Category Archives: Science
In 1957, Charles Keeling of Scripps Institution of Oceanography began regular measurements of carbon dioxide concentration at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. By 1960, he was already in a position to report a steady increase, together with seasonal variations. In the northern atmosphere, CO2 concentration falls during the spring and summer growing season, but recovers during autumn and winter as vegetable matter decays. This sawtooth pattern is superposed, however, on a steady overall increase.
The Keeling curve and beyond
Charles Keeling died in 2005, but the work is being continued by his son Ralph. When I visited Scripps in 1995, I saw Charles Keeling’s original curve, ink on graph paper, on the wall in the corridor outside his office. That curve has now been designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark, and there are commemorative plaques both at Scripps and at the Mauna Loa Observatory. Charles Keeling’s original paper, freely available here, goes into meticulous detail regarding sample collection, calibration, precautions taken to prevent local contamination, and comparisons between the Mauna Loa data and those that numerous other sites, including the Antarctic and samples collected from an aircraft.
By 1985, the record had been extended backwards in time by analysis of air bubbles trapped in ice cores, with dates ranging from the 1980s to the 1600s and earlier. These dates overlap Keeling’s data, and take us back to pre-industrial times. Before long, the ice core record had been extended to an 160,000 years, taking us into the Ice Ages, while further work has pushed it back to 800,000 years. We have estimates going back far beyond that, but employing indirect methods and with higher uncertainty.
During the Ice Ages, carbon dioxide played a dual role, as product and as agent. The temperature oscillations at this time were driven primarily by subtle changes in the Earth’s motion (so-called Milankovitch cycles). But carbon dioxide is less soluble at higher temperatures (which is why your carbonated drink fizzes inside your mouth). And so in the first place the rise and fall of temperature led to a rise and fall of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as the oceans released and reabsorbed the gas. But then, the changes in carbon dioxide concentration amplified the original effect, since more carbon dioxide acting as a greenhouse gas makes the Earth lose heat less efficiently into space.
To summarise the results, current levels of CO2 are the highest they have been for over twenty million years. In the centuries leading up to 1800, Read the rest of this entry
And I would add, in the UK, unreasoning rejection of fracking (even by those who support off-shore oil production) to the list here of environmentally damaging Left presuppositions that urgently need replacement by rational discussion.
With President Trump committing himself to reversing most, if not all, of Obama’s progressive environmental policies and having pulled out of the Paris Accords, I think it is imperative that the Left take a fresh, evidence-based look at their boogeymen. The Right may have their climate change and evolution denial, but the Left holds onto their fears of GMOs, conventional agriculture, and nuclear power as if they were afraid to lose them. The civilizational knife-edge we find ourselves atop of, as well the pushing and shoving Trump is adding, demands that the Left right their wrongs. Apparently, the Left is the party of science, and while that has always been a stretch, there’s no better time to make it so.
With the departure of the world’s second largest emitter from the first worldwide accord that attempted to limit climate change to within 2 degrees Celsius above baseline, that means that the rest…
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It does not matter very much that Michael Gove mistakenly imagines that Boyle’s law is some kind of a fundamental principle. It matters a very great deal, however, that he saw fit to tell teachers that they should teach it as such. It is a sad reflection on the British educational system that Gove, an Oxford graduate, thinks that Newton wrote the laws of thermodynamics, thus showing unawareness of the difference between 17th-century mechanics and 19th-century molecular statistics; the difference between the age of sail and the age of steam. But again, that need not in itself mattered too much. What does matter at many levels is his wish to have “Newton’s laws of thermodynamics” incorporated into the physics curriculum. In both cases, the shameful ignorance displayed is not in itself the major problem. The real concern is Gove’s willingness to impose his ignorance on those who know better, a willingness that led the National Association of Head Teachers, hardly a group of dangerous radicals, to vote no confidence in him. I have written on these topics before, most recently when he bid to become Prime Minister (“Why Michael Gove is not fit to lead anything”) but thought when that bid failed that I could let Gove lapse into the security that he so richly deserves.
Not so, alas. Gove is now Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Not topics on which I am an expert, so I will simply hand readers over to someone who is; Miles King at A New Nature Blog:
Last week I wrote about Michael Gove’s surprise arrival as Secretary of State for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs. There is so much more to write about this, but time is limited and I will not be able to cover everything in one piece.
Gove obviously has achieved notoriety amongst the Education establishment, by driving through unpopular reforms to the National Curriculum and to the testing regime. As these reforms have only recently been implemented, the benefits, or damage they cause will only become clear in the years to come.
As a parent with children in the education system I will see personally what Gove (and his comic-book villain sidekick, Dominic Cummings) has done for the future of my family, aside from his (and Cummings’) leading role in Brexit.
His subsequent stint at the Ministry of Justice was too short for him to have achieved anything, either way. Perhaps…
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The age of the Earth is around 4.55 billion years. Is this an indisputable fact? How would you answer a creationist who asked you this? I ask for a reason.
I was recently emailed by a stranger who wrote:
I am a college student taking Geology for the first time and there is a debate amongst the students in class. I am contacting you to assist in settling this dispute regarding the age of the earth.
If given the choice between these two rudimentary statements, would you say that:
(a) It is an indisputable fact that the earth is [around] 4.55 billion years old.
(b) Based on current scientific evidence, the earth appears to be 4.55 billion years old; however, future generations may find evidence that has the potential to either substantiate or refute our current model.
Excellent question. But the answer MUST depend on the threshold for disputability.
Do you think it is an indisputable fact that the Romans invaded Britain? If so, you must say that it is an indisputable fact that the Earth is around 4.55 billion years old.
If you say that this age of the Earth is disputable because, in principle, further evidence might make us change our minds, then you must also say that it is disputable that the Romans invaded Britain.
People often say that this or that scientific fact is uncertain because it is always in principle revisable. But the same is true of ALL our knowledge about the world.
Does this help? Please let me know how this plays out.
I am not satisfied with my answer.
The question uses the rhetorical device of the false dilemma. If I say that the age is indisputable, I am violating the principle that scientific knowledge is open to challenge by new evidence. If I say that it is disputable, the questioner has succeeded in driving a wedge, with scientific orthodoxy on one side, and me on the other, alongside Young Earth creationists. This of course is the entire purpose; people don’t go around asking whether the existence of atoms is indisputable. By refining the issue as I did, I have slipped between the horns of the dilemma. Sound logic, feeble rhetoric; looks like I’m wriggling when faced with a straightforward question.
What else could I have said?
Mosaic, Fishbourne, image by Charlesdrakew – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4755271
Catastrophist creationism gracefully refuted (again); this time by skid marks of drifting ammonite. Free download of paper at Lomax DR., Falkingham PL., Schweigert G., and Jiménez AP. 2017. An 8.5 m long ammonite drag mark from the Upper Jurassic Solnhofen Lithographic Limestones, Germany. PLOS ONE
Catastrophism versus gradualism; this controversy was laid to rest by TH Huxley in his 1869 Address to the Geological Society, but UK Young Earth Creationists persist in parading the corpse as if it presented a living challenge to current thinking. Perhaps it appeals to their absolutist binary mindset.
McIntosh himself is a member of the group mendaciously mislabelled Truth in Science, which distributed the equally mendacious neo-creationist tract Exploring Evolution to UK schools some years ago, and is an author of the error-saturated Origins, Examining the Evidence, published by that group. BCSE has published a detailed review of Exploring Evolution here.
This piece by my friend, the geologist historian Anglican priest Michael Roberts, will tell you more about McIntosh’s writing than you wish to know, but will convey a wealth of fascinating geological and historical information in the process.
THE GEOLOGY OF GENESIS FOR TODAY
One of the best selling British creationist books is Genesis for Today by Andy McIntosh, which is now in its 5th edition. https://www.dayone.co.uk/products/genesis-for-today
Most of the book is a popular exposition of Genesis 1 to 11 – and some of it I agree with, but not his insistence that it is literal history.
In Genesis for Today McIntosh gives three scientific appendices, which are much the same in the 1st and 5th editions. I could either go through and nit-pick his geological errors or consider them under main headings. I have chosen the latter.
Most would think that a professor in a scientific discipline at a leading university (with a first-rate geology department) would be able to make a reasonable showing on geology.Many amateurs and non-geologists I’ve met in geological societies have a clear grasp.
From the whole of his book, other writings and…
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Reblogged from The Logic of Science, but with this comment: No one would disagree with these claims on behalf of science, and and that’s the problem.
The climate change denialists, like the smoking science denialists before them, pretend that the science is unsettled. The creationists prattle of “creation science” and “flood geology”. The extremely able and intelligent US Vice President, pandering to his creationist base, did not claim to be anti-science. On the contrary, he used the very fact of a major scientific discovery (Sahelanthropus, evolution, and the word “theory”; what Mike Pence really said) to blur the distinction between the established core and the fast-changing frontiers. And if we are to effectively defend science, we need to understand the emotional appeal of the ideology that leads to the rejection of vaccination, medicines, and GMOs, and to the prejudging of complex arguments in such cases as fracking and nuclear power.*
We need to think very carefully about tactics. If we seem to be saying anything like “Science is a good thing, therefore you should trust the scientists”, we are playing into the hands of our enemies. We are right to demonstrate and protest when science is denied, or ignored, or muzzled. And yet people (that’s all of us) believe what they want to believe. The task then is, how to persuade people to want to believe in the evidence?
*This last comment cuts both ways, of course
Why should you support science? Because it works! It’s crazy to me that I even have to say that, but this is where we are as a society. Various forms and degrees of science denial are running rampant throughout our culture, and attacks on science are being disseminated from the highest levels. Indeed, it has gotten to the point that hundreds of thousands of scientists and science enthusiasts like myself feel compelled to take to the streets to march for science and remind everyone of the fundamental fact that science works and is unparalleled in its ability to inform us about reality and improve our world.
Image via the CDC
Just look around you. Everything that you see was brought to you by science. The batteries that power your electronic devices are a result of scientific advances in chemistry, as are the plastics that make up seemingly everything in our…
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“Is this proof dinosaurs lived with HUMANS? Creationist claims REAL truth COVERED UP”
The Express, an ostensibly serious right wing UK newspaper, reports under “SCIENCE”.
The evidence? A display at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum. Ham is quoted as saying that the standard scientific evidence is a coverup, as his own dinosaur fossils show, for some unstated but presumably non-standard reason:
“Ken Ham, founder of Creation Museum in Kentucky, United States, has put the supposed evidence on display at his centre. Standard scientific evidence shows dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago … and the anatomically modern man did not emerge until around 200,000 years ago. But Mr Ham believes this is a cover-up … the dinosaur fossils were found in Colorado about a decade ago and seem to represent a tyrannosaurus rex [sic].”
(Fuller quotations supplied by the Sensuous Curmudgeon, here)
Ham complains that evolutionists “use dinosaurs … to promote their worldview”. How dare they! But do not accuse the Express of bias. It does refer to what it calls “the standard scientific evidence”, and they do quote two sentences from Bill Nye, before showing the image on the right:
And compared with the image below, the paper’s front page in the runup to the Brexit referendum, the dinosaur story is factually balanced reporting reporting; fake news is not the invention of the Trump campaign.
The Express group is wholly-owned by Richard Desmond, a UK billionaire and former publisher of such informative periodicals as Penthouse and Asian Babes. circulation is close to 400,000, in addition to online readership. In 2002, Desmond made a £100,000 donation to Blair’s Labour Party, but in 2004 switched allegiance to the Conservatives.
The lead story of this post would seem to be based on the February 4 2014 debate between Ken Ham and Bill Nye, which did so much to restore the former’s finances. Why it should have resurfaced now in the Express, I have no idea. But it does concern me. Desmond does not make a habit of backing longterm losers.
“imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, ‘This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn’t it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!’ This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it’s still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because this World was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.”
I yield to no one in my admiration for Douglas Adams, and admire here in particular his reminder that our place in the Universe may really be rather precarious. However, on this occasion he had been anticipated. Read the rest of this entry