"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Guest Posting: Expanded Dyson Exegesis

I received this in the mail from a reader and thought it good enough to share.

The author is the as-yet-under-construction Peter Miesler of Durango CO, who describes himself as follows:
From my earliest years I've loved science and have been drinking it up (at a layman's level), ever since.

I graduated Burlingame High School in 1973, with pretty much A's in science classes where I learned about global warming and all.

Have only been to college on a part time basis occasionally since then.

I've been a working/family guy ever since but have been keeping up on science.
In the 90's I used to send in regular rebuttals to Alston Chase's inane columns to the local Durango Herald.

I do have a short article An Essay Concerning Our Weather in Nov/Dec 1995 The Humanitist magazine. They printed an updated version ten years later, it conveniently coincided with a post Katrina Climate issue Nov/Dec 2005, that one is titled Katrina and Rita in Context.

I consider myself an informed, scientifically literate layman, with four decades of watching the global warming science and debate develop.

This follows onto my own rather hurried but surprisingly popular (because of journalistic timeliness) article "Dyson exegesis", which was nonetheless a shabby effort by comparison to Peter's.

Readers may also find "Slicin' and Dicin' with Dyson and Bryson" of interest.

Without further ado, I give you Freeman Dyson vs Peter Miesler.



FREEMAN DYSON is professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton. His professional interests are in mathematics and astronomy. Among his many books are Disturbing the Universe, Infinite in All Directions Origins of Life, From Eros to Gaia, Imagined Worlds, and The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet. His most recent book, Many Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (Page Barbour Lectures), is being published this month by University of Virgina Press.


1. The Need for Heretics

1) In the modern world, science and society often interact in a perverse way. We live in a technological society, and technology causes political problems. The politicians and the public expect science to provide answers to the problems. Scientific experts are paid and encouraged to provide answers. The public does not have much use for a scientist who says, “Sorry, but we don’t know”. The public prefers to listen to scientists who give confident answers to questions and make confident predictions of what will happen as a result of human activities. So it happens that the experts who talk publicly about politically contentious questions tend to speak more clearly than they think. They make confident predictions about the future, and end up believing their own predictions. Their predictions become dogmas which they do not question. The public is led to believe that the fashionable scientific dogmas are true, and it may sometimes happen that they are wrong. That is why heretics who question the dogmas are needed. (1)

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(1) D makes some grand accusations, with nothing more than his opinion and word play intended to prejudice his audience from the start.
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2) As a scientist I do not have much faith in predictions.(1) Science is organized unpredictability. The best scientists like to arrange things in an experiment to be as unpredictable as possible, and then they do the experiment to see what will happen. You might say that if something is predictable then it is not science.(2) When I make predictions, I am not speaking as a scientist. I am speaking as a story-teller, and my predictions are science-fiction rather than science. The predictions of science-fiction writers are notoriously inaccurate. Their purpose is to imagine what might happen rather than to describe what will happen. I will be telling stories that challenge the prevailing dogmas of today. The prevailing dogmas may be right, but they still need to be challenged. I am proud to be a heretic. The world always needs heretics to challenge the prevailing orthodoxies. Since I am heretic, I am accustomed to being in the minority. If I could persuade everyone to agree with me, I would not be a heretic.(3)

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(1) D says he doesn’t believe in prediction, but later he makes a few of them, and expects his prediction to be a serious basis for doing nothing>ignoring
(2) It sounds to me that Dyson the theoretical physicist thinks that his way of approaching a physics experiments should be unquestioningly transfered to all Earth sciences. {I call misdirection}
(3) D makes it clear that the following is science fiction musing and should be treated with a healthy dose of salt - yet you have presented this to me as authoritative pronouncements that I should heed.
Don't you have anything substantive?
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3) We are lucky that we can be heretics today without any danger of being burned at the stake. But unfortunately I am an old heretic. Old heretics do not cut much ice. When you hear an old heretic talking, you can always say, “Too bad he has lost his marbles”, and pass on. What the world needs is young heretics. I am hoping that one or two of the people who read this piece may fill that role. 

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4) Two years ago, I was at Cornell University celebrating the life of Tommy Gold, a famous astronomer who died at a ripe old age. He was famous as a heretic, promoting unpopular ideas that usually turned out to be right. Long ago I was a guinea-pig in Tommy’s experiments on human hearing. He had a heretical idea that the human ear discriminates pitch by means of a set of tuned resonators with active electromechanical feedback. He published a paper explaining how the ear must work, [Gold, 1948]. He described how the vibrations of the inner ear must be converted into electrical signals which feed back into the mechanical motion, reinforcing the vibrations and increasing the sharpness of the resonance. The experts in auditory physiology ignored his work because he did not have a degree in physiology. Many years later, the experts discovered the two kinds of hair-cells in the inner ear that actually do the feedback as Tommy had predicted, one kind of hair-cell acting as electrical sensors and the other kind acting as mechanical drivers. It took the experts forty years to admit that he was right. Of course, I knew that he was right, because I had helped him do the experiments.

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Anecdotal points made to proclaim the virtues of the heretic.
Sounds great and it further prejudices the audience. But, has nothing to do with climate or models

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5) Later in his life, Tommy Gold promoted another heretical idea, that the oil and natural gas in the ground come up from deep in the mantle of the earth and have nothing to do with biology. Again the experts are sure that he is wrong, and he did not live long enough to change their minds. Just a few weeks before he died, some chemists at the Carnegie Institution in Washington did a beautiful experiment in a diamond anvil cell, [Scott et al., 2004]. They mixed together tiny quantities of three things that we know exist in the mantle of the earth, and observed them at the pressure and temperature appropriate to the mantle about two hundred kilometers down. The three things were calcium carbonate which is sedimentary rock, iron oxide which is a component of igneous rock, and water. These three things are certainly present when a slab of subducted ocean floor descends from a deep ocean trench into the mantle. The experiment showed that they react quickly to produce lots of methane, which is natural gas. Knowing the result of the experiment, we can be sure that big quantities of natural gas exist in the mantle two hundred kilometers down. We do not know how much of this natural gas pushes its way up through cracks and channels in the overlying rock to form the shallow reservoirs of natural gas that we are now burning. If the gas moves up rapidly enough, it will arrive intact in the cooler regions where the reservoirs are found. If it moves too slowly through the hot region, the methane may be reconverted to carbonate rock and water. The Carnegie Institute experiment shows that there is at least a possibility that Tommy Gold was right and the natural gas reservoirs are fed from deep below. The chemists sent an E-mail to Tommy Gold to tell him their result, and got back a message that he had died three days earlier. Now that he is dead, we need more heretics to take his place.

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Yes, the history is science has many stories of the vindication of heretic notions. It is also filled with once brilliant minds getting old and trapped within their personal mental loops further and further removed from the state of the science.
D still hasn’t done more than share opinions, when solid information is what we need.

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2. Climate and Land Management

6) The main subject of this piece is the problem of climate change.(1) This is a contentious subject, involving politics and economics as well as science. The science is inextricably mixed up with politics.(2) Everyone agrees that the climate is changing, but there are violently diverging opinions about the causes of change, about the consequences of change, and about possible remedies.(3) I am promoting a heretical opinion, the first of three heresies that I will discuss in this piece.(4)

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(1) Did D just spend nearly a thousand words setting an anecdotal science fiction (his own words) stage to sing the virtues of the heretic - if not establish the correctness of “appeal to his authority.” And now he switch to climate science
{Seems to me the true heretic is the one who develops his ideas and pushes those ideals with all the evidence he can muster.
Not the crier on the street corner proclaiming what a grand heretic he is and how the world should be grateful for his heretic mind !}
(2) D doesn’t do anything to try to delineate the issues and offer some guidance in trying to recognize what belongs in which realm?
(3) Simply to claim there are violently diverging opinions and leaving it at that is nothing more than another act of misdirection. Within the climate science community their are not violently diverging opinions, there is a large and pretty much understood picture, differing opinions regarding details, and a lot of debate focused on further developing the understanding, but not "violently divergent" opinions.
The “violently divergent” opinions don’t come into the picture until it crosses over into the media realm where every start up or wannabe is afforded the same weight as those who have dedicated their lives to understanding the details.
(4) At this point we ought to remember D's introduction and admission that the heretic is a weaver science fiction.

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7) My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models.(1) Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in.(2) The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds.(3) That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models. (4)

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(1) It is a lie to claim the crowd of deluded citizens believe in the models, without including their growing awareness of our melting Cryosphere and many other Down To Earth changes who’s acceleration we have been witnessing through out past decades.
(2) Here again we are left to D’s appeal to his own authority. D does nothing to explain his claims. D does not discuss the advancement of models, computers, data input that have occurred over the past three decades. D does not describe how models are developed and refined using real earth measurements. D does not acknowledge that climate scientists are well aware of the limitations of models. Once again it’s only when we cross into the media realm that “the model story” gets super crazy.
(3) A slanderous distortion. There are many scientist out in the field (spending all that money contrarians want to rob from Earth observation systems of).
(4) A) climate scientists “believe” their models only so far.
B) D totally ignores how real Earth data is incorporated into the science of climate modeling.
D makes no attempt to explain the role of models as learning and mapping tools, knowing full well that the map is not the territory.
Nor does D touch on the fact that pretty much his entire career's been based on creating and using models to help develop our understanding of nuclear physics.
{“short sharp jabs to confuse rather than explain”}

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8) There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is not global.(1) I am not saying that the warming does not cause problems. Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated.(2) They take away money and attention from other problems that are more urgent and more important, (3) such as poverty and infectious disease and public education and public health, and the preservation of living creatures on land and in the oceans, not to mention easy problems such as the timely construction of adequate dikes around the city of New Orleans.

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(1) To make a statements like that without touching on the reality of our climate as a Heat Engine is disingenuous and misdirection in the extreme.
(2) Why should we lend weight to his opinion - appeal to his own authority should not be enough - unless one is writing a science fiction book... {oh I remember he did point out in the beginning that this was a science fiction)
(3) Hideous claim. Our climate sustained biosphere is humanities life support system and you resent
spending money on understanding it. (fyi This agenda driven jealous greed is one of the things that upsets me and allows insults to sneak through now and again.)
(4) As for the New Orleans blame the Reagan crowd for the slipshod construction of those dikes that gave way! The Depression Era dikes held just fine. ;-)
But, those dikes are an excellent example of putting profits over appreciating the reality of the physical forces we have on our hands.

Katrina/New Orleans was an engineering disaster not a hurricane inflicted disaster, remember the storm had passed on.

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9) I will discuss the global warming problem in detail(1) because it is interesting, even though its importance is exaggerated.(2) One of the main causes of warming is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from our burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and natural gas. To understand the movement of carbon through the atmosphere and biosphere, we need to measure a lot of numbers. I do not want to confuse you with a lot of numbers, so I will ask you to remember just one number. The number that I ask you to remember is one hundredth of an inch per year. Now I will explain what this number means. Consider the half of the land area of the earth that is not desert or ice-cap or city or road or parking-lot. This is the half of the land that is covered with soil and supports vegetation of one kind or another. Every year, it absorbs and converts into biomass a certain fraction of the carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere. Biomass means living creatures, plants and microbes and animals, and the organic materials that are left behind when the creatures die and decay. We don’t know how big a fraction of our emissions is absorbed by the land, since we have not measured the increase or decrease of the biomass.(3) The number that I ask you to remember is the increase in thickness, averaged over one half of the land area of the planet, of the biomass that would result if all the carbon that we are emitting by burning fossil fuels were absorbed. The average increase in thickness is one hundredth of an inch per year.

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(1) Where does he “discuss” the global warming problem in the following paragraph - misdirection.
(2) Another fallacious appeal to authority and unreality towards the facts of our melting Cryosphere and what those implications are for humanity. From flooded shorelines to desiccation of the high mountain glacial lungs that sustain rain patterns and river systems.
(3) Hmmm, I wonder, now he expects us to take is word for it - on the appeal to his own authority, but there are people out there studying the soil and the CO2. Guess what google says:

> Canada's soil organic carbon database. | Lacelle, B. | Soil ... CABI Abstract | Canada's soil organic carbon database. | The Canadian Soil Carbon Project was initiated in 1991 to determine the amount of organic carbon in ...
www.cababstractsplus.org/abstracts/Abstract.aspx?AcNo=19981904037 -
> Northern and Mid-Latitude Soil Database, Version 1 The Soil Organic Carbon Digital Database of Canada. Research Branch, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa, Canada. U.S. Soil Conservation Service. 1994. ...
daac.ornl.gov/SOILS/guides/mid_latitude_soils.html - Cached - Similar -
> Soil processes and the carbon cycle - Google Books Result
by R. Lal - 1998 - Technology & Engineering - 609 pages Canada's Soil Organic Carbon Database B. Lacelle I. Introduction The Canadian Soil Carbon Project was initiated in 1991 to determine the amount of organic ...
books.google.com/books?isbn=0849374413... -
> Soil organic carbon content and its distribution in Northern ... Key words: Soil organic carbon database, peat soil, northern Territory of Canada, organic horizons, mineral horizons, profiles, reconnaissance soil survey ...
www.ldd.go.th/18wcss/techprogram/P12249.HTM - Cached -
> Estimates of soil organic carbon stocks in central Canada using ... File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat
by JS Bhatti - 2002 - Cited by 29 - Related articles - All 7 versions
Canadian Soil Organic Carbon Database (CSOCD), which uses expert estimation based on soil characteristics; and. (iii) model simulations with the Carbon ... article.pubs.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/ppv/RPViewDoc?issn=1208-6037...5... -
> National Scale Analysis of Soil Organic Carbon Storage in China ...
by DS YU - 2007 - Cited by 5 - Related articles - All 4 versions
Canadian soil organic carbon database. In Lai, R. et al. (eds.) Soil Processes and the Carbon Cycle.CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, pp. 93-102. ... linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1002016007600022 - Similar -


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10) The point of this calculation is the very favorable rate of exchange between carbon in the atmosphere and carbon in the soil. To stop the carbon in the atmosphere from increasing, we only need to grow the biomass in the soil by a hundredth of an inch per year.(1) Good topsoil contains about ten percent biomass, [Schlesinger, 1977], so a hundredth of an inch of biomass growth means about a tenth of an inch of topsoil. Changes in farming practices such as no-till farming, avoiding the use of the plow, cause biomass to grow at least as fast as this. If we plant crops without plowing the soil, more of the biomass goes into roots which stay in the soil, and less returns to the atmosphere.(2) If we use genetic engineering to put more biomass into roots, we can probably achieve much more rapid growth of topsoil.(3) I conclude from this calculation that the problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a problem of land management, not a problem of meteorology.(4) No computer model of atmosphere and ocean can hope to predict the way we shall manage our land. 
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(1) Wait a minute D jumps from 1/100” carbon to 1/100” biomass. Weird math here, guess we’re supposed to take his appeal to authority on that.
(2) OK this would be fantastic any you look at it, but it’s contrary to modern farming by fertilizer.
(3) Yea, probably, maybe but we are talking hypotheticals.
(4) That is one grand leap of a conclusion, don’t suppose we can hope for a little more detail about how that will “actually” be achieved.

Oh, I’m supposed to accept D’s appeal to his own authority - but, let’s not forget this is a science fiction writing.

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11) Here is another heretical thought. Instead of calculating world-wide averages of biomass growth, we may prefer to look at the problem locally. Consider a possible future, with China continuing to develop an industrial economy based largely on the burning of coal, and the United States deciding to absorb the resulting carbon dioxide by increasing the biomass in our topsoil. The quantity of biomass that can be accumulated in living plants and trees is limited, but there is no limit to the quantity that can be stored in topsoil.(1) To grow topsoil on a massive scale may or may not be practical, depending on the economics of farming and forestry. It is at least a possibility to be seriously considered, that China could become rich by burning coal, while the United States could become environmentally virtuous by accumulating topsoil, with transport of carbon from mine in China to soil in America provided free of charge by the atmosphere, and the inventory of carbon in the atmosphere remaining constant.(2) We should take such possibilities into account when we listen to predictions about climate change and fossil fuels. If biotechnology takes over the planet in the next fifty years, as computer technology has taken it over in the last fifty years, the rules of the climate game will be radically changed.(3)

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(1) How in the world does D figure that? Can we ask on what information he bases such an extravagant claim? 1/100in/yr carbon = 1/000in/yr biomass (?) goes into 1/10in/yr top soil = accumulating one inch top soil every decade. Where is the 9/10inch/decade filler for the top soils coming from?
(2) So D proposes creating ten inches of top soil per century and this will go a long way to solving the atmospheric carbon dioxide problem. OH, I remember this is an exercise in science fiction.
(3) Another big science fiction if. Just because we dream it don’t mean we’ll be creating it in the future.

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12) When I listen to the public debates about climate change, I am impressed by the enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories.(1) Many of the basic processes of planetary ecology are poorly understood.(2) They must be better understood before we can reach an accurate diagnosis of the present condition of our planet.(3) When we are trying to take care of a planet, just as when we are taking care of a human patient, diseases must be diagnosed before they can be cured. We need to observe and measure what is going on in the biosphere, rather than relying on computer models.(4)

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(1) Another giant assumption based on D’s appeal to his own authority. If you want me to take this serious he would be explaining how he arrived at that conclusion - you don’t have to do that in science fiction --- BUT, I did ask for something real and authoritative not an old guys science fiction musings.
(2) How poor is “poor” is he expecting Ecological Sciences to reach the precision of atomic physics?
(3) Misdirection. D is implying that we don’t have enough information to make reasonable predictions - but climate sciences predictions have been fairly accurate, though the contrarian never looks at trying to understand the depth of knowledge we have acquired this past half century.

(4) What baloney aimed at more misdirection. Go to the hospital with a high fever and they will treat the symptom immediately and puzzle out the disease as the patient is being stabilized

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13) Everyone agrees that the increasing abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has two important consequences, first a change in the physics of radiation transport in the atmosphere, and second a change in the biology of plants on the ground and in the ocean.(1) Opinions differ on the relative importance of the physical and biological effects, and on whether the effects, either separately or together, are beneficial or harmful. The physical effects are seen in changes of rainfall, cloudiness, wind-strength and temperature, which are customarily lumped together in the misleading phrase “global warming”.(2) In humid air, the effect of carbon dioxide on radiation transport is unimportant because the transport of thermal radiation is already blocked by the much larger greenhouse effect of water vapor.(3) The effect of carbon dioxide is important where the air is dry, and air is usually dry only where it is cold. Hot desert air may feel dry but often contains a lot of water vapor. The warming effect of carbon dioxide is strongest where air is cold and dry, mainly in the arctic rather than in the tropics, mainly in mountainous regions rather than in lowlands, mainly in winter rather than in summer, and mainly at night rather than in daytime. The warming is real, but it is mostly making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter.(4) To represent this local warming by a global average is misleading.

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(1) What about ocean acidification (OK if you prefer dropping alkalinity - big trouble no matter how you spell it.)
(2) And why is it misleading? Oceans are warming, polar regions are warming, ground temps averaged together are warming. Why shouldn’t it be called Global Warming? Oh yea I forgot this is an exercise in science fiction.
(3) What about their different absorbtion bands?
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(4) Here’s what Michael Tobis PhD has to say about that:
The argument you quote is invalid for two reasons.
First, the greenhouse effect never fully saturates; increased optical depth continues to warm the surface long after the atmosphere is essentially opaque to outgoing infrared waves.
Second, for the most part there is little overlap between the absorption bands of H2O and CO2.
The idea that the effect applies "mainly in mountainous regions rather than in lowlands" is particularly astonishing. It is exactly 180 degrees from the truth.
It is the integrated column depth of greenhouse gases that trap the outgoing IR. Mountains, being nearer the top of the atmosphere, experience less greenhouse warming than the surface.
So "particularly in the mountains" shows that the author has never even sat down with the undergraduate level approximation of how atmospheric radiative transfer actually works. It's really quite shocking.
In fact, the high latitudes are more sensitive to warming. However this is not because they are dry but rather, in part, because of the persistent presence of low clouds, (exactly contrary to the tale he is trying to spin) as well as ice-albedo feedback. See, e.g., Holland and Botz
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14) The fundamental reason why carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is critically important to biology is that there is so little of it. A field of corn growing in full sunlight in the middle of the day uses up all the carbon dioxide within a meter of the ground in about five minutes. If the air were not constantly stirred by convection currents and winds, the corn would stop growing. About a tenth of all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is converted into biomass every summer and given back to the atmosphere every fall. That is why the effects of fossil-fuel burning cannot be separated from the effects of plant growth and decay. There are five reservoirs of carbon that are biologically accessible on a short time-scale, not counting the carbonate rocks and the deep ocean which are only accessible on a time-scale of thousands of years.(1) The five accessible reservoirs are the atmosphere, the land plants, the topsoil in which land plants grow, the surface layer of the ocean in which ocean plants grow, and our proved reserves of fossil fuels. The atmosphere is the smallest reservoir and the fossil fuels are the largest, but all five reservoirs are of comparable size.(2) They all interact strongly with one another. To understand any of them, it is necessary to understand all of them.

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(1) Well, isn’t that the deal - coal and oil are geologic reserves that are releasing quantities of CO2 sequestered over many, many millions of years.

(2) What in the world does that mean? The quantity of CO2 in the atmosphere is comparable to the CO2 in our coal. What data is that based on? Oh, I remember this is science fiction

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15) As an example of the way different reservoirs of carbon dioxide may interact with each other, consider the atmosphere and the topsoil. Greenhouse experiments show that many plants growing in an atmosphere enriched with carbon dioxide react by increasing their root-to-shoot ratio. This means that the plants put more of their growth into roots and less into stems and leaves. A change in this direction is to be expected, because the plants have to maintain a balance between the leaves collecting carbon from the air and the roots collecting mineral nutrients from the soil. The enriched atmosphere tilts the balance so that the plants need less leaf-area and more root-area. Now consider what happens to the roots and shoots when the growing season is over, when the leaves fall and the plants die. The new-grown biomass decays and is eaten by fungi or microbes. Some of it returns to the atmosphere and some of it is converted into topsoil. On the average, more of the above-ground growth will return to the atmosphere and more of the below-ground growth will become topsoil. So the plants with increased root-to-shoot ratio will cause an increased transfer of carbon from the atmosphere into topsoil. If the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fossil-fuel burning has caused an increase in the average root-to-shoot ratio of plants over large areas, then the possible effect on the top-soil reservoir will not be small. At present we have no way to measure or even to guess the size of this effect. The aggregate biomass of the topsoil of the planet is not a measurable quantity. But the fact that the topsoil is unmeasurable does not mean that it is unimportant.

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Interesting musing. But are you suggesting this should be the basis for pretending radical changes aren't needed.
{Seems to me if we don’t initiate serious changes ~ much more heinous natural changes are going to steam roller over us.}

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16) At present we do not know whether the topsoil of the United States is increasing or decreasing. Over the rest of the world, because of large-scale deforestation and erosion, the topsoil reservoir is probably decreasing. We do not know whether intelligent land-management could increase the growth of the topsoil reservoir by four billion tons of carbon per year, the amount needed to stop the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. All that we can say for sure is that this is a theoretical possibility and ought to be seriously explored.
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3. Oceans and Ice-ages

17) Another problem that has to be taken seriously is a slow rise of sea level which could become catastrophic if it continues to accelerate. We have accurate measurements of sea level going back two hundred years. We observe a steady rise from 1800 to the present, with an acceleration during the last fifty years. It is widely believed that the recent acceleration is due to human activities, since it coincides in time with the rapid increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But the rise from 1800 to 1900 was probably not due to human activities. The scale of industrial activities in the nineteenth century was not large enough to have had measurable global effects. So a large part of the observed rise in sea level must have other causes.(1) One possible cause is a slow readjustment of the shape of the earth to the disappearance of the northern ice-sheets at the end of the ice age twelve thousand years ago. Another possible cause is the large-scale melting of glaciers, which also began long before human influences on climate became significant.(2) Once again, we have an environmental danger whose magnitude cannot be predicted until we know more about its causes, [Munk, 2002]. (3)

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(1) Why does D have to muddle frames of reference? He admits to an acceleration during the last five decades, most probably due to human influence - but then immediately tries to muddle that within the slow rise during the previous century.
(2) D gives us reassurance based on appeal to his own authority. I claim his interpretation doesn’t do justice to the data.
Why doesn’t D ever suggest visiting the National Snow and Ice Data Center to cross check his claims?
(3) Where in the world does D get making such a grand statement without offer any shed of supporting data?
Appeal to his own authority. . . As for that last sentence it is utter bs, very serious and sober predictions can be made.

{And while some continue dabbling and discoursing in their ivory towers, the Cryosphere becomes softer and dripping off the edges accelerates and the real world contemporary situation become more and more ominous. Every serious ice melt “model” made in past decades is being superseded by current real world measurements! And still all contrarians want to do is play word games. Shame on you.
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18) The most alarming possible cause of sea-level rise is a rapid disintegration of the West Antarctic ice-sheet, which is the part of Antarctica where the bottom of the ice is far below sea level. Warming seas around the edge of Antarctica might erode the ice-cap from below and cause it to collapse into the ocean.(1) If the whole of West Antarctica disintegrated rapidly, sea-level would rise by five meters, with disastrous effects on billions of people. However, recent measurements of the ice-cap show that it is not losing volume fast enough to make a significant contribution to the presently observed sea-level rise.(2) It appears that the warming seas around Antarctica are causing an increase in snowfall over the ice-cap, and the increased snowfall on top roughly cancels (3) out the decrease of ice volume caused by erosion at the edges. The same changes, increased melting of ice at the edges and increased snowfall adding ice on top, are also observed in Greenland. In addition, there is an increase in snowfall over the East Antarctic Ice-cap, which is much larger and colder and is in no danger of melting.(4) This is another situation where we do not know how much of the environmental change is due to human activities and how much to long-term natural processes over which we have no control.(5)

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(1) Why doesn’t D point out that warm ocean waters are actually scooping out the bottoms of ice sheets and glacial tongues? Admittedly these finding are at best a couple years old.
(2) BS!!! Go visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center!!!
(3) BS!!! Go visit the National Snow and Ice Data Center!!! Furthermore a square meter of snowfall, does not a square meter of ancient glacier equal. And you tell me this guy should be accepted as a solid scientist?! Misdirection of the most grievous kind!
Visit: http://arctic.atmos.uiuc.edu/cryosphere/
{Incidentally, that’s another thing about contrarian that really p's me off, they consistently ignore new data and keep trying to make arguments with old information that has been long since superseded --> good contrarians have a lot in common with creationist.}
(4) It makes me want to scream: and you believe your serious about looking at the data, come on, enough of chimeras, start looking at what is going on. Visit http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/vanishing/
(5) This is another unsupported opinion that I’m supposed to accept on D’s appeal to his own authority.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

19) Another environmental danger that is even more poorly understood is the possible coming of a new ice-age. A new ice-age would mean the burial of half of North America and half of Europe under massive ice-sheets. We know that there is a natural cycle that has been operating for the last eight hundred thousand years.(1) The length of the cycle is a hundred thousand years. In each hundred-thousand year period, there is an ice-age that lasts about ninety thousand years and a warm interglacial period that lasts about ten thousand years. We are at present in a warm period that began twelve thousand years ago, so the onset of the next ice-age is overdue.(2) If human activities were not disturbing the climate, a new ice-age might already have begun. We do not know how to answer the most important question: do our human activities in general, and our burning of fossil fuels in particular, make the onset of the next ice-age more likely or less likely?(3)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) And why at this point doesn’t D remind us of orbital effect of planet warming?
(2) Why doesn’t D mention that current CO2 levels, especially those yet to be added have made another glaciation impossible unless our orbit changes most radically?
(3) Baloney!
Visit: http://www.skepticalscience.com/heading-into-new-little-ice-age.htm
More nonsense I’m supposed to accept on the basis of D’s appeal to his own authority.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

20) There are good arguments on both sides of this question. On the one side, we know that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was much lower during past ice-ages than during warm periods, so it is reasonable to expect that an artificially high level of carbon dioxide might stop an ice-age from beginning. On the other side, the oceanographer Wallace Broecker [Broecker, 1997] has argued that the present warm climate in Europe depends on a circulation of ocean water, with the Gulf Stream flowing north on the surface and bringing warmth to Europe, and with a counter-current of cold water flowing south in the deep ocean. So a new ice-age could begin whenever the cold deep counter-current is interrupted. The counter-current could be interrupted when the surface water in the Arctic becomes less salty and fails to sink, and the water could become less salty when the warming climate increases the Arctic rainfall. (1) Thus Broecker argues that a warm climate in the Arctic may paradoxically cause an ice-age to begin.(2) Since we are confronted with two plausible arguments(3) leading to opposite conclusions, the only rational response is to admit our ignorance. Until the causes of ice-ages are understood,(4) we cannot know whether the increase of carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing or decreasing the danger.(5)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Another example of using outdated data to make an argument.
(2) No background facts are offered in support of D’s musings. For instance the last time the Ocean Convey Belt was interrupted, massive ice-sheets covered North America and Europe. Ever drive down the Columbia River Valley? I hear tell the Hudson is similar. Look at the size of those river valley flanks, there was some massive water gushing into the ocean back then, nothing happen today or in the near future could match that, enough ice just isn't there. Apparently the master physicist has a problem translating that smarts into real Earth phenomena. Again why should I take D’s appeal to his own authority over obvious stuff ~ that anyone who thinks about it knows better?

(3) There’s nothing plausible about it.
(4) The audacity to claim ice-ages aren’t understood.
Perhaps this is an example of a physicist expecting Earth Science’s to meet an Engineer’s Standard of accuracy and a Physicist’s Standard of Reproducibility?
So can we examine that?
What “standards” ARE contrarians expecting our Earth Scientists to meet?

(5) Oh yea, I forgot, Freeman warned me way back at the beginning, that this was a heretics science fiction.
So why am going through this? I thought Curt was going to give me something serious.
... And if this is the best you can offer my contempt has just ratcheted up another notch.
sorry but I’m getting old and really tired of people blowing it up my behind.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

4. The Wet Sahara
21) My second heresy is also concerned with climate change. It is about the mystery of the wet Sahara. This is a mystery that has always fascinated me. At many places in the Sahara desert that are now dry and unpopulated, we find rock-paintings showing people with herds of animals. The paintings are abundant, and some of them are of high artistic quality, comparable with the more famous cave-paintings in France and Spain. The Sahara paintings are more recent than the cave-paintings. They come in a variety of styles and were probably painted over a period of several thousand years. The latest of them show Egyptian influences and may be contemporaneous with early Egyptian tomb paintings. Henri Lhote’s book, “The Search for the Tassili Frescoes”, [Lhote, 1958], is illustrated with reproductions of fifty of the paintings. The best of the herd paintings date from roughly six thousand years ago. They are strong evidence that the Sahara at that time was wet. There was enough rain to support herds of cows and giraffes, which must have grazed on grass and trees. There were also some hippopotamuses and elephants. The Sahara then must have been like the Serengeti today.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I can’t even get into this paragraph.
Is D imagining that our climate will do some nice neat quantum leap to another steady state tailor made for humanity?

I guess the lesson is never listen to a physicist regarding down to Earth processes such as warming our planet.
No steady states here, we have induced changes that are reflected in trajectories and vortexes and they are going in one flowing direction.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

22) At the same time, roughly six thousand years ago, there were deciduous forests in Northern Europe where the trees are now conifers, proving that the climate in the far north was milder than it is today. There were also trees standing in mountain valleys in Switzerland that are now filled with famous glaciers. The glaciers that are now shrinking were much smaller six thousand years ago than they are today.(1) Six thousand years ago seems to have been the warmest and wettest period of the interglacial era that began twelve thousand years ago when the last Ice Age ended. I would like to ask two questions. First, if the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is allowed to continue, shall we arrive at a climate similar to the climate of six thousand years ago when the Sahara was wet?(2) Second, if we could choose between the climate of today with a dry Sahara and the climate of six thousand years ago with a wet Sahara, should we prefer the climate of today?(3) My second heresy answers yes to the first question and no to the second. It says that the warm climate of six thousand years ago with the wet Sahara is to be preferred, and that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may help to bring it back. I am not saying that this heresy is true. I am only saying that it will not do us any harm to think about it.(4)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Omitting comparisons of the relative rates of change is misleading.
(2) No. Our climatic equilibrium is not analogues to the quantum state models this old physicist seems to be trapped within.
(3) “If we could chose” ?
Do you folks actually believe we can choose where our climate is going to land at?
Don’t you scientists know that our climate acts on geologic time scales and that is it fluid?
Oh, oh yea, I forgot again this is science fiction.
What’s bad is that it is written in a way to encourage people to forget that this is a science fictional musing.
(4) Right, like it does no harm to wonder if a falling tree makes a noise when no human is there to hear it - but it is a worthless train of empty logic none the less.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

23) The biosphere is the most complicated of all the things we humans have to deal with.(1) The science of planetary ecology is still young and undeveloped.(2) It is not surprising that honest and well-informed experts can disagree about facts. But beyond the disagreement about facts, there is another deeper disagreement about values.(3) The disagreement about values may be described in an over-simplified way as a disagreement between naturalists and humanists. Naturalists believe that nature knows best. For them the highest value is to respect the natural order of things. Any gross human disruption of the natural environment is evil. (4) Excessive burning of fossil fuels is evil.(5) Changing nature’s desert, either the Sahara desert or the ocean desert, into a managed ecosystem where giraffes or tunafish may flourish, is likewise evil.(6) Nature knows best, and anything we do to improve upon Nature will only bring trouble.(7) 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) What about the human brain and biological details?
(2) This is not true. There are libraries full of the accumulating knowledge of centuries,
to call our understanding of Earth systems undeveloped is delusional.
Here we get back to the question of applying the standards of an atomic Physicist to Earth Sciences. It’s a fools errand.

(3) Watch out the Value’s Card is getting played.
(4) He is misrepresenting what Naturalists believe. But, we are supposed to take D’s spin on account of D’s appeal to his own authority.
(5) Excessive burning of coal is injecting excessive levels of CO2 into our Heat Engine. This should be belittled?
(6) Now we are getting into ranting.

(7) Nonsense it is the old tactic of making your enemy look like a demon in order to allow one the luxury of dehumanizing those one disagrees with. What harm contrarian tactics are inflicting upon the fabric of our society... shame on you.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

24) The humanist ethic begins with the belief that humans are an essential part of nature. Through human minds the biosphere has acquired the capacity to steer its own evolution, and now we are in charge.(1) Humans have the right and the duty to reconstruct nature so that humans and biosphere can both survive and prosper. For humanists, the highest value is harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.(2) The greatest evils are poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, disease and hunger, all the conditions that deprive people of opportunities and limit their freedoms.(3) The humanist ethic accepts an increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a small price to pay, if world-wide industrial development can alleviate the miseries of the poorer half of humanity. The humanist ethic accepts our responsibility to guide the evolution of the planet.(4)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Hey, two lines I can agree with, finally.
(2) This is all fine and good, but D doesn’t say a word about understanding , appreciating and cooperating with forces greater than we are.
(3) This seems one of the most disingenuous pieces of malarky that keeps getting passed around.
If our economic system gave a damn about poverty, hunger, disease, etc. it wouldn’t have developed into such a self-obsessed Wall Street profits-├╝ber-alles system that it has.
It’s like pretending that USA invaded Iraq to further democracy.
More sheer nonsense we are supposed to take on account of D’s appeal to his own authority.
(4) Folks we are not involved in some theorists parlor musings here. We are talking about visible effects upon our Planet that are not going away because you don’t want to pay them any mind! Contrarians seem trapped in a science fiction where we have all the time in the world to consider the plot and create our desired out comes. Too bad that’s an ugly fantasy. Shame on Dyson for printing this drivel.

{Oh god help me, another 1300 words worth of this to slosh through.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

25) The sharpest conflict between naturalist and humanist ethics arises in the regulation of genetic engineering. The naturalist ethic condemns genetically modified food-crops and all other genetic engineering projects that might upset the natural ecology.(1) The humanist ethic looks forward to a time not far distant, when genetically engineered food-crops and energy-crops will bring wealth to poor people in tropical countries, and incidentally give us tools to control the growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.(2) Here I must confess my own bias. Since I was born and brought up in England, I spent my formative years in a land with great beauty and a rich ecology which is almost entirely man-made. The natural ecology of England was uninterrupted and rather boring forest. Humans replaced the forest with an artificial landscape of grassland and moorland, fields and farms, with a much richer variety of plant and animal species. Quite recently, only about a thousand years ago, we introduced rabbits, a non-native species which had a profound effect on the ecology. Rabbits opened glades in the forest where flowering plants now flourish. There is no wilderness in England, and yet there is plenty of room for wild-flowers and birds and butterflies as well as a high density of humans.(3) Perhaps that is why I am a humanist.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Why doesn’t D explain any of the many reasons for concern on the part of some?
(2) Sorry now this is sounds like the diorama’s at the museums during my childhood. All the marvels, just around the corner. Well, I’m living around the corner and it turned out to lies. And you can bet D's science fiction musing are just that if you think they have a foothold on this real world.
(3) His point is? Are we pretending something is taking us back to those marvelous times?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

26) To conclude this piece I come to my third and last heresy. My third heresy says that the United States has less than a century left of its turn as top nation. (1) Since the modern nation-state was invented around the year 1500, a succession of countries have taken turns at being top nation, first Spain, then France, Britain, America. Each turn lasted about 150 years. Ours began in 1920, so it should end about 2070. (2) The reason why each top nation’s turn comes to an end is that the top nation becomes over-extended, militarily, economically and politically. Greater and greater efforts are required to maintain the number one position. Finally the over-extension becomes so extreme that the structure collapses. Already we can see in the American posture today some clear symptoms of over-extension. Who will be the next top nation? China is the obvious candidate. After that it might be India or Brazil. We should be asking ourselves, not how to live in an America-dominated world, but how to prepare for a world that is not America-dominated. (3) That may be the most important problem for the next generation of Americans to solve. How does a people that thinks of itself as number one yield gracefully to become number two? (4)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Apparently, he hasn’t been watching the news, in an awful lot of categories we have already slipped off the throne.
(2) So we are supposed to believe nothing has changed in society’s trajectory and good old patterns are just going to repeat themselves. Oh yea, I remember this is a science fictional musings we are dealing with here.
So why are people pointing to this thing as some seminal essay?
(3) This stuff is great for a fictional story line, but can we please remember we are dealing with a planet that does not conform it’s processes to suit our Hollyworld thinking, even if it comes from the most eminent physicist in the world.
I suggest we are going to be confronted with a wild climate and that will be dominating our future world.
(4) This is down right sad, and reinforces my growing hopelessness toward the human ability to attain the human potential. Our number one problem, bar none, is to finally learn to appreciate our planet Earth for the dynamic process driven entity that it is.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

27) I am telling the next generation of young students, who will still be alive in the second half of our century, that misfortunes are on the way. Their precious Ph.D., or whichever degree they went through long years of hard work to acquire, may be worth less than they think. Their specialized training may become obsolete. They may find themselves over-qualified for the available jobs. They may be declared redundant. The country and the culture to which they belong may move far away from the mainstream. But these misfortunes are also opportunities. It is always open to them to join the heretics and find another way to make a living. With or without a Ph.D., there are big and important problems for them to solve.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

this is too much, if I commented I would start insulting.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

28) I will not attempt to summarize the lessons that my readers should learn from these heresies. (1) The main lesson that I would like them to take home is that the long-range future is not predetermined. The future is in their hands. (1) The rules of the world-historical game change from decade to decade in unpredictable ways. All our fashionable worries and all our prevailing dogmas will probably be obsolete in fifty years. My heresies will probably also be obsolete. It is up to them to find new heresies to guide our way to a more hopeful future. (3)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) I sure wish he would remind us that we should take this science fiction with a large dose of salt.
(2) No, the future is going to be thrust in their faces, it is not in their hands to be formed by wishful thinking.
(3) Pretty grandiose, sounds like a guy who’s more full of himself that understanding the real world around him.
NOT a good teacher to recommend to younger generations. Unless self deception is the game.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

5. Bad Advice to a Young Scientist

29) Sixty years ago, when I was a young and arrogant physicist, I tried to predict the future of physics and biology. My prediction was an extreme example of wrongness, perhaps a world record in the category of wrong predictions. I was giving advice about future employment to Francis Crick, the great biologist who died in 2005 after a long and brilliant career. He discovered, with Jim ., the double helix. They discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, and thereby gave birth to the new science of molecular genetics. Eight years before that, in 1945, before World War 2 came to an end, I met Francis Crick for the first time. He was in Fanum House, a dismal office building in London where the Royal Navy kept a staff of scientists. Crick had been working for the Royal Navy for a long time and was depressed and discouraged. He said he had missed his chance of ever amounting to anything as a scientist. Before World War 2, he had started a promising career as a physicist. But then the war hit him at the worst time, putting a stop to his work in physics and keeping him away from science for six years. The six best years of his life, squandered on naval intelligence, lost and gone forever. Crick was good at naval intelligence, and did important work for the navy. But military intelligence bears the same relation to intelligence as military music bears to music. After six years doing this kind of intelligence, it was far too late for Crick to start all over again as a student and relearn all the stuff he had forgotten. No wonder he was depressed. I came away from Fanum House thinking, “How sad. Such a bright chap. If it hadn’t been for the war, he would probably have been quite a good scientist”. (1)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) What does this have to do with climate or climate models?

{and bad advice it is}
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

30) A year later, I met Crick again. The war was over and he was much more cheerful. He said he was thinking of giving up physics and making a completely fresh start as a biologist. He said the most exciting science for the next twenty years would be in biology and not in physics. I was then twenty-two years old and very sure of myself. I said, “No, you’re wrong. In the long run biology will be more exciting, but not yet. The next twenty years will still belong to physics. If you switch to biology now, you will be too old to do the exciting stuff when biology finally takes off”. Fortunately, he didn’t listen to me. He went to Cambridge and began thinking about DNA. It took him only seven years to prove me wrong. The moral of this story is clear. Even a smart twenty-two-year-old is not a reliable guide to the future of science. And the twenty-two-year-old has become even less reliable now that he is eighty-two. (1)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

(1) Great can we put that in all caps? D is even less reliable now than when he was 22!

You know in the good old days they had the court jester. In many ways a wise and talented person. Given liberty to cause a little confusion and hopefully a lot of reflection along with humor. I believe on some levels Dyson imagines himself that wise jester trying to rattle guests out of their stupors. Unfortunately this is a different age, and the masses need something more authentic and reflective of real world happenings.
Why? Because we have, despite contrarian induced blindness, crossed a threshold and radical biosphere changes are afoot. One need only look at down to Earth data.

This was a science fiction musing by a self proclaimed old over the hill heretic.
But, not a true heretic who would be toiling over his quest. Here we have a heretic for profit expounding from a soap box.
I don’t buy it. Show me something a bit more real and sincere.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

[Excerpted from Many Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (Page Barbour Lectures) by Freeman Dyson, University of Virgina Press, 2007.]



Image from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal via Scruffy Dan


citizenschallenge said...

I apologize for the handful of typos I spotted in rereading this. This critique was written for some climate contrarians I occasionally communicate with.

I should have taken more time with it before sending it on to Michael - but over all - the typos haven't changed the essence of the points I was trying to make (just makes it look sloppier than it should be)

Thank you Michael for posting this.
Peter Miesler

Unknown said...

The phrase "god contrarians" under "18)" seems to be a typo. Should it be just "contrarians"?

Anna Haynes said...

Thank you Peter! (and Michael)
IMO the typos should be fixed, since this is a keeper.

MT, a request: could you contact Dr. Dyson, give a representative few objections from Peter's exegesis, and ask Dyson for his reaction? The great value of the web is that it enables this sort of dialog - which I've found quite valuable here on In It.

Monologues are cardboard by contrast.

Michael Tobis said...

It would hardly be suitable for posting on In It without a few embarrassing typos, would it?

I fixed "god" and "shear" and whatever the spell-checker found. Anything else?

I think the ice ages are not entirely understood, for what it's worth.

Anna, I doubt Dyson has enough skin in the game to bother, but I suppose I could try. It probably wouldn't be hard to find his well-known daughter Esther Dyson, anyway.

David B. Benson said...

D has gone emeritus, as the saying is these days...

dhogaza said...

"In the 90's I used to send in regular rebuttals to Alston Chase's inane columns to the local Durango Herald."

Oh, good for you, taking down Alston Chase. His work sometimes appeared in the press out here in Oregon, too, during the days of our old growth wars (the Yellowstone fire happened during the midst of that).

Inane and insane Alston Chase, a name I've not thought of in many years.

Chase wasn't in Dyson's class by about 100 IQ points, but had a lot more influence on the issues he attacked (he was an pro-development, anti-science opponent to science-based conservation of national forests and national parks, for those who haven't heard of Chase).

EliRabett said...

Eli's summation of Dyson:

" I will not attempt to summarize the lessons that my readers should learn from these heresies."

Where is the Inquisition when you need it?

Oale said...

Excellent. imho,
27. has to be deconstructed from the bottom up. D doesn't say what problems there are to solve. Join the heretics who write SF? Doesn't sound too scientific to me. It may, may, may be that misfortunes happen to some individuals... DUH!
Glad to see D does not specify "main stream", nor the countries, as is proper since he's no expert on that.
Actually the first sentence could be agreed upon, but the use of 'still' in conjuction with 'alive' is somewhat curious, and who is D telling anything, wasn't this SF?

I once did a somewhat similar list pointing out Pielke jr.'s errors on a post he requested comments on, even posted it to a blogger, with a note that said "use if you will". I don't remember the details now, it is so much work to dig out the basic flaws in there. And anyway who'm I to comment on US politics?

King of the Road said...

So, Michael, Tangentially on topic:
You and I are the same age (NOT young). How do you plan to avoid "going Emeritus" as David describes it?

This is a very serious question, in that I'm not interested in beekeeping or building ships in a bottle or discussing procedures and prescriptions. I'd like to expire thinking "damn, I wish I had just a little more time to finish my project" and with my (presumably much younger) associates wishing the same. Clearly Dyson has lost his grip on the cutting edge. Will you?


Marion Delgado said...

As I told you ages ago, Michael, Dyson's 3 main sins are:

1. ignorance of the relative sizes of the various shorter term carbon sinks and a magical belief that negative feedback will automatically ensue (probably the CO2=plant food meme) and stabilize not far from current temperatures, every time.

2. "The denier is Galileo" trope.

3. demonizing models, as if science were not mostly modeling things. Anyone who is demonizing consensus, models, peer review, statistical analysis or data gathering is suspect right up front. That all of them can be done wrong is no excuse.

David B. Benson said...

Seems to me that "Going emeritus" is a result of a senior scientist veturing into a new field without first doing the study that anyone young entering that field would do.

A result of laziness born of hubris, I suppose.

Anna Haynes said...

IMO not laziness, and not hubris; more a descent into Dunning-Kruger.

What do the fMRI folks say, about the order in which functions go offline?

citizenschallenge said...

MT writes: "I think the ice ages are not entirely understood, for what it's worth."
I’ve thought about this comment a bunch, and from a detailed perspective, guess it's true enough that not every step along the cascade of every studied glaciation is understood.

But, I’m a laymen so have the luxury of a laymen’s perspective on this issue.

It seems to me glaciation is pretty well understood as a combination of may factors: Solar incidents, orbital factors, atmospheric thermo absorption, drifting continental distributions, ocean configurations, along with their heat distributing currents and influence on the atmosphere, plus some more.

OK, I understand the forensic details may be a bit fuzzy, but the outline seems clear enough.

Although I’m always open to links to new sources of information.

Unknown said...

Being thought-provoking is a virtue of a scientist or a scientific book, and Dyson and his writings are surely good in the regard. Telling something that are likely to be true from the standpoint of the current common sense of the scientific community may be a lesser virtue in the evaluation of pure science. But it seems to be a greater virtue in applied science.

(It happens that the company which published the Japanese translation (in which I participated) of Spencer Weart's "Discovery of Global Warming" also published a collection of Dyson's book reviews, though not the one which includes explicit skepticism about anthropogenic global warming. So I tentatively tried to think from the publisher's position.)

Anonymous said...

No discussion of Dyson is complete without pointing out that he signed various "skeptic" open letters, including the infamous Bali letter to the U.N. in 2007. That was organized by climate spinmeister Tom Harris, and diseminated by the National Post.

Among other things, the statement signed by Dyson contains the fatuous claim that there has been "no net global warming since 1998".

Why no journalist has ever bothered to ask Dyson about of any of this is a mystery to me.


Michael Tobis said...

Re: ice ages, an oversimplified but I think substantially correct interpretation

Orbital forcing enhances or reduces susceptibility to ice growth on the margins - > UNDERSTOOD

ice albedo feedback enhances forcing -> UNDERSTOOD

temperature starts to change -> UNDERSTOOD

changing temperatures force CO2 changes -> NOT UNDERSTOOD

CO2 feedbacks enhance forcing -> UNDERSTOOD (challenged by naysayers but without any clear foundation)

However, the not understood step really is important. Logically speaking, too, answering it might put some naysayer talk to rest, but nobody should expect those people to be logical. Nevertheless there is a big remaining mystery. Where does the carbon come from? Where does it go?

The following is my own speculation and has no publication record. Quote at your own risk.

There is a presumption that this is cyclic but I personally don't find that compelling; there really have been just a few cycles. It's conceivable to me that the source and the sink aren't the same at all. Which would make for an interesting contest between the source depleting and the sink saturating.

citizenschallenge said...

Thank you Michael, for that crisp outline.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
you wrote: "changing temperatures force CO2 changes -> NOT UNDERSTOOD"
~ ~ ~
Fair enough but aren't these unknowns about intensity levels and such details? You know, attenuating the flow of the graph, rather than reorienting the graph. . . if that makes sense.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
you wrote: “There is a presumption that this is cyclic but I personally don't find that compelling; there really have been just a few cycles. . . “
~ ~ ~
For me the vision of life and its processes being cycles, got shattered a long time ago by the appreciation of time. The flow of life and our biosphere is about spirals flowing down the cascade of time. When looked at through polarized perspectives it appears to be sort of cycles but it’s not.

Michael Tobis said...

To deny that there is a hole in the geochemistry of the holocene is, as far as I know, grossly premature, unless there's been a breakthrough in the last few years that I don't know about.

We don't know where the carbon comes from on the 100Ka time scale. And we don't know where it goes. At this stage that is a pretty huge and embarrassing confusion.

On the other hand, we know pretty much what the carbon did to the climate. That's entirely compelling if you look at the evidence, and that's the issue with policy importance.

It sure would be nice to be able to get on with science without this, um, "poisonous atmosphere" so to speak.

Michael Tobis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
citizenschallenge said...

MT wrote:
"To deny that there is a hole in the geochemistry of the holocene is, as far as I know, grossly premature, unless there's been a breakthrough in the last few years that I don't know about."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I'm not arguing your point.
Could you point me in the direction of respectable ~ slightly digested ~ information regarding the mysteries surrounding a clear understanding of the Holocene Epoch, (which has, after all, subsequently drifted into today's world)?

Michael Tobis said...

I haven't actually looked at Alley's book "The Two Mile Time Machine" but that's the best bet I could come up with.

Douglas Watts said...

Dyson's reference to the wetter Sahara 6,000 years ago is unf. confounded by the fact that there is no longer any soil left in the Sahara. Even if AGW caused the Sahara to become wetter and able to support vegetation, it would take centuries for enough soil to develop there to support intensive agriculture.

An easy test on this is where I live, New England. Our topsoil was all removed during the most recent Ice Age, and even after 12,000 years our topsoil depth is too thin to support agriculture except in river valleys and intervales which have received large quantities of post glacial alluvium.