greenhouse effect.

    But I thought – maybe I misunderstood you – that you were saying that we only need 6 or 7 doublings of CO2 to get from an Earthlike to a Venuslike atmosphere by some measure, such as the amount of CO2.

    And my point was:

    1. the partial pressure of a gaseous substance is equal to the molar (molecular or volume) fraction of the gas times the pressure of the whole gas mixture. The partial pressure is proportional to the amount of a substance for a given total pressure, but if the total pressure changes and the composition isn’t constant, the proportionality is more complex. For a preindustrial CO2 concentration of ~ 300 ppm, there would be a partial pressure (near sea level, total pressure ~ 1000 mb) of about 0.3 mb, but the pressure that the CO2 in the atmosphere adds is actually roughly 1.5 times that because it’s molar mass is roughly 1.5 times the average molar mass; if the rest of the atmosphere were removed except for CO2, the surface pressure would be roughly ~ 0.45 mb. 11 doublings would get that near 1 bar, between 6 and 7 more would get near 100 bar. Pressure is proportional to gravitational acceleration for the same mass per unit area, so there is some adjustment (considerably less than a doubling) in transfering the same atmospheric mass per unit area from Earth to Venus to achieve the same pressure…

  39. 489

    CFU @ 483:

    “XYZ has said this is true, and they’ve been right many times before, they study this and they produce treatise that stand the test of peer review of similarly educated people. I trust their judgement.”

    Or is trust a non-existent property in psychology?

    But that statement is NOT a fallacious appeal to authority.

    THAT is not a an Appeal to Authority, unless you mean “I trust their judgement, therefore they are right.”

    It’s a really simple argument

    p -> q
    therefore q.

    CFU @ 486:

    When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

    I liked your “mentor” a lot better.

    But seriously, making fun of people doesn’t get you anywhere. Most of what the denialosphere is based on is “Such-and-such article / paper / blog posting says that something-or-other is true”, with no underlying facts. Agreed?

    There are people who might be properly called “Skeptics” because they are questioning an unsettle piece of the science (my personal issue is with GCRs, clouds and the 2nd derivative of absolute humidity with respect to temperature, but I digress). But the vast majority of denialists are just plain making it up as they go. And they don’t give a rat’s fart if someone tomorrow came along and solved the cloud issue because they just don’t care about facts.

    The problem is that as soon as this becomes a personality contest — which I think a fair amount of Science is, for the same reasons IT / Software is often a personality contest — various “Appeals to Authority” enter the equation.

    I do not CARE, for one second, if the people who run this blog are the greatest experts in their field, men (and maybe some women?) of incredible stature. I expect that there is a body of knowledge, peer-reviewed by others, reproduced experimentally, and capable of being reproduced experimentally by any and all comers (who have satellites / computers / weather stations). That’s “Science”.

    The key to Science is my ability to reproduce your experiments, or to come up with a similarly reproducible experiment that invalidates your results. Science doesn’t care one whit how many papers you publish, who reviewed them, what journal published them, P’s, h’s and D’s after your name, or if you brush and floss your teeth after each meal. Science only cares that if I wanted to, and if I had the time and money, I =could= derive all of their findings from whatever depth of First Principles I can get around to deriving.

  40. 490
    Walter Crain says:

    let me clarify: i have read claims that it was up to 4 degrees warmer IN PARTS of the northern hemisphere.

  41. 491
    Phil Scadden says:

    Walter Crain – most recent that I know of is Mann et al 09

  42. 492
  43. 493
    dhogaza says:

    Science only cares that if I wanted to, and if I had the time and money, I =could= derive all of their findings from whatever depth of First Principles I can get around to deriving.

    But, of course, you don’t, and never will, have the time, money, satellites, instrumentation, etc. So either you pretend that a) we know nothing because we can’t appeal to prior work done by others or b) give up your dogmatic insistence that an appeal to authority is never appropriate, no matter who that authority might be.

    We know that in your life your knowledge base doesn’t consist solely of things you’ve discovered on your own from first principles. No one can do so. We all choose which authorities we will trust for all sorts of knowledge in life.

  44. 494
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Walter Crain,
    1)no evidence of a globally contemporaneous warm period
    2)some places in N. Europe and N. America might have rivaled today’s temperatures.
    3)4 degrees C? You’re joking.

  45. 495
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re 480 Geoff Wexler –

    Good point, I guess I should clarify – in that section (in most of the comment, except near the end) I was refering to monochromatic radiation. The blackbody intensity at some particular frequency (or wavelength, or log(frequency), or photon energy, depending on how it is expressed) (per unit of the spectrum) is given by the Planck function; that is the (spectral) blackbody intensity I was refering to; integration over the spectrum yields the blackbody intensity over the whole spectrum, which multiplied by pi steradians gives the blackbody flux per unit area.

    PS my writing was convoluted at that point because I referred to a (spectral) blackbody intensity I#, which I’ll write as Ibb#, which (in the notation I’ve chosen to use until I find out about another notation) is the intensity scaled by n, the real component of the index of refraction, specifically, I# = I/(n^2), or at least this is the relationship if n is isotropic (absent scattering, emission, absorption, or reflection, I# is conserved following radiation along a line of sight, while I may change as n changes). When I# = I/(n^2), Blackbody intensity Ibb is actually equal to Ibb# * n^2, so Ibb# = Ibb at n=1, and the equations for Blackbody radiation intensities and fluxes are usually given assuming n=1. Note also that wavelength changes as n changes, so it is actually frequency, or photon energy, or the equivalent vacuum value of wavelength, that should be used to sort photons. I’m not going to get into relativistic effects…

    (Ibb is not a conventional symbol used for blackbody intensities; I’m just using here because the letters come from Intensity of BlackBody radiation).

  46. 496
    Ray Ladbury says:

    OK, FCH, so prove (logically) that fish is not spelled g-h-o-t-i as contended by Shaw.

  47. 497
    Frank Giger says:

    @ Patrick in 445:

    “The difference between the instantaneous forcing at the top of the atmosphere (TOA) and the instantaneous tropopause level forcing is the forcing on the upper atmosphere; for greenhouse gas increases in general, the tropopause level forcing is greater than the TOA forcing, and this results in stratospheric cooling, a portion of which then affects tropopause level forcing, resulting in the tropopausel level forcing with stratospheric adjustment (or equilibration). The climate sensitivity is generally defined as the global average surface temperature increase per unit of that forcing.”

    Thank you for a great, succinct answer. It was the precise answer to the question I posed very early on.

    As the atmosphere expands, the effect increases as well, correct? That is to say the upper atmosphere layers actually get colder while the troposphere retains more heat.


    LOL on the undersea volcanoes heating the oceans commented on somewhere after that. If we had that much volcanism going on, climate change would be a few rungs down on our list of concerns. Probably because the oceans would be pretty much sterile and we’d be dead.

    We be the big blue ball in space. That’s a lot of water to heat up, and undersea ridges and hot spots in the crust just ain’t gonna cut it.

  48. 498
    Titus says:

    I added a comment the other day in response to Ray Ladbury @386. It has not appeared and we seemed to be having an intelligent and mature discussion.

    I noticed that it went into the moderation queue so I guess it got rejected for some reason. I’d be very interested to know the reason and would like to add further to the interesting topic. You have my email so please let me know how I might re-engage.


  49. 499
    Patrick 027 says:

    Re John E. Pearson, (and Steckis etc.) –

    I remember you had a question about line broadenning.

    You may not have had this problem, but there is a potential point of confustion I will address:

    1. line broadenning
    is fundamentally different from
    2. the expansion of the range of frequencies that exceed any given threshold optical thickness by increasing the optical thickness at each frequency by the same factor

    2. is the result of adding more material with some absorption or scattering cross section. If there is no change in line broadenning or line strength, then:

    the optical thickness (over a given path) per unit amount of material per unit area (normal to the path) is a function of the spectrum with a set value at each frequency that doesn’t change. Changing the amount of material by some factor changes the optical thickness (which is equal to absorption and/or scattering cross section per unit volume, multiplied by distance along a path) by the same factor. For an absorption band such as the 15 micron band for CO2, the optical thickness for X amount of CO2 is a function of frequency, such that log(optical thickness) as a function of frequency v **looks** like:
    log(X) * [A – B*abs(v0-v) + sum over j of [fj(sin(wj*v – vj) ] ]

    where fj is some function, so that each fj(sin(wj*v – vj)) repeats over a range of v equal to 2*pi/wj

    (any function can be expressed as a sum of sinusoidal terms)

    Considering only the first two terms:

    log(X) * [A – B*abs(v0-v)]

    This is a triangle, and consider how a change in log(X) affects the range of v values over which optical thickness exceeds some threshold value Optk:

    log(X) * [A – B*abs(v0-v)] > log(Optk) for some values of v

    If the optical thickness at v0 already exceeds the threshold Optk ( if log(X) * A > log(Optk) ),
    then the width of the range of v for which optical thickness is larger than Optk is linearly proportional to log(X) / B. The v values for which optical thickness equals Optk shift outward by an amount 1/B for each unit increase in log(X).

    Considering the effects of fj(sin(wj*v – vj)), which represents the finer-scale texture of the band:

    if the pattern is self similar over a sufficiently small range of v, then one can define various functions (distinguished by different m)

    log(X) * [ Am – B*(v0-v) ]

    that are equal to log(optical thickness), not at all v but at some v values.

    If the pattern is self similar (in a general sense if not an exact sense)over a range of v that is small compared to B, then, for intervals where each log(optical thickness) function m varies by a significant amount, the same fraction of v values has an optical thickness represented by each function in one interval as in another. Since the same band widenning and v shifting per unit change in log(X) occurs for each function m, and each function m represents as much of one small interval as another, the overall effect is the same; so long as log(Optk) < log(X) * Am for all m, the range of v values for which optical thickness exceeds Optk increases by an amount proportional to 1/B, and the boundaries of this range of v shift outward from the band peak by an interval that is proportional to 1/B – the difference is that those boundaries are now fuzzy, but the fuzz occupies an interval of v that doesn't change in size as it shifts outward.

    Now, the actual spectrum of CO2 is more complex; there is some variation that is not sufficiently self-similar over short enough intervals of v to fit the above approximation, so there is some bumpiness, but the overall pattern of change in the absorption spectrum for a given change in the logarithm of CO2 amount is still similar.

    In addition to that, the blackbody intensity of radiation, and the differences in that quantity between different temperatures, and the optical thicknesses provided by other material, vary over the spectrum…

    (to be cont.)

  50. 500
    Ben Said says:

    Dear Stefan, nothing about mistakes of >some Asian sociologists in the back pages of the (IPCC) report<?