Communicating science: Angry or calm, cerebral or emotional?


Randy Olson, author from the provocative book “Don’t be such a scientist!” has some interesting essays over at The Benshi.

Provocative? Well, not everybody agrees with his suggestions. Michael Tobis for example argues the exact opposite: Act like a scientist! Oh, and what to think of this opening sentence of a review of the book:

“I’m going to write this review in the style suggested by Randy Olson. This means that I’m going to use my penis.”

I guess that the reviewer’s interpretation of not being so cerebral.

Anyway, over at The Benshi I ran into this video of Ed Begley Jr. being interviewd on Fox News in the wake of the “climategate” mess. I was cracking up. As Randy said to Ed: He kicked ass. He made some good points along the way as well, though half the interview they were trying to shout each other down, so it was hard to follow. If there would be rice on the table it would have quite literally turned into a foodfight I gather. Begley appeared sincere though, and sincerely angry.

Now the question is, is this the way we ought to communicate? As filmmaker/activist I guess everything goes, and it may be effective indeed (Begley did get his main point across), but I do have a feeling that it’s not effective or even counterproductive in the long run for a scientist to go at it the way Ed Begley does.

OTOH, isn’t it time we get out of the defense (yeah, we made a small mistake; we’ll try to do better next time; please don’t hit us) and tell the public how it is? Call a liar a liar? And a duck a duck? (There’s an excellent analogy hidden behind that ducky title btw.) And then we have people argue the opposite, that scientists should just stick to the science and not be so defensive, let alone offensive. That we should embrace our critics.

I’m of two minds on this one, though many of the pseudo-skeptics in the blogosphere have had a very destructive influence on the science, especially lately. If they have shown by their behavior not to be interested in contributing to the science in a constructive manner, then I don’t see the point in inviting them to the table. In fact, they have been welcome all along, if they chose to play by the scientific rules. They have chosen not to; I don’t see any point in changing the rules to accommodate them. (See for a good explanation of the scientific rules/methods here, starting at slide 39).

Olson interviewed Marc Morano and concluded that, for all the falsehoods he’s spreading, he is great communicator. He lists the following reasons why:

1 Specifics

2 Arouse and fulfill

3 Non-controlling

4 Humor

5 Storytelling

6 Drama

7 Ability to listen

8 Non-condescension

9 Speed

10 Likeability

So on the scientific side of things, do we have great communicators? Richard Alley was fabulous at the AGU. Tim Lambert did great in his debate with Monckton. I like Naomi Oreskes as a speaker, but that’s to a large degree for what she sais rather than how she sais it. Spencer Weart is great storyteller, at least in written form.

Debates are tough. A scientist will likely get very frustrated about the stream of lies and “truthisms” being spout by the “skeptic” debating opponent. Keeping your cool is a necessary, but darn hard in such a case. OTOH, and as per Olson’s suggestion, not being afraid to invoke and show emotions either. Then the challenge is how to find a balance between the kung-fu style attack modus of Begley and the frustrated shouting of “asshole” by Watson?

I discussed Olson’s and Craven‘s books and ideas before here. Mt discusses science and journalism and science communication in a lot of insightful posts. He is no fan of Olson, mind you.


Tags: , , ,

100 Responses to “Communicating science: Angry or calm, cerebral or emotional?”

  1. JvdLaan Says:

    Ed Begley did great, he just did what the opponents seemed to do, just keep talking, take a quick breath and keep on talking your arguments and do not let them intervene.
    The other day I saw Monbiot against Delingpole. Monbiot talked in a soft voice, but was no less effective, and replied to Delingpole starting with ‘Utter Rubbish,…’
    So in blogs you do not have this – formidable – weapons, but with humour and asking some sharp questions to your opponent can be very effective. And of course the belief in having the better arguments.
    My favourites are Tim Lambert, Eli Rabett, dhogaza (and not only because he is a birdwatcher as I am) and of course our Marco for being sharp and Bart for being so polite but effective.

  2. sailrick Says:

    Since you are a film maker/activist, perhaps you are interested in my idea. Forget the debates and the defensive explaining. Why not make a feature length made for TV documentary on the denialsphere’s disinformation campaign? I have hinted at this in comments at Climate Progress, Real Climate etc., but don’t know if there has been any response. Since so many people don’t read these days, get them where they are, in front of their TV sets.

    What I have in mind is something akin to James Hoggan’s book “Climate Cover-Up and the books by Ross Gelbspan, “The Boiling Point” and “The Heat Is On”.
    The people at the various quality blogs like Real Climate, Desmogblog, Deep Climate, Open Mind, Climate Progress, Deltoid, Skeptical Science, yourself and others including the authors just mentioned should be in the movie.

    It should be a no holds barred debunking and expose of Anthony Watts, Steve Milloy, Fox news and the rest that spread the misrepresentations of science.
    And it should show the evidence of fossil fuel funding and the network of astroturf “think tanks” that they use to hide the money and spread the confusion.

    This would be definitely going on the offensive, but the playing field needs to be leveled, it seems.

    This article clearly demonstrates how crank deniers like Monckton get more media

    exposure than real climate scientists like James Hansen

  3. Neal J. King Says:

    There are two roots to this breakdown in the communication of science:

    – The WWW has made it easy for any fool to publicize his/her opinion on any topic

    – The WWW has eviscerated the business model of the news world, so real journalism, especially scientific journalism, has been following the trail of the dodo.

    The result: There is no “Walter Cronkite”, who would be accepted as telling things the way they are.

    Maybe we need a champion, who could publicly take on the denialists: Someone who would be accepted by the mass media as a first-class scientist, and who also has good PR skills, and can argue on his feet.

    My candidate: Steve Chu, U.S. Secretary of Energy; Nobel Prize in Physics, 1997.

  4. Bart Verheggen Says:


    Randy Olson is a filmmaker; I’m not.

  5. Janine I Says:

    Monboit’s evisceration of Plimer on Lateline was fun. That’s because he knows it’s the PR that counts, not the science, and he knows what the deniers are trying to do:

  6. joe Says:

    Nice post Bart; The thing that troubles me about this sort of debate is that the denialist crowd don’t need to play by the same rules. Climate scientists are bound by the objective facts of their field, which can get a bit tedious for even relatively scientifically literate people. Morano et al are allowed to (and expected to) have huge egos and biases, and thats why they are so effective. The motivation and the interpretation of scientific research has to be relatively muted, or charges of bias get raised and the perceived quality of the research is diminished.

    Also, the central message that climate science has for modern society (“we are changing the climate”) is invariably followed by the hard part: “we have to change the way we live”. Those suggesting anything else are popular simply because they are saying “don’t change a thing”.

  7. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Thanks Joe. I think you’re right about spindoctors being advantaged because they can make up anything and use rhetorical tricks all they want. However, the central message of scientists is indeed “we are changing the climate” but the second part (“we have to change the way we live”) does not automatically follow, since it involves value judgement. And if we were to procuce all our energy carbon free, there would be very little we’d have to change besides that. The less energy we produce carbon free, the more we’d have to change other things. But there clearly are choices to be made, the course of action is not fixed. Both costs and risks will vary amongst the options.

  8. Tom Fuller Says:

    Bart, have you ever written a plain language explanation of your work and how it bears on climate science, and how it reinforces your opinion on the issue of the day?

  9. Bart Verheggen Says:


    No I haven’t. Why do you ask?

  10. Tom Fuller Says:

    I think that’s the answer to the questions posed in your recent posts. Scientists talking about the science they do and how it affects their life and their way of looking at the world.

    That’s the only way out of the mess that your ‘communicators’ have got you in. If you write it, I’ll publish it on

  11. Bart Says:

    Hmm, I haven’t written anything on how my scientific work has affected my life, and I don’t think I will for another few decades.

    I have tried to write about the significance of the scientific field that I’ve been involved in for climate change, eg the following twin posts at RealClimate: and

    Though somehow I think that’s not what you have in mind?

  12. Tom Fuller Says:

    No Bart, and this goes back to previous discussions on how non-scientists decide who to trust. They trust people, first and foremost. One of the first advantages homo sapiens held was the willingness to trust people who were not kin, allowing the construction of complex societies.

    People do not (and probably should not) trust a State to look after their interests as individuals and families. In between extended families and the State are a range of politicians, celebrities, institutions, organisations and businesses. These are not known to an individual, but the individual has to ally him or herself to them–even if only as a consumer.

    The more that is known about Bart Verheggen as a human being, the closer he becomes to a member of a clan or extended family, and hence trustworthy. If direct and personal anecdotes relating Bart Verheggen as a person to Bart Verheggen’s activities as a scientist are real, simply told and accessible, then Bart’s advocacy is understandable and real. Note that twice I use the word real.

    You are a Dutch aerosol scientist communicating in a second language, stuck in the middle of a political cat fight. What tools do you have to make your point of view available and compelling? The blog makes you accessible, but I’ll bet you’re only getting a few hundred hits a day, and mostly from wonks.

    Go 3D Bart, and take over the world. Tell us why–not all of us will convert to your point of view, but you can use this route to become a trusted advocate. Connect what you believe with who you are as a human being.

    1. Look at how many sane and moderate observers of this fight are using English as a second language. I do not believe this is a coincidence. Perhaps because you cannot ‘skim’ a document, you gain a better understanding.
    2. The Netherlands needs to pay attention to the environment, for obvious reasons. Surely your upbringing and education and cultural milieu have sensitized you to concerns–what part did they play in the decisions you made regarding education and career?
    3. Aerosols are amenable to observation in a way that many components of this controversy are not. What unique perspectives does this give you? Does it allow you to see error in the wider discussion more easily?

    4, 5, 6, etc.

  13. Bart Verheggen Says:

    Tom Fuller,

    That’s interesting what you’re saying. I’ll consider the merits. But again I see this catch 22: On the one hand I often hear (you?) that scientists should stick to the facts, clarify uncertainties, etc. And now you plead to give the communication a personal touch. Al Gore did that in AIT. His movie was interspersed with personal anecdotes. Now I know you’re no fan of Al, but something like that is what you mean I guess? But than not 2D but 3D?

  14. Shub Niggurath Says:

    My mentor once said that those who talk to the media in today’s world are tools – they just don’t know it. I think this is true of the skeptics as well as the ‘consensus’ists.

    What is it that scientists want to communicate to the media? It really is not difficult at all, if you are honest. End of story. You are PhDs right? The latin root of the word doctor is docere – to teach.

    The difficulty is always when you want to stretch your case – which is why the question of ‘communication’ always pops up in greenie vocabulary and climate science all the time.

  15. Bart Says:

    Shub Niggurath,
    Scientists want to communicate science to the public. It is being made difficult because there are loud voices that aim to communicate non-science to the public, masquerading as real science. See eg this statement from the health community who face similar problems(via Rabett):

    There are groups out there that insist that vaccines are responsible for a variety of problems, despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. We (the office of Secretary of Health and Human Services) have reached out to media outlets to try to get them not to give the views of these people equal weight in their reporting.

  16. Shub Niggurath Says:

    I am in the medical science community. I am aware of vaccine issues. Are you aware of the potential deleterious effects of vaccines?

    The benefits of vaccines are accrued through individual and herd immunity. Vaccines require individual consent to be administered. If an individual or herd – through misinformation or otherwise, rightly or wrongly – refuses to provide that consent, you cannot vaccinate them. The disease, the preventive and curative measures then have to exist in a new equilibrium.

    Vaccines aren’t the only way to acquire immunity. If a community (foolishly) decides against the measles vaccine, a few of them would get measles. Many of them would recover. Many more in the same community would acquire immunity through subclinical infection which is what your vaccine proposes to do anyway – provide immunity without clinical disease.

    Of course unvaccinated individuals are dangerous in a immunologically barren landscape. That is the price of ‘progress’ – you drive out infectious disease so thoroughly that antigenic challenge never occurs, and then you start fretting when people don’t want vaccines. Calling people stupid for being against vaccination is counterproductive, to say the least. The gains made by public health education can be lost easily – but the rule of consent should be inviolate.

    A similar concept of consent does not exist in climate science, I dont know why. Somehow I *must* give up my SUV for your grandchildren! :)

    I have noticed that you want to lump ‘climate change’ skeptics with the anti-vax’ers, etc etc. Perhaps you can comfort yourself with such notions – but the idea of AGW has skeptics who approach it from different levels of sophistication and understanding.


  17. Bart Says:

    Shub Niggurath,

    You mustn’t anything. All I ask is not to bend the science in order to suit a preconceived notion (eg “I want to drive my SUV, therefore AGW is bogus”). Instead, I’d suggest to learn about the science and then use the scientific understanding (alongside other factors of course) to base your opinions on.

    It’s the same as when a doctor tells you to quit smoking in order to prevent serious health risks. It’s your choice whether to quit or not, but it’s advisable to do so in the acknowledgement of the risks (rather than say “I don’t believe smoking is bad for you” as an alibi to continue smoking).

  18. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Mr Bart
    Which of my opinions in the above post should I base on climate science learning?

    I would suggest you refrain from using simple non-sequitors like “I suggest you do some reading…etc” in your arguments. :)

    If a patient uses any rationalization to continue smoking, he is within his right to do so just as it is his doctor’s duty perhaps to remind him to quit.

    If an citizen refuses his vaccines, he is within his rights to do so. Just the mere fact that the rest think he is an idiot doesn’t no deprive his right to give or withhold consent for a medical intervention like a vaccine. The anti-vaccine crowd may infuriate the rest of the community for not participating in acquisition of vaccine-mediated herd immunity – but the seed of anger is also directed at the fact that there can be some in the community who exercise their autonomy.

    There is no model of consent for the theory of AGW. The theorists automatically assumed that seducing politicians of every stripe and color with the possibility of imposing more taxes is the best way to do it. Show me one AGW theorist who is against Copenhagen/carbon trading/ emission controls by legislation etc. I know only two examples – James Hansen and Ross McKirtrick.

    Consent in AGW presently is obtained from the fear-mongering alarmist media reportage that beats the populace into submission – before impostion of the supposed palliative measures. Which is the lowest mode of communication possible ever. This, combined with brainwashing schoolchildren are the twin achievements of communication from the global warming/climate change scientists to date.

    All the communication-soul searching in the alarmist camp happens only when the message is not getting through. I did not say any posts, say for example to counter Pachauri’s claim that he knows of an enumerated 25,000 examples of climate-change related phenomena in the real world. Yes – the man’s said that – you can google it.

    [Reply: Yes, you have right to make your own choices. But do so in the full knowledge of the consequences. E.g. in the smoking analogy, if the patient is so hooked to his cigarettes, and would rather continue smoking than extend his statistical life expectancy by X months, he is free to do so. If however he rationalizes that decision by claiming “smoking isn’t bad for your health at all. My dad was 96 when he died in a car accident, and he chain-smoked his whole life!”, the doctor would be right to reply: “You’re mistaken. Smoking is definitely bad for your health. If you keep smoking, your life expectancy will be X month less than if you quit smoking, and you will have more breathing problems. It is your choice whether or not to quit smoking, but you should make your choice in the full knowledge of these consequences”.

    For climate however, the consequences are not so much yours, but mainly for others to bear. That’s tricky. So perhaps climate scientists could say:

    “You’re mistaken. Unabated CO2 emissions will very likely cause substantial climate change, with serious consequences. So you should decide your course of action based on this knowledge. If you don’t care about these risks, that is your perogative. However I do. Please find yourself another planet to experiment on.” BV]

  19. Eli Rabett Says:

    It’s quite simple, if you do not vaccinate your children then in most of the civilized world they cannot go to public schools and endanger the rest. The Hummer business is similar, while it might be more efficient to simply refuse to license them, nations are perfectly within their rights to impose swinging registration taxes depending on weight and efficiency, and large carbon (aka gas) taxes.

    Watching someone get mad as hell and swing the red herring about is always amusing, which is the part that Bart let out. When you call a lie a lie you can’t get mad, but you certainly do want to ridicule. It helps to cull the herd.

  20. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Mr Rabett
    If you do not vaccinate your children and everyone else has vaccinated theirs, who will they get their disease from or pass on their infection to?
    Certainly you do not suggest that everything that happens in the civilized world is ‘civilized’ or legal or non-coercive.

    Your example of taxation policy for Hummers through gas prices is asymmetric, unethical and therefore illegal. The sole purpose of a Hummer is not to consume petroleum.

    The thread is about communication in climate science. Like I said before, it seems to be Mr BV’s favorite past time to send people chasing after red herrings like vaccines, creationism, and and other lame issues the opposition to which is supposed to be similar to opposition to AGW.

    Neither you nor BV, are by your admissions/revelations qualified to hold a meaningful discussion on vaccines. But BV throws vaccines examples at random comers as master of the obvious – “how can anybody be against vaccines?”

    Each of these issues are different. Creationist science is patently more idiotic than vaccines. Even then, a citizen has every right to his ‘stupidity’. Lumping these issues with AGW is simple argument strategies disseminated at public relation brainstorms, nothing more.

    If we want to lump those are opposed to AGW with creationists, our attempts to communicate with them has failed at the outset.

  21. Marco Says:

    @Shub Niggurath,
    Hummers are, in the vast majority of cases where they are used, unnecessary. It is very easy to pick a car that has a MUCH better mpg, while providing the same, or similar, performance. Note that such cars also emit relatively large amounts of soot and nitrous oxides, pollution that affects everyone and everything. Perhaps you consider it normal that the pollution caused by the hummer driver is payed for by others?

    Regarding vaccination (and I actually have worked on vaccines): vaccination is not 100% effective and not every person can be vaccinated (immuno-compromised people, for example). Each and every non-vaccinated person increases the chance of spreading disease, and infecting those that cannot be vaccinated, and those who get poor protection of their vaccination. In other words: those that are ideologically opposed to vaccination are putting others at risk.

  22. Eli Rabett Says:

    Mr. Niggurath

    Free riders get kicked off the bus in my town and that includes those who think they minimize their risk by not vaccinating. If it is necessary to compel you in order to insure that the fewest deaths and disease, that is an ethical choice Eli is quite happy to make.

    You also do not seem to understand that taxation based on the size of vehicles is also ethical, as is a high gasoline tax. The costs of such vehicles to others, in terms of road damage and pollution scale with size and gasoline useage. Please be sure to tell us how you enjoy your sojourn in low regulation Somalia or whatever tax haven you choose.

    And, oh yes, please send us your complete resume, with a certification of expertise by your local medical society. This is the Internet bucky, and you can be anything your want.

  23. adriaan Says:

    And of course the belief in having the better arguments.

    And that is exactly what I do. But my starting point is different: I start by looking at what is known, try to separate wolfishness from individuality, relate facts and figures to myths and obfuscated methods.
    Being a biologist, I know a little of many areas. Biology has the advantage that we are close to being G*d. The creation of artificial life is within our reach, is our consensus. (Sorry for being blasfemous) From this high altitude Olymp, we look upon the struggling of our colleagues in the climate field, and we feel pity for them. Such bad behaviour, no archiving, no storage of intermediate results. We have the longest living data archive at hand: DNA, and we add new records every day. All living things have their maps stored, DNA survives for ages, even now we can identify the individual Neanderthals. It is that the Vatican does not give permission to check the wade of Turin, otherwise we would have obtained the DNA sequence unique to divinity.

    And we should communicate more of the details of our science to the public?

    (By the way, before I am going to be crucified: this post is meant to be ironic)

  24. Shub Niggurath Says:


    Your “necessary to compel” non-argument only exposes your [edit] tendencies and nothing more. You assume absolute rights to coercion as soon as certain ‘benefits’ (fewest deaths and disease) are apparent. Informed or implied medical consent – whatever that is!

    It is precisely this aspect that is operational in anthropogenic global warming theory too presently. It is no wonder then that the standard of communication that follows is abysmal and operates at the level of the lowest common denominator – fear.

    If vaccines are too political for you to understand the concept of consent, consider the following example:

    A manufacturer of a ‘nutrition drink’ lobbies Washington (let’s say) for circle rights over a large community and then gets local schools to obligatorily offer this drink to their students at lunch break for health benefits – which are proven by studies. The element of coercion in this example is cryptic but is surely present – only its point of application has changed. Such is what has passed for expanding the range of vaccinable diseases and ‘innovative’ marketing strategies that go with it, for the *general population* today.

    I did not claim that you are unqualified to comment on vaccines based on your formal qualifications. It is clear from the level of discussion that if we discuss the matter of vaccines and vaccination, you would not be able to raise the bar, so to speak. It is generally not a good idea to offer analogies in areas which would not be able to illustrate in-depth.


    [Reply: Keep your rhetoric in check or take it elsewhere. BV]

  25. Alan Wilkinson Says:

    If you want to be trusted be honest about what is unknown or uncertain. Communicate the excitement of search and discovery and the problems you wrestle with.

    When you front only with sound-bites and scare stories the public will treat you as politicians – which is exactly what you are trying to be.

  26. Shub Niggurath Says:

    BV: I apologize if that came across as inflammatory. I said what I said in a matter-of-factly way- I used the term for its literal political meaning not its negative connotations.

    Nevertheless, I believe that this is a good example how our underlying political tendencies may color our views on how science-based policy should take shape.

    I am sure you are aware of the forced sterilizations by vasectomies carried out in the 1970s population control drives in India and China. How do you think such an insane situation came to pass? Firm beliefs in transmittal of benefits to an ignorant public, was no doubt one of the motivations.


  27. adriaan Says:


    Vaccination has been introduced into this topic, in comparison with AGW consience.

    Let me make this clear: a vaccination is a means to stop a spreading disease. Models (yes!) are developed to indicate the mininum effective percentage of vaccination in order to stop epidemic spread of a new disease. The models show that a fair number of people can refuse vaccination without disastrous effects, PROVIDED these people are spread among the population, and do not form a closed group.

    In AGW, dumping my Hummer will not benefit my neighbour. If the entire neighbourhood will dump all their Hummers, we still will make no contribution to world welfare, or even our neighboorhood (except for the boys with their skate boards having more space to exececise).

    It is is a silly comparison.

  28. Marco Says:

    You are wrong, Adriaan. Dumping your hummer will significantly decrease local concentrations of NOx and soot, which will greatly benefit the health of any and all local citizens.

  29. adriaan Says:


    Dumping my Hummer will achieve nothing. A Hummer is equipped with a catalyser, which will reduce NOx to N2 (Do your chemistry). Soot will not be released, it not a diesel. Can you remember the ads from the beginning of the 90’s where Saab (one of the first in Europe to use cats) stated that the air from the exhaust of a Saab was cleaner than the air going in? (The claim was supported by measurements of an official institution) Please talk informed or stay shut.

    And it was about vaccines, remember?

  30. Eli Rabett Says:

    adriaan, while catalytic converters (and filters) reduce NOx emissions, they do not eliminate them, and the converters, of course age. In addition, cats can emit large amounts of N2O, a potent source of ozone depletion in the stratosphere as well as being the third or fourth most significant greenhouse gas. Emissions from a Hummer (even excluding CO2) are larger than from a smaller auto. You are imposing costs on your neighbor. Pay for them.

  31. Eli Rabett Says:

    Shub, vaccination protects not only the person being vaccinated, but also everyone around that person (herd effect). Your example of a nutritional drink being “forced” on students fails to explain how others will be endangered if your kid does not drink the drink.

    In short, you continue to want a free ride. Sorry, that won’t wash, there are good reasons why students are not allowed into public schools in the US without showing proof of vaccination.

  32. Shub Niggurath Says:

    My example of a nutritional drink was only to illustrate how the point of application of coercion in society can be shifted around or remain hidden. Just because the topic of children being vaccinated drives the blood to the eyes and clouds logical thinking in many people.

    You are only repeating what you’ve already said, and what I’ve said about the herd effect. You refuse to come to terms with the idea of consent, which is what should concern us eventually.

    Vaccines of all hue and color, have measurable, demonstrated risks ranging from the common to the extremely rare and from the mild to the fatal in severity. Vaccines therefore require medical consent.

    Schools in turn, *require* vaccines. There is a point of coercion here. For the vast majority of communicable diseases, the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks. But this coercion is still present. Can you think of a reason why?

    I used a nice word for this – it wont make it across here because apparently it ruffles Bart’s feathers.

    Moreover, what free ride are you talking about? Suppose a parent vaccinates his/her child and then no other child at school is vaccinated, what free ride does the child get?

    The anti-vaccine crowd who Bart refers to, are parents who blindly oppose vaccines. Vaccines do have risks which these parents play up. The exageration of risks versus the benefits to be accrued by a population incapable of voicing its independent opinion – the children, is carried out be the anti-vaccine groups.

    To me it seems the AGW crowd, in this respect is similar to the anti-vaccine side.

  33. adriaan Says:


    The biggest source of N2O by far is the biosphere. N2O plays a crucial role in many biological processes, without it life would not exist. (Or would have mounting problems related to reproduction). My Hummer is a minor source of N2O, and only when I neglect its regular maintenance and MOT. And I value my Hummer too much not to have it serviced at proper intervals.

  34. Marco Says:

    Adriaan, it appears you are confusing nitrous oxide (N2O) with nitric oxide (NO). The former hardly has any biological function (if at all). Your hummer still uses massive amounts of fuel, which includes the associated emissions related to the production of said fuel.

  35. adriaan Says:

    Marco, Nitrous oxide is just part of the denitrification chain, as is nitric oxide. I am not mixing these up, nitric oxide is just an intermediate in the production of nitrous oxide by denitrifying bacteria. The intermediate (NO) plays an important role in the regulation of all kind of biological processes. And the use of fuel of my Hummer is something I pay for, including the costs of the production of this fuel, and with a massive carbon tax: 1 gallon of fuel over here now costs $7.40?

  36. Marco Says:

    NO is important in vertebrates, less in plants or bacteria. And there are specific enzymes to produce NO. None involve N2O. As such, N2O is not an important intermediate in various biological processes.

    And I only wish you really paid the actual price for the fuel you use, including the associated pollution.

  37. adriaan Says:


    Nitric oxide is tremendously important in plants and bacteria. The entire response to pathogen infection of plants relies on it. Many specific enzymes are identified and cloned. In bacteria the enzymes play an important role in energy supply. Please get your facts correct. And I did not state that N2O is an important intermediate.

    And your wish seems to have become true, didn’t it? So now I drive 300 miles to Luxembourg, to get my gas cheaper every week;)

  38. Marco Says:

    @Adriaan, you said, and I quote:
    “N2O plays a crucial role in many biological processes, without it life would not exist”
    It does not.

  39. adriaan Says:


    It does,

    since it is part of the denitrification chain. Which has supplied the earliest microorganisms of energy.

  40. adriaan Says:


    And that brings me back to my original statement that most of the N2O is released by the biosphere, not by my Hummer.

  41. Marco Says:

    I guess you don’t mind me releasing some H2S in your vicinity, then? It’s what fed many of the earliest microorganisms…

    And regardless of the biosphere being the biggest emitter, you merely *add* to it, locally, and directly into the air.

  42. adriaan Says:


    farting is the last I would expect from you. (Did I?)

    I hope you did your chemistry on this. Sulphates were the source, not H2S.

    And you seem to agree that the biosphere is the main source of N2O?

    So we agree that my Hummer has only a local effect, depending on the MOT status?

  43. Marco Says:

    I hoped I did not write this while watching a football game. Sulfates and similar it should be as feed-in, hydrogen sulfide as the end product. But you’ll have to accept it anyway, it is a crucial endproduct of bacterial life.

    And it is hardly relevant that the biosphere is the main source of N2O. The same goes for CO2. And yet the increase in atmospheric CO2 can directly be attributed to anthropogenic CO2 emissions. And ‘only’ a local effect is something we already mentioned. I guess your neighbours, wife, children, don’t mind you are polluting their direct living environment?

  44. adriaan Says:


    Glad to have you back on the accepted chemistry. Endproduct, yes, like N2.

    The fact that the biosphere is the main source of N2O and (sic!) CO2, is very relevant. It indicates that the release, or stopping of the release of antropogenic N2O and CO2 will do nothing for the respective levels in the atmosphere. And only 5% of the atmospheric CO2 is directly attributable to antropogenic activities, despite what the IPCC claims.

    And my neighbours, wife and children will not notice since they are living in the way like I am and release equivalent amounts of N2O and CO2.

  45. adriaan Says:


    Correction, I just learned that one of my neighbours uses Viagra. That changes the bill with NO.

  46. adriaan Says:


    Are you serious?

    Marco Says:
    April 2, 2010 at 19:00

    Yes, Peter Wilson, as an editor and frequent reviewer of scientific journals very clear to me: if one decides to proceed with publication with both comment and reply, they will be in the same issue.

    If so, I am glad that I publish in different Journals;))))

  47. Marco Says:

    Since there are non-Dutch reading here, I’ll keep it to English:
    I once again note that you keep on insisting N2O is a crucial intermediate. It is NOT a crucial intermediate. That some bacteria produce N2O as an endproduct(! see *) in the denitrification does not make it a crucial intermediate, unless you then also accept H2S as a crucial intermediate. In which case you most assuredly are never allowed to complain if anyone ever farts, and don’t even dare to open the window.

    (*) Nitrogen isn’t the endproduct in all denitrification reactions. If it were, there would be no N2O emissions. And then there’s the little issue of nitrification also producing N2O.

    Your comments on increasing CO2 levels not due to anthropogenic sources would get you a firm slap on the hand by any reviewer and a hearty laugh by any editor who know something about the atmosphere. Just a little lesson:
    1. Humans emit a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere due to burning of fossil fuels
    2. The concentration of CO2 in the air is increasing
    3. However, it is only increasing by about *half the amount* humans are emitting
    4. Gee, that must mean nature IS A SINK for CO2.

    And then you accuse me of lack of insight into chemistry and biology…I hope your articles are a little bit better in content.

  48. adriaan Says:


    You really do your best to hide that you know anything about chemistry, don’t you? N2O is by no means the end of the denitrification chain, intermediates such as N2O and NO can also be released. But you can probably point out how denitrification works with avoiding the production of N2O or NO? And would you be so kind to show me the reactions which involve H2S as intermediate in the processing of sulphates by anaerobic bacteria?

    A simple lesson from me to you:

    Human CO2 emissions are 8 Gt/year. The atmosphere contains 900 Gt currently. Only half (4Gt) show up in the atmosphere. 14CO2 has an half-life time of 5 to 15 years, depending on the publication. There is no reason to assume that 14C CO2 behaves differently from 12CO2. This implies: 1% of the current CO2 amount of the atmosphere is emitted by humans by carbon burning per year. Most of it is directly absorbed by the biosphere/litosphere with a half life time of 5 to 15 years. The IPCC has to assume a lifetime of CO2 of more than 200 years and does so by assuming that a fixed fraction of 21% to be retained forever after release by burning fossil fuel. AR4, Ch2 page 213 table 214 note a, based on he Bern carbon cycle model, Joos et al 2001, who do not provide the same detailed parameters. The remaining 79% is absorbed very fast, even in this flawed model, which is not a model but a response function. The isotopic signature of fossil fuel is different from the isotopuc signature of the current atmospheric CO2, indicating that the main part of the atmospheric CO2 has a different source than the burning of fossil fuels.

    I give you a slapping and a harty laugh, you editor and reviewer.

  49. Shub Niggurath Says:

    A slightly different take on the issue of global warming communication:

  50. Marco Says:


    H2S is a signalling compound in the human body, which is transformed into sulfites and sulfates. There you go, crucial. So let’s just increase its concentration in the air! Right?!

    And I’ve seen the bogus calculations you show too many times already. However you do your calculation, the *increase* in CO2 is due to anthropogenic sources (additional evidence comes from the change in 13C/12C ratio and 14C/12C ratio). Our emissions are simply overwhelming the CO2 uptake mechanisms of the earth. Accept that little fact, and you’re getting a bit closer to reality.

    (Note that your calculation completely neglects that we’ve been adding CO2 to the atmosphere for many decades now, in essence about 25% of the current amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is due to the excess CO2 we’ve added).

    Then your half-life issue: you are comparing apples with pears. The half-life relates to a molecule of CO2 (and not specifically 14CO2). The second number refers to the EXCESS CO2 going back to background levels.

    You could start here to learn some actual science
    (oh, but be careful, it puts the values MUCH higher than the IPCC)

    Or this link:

  51. Shub Niggurath Says:


    Adriaan said:
    “The fact that the biosphere is the main source of N2O and (sic!) CO2, is very relevant. It indicates that the release, or stopping of the release of antropogenic N2O…”

    You haven’t addressed that. Let us try to get back to science and communication. Dont shift the goalposts.

    Are N20 emssions from Hummer trucks a significant source of anthropogenic warming?

    And while you are at it, you might find the following useful as well.

    Grazing-induced reduction of natural nitrous oxide release from continental steppe
    Nature 464, 881-884 (8 April 2010)
    doi: 10.1038/nature08931

    “The N2O emission pulses are highest in ungrazed steppe and decrease with increasing stocking rate, suggesting that grazing decreases rather than increases N2O emissions. Our results show that the stimulatory effect of higher stocking rates on nitrogen cycling and, hence, on N2O emission is more than offset by the effects of a parallel reduction in microbial biomass, inorganic nitrogen production and wintertime water retention. By neglecting these freeze–thaw interactions, existing approaches may have systematically overestimated N2O emissions over the last century for semi-arid, cool temperate grasslands by up to 72 per cent.”
    (italics mine)

    So much for turning vegetarian to save the world!

  52. adriaan Says:


    Please calm down. You are going over the top.

    I never said anything about H2S being essential. I only asked for the reactions which would show that H2S is an intermediate in the anaerobic metabolism of sulphates.

    As for CO2, I did not calculate anything, I merely listed facts which are hard to deny. Which of my listed facts is not correct?

    You start by calling it bogus, you show me where it is bogus.

    I will help you, though.

    The two links you provided do not answer my questions. The assumed lifetime of CO2 is derived by dividing content by increase. This only works if burning carbon would be the only source of CO2. And this is not the case. CO2 can be released by geological processes, which have a scale far beyound what we humans produce. There are more than 30000 active volcanoes on the bottom of the oceans, spewing gases, which also contain CO2. Furthermore, the first paper deals with models. I hate models. Models tell you what you put into it. I have been modelling complex systems for 25 years now, and all of them are junk. The second paper is not even worth looking at.

    And if Denman et al are right, then it is useless to reduce emitting CO2 now. We will not live to see its effects, even if we cut production today down to absolute zero by committing collective hara kiri.

    But if we assume that CO2 release by the biosphere and litosphere is increasing in the last 100 years due to other processes (global warming due to recovery from the LIA), there would be no need for the models to assume almost eternal lifetime of atmospheric CO2, which then can follow the decay observed for 14C CO2. And I can not understand why 14C CO2 would behave differently from 12C CO2? You state that the capacity of CO2 uptake of the various compartments (oceans, biosphere, lithosphere) is overwhelmed by the silly 8GT annually burned? Where did al this carbon originate?

    Marco, I am sure you can do better than this.

    At least you must do so in order to have a chance to convince me. As for now, this chance is asymptotically going to zero.

  53. adriaan Says:


    I suggest the following for reading:
    Li et al Tellus (2009) 61B 361-371
    Levin et al Tellus (2010) 62B 26-46
    Yeung et al PNAS (2009) 106 11496-11501
    Svetlik et al JRNC (2009) 281 137-141
    Vay et al ACP (2009) 9 4973-4985

    And can you explain why in your first reference the entire work of Fortunat Joos is not even mentioned? He will hate you for this.

  54. adriaan Says:


    I could not resist this:
    You could start here to learn some actual science
    (oh, but be careful, it puts the values MUCH higher than the IPCC)
    end citation

    And this is about comparing different models. And you call this actual SCIENCE???? Would you please try to keep serious, I am now having the shakes for laughing.

  55. Marco Says:

    Darn, more attempts to confuse by Adriaan. We already established (and you did not provide any rebuttal) that about 50% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions are taken up by natural processes (notably, mainly the ocean). That is, nature currently is a SINK for CO2. CO2 from submarine volcanoes is counterbalanced by CO2 uptake by new ocean floor and increase phytoplankton growth.

    And yes, clearly nature is overwhelmed by this 8 Gt (carbon) extra we punt into the air. If the source of CO2 increase was elsewhere, the increase would *by necessity* be even faster! The fact that you still try to link the increase to other sources is an error of logic that defies description.

    CO2 balance is all a matter of time-scales: rock weathering, which is the most important uptake mechanism of CO2, is a very slow process. It mostly takes places in the deep ocean, and oceanic mixing is another slow process. It simply cannot keep up with the speed with which we are adding CO2 to the atmosphere.

    And if Archer and company are right, it means we can’t start soon enough with reducing our CO2 emissions. At present we’re playing with fire, hoping nature will remain a sink of CO2 and thus reduce the impact of our emissions.

    P.S. your links have little to do with residence time, and several use models, which you yourself do not consider science (you even start laughing)…
    Moreover, there is a reference to work by Joos.

    P.P.S: you didn’t even want to read the second link I gave? Gee, I wonder why. It contains such a very simple explanation as to why your logic is crazy.

  56. Marco Says:

    @Shub Niggurath:

    Are you also following the logic that because A is a bigger polluter, B can just add more pollution?

    In most cases there is a reasonable balance between emission and uptake. Adding more and more and then hope the uptake can keep up the pace isn’t really that smart.

    Regarding N2O emissions from anthropogenic sources, see here for the US:
    Burning of fossil fuels is the second largest source.
    And before you start howling about the numbers of the prime source, referring to the recent Nature article: this would actually *increase* the relative influence of burning fossil fuels on anthropogenic N2O.

  57. Bart Says:

    Analogy to the carbon balance and the human perturbation:

    Two equal sized elephants are sitting on a wip-wap, which is kept in equilibrium. Now you’re climbing on top of one of the elephants, and as a result the wip-wap starts going down at your end. Who is to “blame” for the wip-wap going down: You or the elephant?

  58. Scott Mandia Says:

    Here is an easy to understand page about why human emissions, although much smaller than natural emissions, are causing the CO2 rise.

  59. adriaan Says:


    Are you assuming that 100% of the rise in atmospheric CO2 (300 to 380 ppmv) is due to carbon burning?

    I disagree.

    Can you explain why the 14CO2 content of the atmosphere since 1960 is decaying according to simple first rate kinetics? Does this not imply that all CO2 follows this rule? If not why?

    The models can only work by assuming long residence times for CO2. But they cannot cope with the effects of stopping the antropogenic release of CO2, as is apparent from Archer et al? Where is the urgency?

    And maybe you can help me in finding out where the actual science is in Archer et al. Just curious.

  60. Marco Says:

    The rise in atmospheric CO2 is completely and solely related to anthropogenic activity (mostly fossil fuel burning). It is really extremely simple math: if I add X, and something increases by only 0.5*X, the increase is solely due to me adding this X. Something else is actually actively removing 0.5*X.

    You may want to read various of the references in the Archer review. You will then see a lot more of the science. But since you already scolded “models”, you’ll probably dismiss everything you read.

    Regarding lifetime and residence time:
    It’s quite simple: if we stop emitting CO2 completely, the oceans will once again become a net emitter of CO2. It takes too long for the oceans to mix to allow rock weathering the deep ocean to take up the excess CO2. As a result, there is a fast *exchange* (5-10 years halflife) of individual molecules, but a really slow *uptake*. It’s the latter that is the actual mitigation factor of excess atmospheric CO2.

  61. adriaan Says:


    You are assuming that the oceans are saturated with CO2. Where is the proof for this assumption? As far as I know, the capacity of water to dissolve CO2 increases with pressure lineairly until about 50 bars, resulting in a about 25 fold increase of the amount of dissolved CO2. Above 100 bars, CO2 prefers to be liquid. Between 50 and 100 bar, clathrates form with water and are stable sinks of CO2. So there is no need for rock withering to accomodate the excess CO2. These processes also are very fast, resulting in equilibrium within minutes.

    By the way, what is your comment on the 14CO2 pulse observation? First order decay or not?

    And the simple math looks too tempting to be true, especially in combination with isotopic signatures. If there is exchange which follows first order kinetics, it learns us that there is no saturation. Given that the isotopic signature of the atmosphere is more resembling the isotopic signature of the oceans and not that of the fossil fuels, we can safely conclude that the release by the oceans is the major source of the atmospheric CO2.

    And as for Archer, (s)he models two scenarios, one with 1000Gt CO2 and one with 5000 Gt CO2 pulses, which are released instantaneously. 5000 GT is the entire global supply of carbon containing fossil fuels. Does not strike me as a realistic scenario to evaluate the effects of release of CO2, does it?

  62. adriaan Says:


    Plants wither, rocks weather ;)

  63. adriaan Says:


    reading all the refs from Archer et al is not something I can do overnight. Give me some time. Which ones do you suggest to read, since I cannot get my hands on all of them (dollarlocked).

  64. Marco Says:

    If we remove *all* anthropogenic emissions of CO2, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will fall. That means the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere will fall. Tell me, Adriaan, what will that do with the dissolves CO2 in the oceans? Will it take up even more? No, of course not! It will start *releasing* that CO2.

    Moreover, the 14C pulse tells us what, exactly? It looks like 1st order. So what? That’s the *exchange* taking place, combined with the extra 12CO2 we are adding to the atmosphere.

    I also see no evidence that the isotopic signal is that of CO2 in the oceans and that oceans are thus the source. Where’s your evidence? Here’s mine:

    Oh, and once again I’d love for you to explain how we are able to put 8 Gt C/y into the atmosphere, see the atmospheric concentration rise by about 4 Gt C/y, and then have the oceans as the source of the increase. There really is an absolute lack of logic in your line of reasoning.

    Re Archer: get yourself to a university library. They’ll have just about all of the references. You could also just read Archer’s prior papers.

  65. Shub Niggurath Says:


    “Are you also following the logic that because A is a bigger polluter, B can just add more pollution?”

    I am following the logic that if large amounts of a substance is naturally released into the atmosphere, and that is not a ‘pollutant’ in the global warming sense, then the smaller amounts are not a pollutant too.

    Since I only talked about N20, natural release includes agricultural anthropogenic sources as opposed to the fossil fuel combusted in a Hummer solely for human pleasure. We *have* to engage in agricultural activities – do we agree on that?

    It is you who has been howling about ‘pollution’. If your characterize opposition to your argument as howling – it is difficult not to howl. ;)

    I wont say anything about the sources (atleast for now) that you quoted except:
    1) They rely on IPCC methodology for soil N20 output estimation

    Could you clarify what you meant when you said?
    “…this would actually *increase* the relative influence of burning fossil fuels on anthropogenic N2O.”

    If you are saying what I think you are, which is:

    “agriculture esp livestock rearing is a major N2O source – earlier scenario”
    “Fossil fuel contribution to N2O has increased – in light of newer findings”

    then you leaps of logic and contortions are something even the most sympathetic listener would find it hard to follow.

    If livestock grazing (contributing to 1/3 of total) has been overestimated by 70%, it only means we can drive around so many more Hummers without causing any ‘N2O-caused global warming’ or reach present day levels of ‘mobile combustion’ contribution.

  66. adriaan Says:

    These are very disappointing reactions. You do not answer one single of my questions, you do not criticize them.

    I was hoping for some cooperation.
    Of course I can go to a library. Not many libraries do have the scientific journals cited in Archer et al. I can get all of them, no problem, but it will be expensive. I do not want to spent money on useless papers, and as far as I am concerned, all of them are. So I invited you to show me the most relevant ones. Deal?

    As for the 14CO2 pulse. Do I get it right that you are not able to properly judge the importance of a first order decay?

    The fact that you can not do better than giving a ref to Realclimate is shocking. I had you in a much higher esteem. I consider this to be a shameful disqualification.

    Marco, I thought you could do so much better.

    I am ashamed for your reactions.

  67. adriaan Says:


    I read Kheshgi and Archer 2004. Did you know that Khegshgi is employed by ExxonMobil, division Corporate Strategic Research?

    Nevermind, it is quite an interesting paper, with a lot of very obvious omissions. But these are probably due to the fact that BigOil is involved, or not?

  68. Marco Says:

    I both answered and criticised your questions/comments. I also asked questions myself. I realise you are completely unable to explain how we (=humans) can add 8 Gt C/y to the atmosphere, only see a 4 Gt C/y increase, and yet still have a *different* source for the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. That is only possible if we humans created a sink of at least 8 Gt C/y. You do not provide any evidence there is such a sink. I myself provide you a good summary of why scientists consider anthropogenic CO2 emissions the sole cause of increase in atmospheric CO2 (and you’ll even be hard pressed to find any so-called ‘skeptic’ scientists who contradict this).

    You also do not want to explain, in your own words, why 14CO2 should *not* show a first order decrease when the increase in CO2 is anthropogenic in nature, or how it contradicts the projected residence time of excess CO2.

    All you want to do now is to deflect the discussion. You forget you are not talking to someone who is easily swayed by non-arguments.

  69. Marco Says:


    N2O is a greenhouse gas, and thus can be considered a pollutant in the “global warming sense”.

    My point on your reference is that if certain anthropogenic emissions of N2O are overestimated, that’ll be due to agriculture/livestock grazing, that this actually increases the relative contribution of N2O from fossil fuel burning in terms of the anthropogenic sources of N2O. To put it simple: it reduces the number in the EPA table for the prime source, while the number of the second most abundant source remains the same.

    However, I also think you will see that the paper only looks at a small part of the cycle: more lifestock generally equals more methane emissions, as well as more nitrification elsewhere due to the required food for that lifestock (they can’t live on grass alone, and the grass often needs to be fertilised with…nitrate-containing fertiliser).

  70. adriaan Says:


    I am not explaining anything, since I am in the phase of data collection. Looking for hard evidence in the sense of peer-reviewed papers which give accurate data about measurements of parameters which are important for climate. Not looking for the results of models, I will have a look at models, and most of them are simplistic. At this stage, I will not produce any evidence, I will only ask questions. And if the answer to my questions challenges the knowledge I have about the various aspects of nature, I will mention this. Such as the NO/N2O/H2S debate. Now I have focussed on the CO2 signature and the half-life time of CO2. Came across a variety of papers dealing with this issue, and they are quite contradicting. BTW, did you actually read the papers I suggested? From your comments I concluded that you have only flashed the headings. Pity.

  71. adriaan Says:


    Please read Atomnaya Energiya (1990), 68(4): 291-294 and you will understand.

  72. Marco Says:

    @Adriaan: pointing to articles and then say “read”, and expect me to provide you with an explanation as to why these papers do not fit with what you believe about CO2 lifetime and (most importantly) CO2 residence time is rather difficult: for that I’d have to understand where your misunderstanding is located. I *think* it is all in your inability to understand the difference between CO2 exchange (CO2 atmospheric lifetime) versus active CO2 uptake (excess CO2 residence time), but since you are not willing to provide answers to questions, I’m stabbing in the dark.

    Your last example of a paper about solubility of O2 and CO2 as a function of pressure and temperature is a good example: what does it contradict? I can’t see it contradicting anything related to atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and definately not about the *source* of the increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

  73. adriaan Says:

    I am currently reading Archer et al related papers. They seem to have the opinion that the deep oceans can harbour lots more of CO2 if we only could get it there. What strikes me is that they seem to accomodate effects of temperature and salinity, but I cannot find the effect of increasing pressure in their calculations, which is the reason why I referred to the Energiya paper. And you did not touch my other remarks with regard to formation of clathrates and liquid CO2 at elevated pressures. I may be wrong, please feel free to correct me if so.

    Why are you so confident about my “misunderstanding”? You seem to assume that I am wrong, regardless of my views and observations?

    My suspicion was aroused by the missing life time of CO2 in table 2.14 of the IPCC report. Why is there no value for CO2 while all other gases do have a value? As far as I can see, this is due to the fact that on the one hand IPCC needs a long life time in order to have the “proof” that all increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to antropogenic activity. If this is so, stopping now with the release of CO2 will not result in a drastic decrease of atmospheric CO2 within the next 20 years. And this does not show well for the enormous investments that have to be made to reduce CO2 release in the short term, which will be useless on the short term.

    So all in all, I think it would be beneficial if we would conclude that the effective half-life of CO2 is short, that only a limited amount of the current increase is directly attributable to anthropogenic activities, and that there is no direct relation between atmospheric CO2 concentration and global temperatures. Maybe the relation is the inverse?

  74. adriaan Says:


    Did you actually read the papers or did you Google them?

  75. Marco Says:


    I’m pretty sure you fail in some basic understanding because of your insistence that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is *not* due to anthropogenic emissions, despite me informing you time and time again that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is actually *less* than the amount we throw into the air. We’re talking about a factor 2 difference.

    You fail on this basic math: Suppose I add 2 euro to a pool of money each day, and after seven days I see that pool has increased by 7 euros. Your conclusion? “Somebody made the amount of money increase by 7 euros! But it wasn’t me!”. Someone who’d do the actual math would say “Oi, I added 14 euros, but it only increase by 7. Who took 7 of the euros I added?!”
    Unless you can show that I did not only add 2 euros a day, but also took a certain amount (more than 1 euros a day), the increase in money is 100% due to my addition. And remember, if I did not take more than 1.5 euros per day, the increase is still 50% due to me adding money.

    Alos, once again you talk about half life of individual molecules, and fail to see the difference with the half life of the *excess* amount. You really don’t seem to grasp the difference between the two. Why is that?

    Regarding lifetime of *excess* CO2 (which is the number that is so difficult to determine, as it is highly nonlinear and dependent on many factors), the problems with its longevity actually show why we should make a strong commitment *now*: it’s the area under the curve that is the warming potential. With every little amount we add extra to the atmosphere, we increase the area under the curve by much more than that little amount. As several scientists have noted, we likely already committed ourselves to about 2 degrees of warming with the *current* level of CO2. Yes, in the short term it will mean very little. If it’s your policy that you could not care about two or three generations later, you have yourself a valid point to be against CO2 reductions. But be sure to admit you do not care what happens to those a few generations after you.

    To make it short: half life of individual CO2 molecules is a few years, half life of excess CO2 is MUCH longer, humans are 100% responsible for the CO2 increase of the atmosphere, and there is a relationship between CO2 concentrations and global temperatures, even though it contains a lag. I think it would be beneficial if you finally show me the calculation that proves humans are not responsible for the CO2 increase of the atmosphere, rather than the handwaving you’ve done so far.

  76. adriaan Says:

    as you well know, the warming effect of CO2 depends on the logarithm of the concentration, not on the actual concentration. That makes adding CO2 relatively cheap. CO2 does not have a memory about where it comes from, so all CO2 has the same half-life time. There is no proof that humans are responsible for 100% of the CO2 increase, CO2 has fluctuated in the past wildly beyond the current levels. Why do I have to show calculations if we are merely smashing facts and figures? You did not provide one single calculation whatsoever (except for completely non related analogies). You do not respond to legitimate questions about the inclusion of physical parameters and processes in models. Why? Because you do not seem to have clue. For a person who claims to have a large deal of authority in climate science, you are not very convincing. And I put this mildly. And why do you have to be so patronizing? Is patronizing an essential feature of people advocating AGW? And what will happen when we stop emitting CO2? How long will it take according to you before global warming will stop?

    But I see some progression in your ideas. You seem to agree that the half life time of an individual CO2 molecule is a few years. I like that progress.

  77. Marco Says:

    @Adriaan, I asked you a simple question many times. I tried different approaches: the direct approach (8 Gt C/y added, 4 Gt C/y increase), the indirect approach (my money example), and you still don’t get basic math. That CO2 has fluctuated in the past (but hardly at the current rate) still does not negate this extremely simple math.

    I want you to show me the calculations that explain how we humans can throw more CO2 into the atmosphere than the actual increase in CO2 in that same atmosphere, and yet *not* be the source of the increase. Failure to answer this extremely simple math questions merely indicates you prefer to ignore basic math and rather do loads of handwaving.

    Oh, and I did not claim “a large deal of authority in climate science”. However, I clearly have a superior understanding of very basic math compared to you. Patronizing I am because the math I showed above even a 12-year old will be able to understand (perhaps even younger children, too).

    Your ‘legitimate questions’ are not questions, they are “look at that paper!” When I ask why it is relevant, you say “it looks like someone did not take that into account”. The whole 14CO2 story is also one of “look at that!”, without explaining what it supposedly contradicts (it doesn’t contradict anything).
    Yours are not questions. It’s sending people on a wild goose chase.

    Regarding the half life of individual CO2 molecules: I already mentioned that in the start of the discussion, so why you see “progress” there is beyond me. I’ve ‘conceded’ something that I’ve never contradicted!

  78. adriaan Says:


    Suppose VS is right, and the dependency between temperature and CO2 does contain a unit root. That would completely invalidate your simple math solution. In that case, only the yearly increase of CO2 emissions would be relevant.

    The fact that temperature and CO2 are now showing a coincidental correlation does not reveal anything. Ice cores seem to suggest that CO2 increases tail temperature increases by decades, which would reverse the case. I think sub 12 year math will not do in this case, which is why I never embarked on showing 1 +1. And my question stands: did you read the papers I referred to? (And not only the titles and the abstracts).

    As for the importance of the 14C papers: they clearly show that half of all carbon will have moved into another compartment after the half life time which is about 5 to 15 years. This has simple consequences: after 10 half life times, less than 0.1% of the released CO2 will be present in the atmosphere, which is 50 to 150 years. Can you do this with 12 year math?
    99.9% of the CO2 went somewhere else. Where?
    99.9% of the atmospheric CO2 came from other sources. Which ones?

    The fact that the 14CO2 decay curve shows a first order kinetics indicates that CO2 in the biosphere/oceans is not saturated. Everything released is taken up, no feedback inhibition due to saturation.

    The ocean has its own mechanism, which is why I started to read Archer and Kheshgi. Remarkably, they showed that there is ample capacity for the storage of CO2, without even considering other storage forms of CO2 like clathrates and liquid CO2 (Which mixes perfectly with water at these temperatures and pressures). These papers I referred to are relevant. That you cannot gasp the idea behind them seems to be your problem. It was not a goose chase, it was a directed orientation quizz. You failed. (Did you actually read them?)

  79. Marco Says:


    You can start here to see the carbon fluxes (amounts and where they are going):
    It’s just one of many examples, all showing the same thing: oceans and biosphere are net sinks.

    Now, note in particular the arrows going into two directions. This will be important for you to understand the concept of *exchange* and how this may affect half life of 14CO2. That’ll be explained in my next reply.

  80. Marco Says:

    So, now that nasty exchange concept, and its relation to 14CO2 half-life. Let’s do that using a simple experiment you should try at home. It’s oversimplified, does not fully simulate the relation between atmosphere and biosphere/ocean, but explains the concept of half-life quite well

    1. Take several A4 leaves of paper, and cut them into a total of 4,000 pieces. Make sure the pieces are big enough to write on!

    2. Take 800 pieces and put them in a box marked “1”

    3. Take the rest (3200) and put them in a box marked “2”

    4. Take out 200 pieces from the box marked “1”, and put a 14 on those pieces. Then put them back in box “1”, and mix very thoroughly

    5. Randomly take out 200 pieces from the box marked “1”, put them aside for a moment

    6. Randomly take out 200 pieces from the box marked “2”, and also put these aside, but in a different place

    7. Add the 200 pieces you took out of box “1” to box “2”, and mix well

    8. Add the 200 pieces you took out of box “2” to box “1”, and mix well

    9. Count the number of pieces in box “1” that have a 14. This should be lower than 200, probably close to 150

    10. Repeat steps 5-9, and make a simple graph in which you plot the number of 14-pieces in box “1” as a function of the iteration number

    If this experiment were repeated by enough people and averaged, you should expect a graph that gives the following points:
    #iterations 14-pieces in box “1”
    0 200
    1 150
    2 115,6 (approx)
    3 92 (approx)
    4 77.2 (approx)

    You will get something that gets pretty close to a first order decay, probably even in the one experiment you would do yourself. This is the concept of *exchange*. Not one yota change in the number of pieces in box “1”, and yet an exponential decay.

    If you want you can make the experiment a lot more complex by adding additional compartments and using the fluxes indicated in the figure in my first reply, and/or start with some 14-labeled pieces in box “2”. It will all give the same story.

    The articles you cited do not provide *any* information that contradicts the long atmospheric lifetime of *excess* CO2. I’ve read two, and they simply don’t. I’ve read the abstracts of the others…same story.

  81. adriaan Says:


    I am a biologist involved in multicompartimental metabolic modelling. Who are you teaching/patronizing?

  82. adriaan Says:


    You read two of my suggested publications and the abstracts of the others. Did you understand what they meant to convey? And do I get it clear that you are not able to read the other papers in full? Or you have no access to them?

  83. Marco Says:


    You’re really baffling me: you model metabolism, and yet apparently fail to grasp something as simple as 14CO2 equilibration resulting in exponential decay of the excess amount in the atmosphere.

    Remember there’s a difference between the excess 14CO2 in the atmosphere, and the excess CO2 we are constantly adding to the atmosphere. Case A is a one-time occurrence, and for all practical purposes the total amount of 14CO2 in the various compartments remains the same. In case B we are constantly adding CO2 to the compartments. We add it to compartment A(tmosphere) from where it distributes between A, B(iosphere) and (o)C(ean). You of all people here should be able to see that there is a difference, and that (only) if we actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, Biosphere and Ocean become net contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere again.

    Your papers simply don’t show anything that contradicts what I said. I understand what they meant to convey, but I do not understand why you think it contradicts anything I said.

    So, to give you a possibility to patronise me, tell me exactly why the papers you cited debunk my arguments. Why is an article like Yeung et al on enrichment of certain isotopic CO2 variants in the stratosphere so damning to my argument that the increased CO2 in the atmosphere is solely due to human emissions. You may point to the effect it may have on the 13C/12C ratio and thus puts that under doubt as evidence for a fossil fuel origin, but then you’d have to explain why this effect happens to mirror the increase in CO2 concentrations so nicely. That is: more CO2 into the air, more pronounced fractionation. That is, it would not be an equilibrium process, but something that is its own positive feedback.

  84. Shub Niggurath Says:

    I am sure you are aware of the conclusion of an extensive review of AR4 that there are literally thousands of grey literature citations (non peer-reviewed) in there.

    We all knew that there were many such papers and pamphlets cited in the AR4, but to have a staggering 5600 references is simply mind-boggling.

    Now, I am not the one to bang on someone just because they wrote a paper in a non peer-reviewed journal. A good paper is its own affirmation. There are lot of good gray literature papers and peer-reviewed junk, you would surely agree.

    But my focus is on people like Ed Begley whose energizer-bunny like fetishistic harping of the word ‘peer-review’ which you so admired in the post above.

    The actual cataloging of the IPCC references leaves Ed Begley’s contentions hanging in the air, doesn’t it?

    Wasn’t that, to put it mildly, bad climate change communication strategy?

  85. Bart Says:


    Grey literature is allowed to be cited in the IPCC reports, but conditional on strict criteria (which were not followed in e.g. the case of the glacier mistake)
    The proportion of grey literature differs markedly for the three working groups of the IPCC: It is much higher in wg3 and wg 2 than in wg1. The reason is that in the impacts and mitigation fields less peer reviewed material is available and (eg in the field of energy research) much research material ends up in non peer reviewed reports.

    You’re right about there being bad peer reviewed studies and good non-peer reviewed articles. But the proportion of bad studies is much much larger in non-peer reviewed work (just google ‘age of the earth’ or whatever term you want) than in peer reviewed work. It’s a bit like pointing out someone who lived until his 98th birthday while smoking all his life. Yeah, it’s possible. But the chances for a long healthy life are larger for non-smokers than for smokers. It’s the exception that proves the rule, so to speak. If someone feels they have made a substantial contribution to the science but won’t bring it to peer review, one could wonder why not. I’ll have a post about a related topic soon.

  86. Marco Says:

    @Shub Niggurath:

    The audit you point to has one fatal flaw: only scientific journals were considered a “peer reviewed” source. Unfortunately, most books/book chapters are also peer reviewed. The IPCC reports are peer reviewed (they were not labeled as such in the ‘audit’). Many government reports are peer reviewed. Even several NGOs have peer reviewed reports!

    The 5600 “not peer reviewed” is likely to be overestimated by a factor 10, if not more.

    The funniest thing is that Donna Laframboise actually gave the benefit of the doubt to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. Darn, one of the highest ranking original research journals, and she decides to give it the benefit of the doubt…it tells you about the quality of the auditors.

  87. Shub Niggurath Says:

    I know that non peer-reviewed material is allowed in the IPCC reports. There really is no need to bring that up to bolster your case (so to speak :).

    It is the sheer number and volume of such literature which is cited in the reports that is amazing.

    It is the area of climate change ‘impacts’ that a large body of gray literature has been cited – whereas it is precisely this area that requires an even greater degree of quality control. One form of quality control would be peer-review which is currently largely absent. The fact is – science in this area is still in an infantile stage. But somehow, the ambition of those working in this area is boundless, and thus their overreach to draw stupendous conclusions from flimsy navel-gazing ‘data’.

    We lack secular data and long-term information in the climate impacts area whereas the effects of radiative forcing and trapped heat should be evident in the impacts first, while being followed closely by temperatures in the instrumental record.

    The temperatures are rising say WG1. The impacts are disastrous – say WG2, but on the basis of gray literature which crumbles on closer examination. I dont think you should take the Pachauri line – ‘only a single, glacier mistake’ – we all know there are several ones.

    But, the final nail is: it is the warming consensus guys who have repeatedly harped and hammered away at the ‘peer-reviewed, peer-reviewd’ mantra. How can you now, sing paeans to gray literature?! How can you make excuses for it?

    Why, even the Raina report on Himalayan glaciers was hurled abuses, with evocative language by R K Pachauri (schoolboy, voodoo, retired scientist etc etc) for the very reason that it was not ‘peer-reviewed’.
    The Raina report contains a credible, verifiable mechanism for how the glacier melting rates in the Himalayas could have been overestimated.

    Peer-reviewed government reports? You are dismissing Laframboise’s analysis of the IPCC citations because of who she is or isn’t? Very strong counter-arguments indeed.

    For peer-review to take place, there should be a substantial body of independently functioning credible experts in a scientific area who have enough at stake in keeping the scientific integrity of their area alive, rather than succumb to momentary pressures to okay this or that ‘paper of the day’. If these conditions are not met, ‘peer-review’ is any such field is not legitimate. I am surprised, I repeat, that a skeptic has to talk about what peer review is.

    Government reports, NGO handouts and advocacy pamphleets do not constitute peer-reviewd literature. Your off-hand guess estimates of how much gray literature is in the IPCC reports have no meaning. The noconsensus website has clearly annotated the references – take a look directly.

    There are many skeptical papers in gray literature form – I am sure you will be mortified if the next IPCC report starts citing them.

  88. Marco Says:

    Yes, government reports are, on many occasions, peer-reviewed. Heavily scrutinised, simply because people on various sides of the political isle will jump on any errors.
    But more importantly, many books/book chapters are also peer reviewed. NONE of these were taken into account by the ‘auditors’. They also did not list the IPCC reports as peer reviewed. Make a correction for these two issues, and you’d get a HUGE number of that 5600 that disappear.

    Also, I did not dismiss what Donna Laframboise did because of who she is. I don’t know her, so I can’t dismiss her for whom she is (since I dont’ know). However, anyone who does not even know PNAS and does not even look it up is obviously ill-equiped to audit “peer reviewed” versus “not peer reviewed”. Really, it does not take more than a minute to check what PNAS is, and somebody doing a serious audit should have done that.

    And my criticism comes directly from checking the noconsensus website. Give me one good reason why it is a valid approach to NOT label the IPCC reports as peer reviewed. Give me one good reason why it is a valid approach to NOT label *any* book/book chapter as peer reviewed. Remember, according to Donna Laframboise the rule was to give the IPCC the benefit of the doubt when there was doubt. Clearly, that ‘benefit’ was solely aimed at publications that may perhaps be journals.

    Let’s see if you can come with a valid argument. P Gosselin completely ignored me when I pointed to the methodological issues on Klimazwiebel. That’ll be one of the auditors. Could not even defend their methodology. Telling.

  89. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Just to be clear – you are claiming that methodology is wrong because they did not include citations for the following as being peer-reviewed?

    1) book chapters
    2) government reports
    3) IPCC reports

    Is that correct?


  90. adriaan Says:


    being one of the reviewers, I can state that we as reviewers did have this discussion. I know that chapters in books do get some form of review. But whether it is similar or at least equivalent to the peer review for publication in a scientific journal is very hard to establish, if not impossible. In this same way we decided to have government publications and IPCC publications classified as not being peer reviewed, which in this case means that the IPCC final publications seem to contain language and references which were not in the first drafts but added later by the chapter managers. Even publications with timestamp 2007 have found their way into IPCC reports, while it was clear that only papers until december 2005 could be included.

  91. Marco Says:

    I claim the methodology is wrong, because it *per definition* decided that book chapters, IPCC reports, and governments report were not peer reviewed. Adriaan actually confirms this methodology.

    In other words, the methodology included a non-disclosed, and very narrow, definition of the term “peer review”. I can say from personal experience that some government reports are much more heavily reviewed than most manuscripts submitted to journals. The IPCC reports also are much heavier reviewed than most manuscripts.

  92. Shub Niggurath Says:

    I think the issue is simple. The citizen reviewers take a nuts-and-bolts approach to arrive at initial numbers.

    The question asked was:

    Irrespective of whether the chapters and govt reports be peer-reviewed/reviewed or otherwise, …

    How many are the *definitely peer-reviewed*, journal articles cited in the IPCC?

    The ‘definitely peer-reviewed’ proportion should have been higher, way higher, to justify the shrill tone of advocacy and self-righteousness that followed.

    If only the number of papers passing this strict or as you put it ‘narrow’ criteria would have been a bit more healthier, it would have, atleast, justified the fetishism of ‘peer-review’ thrust upon the rest of us, by the IPCC consensus. The IPCC has been judged by the standards it set itself up against.

    Because anyone can spray citations of dubious kinds into a report and use the fact that there are a few peer-reviewed papers amongst them to legitimize all the citations therein.

    That is the situation we are in right now.


  93. Marco Says:

    Shub, you are now getting to the point. Please point us to all those crucial citations that are “of dubious kinds”. They’ll have to be crucial to the issue at hand, though! The Himalayas example would not be a crucial issue, for example, since it was not even part of the executive summary of WG2 and because WG1 covered the changes in glacier mass balance, including those in Asia, in much more detail (and more correctly).

    Since you guys apparently believe there are such crucial dubious citations in the IPCC report: go ahead, show them.

  94. zombie Says:


    You are talking nonsense, and you know it. You are accusing us that we, citizen auditors, did not do our job. You review any chapter at will, and I will do the same. Then we compare.


  95. zombie Says:


    My nick zombie appears since I seem to have problems posting as Adriaan.

  96. zombie Says:


    I did not hear anything from you on my latest offer. It is still on.

  97. zombie Says:


    You are posting so frequently, I hope it is not on taxpayers’ time? In that case, a FOIA, as Gavin seems to enjoy, would be disastrous. As would be a WOB.

  98. adriaan Says:

    I have been absent for a while due to problems in posting.

  99. Shub Niggurath Says:

    Did you sign this letter?


  100. The IPCC and grey literature « Shub Niggurath Climate Says:

    […] Such tirades however, were praised by a famous climate scientist. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: