Posted by: Barry Bickmore | November 15, 2020

Fraud Detection and the Presidential Election

Since the recent presidential election, I have seen a number of claims about supposed election fraud. The Trump campaign and allies have filed a number of lawsuits alleging voter fraud and other voting irregularities, trying to get judges to stop several battleground states from certifying their vote tallies, but so far almost all these suits have been essentially laughed out of court because the allegations have either been too nebulous, or specific testimony was not seen as particularly credible. For someone who believes President Trump’s allegations of election fraud, this has got to be frustrating, because once the vote counts are certified by the states, any other outcome than a Biden presidency becomes almost impossible.

The next line of defense involves statistical arguments, based on fraud detection techniques used, for instance, by credit card companies. Have you ever gone out of town and tried to use your credit card, only to find that it is being declined? This has happened to me a few times, and the reason for it was that some computer algorithm had determined that the transaction I was trying to make was “unusual,” in some way (e.g., I was in a different state or country than usual), so it was flagged and denied until I called in to confirm that it was really me trying to use the card. The argument goes that we can use these same statistical techniques to show that various election results should be flagged as possibly fraudulent, so we should take some extra time to investigate where these “anomalies” come from.

Is there any merit to this kind of argument, with respect to the presidential election? The short answer is, “No.” For the longer version, I’ll give a couple examples to show why I don’t think these type of arguments should be taken seriously.

What we need to remember when evaluating arguments like these is that they rely on techniques to identify when something statistically “unusual” is going on–not specifically for identifying “fraud.” For instance, the credit card transactions I mentioned were flagged because I WAS doing something unusual–traveling outside my home state–which I typically only do a couple times per year. In other words, sometimes “unusual” things happen for completely innocent reasons. Therefore, if we know in advance that something unusual is going to happen, the computerized flags that pop up don’t worry us. That’s why, nowadays, when I travel out of state (or especially out of the country) I call my credit card company and inform them what I’m doing. They put a note on my account, and when transactions are flagged for being outside my usual geographic area, the company doesn’t refuse them.

One type of argument about the election results I’ve seen a lot goes like this. “The 10,000 votes they counted overnight in State X were about 90% for Biden. Given that Biden’s total fraction of the vote in State X was about 50%, there is only a 0.00… (typically lots of zeros here)… 0007% chance that any batch of 10,000 randomly chosen votes would be 90% for any candidate.” Here’s the main problem with arguments like this. They are predicated on the assumption that the votes were a “random selection” from the pool of all votes–but they were not randomly selected–they were almost all (at least in the cases I’ve seen) from mail-in ballots. What’s more, President Trump had spent the last several months telling his supporters to vote in person, not by mail, whereas VP Biden had been encouraging his supporters to vote in whatever way they could. Polls before the election showed that many, many more Democrats were planning on voting by mail than Republicans. In other words, it’s as if the country had called the credit card company beforehand, and told them to expect that mail-in votes would skew heavily in favor of the Democrats.

Another type of argument I’ve seen relies on something called “Benford’s Law.” (There’s an excellent Wikipedia page for Benford’s Law that you should check out if you are interested in learning more about it.) The idea behind Benford’s Law is as follows. Suppose you randomly choose numbers between zero and some other value–let’s say it turns out to be 145. Next, you randomly select a batch of integers within that range. So the numbers we can choose are 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12… 20, 21, 22… etc., etc., 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 104, 105… 145. If we look at the first digit of every one of those numbers, it turns out that there are more numbers with a first digit of “1” than any other number. That is, the lower the digit, the more probable it is be the first digit of a number within some randomly chosen range. Wikipedia explains:

The law states that in many naturally occurring collections of numbers, the leading digit is likely to be small. In sets that obey the law, the number 1 appears as the leading significant digit about 30% of the time, while 9 appears as the leading significant digit less than 5% of the time. If the digits were distributed uniformly, they would each occur about 11.1% of the time.’s_law

If you take the first digits from all the numbers in the collection, the distribution will look like this.

“Forensic accountants,” for instance, will routinely take the first digits from massive lists of financial transactions, to see if they follow a Benford’s Law type of distribution. From long experience, they have determined that such lists usually do follow Benford’s Law, unless something out of the ordinary is going on, so they can use this tool to flag companies to investigate, etc.

It turns out that there are a number of Trump-supporting forensic accountants, and the like, who are trying to apply Benford’s Law to things like vote totals in different counties, just like they would to numbers in a hedge fund’s account books. Watch this YouTube video to see a forensic accountant, Robert A. Bonavito, CPA, explain how he is using Benford’s Law to supposedly detect “fraud” from the vote totals in Georgia counties.

The fundamental problem with Robert Bonavito’s reasoning is that he hasn’t asked any of the fundamental questions that must be asked before knowing whether it’s even reasonable to apply Benford’s Law to a data set like this. For instance, many collections of numbers follow Benford’s Law, but many do not. Are vote totals from different counties one of those sets of numbers that should tend to follow Benford’s Law? Bonavito never demonstrates this before drawing the conclusion that there must have been “fraud,” because said vote totals do not follow the law. Also, there are only 159 counties in Georgia. Is this a large enough sample for a problem like this? For instance, if there were only 10 counties, there would be no way their vote totals could possibly follow Benford’s Law.

We can take a first stab at answering these questions by looking at the distribution of first digits in the populations of the 159 counties in Georgia. Here it is.

Clearly, the populations of the 159 counties in Georgia fail the Benford’s Law test just as profoundly as the vote totals from those counties. And if the populations don’t follow Benford’s Law, why would we assume that the vote totals should? In any case, even if county populations and vote totals over the entire country do follow Benford’s Law, 159 counties might be too small a sample to tell if anything unusual is really going on in Georgia.

None of this proves there is no massive conspiracy to fix the presidential election. However, it does prove that conspiracy theorists like Bonavito have a lot more work to do to make the case that there is any reason for suspicion.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | June 14, 2017

Giddyup! Dean Sessions and the Gish Gallop


This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

Volume 1 of the Universal Model (UM) is long.  Really, REALLY loooooonnnnnnnggggg.  Over 800 pages long.  And supposedly there are two more volumes of similar size in the editing stage!  For people who aren’t accustomed to intellectual debate, this kind of thing can often seem impressive because, well… look at all that evidence!  Even those who are used to engaging in serious debate can sometimes be thrown for a loop by such an enormous flood of information. That is, even if you can easily tell such a collection of “evidence” is a giant pile of bullpucky, it can be daunting to contemplate the task of convincing others of that fact.  Where do you even start?  Dean Sessions is an expert at using this common debating technique, called the “Gish Gallop,” of deluging opponents with too much bullpucky to deal with.  In this post, I’m going to give an example of Sessions’ Gish Gallops, and explain how to recognize and effectively deal with such tactics.

What a Reasonable Argument Looks Like

When a reasonable person stakes out a position to argue, it’s usually hard to take it down with one or a few simple arguments (I call them “silver bullets”), because they have usually made some semblance of a good-faith effort to take into account any relevant facts they know of.  Since we (almost?) never have all the relevant information, it’s possible to come to different conclusions based on the same set of evidence.  That doesn’t mean any conclusion is possible, obviously, but honest thinkers have usually already ruled out the most obviously stupid ones by the time they take a stand.

A serious debate, therefore, is usually characterized by great attention to detail.  All the most important arguments for a given position are taken seriously, and if it turns out that one’s opponent has clearly found a way to neutralize or destroy one of them, an honest thinker will admit it and move on.  By “moving on” I don’t necessarily mean conceding total defeat, however.  Rather, most semi-reasonable positions will be supported by multiple arguments, and will be nuanced enough that their essentials can be preserved by making small changes to the details.  Thus, it is quite difficult or even impossible to definitively disprove such a position, and a debate between reasonable people will usually turn into a meticulous examination of all the individual arguments, followed by assessment of which positions seem most likely to be correct, and/or which details need to be adjusted to fit the facts.

In other words, the quality of individual arguments matters to honest debaters.  I have canonized this principle in two of Bickmore’s Laws.

Bickmore’s First Law of Being Reasonable

Reasonable people understand that good arguments can sometimes lead to false conclusions, and bad arguments can sometimes lead to true conclusions.

Bickmore’s Second Law of Being Reasonable

Reasonable people resist bad arguments, even if they agree with the conclusions.

The UM and Silver Bullets

Crackpots like Dean Sessions, however, generally see themselves as revolutionary geniuses, and all those “experts” as bumbling buffoons, so they very often claim to have a vast arsenal of silver bullets at their disposal to dispatch whatever prevailing theory they want to replace.  Consider this passage from the UM, discussing the prevailing scientific opinion on the origin of minerals like quartz in igneous rocks.  (Geologists hold that quartz crystals grow in a variety of ways, but Sessions claims they can only be grown from water.)

The origin of igneous minerals is described as follows:  “Many minerals are formed directly from the magma. Feldspar, mica and quartz, for example, form as the magma cools down, deep in the Earth’s crust, at temperatures from 1100 °C to 550 °C.”

In The Magma Pseudotheory, we learned why this statement from the Handbook [of Rocks, Minerals and Gemstones] is false. Natural quartz cannot come from a cooling magma and this is evident for many reasons including:

1. Quartz is not highly radioactive (the predominant theory of heat in the Earth Is radioactivity).

2. Quartz is not a glass (quartz has an ordered crystalline structure whereas glass does not).

3. The Quartz would not be piezoelectric (natural quartz loses this property when heated above 570 °C).  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 274)

It’s not just that one can make some reasonable arguments against the consensus view.  Oh, no!  According to Sessions, he has any number of arguments that prove the consensus view cannot be correct.

Piling it High:  The Gish Gallop

It turns out, however, that every single one of the arguments listed above is complete bullpucky, as I’ve shown before in detail.  1) Just because a certain thing is a heat source, it doesn’t follow that the source has to be present within every object heated by that source, because heat energy tends to spread out. 2) Quartz demonstrably DOES grow from molten rock. 3) Quartz regains its piezoelectric properties when it cools down again, but sometimes different domains are created in the same crystal with piezoelectric properties that cancel one another out, so natural quartz isn’t generally used for electronics applications.

I’ve tried to present some of this information over on the UM Forum, but I usually get the same kind of response from the UM Team.  That is, they refuse to acknowledge any specific flaws in their arguments, no matter how obvious, and claim I can’t possibly provide a competent critique of any of their arguments until I deal with some giant list of  even more “evidence” they then spew out.  Sometimes they even tell me it will all become clear when they publish Volume 3 of the UM.

When I pointed out that one of Sessions’ own sources, in the same paragraph Sessions quoted, directly contradicts the claim that quartz can’t be formed from a melt, I got a long, rambling response from the UM Team that included this.

Have you made quartz crystal comparable to natural quartz from a melted solution of silica? We can answer this question for you – you have not. Why? Because no one has and this is because quartz cannot form from only melted silica. The Hyprethermal environment from which natural quartz crystals grow can only be duplicated in a water environment. So you should have no problem with the fact that the UM has produced not only synthetic quartz, (see p266 of UM), on the next page under the title, “Indistinguishable” From Natural Quartz, we find the quartz that we have made indistinguishable from the real thing. The following quote from Gems Made by Man, by Kurt Nassau, which is the most authoritative book on this matter we were able to find, states:

“No consistent identifying features are known a present for the reliable differentiation of synthetic from natural quartz and the two types are so far indistinguishable.” (p267 UM)

This important statement supports the UM Identity Principle which states: Identical results come from duplicating processes found in Nature. This imperative statement of course relates to the HYPRETHERMAL environment in which quartz was made, which means being encompassed or grown from water under high pressure and relatively low temperature (350 C). It is similar to how we can literally watch salt grow out of water when a supersaturated solution is cooled. We will be explaining more about this in Volume III of the UM where we find water being the organizing crystalline factor of all natural minerals formed. Nevertheless, the mineral quartz is only formed under specific pressures, temperatures, in water and with some other factors, none of which involve a “melt”….

You then commented on this quote found on the same page of the UM, made by by Paul Hess (1989) Origins of Igneous Rocks, p70:

“Plutonic textures have not been duplicated in the laboratory, however. The complete crystallization of the interstitial liquid as large crystals has not been achieved in granitic melts.”

This statement confirms what the authors of Understanding Earth geology textbook stated above concerning the failure of Bowman’s theory and his experiments with granitic melts. However, the other passages from the same Hess paragraph you claim that we overlooked are noted here:

“Coarse-grained plutonic rocks are produced over several millions of years of slow cooling and crystallization. Nevertheless, experiments show that feldspars of the size and shape typical of plutonic rocks can be grown in a matter of days or weeks in the laboratory…. Peak growth rates of feldspar and quartz in hydrous granitic melts are in the range of 10^-6 to 10^-8 cm/sec, and growth rates of plagioclase, pyroxene, and olivine are even greater in more depolymerized melts. Even the slowest growth rates are capable of producing crystals several centimeters in diameter in a few years. The very slow cooling rates of deep-seated rocks are not necessary for the formation of large crystals.”

Once again you have shown that as long as “peer reviewed” quotes cite actual observations, they have supported the UM position. In this case, every time we see “million of years” needed for anything we can ignore it is only theory because it is not demonstrable and thus not observable and therefore NOT science as noted in this first sentence. The next sentence, mentioned that the experiment was in water (hydrous) and only needed days to produce very small crystals, but no details on temperature, pressure, or the nature of the mineral is stated and Hess is simply talking about what he thinks other researchers have done. It is the last sentence that includes what is important; on p161 of the UM, where the “very slow cooling rates of deep-seated rocks are not necessary.” The millions of years that Hess mentioned in the first sentence appears to let other geologists know he still follows the geological time mantra and won’t get in trouble for saying that rocks can be made in days. How many people know of a rock they can hold in their hand after observing its formation in one day? How many? No one among thousands we talk to, until they hear about it in the UM. Thus, teachers are not teaching the simple fact that natural rocks can grow out of water just as synthetic, or man-made rocks do; and they can be made in days.

In other words, quartz HAS BEEN grown from granitic melts, but the UM Team objects that geologists have not been able to use their very complicated, finicky high pressure and temperature simulators (that are called “bombs” for a reason) to create synthetic granite with quartz and other crystals that are EXACTLY the same in size as what you find in real granite.

This is actually a fair point, although a very weak one.  Certainly the evidence from experimental petrology would be stronger if scientists could produce synthetic granites with crystals just the right size, so it’s fair game to point that out.  But whereas the scientists have produced synthetic granites with just the right minerals, though with crystals somewhat too small, Dean Sessions hasn’t produced any synthetic granites.  That’s right–all he has done is produce large, pure quartz crystals from hydrothermal solutions that are indistinguishable from the kind of large, pure quartz crystals found in nature… which geologists also think are grown from hydrothermal solutions.  (See this and this.)

Yes, our intrepid Galileo has succeeded in demonstrating that quartz sometimes grows one way geologists think it grows in nature.  Brilliant.  And even though he hasn’t grown synthetic granite in a hydrothermal setting, he still thinks it’s A-OK to repeatedly make blanket statements that quartz CANNOT be formed from a melt, because the quartz crystals scientists grow from melts in synthetic granites aren’t as big as the natural ones.  This reasoning is not merely stupid–it’s perverse.  

But the long-winded excerpt of the UM Team’s response above is only a fraction of the whole.  They continued on, and On, and ON with stuff like the following.

Perhaps you could give the four pages that describe how Glass is NOT Quartz (p101-105 of the UM) to several people that have not had your geological training and see if they can’t see how simple it is to grasp. Then have them read pages 257-273, beginning with the Enhydro Evidence, and see if real water in rock examples do not make complete sense for the first time when we realize that ALL natural minerals were first formed from water. This is why the Earth is a sphere – it had to be a liquid in space when it formed, and the ONLY large amount of liquid in space is water! In fact, who has ever observed magma or a melt to take place in space? Answer: no one. But as subchapter 7.2 (p234) demonstrates, water is found all over our solar system and on every planet and even the Sun and in the Orion Nebula, “The birthplace of the Stars” (NASA) wherever we have taken the time to look. And this is just for starters. Wait until you read about all the water in the Universe in Volume III.

Over the decades that the UM has been in development, it helps to understand that critical responses not unlike yours have already been taken into account many times. Experts in their fields of study have a very difficult time jettisoning their favorite pseudotheories they have been teaching for so many years. It has ever been thus, change is difficult even when the truth is so plain as to be obvious. Indeed a wise teacher once quipped after quoting a well-known adage: “Yes, the Truth will make you free, but it will make you really uncomfortable first!” The science language you use every day has been confounded by the UM and we understand this.

With the UM now released to the public, you have a chance to be one of the first geologists to read Volume I and actually contemplate that what you are reading just might be real. No, it is not perfect, we certainly have never made any claim that it was and we expect that corrections will need to be made from time to time, but the overwhelming evidence must be considered by every truth-loving individual. We are assuming you believe that there is truth, right? Many scientists do not and we quote them throughout the UM stating as much. The UM is the first revolution in science in any of our lifetimes and has brought overwhelming excitement to literally thousands who have begun the UM journey and begun to see for the first time, the stunning body of empirical evidence that they can both observe and evaluate for themselves. This is causing many to completely change their previously held worldview. It is scientifically illogical to conclude that we originate from nothing – even though modern science says we did. And yes, the quotes of the modern scientists are there to read for yourself stating that each step of the Big Picture of Modern Science (that we come from nothing) is actually taught throughout the world.

We find a good example of how modern geology is coming closer everyday to the new discoveries found in the UM as relating to glass melt as we look at an article at that came out recently on May 5, 2017 and titled, New theory on how Earth’s crust was created. Note that the article points out a fact in the opening sentence which helps explain why the UM makes such a big deal about quartz, because, “More than 90% of the Earth’s continental crust is made up of silica-rich minerals, such as feldspar and quartz.” Thus, the first step we must take as investigators of Nature is to find out what kind of environment quartz can grow in – and it is not from a melt as the UM has shown, supported by  all the research we have examined. It clearly is NOT demonstrated in the geology textbooks or classrooms. The UM demonstrates it further by taking the “most abundant volcanic rock basalt” (as stated in most geology textbooks and on Google), which is, in fact, a quartz based rock – and simply melts it. See Fig 8.7.4 p567 in UM for an image of basalt that has been melted by a torch. The smooth black glass area not only looks totally different from the quartz-based basalt sample that supposedly came from a melted lava flow. Glass is 1000 times less heat conductive than quartz and breaks when dropped on the ground, whereas quartz and basalt are very durable. How do you explain this, Barry? Also can you explain why no-one that we could find (after an exhaustive research) has ever observed basalt coming from a volcanic lava ‘melt’, even though basalt covers vast areas of continents? Afterall, lava (not basalt) is seen cooling all around the world. Neither the public nor the geologist has been aware of this simple observational fact that the UM has exposed.

From what we have found, geologists must first acknowledge that in a laboratory, the only reproducible quartz ever grown of which you can hold in your hand, (several cm for instance), grew out of water in a hypretherm, indistinguishable from natural quartz. This process is actually observable in nature, growing right now in natural settings on the bottom of the ocean as seen at TAG Mound (see p608 and 651 in UM.) Please do your own research on this topic, but realize that if the science you talk about growing quartz from a melt is real (even if you use just 1% water), it has to be duplicatable and the quartz grown has to be shown to be “indistinguishable” from natural quartz.

Yep.  To make the point that quartz can be grown from a melt, I can’t just bring up reports of scientists growing quartz from melts.  I have to also address all those other nonsense claims, too.

This cheap debating tactic is called the Gish Gallop, for which there is a good description on the RationalWiki website.  Here is an excerpt in case you don’t want to click the link and read the whole article.

The Gish Gallop (also known as proof by verbosity) is the fallacious debate tactic of drowning your opponent in a flood of individually-weak arguments in order to prevent rebuttal of the whole argument collection without great effort. The Gish Gallop is a belt-fed version of the on the spot fallacy, as it’s unreasonable for anyone to have a well-composed answer immediately available to every argument present in the Gallop. The Gish Gallop is named after creationist Duane Gish, who often abused it.

Although it takes a trivial amount of effort on the Galloper’s part to make each individual point before skipping on to the next (especially if they cite from a pre-concocted list of Gallop arguments), a refutation of the same Gallop may likely take much longer and require significantly more effort (per the basic principle that it’s always easier to make a mess than to clean it back up again).

The tedium inherent in untangling a Gish Gallop typically allows for very little “creative license” or vivid rhetoric (in deliberate contrast to the exciting point-dashing central to the Galloping), which in turn risks boring the audience or readers, further loosening the refuter’s grip on the crowd.

This is especially true in that the Galloper need only win a single one out of all his component arguments in order to be able to cast doubt on the entire refutation attempt. For this reason, the refuter must achieve a 100% success ratio (with all the yawn-inducing elaboration that goes with such precision). Thus, Gish Galloping is frequently employed (with particularly devastating results) in timed debates. The same is true for any time- or character-limited debate medium, including Twitter and newspaper editorials.

Examples of Gish Gallops are commonly found online, in crank “list” articles that claim to show “X hundred reasons for (or against) Y”. At the highest levels of verbosity, with dozens upon dozens or even hundreds of minor arguments interlocking, each individual “reason” is — upon closer inspection — likely to consist of a few sentences at best.

Gish Gallops are almost always performed with numerous other logical fallacies baked in. The myriad component arguments constituting the Gallop may typically intersperse a few perfectly uncontroversial claims — the basic validity of which are intended to lend undue credence to the Gallop at large — with a devious hodgepodge of half-truths, outright lies, red herrings and straw men — which, if not rebutted as the fallacies they are, pile up into egregious problems for the refuter.

There may also be escape hatches or “gotcha” arguments present in the Gallop, which are — like the Gish Gallop itself — specifically designed to be brief to pose, yet take a long time to unravel and refute.

However, Gish Gallops aren’t impossible to defeat — just tricky (not to say near-impossible for the unprepared). Upon closer inspection, many of the allegedly stand-alone component arguments may turn out to be nothing but thinly-veiled repetitions or simple rephrasings of the same basic points — which only makes the list taller, not more correct (hence; “proof by verbosity“). This essential flaw in the Gallop means that a skilled rebuttal of one component argument may in fact be a rebuttal to many.

Reining It In

While reading the UM, I am constantly astonished by how much interwoven bullpucky Sessions can fit on almost every single page, all of it crying out to be refuted.  I have to simultaneously do deep breathing exercises to remain in my Zen state of serenity.  However, remaining in that state allows me to refrain from chasing all the pellets in their shotgun blasts, and instead try to hold their feet to the fire on specific, important points.

The idea that minerals can’t form from molten rock is brought up over, and Over, and OVER in the UM, to support all kinds of claims.  Sessions uses it to justify ignoring vast swaths of evidence geologists can produce to support their ideas about how rocks are made, because his silver bullets supposedly show those ideas cannot be right!  This one false claim is a tiny string of yarn in the sweater, but is so tightly interwoven with so many of the UM’s arguments that if we keep pulling on it, and other points like it, we can unravel much of the weaving that holds together the whole.  [Okay, so the sweater metaphor isn’t perfect, because it leaves us with a pile of yarn, which could be… you know… useful and stuff.  So think of a sweater made of strings of bullpucky.]

If you do decide to spend the time and effort to engage crackpots, there are almost no circumstances under which it is wise to be drawn into a live debate, rather than a debate written over weeks or months.  Intellectually dishonest debaters LOVE to engage in a context where they can Gish Gallop within a framework where source checking is difficult or impossible.  In fact, I just added a new entry in Bickmore’s Laws to extend this principle to debate audience members.

Bickmore’s Law of Debate

Debaters and their audience members who prefer live debates over written, sourced debates couldn’t care less about finding out the truth.

“But Barry, I’m one of those people who prefer live debates!” some readers might object.  Well, tough.  I’m calling you out for being intellectually lazy.  Repent!

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | June 12, 2017

The Universal Clam Bake and Steam Bath

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

I have a hypothesis I want to pitch to you, dear reader.  (Eventually it incorporates a giant, worldwide clam bake and steam bath, but you have to be a little patient and let me get to it.)  Are you ready?  Here it is.

Hypothesis:  One of the main reasons the Universal Model (UM) is badly flawed is that the author, Dean Sessions, lacks imagination.

No, really… I’m serious!  Let me take a step back and explain.

If you write fantasy novels, weirder isn’t necessarily more imaginative.  It doesn’t take much imagination, for instance, to write a story so ridiculous readers have trouble “suspending their disbelief”.  Rather, the real masters of fantasy like J.R.R. Tolkien or Brandon Sanderson excel at their craft largely because they create detailed fictional worlds that, while certainly weird, still follow a consistently applied set of rules and have characters who behave in understandable ways.

Similarly, scientists work with “hypotheses,” which are tentative explanations that allow us to ask, “What if…?”  That is, after we use our creativity to come up with a hypothesis to explain some observations, we try to imagine what other consequences might follow if we apply basic physical and chemical principles.  Some of these imagined consequences might be testable, so we might perform experiments, make observations, or perform calculations to see if the explanation still holds up under scrutiny.  (A few years ago I published a nifty essay on creativity in science.  Check it out if you’re interested.)

Dean Sessions, however, doesn’t seem to have the imagination to think through even the most basic consequences of his explanations.  In one of my recent posts, for example, I explained why his idea that the crust floats on a less dense substance because of centrifugal force caused by the Earth’s rotation can’t be correct, because there is no centrifugal force due to the Earth’s spin at the poles.  Centrifugal force, gravity, and buoyancy are all subjects covered in standard high school physics classes, so it wasn’t some great intellectual feat for me to come up with a way to disprove Sessions’ hypothesis.  I just quickly looked up a few things about centrifugal force and thought through how it would play out in the situation the UM describes.

The same goes for the UM discussion of the “Universal Flood” (aka Noah’s Flood) to explain nearly all the features on the surface of the Earth, including the miles-thick covering of sediments and sedimentary rocks.  This hypothesis isn’t based on nothing–at least some of the minerals involved actually can form under the kind of conditions the UM ascribes to the Flood–but once again Sessions has failed to think through all the implications of his model.  Implications like clam bakes.  (Wait for it…. I’m getting there.)

The Ginormous Hypresplosion

According to the UM, a comet passed close by the Earth a few thousand years ago, disrupting its rotation, so that gravity caused the denser crust to collapse down into the watery mush below, and water was forced upward past the crust through a bunch of “hydrofountains”.  The water covered the entire crust, to a depth of something like 30,000 feet.  All the friction caused by this flexure of the crust generated a lot of heat, causing what Sessions calls “hyprethermal” conditions at the bottom of the ocean and in the crust below. This is a word Sessions made up to describe a HYdrous, PREssurized, high-temperature (hyperTHERMal) environment he thinks existed at the bottom of the ocean for about a year during the Flood.  This environment could allow the formation of a number of minerals, including common quartz sand found in sedimentary rocks.  In fact, the UM specifically claims that this is “how the majority of crustal sediment was formed….”  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 531)  In other words, a bunch of minerals were formed in this heated, pressurized water, shot out of the “hydrofountains,” and spread out in layers over the Earth.

In the “hyprethermal” environment where these layers of “hydrosediment” were forming, the pressure would have been about 13,400 psi (92 MPa), and the temperature about 350-400 °C (see UM, Vol. 1, p. 494).  Under these conditions, the water would be under enough pressure to prevent boiling.

Of course, geologists agree that lots of minerals form from heated, pressurized water, but Dean Sessions claims that sedimentary rocks like sandstone COULD NOT be primarily made of broken-down remnants of igneous rocks (formed from molten rock).  In fact, he presents this as a new Natural Law!

One of the evidences is that the Earth is not glass. Had it formed from a dry magmatic melt, the crustal rocks would have been amorphous (without crystal structure) and glassy. Instead, it is made of minerals that form only in an aqueous solution, which supports the Law of Hydroformation–all natural crystalline minerals formed in water.  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 263)

Nay, but it is not merely the “Law of Hydroformation”.  It is also the “Third Law of the Universal Concept of Water”!

Quartz is an example of the Third Law of the Universal Concept of Water, the Law of Hydroformation:

All natural crystalline minerals formed in water.

(UM, Vol. 1, pp. 253-254)

I already showed that crystalline minerals DO IN FACT form from molten material, and can even form from heated glass, so the “Law of Hydroformation”… ahem… doesn’t seem to have much support.  [NOTE:  This is such a great illustration of how Sessions always makes a big deal about how he’s discovered a bunch of New Natural Laws, but it’s apparent that he sets a pretty low bar for “evidence” before he pronounces he’s found one.]

I have decided to call the UM’s proposed sediment-making event “The Ginormous Hypresplosion,” because… well… basically I just like to make up new words, too.

Anyway, after all this newly minted sediment formed within the crust and shot out into the ever-growing ocean in The Ginormous Hypresplosion, the sediment was cemented into sedimentary rocks when subjected to the “hyprethermal” environment at the bottom of the ocean, which was then at least 30,000 feet deep!  (See p. 530)

Hydrosedimentary Minerals formed chiefly in a hypretherm environment, are crystalline in form and can be recognized as loose clay particles, sand or solid claystone, and sandstone.  They make up the majority of the sediment on the surface of the Earth…. Hydrosedimentary rock is formed when sediment is subjected to a hyprethermal environment.  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 277)

What If… ?

Okay, so the next step is to ask ourselves what else would be the case if the Ginormous Hypresplosion actually took place.  Can we think of any consequences that make the whole idea problematic?

Here’s one.  Why are there so often fossils of near-shore sea creatures like clams and trilobites (a family of extinct crab-like creatures)?  If layers of sedimentary rocks were formed in superheated, pressurized water, why do they have all those fossils in them?  Surely a clam wouldn’t set up shop in such an environment.  Oh, but maybe the clams and such were living somewhere else, and the flood washed them away and mixed them with all that “hyprethermal” sediment!  However, some of these layers have whole fossilized coral reefs in them.  Surely something that big couldn’t have done that.  And if all these organisms were being washed around and deposited randomly, what do we do with the FACT that the fossils in sedimentary layers in different locations appear in a a very reliable order from bottom (oldest sediments) to top (youngest)?  (See this article on the Law of Superposition if you doubt that older sediments would be on the bottom.)  It’s pretty clear that fossilized organisms lived in, or nearby, the sediments they are preserved in.  I don’t think a Universal Clam Bake is what Sessions has in mind, but that’s the clear implication of his ideas.

Here’s another.  Not only would The Ginormous Hypresplosion necessarily have resulted in the Universal Clam Bake, but it would have also resulted in The Universal Steam Bath and destroyed all life on Earth, including whatever happened to be floating in an Ark, somewhere.  That’s right–the oceans would have boiled.

I imagine Dean Sessions would reply that the UM only posits that high temperatures prevailed at the bottom of the 30,000-feet deep ocean, where the pressure would be high enough to keep the water from boiling, whereas Noah and the gang would have been leisurely floating on nice, cool surface water.  Here’s the thing.  He once again forgot about something called “CONVECTION CURRENTS“.

Remember how, in one of my articles on how the UM botches its arguments regarding heat flow, I pointed out three separate instances where their arguments depended on there being no such thing as convection?  Well, here’s another one.  Under “hyprethermal” conditions (350-400 °C and about 92 MPa pressure), the density of water would be about 70-80% of the density of room-temperature water at the surface, so the hot, less dense water would want to rise up above the cooler, more dense water above.  If the source of heat were at the bottom (e.g., in the Earth’s crust), the cooler water that sank to the bottom would begin to heat up, and the warmer water that rose to the top would start to cool off, until they would want to switch places again when the density on the bottom was less than that on top.  Thus, heat would quickly be transferred, and the water on the surface would soon heat up to the point that it could boil, because the pressure would be much lower there.

Oh, don’t get me wrong–Dean Sessions knows very well that convection currents would occur.  Consider, for instance, his description of some “hyprethermal” mineral-growing experiments he did.

The oven was heated to 400 °C at the bottom and about 350 °C cooler near the top.  This induced a natural convection or circulation of the liquid/gas mixture inside the pressurized vessel (the autoclave).  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 265)

So yeah, he does understand the principle.  But when it comes to thinking through the consequences of his own theories, this kind of high school physics doesn’t seem to make it into Dean’s stream of consciousness.  He lacks the imagination to test his own ideas.


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 29, 2017

That Sinking Feeling: Radioactivity in the Earth

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

For Dean Sessions, the fact that radioactive elements are thought to be more abundant in the crust of the Earth than the lower layers is significant for several reasons, one of which is that he thinks this supports his idea that the Earth gets less dense toward its center.  In fact, he thinks it is the last nail in the coffin of the “accretion theory,” which holds that the Earth was originally formed by the gravitational accretion of space junk (meteors, asteroids, and so on), which smashed together and generated enough frictional heat to at least partially melt the Earth, after which differentiation into layers according to density occurred.

According to the accretion theory, heavier elements like Uranium and Thorium, both radioactive, sunk to the center of the melted, spherical magmaplanet Earth, but according to the geology book, The Heart of the Earth, this is not reality:

Again, why should the radioactive materials be concentrated in the surface layer? The elements involved are very dense; if the earth cooled from a liquid mass, one would expect them to settle to the center. But no: they are apparently found almost entirely at the surface–why?”

One important point to consider here is that the heavy elements should not even be on the surface if the Earth was once completely melted.  Because they are the heaviest, these elements should have sunk to the center of the Earth, but apparently, they did not.  Later, in the Ore Mark subchapter, 18.13, we discuss why we find the heaviest elements near the Earth’s surface.  (UM, Vol. 1, pp. 100-101.)

The Heart of the Earth is a book published in 1968 by geophysicist O.M. Phillips.  It seems to be one of Dean Sessions’ favorite geological sources, even though it is almost 50 years old.  Although it is somewhat dated, it’s actually a pretty good book.  Sessions sometimes pulls quotations out of context from the book, but in this case Phillips was plainly wrong.  What’s needed to explain this is some geochemistry, not just geophysics.  (Oh, wait… I’M a geochemist!)

Suppose I take some lead tetrachloride (PbCl4) and dissolve it in water.  If I let the solution sit long enough, will the lead separate out and sink to the bottom?  No, it won’t.  The lead isn’t just lead–it’s now part of the water, tied to an intricate network of chemical bonds.

Now suppose I dissolve more and more lead tetrachloride into the water, heating it a little bit, so that when it cools down it will be supersaturated and start to form lead tetrachloride crystals out of the water again.  Since the PbCl4 crystals are more dense than the surrounding liquid, it will drop to the bottom of the container.

Finally, suppose I mix some water (H2O) and vegetable oil (a mixture of molecules made of the elements carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen).  Will the oxygen atoms sink to the bottom, underneath the carbon atoms, which will congregate underneath the hydrogen atoms?  Of course not.  The oil and water will separate, but the individual atoms will not separate from the water and oil molecules.

The reason the elements won’t separate from one another is that the chemical bonds holding them in the compounds where they reside are much stronger than the force of gravity, although the bonds operate over much shorter distances.

When we are discussing how the Earth could have separated into layers of different density, therefore, we have to think about what COMPOUNDS it would be most favorable for different elements to join under different conditions, and how dense those COMPOUNDS are.

Geochemists classify uranium, for instance, as an “incompatible element” with respect to minerals in the Earth’s mantle.  This means that if there is some uranium incorporated into the structures of the high-pressure and temperature silicate and oxide minerals in the mantle, and the pressure and temperature conditions are right for partially melting some of these minerals, elements like Uranium will preferentially jump ship from the minerals into the melt.  Since the melt is less dense than the surrounding rock, it tends to rise above the rocks to be incorporated in the crust.  Voilà!  The Uranium becomes more concentrated in the crust than in the mantle!

A similar process, in the reverse direction, can be observed when sea ice forms on the ocean.  Seawater is salty, and the salt ions are easily incorporated into the structure of liquid water.  (Water is actually really good at dissolving salts.)  The National Snow and Ice Data Center explains what happens when it gets cold enough for sea ice to form.

When sea ice forms, most of the salt is pushed into the ocean water below the ice, although some salt may become trapped in small pockets between ice crystals. Water below sea ice has a higher concentration of salt and is more dense than surrounding ocean water, and so it sinks. In this way, sea ice contributes to the ocean’s global “conveyor-belt” circulation.

What starts as a single substance (salty water), is transformed into two substances (ice and even saltier water), and the salt is unequally divided between the two.  The ice is less dense, so it floats on top of the water.

Another reason Sessions thinks it’s significant that radioactive elements like uranium are more concentrated in the crust is that he believes it supports his idea that the Earth is cooler in the center.  I explained in another article that if a spherical body had heat generated in an outer layer, heat would still build up in the center until there could be a net heat flow toward the outside.  In other words, the center would have to heat up at least as hot as the outer layer.  If there were some (but not as many) heat sources (like radioactive elements) closer to the center of the body, it would end up hotter in the center.

I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but I can’t resist pointing out that one of Dean Sessions’ favorite geological sources, The Heart of the Earth, could have enlightened him about this point if he hadn’t been so bent on quote-mining his sources.

These considerations, then, force us to abandon the idea of a gradually cooling earth without heat generation, in spite of the fact that the “cooling time” was not, on the face of it, either absurdly short or absurdly long.  The model that emerges is one in which the internal temperature of the earth is governed largely by the generation of heat in the earth’s crust and possibly a little below it.  This generation may not exactly balance the heat flow outwards through the surface;  if the present generation rate is slightly less than the outwards flux, then the average temperature of the interior may be decreasing very gradually, at a rate slower than the one we calculated in the previous section, since part of the heat loss is offset by the internal generation.  On the other hand, the generation may be rather in excess of the present rate of loss; in that event the interior is gradually becoming hotter.  There is at present no way of telling with certainty which of these alternatives is the correct one; each possibility has its advocates.

This general conclusion of a shallow heat source provides a solution to another part of the puzzle that we encountered earlier.  It was pointed out that the temperature gradient measured at the surface could not possibly continue to the center of the earth, since this would lead to absurdly high temperatures there.  Suppose, for the sake of discussion, we again take a definite model; that all the heat is generated in a layer near the surface and that this exactly balances the measured surface heat flux–the interior is at a steady temperature, neither heating nor cooling.  Since there is no temperature change in the interior, then there is no net heat flux there either, and from Fourier’s law, there is no temperature gradient.  The internal temperature, below the depth of the heat source, is quite uniform.  This model is exactly analogous to the inside of a furnace that is heated by elements on all sides.  The temperature at all points inside the furnace is the same; outside the elements, however, (toward the surface) the temperature drops rapidly through the walls to room temperature as the heat leaks out.  For the earth, this simple model indicates that the relatively rapid temperature gradient found near the surface, continues only to the depth over which the radioactive sources are present and beneath that, the temperature is, in essence, constant.  We know that at 30 km the temperature is about 1100 °C; if the “heating elements” are all above this, the temperature throughout the mantle and core is the same.

One should not, however, expect this simple picture that we have postulated to be literally exact.  There may be some degree of radioactivity at great depths even in the core of the earth, so that the deep temperature gradient, though small, may not be exactly zero.  Nevertheless, the fact remains that most of the radioactive decay appears to be concentrated near the surface, so that the temperature of the core of the earth, if not as small as 1100 °C, may be, say, 3000 °C (Figure 50), but almost certainly not, say, 10,000 °C.  (O.M. Phillips, The Heart of the Earth, pp. 150-151.)

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 28, 2017

The Universal Model and Centrifuge Earth

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

The Universal Model (UM) gives a sort of clever (but badly flawed) explanation for the mechanism of Noah’s flood–the Earth is a variable-speed centrifuge!  So buckle up, dear reader, while we take a spin on Centrifuge Earth.

According to the UM, the Earth actually gets less dense toward its center.  The inner core is a ball of ice, the outer core is liquid water, and the mantle/crust are a mixture of rock and water.  (Will Meservy recently pointed out that this can easily be disproven by referring to the Earth’s measured moment of inertia, but let’s temporarily overlook that.)  This immediately introduces a problem, because buoyant forces would typically make the less dense substances rise to the top (or the outside, in the case of a spherical body like the Earth).  Dean Sessions tells us, however, that Centrifuge Earth counteracts this tendency.

I’m not going into a long explanation of centrifugal force here, but the idea is that when an object is rotated around an axis, it appears to experience a force pulling it toward the outside, away from the rotation axis.  For example, if you put a weight on a string and swing it around, the weight goes to the outside of the circle, as far as it can get from the axis of rotation.  When you are in the passenger seat of a car and you turn a corner going fast, you feel like you are being pulled toward the outside of the turn and you get squashed against the car door.  This is also the operating principle of a centrifuge.  A centrifuge is used to separate substances in a fluid by spinning them around.  Suppose, for example, I have some tiny clay particles suspended in some water.  When I put the suspension in test tubes in a centrifuge, the tubes are spun around so that their bottoms are swung outward, away from the spin axis.  The clay particles, which are more dense than the water, are forced away from the spin axis, and separate to the tube bottoms.  Watch this video to see what I’m talking about.

TAKE NOTE:  Within a spherical body that coheres due to gravity, the more dense materials tend to congregate in the center if they are free to move around.  Within a spinning body, the more dense materials tend to congregate as far as they can get from the axis of rotation.  Remember this, because it’s important.

In the UM (see UM, Vol. 1, p. 494, Fig. 8.3.1), the more dense crust is pushed to the outside via centrifugal force as the Earth spins around its axis.  A few thousand years ago, a comet passed close by the Earth, disrupting its rotation, so that gravity caused the denser crust to collapse down into the watery mush below, and water was forced upward past the crust through a bunch of “hydrofountains”.  The water covered the entire crust, to a depth of something like 30,000 feet.  After about a year the Earth’s rotation magically sped up again.  Oh… ahem… did I say “magically”?  What I meant to say was that when Dean Sessions gets around to publishing Vol. 3 of the UM, he will explain how the rotation of the Earth was sped back up because of a “Central Universal Energy source” that is Totally NOT Magical.

Subchapter 25.7 identifies evidence of the Revolutionary Universe, which includes the revolutions the planets make around the Sun and their axial spin. The Universal Energy Laws in the Universe System will explain how all matter in the universe is directed by a Central Universal Energy source that affects the rotation of the Earth on its axis, which keeps the Earth spinning at its constant rate. Without an external energy source, tidal friction and friction from the solar wind would slow the planet’s axial spin, eventually stopping it. It would also affect its revolutions around the Sun. The Principle of Resonance directs Universal Energy through all matter, from atoms to the Universe itself.  (UM, Vol. 1, pp. 493,495)

See?  There HAS TO BE some external energy source that keeps the Earth spinning, because otherwise the Earth’s rotation would be slowing down!  Okay, so maybe scientists can show that the Earth’s rotation really is slowing down by doing calculations based on the timing of ancient eclipses, but Dean Sessions has done his OWN calculations to show that tidal forces and solar winds should be slowing the rotation down WAY MORE….  Just kidding.  Dean Sessions is a “big picture” kind of guy who can’t be bothered with mundane tasks like “doing math” or “trying to understand actual scientific literature instead of using it to cherry-pick out-of-context quotations”…………………..

So anyway, when the Earth’s rotation TOTALLY UN-MAGICALLY sped up again, Sessions says the more dense crust was pulled out past most of the water, restoring land masses and such.  Now the perfect balance between gravitational attraction and centrifugal forces is restored!

Centrifugal force created by the Earth’s spin is thrusting the crust of the Earth away from the center of the Earth. However, this force is balanced by the Earth’s gravity, which is pulling the crust toward the Earth’s center. This gravitational force keeps us stuck to the Earth’s surfuce because we are also pulled toward its center. If this force were to suddenly vanish, we would fly off the planet, just like a rock released from a swinging sling. The crust of the Earth is held in remarkable equilibrium by the opposing forces of centrifugal motion and gravity–but this equilibrium can be disrupted.  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 495)

Like I said, it’s kind of a clever explanation, but even if I could get past the moment of inertia problem and the ad hoc nature of Sessions’ mysterious energy source, it would still be patently absurd.  Here’s why.

There is no centrifugal force operating at the Earth’s poles due to the Earth’s rotation.  

Centrifugal force pulls material away from the axis of rotation, and the force is proportional to both the mass and the spin radius.  At the Earth’s poles, the spin radius is ZERO.  Here’s how the Wikipedia article on Centrifugal Force explains how this plays out.

If an object is weighed with a simple spring balance at one of the Earth’s poles, there are two forces acting on the object: the Earth’s gravity, which acts in a downward direction, and the equal and opposite tension in the spring, acting upward. There is no net force acting on the object and the spring balance so the object does not accelerate and remains stationary. The balance shows the value of the force of gravity on the object.

When the same object is weighed on the equator the same two real forces act upon the object. However, the object is moving in a circular path as the Earth rotates. When considered in an inertial frame (that is to say, one that is not rotating with the Earth), some of the force of gravity is expended just to keep the object in its circular path (centripetal force). As such, less tension in the spring is required to counteract the ‘remaining’ force of gravity. Less tension in the spring would be reflected on a scale as less weight — about 0.3% less at the equator than at the poles. The concept of centrifugal force is not required. However, the Earth is not a perfect sphere, so an object at the poles is slightly closer to the center of the Earth than one at the equator; after accounting for both effects, the actual measured weight of the object is about 0.53% less on the equator.

It is generally more convenient to take measurements in a frame of reference rotating with the Earth. In this reference frame the object is stationary and to account for the loss in measured weight when the object is measured at the equator it is necessary to include the upward acting (inertial or fictitious) centrifugal force. In practice, this is often observed as a reduction in the force of gravity.

Obviously, gravitational attraction is MUCH STRONGER than any centrifugal force experienced on the Earth.  Measured weight (force of attraction toward the center of the Earth) is only changed by a few tenths of a percent going from the equator, where the maximum centrifugal force is experienced, to the poles, where ZERO centrifugal force is experienced.  Therefore, any differentiation of materials in the Earth in order of density would cause the denser material to move toward the center.  And isn’t it cool that this application of fundamental physics leads us to a conclusion that is supported by 1) the measured mass of the Earth, 2) the measured moment of inertia of the Earth, 3) the evidence of seismic wave velocities in the subsurface, and 4) a plausible theory about the origin of Earth’s magnetic field?

We’ll have to wait and see how Dean Sessions responds to this enormous hole in his model.  Hopefully, he won’t make up some “Universal Pushy-Outy Force” that draws on his “Central Universal Energy Source” to make denser material congregate around the outside of a planet.  [FULL DISCLOSURE:  Okay, I’ll admit that a tiny part of me does want Sessions to do this, because then I could point to this blog post to show that I came up with it first, and then demand it be called “Bickmore’s Universal Pushy-Outy Force.”  My life would then be complete.]

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.  This article was contributed by Will Meservy.

One portion of the “discoveries” part of the Universal Model website states, “the concept that Earth is a Hydroplanet instead of a magmaplanet is one of the key components of the UM.” It also includes a fancy illustration (below) depicting what that means—you’ll notice that the Earth is depicted with a liquid water outer core and solid ice inner core:


On the other hand, the scientific consensus is that the outer and inner cores of the Earth are mostly liquid and solid iron—something more like this:


Iron is much denser than any known phase of H2O, so Sessions’ “hydroplanet” belief requires that the overall density and mass of the Earth be considerably reduced in order to fit his model. Without any empirical or mathematical basis, he confidently asserts that the Earth’s new mass is roughly 1/3 the actual mass that modern physics dictates.

His arguments rapidly fell apart when asked about the major problems a new mass of the Earth poses to orbital mechanics (I was a little encouraged, personally, to hear that he doesn’t dismiss satellites as a government hoax). And Dr. Barry Bickmore extensively covers Sessions’ false claims about the Earth’s mass in this blog post.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak over the phone with Jarom Sessions (Dean’s son) about this issue, and he hung up on me as soon as I started into the particulars about the Earth’s mass. Russ Barlow (one of Sessions’ closest UM associates) called me later that evening, and he also could not offer any viable explanation for orbiting satellites under the current UM model except to repeat that Volume III of the Universal Model would somehow explain the discrepancy. I have learned that the repeated answer you will get from any die-hard UMer is this: “It will all be cleared up in Volume III.” If you don’t believe me, call them up and ask.

But…they haven’t released Volume III yet, so we will have to take it on faith that they will be able to rework modern physics to fit their claim (I guess starting with conclusions and working backwards is the new science). However, my bet is that Sessions cannot provide the mathematics necessary to prove his biased, ill-conceived conclusions.

Actually, I believe that Dean Sessions will, at some point in his life, come to the realization that the Earth’s mass has already been correctly described with modern physics. It’s pretty hard to argue against the simple reality that each new satellite we put into orbit stays there as a testament to the fact that we already know, reliably well, the Earth’s actual mass. They wouldn’t be in that orbital sweet spot if this weren’t true.


When Sessions and his followers finally do admit the Earth’s mass is already correct, I am confident that their next step will be to make something akin to this argument: The mantle must be much denser than is generally thought. That’s the only way to maintain our “hydroplanet” model and acknowledge that the Earth’s mass is already correct because…THERE MUST BE A WATER CORE!

I am confident this will be their eventual reaction because another (former?) UMer that I spoke with acknowledged to me that Sessions was wrong about the Earth’s mass and brought this same hypothesis up to me instead.

But I want to preemptively stop that line of reasoning before more UMers jump on that ill-judged train. The problem is that any “hydroplanet” model (I think of it as the “core(s)-light” model for obvious reasons) completely ignores the Earth’s moment of inertia factor, a useful clue to what the interior structure of any spinning sphere is.

In general, moment of inertia is just a measure of how hard it is to get something rotating. More precisely, according to merriam-webster, it can be defined as “a measure of the resistance of a body to angular acceleration about a given axis that is equal to the sum of the products of each element of mass in the body and the square of the element’s distance from the axis.” In mathematical terms, for a rigid sphere with a uniform density, then I=0.4mr^2 (where I is the moment of inertia, m is the mass, and r is the radius).

453233_animation-physics-moment-wikipedia-inertiaMoment of inertia demonstration with objects of same mass. Note that the red sphere is hollow.

Moment of inertia factor is related to moment of inertia and is used to describe the radial density distribution of all major planetary bodies in our solar system based on their spin precession, gravity quantities, mass, and radius. This PowerPoint by Francis Nimmo gives a detailed explanation of what moment of inertia factor is and how it’s calculated.

Generally put, if a celestial sphere has a moment of inertia factor less than 0.4, then its mass must be distributed more towards its core, and it will be denser at its core. If it has a moment of inertia factor greater than 0.4, then its mass must be distributed more towards its outer layers, and it will be denser toward its surface.

No planetary bodies (not even the moon) in our solar system have a moment of inertia factor greater than 0.4, meaning they are all denser towards their centers than they are towards their exteriors.


In fact, moment of inertia factor offers scientists a large clue about the interior makeup of nearly any nearby planetary body. Based on moment of inertia factors, we know that all major planetary bodies in our solar system have differentiated to some level, meaning that denser materials have sunk to their centers.

In short, the Earth’s inner and outer cores, which extend nearly halfway from its center, cannot be less dense than the Earth’s mantle. If this were true, then the Earth’s moment of inertia factor would be much higher. So, there is no core(s)-light model for the Earth, or really for any major planetary body in our solar system. The Sun and all the planets in our solar system are densest at their cores.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 18, 2017

No, There Is No Magma Ocean

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

Dean Sessions, author of the Universal Model, apparently thinks scientists are pretty stupid.  The constant refrain in the UM is that scientists know there is all sorts of evidence that conflicts with their theories, but they just can’t imagine that their theories could possibly be wrong!  My interpretation, however, is that Mr. Sessions is unable to understand how any particular observation conflicts with scientific theories, because he doesn’t understand the theories (and sometimes he doesn’t even understand the observations).  The result is a sloppy string of out-of-context quotations and bizarre reasoning that brilliantly disproves all sorts of non-existent theories.

One case in point is his treatment of Plate Tectonics, the current unifying theory of geology.  First, I will explain a few basics of the ACTUAL theory.

The ACTUAL Theory

In the theory of Plate Tectonics, the “plates” (rigid slabs of rock several km thick on the surface of the Earth) move around largely because of convection currents in the mantle (the layer below the crust).

Convection is the movement of heat energy with the material it inhabits.  If you turn on the hot water faucet in your bathtub, for instance, heat energy in your water heater travels through the plumbing and into your tub because it travels with the flowing water.

Convection currents, or convection cells, move heat energy with some material in a more cyclical way.  Think of a pot of water on a stove, where the heat is actually coming from the bottom.  The water on the bottom heats up first, making it expand a little.  Since it is less dense than the overlying cooler water, the warmer water floats upward and the cooler water sinks downward.  Now the water on top is cooling off by releasing heat into the air, and the water on the bottom is heating up.  Pretty soon the water on the bottom becomes warmer than that on the top, and they trade places again.  This sets up a continuous cyclical motion.


To get convection currents, you need a source of heat on the bottom, and a way to release  the heat at the top.  You also need the convecting material to be some kind of fluid.  Usually, when we think of fluids, we think of liquids and gases, neither of which hold their shapes when they are not held in a container.  Solids are usually not considered fluids, but there are important cases where a material seems to behave like a cross between a solid and a liquid.  Think of Play-Dough, for instance.  It will keep its shape, but if you push on it with a finger, the shape is deformed.  Instead of bouncing back to its original shape or breaking, like most things we think of as solids would, it keeps its new shape.  If a solid behaves like this (i.e., it can squish around instead of cracking) then it can be moved around in slow-moving convection currents.  Rock that is heated and pressurized (but not melted into a liquid) can behave this way.

Once upon a time, it was thought that the solid crust was floating on a big ocean of magma, but since the early 20th century it has been clear that most of the Earth is solid, the only liquid layer being the outer core.  (We can tell because a certain type of seismic wave can only travel through solids.)  So if the part of the mantle underneath the plates is essentially solid, it must be softened by the heat and pressure so it can be squished around in convection currents.  These currents must move quite slowly, because plates only move laterally by a few centimeters per year.

Get it?  The plates are “floating” on top of the softened, but still solid rock below, much like you “float”, or partially sink into, your bed when you lie down on it.  (The bed is solid, but squishy.)  There is no ocean of magma (melted or molten rock) underneath.

Oh, So He Does Understand!

At some points in the UM, it seems like Sessions does understand that the “magma ocean” theory is long gone.

Ideas change. Magma was once a new idea, and as it developed, geologists imagined a great ocean of magma deep inside the Earth: an all-encompassing body that supplied the heat and lava to all volcanoes, but that idea fell out of favor during the early 1900s.  Quoting from a 1911 encyclopedia:

“The old idea of a universal magma, or continuous pyrosphere, has been generally abandoned….”  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 76)

See?  Right there in his book, Sessions tells us that it has been out of favor for over 100 years!

On the same page, it also seems clear that Sessions understands that the seismic wave evidence shows that only the outer core is liquid, even if he disagrees with scientists about what that liquid is.

Seismic waves do establish that a large portion of the interior of the Earth is liquid but it does not establish what that liquid is. A simple question one could ask is magma the only liquid found in Nature? The answer–no.

The geologists themselves state in the foregoing statement that they have only been able to “guess” what Liquid occupies the Earth’s underworld. Their research “implies a molten core” but they do not know this. They do know that there is a shadow zone caused by the liquid in the outer core of the Earth as illustrated in Fig 5.2.2. The shadow zone appears repeatedly, when earthquakes occur.

From the different magnitudes and arrival times of the different waves, researchers in the early twentieth century were able to develop a rough picture of the interior of the Earth. As technology improves, the picture is ever clearer, and one of the most convincing evidences that magma does not exist comes from an understanding about these seismic waves.   (UM, Vol. 1, p. 76)

No… He Doesn’t Understand

But just a couple pages later, Sessions makes the following claim.

The plate tectonics theory proposes crustal movement based on convective magma, one facet of the magmaplanet model. (UM, Vol. 1, p. 78)

In another chapter, he emphasizes once again that he really does believe geologists think the plates are riding around on an ocean of magma.  (He gets his information this time from… and I’m not kidding about this… a website called

It is important to note that modern geology already has empirical evidence establishing that the Earth’s Continents are floating. In fact, children are taught in grade school about floating plates, along with other not-so-proven concepts.  Here is the website, which explains how the Earth’s continental plates float:


“These plates make up the top layer of the Earth called the lithosphere. Directly under that layer is the asthenosphere. It’s a flowing area of molten rock.  There is constant heat and radiation given off from the center of the Earth. That energy is what constantly heats the rocks and melts them. The tectonic plates are floating on top of the molten rock and moving around the planet.”

We previously discussed Earth’s continental plates and their observable movement of several centimeters per year (see Fig 15.13.1), but we have taken the position that there is no magma, and therefore, no molten rock upon which the plates ride, so we naturally have to ask; what are the plates floating on? This is a truly fundamental question.  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 231)

Clearly, this is wrong, but why would Sessions cite some random geography (not even geology!) website for kids in the first place?  He cites a number of real geology textbooks throughout the UM, after all.  For example, Sessions refers several times to a book by O.M. Phillips, The Heart of the Earth, which was published in 1968, when the theory of Plate Tectonics was brand-spanking new.  Here’s what Phillips said about the issue.

Before we can ascribe any significance to this suggestion [that mantle convection drives plate motion], though, it is necessary to be convinced that movements of this kind in the mantle are qualitatively or descriptively plausible and do not do violence to the observations already established.

The idea poses an immediate dilemma.  Convection is a type of motion that can occur only in a fluid.  yet the mantle is capable of transmitting S waves, and these cannot travel through a fluid.  Furthermore, deep earthquakes occur frequently at depths between 80 and 300 km, sometimes as deep as 600 or 700 km, and sudden fracture or slipping does not occur in a fluid.  These are serious objections; are they crippling?  The answer, I believe, is no….

The simple classification of materials as solids, liquids and gases is convenient, but not particularly precise.  Some, like water at ordinary temperatures, are unambiguously liquid.  Others, like mayonnaise or the interior of a half-cooked cake are neither clearly solid nor clearly liquid….  This general type of behavior, in which the simple classification fails, is in fact very common; it is the rule rather than the exception, especially at the high temperatures that we expect to find in the earth’s mantle.  Most metals and plastics certainly behave this way.  They can be bent and squeezed into shape; they can be made to flow.  (O.M. Phillips, The Heart of the Earth.  Freeman, Cooper & Company, San Francisco, 1968, pp. 167-168)

Are you starting to get the picture?  When researching for his magnum opus, Sessions seems to have combed through hundreds of books, articles, and websites, hand-picking quotations he thought he could fit into his narrative that scientists are dogmatic and confused, and ignoring anything that might have helped him understand what scientists actually think.

There are no “magma oceans” below the crust, and no geologists I know of have thought this for a very long time.  And yet, Sessions puts quite a bit of effort into debunking this idea.  Why?


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 15, 2017

Quartz Can Form From… Glass?

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

The Universal Model (UM) relies very heavily on the claim that the quartz found in nature cannot possibly have formed from molten material.  In a recent post, Quartz is Not Glass.  So What?, I debunked their assertion that only glass, and never minerals like quartz, can form from molten rock.  I even provided an example where Dean Sessions had quoted a geology textbook to support his argument, but ignored part of the same paragraph that said experimental petrologists have grown quartz and other minerals from hydrous granitic melts.

I brought this up in the discussion forum on the UM website, but to no avail.  The UM Team insists that because it was a “hydrous” granitic melt, that means that it must be just like growing it in a hot, pressurized vat of water like they do in Dean Sessions’ garage.  And plus the petrologist must not have really meant “melt” in a literal sense, and besides that the quartz they grew from the… some OTHER thing than a melt that they nevertheless called a melt… didn’t have as big crystals as natural granites.  Oh, and there was a lot of stuff about how great the UM is, and how if I would just stop being so stubborn and open my mind to their glorious new vision of science, I could step with them into a triumphant future…. You get the idea.

So anyway, the UM Team is still stuck on the whole “only glass can come from a melt” thing.  Because I am a helpful sort of guy, however, I’m going to give their metaphorical pot another stir.  That is, even if the UM Team were right that only glass could form from a melt, they would still have a problem.  Quartz and other crystals can form from glass.

Yep.  It’s called “devitrification,” and I found a really great example for the UM Team to mull over.  In 1997, a couple scientists from Stanford and the U.S. Geological Survey published a paper called, “Kinetics of the Coesite to Quartz Transformation” in Earth and Planetary Science Letters.  First, they obtained some essentially pure silica glass from Corning, and baked it at 1000 °C and 3.6 GPa pressure for 24 hours.  This produced coesite, which is a high-pressure polymorph (same chemical formula, different molecular-scale structure) of quartz.  Then they adjusted the conditions to 700–1000°C at pressures of 190–410 MPa, which caused some of the coesite to transform into quartz.  There was no water present, although the atoms in the original glass were about 0.1% hydrogen.

Now let’s review a couple of the demonstrably false statements in the UM that this information contradicts.

We know the physical properties of coesite and other high pressure. high temperature, silica-based minerals depicted in the Silica Phase Diagram, because of laboratory experiments conducted by scientists who were able to produce these minerals.  After mineral formation, temperature and pressure return to normalized conditions and researchers observe and measure the physical properties of the minerals, such as density and crystal structure. Once heated, the minerals do not revert to natural quartz after they cool and/or with pressure reduction; the properties and crystalline structure of the minerals arc preserved, remaining as they were when formed.  (UM, Vol. 1, pp. 102-103)

FALSE.  In the experiments I described, coesite was produced from glass, the temperature and pressure were reduced (just not all the way to Earth surface conditions) and quartz formed.

The Moon and other planets, Mars and Mercury, must show the telltale signs of a glass-like crust if they originated from a magmatic melt.  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 105)

FALSE.  Even if glass were the only possible product of a cooling melt (and it isn’t), the glass could still transform to a crystalline state under the right conditions.




Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 9, 2017

Do Earthquakes Create Volcanoes?

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

Do Earthquakes Generate Heat?  Yes.

Given that Dean Sessions, author of the Universal Model (UM), believes a giant ice ball is in the Earth’s core, geothermal gradients are problematic.  That is, as far as we can drill down, the temperature generally keeps getting hotter the deeper you go, so it seems unlikely that the Earth would be cold enough in the center to sustain an ice ball.  Sessions maintains that the crust of the Earth is really hotter than the deep interior because tidal forces cause earthquakes in the crust, and frictional heating along the earthquake faults melts the surrounding rock, which can then be ejected out of volcanoes.  In another post (see Facepalm:  the UM and Radioactive Lava), I explained why, even if the source of heat in the Earth is near the surface, the center would still heat up until the temperature is at least as hot as the outer shell where the heat is being generated.  So even if Sessions is right about the origin of heat to generate volcanic activity, his ice core idea won’t work.  Is there some way to also test his idea that frictional heating during earthquakes generates volcanic activity?  Read on.

In an earthquake, strain energy is suddenly released when the Earth cracks and the rocks on both sides of the crack (fault) slide past each other.  (Breaking a stick in your hands provides a good analogy.  When you start bending a stick, strain energy builds up, until finally the wood breaks and the two strained halves snap back so they aren’t bent anymore.  This releases the strain energy mainly as vibrations.)  Geophysicists measure the seismic waves (vibrations in the Earth) generated by earthquakes, and can calculate how much strain energy was released by the quakes.  Some of the strain energy may also be dissipated to deform and crack rocks, or as heat generated by friction as the two sides of the fault slide past each other.  This may, in fact, be enough to melt some of the surrounding rock.  Sessions quotes a number of geologists saying as much (see UM, section 5.3).

Is it Enough Heat to Cause Volcanism?  Almost Certainly NOT.

Here’s the problem with frictional melting, though.  Once it starts, the presence of melted rock reduces the friction, so that less of the strain energy subsequently released can be turned into heat energy.  Get it?  If melting occurs, the fault is lubricated so that it becomes much harder to create enough frictional heat to cause more melting.  Therefore, it seems very unlikely that friction from earthquakes could cause rocks to melt on a scale large enough to contribute to volcanism.

It’s tricky business trying to estimate how much frictional heating occurs during an earthquake, but luckily, someone has gone to the trouble of doing some very difficult measurements to estimate it for one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded.  Several months after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake (the one that caused the tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima nuclear reactor) a group of Japanese and American scientists took a drilling ship out to where the earthquake originated, drilled down through the fault, and then put temperature sensors down there to measure how much frictional heat from the earthquake was left over, and how fast it was dissipating through the surrounding rocks.  That way, they could estimate how much heat was originally released.

The scientists say this 0.31 temperature anomaly corresponds to 27 million joules, or 27 megajoules, per square meter of dissipated energy during the earthquake. A joule is the amount of energy required to produce one watt of power for one second. The “friction coefficient,” or the resistance to relative motion between the blocks, was surprisingly small at 0.08, the scientists point out.

“One way to look at the friction of these big blocks is to compare them to cross-country skis on snow,” Harris said. “At rest, the skis stick to the snow and it takes a certain amount of force to make them slide. Once you do, the ski’s movement generates heat and it takes much less force to continue the movement.

“The same thing happens with an earthquake,” he added. “This is the first time we’ve been able to calculate how much frictional resistance to slip there is. This has never been done before in nature – just in the laboratory.”

I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations, and figured out that there was enough heat generated in the Tohoku quake to melt a layer of rock along the fault no more than about 1 cm thick.  That’s enough to lubricate the fault, but not nearly enough to cause volcanic activity.

Now, the Tohoku earthquake had a magnitude of 9.0-9.1, which is the fourth highest ever recorded.  On the moment-magnitude scale, a jump of two points amounts to 1000 times as much seismic energy released.  That got me thinking.  According to Byerlee’s Law, almost all rocks have about the same coefficient of friction during slippage, so it’s probably safe to say that earthquakes with larger magnitudes must generally release more frictional heat than those with smaller magnitudes.  If heat flow up from the crust is primarily from earthquake friction, I reasoned that areas with the most heat flow should be the same areas where the most earthquake energy is released.

To test this idea, I downloaded (see the Advanced National Seismic System catalog) location, date, and magnitude data for every recorded earthquake with magnitude 3.0 or greater for the period 1960-2016.  Then I calculated the relative seismic energy released for each event and added them up over a 2° latitude-longitude grid, and divided the total for each grid cell by the surface area in the cell.  That way, I got a map of how much seismic energy had been released per unit surface area over the entire globe.  The following map is the result, where the color bar indicates the relative amount of energy released on a base-10 logarithmic scale.  Every unit on the scale indicates a factor of 10 increase, so a 1-point difference represents a 10-fold difference in energy, and a 2-point difference indicates a 100-fold difference, etc.  I’ve also plotted outlines of the world’s land masses for reference.


Now compare that with the U.S. Geological Survey’s map of measured heat flow from the crust, which Sessions uses as Figure 5.4.5 of his book.


Sessions claims,

The hottest areas on the Actual Heat Flow map correspond to plate boundaries-right where the greatest amount of gravitational friction occurs. (UM, Vol. 1, p. 92)

In other words, he thinks that tidal forces from the Moon make the most movement happen at tectonic plate boundaries, causing the most heat to be generated there.  But that’s clearly not true of all plate boundaries.

Here’s a map of the tectonic plates, with arrows showing their relative motion.  Comparing this with the two maps above, it’s clear that greater than average numbers of earthquakes occur at all plate boundaries, but higher than average heat flow mainly only occurs at a particular kind of plate boundary:  divergent boundaries, and to a lesser extent at subduction zones.


Plate Tectonic theory divides the plate boundaries into different types:  divergent zones (mid-ocean ridges, where the plates are pulled apart and new ocean crust is created), subduction zones (oceanic crust from one plate gets shoved under another plate), continental collision zones (two chunks of continental crust run into each other and push each other upward), and transform boundaries (plates slide horizontally past each other).  While high earthquake activity occurs at all types of plate boundaries, there is only high volcanic activity at mid-ocean ridges and above subduction zones.  This is thought to happen because there are reasons for the underlying mantle rock to melt there more than in other places.  At mid-ocean ridges the pressure on the underlying rock is lowered, making it easier to melt, and at subduction zones the subducting oceanic plate carries water down into the mantle, which also lowers the melting temperatures of rocks.

But in the Universal Model, what reason is there for earthquakes at some plate boundaries to produce extra volcanoes and heat flow, but not at others?  I haven’t been able to find any.  (Maybe the UM Team will speak up and tell me if I missed it?)

Let’s compare some of the areas with the highest seismic activity.  The Himalayas are in a continental collision zone, where two chunks of continental crust are smashing into each other.  In my seismic energy map above, the density of seismic energy released in the Himalayas is only about a tenth of what we find at subduction zones, where both extra seismic and volcanic activity occur.  However, the seismic energy released in the Himalayas is about ten times what we find at the mid-ocean ridges!

If there is about 10 times as much seismic energy released in the Himalayas as on the mid-ocean ridges, why are the mid-ocean ridges essentially a 40,000-mile long string of volcanoes with the highest heat flow through the crust, whereas very little volcanic activity occurs in the Himalayan region, and the local heat flow is very low?

If there is about 100 times as much seismic energy released in subduction zones as in mid-ocean ridges, why is the heat flow so much higher around the mid-ocean ridges?

Dean Sessions notes that volcanic eruptions are associated with swarms of small earthquakes, however, so what if a large number of earthquakes were spaced closely together?  Could that generate enough heat to melt the surrounding rocks?  The problem is that earthquakes associated with volcanic eruptions are typically quite small–the largest having magnitudes of about 7, but only rarely more than about 5.  How many magnitude 5 earthquakes would it take to release the same amount of energy as the Tohoku earthquake that was magnitude 9?  A million.  Yes, one million, and the fact is that most earthquakes associated with volcanic activity are much weaker than magnitude 5.  However, when the heat flow was measured around the Tohoku fault, it turned out that only a relatively small amount of melting could have occurred.

[NOTE:  Geologists think these small earthquakes are associated with magma movement. For example, if there is some molten rock in a crack, what happens to the crack of the melt moves upward?  The void space would collapse, causing an earthquake.  This would have to happen no matter how the magma was generated.]

Black and White Thinking

Hopefully it is now clear why Sessions can quote geologists saying that 1) some frictional melting can occur, 2) it’s hard to tell exactly how much frictional heat is generated in earthquakes, BUT 3) frictional melting along faults has never been considered a serious contender for the main cause of volcanism, because there are good reasons to believe it couldn’t possibly melt enough rock to explain volcanoes.  So how did Dean Sessions come away with such a different message from his sources?  The answer, I believe, is that he is the kind of person who is incapable of nuanced thinking, at least when it comes to subjects he cares about.

Although Sessions occasionally says something polite-ish about scientists, he much more frequently portrays scientists as a bunch of bumbling, confused morons who can’t stop trying and failing to shove the square pegs of the facts into the round holes of their theories.  But time and again, it turns out that it’s Sessions who doesn’t seem to be able to process information that goes contrary to his ideas.

Consider, for example, how he interacts with a 1998 article published in Science magazine.  Sessions first suggests there is some kind of unspoken taboo against geologists even discussing the possibility of earthquakes causing volcanism.

If modern geology recognized the possibility that earthquakes were causing, or at least contributing to volcanic eruptions of molten extrusive lava, one would think there should be extensive studies on the matter, and with such studies would come the knowledge of just how much frictional heat actively moving faults generate. Additionally, the more the geologists know about frictional heat from seismic activity, the less inclined they would be to dismiss it. Surprisingly little detail exists when researching those who published journal articles discussing frictional heating via faulting. It seemed almost as though there was a “don’t go there” attitude;–as if they were saying “we already know the heat comes from magma” so why look elsewhere? (UM, Vol. 1, p. 79)

To make his point, Sessions immediately introduces us to the Science article, entitled “Frictional Melting During the Rupture of the 1994 Bolivian Earthquake”.  Wait… I thought he was supposed to be showing how it’s verboten for geologists to discuss… exactly what’s in the title of this paper published in the most prestigious science journal around….  Okay, never mind.  Let’s just see what he quotes from the article.

“The possibility of frictional melting during faulting has been suggested by several investigators.”  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 80)

Huh?  So there were more geologists discussing the possibility of frictional melting, even before that article was published?  Uh… let’s just move on and see what Sessions has to say about it.

Perhaps at that time, it stretched the imagination too far to suggest the possibility that friction might be the cause of melting because few actual measurements of heat generated in faults had been taken.   (UM, Vol. 1, p. 80)

How, may I ask, does saying that several scientists have suggested a certain possibility support the idea that “it stretched the imagination too far to suggest the possibility”?

Moving on….  Sessions quotes some other geologists saying this isn’t a simple problem to solve.

The problem of heat generation on fault surfaces has yet to be satisfactorily resolved. It appears likely from the above discussion that different faults may exhibit different behavior in this respect, perhaps because of different degrees of lubrication related to pore-fluid pressure. As numerical modeling techniques improve, and more heat flow data are collected from the vicinity of large faults, the question may be answered. However, for now there is no simple solution as to how much frictional heat is generated by faults.  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 80)

Well, at least that makes sense.  We need to do a lot more heat flow measurements, like they did with the Tohoku quake, to get it all figured out.  [Note:  These measurements can be VERY EXPENSIVE, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that we could use more of them.]  But then Sessions moves back to the 1998 Science article.

From the Science article previously cited, researchers recognized significant heat generation during a seismic event in Bolivia, in 1994:

“The amount of non-radiated energy produced during the Bolivian rupture was comparable to, or larger than, the thermal energy of the 1980 Mount St.. Helens eruption and was sufficient to have melted a layer as thick as 31 centimeters.”

The enormous 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption, compared by some to an atomic blast, generated an immense quantity of heat energy, so why is it that questions remain unasked about how heat impacts melting during earthquake events? Is this an important factor or not? Here is the response from the same journal article:

“These studies indicate that frictional melting can occur if the stresses involved in faulting are sufficientlhigh. Despite these studies, frictional melting is not generally regarded as an important process during earthquake faulting because of uncertainties in the stress levels….”

Amazingly, these scientists observed an astonishing amount of heat generated in the fault area of the Bolivian quake where the melted thickness was only 3.7 mm:

“If the thermal penetration depth, Delta d = 3.7 mm, is used, the local temperature rise is of the order of 52,000 Celsius.”  (UM, Vol. 1, p. 80)

Stupid scientists!  Well okay, before getting all judgy maybe we should look at the next sentence in the article to see if they give any reason why they don’t consider frictional melting to be all that important.

 Sibson noted that production of pseudo-tachylyte (glassy material presumably formed by frictional melting) should take place during faulting, but very few faults contain pseudo-tachylyte.

Hey, doesn’t Dean Sessions claim that melted rock only produces glassy materials?  That objection seems pretty damaging to the overall UM thesis, if you ask me.

As I keep reading the Science article I notice something.  Sessions says these scientists “observed an astonishing amount of heat generated” during the Bolivian quake, but they didn’t actually do heat flow measurements, like they did for the Tohoku quake.  They took various estimates of the parameters governing the quake, and fed that information into a model, so it’s not really an “observation.”

Also,  how did Sessions get that in one “fault area of the Bolivian quake… the melted thickness was only 3.7 mm”?  The scientists didn’t say that.  They said that IF the thickness of the melted layer were only 3.7 mm, they calculated the local temperature rise to be about 52,000 °C along the fault.  With that much heat energy released, they calculated a maximum melt thickness of 31 cm.  Math.  It’s important in science.

In any case, what if the heat generation estimate for the Bolivian quake was actually pretty good?  Would it still be the bombshell discovery Sessions wants it to be?  I mean, is a maximum of 31 cm of molten rock along a fault really all that much, and do the scientists who wrote the article think the kind of frictional melting that might have happened during the Bolivian quake is likely to be common, or was this an unusual event?  Here are some snippets from the article that Sessions didn’t get around to quoting.

Although this amount of heat does not significantly con-tribute to the global heat flow, it can influence the local thermal budget in subduction zones…. (p. 840)

The thickness… cannot be determined directly from seismological data, but weakening as a result of melting is likely to localize deformation on a thin zone, as is seen in pseudo-tachylytes.  The small upper bound for the fault-normal displacement also suggests a fairly simple dislocation source, and a large complex volumetric source is probably ruled out. Thus, [a thickness of the melted layer] as small as a few millimeters is plausible…. (p. 841)

It is unclear whether the Bolivian earthquake is fundamentally different from other deep-focus earthquakes…. No evidence for slow rupture speed has been found for other deep-focus earthquakes, with the possible exception of the equally large 1970 Colombia earthquake (Mw = 8.2)…. Because of these uncertainties, it is unclear whether melting plays a major role in other deep-focus earthquakes. Deep-focus earthquakes may be different from event to event….  (p. 841)

So their answer is basically that the heat generated in the ENORMOUS (magnitude 8.3) Bolivian earthquake really isn’t that much heat in the grand scheme of things, and the magma generated was probably only a few mm thick.  And even though there are lots of questions still unanswered on this topic, there are some reasons to believe the amount of frictional heat generated by the Bolivian quake was somewhat exceptional.

I don’t think this astonishing string of misreadings and oversights was intentional, but I do think it provides a good illustration of Dean Sessions’ mindset.  If he runs across information that contradicts his ideas, he simply can’t process it unless he has a ready reply.  Also, any scientific observation or conclusion that points even vaguely in the direction he wants is immediately co-opted to argue for conclusions that go WAY beyond anything the scientists demonstrated, or even conjectured.  If Sessions does acknowledge that he’s doing this, it is taken as proof of the scientists’ confusion and general stupidity, and of Dean Sessions’ great genius.




Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 5, 2017

Magma & Heat Flow: UM Response 1

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

As I have been posting my critiques of the Universal Model (UM), I have also been posting snippets of the arguments to the discussion forum at the UM website.  I first tried to simply post links to my blog, but the moderator kept deleting those posts, so I started going with the snippets.  Anyway, the UM Team finally posted a response to some of it, and it’s kind of long, so I figured I would post my follow-up here and try again to get them to let me link from their forum.  Cross your fingers.  In this post, quotations from the UM response are in purple text to distinguish them from other quotations, links, and so on.

So far your review and discussion of the Universal Model has been spotty and biased evidently without actually reading or evaluating Volume I in its entirety before giving an objective review. In other words, it would appear that anything that goes against the ‘established doctrine’ of what you teach as a professor of geology is simply incorrect, no matter what.  It also seems you cannot acknowledge the possibility of even one of the hundreds of new discoveries found in just this first volume. You wrote on your blog, “The UM provides a nearly perfect example of a pseudoscientific enterprise” which you concluded long before having had a chance to review the book (you had received the UM on April 18th and posted this response on the 21st). In certain respects, Galileo had the same problem with the ‘learned’ thinkers of his day when they refused to look through his telescope to see what was on the Moon – they already knew.

Even worse, I still haven’t read your 800-page tome in its entirety!  But yes, at that time I had only watched a 2-hour video about the UM on your YouTube channel, noticed that a number of your arguments were based on claims I knew to be factually incorrect, argued back and forth with some of you in the YouTube comments about some of those points, and looked up the topics in the UM book to see if you had any better arguments there.  And yes, I have undoubtedly been biased to some degree by that experience.

However, that’s actually why I chose to start by addressing specific arguments, rather than take on the whole thing at once.  You see, even if your overall conclusions are correct, some of your arguments may still be very flawed.  For instance, if you claim that minerals like quartz can’t form from a melt, and some of the sources you cite to back up this claim actually reported just the opposite, then you clearly have made a flawed argument by any reasonable standard.  What will you do with that information?  You might radically change your mind about the UM.  You might stand your ground on the UM as a whole, but acknowledge that certain of your arguments need some shoring up, referring instead to some other evidence that you think is better.  You might argue in return that I’m the one who misinterpreted the sources, or misread the UM, or whatever.  Any of that could conceivably be the response of generally reasonable people.

What is NOT reasonable, in contrast, is pretending that reading the entire UM will magically make your bad arguments good.  Why not just try to evaluate my critiques of your arguments on their own, and if you find I am correct, admit that fact and bring up other arguments that you think support your conclusions better?  Even if I’m the biggest Galileo-arresting, baby-eating, big-fat-meanie of a scientific bigot, it should still be useful for you to see which of your arguments are the weakest.

Every day, the UM has new readers and open-minded reviewers who are earnestly seeking to discover how Nature really works and why we are such an important part of the beauty that surrounds us. Anyone can go to the UM website, under the Review Tab and read Written Reviews by dozens of people who have read all of Volume I and who tell of their story of finding truth and understanding in geology for the first time. Perhaps you judge these people as misguided, but some of them have been studying the UM for years, and will tell you nothing but goodness has come from the new understandings and explanations that the UM offers to all who will take the time to look and actually examine the new scientific discoveries and evidences found in this material. How else is the public to judge which science explains Nature better, other than to compare multiple competing hypotheses? On one hand, we have conventional science, which has not discovered one new significant natural law in over one hundred years, and it tells us everything came from nothing; on the other hand this new Millennial Science sets forth dozens of new natural laws that everyone can easily understand and test for themselves.

If none of said people understand the standard scientific theories, and you describe those theories incorrectly, how can they possibly make any informed decision about such a thing?  Can you at least accept that someone like me might have significant insights about whether you are fairly describing MY paradigm?

Have you asked yourself what if there really is no magma inside the Earth? What if the liquid really is water instead of magma? As you know, no one, including yourself, has ever observed magma. What if this subterranean water (which scientists themselves now acknowledge exists in quantities far beyond what is found in our oceans above the crust), was the same water which covered the Earth in a Universal Flood 4,362 years ago? What if this event really happened? What does this mean to all of modern science and to every human being now that not one or two, but hundreds of empirical evidences for the Flood actually demonstrate it happened and are found in the UM?

Sure I have asked that.  And I looked at the evidence you presented and found it wanting.  Therefore, even if your conclusions are true, some of your arguments are faulty.  Will you deal with those criticisms, or not?

For instance, when you talk about scientists acknowledging that vast quantities of water exist in, for example, the mantle, do you realize that they are not talking about liquid water, or even ice?  (See this LiveScience article.)  They are talking about minerals which have small amounts of the elements H and O in their crystal structures, and which will undergo chemical reactions to release water vapor when they are heated at low pressures.  Once again, misinterpreting scientific sources like those you mention does not make a good argument for your case, whether or not your conclusions are correct.

We will address some of your specific criticisms regarding UM and Heat Flow after addressing some of the subchapters you left out of your review of Chapter 5, the Magma Pseudotheory. First we note that you evidently chose to ignore the first subchapter, 5.1 Magma Defined, wherein geologists are quoted saying that “Magmas properly belong to the realm of theoretical petrology.” You seem to have ignored the quotes of the professionals who state that “geologists infer” because no one has ever seen magma or observed direct evidence for it. You leave unaddressed the expert’s statement, “The question of where the magma comes from and how it is generated are the most speculative in all of volcanology.” 

I actually haven’t done a “review of Chapter 5”.  Instead, I’ve written several articles about specific issues covered in Chapter 5–and I’m not done, yet!  These articles are on my blog, and I have tried linking to them on your forum in the past, but those posts were always deleted by your moderator.  It would be a lot more convenient for everyone if you would just let me link them.

Anyway, I did reference some of those quotations in my article, “Does Magma Exist?”  And guess what?  I have absolutely no problem with the idea that magma (at least the stuff that is too deep in the Earth to drill into and observe directly) is “theoretical,” and that we have to “infer” the existence of things we can’t directly observe, and that “inference” always involves some degree of speculation.  The real question, for me, is why you think this is so significant.  I mean, if nobody can drill to the center of the Earth, then how do UMers come to the conclusion that there is a ball of ice down there?  Presumably you “infer” it based on something other than direct observation, and it is a “theoretical” construct.  Explanations always go beyond the facts around which one constructs them.  Otherwise, they wouldn’t be explanations.

The next subchapter, 5.2 the Magmaplanet Belief, is also absent from your review posted in this forum. We concur that belief is not science, yet one can only believe in magma because it has never been observed. This subchapter clearly shows that modern geology’s claim of a magmaplanet is only a belief, as one blue quote in the subchapter asks, “Why is the Earth’s core so Hot” and “How do we know the temperature? The answer is that we really don’t … As a result, scientists must infer the temperature in the earth’s deep interior indirectly” (p75 in UM). It is this little word “infer” that has gotten every major field of science into trouble.

See what I mean?  Alternatively, please show me how Dean Sessions observed the Earth’s deep interior directly.

Geology has never demonstrated an empirical heat source for magma, especially radioactive magma which would of course, mean that all lava would be radioactive that came from radioactively melted magma. Not trace amounts of normally occurring radioactive material, but bonafide radioactivity. Those of us who have been to Hawaii, a lava island, have never seen signs warning about radioactive lava. Modern geology has been mis-queued by modern chemistry into thinking that very hot (hot enough to melt rock) natural radioactive minerals actually exist – when in fact they don’t. Thus both magma and its heat source have never been demonstrated and thus remain only a belief.

As I explained in another article, “Facepalm:  The Universal Model and Radioactive Lava“, geologists do not, in fact, think that there are local concentrations of radioactivity in the Earth’s interior concentrated enough to melt the rock around it.  Once again, you are arguing against a straw man.  (Do you see why you need a geologist to at least comb through the UM and point out ridiculous claims like that?  Remember that the claim is about what WE think, not what you think, or what actually is the case.)

You also seem to have completely skipped subchapter 5.3, the Lava-Friction Model, where, for the first time, lava is demonstrated to arise from the frictional heat generated by fault movement within the crust. You also seemed to skip past the two new natural laws presented in this subchapter and the direct evidence for the Earthquake-Lava Connection. You have left out the important geological discovery known as Earthtide, the daily tidal movement of the Earth’s crust, (which was not discovered until the first GPS satellites were put into orbit) and how this is directly connected to Earthquakes, lava eruptions and Moonquakes. There are pages and pages of evidence for these new natural laws which you have apparently chosen to ignore.

Don’t worry, I’m getting to that.  In the meantime, supposing your frictional melting idea is a good argument, how does that demonstrate that your bad arguments (like claiming geologists believe things they really don’t or acting like it’s not necessary to “infer” the existence of things you can’t directly observe) aren’t really bad?  It doesn’t.

Moving on to subchapter 5.4, Magma Theory Defies Heat Flow Physics, clearly delineates that the Magma Pseudotheory goes directly against the demonstrable laws of heat flow. The quote you took from p92 of the UM “Geophysicists have not been able to explain why heat flow through the thin oceanic crust is less than the heat flow through the thick continental crust,” is actually correct and consistent with peer-reviewed literature, it is not an “odd statement” as you noted. The geophysicists’ current estimate you used from Wikipedia to make your point about the heat flow is from a older 1993 article than the newer 1996 article found in Scientific American which we refer to in the UM (p93) that clearly states the oceanic crust “rises about 15 degrees C per Kilometer of depth” whereas the continental crust, “increases by about 25 degrees per kilometer.” Why did you leave the newer quoted article out of your critique?

You didn’t read my critique carefully, and once again it would have been helpful if you had read the full article.  Here’s where you are going wrong.  (In the following paragraphs I use a lot of ALL CAPS, which is not meant to come off as internet “yelling”.  I’m just trying to get you to focus on those words so that you can make sure not to miss some main points.)

On Figure 5.4.5 you show the USGS heat flow map, and on the bottom it has a color bar to indicate what the different colors mean.  Note that units given are mW/m^2 (milliwatts per square meter), and that if you eyeball the colors on the ocean floor and continents, the average seems like it must be in the ballpark of the 101 mW/m^2 and 65 mW/m^2 that I cited.  Note also that a “milliwatt” is a unit of energy flow (energy divided by time), so mW/m^2 expresses units of energy flow per square meter of the Earth’s surface.  Now look at Figure 5.4.7, where you list the “actual heat flow” of the continents as 25 °C/km, and that of the ocean floor as 15 °C/km.  Notice anything different?  How about the fact that °C/km ARE NOT HEAT FLOW UNITS.  They are units of temperature change over distance, which means they are describing THERMAL GRADIENT, NOT HEAT FLOW.  The reason Dean Sessions mixes up the two is because the Fourier Law indicates that heat flow DUE TO CONDUCTION is proportional to the thermal gradient.  Therefore, if the heat flow going on were ONLY DUE TO CONDUCTION, then it would be proportional to the local thermal gradient.  But if BOTH CONDUCTION AND CONVECTION are going on to varying degrees in the different localities, then the non-conductive heat flow doesn’t follow the Fourier Law, and when comparing different localities the heat flow WOULD NOT BE PROPORTIONAL TO THE THERMAL GRADIENT.

Please read that last paragraph over until it sinks in.  I tried to explain all that before, but here you are telling me that I should accept the “heat flow” numbers from your Scientific American article over those in the source I cited.  But the fact is that your Sci-Am “heat flow” figures ARE NOT ACTUAL HEAT FLOWS. Instead, they are THERMAL GRADIENTS that are COMPLETELY CONSISTENT with the ACTUAL HEAT FLOWS I cited, as well as the ones you have mapped on Fig. 5.4.5, AS LONG AS CONVECTION IS GOING ON.

Can you begin to see why scientists would typically find interactions with you to be frustrating, UM Team?  The thermal gradient issue I brought up is a very common rookie mistake that would have been beaten out of Dean Sessions after taking a single course in thermodynamics.  But Dean never took such a class, nor did he even learn the math and terminology he would need to follow along in a textbook on his own.  But here he is using thermodynamic arguments to lecture the world’s scientists about how they could see their theories were wrong if they only understood heat flow.

The following sentence in the Wiki article you quoted from actually says “[The Earth’s heat] is much more concentratedin areas where thermal energy is transported toward the crust by convection such as along mid-ocean ridges and mantle plumes.” This statement begs the question, what do we find occurring along mid-ocean ridges? Earthquakes. Thus, Fig 5.4.5 in the UM shows that “the heat flow from the ocean floor is higher”, but only on the “mid-ocean ridges” where earthquakes are more prevalent as the Wiki article states, not as you state the “average heat flow from the ocean floor is higher.” Fig 5.4.5 clearly shows that the thinnest crustal areas of the Earth (all along the deep trenches of the ocean) do not contain the greatest heat flow, but where we find the highest heat flow is exactly where the description below the Figure says, “on plate boundaries where gravitational frictional heating is highest.” The black lines in the image that separate crustal plate boundaries are actually individual seismic events found in most geological maps. 

Yes.  According to REAL plate tectonic theory, as well as the UM, you should get extra heat flow around mid-ocean ridges.  Therefore, the fact that the greatest heat flows are around the ridges doesn’t do anything to distinguish between the two ideas.  That was my point.

However, if the UM is correct, then I have to wonder why you don’t get a bunch of volcanoes and extra heat flow around, for instance, the Himalayas or the San Andreas fault.  Plate tectonic theory explains this.  If the UM does, I haven’t seen it.

The simple point we are trying to make here is that the average continental crust is six times thicker than the average oceanic crust and numerous geology textbooks state that these crusts are floating on a liquid substance. What is that liquid substance? Is it magma? If so, we would see much more heat coming from the entire ocean floor than from the continental crust because the oceanic crust is so much thinner – but we don’t. It is a well known fact that the mean temperature gradient across ocean waters does not increase as you go deeper towards the ocean floor – rather it decreases.

The standard geological viewpoint has been, for quite a few decades, that the lithospheric plates (which include the crust and the uppermost part of the mantle) are sitting on top of the “asthenosphere,” which is a part of the mantle that is almost all solid, but heated and pressurized to a degree that the solids deform plastically.  Once again, you could have gotten this much information from the Wikipedia article on the asthenosphere.  “The asthenosphere is generally solid, although some of its regions could be melted (e.g., below mid-ocean ridges).”    Incidentally, you could have also gotten this from geophysicist O.M. Phillips’ 1968 book, The Heart of the Earth, which Dean Sessions cites in the UM.  Check out pp. 167-168, in particular.  Phillips also explains why they have known for a very long time that the crust isn’t floating on a giant pool of magma.  “Yet the mantle is capable of transmitting S waves, and these cannot travel through a fluid” (The Heart of the Earth, p. 167).

So whatever you read in all those geology textbooks, you are misinterpreting it badly.  Again.

One of the quotes you use states that: “…water circulation might be an important form of heat transport near the ocean ridges. This has now been verified by the discovery of vents of very hot water near ridges and large amounts of heat are being transported by this convection or hydrothermal circulation as it is called.” This is a great quote showing exactly what the UM is saying, that on the ocean ridges where there are the most earthquakes and frictional heating taking place, we find direct evidence for not just “hydrothermal” circulation, but Hyprethermal environments, meaning heated water under pressure. Both physics and chemistry do not frequently use any word to describe this most important environment which is required to dissolve and create minerals (hy-hydro, pre-pressure, and thermal-heat). We find this environment described in Fig 8.9.2 at TAG Mound, where only 338 degrees C is needed to create Basalt, Quartz, Pyrite, Anhydrite and Surface Chalcedony (see Fig 8.14.7), when you are beneath 3,700 meters of ocean water. You need about five times this much heat to MELT these minerals without water. This is the same hyprethermal environment replicated in our autoclave (high-pressure vessel) to duplicate mineral formation, precisely as they were made in Nature (see Fig 7.4.13 p266 in UM).

Regular geologists also think some minerals form from hydrothermal solutions under pressure.  I fail to see how this shows that your false statements about heat flow are not false… especially since you seem to agree that convection of hot water is transporting heat around in the ocean crust.

You state in your review that, “Dean Sessions says the heat flow from the oceanic crust is less than that from the continents. FALSE. He says the temperature gradients contradict the standard theory about how hot the Earth’s interior is. FALSE.” Our response to this, as any of your students can easily see from Fig 5.4.5, the actual heat flow from the Earth is not coming from the thinnest areas of the crust as Fig 5.4.4 would indicate from current geological theory, but to a greater degree from the vertical plate areas along the equator where we find the most gravitational movement and therefore the most frictional heating from the daily Earthtide movement taking place. We find it rather curious that you chose to ignore Note 5.4b (p93), which comes from the second deepest borehole in the world, the KTB German borehole, where the heat gradient was found to be 27 degrees C/km, much higher than any average oceanic crust? We also must ask if you accidently ignored, on the same page, the quote from Bib 125 p398, a highly used geology textbook in its day which states that, “Rocks such as granite are extremely poor conductors of heat. Therefore, if temperature at depth of several miles should be high, say 1000 degrees C, heat would flow out very slowly and the change in temperature for each 100 feet would be considerable.” But as additional evidence in subchapter 5.10, the Drilling Evidence, demonstrates this is NOT the case. So both your charges against Dean are incorrect; the standard geological theory of temperature gradient fails at every possible turn.

Once again, °C/km is not a heat flow.  It’s a thermal gradient.  See above.

Also, are you seriously going to quote a 1939 geology textbook to illustrate current “problems” with geological theory?

The deepest borehole in the world, on the Kola Peninsula in Russia, demonstrated that current modern geological ideas failed the most expensive drilling test ever (over a billion dollars). Don’t take our word for it read what the researchers themselves said: “Direct measurement of the temperatures in the well compels revision of ideas about the distribution and flow of heat in the earth’s interior.” (p 94, Note 5.4e) This is a nice way of saying their theoretical heat flow theories failed. Have you read all these studies on the deepest boreholes in the world? We have spent years studying them. They do not confirm the pseudotheory you are teaching in class, they contradict it. There are pages and pages of evidence against the existence of magma that you have ignored in subchapter 5.4, Magma theory Defies Heat Flow Physics, but this should be enough for the typical reader who is encouraged to read for themselves all of the actual evidence found to demonstrate that magma heat flow does not exist.

I actually did address your “too hot too fast” argument in my article.  SPOILER:  Sessions forgot to factor in convection again.  He also forgot to mention HOW the geologists he quoted thought they had to revise their ideas about the distribution and flow of heat inside the Earth.  (My guess is that they didn’t think they had to hypothesize an ice ball in the center.  They just had to figure out why the thermal gradient flattened out more in the interior.  Answer:  more convection than they thought.)

Subchapter 5.5, the Accretion Theory also missed your critique, perhaps because you found it so compelling? Researchers in Scientific American (UM p97, Note 5.5c p54) state that the underlying science of impacts and impact cratering is uncertain because of its ambiguity: “The ambiguity is a sign that the underlying science is uncertain.” Uncertain? Read pages 305-470 of the UM for the most in depth, detailed and comprehensive discussion on impacting, cratering and meteorites ever assembled. Dozens of new discoveries confirm that not only does modern science not understand the cratering and meteorite making processes, but most of today’s assumptions come from the incorrect Accretion Theory, making them invalid. We are interested to hear what you have to say about the Arizona ‘Meteor’ Crater actually being the Arizona Hydrocrater. The evidence is unequivocal for any honest scientist who cannot fail to acknowledge that this crater has a diatreme beneath it (p402 in UM) – and was formed in a phreatic (steam) explosion from beneath the crater, not from a high-speed impact from above which would have resulted in a glass-lined crater with no origin for the diatreme (funnel shaped cracked rock area under the crater.)

You mean there is “uncertainty” in the details of scientific theories about things that are supposed to have happened over 4 billion years ago at a scale that can’t be recreated in a laboratory?  Anyone who would be scandalized by this doesn’t know the first thing about science.  Yawn.

Oh, I almost forgot.  You don’t seem to have mentioned how any of the above shows that your false statements about heat flow are not false.

In another forum discussion on heat flow, “Another Heat Flow Gaffe for the UM,” you state that the UM says most of the “radioactive elements are most concentrated in the crust. This is wrong.” Then you say, “It’s true that the most abundant radioactive isotopes tend to concentrate most in the crust of the Earth, but that really doesn’t matter.” Yes it does matter! Your theoretical example of hot spots in the mantle has no geological reality. Only where we find fractures in the crust do we find increased temperatures as we descend in depth in the crust and this is demonstrated in many of the UM book’s chapters. The reality is that no naturally radioactive rock is hot – period! Have you held natural radioactive uranium ore as seen in Fig 5.6.1 or been to a uranium mine? There are some not far from where you live and the rocks are NOT hot. Even when uranium is artificially separated from the ore, it is NOT hot, only warm to the touch. There is ZERO evidence that any radioactive mineral could melt ANY rock in the Earth let alone the entire insides of the Earth.

Yep, we have a whole cabinet full of uranium ore downstairs at work.  Are you suggesting that radioactive decay doesn’t release heat?  Because that’s how nuclear reactors work, you know.  And that’s all standard geological theory requires.

Did you not understand my explanation about how an object would heat up from the outside?  Because I didn’t say anything about “hot spots in the mantle,” and I specifically addressed the other stuff you say.  If anything in my explanation was unclear, let me know what it is.

Despite your claims to the contrary you have not actually explained why it is “true” that the most abundant radioactive isotopes (the supposedly heaviest) are found in the crust, and not found settling to the core of the Earth when it was molten? Why is this? Because the only easily understood answer comes from p635 in the UM, the Ore Mark, where for the first time we find direct evidence of how and why these radioactive minerals are found not deep in the crust or core of the Earth, but in diatremes, and why they were made in the Universal Flood. UM scientists have put much thought into the heat flow found in the crust of the Earth and just as there is no physical evidence for, as you say, “black hole sucking” there is also no evidence for heat or a radioactive heat source in the center of the Earth.

I actually explained why all the uranium wouldn’t just sink to the core to Russ on your YouTube channel, but he didn’t seem to get it.  But never fear!  That’s actually going to be the subject of my next article, which will feature yet another example of Dean Sessions quote mining a geology book and ignoring all the surrounding text that contradicts his interpretation!  Stay tuned.

[BRAIN TEASER:  If you mix together some water (made of H and O) with some oil (made of C, H, and O), will all the H rise to the top because it’s the lightest element there, and all the O sink to the bottom because it’s the heaviest?]

We will answer your “Quartz CAN Form in a Melt!” and “Earth’s Magnetic Field” posts in a later post. We do want to truly thank you for your vigorous analysis of the UM, and feel you are providing an important appraisal of the UM by helping the public see how professional geologists answer some of the most basic questions about their field of study.

I look forward to your explanation of why you repeatedly say quartz can’t form from a melt when your sources clearly say that it can.

One final note. On your own blog,  you list “12 Bickmore Laws” which includes Bickmore’s First Law of the Box which states:

“‘Thinking outside the box’ requires being capable of recognizing ‘the box.’”

Therein lies the rub. Do you or can you realize that you are speaking to us from inside the scientific establishment box? When one such as yourself recognizes that he or she is inside ‘the box’, and that the UM offers scientific truths outside of the scientific establishment box, one will see the UM in a new light. It is the same light in which all new scientific discoveries are made – one where old worn-out paradigms are let go as new, more correct ways of seeing the Universe are revealed.

Maybe it would be easier for me to reach that blessed state of enlightenment if you guys would stop telling untruths about modern geological theory.  You know–if you could actually recognize “the box.”

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

Today I am adding a new entry into my “Bickmore’s Laws” page.  Here it is:

Bickmore’s Second Law of Being Open-Minded:

A person’s open-mindedness is inversely proportional to how much they lecture everyone else about open-mindedness.

One reason pseudoscientific systems like the UM hold so much appeal for some is that they make such people feel smarter and more open-minded than others, especially those insufferable scientists.   Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 29, 2017

Facepalm: The Universal Model and Radioactive Lava


This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

In the Universal Model, Vol. 1, Dean Sessions says that if current scientific theories about the interior of the Earth (i.e., that it’s hotter down there) are correct, then we should see highly radioactive lava erupting from volcanoes.  However, that’s beyond wrong–it’s ludicrous.  Let me explain.

As noted in the UM, the standard theory is that the interior of the Earth was originally hot because of heat generated when the planet formed from the solar nebula (a cloud of space debris coalescing by gravity) around 4.5 billion years ago.  Things smashing together, friction creating heat–you get the idea.  The problem is that geologists figured out quite a while ago that if this “residual heat” were the only source, then the Earth should have completely cooled off a long time ago.  An apparent solution was found when scientists discovered radioactivity.  Certain elements (most notably uranium, thorium, and potassium) include isotopes (atoms of that element with different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei) whose nuclei can decay over time, creating atoms of different elements, releasing fractured nuclei and/or subatomic particles, and releasing heat.  So here’s the logic.

“Hey, we need another source of heat to explain why the Earth’s interior is still hot!”

“Oh, look!  We found out that some elements in the Earth are radioactive, and they produce heat!  Maybe that’s it!”

Not too complicated, right?  But Dean Sessions wants the core of the Earth to be a giant ice ball, so he tries to dismiss the idea that radioactivity could provide an explanation.

However, naturally occurring radioactive rocks are weak and generate very little heat. The most abundant, naturally occurring radioactive rock is uranium, which is found only near the surface of the Earth.  Moreover, there are no known radioactive lava flows.  (p. 97)

Let’s take that apart.

First, ALL rocks are radioactive.  ALL OF THEM.  All it takes to make a radioactive rock is a single radioactive atom, and with modern mass spectrometers, we can measure small amounts of radioactive atoms.  And if a little heat is generated by every single radioactive decay event that occurs, then that heat can add up to quite a lot throughout the entire Earth.

Second, uranium is an element, not a “rock”.  (Seriously, it’s like Sessions is trying to give rage aneurysms to geochemists.)

Third, it’s true that the most abundant radioactive isotopes tend to concentrate most in the crust of the Earth, but that really doesn’t matter.  Suppose you have a sphere with heat sources spread throughout, but especially near the surface.  Heat energy is generated, and spreads out.  Some of it flows toward the surface and is radiated out into space, and some of it flows toward the center, because heat tends to flow, on average, in the direction of colder temperatures.  When the heat energy gets to the center, where does it go?  The only way to flow is toward the surface, but if the temperature is still warmer on the outside of the sphere, the net heat flow will still be toward the center.  Therefore, the center will keep heating up until it is hotter than the outside of the sphere and heat can flow back the other way.

(Think about this, UMers.  If the Earth is actually colder in the center, then there must be some kind of black hole sucking heat out of there.)

Fourth, geologists don’t think magma is generated in places where it is way hotter than other parts of the interior.  Rather, magma is mostly generated in places where the local pressure, temperature, and composition favor melting.  For example, in subduction zones, waterlogged oceanic crust gets shoved down into the mantle.  Since water is KNOWN to lower the melting temperatures of many minerals (yes, this has been experimentally verified), the mantle rocks above the subducted crust will be more likely to melt when exposed to more water, and that’s how geologists explain the fact that lots of volcanoes occur above subduction zones.  When the crust (lithosphere, actually) cracks open at a divergent plate boundary (mid-ocean ridges, mainly) that drops the pressure on the mantle rocks just below the crack.  Since lowering the pressure is KNOWN to lower the melting temperatures of rocks, that’s how geologists explain the fact that there are lots of volcanoes at mid-ocean ridges.

So basically, the idea that lava should be more radioactive than other Earth materials if geologists are right about the interior of the Earth is nonsensical.




Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 27, 2017

Quartz is Not Glass. So What?

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

Quartz is not glass!  According to Dean Sessions, this is one of the most critical points of the Universal Model (UM), and it completely undermines standard geological theories (see vol. 1, ch. 5 of the UM).  Apparently, he took a blowtorch to some quartz crystals in his garage, melted them, and when they cooled, they were glass, not quartz!  Quartz can’t grow from a melt, he says, so when we see quartz in igneous rocks like granite, it can’t possibly have grown from magma.  (Remember that he doesn’t think magma exists.)  It turns out that the “evidence” presented by Sessions does NOT really challenge current geological theory.  He misread some of his information and ignored a whole lot of information that directly contradicts his claims.  To show you how he went wrong, first I’m going to have to back up and explain a few things.   Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 22, 2017

Does Magma Exist?

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

In Universal Model vol. 1, ch. 5, “The Magma Pseudotheory,” Dean Sessions is on a mission to disprove the existence of magma.  (You can’t have a “hydroplanet” with a core of ice if it gets hotter toward the center.)  To convince himself he has accomplished this, he performs his usual routine of misstating the actual scientific theory, disproving the fake theory he just made up, and then announcing that it all fits perfectly with the UM.  No, it doesn’t.  Oh, and he keeps forgetting about convection. Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 21, 2017

That Time I Met Dean Sessions

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

To hear Dean Sessions tell it, his Universal Model (UM) is such a massive “paradigm shift” that mainstream scientists generally can’t be persuaded to take it seriously.

As the director of scientific research and discovery for the UM, Dean continued investigations in the 1990s with the aid of several research assistants. Thousands of scientific journal articles were gathered from all the general fields of science, as  well as in-depth experimentation was conducted both in the field and in the laboratory, howbeit, on a modest scale so that duplication would be comparatively simple. Various scientists from a number of different fields were contacted in order to ascertain whether or not particular discoveries were important or previously known. As a result of these discussions, we generally found the scientific community to be unaware and unconcerned with the evidences presented. This is because the paradigm shift suggested was too large to contemplate. The new discoveries would create an entirely new science.

As a matter of fact, I was one of the scientists he contacted, but I have a somewhat different perspective on the encounter.  Here’s how I remember it.

It must have been about 15 years ago, when I was a fairly new assistant professor at BYU, when Dean Sessions and a friend of his knocked on my office door.  They politely asked if they could talk to me about their scientific discoveries, so I invited them in.

At first, they talked about the history and philosophy of science.  I minored in philosophy, so I’m familiar with the subject, and we had an interesting conversation about Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Kuhn maintained that scientists normally work within “paradigms,” or accepted theoretical frameworks that serve as the lenses through which they interpret empirical results.  So what scientists mainly do is flesh out the details of these accepted theories.  Given that theories are never perfect, some of the empirical results are bound to conflict with them.  However, scientists also know that there are a lot of ways to botch or misinterpret an experiment, and sometimes theories can be fixed with only slight adjustments.  So rather than immediately throwing out a theory, they will simply take note of these “anomalies” and keep working within the current paradigm.  Eventually, the anomalies might pile up too much for some scientists, who might then be motivated to create a new theoretical framework.  This is how scientific revolutions begin.  Of course, there will always be resistance in the scientific community to new paradigms, so it is not a given that they will prevail.

Apparently, they thought I was primed to consider the paradigm shift they wanted to lay on me, so they started talking about things modern science couldn’t explain.  (You know–“anomalies”.)  They began with… dark matter, or some such.  After a while I told them, “Look, I don’t know what to tell you, because I don’t know anything about dark matter.”

THEN, however, they started talking geology, which is my field.  Consider the mineral quartz, they said.  Geologists think it is formed from magma (pockets of melted rock underground), but we can’t go underground and observe this process directly.  Sessions and his buddy, however, had done some experimenting in the garage.  They obtained a quartz crystal and melted it under a blowtorch.  When it cooled off and solidified… drumroll… it wasn’t quartz, anymore! It was GLASS!!!  Therefore, quartz can’t grow from magma.

I said, “Oh, hey–I don’t know anything about dark matter, but I CAN tell you what’s going on here.  You see, when a melt solidifies, it takes time to form crystals, so if it cools off and solidifies too quickly, you just form glasses, which don’t have as orderly molecular structures as crystals.”

[NOTE:  I’ve edited what follows after the initial posting, because I remembered some additional details.]

He kept trying to say quartz can’t form from a melt, but I happened to know different, so I wouldn’t budge on that.  I could have dug out some experimental petrology papers in which scientists reported creating synthetic granite (which contains quartz crystals).  I could have pulled some mineralogy and crystal growth textbooks off the shelf that would have explained the whole thing.  However, Sessions brushed off everything I had to say.

Sessions then tried to get me to take some manuscript he had written (an early version of the UM?), but I told him I wasn’t interested.  Why should I waste my time on it, when it was clear he wasn’t interested in making his theories conform to all the facts?  He stalked out of my office in a huff, angry that I was such a closed-minded paradigm-hugger.

This encounter always stuck in my mind, but I never thought their project would move outside their garages.  Here it is 2017, and Sessions has just published an 800-page book with a section called “Quartz Is Not Glass” (p. 101).  I’ll write more later about why geologists’ response to Sessions’ statement is still a big, “No, duh,” but for now please consider the following question.

Is Dean Sessions really a genius leading a comprehensive scientific revolution, persecuted by closed-minded scientist-sheeple?  Or is he projecting his own failings on others?

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 21, 2017

The Mass of the Earth is a MASSIVE PROBLEM for the Universal Model

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

UM Claim:  The Universal Model claims that instead of a core made mostly of iron, the Earth has a core made of ice.  But if so, that would mean the Earth has a much different total mass than scientists believe, and all the standard measurements of Isaac Newton’s Universal Gravitational Constant (G), starting with Henry Cavendish’s torsion balance experiment in 1798, must have been wildly inaccurate.

One of the indirect evidences used in determining the Earth’s core composition is density. From where did the inferred average density of 5.52 g/cm^3 come? The answer comes from one experiment described in subchapter 18.4 [not yet published], the Cavendish Experiment. In 1798, Henry Cavendish constructed an apparatus similar to a pendulum but designed to measure the faint gravitational attraction between two large lead balls and two small lead balls. The two sets of balls suspended independently allowed Cavendish to obtain accurate measurements of the twisting suspension wire as the balls oscillated back and forth past each other. The whole process of this experiment, fascinating as it is, gets duplicated and retested by others in physics labs today. However, there is one major flaw in the experiment leading to the Cavendish Error. Unlike the Earth, the lead balls are not in outer space, and thus, the balls, restricted by the air and influenced by the Earth’s gravity rendered incorrect data. Their attraction should have been measured in a vacuum, in low gravity. Air, a denser medium than the vacuum of space, along with the attractive gravitational force of the Earth, slowed the balls’ oscillation rate. Cavendish neglected to account for the reduced oscillation in the original experiment, leading to an incorrect gravitational constant and errors in the Earth’s density estimates.

As we will learn in subchapter 18.4, the New Mass of the Earth, the Earth’s density, recalculated to approximately 2.3 g/cm^3 using the physics of gravitational attraction and the new geological discoveries outlined in this and other chapters, renders a truer density of the Earth that aligns with empirical observations. We next examine the geological nature of the Earth’s density.  (Universal Model, Vol. 1, p. 107)

Issue:  Way back in 1798, Cavendish’s careful experiments implied a value of G = 6.754×10−11 m^3 kg^−1 s^−2, which is within about 1% of the accepted value today.  And guess what?  Dean Sessions wasn’t the first one to wonder whether air resistance affects these measurements.  So not only have Cavendish-type experiments been done many times in a vacuum–they have also been done in both a vacuum AND during freefall to negate the effects of gravity!  Many, many experiments have yielded about the same value for G, whether or not such corrections are made.

There probably have been experiments done that yielded wildly different values of G, but as Dean Sessions pointed out, rigorous experiments are hard to do, and lots of things can go wrong!  If things could go wrong with the Cavendish experiment, why couldn’t they have gone wrong with whatever experiment Sessions set up in his garage?  Replication of important experimental results is a hallmark of science, and the vast, vast majority of G measurements have been very close to one another.

When this point was made on the UM internet forum, the UM team eventually responded with this stunning admission.

The “appreciable effect on the pendulum” stated by Carter in regards to UM experimentation was a faulty test of a continuing experiment that will not be finished until the release of the Universal System – Volume III of the Universal Model.

That’s right.  After the publication of Volume 1, the UM team found out that their garage experiment was faulty, but they seem quite confident that by the time they roll out Volume 3, they will get the result they need to save their model.

To be blunt, if the accepted value of G is even remotely accurate, there is no way the UM “hydroplanet” model can be right, or even in the ballpark.


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 21, 2016

Dick Lindzen, Prager U., and the Art of Lying Well

In (Consensus) Denial

The clear scientific consensus about human-caused climate change (certainly between 90-100% of experts, and most likely somewhere around 97%) presents a big problem for the contrarians.  Namely, most people have neither the time nor the inclination to sift through the evidence for themselves, so they tend to defer to the majority of experts.  Therefore, if the contrarians want to keep the masses from demanding action to reduce human-caused climate change, they need to cloud the public’s perception of the scientific consensus.  That’s exactly what retired atmospheric physicist Dick Lindzen does in a new video called “Climate Change:  What Do Scientists Say?” produced by “Prager University”.  In this post, I will point out some clear instances where Lindzen obfuscates the issue.  He’s so good at the Art of Lying Well (TM) that he can do it without making any factual claims that aren’t technically true (in a sense that almost none of his viewers would understand).  But first, here’s the video. Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | March 18, 2016

Trump is YOUR Fault, and You Suck

Like many others, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Presidency, I didn’t take it too seriously.  But now that he has an increasingly good chance of becoming the Republican nominee, we are asking, “Who are these idiots supporting Trump?” and most importantly, “Who is to blame?”  Pundits from across the political spectrum have been busily pointing fingers, and in my judgment, they’re almost all right.  A lot of different groups are culpable for the fact that there is now a non-negligible chance that next year we will have an unstable, narcissistic, demagogic, xenophobic, orange, philandering, creepy, loathsome, bigoted, proto-Fascist for a President.  You, dear Reader, might just be one of them.  And so in this post, I will explain why you suck, and are therefore probably to blame for Trump.

Okay, maybe you don’t personally suck, but there are an awful lot of people who do.  Here they are.

1. Trump Supporters

No, Trump supporters, you are not off the hook.  At first we thought you were just undereducated hillbillies who had been dazzled by a Reality TV star even more famous than Honey Boo Boo, but it turns out you aren’t all like that.  The most credible research to date indicates that you are largely composed of people with “Authoritarian” personalities. Authoritarianism is

a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.

Even some people who aren’t normally strongly authoritarian can have latent authoritarian tendencies manifest in times of physical danger or great social change, and today certainly fits the bill.  Islamic terrorists pop up in Paris or San Diego, killing random people.  The legal definition of marriage just changed by Supreme Court fiat.  More young people than ever are foregoing marriage, indicating a lack of respect for a social institution that has been a stabilizing force for thousands of years in cultures across the world.  I get it.

But let’s think about this for a minute.  Maybe I can give you a pass for believing the Donald when he makes outlandish promises without giving many details, but what about when he has given details, and those details are either absurd or abhorrent?  Like when he said he would solve our immigration problems by building a giant wall along our southern border, paid for by Mexico?  Or when he said he was going to round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants by… get this… tripling the number of immigrations and customs officers?  (Right now we deport significantly less than half a million people per year.)  These proposals are absurd to the point of idiocy.  What about when Trump said he would “broaden” the law to authorize the torture of terrorists?  Or when he said he would “temporarily” ban all 1.5 billion Muslims from entering the country, because some Muslims are terrorists?  These proposals are both morally abhorrent and would flagrantly violate the Constitution.  (Check out the First and Eighth Amendments.  Really.  Thomas Jefferson said the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment was put in there because “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions,” and if the Eighth Amendment doesn’t refer to torture when it bans “cruel and unusual punishment,” the phrase can’t really have any meaning.)   So no, I’m not giving you a pass for suspending all rational thought and moral principle just because you’re scared of terrorists and uncomfortable with recent social changes.  So am I.  So are a lot of people.  When times get tough, it’s time to grow a spine, you pansies.

You suck.

2. The Republican Establishment

Look, guys, I’m on your side in this particular fight.  That is, I think nominating Donald Trump would be a complete disaster for the Party.  But a lot of us saw a crack-up like this coming, even if we couldn’t imagine the form it would take.

Faced with a dwindling core demographic, the Party insiders and donors had a choice.  Either they could promote some softening of the Party platform to broaden the appeal, or they could stoke up “the base” and get out the vote.  They chose the latter, with the Tea Party becoming the inevitable result.  But going that route is always a tricky business.  In a two-party political system like ours, you can count on “the base” (i.e., the most extreme wing of the Party) not to vote for the other guys, but if they don’t see enough difference between the two parties, some of them won’t be motivated to vote at all, or they will scuttle your chances by running a third-party spoiler like Ralph Nader or Ross Perot.  This is always dangerous, because in my experience, “the base” in either party includes a disproportionate number of people who aren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the shed.  The trick the “Establishment” in either party has to pull off is to throw enough bones to the base to keep them coming out to vote, without making them feel particularly empowered.  Once you release the Kraken, it’s not so easy to put it back.

Over the last decade or three, the Republican platform slid from Conservative (i.e., taking a measured approach to government intervention and social change) toward a quasi-religious Libertarianism.  This type is so hyper-ideological that it rejects all compromise and creates all sorts of litmus tests for political candidates.  “Read my lips:  no new taxes” said George Bush Sr. in the 1988 presidential campaign.  Oh, he tried to keep his promise, but he didn’t have the support in Congress, so he had to compromise.  This was too much to take for some, and Pat Buchanan used this bludgeon to weaken Bush in the 1992 primaries.  Bush may have been stupid to handcuff himself like that, but by the 2012 race, most Republican congressional candidates didn’t have much choice when Grover Norquist strong-armed them into signing his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge“.  The fear of Tea Party backlash among the Republican presidential candidates was so strong that all eight of them promised they would not support a hypothetical deal that would address deficit spending with a 10-to-1 combination of spending cuts and tax increases.  In my opinion, that was one of the saddest moments in GOP history.  In what universe could the Republicans hope to get a more favorable deal and still address deficit spending?   By pandering to the Tea Party, the Republican establishment forced its candidates to go hard right into Fantasyland, or face a Tea Party challenger in the primaries.

The thing is, most Republicans aren’t that far to the political right.  Is it any wonder, after years of candidates who promise to do politically impossible things like address deficit spending without any tax increases, that many Republicans would be attracted by a candidate who mainly makes grandiose promises without giving any details?

You suck.

3. The Tea Party

Just because the Party establishment caused this mess by pandering to hyper-ideological nuts, it doesn’t excuse you for being those hyper-ideological nuts.

A case in point is how the GOP has handled the threat of human-caused climate change since the Tea Party all but took over.  Before that time, it was common for Republican lawmakers (like Newt Gingrich and John McCain) to acknowledge that we needed to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Why?  Because almost all the scientists who specialize in climate said so.  They still do.  And yet, for the past several years, it has been taboo for Republican candidates to express any desire to take action on this.

The reason  for this shift is that certain deep-pocketed individuals and corporations who depend on fossil fuel revenues started pouring an enormous amount of money into “think tanks” and “astroturf” political organizations who argued either that mainstream climate scientists were much more divided on the issue than the public had been led to believe, or it was all a big hoax meant to give the Left a chance to “take away our freedom.”  They found a willing audience in the Tea Party hordes.

I know, I know.  You are going to tell me that it REALLY IS all a hoax, and there REALLY IS no consensus, etc., etc.  There’s a simple way to pop that balloon, however.  Over the last several years, I can probably count on one hand the number of ACTUAL climate scientists the Republicans have asked to testify in Congressional hearings about climate change, whereas there has been a constant parade of different climate scientists testifying for the Democrats.  In fact, in some of those hearings, the only “expert witness” on climate science the Republicans called was Lord Christopher Monckton, who is not a scientist, claims to have cured AIDS and many other diseases, goes about falsely claiming to be a member of the UK Parliament, regularly threatens to sue or jail those who disagree with him, and much, much more.  The man is a loon.  A complete crackpot.  And yet, at one of the aforementioned Congressional hearings,  Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) referred to Monckton as “one of the most knowledgeable, if not the most knowledgeable, experts on the skeptic side.”  During the hearing Barton also said, “Adapting is a common way for people to adapt to their environment.”  I’m just throwing that out there.

So no, Tea Partiers, you don’t get a pass.  You and the fossil fuel interests who pay to stoke the flames of your idiocy are guilty of driving the GOP into a state of anti-intellectualism more blatant than has been seen in many decades.  Is it any wonder that a blowhard like Trump can so easily swoop in and co-opt a bunch of Republicans who aren’t as ideologically pure as you, but whom you have successfully convinced to ignore the experts?  Now Trump is telling them climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese.  Why not?  Who’s to say what’s right or wrong, what with space-age materials and such?

You suck.

4. Sneering Liberals

“False equivalence!  Hippie punching!” you screech.  Shut up.

I understand that Trump supporters themselves must take the lion’s share of the blame, and that conservatives have been giving you a lot of material for sneering, especially lately.  But I’m so sick of listening to you boil down complex social issues to pop-culture clichés, which are then unthinkingly accepted by slack-jawed teenagers.  You take the fact that the Right has become insular and anti-intellectual about some issues, and then just assume that this constitutes evidence against every aspect of Conservative thought.  Certainly it’s true that conservatives are more likely to be anti-intellectual, because the word “conservative” implies a certain resistance to new ideas.  However, liberals can be astonishingly obtuse about certain issues, as well.

Don’t take my word for it.  Read up on the work of Jon Haidt, a liberal psychology professor at NYU, who has for many years studied how liberals and conservatives differ in their reasoning about moral issues.  He has found that conservatives tend to be more adept at moral reasoning, both in the sense that their reasoning is more complex, and in the sense that they are more adept at understanding the reasoning of those with whom they disagree (liberals).  In other words, you really just don’t get it.

The fact is that there are legitimate reasons, having nothing to do with racism or sexism, to want to at least place some limitations on things like affirmative action policies or abortion.  And yet, every time someone pops their head up to argue from that kind of perspective, a horde of self-righteous Lefty zealots comes running to publicly shame them.  Oh, I’m sure people sometimes deserve to be publicly shamed, but the bar seems to be set pretty low.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people labeled racists, not because of what they said, but because of the hidden subtext that only other racists (and their liberal watchdogs) could hear.  I’m sure “dog-whistle politics” is a real thing, but the dog-whistle hunters can get awfully carried away.

You might be complaining that all those dog whistles you hear are REAL,  so where does Barry get off criticizing you for merely pointing them out?  He’s probably a racist!  But here’s the thing you don’t seem to understand.  If the end goal is a society free of individuals who harbor racist (or sexist, or whatever-ist) attitudes, endless nitpicking after basic non-discrimination laws have been put in place is usually counterproductive.  That is, even if you are right that some person harbors secret racist attitudes, they don’t want to be forced into admitting it, especially if they feel like they haven’t unfairly discriminated against anyone.  They will come to feel like they are the target of some kind of witch hunt, and may come to ignore more obviously legitimate criticisms.  Everybody hates a nag.

Honestly, do you think all those Trump supporters are overt racists and misogynists?  Clearly they are not, but then why does their support seem to be unaffected when Trump wants to ban all Muslim immigrants, has to think hard about whether to disavow the KKK, or viciously attacks women, disabled reporters, and so on?  I believe it’s because people like you have become so annoying that many others have become deaf to all complaints about racism, sexism, etc.

These people are even ready to ignore it when Trump brazenly ENCOURAGES violence against protesters at his rallies.  Why?  Because they are sick of you protesting so much.  I mean, some (not all) of the protesters in question have gone to Trump rallies specifically to cause disruptions.  Of course I see hints of Fascism in the violence Trump eggs on, but one thing I haven’t seen is Trump supporters trying to break up someone else’s meetings.  Hitler’s Brownshirts did just that.  So if we combine the violence of some Trump supporters with the determined opposition to free speech of the liberal protesters, we really do have a nice Fascist revival going on.  Thanks, guys.

Still not convinced that you are partly to blame?  Let me give you a concrete example that doesn’t have to do with Trump.  In 2009, Lord Christopher Monckton participated in a meeting held by Americans for Prosperity, in conjunction with the big climate change conference in Copenhagen.  During the meeting, some young activists crashed the meeting and tried to disrupt it by chanting.  Afterward, Monckton confronted some of them, and called them “Nazis” and “Hitler Youth”.  But, surprise!, one of the protesters was… (gasp!) … Jewish!  Liberal bloggers and news outlets seized on this incident.  At last, they had something so blatant that it would surely destroy Monckton’s credibility even with his supporters!  What kind of monster would call Jewish protesters “Hitler Youth”?  I am e-friends with many of these people because of my blog, and I tried to tell them this incident wouldn’t sway anyone.  Nobody can accuse me of being soft on Monckton, but even I thought His Worship was right about this one.  These idiots were behaving similarly to the Hitler Youth (minus the violence), and it was inexcusable.

“But they were trying to save the world from the likes of that evil climate change denier,” you object.  Of course they were.  Zealots of any stripe always are.  That doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to do anything you want in response to what someone else says.  And the fact is that you are never going to save the world from climate change without a whole lot of cooperation… which you will never get if even moderates like me are leery of the kind of tactics you use to get your way.

So yes, Trumpism is partly your fault, and you suck.

UPDATE:  Some of my liberal friends are upset that I broad brush liberalism here, whereas I tease out quite a bit of nuance among Republicans.  My reasoning is that if you are just a regular liberal, rather than the “sneering” variety, I don’t feel like I have any cause to blame you for Trumpism.

5.  Moderate Republicans

I’m a moderate Republican myself, so it might seem strange that I’m reserving some of the blame for my own group, but the fact is that many of us deserve it.  Moderates are all about compromise and getting along.  The world needs people like that, but that doesn’t give us an excuse for letting people get away with bringing sheer fantasy to the bargaining table.  Consider this excerpt from a 2011 story by Coral Davenport.

Sen. John Barrasso is no stranger to science. The Wyoming Republican is an orthopedic surgeon who earned his medical degree from Georgetown University. His rigorous intellect won him Washingtonian magazine’s designation last year as the “brainiest senator,” based on an anonymous survey of Capitol Hill staffers.

Which is why Barrasso’s reaction when a reporter recently asked his views on climate change was so telling. On his way to the weekly Senate GOP luncheon in the Capitol building, Barrasso paused in an empty hallway to chat. When a reporter said, “Senator, can I ask you a question about climate change?” he fell silent and his eyes narrowed. “I’m busy,” he snapped, before turning sharply and striding away.

Two days later, the reporter tried again. Approached in the Capitol, Barrasso smiled and appeared poised to answer questions, inviting the reporter into an elevator with him. As the door slid shut, the reporter asked, “Do you believe that climate change is causing the Earth to warm?” A long silence ensued. The senator eventually let out a slow laugh and said, “This isn’t the time to have that conversation.” As soon as the elevator opened, he clapped his phone to his ear and walked briskly toward the Capitol subway.

Dodging difficult issues because some of your voters don’t want to hear the truth is called being spineless, not moderate.

The discontent among non-Tea Party Republicans has been brewing for some time, and if more moderates had shown any real courage and conviction, we could have been leading the revolution.  But we haven’t, so instead it’s being led by a ridiculous fop, who can fool some people into thinking he’s a tough guy who will save the country from the legislative gridlock we have been experiencing.

We suck.

UPDATE:  Some of my friends point out that I left out the Media.  In fact, the omission was intentional, because I completely understand the media reaction.  What are they supposed to do when a major-party presidential frontrunner says and does outrageous and awful things?  Normally, that kind of attention would be the death-knell of the campaign, but this time it seemed to only increase Trump’s popularity.  The media didn’t anticipate this (why would they?), and were caught flat-footed.  I suppose I could go on about the death of real journalism, leading to a populace who thinks in soundbites, but that would make this piece much longer.





Posted by: Barry Bickmore | February 5, 2016

The Monckton Files: Threatwatch 3

Here’s the thing about making a career out of threatening people.  No matter how much time you put into it, there is just no way to threaten all the jerks who deserve it.  The only possible response for the truly committed threatener, therefore, is to move beyond the impotent moral outrage and organize!  Where separately they fail, an entire organization of threateners may create something that is more than the sum of its parts.  SYNERGY, people!!!!

And so, as Graham Readfearn reports on DeSmog Blog, Lord Christopher Monckton and a flock of his fellow purple-crested crackpots have founded the Independent Committee on Geoethics, which Monckton says was formed “to gather evidence of outright criminality on the part of the surprisingly small scientific clique that has until now got away with foisting its anti-scientific nonsense on just about all nations.”  You guessed it, they’re going to serve the authorities some steaming hot climatologist heads on silver platters.

No, wait!  This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds.  According to His Pomposity, “it will only be necessary for us to put two or three key fraudsters behind bars, whereupon all the rest will scuttle for cover and the climate scam will come to an abrupt, ignominious and unlamented end.”

It’s already happening.  His Eternal Bombast notes that the UN IPCC’s “dubious activities have already come to the attention of the Bureau de l’Escroquerie, the serious fraud office of Switzerland, where it is headquartered.”  You might be thinking that the Swiss authorities will probably just ignore the IGC, but His Grandiloquence assures us this cannot be.  “The members of the committee are eminent. Their combined scientific weight is considerable. It will simply not be possible for the public authorities to ignore them.”  (Seriously, you owe it to yourself to Google the people on the membership list.  You will be buried in a veritable avalanche of scientific eminence.  I mean it!  Their honorary president is Charles Darwin, who is… well, long dead… but undeniably eminent.)

So you can bank on it, dear readers.  At this very moment, the Swiss authorities probably have an entire team of investigators working around the clock to put away the fraudsters. And whatever happens, you can rest assured that this isn’t just another one of Monckton’s many impotent threats, which he has in the past lobbed indiscriminately upon both sworn enemies and Scottish passersby, apparently for the sole purpose of keeping me amused.  Speaking of which… here is the updated Threats section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.

Threatening Those Who Disagree With Him

1. Monckton has threatened to instigate academic misconduct investigations and/or libel suits against several professors who have exposed his misrepresentations.  The list so far includes Naomi Oreskes, John Abraham, and myself.  He has even threatened a libel suit against John Abraham.  UPDATE:  Monckton has now threatened to extend the libel suit to include Scott Mandia.  Here is Scott’s reply.  UPDATE:  John Abraham tells me that Monckton has threatened lawsuits against him several more times, and Monckton has also threatened me, once again.  He also wrote my university administration to tell them I was mentally imbalanced, and that I had been sending him “hate mail”.  Well, at least the second part is false. 😉  UPDATE:  Monckton keeps claiming (to others) on the Internet that he is going to sic his lawyers on me for Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet, but miraculously, I haven’t been contacted by his lawyers, either.

2. He tried to get Tony Press (U. Tasmania) fired.  UPDATE:  Monckton also lodged a complaint at a New Zealand university against professors Jonathan Boston, David Frame, and Jim Renwick for “academic fraud” and libel.  The university investigated the complaint, then blew it off.  But before the verdict was in, Monckton threatened to sic the police on the university if they were to… you know… blow him off.  I’m sure the police have an entire unit on the case as I write this.

3. When a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawrence Torcello, wrote an article saying it ought to be against the law to knowingly spread disinformation about climate change for profit, Monckton led the charge to send letters to the university administration asking for Torcello to be disciplined/fired because Torcello was allegedly attacking free speech and academic freedom.

4. The funny part about that last one is Monckton’s flagrant hypocrisy.  Not too long ago, he  threatened to have IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud (see #13 below) and whipped up an Australian crowd, chanting about having all the corrupt climate scientists jailed.

5. Now Monckton is even threatening his fellow climate contrarians (Leif Svalgaard and Willis Eschenbach) with lawsuits and trying to get them fired from academic jobs.  And he’s probably threatening to threaten me, again.  We’ll see.  UPDATE:  Svalgaard hasn’t heard back from Monckton.

6. He launched a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission in the UK against The Guardian because of a column George Monbiot wrote about Monckton’s antics.  The PCC threw out the complaint. In a bizarre twist, George Monbiot reported that someone claiming to be Monckton and using Monckton’s IP address had tried to edit his Wikipedia page to falsely claim that he had won a £50,000 settlement from The Guardian because of Monbiot’s article.

7. Monckton lobbed threats against Arthur Smith after Arthur objected that Monckton (and the Science and Public Policy Institute) had violated copyright.  Smith had written a rebuttal of one of Monckton’s articles, and was trying to get it published.  Monckton put the entire thing up on the web along with his comments, and altered the article to imply that Smith had written it at the behest of his employer, the American Physical Society, which was not true.  Arthur prevailed after threatening legal action, because he was clearly in the right.

8. John Mashey pointed out an instance where one contrarian had plagiarized from Monckton (and cited papers that had been challenged and withdrawn), and then Monckton turned around and praised the work.  When Richard Littlemore reported this, Monckton left a comment on the page saying that Mashey was “under investigation” for breaching “doctor-patient confidentiality,” and that he was guilty of “interfering in an unlawful manner on the blogosphere.”  To this day, I don’t think anyone has any idea what Monckton was talking about.

9. George Monbiot chronicled how Monckton has threatened several times to sue The Guardian for libel.  The U.K. has libel laws that are absurdly in favor of plaintiffs, and yet, these lawsuits have never materialized.

10. Senators John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe wrote an open letter to Exxon-Mobile, urging them to stop funding climate-contrarian “think-tanks,” whose tactics resemble those of the tobacco industry, Lord Monckton wrote an open letter to the senators, in which he said, “In the circumstances, your comparison of Exxon’s funding of sceptical scientists and groups with the former antics of the tobacco industry is unjustifiable and unworthy of any credible elected representatives. Either withdraw that monstrous comparison forthwith, or resign so as not to pollute the office you hold.”  Ok, so this isn’t really a threat, but Monckton’s language is so bombastic and filled with fake moral outrage that it almost feels like a threat.  I should note that 1) in his letter, Monckton falsely claimed to be a member of Parliament, and 2) Naomi Oreskes, a prominent science historian, and Erik Conway, have shown that not only do the most prominent organizations fighting mainstream climate science follow the same playbook as the tobacco industry, but it’s often the SAME organizations and people doing the fighting on both fronts!

11. Monckton launched yet another complaint to the Press Complaints Commission against New Scientist magazine, which had the temerity to point out that Monckton’s article on climate sensitivity in an American Physical Society newsletter was not peer-reviewed, among other things.  Of course, the editor had specifically noted that the newsletter is not a peer-reviewed publication, but Monckton said he had the article critiqued by a “Professor of Physics,” i.e., someone who isn’t a climate specialist.   The complaint was not upheld.

12. His Lordship complained to Ofcom, the British regulator for TV and radio programming, that he had been unfairly treated by the producers of the BBC documentary, Earth:  The Climate Wars.  Ofcom found that the show’s producers should have given more information to Monckton upfront about the nature of the program (even though Monckton expressed familiarity with how the BBC had covered the issue in the past.)  However, they found that the lack of informed consent did not result in any misrepresentation of Monckton’s views by unfair editing.  The complaint summary linked above is a fascinating read, if you have about 15 minutes.

13. Monckton threatened to have IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud because he used an IPCC graph that turns out to be correct, but misleading.  In his letter to Pachauri, however, His Lordship used a temperature graph that had already been shown by several scientists to be blatantly fabricated.  I’m sure Monckton is on his way to Scotland Yard right now to give himself up.

14. The BBC aired a documentary called “Meet the Climate Sceptics” which apparently focused largely on Lord Monckton.  (Click here to see the trailer.)  In fact Monckton unsuccessfully attempted to have the courts stop the BBC from airing it unless they allowed him to insert a 3 minute video rebuttal into the program.

15. The ABC (Australia) aired a rather stunning gutting of Monckton and his crowd.  Journalist Wendy Carlisle brought up several instances where Monckton’s sources contradicted him, the fact that he falsely claims to be a member of Parliament, his miracle cure-all, and more.  So of course, Monckton threatened to sue unless given airtime to reply.  They blew him off, and Monckton filed a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, but the ACMA found that the ABC report did not violate its standards for impartiality and factual accuracy.

16. Monckton threatened to have Al Gore jailed when Gore gave a speech in Gibraltar .  “If you come to any British territory and you talk the rubbish you’ve been talking elsewhere, then you will be arrested and prosecuted.”

17. The Gibraltar Chronicle printed a redacted version of a letter Monckton wrote.  When Monckton’s PR guy threatened them with legal action unless they printed an unredacted version, the Chronicle told them to shove off, because the parts they took out were probably libelous.  The Chronicle article about the bullying incident seems to have been taken down, now, but I have a PDF copy.)

18. Monckton threatened William Connolley and Kevin O’Neill for suggesting that he created a graph that was included (and referenced) in a newspaper article written by His Lordship.  Then he threatened the proprietors of the VisionLearning site, which also made the same attribution.

19. His Lordship told random Scots that he would have them jailed for racism when they yelled, “Go back to England” at him as he preached against Scottish independence.

21. Monckton issued thinly veiled threats to send Peter Sinclair to jail for FRAUD!!!! because of a perfectly reasonable video Peter made about satellite temperature series.

22. Now Monckton has helped found an entire organization with the goal of jailing those nasty climatologists.  Really.



Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 20, 2016

The Monckton Files: Threatwatch 2

Your humble correspondent must report yet ANOTHER bombastic threat issuing forth from the ever-dependable Lord Christopher Monckton.  This time, the unlucky recipient is Peter Sinclair, creator of the video I publicized in my last post about how the scientist responsible for producing the RSS satellite temperature data, upon which Senator Ted Cruz pins all his climate hopes, doesn’t agree with Senator Ted’s interpretations of said data.

But first, a brief, nostalgic walk down memory lane.  Following is the current version of the “Threatening Those Who Disagree With Him” section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.

  1. Monckton has threatened to instigate academic misconduct investigations and/or libel suits against several professors who have exposed his misrepresentations.  The list so far includes Naomi Oreskes, John Abraham, and myself.  He has even threatened a libel suit against John Abraham.  UPDATE:  Monckton has now threatened to extend the libel suit to include Scott Mandia.  Here is Scott’s reply.  UPDATE:  John Abraham tells me that Monckton has threatened lawsuits against him several more times, and Monckton has also threatened me, once again.  He also wrote my university administration to tell them I was mentally imbalanced, and that I had been sending him “hate mail”.  Well, at least the second part is false. 😉  UPDATE:  He also tried to get Tony Press (U. Tasmania) fired.  UPDATE:  Monckton also lodged a complaint at a New Zealand university against professors Jonathan Boston, David Frame, and Jim Renwick for “academic fraud” and libel.  The university investigated the complaint, then blew it off.  But before the verdict was in, Monckton threatened to sic the police on the university if they were to… you know… blow him off.  I’m sure the police have an entire unit on the case as I write this.  UPDATE:  When a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawrence Torcello, wrote an article saying it ought to be against the law to knowingly spread disinformation about climate change for profit, Monckton led the charge to send letters to the university administration asking for Torcello to be disciplined/fired because Torcello was allegedly attacking free speech and academic freedom.  The funny part about this one is Monckton’s flagrant hypocrisy.  Not too long ago, he  threatened to have IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud (see #9 below) and whipped up an Australian crowd, chanting about having all the corrupt climate scientists jailed.  UPDATE:  Now Monckton is even threatening his fellow climate contrarians (Leif Svalgaard and Willis Eschenbach) with lawsuits and trying to get them fired from academic jobs.  And he’s probably threatening to threaten me, again.  We’ll see.  UPDATE:  Svalgaard hasn’t heard back from Monckton.  In fact, Monckton keeps claiming (to others) on the Internet that he is going to sic his lawyers on me for Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet, but miraculously, I haven’t been contacted by his lawyers, either.
  2. He launched a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission in the UK against The Guardian because of a column George Monbiot wrote about Monckton’s antics.  The PCC threw out the complaint. In a bizarre twist, George Monbiot reported that someone claiming to be Monckton and using Monckton’s IP address had tried to edit his Wikipedia page to falsely claim that he had won a £50,000 settlement from The Guardian because of Monbiot’s article.
  3. Monckton lobbed threats against Arthur Smith after Arthur objected that Monckton (and the Science and Public Policy Institute) had violated copyright.  Smith had written a rebuttal of one of Monckton’s articles, and was trying to get it published.  Monckton put the entire thing up on the web along with his comments, and altered the article to imply that Smith had written it at the behest of his employer, the American Physical Society, which was not true.  Arthur prevailed after threatening legal action, because he was clearly in the right.
  4. John Mashey pointed out an instance where one contrarian had plagiarized from Monckton (and cited papers that had been challenged and withdrawn), and then Monckton turned around and praised the work.  When Richard Littlemore reported this, Monckton left a comment on the page saying that Mashey was “under investigation” for breaching “doctor-patient confidentiality,” and that he was guilty of “interfering in an unlawful manner on the blogosphere.”  To this day, I don’t think anyone has any idea what Monckton was talking about.
  5. George Monbiot chronicled how Monckton has threatened several times to sue The Guardian for libel.  The U.K. has libel laws that are absurdly in favor of plaintiffs, and yet, these lawsuits have never materialized.
  6. Senators John Rockefeller and Olympia Snowe wrote an open letter to Exxon-Mobile, urging them to stop funding climate-contrarian “think-tanks,” whose tactics resemble those of the tobacco industry, Lord Monckton wrote an open letter to the senators, in which he said, “In the circumstances, your comparison of Exxon’s funding of sceptical scientists and groups with the former antics of the tobacco industry is unjustifiable and unworthy of any credible elected representatives. Either withdraw that monstrous comparison forthwith, or resign so as not to pollute the office you hold.”  Ok, so this isn’t really a threat, but Monckton’s language is so bombastic and filled with fake moral outrage that it almost feels like a threat.  I should note that 1) in his letter, Monckton falsely claimed to be a member of Parliament, and 2) Naomi Oreskes, a prominent science historian, and Erik Conway, have shown that not only do the most prominent organizations fighting mainstream climate science follow the same playbook as the tobacco industry, but it’s often the SAME organizations and people doing the fighting on both fronts!
  7. Monckton launched yet another complaint to the Press Complaints Commission against New Scientist magazine, which had the temerity to point out that Monckton’s article on climate sensitivity in an American Physical Society newsletter was not peer-reviewed, among other things.  Of course, the editor had specifically noted that the newsletter is not a peer-reviewed publication, but Monckton said he had the article critiqued by a “Professor of Physics,” i.e., someone who isn’t a climate specialist.   The complaint was not upheld.
  8. His Lordship complained to Ofcom, the British regulator for TV and radio programming, that he had been unfairly treated by the producers of the BBC documentary, Earth:  The Climate Wars.  Ofcom found that the show’s producers should have given more information to Monckton upfront about the nature of the program (even though Monckton expressed familiarity with how the BBC had covered the issue in the past.)  However, they found that the lack of informed consent did not result in any misrepresentation of Monckton’s views by unfair editing.  The complaint summary linked above is a fascinating read, if you have about 15 minutes.
  9. Monckton threatened to have IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud because he used an IPCC graph that turns out to be correct, but misleading.  In his letter to Pachauri, however, His Lordship used a temperature graph that had already been shown by several scientists to be blatantly fabricated.  I’m sure Monckton is on his way to Scotland Yard right now to give himself up.
  10. The BBC aired a documentary called “Meet the Climate Sceptics” which apparently focused largely on Lord Monckton.  (Click here to see the trailer.)  In fact Monckton unsuccessfully attempted to have the courts stop the BBC from airing it unless they allowed him to insert a 3 minute video rebuttal into the program.
  11. The ABC (Australia) aired a rather stunning gutting of Monckton and his crowd.  Journalist Wendy Carlisle brought up several instances where Monckton’s sources contradicted him, the fact that he falsely claims to be a member of Parliament, his miracle cure-all, and more.  So of course, Monckton threatened to sue unless given airtime to reply.  They blew him off, and Monckton filed a complaint with the Australian Communications and Media Authority, but the ACMA found that the ABC report did not violate its standards for impartiality and factual accuracy.
  12. Monckton threatened to have Al Gore jailed when Gore gave a speech in Gibraltar .  “If you come to any British territory and you talk the rubbish you’ve been talking elsewhere, then you will be arrested and prosecuted.”
  13. The Gibraltar Chronicle printed a redacted version of a letter Monckton wrote.  When Monckton’s PR guy threatened them with legal action unless they printed an unredacted version, the Chronicle told them to shove off, because the parts they took out were probably libelous.  The Chronicle article about the bullying incident seems to have been taken down, now, but I have a PDF copy.)
  14. Monckton threatened William Connolley and Kevin O’Neill for suggesting that he created a graph that was included (and referenced) in a newspaper article written by His Lordship.  Then he threatened the proprietors of the VisionLearning site, which also made the same attribution.
  15. His Lordship told random Scots that he would have them jailed for racism when they yelled, “Go back to England” at him as he preached against Scottish independence.

This time, His Benificence takes issue–nay, 20 issues!!!– with Peter Sinclair’s video in a recent post on Watt’s Up With That?, a website that will publish literally anything that contradicts the consensus scientific view on climate change.  I don’t have time to bother with all 20 issues, but suffice it to say they are stupid.  For example, Monckton complains:

that the video deploys a device used by the IPCC and by the Met Office, displaying global temperature in decadal blocks, though the decadal blocks were calculated to conceal the absence of global warming over much of the past two decades, while the full HadCRUT4 dataset clearly shows the recent slowdown in global warming:


Uh, yeah.  The choice of decadal blocks… such as “the 1950s” and “the 2000s”… was carefully “calculated to conceal the absence of global warming over much of the last two decades”.  You know, because if the selection of decadal blocks weren’t carefully “calculated,” they would have chosen more natural decadal blocks, like April 23, 2003 through April 22, 2013, or some such.  Only some kind of evil genius would think to look at decadal blocks like “the 1990s.”

FRAUD!  That’s the only reasonable explanation!  So, of course, the perpetrators will be going to JAIL!!!  Or at least they would be, if that nasty Obama administration didn’t give the fraudsters a free pass!  I give you His Indefatigability, Christopher Monckton.

The perpetrators of the offending video are, so they think, so well protected by the current U.S. Administration’s prejudice on the climate question that they can get away with a campaign of multiple, wilful, mutually reinforcing and no doubt profitable deceptions on this monstrous scale with impunity, to the detriment not only of the truth but also of two diligent and hard-working scientists.

Without saying anything more in public at this stage, we shall see. In the meantime, readers may care to recall the terms of 18 U.S. Criminal Code §1343 (wire fraud):

“Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

But don’t give up hope, fellow Patriots!  The first comment on Monckton’s post, by one Alan Robertson, reveals a ray of hope.

That last bit about prosecution… in a little more than 1 year from now, the US will have a new administration. The current administration will not prosecute members of it’s own team, no matter the offense. There is timing in everything.

Yes, Peter… the Sword of Damocles may not have fallen, but it’s there, hanging by a single hair of a horse’s tail.

P.S.  No, really.  Satellite temperature measurements are not the gold standard.  Let climatologist Andrew Dessler, Ph.D., explain why in Peter Sinclair’s new video.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 13, 2016

Ted Cruz Pwned by Satellite Expert

Ted Cruz’s claims about satellite temperature data are dismissed by the scientist in charge of producing the data in question. I hereby make a DARING PREDICTION.  I predict that Ted Cruz will completely ignore the fact that Dr. Mears thinks he is misinterpreting his data.  Because Ted Cruz.

Pwn /pōn/ (verb, slang):  to appropriate or to conquer to gain ownership. The term implies domination or humiliation of a rival, used primarily in the Internet-based video game culture to taunt an opponent who has just been soundly defeated (e.g., “You just got pwned!”).

Last month, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) held a joint hearing of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (chaired by Smith) and the Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness (run by Cruz).  During the hearing, Senator Cruz pounded on his favorite climate-related theme:  the SATELLITE data show “no significant warming” for 18 YEARS!!!!  SATELLITE data!!!!  This had previously been brought up by one of the witnesses for the Republicans, Prof. John Christy (University of Alabama, Huntsville).

This resulted in an interesting exchange between Cruz and the sole witness for the Democrats, former Navy rear Admiral David Titley.  (Titley was the chief oceanographer for the U.S. Navy, and now is Professor of Meteorology at Penn State.)  Admiral Titley first mentioned that Cruz’s interpretation of the data was dependent on statistical cherry-picking (i.e., starting the analysis that just happens to be during a massive El Niño event), and later mentioned some general problems with satellite temperature readings, in general.  (For instance, it’s hard to completely separate out microwave radiation coming to the satellite from the troposphere, the layer of the atmosphere nearest the ground that has been warming, and the stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere above the troposphere, which has been cooling.)  He went on to mention that Prof. Christy, who is head of a unit that collects one set of satellite temperature data, had botched his interpretation of the satellite data something like four times in the past, and had to revise his temperature trend estimates upward every time.  But Cruz had an answer for that!  The data he was using was not Prof. Christy’s.  In fact, it was the satellite temperature data put out by Remote Sensing Systems.  You can watch the entire exchange here.

Well, Peter Sinclair from the Yale Climate Forum, just produced a video called “How Reliable are Satellite Temperatures?”, in which a number of well known climatologists explain why satellite temperature data isn’t really the “gold standard” that everything else needs to be compared with.  One of those scientists was Carl Mears, Ph.D., who is in charge of producing the RSS data set.  Apparently, Ted Cruz never had anyone on his staff give Dr. Mears a call to see what he thought of his own data.  Check out the video here:

This is reminiscent of “L’Affaire Pinker”, in which Tim Lambert caught Lord Christopher Monckton badly misinterpreting data he got from one Dr. Rachel Pinker.  Lambert had actually bothered to ask Dr. Pinker what she thought of Monckton’s interpretations, and was able to confront Monckton with her response during a live debate.

I hereby make a DARING PREDICTION.  I predict that Ted Cruz will completely ignore the fact that Dr. Mears thinks he is misinterpreting his data.  Because Ted Cruz.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | September 1, 2015

No, the Hockey Stick Has Not Been Falsified

I hear a lot from commenters who come here from Mark Steyn’s site that the Hockey Stick has been “falsified”.  As Dave Appell points out, the proper response is to ask which one, of the ~36 Hockey Sticks that have been produced so far, are they talking about?

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | June 22, 2015

Mark Steyn’s Genius Legal Gambit

“Who’s to say what’s right or wrong, when your IQ could easily be the losing team’s score in a baseball game?”

In previous posts, your humble correspondent has noted that Mark Steyn and the other defendants in the Mann v. National Review et al. libel case are in a somewhat difficult position.  The easiest way to get out from under the lawsuit would be to issue a correction with appropriate weasel words added, but that would completely undermine the defendants in the eyes of the people who pay their bills–a bunch of Libertarian conspiracy nuts.  Therefore, the defendants have to act like this is some landmark free speech case to keep the money rolling in.  Another option is to claim their accusations against Mann were actually true, but that’s a long shot, given that the scientific work the defendants accused Mann of intentionally faking has repeatedly been confirmed by other scientists.  I also suggested the defense of “Invincible Ignorance,” meaning that the defendants would claim they did not know their accusations were false, and they are so stupid that no argument could possibly convince them otherwise.  In Steyn’s case, at least, I thought this unorthodox strategy might have some tiny chance of succeeding (especially if the jury happens to be packed with Catholic Theologians), because he apparently used to think the Hockey Stick was a climate model that made predictions of the future, rather than a paleotemperature reconstruction.  However, such a strategy would run the risk of alienating the rubes who are Steyn’s bread and butter, once again.  What to do?

Mark Steyn’s genius solution is to put forward arguments that will appear to the rubes to be supporting the truthfulness of the defendants’ accusations against Mann, while in reality, the arguments are so idiotic that any reasonable judge and jury would conclude that Steyn cannot be held accountable for his actions.  Who’s to say what’s right or wrong, when your IQ could easily be the losing team’s score in a baseball game?

To wit, Steyn has announced that he will be self-publishing a book full of quotations by various scientists about what a twit Michael Mann is, and what a disgraceful mess Mann’s Hockey Stick reconstruction was, and what a load of damage all this has done to the noble cause of Science.  The title of the book will be “A Disgrace To The Profession”  The World’s Scientists, In Their Own Words, On Michael E Mann, His Hockey Stick And Their Damage To Science.  We don’t know everything that will be included in this literary tour de force, but you can rest assured that it will be a bombshell, because Steyn has provided us with three of the juiciest quotations.  Greg Laden has now ferreted out the sources of these quotations, and concluded that one is from a legitimate contrarian (who happens not to specialize in anything to do with climate studies), another is from a climate scientist who was a co-author of one of the main studies that support Mann’s original Hockey Stick, and another from a climate scientist who had some problems with Mann’s original methods, but does not think those problems amounted to much, and has since co-authored a paper with Mann.

Now, you might think it astonishingly stupid for Steyn, in the midst of his defense against a libel suit by Mann, to publish a book full of quotations attacking Mann and his work, gleaned from a bunch of non-experts and out-of-context comments by experts who actually think the Hockey Stick is pretty accurate.  But you would be wrong.  First, even if Steyn loses the lawsuit, the rubes might well buy enough copies of the book to cover any eventual legal bills and judgement.  Second, Steyn will look like a hero to the rubes no matter what, as long as he never lets on that he might be a teensy bit in the wrong.  Third, you never know, some jury might be stupid enough to buy the defense.  And finally, a jury might let Steyn off the hook out of pity, inferring that he doesn’t have the intelligence to be considered culpable for his actions.

Yes, my friends, Mark Steyn is a gamblin’ man, and he has a foolproof system.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | March 15, 2015

“Merchants of Doubt” for Mormons

I wrote another op-ed for my local paper, the Daily Herald.  The headline is misleading, but it is essentially a plug for the movie and book, Merchants of Doubt.

One reason I love the Internet is because it makes room for more snark.  Clever satire and lampooning can sometimes be more effective than anything for getting people to stop digging in their heels and do the right thing.  Snarky commentary becomes a loathsome freak show, however, when the intransigently ignorant try it, and unfortunately, that’s the way I see Conservative political commentary moving, whether it’s amateur or professional.  (I’m a Republican myself, so I take no joy in saying this.)

Take, for instance, some of the amateur commentary on a post a friend of mine shared on Facebook the other day.  He linked a conservative political commentary lauding Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent speech to Congress, in which he criticized the Obama Administration.  Whatever.  But then the ultra-conservative lackwits had to start chiming in with “snarky” comments about how we should elect Netanyahu as President, because apparently we don’t pay any attention to where candidates were born, anymore.  Such comments would be super witty if, for instance, there hadn’t been birth announcements for Obama in a couple Honolulu papers, and if the standard legal interpretation of the constitutional requirement that the President be a “natural-born citizen” were not that one just has to be a citizen by birth–like Barack Obama, wherever he was born.

The amateurs are usually just parroting things they’ve heard from the professionals–people like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Mark Steyn, and–because he has one of those posh-sounding British accents–James Delingpole.  The other day, Delingpole wrote a “snarky” piece attacking a new BBC documentary about climate change.  The title of the piece, “‘Climate Change is Real Because Shut Up!’ Explains the BBC. Again,” signals the snarky intent, but the content is nothing but adolescent drivel.

Here’s an excerpt.

Its arguments went something like this: climate change is real because nice, smiley girl with red hair; climate change is real because maths; climate change is real because potted history of US sea captain who standardised methods for measuring water temperature; climate change is real because Tottenham Hotspur; etc. With these ingenious distractions, it effortlessly swerved contentious issues such as the fact that the entire 20th-century temperature record has been subjected to unexplained — and probably unjustifiable — adjustments. I wonder what percentage of its presumably tiny audience it convinced.

Well, I could object that Delingpole’s point about adjustments to the temperature record are idiotic, and that people who actually do spatial and temporal statistical analyses think such adjustments are necessary, which is why all the different groups of scientists who work on this problem come up with about the same answers.  But that would miss Delingpole’s main point!  Namely, the BBC program is stupid because it uses the dreaded “Appeal to Authority.”  And as any snot-nosed 10th grader can tell you, that’s a “Logical Fallacy“!!!

Do I realise that the woman I have so peremptorily dismissed as “nice, smiley girl with red hair” is in fact none other than Dr Hannah Fry, a mathematician from University College, London?

Well yes. I thought I’d covered that particular Appeal To Authority, more or less, in the sentence which said “climate change is real because maths.” Had there been space, I suppose, I could have added “climate change is real because doctorate” and “climate change is real because University College, London.” But I’m not sure it would have added a great deal to the point I was trying to make.

“What’s wrong with pointing out a fallacious argument?” you might ask… if you are particularly dense.  The thing is, as I have pointed out before, a logical fallacy is simply an argument that doesn’t necessarily follow from the premises, but it may still be a reasonable argument.  Here’s a quick example of a fallacious Appeal to Authority.

Premise 1:  My doctor says I should lose weight.

Premise 2:  Doctors are healthcare experts.

Conclusion:  Therefore, I should lose weight.

Now, are doctors infallible when it comes to healthcare recommendations? Of course not, and therefore this is a fallacious appeal to authority.  But is it a stupid argument?  “Of course it is,” answers Aunt Matilda, as she tries to smear urine on your face to cure your acne.  You know perfectly well it isn’t a stupid argument, though, right?

Here’s why.  When we are talking about ANY complex scientific (or other) topic, there is simply no practical way around using some appeals to authority.  Suppose I were to write a paper about some scientific topic.  Certainly I would try to make a solid argument, but I would typically cite any number of other peer-reviewed sources for most of my claims.  Wouldn’t I just be appealing to the authority of the authors of those sources, in such cases?  Obviously, but what other choice do I have?  Am I supposed to redo all those experiments and observations, program my own models, etc., etc.?  Who has time for that?  And what about my audience?  Are they supposed to just take my word for it?  Are they supposed to take the word of the sources I cite?  Checking things for yourself is GREAT, and I advocate it strongly!  However, NOBODY has the time to check every single detail of the arguments surrounding a complex topic like climate change, so all we can do is spot check.

That’s what I’ve tried to do.  I’m and Earth scientist to begin with, so I have a good deal of background knowledge to help me, but I’ve also gone ahead and read quite a bit of peer-reviewed literature about the subject, and I’ve even read a lot of contrarian literature.  What’s more, I’ve even bothered to pick apart and reproduce some of the work of prominent contrarians like Roy Spencer, and I’ve even published a couple peer-reviewed papers about climate-related topics.  That was an awful lot of work, and yet I still have to rely on others for much of my information.

The bottom line is that the only way around appeals to authority is an enormous amount of work, and no matter how much work you do, you will never be able to completely get rid of them.  And that’s why appeals to authority aren’t ridiculous, even though they aren’t necessarily right.  We appeal to experts precisely BECAUSE they have put in an enormous amount of work, and have to appeal to authority less than the rest of us.

Hmmmm, that brings up a good question.  How much work has James Delingpole done, so that he feels comfortable mocking the consensus of almost all the climate change experts?  Let’s answer that question via an interview the BBC aired, in which Sir Paul Nurse, a scientist and the head of the Royal Society, asked this very thing of Delingpole.  Here’s a partial transcript, and you can see the video below.

Paul Nurse: Consensus can be used like a dirty word. Consensus is actually the position of the experts at the time, and if it’s working well, and it doesn’t always work well, but if it’s working well they evaluate the evidence. You make your reputation in science by actually overturning that. So there’s a lot of pressure to do it. But if over the years the consensus doesn’t move, you have to wonder is the argument, is the evidence against the consensus good enough?

James Delingpole: Science has never been about consensus, and this is I think one of the most despicable things about Al Gore’s so-called consensus. Consensus is not science.

Paul Nurse: I want to give an analogy in a different situation. Say you had cancer and you went to be treated. There would be a consensual position on your treatment, and it is very likely that you would follow that consensual treatment because you would trust the clinical scientists there. The analogy is that you could say, well, I’ve done my research into it and I disagree with that consensual position, but that would be a very unusual position for you to take. And I think sometimes the consensual position can be criticised when in fact it is most likely to be the correct position.

James Delingpole: Yes. Shall we talk about climategate because I don’t accept your analogy really, I think it’s very easy to caricature the position of climate change sceptics as the sort of people who don’t look left and right when crossing the road or who think that the quack cure that they’ve invented for cancer is just as valid as the one chosen by the medical establishment. I think it is something altogether different and I do slightly resent the way that you are bringing in that analogy.

Later, Nurse asked Delingpole about where he was getting his information.  Turns out it isn’t from the scientific literature.

James Delingpole:  It is not my job to sit down and read peer-reviewed papers because  I simply haven’t got the time, I haven’t  the scientific expertise. What I rely on is people who have got the time and the expertise to do it and write about it  and interpret it. I am an interpreter of interpretations.

So there you have it.  James Delingpole can mock the BBC for referencing the consensus of almost all the climate change experts because it’s an “Appeal to Authority,” but when push comes to shove, he admits that he doesn’t have the background knowledge to assess the evidence for himself.  All he can do is substitute the authority of people who are… not… almost all the experts.

In my opinion, this is another sad demonstration that people like Delingpole should get out of the snark business.  Snarkiness ends up being a complete train wreck when used by someone who refuses to do the necessary work to understand anything at all about what he’s yammering.  Sorry, James, but being an obnoxious windbag does’t make you H. L. Mencken.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | October 11, 2014

The Monckton Files: Vote for Monckton!!!

At last, a candidate I can really get behind! There is an interesting site called Quora, on which people ask all sorts of questions, other people answer, and readers vote on the best answer. Sometimes these are pretty fun to read. One question that was posted was, “What are some examples of experts who in the end were not real experts?” I noted that one of the responders had nominated Lord Monckton, but I didn’t really feel that his answer was as comprehensive and well documented as it could have been, so I decided to post my own.

Dear Readers, if not now, when?  If not us, who?

Click here, and UPVOTE my answer at the bottom! As you can imagine, Monckton has a lot of competition, but honestly, who can compare to His Veracity? Have the others been invited to testify to Congress as a climate science expert on multiple occasions, while pretending to be members of Parliament?  I think not. Okay, okay, if you really want to see all the other answers, click here.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | September 15, 2014

The Monckton Files: Hypocrisplosion, Islamophobe Style

That Beacon of Freedom, His Supreme Sagacity, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, is now telling the “Patriots” who read World Net Daily that portions of the Koran (the ones that talk about killing infidels) should be outlawed in the USA.

Craven public authorities have failed to act against the circulation of the Quran in its present form because they fear a violent backlash.

How, then, is this manifestly illegal text to be dealt with? It is not our custom to ban books, for freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Constitution.

However, it is our custom to prosecute for incitement to murder. And the fact that incitement is on every page of what is said to be a holy book does not diminish, still less extinguish, the offense.

A bill should be brought before Congress identifying all passages in the Quran which, whether in isolation or taken together, constitute incitement to murder.

The bill should specify that anyone who reads any of these passages out loud is to be charged with that crime and, if convicted, subjected to the usual penalty for it – a long prison term.

The bill should state that, after a grace period of a year, every copy of the Quran must clearly identify by emboldened and different-colored text the passages that constitute criminal incitement to murder, together with a clearly printed warning on the first page that reading any of these passages out loud anywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States may result in prosecution.

But as David Ferguson points out at RawStory, what’s sauce for the Koran is sauce for the Bible.

Monckton cited several passages of the Koran that he says call for the murder of nonbelievers, but failed to include the portions of the Christian Bible that call for the execution of homosexual men (Leviticus 20:13), the stoning death of adulterous women (Luke 16:18) and the killing of “sorceresses” (Exodus 22:17), blasphemers (Leviticus 24:10), and whole cities if they follow other religions (Deuteronomy 13:13-19).

If you are at all surprised by this stunning display of hypocrisy, hark back to the following excerpt from Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.

When a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Lawrence Torcello, wrote an article saying it ought to be against the law to knowingly spread disinformation about climate change for profit, Monckton led the charge to send letters to the university administration asking for Torcello to be disciplined/fired because Torcello was allegedly attacking free speech and academic freedom.  The funny part about this one is Monckton’s flagrant hypocrisy.  Not too long ago, he  threatened to have IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri jailed for fraud (see #9 below) and whipped up an Australian crowd, chanting about having all the corrupt climate scientists jailed.

As always, I’m waiting to see how long it takes for Moncktonites like Anthony Watts and Dick Lindzen to start trying to distance themselves from His Supreme Sagacity.  In the meantime, I offer you the (soon to be updated) “Being An All-Purpose Extremist” section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet.

1. It’s a good thing Monckton has developed a cure for AIDS!  In 1987 he suggested rounding up all AIDS-sufferers and isolating them for life.  Since nobody took his sage advice, he later acknowledged that the problem had gotten too big for his suggestion to be feasible.

2. Monckton suggested it might be a good idea to require scientists to have some kind of religious certification before being allowed to practice in a field like climatology.  You know, because scientists are a pack of atheists who think lying is ok.

3. Monckton claimed that, as a member of Margaret Thatcher’s policy unit, he suggested spiking the Argentines’ water supplies with a “mild bacillus” so the British troops could more easily win the Falklands War.  He said he believed Thatcher had followed his advice, even though this would clearly have been a violation of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | September 15, 2014

A Republican Scientist Explains Why Coal Is Expensive

My local newspaper is the Daily Herald, in Provo, Utah, and it has always been about as right-wing as a paper with a circulation above 1,000 can get.  After all, Utah County (Provo is the county seat) holds the title as the Reddest County in the Reddest State.  (I recently found out that I live in the Reddest Legislative District of the Reddest County of the Reddest State.)  I had a long-standing e-mail feud going with the previous editors, who would print all sorts of anti-science nonsense about climate change, and even claimed to read the mind of a scientist so they could tell that he really meant the opposite of what he said.  Yes, mind reading.  (See here, here, here, and here for follow-up posts.)

Well, happy day, the editors got fired, and now some non-wack-jobs are in charge.  Oh, it’s still a right-wing paper, as one might surmise by perusing the weekly “Get it Right” column by Pamela Openshaw, who is an elderly lady that really, Really, REALLY loves the Constitution, as it was originally intended to be interpreted by the John Birch Society.  But at least the present editors genuinely try to allow some alternative points of view.  For example, they recently published an op-ed by an alfalfa farmer called “If You Eat, You Care About Climate Change”.  They also published one by my friend Don Jarvis about how Utah needs to adopt the new Tier 3 gasoline standards to make a big, but inexpensive, dent in our air quality problems.  When Pam Openshaw started talking about the Green-Commie Conspiracy, they published an op-ed I wrote in rebuttal called, “Real Conservatives are Conservationists”.   When Pam Openshaw wrote another column of rambling nonsense that I think was supposed to be a response to mine, I asked the new editor (David Kennard) if he would let me do another rebuttal.  He said that he doesn’t usually publish opinion pieces by the same person that often, but he offered me an open slot in their “Opinion Shaper” series, which means I get to do a series of op-eds once per quarter.  It turns out that Don Jarvis is an “Opinion Shaper” writer, as well.

For my first “Opinion Shaper” column, I wrote an article called “Clean Air Should Be Everyone’s Priority” (I don’t pick the headlines, but this one was ok), in which I explained the concept of “external costs”.  The point is that fuels like lower-tier gasoline and coal are only “cheaper” than the alternatives because some of the costs are not paid at the gas pump or in your power bill.  Health costs caused by pollution are paid by everyone, so isn’t it reasonable, fair, and Conservative to demand that people pay the cost if they decide to pollute?

Please share this with your Conservative friends and families.  I want to bring a lot of clicks to the Herald so they will continue letting reasonable people have a voice there.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | August 19, 2014

The Monckton Files: Threatwatch 1

One of the truly amusing facets of being a Monckton-o-phile like myself is watching His Lordship veritably explode in a barrage of bombastic threats when he is cornered… or even when he’s passing random people on the street. For your amusement, and to keep the “Threatening Those Who Disagree With Him” section of Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet current, I give you the following recent examples.

A few weeks ago, I noted that Lord Monckton had even started threatening fellow climate contrarians, including solar physicist Leif Svaalgard and Willis Eschenbach. He claimed he was writing to Svaalgard’s university administration to get him in trouble for saying a certain part of Dr. David Evans’s wacky curve-fitted climate model was “almost fraudulent”.

For my part, I am referring Mr Svalgaard’s long list of malicious comments about Dr Evans (but not about me: I give as good as I get) to his university, which will know best how to handle the matter, for there is a rather delicate aspect that I am not at liberty to discuss here. The university will most certainly realize that the do-nothing option is not an option. The libel is too grave and too persistent. My lawyers are looking at it tomorrow to see whether malice is present, in which case the damages would triple, to say nothing of the costs. Their corresponding lawyers in the U.S. will be giving advice on whether Dr Evans would count in U.S. law as a “public figure”, Probably not, from what I know of the “public-figure” test, in which event, in order to enforce the judgement of the Australian courts in the U.S., it would not be necessary to prove malice (for, though malice seems evident, the test in Australian law is high).

Well, guess what? I asked Leif Svalgaard about it the other day, and he hasn’t heard a thing about it from his administration. Could it be that Monckton didn’t actually carry out his threat?

Ah, the memories. When I first encountered Monckton, he said he was instigating an academic misconduct investigation against me at my university, but a Salt Lake Tribune reporter followed up and found out that there was no such investigation. Much later, he did actually send a couple e-mails to my university threatening a libel suit and saying I was mentally imbalanced, but the administration essentially ignored them.

During the unpleasantness between Monckton and Svalgaard, His Lordship objected strongly when Svalgaard linked Lord Monckton’s Rap Sheet. His Veracity grated,

I note that another commenter here has accused me of fraud, and has cited a particular website much of whose contents I had not previously seen. My lawyers will be visiting me early next week to deal with some of the allegations on that website.

I thought maybe I would be getting another call from my department chair to inform me that Monckton had threatened me again, but what do you know? Weeks have passed, and I haven’t heard a thing! Perhaps his crack team of lawyers told him that I can’t be sued for simply chronicling his public exploits and expressing my amusement.

Meanwhile, trouble was brewing in the U.K., where Stoat blogger William Connolley was guessing that the source of a very misleading graph was an article in the Daily Telegraph written by His Lordship. One problem with the graph was that it compared two temperature history graphs from different IPCC reports, but the one from 2001 was for the entire globe Northern Hemisphere, while the one supposedly from 1995 was for Central England, only. The first graph was actually based on one from the 1990 report, whereas in the text of the article Monckton said it was from 1995. The graphs were attributed to the IPCC, but did not have important features like error bars included in the Telegraph version.

Then Monckton showed up and started posturing.

Mr Connolley falsely accuses me of having fabricated a graph in whose selection, drafting and publication I played no part whatsoever. I should be grateful if he would remove all references to my having “faked” or fabricated this graph, and if he would kindly notify me when he has done so.

When Connolley pointed out that the graph had showed up in an article under his name, and asked who WAS responsible for it, Monckton resolutely refused to answer and dropped the “L” word (libel).

Mr Connolley now concedes he does not know whether I faked the figure. He made a serious, libellous allegation of dishonesty on my part without knowing whether the allegation was true.

I now invite him to retract his grave allegation of dishonesty on my part and to apologize for it.

After a bit of back-and-forth, Monckton made the implied threat more explicit.

If Mr Connolley will kindly give me his address for service, my lawyers will write to him. If he will not give me his name and address, they will serve an order on the ISP requiring it to provide the necessary details.

William told me a while ago that he hadn’t heard from Monckton’s lawyers, and I’m betting that’s still the case. William?  [UPDATE:  William says he’s heard nothing.  See comments below.]

The funny thing about all this is that Monckton admitted his date of the 1990 figure was wrong, and that these were essentially the graphs he was referring to in the article. And as Kevin O’Neill pointed out, Monckton had given permission for another publication to reprint the article–graph and all–so he can hardly claim he didn’t approve of the graph. So why would he get bent out of shape at all if someone assumed he made the graphic for his own article?

The story of the Graph of Mystery doesn’t end there, however. On the same comment thread, Kevin O’Neill had pointed out that the Visionlearning website (which provides high quality science education resources) had used the same graph as an example in an article section entitled “Misuse of Scientific Images”, and pegged Monckton’s article as the source. Shortly thereafter, the commenters noticed that all reference to Monckton as the graph’s creator disappeared from the Visionlearning article, although they kept the graph as their example. (See the original on the Wayback Machine, and the present version here.) Some wondered whether Monckton had threatened the Visionlearning folks, too.  I confirmed through some backchannels that this was the case.

Last, but not least, a Scottish TV reporter interviewed His Veracity about some aspects of Scottish politics (he is was the leader of the UKIP fringe party in Scotland), and found his grasp of Scottish political history to be a bit wanting. (That is, he made something up out of thin air regarding a rival politician.) But that’s not even the funny part. This is.

Viscount Monckton, who is president of UKIP in Scotland, said: “We have all had people from the SNP on the streets, saying ‘You sound English’ — in fact, I’m more Scottish than most Scots — but ‘You sound English, so go back to England’. Now, that is racism, it’s actually against the law. We’ve told one or two of the people who have said that to us, ‘Don’t do it again, or we’ll have you for it’.”

So some random Scots yell “Go back to England,” and Monckton threatens to have them jailed for racism! It’s just too fantastic for words.

UPDATE:  Within minutes of initially posting this, I found out that Monckton has threatened me once again on another comment board!  A commenter named Warren told Monckton:

You continue to make these misleading arguments in spite of your close following of Climate Science; it seems a piece with your repeated claims, publicly refuted by the House of Lords, that you are a member; or your earlier claims to have found a cure for AIDS and the common cold.

Monckton replied:

Finally “Warren” resorts to ad-hominem irrelevancies that are also inaccurate. He inaccurately accuses me of claiming I can cure AIDS and other diseases. I make no such claim, though I am engaged in research in this field. Likewise, “Warren” is no more expert on peerage law, for instance, than the ignorant and politicized Clerk of the Parliaments, one Beamish, who says I am not a member of the House. In the narrow sense imagined by the 1999 Act that took away most hereditary peers’ right to sit and vote, I am self-evidently not a member of the House, and I had made the fact of my ineligibility to sit or vote explicit in the answer to a radio interviewer that Beamish whined about without having bothered to take the elementary precaution, required in the interest of natural justice, of hearing my side of the case first. However, a legal Opinion that I obtained after that cringing, custard-faced Clerkling’s unlawful remarks makes it plain that “The Viscount Monckton of Brenchley is a member of the House of Lords, and he is fully entitled to say so.”

To which Warren replied:

You accused me of ‘ad hominem attack’. I posted your false claim about being a member of the House of Lords to let the readers know they shouldn’t trust your claims about AGW either — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg – readers should go here to see your full, incredible, rap sheet: Monckton:…  How do you sleep at night?

Can you guess what came next?  Of course you can.  Monckton threatened me.  And then he COMMANDED Warren to “raise his game or be silent”.

Likewise, “Warren” refers readers to a more than averagely libelous instance of ad-hominem hate-speech that seems to have been posted up on the Web by a disgruntled person. Now that Warren has drawn my attention to that web page, I shall pass the matter on to my lawyers so that they can issue proceedings against the perpetrator.

Finally, “Warren” himself is guilty of libel by suggesting that I had made a “false” claim to be a member of the House of Lords. My legal advice was that what I had said in answer to a question from a journalist was at all points accurate, reasonable, and proportionate. “Warren” has no more knowledge of peerage law than he does of climate science, economics, or the methods of conducting a scientific discourse. In short, he is out of his depth and out of his league. He must raise his game or be silent.


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | July 21, 2014

The Monckton Files: A Hero Has Fallen!

Hang around the Watt’s Up With That? blog for any length of time, and it will become apparent that His Lordship, Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount of Brenchley, is all but worshipped by many of the regulars there.  No matter how absurd Monckton’s intellectual flagellations, Anthony Watts will post them, and hordes of credulous commenters will heap adulation upon His Lordship.  One of Monckton’s long-time fans is Willis Eschenbach–construction manager, climate hobbyist, and frequent contributor to both the blog and the Heartland disinformation conference.  Willis, unfortunately, learned what happens if you express strong disagreement with anything Monckton says, i.e., Monckton threatens to sue you.  Yes, Monckton has turned yet another corner, and has begun threatening his fellow climate change contrarians, in addition to the typical academics and reporters.  Witness poor Willis begging his fallen hero to reconsider!

Christopher, please, I implore you as a friend, cease with the legal threats. Every time you make such a threat of legal action against some scientist that you disagree with, your credibility sinks another notch.

Yes, you have the means and the position and the title and the power and the friends and the money to cause trouble for people … do you truly not understand that your threats to use your power and money and advantages and hereditary title against some poor skeptical shlub like myself because you don’t like his claims just makes you look like an insecure bully? Is there truly no other way to defend yourself? Dang, dude, you can strip the hide off a buffalo with your unmatchable eloquence, or have half the world laughing at someone’s foolishness with your irascible wit … you don’t need legal means to set things straight, your intellect and your words are more than enough to do that.

Alas, Willis’s struggle isn’t merely against a momentary lapse in judgement by his hero.  He is fighting INVIOLATE LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE–Bickmore’s First and Second Laws of Monckton.

Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton 

For every person who publicly endorses Lord Monckton’s climate pronouncements for merely irrational reasons, there exists a threshold in Monckton’s behavior which, if crossed, will cause said person to regret their association.

Bickmore’s Second Law of Monckton

Any behavioral threshold posited by Bickmore’s First Law of Monckton will eventually be crossed by Lord Monckton.

Let’s back up and examine the series of events that led to this curious juncture, so that we might recognize the inexorable march of fate, driven by the Invisible Hand of Bickmore’s Laws of Monckton. Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | June 19, 2014

Republican EPA Chiefs Urge Climate Action

Four former EPA administrators from Republican administrations testified at a congressional hearing about the new EPA rule on coal plant CO2 emissions, urging action and supporting the rule.  Articles from the AP,  Reuters, National Journal, and Huffington Post.  

Some coal companies bused in a bunch of coal miners to oppose the EPA rule, but one of them brought up an important point in the Reuters article.

Baker, a manager at one of Murray Energy’s mines in Marshall County, Ohio, wanted to attend because he worries EPA rules may not “take into account some of the towns that will be gone” if the pollution crackdown closes coal mines: “We need both sides to act together.”

This is why I have always preferred that Congress initiate climate action, rather than leaving it to the EPA.  What is the EPA supposed to do about side effects like this one?  Republicans have only themselves to blame if they force the administration to act unilaterally.  (BTW, let us not forget that the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled that the EPA has to take action on greenhouse gas emissions.)

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | June 3, 2014

Take Notes, Mr. Steyn

Today’s lesson is on How to Float Legally Non-Actionable Accusations.  Mark Steyn should sharpen his pencil and take notes, because he and his co-defendants in Michael Mann’s defamation suit could easily have avoided legal action by following some very simple procedures, which I will illustrate here.

The other day I posted another commentary on the case, in which I brought up the fact that Steyn had explained Mann’s Hockey Stick graph to his readers as a “climate model” whose “predictions” had failed to pan out.  In fact, I think I mention that gaffe in every post I do about this case, because it’s MADE OF AWESOME!  When the standard of proof Mann has to meet is to show that the defendants acted with reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of their accusations against Mann, it’s like manna from heaven when one of the defendants demonstrates that he didn’t have a clue what the Hockey Stick even was before deciding to accuse Mann of producing it via fraudulent data manipulation for political ends.  When I looked up one of my previous posts to get the link to Steyn’s article (called “SLAPPstick Farce”), however, the link kept redirecting my browser to Steyn’s homepage.  This was the broken URL:

Next, I tried the search engine on Steyn’s site and on Google to search for the quoted phrases, but nothing turned up on Steyn’s site.  Therefore, I next went to The Wayback Machine web archive to see if they had archived that page.  When I entered the URL into The Wayback Machine, I found that this webpage had indeed been archived twice–once on Feb. 9, and once on May 4, of this year.  When I clicked on the first archived version, I got the original article.  When I clicked on the second, I got another redirect to Steyn’s homepage.  (Click on the links, and you will see what I mean.)  So for whatever reason, the page had been unavailable, redirecting traffic to Steyn’s homepage, for at least a month.  It wasn’t just a fluke, evidently.

I thought it would be fun to play this up, because it seemed like this might constitute tenuous evidence that all my teasing about the “climate model” bit had actually convinced Steyn that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to keep the page up for people like me to wave in front of his coffee-mug-buying fans, who are financing his legal bills.  I said:

Perhaps the mockery struck a nerve with Steyn.  You will note, for instance, that my link to Steyn’s nonsensical explanation does not go to Steyn’s website, but to a web archive.  He apparently took the article down from his site, perhaps belatedly realizing that it made him look like a buffoon… and didn’t exactly help his legal prospects.

TECHNIQUE #1.  The fact is that I didn’t really have any really hard evidence that Steyn had taken the page down on purpose.  I still don’t know whether there is some way this could happen via some software glitch, or whatever.  Therefore, I threw in a couple “perhaps” qualifiers, and an “apparently”.  I could float the idea that Steyn might have been acting like a total weasel, and even call him a “buffoon,” and he can’t do squat!  This is why Steyn’s constant attempts to paint the lawsuit as an attempt to silence dissent are so stupid.  He can dissent all he wants.

Well, yesterday Steyn came back with this rejoinder:

Actually, you can find the column in question here. And here. And in every public library that carries the print edition of National Review (the January 27th 2014 issue). And in a forthcoming anthology of mine due out this fall. If Barry Bickmore sends me his mailing address, I’ll make sure he gets a signed copy.

Horrors!  Could I have been… shudder… WRONG?  Well, maybe so, but let’s see how this plays out.  You will note that the first of Steyn’s links is to:

Yep, the exact same address that redirected to Steyn’s homepage the day before… and a month before, according to The Wayback Machine.  The second link was to the National Review website, where the article has a different title.  I don’t know if I legitimately missed that one, because it actually has a different title on the NR site (so I might have missed it if I searched for the original title), and it was never archived by The Wayback Machine.

All of this seems rather suspicious to me.  Could it be that Steyn is being a total weasel, and put the page back up again after I mentioned it was down?

TECHNIQUE #2.  Note how I phrased that last sentence as a question, rather than a statement of fact.  If I’m not confident that I have really hard proof, it would be stupid to come right out and accuse Steyn of weaselry.  I’m no Internet guru, after all, so something might be going on that I wouldn’t think of on my own.  But by phrasing it as a question after laying out the evidence, I made it so Steyn has no possible basis for a libel suit, and many readers might consider the evidence strong enough to believe the implied accusation. 

Before I dismiss the class, let me make one last point.  That is, in my opinion Mark Steyn is part of a conspiracy to promote a global, totalitarian government by encouraging Republicans to allow their party to be taken over by extremist ultra-Libertarians who are so obviously intellectually and mentally challenged that moderates and young people will flee to the Democrats.  The subsequent collapse of the party will usher in the New World Order.  Who knows what crimes he has committed to further the goals of the nefarious cabal?  Theft?  Extortion?  Blackmail?  MURDER?!!

POP QUIZ.  In a short essay, explain how I was able to spout utter nonsense that I totally pulled out of you-know-where, accusing Mark Steyn of all kinds of awful things, and yet avoid any legal culpability.  

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | June 1, 2014

Inspector Steyn is Looking for a Clue

Great news in the Mann v. National Review et al. case!  Are you ready?  Defendant Mark Steyn has finally figured out what the case is about!

In my current case, global warm-monger Michael E Mann is suing me for defamation for calling his famous climate-change “hockey stick” fraudulent.

Yes!  Yes!  Mann is suing Steyn and co. for saying his “hockey stick” paleoclimate reconstruction was fraudulently manipulated for political ends, even after multiple official inquiries (including one by the National Academy of Science) exonerated Mann of any wrongdoing.  Compare that with what Steyn was saying the case was about a few months ago.

In a post at NATIONAL REVIEW’s website, I mocked Dr. Michael Mann, the celebrated global warm-monger, and his ‘hockey stick,’ the most famous of all the late-Nineties global-warming climate models to which dull, uncooperative 21st-century reality has failed to live up. So he sued.  [Click here for full article.]

No, Lambkin, you aren’t being sued for “mocking” anyone.  You are being sued for falsely accusing someone of a specific criminal act.  If it were possible to file a defamation suit for mere mockery without having it summarily dismissed, I would be shaking in my boots, wondering if Steyn would sue me because I mocked his explanation of the Hockey Stick, quoted above.  You see, the Hockey Stick isn’t a “climate model,” and it doesn’t predict anything.  I further explained,

As I have pointed out a number of times, Mann doesn’t even need discovery to show reckless disregard for truth/falsity in Steyn’s case. Steyn went on record recently calling the Hockey Stick a “climate model” whose predictions had failed. What possible defense can he have against the claim that he showed reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of claims that Mann’s work was “fraudulent”, when he didn’t even know what the %$@! that work was?  [UPDATE:  The original article had quotation marks around the word “predictions.”  A reader, danger dad, pointed out that the word is not a direct quotation, so I have removed the quotation marks.]

His only real defense is what the Catholics call “invincible ignorance”. That is, he will have to claim that he is too stupid to understand the issue at hand, so no amount of study would have led him to a different conclusion, no matter how obvious.

Perhaps the mockery struck a nerve with Steyn.  You will note, for instance, that my link to Steyn’s nonsensical explanation does not go to Steyn’s website, but to a web archive.  He apparently took the article down from his site, perhaps belatedly realizing that it made him look like a buffoon… and didn’t exactly help his legal prospects.  [UPDATE:  Mark Steyn objects to this bit of speculation.  See my next post for a reply.]

It may also be that Steyn realized the Invincible Ignorance defense was something of a longshot, because now he has fully committed himself to The Defense of Truth.  That is, Mann can’t sue Steyn just for accusing him of fraudulently manipulating data–he actually has to show that the accusation is false.  Maybe by… I don’t know… referring the jury to the several official inquiries that had already vindicated Mann and the more than a dozen subsequent studies that have vindicated the Hockey Stick?  Steyn indicates that he stands firmly  behind his accusations, however.

I maintain it is fraudulent, that it was fraudulently promoted by the IPCC and by Al Gore (as the great iconic all-you-need-to-know image of global warming), that Mann himself is fraudulent (falsely claiming on an industrial scale to be a Nobel Laureate) and that, indeed, even his court filings are fraudulent (falsely claiming to have been “exonerated” by the British Government and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and all kinds of other “Climategate” inquiries that have never ever investigated him).

Whew!  Maybe Steyn didn’t have a clue what the Hockey Stick even was when he made his original accusation, but now that he has that all worked out, he’s SURE his accusation was REALLY TRUE… REALLY.  How can he be so sure?  Well, it’s like this… [crickets chirping]….  Uhhh… I guess it’s not so much that he has any evidence, per se, as that he has a CRACK TEAM OF INVESTIGATORS on the case.  Not only does Steyn have a special e-mail address where his black-helicopter-watching groupies can e-mail him tips about the Mann case, but now he has even hired a mysterious, unnamed private investigator to finally reveal all those skeletons in Mann’s closet.  Oh, the fact that nobody has ever seen these skeletons doesn’t fool Steyn, because his crack investigator can find stuff like that when it isn’t even there.  Be afraid, Michael Mann.  And watch what you put in your garbage cans.

Aside from the best free-speech legal team in the land, we’ve now taken on someone to direct this side of the investigation against Mann. He’s already working full-time on the case – he was in Washington yesterday for the Congressional hearings on the IPCC, and meeting with climate scientists and others. He’ll also be heading to Penn State and other places hither and yon. I’ve been very grateful for your suggestions since I struck out on my own five months ago, and if you’ve any more I hope you’ll continue to send them our team via

Yes, Inspector Steyn is on the case, and if he doesn’t succeed in finding a clue, he will at least very likely succeed at continuing to persuade the rubes to finance his legal battle via coffee mug sales and such.

It would not have been possible to take on someone to direct the investigative efforts in this case without your continued support…. If you’d like to be part of the resistance to Big Climate, we’ve brought back the SteynOnline gift certificate, [etc., etc., etc.].

This really gets to the heart of the matter.  People like Mark Steyn are paid to sound very sure of themselves while they tell other Dunning-Kruger sufferers what they want to hear.  If Steyn ever breaks character, and say, admits that maybe he could have possibly worded an article in a slightly less legally actionable manner… or settles the defamation suit out of court… or lets on that he just doesn’t have any hard evidence to contradict all those official inquiries that exonerated Mann… his funds will dry up.  The only option is to never let up.  He has to keep pretending he knows something damning about Mann, and that this is some giant battle for Freedom Of Speech, rather than an utterly mundane defamation suit.  All those conspiracy nuts want COMMITMENT, because that’s the only way the insidious, massive cabal bent on world domination can ever be unmasked.

If it amuses you to watch Shaggy and Scooby posturing about the ongoing investigation into how Michael Mann managed to fabricate data that was later essentially replicated by dozens of other scientists using different temperature proxies and statistical methods, you may want to take a nostalgic trip back to some of my previous posts about a fan favorite at Climate Asylum–Lord Christopher Monckton!  Remember when His Benificence threatened to sue Prof. John Abraham for revealing his many distortions and.. ahem… truth-deficient statements?  And when the suit never materialized, he creepily indicated that he had investigators snooping into John’s finances?  (Oh, and here, too.)  Remember when I told a reporter that Monckton has a reputation for making stuff up, and he started claiming he was instigating an investigation of my conduct by my university?  And then the reporter called up the University and they said there was no investigation, and never had been?  Oh, and don’t forget the time he claimed to have “a senior Australian Police officer” investigating alleged “fraud” by a climate scientist.  Ah, the memories.

My point, of course, is that the vague hand-waving about ongoing investigations has been done to death, so nobody is impressed by it except the same rubes who fall for it every time.  Both Lord Monckton and Mark Steyn will die rich men, because that well will never dry up.

H/T to BigCityLib.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 25, 2014

Deseret News: Who are the “Alarmists”?

I wrote an op-ed for the Deseret News with the headline, “Who are the ‘alarmists’ here? Real conservatives value evidence,” in which I roasted a couple so-called Conservative commentators for their anti-Conservative determination to do nothing about climate change.  Here’s the money quote:

So who is being “hysterical” and “alarmist?” On one hand, we have people using all the best scientific, political and economic analyses — complete with estimates of uncertainty and risk — to come up with recommendations on how to solve a pressing problem in the most cost-effective manner. On the other hand, we have self-proclaimed “conservatives,” supposed champions of personal responsibility, neglecting to obtain even a cursory familiarity with the best scholarship on the topic, blaming our inaction on what they assume (without evidence) China will do, extolling the unlimited capacity of humans to solve problems while excusing the present generation from even trying, and shrieking overwrought, nonsensical warnings about what serious climate action will cost.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | March 19, 2014

Mark Steyn’s Flashdance

It’s an old story.  A stripper longs to be a ballerina, but the stuffy board at the local ballet company rejects her.  She’s just a working class girl, who never had the money to pay for fancy ballet classes, and so EXCUSE HER for not living up to their standards of hoity-toitiness.  Finally, the stripper gives up trying to play their game, and does another audition in which she dances really slutty, writhing around on the table where the board members are trying to write notes about the applicants, and knocking askew the board members’ conservative-looking glasses.  The board members are shocked, but intrigued.  They realize that maybe what ballet has been missing all this time is a massive injection of sluttiness to put some butts in the seats.  Our heroine is admitted to the ballet company, and HOORAY FOR BEING YOURSELF!!!!

If real life is just like Flashdance, or innumerable other movies with essentially the same plot, then Mark Steyn is poised to win a stunning legal victory against Prof. Michael Mann.  Yes, after two judges failed to dismiss Mann vs. National Review et al. based on Anti-SLAPP laws, because they found the suit is likely to succeed on its merits, defendant Mark Steyn fired his lawyers, and now he’s DOING IT HIS WAY!!!  What is HIS WAY, you ask?  Well, Steyn has filed a 33-page motion to dismiss the suit based on… wait for it… Anti-SLAPP laws, and cuz America is a free country, right?  And FURTHERMORE, his motion files a countersuit against Mann, demanding at least $10,000,000 for infringing on his free speech rights (i.e., his right to falsely accuse people of crimes in print media), and cuz Mann is a big meanie who has sued others for the same thing.

If real life refuses to conform to Flashdance, however, the result might not be so favorable for Steyn.  As one lawyer who happens to support Steyn about the free speech issue predicted, Mann’s lawyers filed a motion to dismiss the countersuit based on… Anti-SLAPP laws… and to award Mann attorney’s fees for having to deal with the frivolous countersuit.  You see, Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to protect people against frivolous lawsuits… like Steyn’s.  Mann’s lawyers note that “The specific legal theories upon which Steyn bases his counterclaims are unclear,” and that the only “evidence” Steyn presented didn’t have anything directly to do with this case.

Never fear, though!  Steyn is busy getting his minions to finance his legal battles by buying more Mark Steyn coffee mugs and such from the store.  And as he has constantly assured his backers, there’s no way he’s going to settle the lawsuit.  So as long as Mark Steyn continues to just BE HIMSELF, playing the free speech martyr while twirling about the pole of shameless money grubbing, he might just make enough bank to cover the legal bills and any eventual judgement against him.  The only losers will be the slack-jawed yokels who threw all their seed money onto the stage over a court case that Steyn could have avoided simply by inserting an “in my opinion” or two into his original, execrable piece.  YOU GO, GIRL!!!


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | February 13, 2014

The Free Speech Brigade Suppresses Free Speech

The Mann v. National Review et al. case (which I have previously written about here, here, and here) has the Free Speech Brigade out in force.  These people have, or at least pretend to have, such extreme views about “free speech” that they will spout reams of dissembling nonsense to convince unsuspecting readers that they should be up in arms about the most pedestrian defamation case imaginable.  The irony is that if they succeed at convincing their target audiences, but not at convincing judges and others who aren’t too lazy to read a couple legal documents, they might actually persuade some people to suppress their own Constitutionally protected speech.

EXHIBIT A is Professor Stephen L. Carter, of the Yale Law School, who recently wrote an opinion piece on Bloomberg entitled, “Climate-Change Skeptics Have a Right To Free Speech, Too“.   Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 28, 2014

What Precedent? Why National Review et al. Are Running Scared

Whenever there is a big, public legal battle, it seems like the principals spend a lot of time talking about “setting precedents”.  Sometimes this is legitimate, because if you can help it, you don’t want the bad guys to get away with any heinous miscarriages of justice.  But in other cases, all the talk about “setting precedents” is just so much public posturing.  Of course, both sides will accuse the other of posturing, but if you pay attention, sometimes it becomes apparent which is which.  I believe this is now true for the Mann v. National Review et al. case, for instance.  (The defendants are the National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Mark Steyn, and Rand Simberg.) Read More…

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 27, 2014

Free Speech 101 for Sulky Teenagers

Yea, Michael Mann hath prevailed upon the court to allow his defamation suit to go forward.  And there was weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.  (The Apocalypse of Barry 62:3)

Ever since climate scientist Mike Mann filed a defamation suit against defendants Mark Steyn, the National Review, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and Rand Simberg, the reaction among the defendants and their climate contrarian audience has been predictable.  Although the case is REALLY about the fact that the defendants published an accusation that Mike Mann had fraudulently manipulated the data that went into his famous “Hockey Stick” paleotemperature reconstructions, this fact never seems to make it into their public whine-sessions about their “free speech” rights.  Steyn says he is being sued simply because he “mocked” Mann’s Hockey Stick work, or alternatively that he is accused of “the hitherto unknown crime of defaming a Nobel Laureate“.  No, he’s just accused of defamation, which has been on the books for a while, now.  All of this is to be expected, because you see, Steyn and co. want to lead the charge for “First Amendment Rights”, but they don’t want to foot the legal bills, so they are begging the rubes in their target audiences for money to mount their legal defense.  After all, they can’t be seen to back down and apologize, add a caveat or two, or label their accusations as opinion, because then they would lose street-cred with the mouth-breathing conspiracy theorists who read their publications.  Therefore, they publicly pretend that Big Brother is out to quash their right to disagree with New-World-Order-mandated science, so they can get the black-helicopter-watchers to hand over their stashes of gold bullion from their bunker safes.  

Others are playing along.  Conservative pundit and Constitutional Law professor (!!?) Hugh Hewitt asked Steyn, “How can people help you protect the 1st Amendment, because while the intricacies of this buffoonish trial are too impossible to explain, from my perspective as a Con Law professor, it’s outrageous what is going on.”  (It’s not that complicated, Hugh. Keep reading.)  Judith Curry sees “frightening implications of this case for free speech,” and whines that if accusing Mann of fraudulently manipulating his data qualifies as defamation, then so should Mann’s comments that she is “anti-science”, and a “serial climate misinformer”.  (No, Judy, those comments merely indicate that Mann thinks you are pigheadedly wrong on a regular basis. He did not flatly accuse you of criminal conduct, or conduct that could get you fired from your job.) 

All of this reminded me of an experience I had when I was a stupid teenager.  About this time, my parents were cracking down on my curfew, and things like that.  What right did they have?  Ok, I sometimes got up to no good, but they couldn’t prove anything.  I wanted FREEDOM, and to me that meant a lot fewer restrictions.  Well, one day I was watching MTV, which is what stupid teenagers did in the 80’s, when they did a segment in which they asked some teenagers what the greatest problems were in the world.  One skateboarder/stoner replied, “Censorship.”  Within a parade of “Uhhhhs” and “likes” and such, he explained that any sort of limitations of any kind of “free expression” are evil.  Brain-addled as I was, I still snorted and said, “That’s stupid.”  Because, even at that stage, I was capable of recognizing that some forms of “free expression” trample on other people’s rights.  Nowadays, these things are even easier; e.g., if I look up “freedom of speech” on, I find that it is “the right of people to express their opinions publicly without governmental interference, subject to the laws against libel, incitement to violence or rebellion, etc.”  Lots of caveats on their Free Legal Dictionary, too.

Now, that isn’t to say that I had any clue about the intricacies of free speech laws when I was a teenager, but I’ll tell you how I got a bit of an education about that when I was almost three decades older.  I had recently provided detailed evidence that His Worship, Christopher Monckton, the 3rd Viscount of Fantasyland, had been telling Congress and anyone else who would listen that the IPCC had made certain temperature projections, which in fact they had not.  Monckton’s predictable response was to explode in a mushroom cloud of bluster to impress his constituency (conspiracy theorists who wouldn’t know how to check his claims even if they wanted to).  Among (a LOT of) other things, he said

Some have said that the IPCC projection zone on our graphs should show exactly the values that the IPCC actually projects for the A2 scenario. However, as will soon become apparent, the IPCC’s “global-warming” projections for the early part of the present century appear to have been, in effect, artificially detuned to conform more closely to observation. In compiling our graphs, we decided not merely to accept the IPCC’s projections as being a true representation of the warming that using the IPCC’s own methods for determining climate sensitivity would lead us to expect, but to establish just how much warming the use of the IPCC’s methods would predict, and to take that warming as the basis for the definition of the IPCC projection zone.

So in essence, I had accused him of falsely claiming that the temperature projections he cited were from the IPCC, and he came right out and admitted that I was right (underneath a truckload of gratuitous self-justification).  They weren’t the IPCC’s projections, as he had claimed, but rather the projections Monckton thought the IPCC should have given.  

Shortly thereafter, I discovered that one of my U.S. Senators, Orrin Hatch, was promoting Monckton’s fake IPCC temperature projections to excuse his climate change inaction.  I fired off a couple of op-eds in local newspapers, and in one of them I complained about “Hatch’s use of fraudulent data.” 

Monckton then wrote a letter to my university’s administration, threatening to sue for libel, and I got called down to my dean’s office.  The dean told me that the university legal team didn’t think Monckton had any case, so they were going to ignore him, but they asked that in the future I should avoid using words like “fraud”, which can have some legal implications.  In other words, I was using the word “fraud” with the common definition, “a piece of trickery; a trick,” but the word also has some specific legal definitions, like this one.

A false representation of a matter of fact—whether by words or by conduct, by false or misleading allegations, or by concealment of what should have been disclosed—that deceives and is intended to deceive another so that the individual will act upon it to her or his legal injury.

Now, my pride was telling me not to back down.  Heck, I could represent myself, and my defense would simply be that Monckton had admitted to fudging the facts (TO CONGRESS!!!).  Given the non-legal definition of “fraud,” that is a perfectly reasonable thing to call what he did, I would say.

But the fact is that I’m not some sulky, stupid teenager, anymore.  I didn’t want to drag my university into any row with Monckton, and after all, I didn’t really think I could prove “fraud” by the legal definition above, because for all I know, Monckton really believes in the climate nonsense he peddles… just like he might really believe that he is a member of Parliament and has invented a cure-all for quite a number of serious diseases, including AIDS, multiple sclerosis, Graves’ Disease, influenza, herpes, and the common cold.  How should I know?  Being an adult, since my visit with the dean I have avoided using the words “fraud” and “liar” in connection with Monckton.  I figure that I can still call his fudged data “fabricated,” or call him “truth-challenged,” or a “crackpot,” etc.  I don’t have to know his motives to say any of that, and legally, there is no way to trump up those words into anything actionable, as long as I provide substantial evidence for any factual claims I make.  And I don’t feel like my “free speech” is being trampled upon just because I have to consider how my words might be misinterpreted to be a charge of criminal behavior.  If Monckton had carried it any further (don’t worry–he threatens to sue his critics all the time, but never follows through,) I would have even offered to make this apology:  “I apologize for calling what Lord Monckton claimed to be IPCC temperature predictions ‘fraudulent’.  By that, I meant only that the data was false, and fabricated by him.  Some definitions of the word ‘fraudulent’ imply malicious intent, but I really have no idea why His Lordship fabricated said data.”  

Now let’s take another look at Michael Mann’s case.  I thought the online legal dictionary’s definitions “libel” and “libel per se” were helpful for understanding the issues involved.

libel 1) n. to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. Libel is the written or broadcast form of defamation, distinguished from slander which is oral defamation. It is a tort (civil wrong) making the person or entity (like a newspaper, magazine or political organization) open to a lawsuit for damages by the person who can prove the statement about him/her was a lie. Publication need only be to one person, but it must be a statement which claims to be fact, and is not clearly identified as an opinion. While it is sometimes said that the person making the libelous statement must have been intentional and malicious, actually it need only be obvious that the statement would do harm and is untrue. Proof of malice, however, does allow a party defamed to sue for “general damages” for damage to reputation, while an inadvertent libel limits the damages to actual harm (such as loss of business) called “special damages.” “Libel per se” involves statements so vicious that malice is assumed and does not require a proof of intent to get an award of general damages. Libel against the reputation of a person who has died will allow surviving members of the family to bring an action for damages. Most states provide for a party defamed by a periodical to demand a published retraction. If the correction is made, then there is no right to file a lawsuit. Governmental bodies are supposedly immune for actions for libel on the basis that there could be no intent by a non-personal entity, and further, public records are exempt from claims of libel. However, there is at least one known case in which there was a financial settlement as well as a published correction when a state government newsletter incorrectly stated that a dentist had been disciplined for illegal conduct. The rules covering libel against a “public figure” (particularly a political or governmental person) are special, based on U. S. Supreme Court decisions. The key is that to uphold the right to express opinions or fair comment on public figures, the libel must be malicious to constitute grounds for a lawsuit for damages. Minor errors in reporting are not libel, such as saying Mrs. Jones was 55 when she was only 48, or getting an address or title incorrect. 2) v. to broadcast or publish a written defamatory statement.


libel per se n. broadcast or written publication of a false statement about another which accuses him/her of a crime, immoral acts, inability to perform his/her profession, having a loathsome disease (like syphilis), or dishonesty in business. Such claims are considered so obviously harmful that malice need not be proved to obtain a judgment for “general damages,” and not just specific losses.

Here are a few points I took away from these helpful definitions.

  1. If DC is like “most states,” all the defendants had to do was print a retraction (like the apology to Monckton I wrote above), and Mann couldn’t have sued.  But no, they must FIGHT FOR FREEDOM AND JUSTICE!
  2. That’s ok, though, because all the defendants have to do is show that Mann really did manipulate his data!  Oh, but since a number of scientific, governmental, and academic panels (including one from the National Research Council) have already examined the charges and found that any mistakes Mann made didn’t affect his results much, maybe that’s sort of unlikely that they can come up with the goods.  And given the fact that Mark Steyn apparently thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a “global-warming climate model,” I would put that probability at exactly zero.  
  3. Given that charges of academic fraud could lead to the firing of even tenured professors, Mann can claim “libel per se” and not even have to prove malice.   In fact, the judge in the case has already ruled that he will not dismiss the case because a jury is likely to find that the false accusation “was published with knowledge of its falsity or reckless disregard of whether it was false or not….”  If all Mann has to prove is that the accusation was published with “reckless disregard of whether it was false or not”… did I mention that Steyn thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a climate model?
  4. If the defendants had thrown in a few weasel words in the first place, clearly indicating they were providing opinions, rather than factual accusations, they couldn’t have been sued.

So while it’s really entertaining to watch the defendants squirm and posture, I wish they would put on their big-boy pants and admit fault, because even black-helicopter-watchers don’t deserve to be bilked of their money under a false pretenses (i.e., the pretense that the case is really about something other than run-of-the-mill defamation, or the pretense that the defendants even know enough about the “Hockey Stick” controversy to say anything coherent about it).  And if people like Judith Curry and Hugh Hewitt really do want to protect human rights, they should find a better persecuted-poster-boy-for-free-speech than Mark Steyn, for heaven’s sake.

If you haven’t been following the Michael Mann v. National Review, Inc. et al. case, here’s a quick summary.  Rand Simberg, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, thought he had a clever way to capitalize on the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.  Compare Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann to Jerry Sandusky, and accuse him of producing fraudulent scientific data!  This charge was repeated by Mark Steyn, blogging for the National Review magazine, and of course, neither Steyn nor Simberg had the presence of mind to clearly label their accusations as opinion, or provide any caveats whatsoever, or… you know… provide any “evidence” for the accusations.  Having put up with such accusations by wingnuts for a number of years, Mann sued.  Of course, the defendants have been complaining about their “free speech” rights, and trying to get the case thrown out based on certain laws meant to stop people from using defamation/libel suits to stifle legitimate public discourse.  But there are limits on “free speech,” and now two different judges have ruled that they would allow the case to proceed, because it is likely to succeed if presented to a jury.  Meanwhile, Mark Steyn and others at the National Review… well, especially Steyn… can’t seem to keep their pie-holes shut long enough to keep from making their prospects even worse.  For instance, Steyn let loose with some searing remarks about how stupid and incompetent the first judge (who recently retired) was, which appears to have resulted in a parting of the ways between Steyn (and probably the NR) and their lawyers, so that now Steyn is representing himself (badly).  Anyway, if you want to  protect your “right” to publicly throw out baseless accusations of fraud, it’s going to cost you some cabbage, and so lately Steyn has been out begging the rubes to finance his Crusade for Freedom and Justice.  Recently, he did so on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show.  Hewitt was quite supportive of Steyn, but given that he claims to be a Constitutional Law professor (and given Steyn’s comments on the show,) I thought it likely that Steyn might not have been completely forthcoming about the nature of the case.  Here’s the note I sent Hewitt through his Facebook page.  We’ll see if he was really misinformed, or just another rube Steyn is trying to manipulate into paying his bills.

Dear Hugh,
I am an active Republican and a geochemistry professor at Brigham Young University.  I noticed that you had Mark Steyn on your show the other day, complaining about how Michael Mann’s lawsuit against him had not been dismissed, and trying to drum up some donations to help him with his legal defense.  I thought you should know, however, that Steyn wasn’t being completely honest with you about the case.
On your show, Steyn seemed to imply that the case was about his right to disagree with Mann’s “Hockey Stick” reconstructions of paleotemperatures over the last 1000 years or so.  This is not the case.  Steyn is being sued because he made the accusation that Mann “molested and tortured data in the service of politicized science,” and that Mann’s scientific work was “fraudulent”.  Both judges in the case have noted that this accusation was a statement of fact rather than mere opinion, and can hypothetically be proved true or false.  It is therefore grounds for a defamation suit, if it can be shown that 1) the accusation is false, and 2) Steyn made the accusation either knowing it was false, or with reckless disregard for the truth.  
I don’t know whether Mann will win the case, or not, but it is clearly not just some frivolous suit meant to stifle legitimate public discourse.  For one thing, the accusation is clearly false.  The main charge against the “Hockey Stick” work was that Mann and his colleagues had misused principal components analysis (a statistical technique) to obtain a certain outcome.  But when scientific bodies such as the National Research Council reviewed the case, they found that the statistics could have been done better, but the mistakes didn’t change the results much.  They also found no evidence of “fraud”.  Now, if you were going to commit scientific “fraud,” wouldn’t you fudge your data so as to actually obtain substantially different results?  The “fraud” charge is just ridiculous, whether or not you believe the “Hockey Stick” accurately describes the temperature evolution over the last 1000 years.  For another thing, it seems very likely that Mann’s legal team can show that, at the very least, Steyn made the accusation with “reckless disregard for the truth.”  
Why am I so confident about that?  Because several scientific, academic, and governmental panels had already ruled there was no evidence of fraud, and Steyn knew that.  Second, because Steyn can’t seem to keep his ignorant mouth shut.  On your show, for instance, he claimed that the National Research Council agrees with him.  About what?  Certainly not about the fraud charge, which is what he actually being sued over.  Also consider this passage from one of Steyn’s recent columns.
“In a post at NATIONAL REVIEW’s website, I mocked Dr. Michael Mann, the celebrated global warm-monger, and his ‘hockey stick,’ the most famous of all the late-Nineties global-warming climate models to which dull, uncooperative 21st-century reality has failed to live up. So he sued.”
Ummm… Aside from the fact that Steyn is once again implying that he is being sued for something other than calling Mann’s work “fraudulent”, I note that Steyn apparently thinks the “Hockey Stick” is a “climate model” that made predictions about the 21st century.  It isn’t.  It didn’t.  So in other words, Steyn is insisting on his right to publicly call a scientist’s work “fraudulent”, when he clearly has made no effort to understand what said scientific work is even about.  So let’s just please ignore all his posturing about his right to his opinion about the matter.  He doesn’t even care what the facts are.
So, Hugh, I believe you said you are a Constitutional Law professor.  Are you still quite so hot to defend Steyn’s foolishness?
Barry Bickmore
Posted by: Barry Bickmore | January 7, 2014

Republican Scientist: “Rush Limbaugh is an Idiot”

Ok, I’m too polite (and overweight) to call him a “big, fat idiot” like Al Franken, but today someone sent me a link to this post of Limbaugh’s in which he says,

Do you know what the polar vortex is? Have you ever heard of it? Well, they just created it for this week. Actually, there is a piece. I’ve got a piece in the Stack that actually makes the case that all of this frigid, chilling cold is due to global warming, strange as it may sound, it says. Other wackos are saying it’s a great example of climate change, but regardless, the agenda is that we’re responsible, we’re causing it, we have to pay the price. And so any weather extreme now is said to be man-made, and therefore it fulfills the leftist agenda on this.

Meteorologists have actually been using the term “polar vortex” for some time–far beyond the past week, as Rush might gather by looking up “Polar Vortex” on Wikipedia and checking some of the references… such as this NASA press release from 2001, which is entitled, “Stratospheric Polar Vortex Influences Winter Cold, Researchers Say”.  A little Googling might uncover this 1971 article in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences that mentions the “polar vortex”.  

Now, I don’t know how strong the link between global warming and a weakening polar vortex (which has been shown allow more extreme weather outbreaks) is, but at least the basic idea makes physical sense.  And the articles I’ve seen (like this one from Time Magazine) make sure to point out that the research that posits this link is fairly preliminary.

What I do know is that Rush Limbaugh doesn’t know anything about science, as he proves essentially every time he opens his mouth about a scientific topic.  Given how much the guy is talking every day, I don’t understand how he could possibly know enough about anything to ever open his mouth with any conviction.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | August 29, 2013

SL Trib: Why are Scientists Leaving the GOP?

Judy Fahys has another article in the Salt Lake Tribune, in which she asked Utah Scientists (especially those who are Republicans or used to be) why only 6% of scientists now identify with the GOP.  I hope my fellow Republicans keep asking themselves that question.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | August 27, 2013

SL Trib: Chris Stewart and LaMar Smith–Conspiracy Theorists

As the new Chairman of the House Environment Subcommittee, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) isn’t about resting on his laurels, refusing to spend hard-earned taxpayer dollars.  No, he is busy spending your money to protect corporations from having to shoulder the cost of adverse health effects of air pollution.  If corporations benevolently distribute jobs to the poor, boosting the economy, is it their fault everyone else has to put up with the asthma and various other diseases that go with it?

Ok, wait… air pollution isn’t very popular, nowadays, so how can House Republicans let the polluters off the hook, while acting like they’re being completely reasonable?  I KNOW.  They can attack scientists for being part of the liberal conspiracy to take away our GOD-GIVEN FREEDOMS!

Judy Fahys reports in the Salt Lake Tribune that Rep. Stewart has teamed up with fellow genius Rep. LaMar Smith (R-Texas) to demand that the EPA release the data used in a couple large studies of the health effects of air pollution.  Now, sure–lots of other studies (using different data) have confirmed the results of those two studies, and an independent industry- and government-funded institute already spent 3 years confirming the results of the studies–but the fact is that the studies in question have slavishly followed ultra-liberal “laws” that forbid them from releasing health data of patients in any form that would allow someone to connect the data to the person (e.g., by looking up obituaries).  THEY MUST BE HIDING SOMETHING!!!  I mean, what other purpose could ultra-liberal privacy laws have, than to provide cover for a giant conspiracy?

One of the researchers being attacked is BYU economist C. Arden Pope.  Judy interviewed me, too–presumably because I’m a Republican scientist, and quoted me strongly implying that Stewart is a nut.

For Barry Bickmore, a BYU geochemist, the attacks on air-pollution science are the latest examples of “nutty beliefs” about scientific issues from the GOP.

Bickmore, who takes on “climate deniers” in his Climate Asylum blog, said this controversy is the latest example of the manufacturing of uncertainty to accomplish political aims, just as politicians have done in the past to discredit the science surrounding secondhand smoke and the addictiveness of nicotine.

“This is just par for the course,” he said. “This is the same thing going on — some of the same people, too.”

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | August 24, 2013

Willful Blindness

I just watched a TED video of Margaret Heffernan talking about “The Dangers of Willful Blindness”.  (She’s also written a book called Willful Blindness, apparently.  See her official website.)  Heffernan talks about why some people turn a blind eye to glaring problems, while others choose to become “whistleblowers”.

Her introductory example was the case of Libby, Montana, where one woman, Gayla Benefield, started asking questions when both her parents died young, and she noticed an abnormal number of older men on oxygen tanks in the town.  She wondered whether the problem could have anything to do with the vermiculite mine that was the main economic engine of the town, and came to find out that the vermiculite mined there actually contains some asbestos.  [Note:  Heffernan says that vermiculite is a highly toxic form of asbestos, but that’s not true.  Vermiculite is pretty harmless–it’s just that this particular deposit also contained the minerals tremolite and actinolite, which are asbestos minerals.  Sorry, I’m a mineralogy teacher.]  At first, Benefield mostly just annoyed her neighbors, who didn’t want to look at the issue seriously, but that ticked her off and she kept at it.  Some of the neighbors even printed bumper stickers that said, “Yes, I’m from Libby, Montana.  No, I don’t have asbestosis.”  When the government finally stepped in and started screening the residents of the town, they found out that there was an asbestosis problem, and as a result the mortality rate in the town was 80 TIMES HIGHER THAN ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE COUNTRY.  Not 80% higher.  80 TIMES higher.  Not 80 times higher than average.  80 times higher than ANYWHERE ELSE in the country.

Now, I don’t have to tell my readers how I think this story relates to being a Republican Earth scientist who takes climate change seriously.  But watch the video and pay attention to how Heffernan describes the excuses people make for remaining willfully blind.  See if you don’t find eerie similarities with the excuses you hear coming from the “Do-Nothing-About-Climate” crowd.

Climate change wasn’t the first issue about which I had encountered willful blindness, though.  Back in 2000-2001, I worked on a project having to do with leaked nuclear waste at the Hanford Site in Eastern Washington.  This is where most of the plutonium for US nuclear weapons was produced since the 40’s, and production stopped in the late 80’s after a safety inspector blew the whistle on some of the UNBELIEVABLY unsafe things that were being done.  Since it was part of the weapons complex, all this stuff never came out before then because it was all hush-hush, national defense kind of stuff.  Maybe a couple million gallons of high-level nuclear waste have been released into the subsurface, a few miles by groundwater flow away from the Columbia River.  When I started the project, I decided to read up on the history of the site, and let me tell you, it cured quite a bit of my aversion to environmental regulation.  If you want to read a good historical account, see Atomic Harvest: Hanford and the Lethal Toll of America’s Nuclear Arsenal, by Michael D’Antonio.

This isn’t a uniquely Republican, or American problem.  It’s just the way people are.  But while I can use this fact of life to make myself feel a little more kindly toward people who brush off serious concerns about things like climate change, it also makes me want to give them a good shake and a couple backhanded slaps.  If facing the truth is going to make people fly into a panic, well maybe they just need to buck up.

Last week, I wrote a response to one Rich Trzupek, a guest blogger for the discredited Heartland Institute, who was outraged that climate scientist Michael Mann had said this:

Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science….  Science works in evidence through best explanations, most credible theories, and so in a sense we’re at a disadvantage because we have to play by the rules, the other side doesn’t… They’re not offering up credible alternatives or explanations. In most cases they’re trying to pick holes. Not real holes, just things that the public will think are holes, in the science. We are at a disadvantage.

Trzupek was so incensed because it was obvious to him that,

Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”

That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.

My response (which was similar to those of Tamino and Phil Plait) was to point out that Professor Mann was correct, and Trzupek appeared to be hopelessly confused.  “Credible theories” (which are just plausible explanations for some set of data) are the best science has to offer, and even if those theories happen to coincide with “absolute truths,” human beings would have no way of absolutely “proving” that.  This is all standard philosophy of science fare, which Trzupek could have found discussed in any introductory textbook on the subject.  It’s also an important distinction in a practical sense, because the refusal to accept any of our explanations as the final truth is one thing that makes modern science a much more powerful system of thought than the various natural philosophies that preceded it.  Moreover, it’s important to understand that, since scientific theories are all tentative to one degree or another, they are all susceptible to nitpicking.  All of them have a few grey areas where the predictions don’t exactly match the data, and many times we don’t know whether the problem is with the theory, the data, or both.  And even if we know the theory isn’t quite right, it still may be very good for predicting some things, so we hang onto it until someone comes up with a “better” theory–one that explains more data, or at least explains the same data in a more simple and elegant manner.

All of this is quite inconvenient for the intellectually lazy, because it requires continual sifting and re-sifting of evidence.  There usually aren’t any “silver bullets”–single tests that can make or break a theory–and so there is always at least a little subjectivity involved in theory choice.  This makes it very difficult or impossible to achieve 100% consensus among scientists about anything.  

It’s interesting to read the discussion in the comments section of Trzupek’s post, as well as the repost on Watt’s Up With That?  Some of the commenters were hard-core climate change contrarians–real Mann-haters–but even some of them had to point out that, in this case, Mann was right.

Now Trzupek has written a follow-up post to reassure his readers that he’s not as uninformed as his initial post makes him appear.

Ah, me. It seems that I wrote a post herebouts that was intended to hold AGW-panickers like Michael Mann to something of a standard, that standard being that they should have an obligation to show that their theories are pretty darn reliable and consistent with real world evidence.

In my day job, dealing with air quality science and regulations, that’s the kind of standard I am held to by the EPA, and it seems reasonable to expect that people who expect us to change our entire way of life in deference to a theory should be held to the same kind of standard. In attempting to make that point, I used the word that Mann had used – “proof” – and that it is of course that is the word that Mann’s supporters seized upon to demonstrate what an utter pratt I am….

Anyway, the point of my particular screed was not to reaffirm the difference between Chesterson’s (rather obvious) point that two plus two equals four because there can be no other result, and the scientific need for proof in our discipline’s eternal search for truth. It was to re-emphasize the fact that offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality is even more important in the scientific sphere. Such evidence is not to be despised, but rather to be embraced.

Did you get that?  When Trzupek accused Professor Mann of “redefin[ing] science” by saying that science doesn’t deal in “proof,” but instead only has recourse to “credible theories”… when Trzupek  said that science is “indeed all about absolute truths and proofs,” and that credible theories are but steppingstones to those absolute truths… he was really just saying that scientific theories should be supported by evidence.  Well, so much for “absolute truths and proofs.”  But then, how was Mike Mann “redefining” anything?  How can a theory be “credible” if it isn’t backed by evidence, and how can it be a “best explanation” if it doesn’t explain real data?

Could it be that, just as his critics charged, Trzupek’s criticism of Mike Mann was completely unfounded… just another in a string of bizarre attempts by unhinged wackos to target a scientist whose work, although not without faults, has repeatedly withstood the most intense scrutiny?

Trzupek doesn’t want to be seen that way, and it was especially distressing to him that his article was criticized on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog.  You see, Trzupek is a fan of Phil’s, and much of his follow-up post is a friendly invitation for Phil to reconsider his views about climate change “skeptics” [sic].

If you’re buying into Mann’s argument that everyone on the “other side” is a tool of the energy lobby, there’s no point in having a conversation — for that’s not really an argument, but is rather an excuse to not have an argument. I’ve interacted with a lot of people on the skeptical side of the aisle and they are – without exception – good, decent, sincere and well-meaning folks. That goes in particular for the folks at Heartland. People like Joe and Diane Bast, James Taylor, Jay Lehr, and Jim Lakely are the sorts of people you’d like to have as your neighbors. That’s the reason I choose to help them out whenever I can and why I have never – and would never – accept a dime from them.

Well, I can’t speak for Phil Plait, but since Rich Trzupek’s plea seems sincere, I figure I’ll try to explain to him why he has such a hard time getting those on the other side of the fence to take him seriously.

Dear Rich,

I noted that in your latest Heartland blog post you seem bothered that Phil Plait, a scientist whose work you greatly admire, was so dismissive of your article about how Michael Mann was trying to “redefine” science.  You seem very sincere in your efforts to convince Phil and others that you and your friends associated with, or employed by, the Heartland Institute are nice, sincere people with genuine questions about the validity of mainstream climate science.  And while you joke about what a thick skin you have because you “routinely get called everything from a liar to a baby-killer,” I can tell that it bothers you that you are criticized so vigorously “when [you] go after the Sierra Club or NRDC or other environmental organizations for blowing the tiniest risk out of all reasonable proportions.”

I think I understand your point of view, to some extent.  I’m a geochemistry professor, but I’m also a lifelong pro-business Republican who has never picketed or marched to support or protest any cause of any kind, environmental or otherwise.  I’m just not the type.  I’ve witnessed excesses by some environmentalists, too, and while I agree that these people are usually well intentioned, I just don’t think they have always thought through the consequences of the policies they advocate.

I’m also a former climate change “skeptic”–meaning that I didn’t buy that humans were going to cause much damage by burning fossil fuels.  Now that I have taken a harder look at the issue, I have changed my mind.  Yes, there are extremists on this side of the fence–there always are–but the people running the show over here are, in my opinion, reasonable people and conscientious scientists who have no interest in trashing the world economy or taking extreme measures to reduce the human population.  The parts I am able to check of the science they use to back up their claims seem generally good and reasonable, and most of these people seem willing to bend when it comes to the kinds of solutions they will support.

“Good and reasonable” science isn’t necessarily right, however, so I probably would still be more of a fence sitter if I hadn’t also been checking into the claims of some of the most prominent contrarian voices.  I really wanted to believe them, but what I have found so far is that the most prominent contrarians–the ones hailed as climate Galileos and the like–are either complete crackpots or are so blinded by ideology that they don’t recognize that their science on the subject is just awful.  Oh, it’s not that I never see anything coming from that side of the fence that’s worth hearing, but those points are really few and far between.  For the most part, what I’ve seen over there has seemed kind of creepy.

If you really want people like Phil Plait–scientists who are on the other side of the fence on the climate change issue and have done some checking for themselves–to take you seriously, I have to say that you have an uphill climb ahead of you.  Allow me to point out a few aspects of your last two Heartland posts, for instance, where I think you were shooting yourself in the foot.

1.  Your first argument was flatly wrong, and your second made no sense.  Reasonable people try to be more self-critical than that.

All your talk about how Michael Mann was “redefine[ing] science” because he said that science deals in credible theories and best explanations, not “proof,” was just wrong.  Pick up any introductory philosophy of science textbook, and you’ll be treated to historical case studies and logical analyses to demonstrate that Mann had his description of the nature of science exactly right.  You’ll also find that your statement that science is “indeed all about absolute truths and proofs,” and that credible theories are “how you [get] to those truths,” is wrong.  Scientific theories don’t graduate into “absolute truths.”  They remain theories, no matter how well supported they are.

But then in your follow-up post you seemed to switch gears, claiming that all you meant was that science requires “offering evidence that your particular hypothesis approaches reality.”  And what, exactly, did Professor Mann ever say that would make you think he believes otherwise?  Considering how pointed your language was about “absolute truth” and “redefining science,” it seems clear that you are backing off your original claim, but refusing to apologize to Professor Mann for an obviously misguided criticism.

2. Your initial criticism and subsequent failure to apologize make it seem like you are part of the rabid lynch mob who have been trying to ruin Mike Mann’s reputation over the past several years.  These people creep us out.

The fact that you failed to apologize to Mike Mann for your obvious blunder, but instead decided to bluster about how thick-skinned you are, daring your audience to compare you to Jerry Sandusky, makes me wonder whether you are one of those obsessed weirdos who are constantly trying to ruin Prof. Mann.

Climate change contrarians generally seem to have problems with Mike Mann’s “hockey stick” reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures over the past few hundred to couple thousand years.  I understand that it’s a visually stunning illustration of the fact that the Earth’s surface temperature has lately been doing something different than it was in the relatively recent past, but it’s not as if it’s the lynchpin of all modern climate science.  I would think it was, considering the rabidness of the response from the contrarians.

The anti-hockey-stick mob includes two camps.  Those in the first camp are the sort who can read some innocuous reference to “Mike’s Nature trick” in an e-mail and become irreversibly convinced that there is some giant conspiracy going on.  The others are the ones who, even though they don’t have a clue what a “principal component” is, are convinced that nitpicking, poorly done statistical analyses (such as those by McIntyre and McKitrick) prove that Mann purposefully did something funny with his data… even though over a dozen subsequent paleo-proxy reconstructions, using different proxy mixes and different statistical techniques, by different groups, have given very close to the same answer Mann et al. got.

How many panels need to clear Mann of wrongdoing, and how many studies need to show that, whatever the flaws in his analysis, his answer was pretty close, before these people stop trying to get various rabidly anti-government attorneys general and congressmen to launch investigations to harass Mann?  To those of us over on the other side of the fence, this behavior is really creepy–something you’d see in a horror movie about some murderous cult.

3. You demonstrate almost a complete lack of understanding about how scientists use models, and what surface temperatures have to do with climate physics.

After we strip away the ridiculous charge that Professor Mann was “redefin[ing] science,” what we’re left with is your contention that the standard climate models are obviously wrong because the warming trend over the last 15 years isn’t statistically significant.

For me (as someone with some experience doing numerical modeling of Earth processes,) it’s a bit odd to see people huddled around the global temperature reports every month to see for how many years they can claim the warming trend isn’t statistically significant.  While the models don’t predict that such a long period with statistically insignificant warming will happen very often, they do predict that they will happen, once in a while.  But suppose the flatter (not totally flat) trend goes on for a few more years?  What will that prove?  It seems to me that it will prove that the models aren’t that great at predicting ENSO fluctuations (which we already knew), because the most obvious physical reason for the recent trend is that lately the ENSO cycle has leaned more toward the La Niña end.  In other words, more heat than average has been shoved down into the deeper ocean due to fluctuations in ocean currents.  Measurements of ocean heat content at different depths bear this out, and show that the Earth as a whole (not just the narrow band right at the surface) has been heating up just like it has been for decades.  When the cycle flips and we start getting more El Niños, the surface temperature will go up faster.

Students in pretty much every numerical modeling course are introduced to this quotation by the statistician, George Box.  “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.”  Even if the physics represented by the models were absolutely perfect, plugging those into a 3D grid where the boxes are kilometers across would lead inevitably to errors, especially in the short term.  This is especially true for a chaotic system like the weather.  So the idea that we should conclude they are useless just because they don’t USUALLY predict warming slowdowns quite so long seems patently absurd to me.

If you want scientists to take you seriously, make some kind of effort to learn how they use models, and what deviations from model projections might mean.  Take the time to learn the difference between short-term chaos and long-term predictability.  And take the time to learn a little climate physics–which will teach you that the short-term surface temperature isn’t necessarily a good indication of how much total heat the Earth is absorbing.

4. You are writing for the Heartland Institute.  Like it or not, their reputation adheres to you, especially when you specifically put forward certain Heartland operatives and associated scientists as wonderful folks just out to find the truth.  We have experience with these people.

Take your Heartland pal James Taylor, for instance.  I don’t know the guy personally, but it’s obvious from his writing that he’s a libertarian ideologue who is WAY too easily convinced that any study tending to confirm his bias against the utility of government regulation is the last nail in the coffin of mainstream science.  For instance, he proclaimed, regarding a recent study by Roy Spencer and Danny Braswell, that “New NASA Data Blow Gaping Hole in Global Warming Alarmism.”  Well, the thing is that Taylor is a lawyer, and wouldn’t have a clue about the significance of any satellite data if it smacked him upside the head.  It turned out that the situation wasn’t quite as dire as Spencer and Braswell claimed.  They were making a statistical argument without calculating any uncertainties, for one thing, and they just happened to leave out most of the data they said they had analyzed, some of which completely undercut their main argument.  In the end, all that could be said of their analysis was that it showed that the timing of certain short-term fluctuations in weather is better predicted by some GCMs than others.  Which was already well known.

Now take another of your Heartland pals, Jay Lehr, Ph.D.  Jay isn’t a mere lawyer like James Taylor–he’s a groundwater hydrologist with a Ph.D.  [UPDATE:  Yeah, Jay Lehr is a really great guy.  He was successfully prosecuted for defrauding the EPA.]  A few years ago, he gave a glowing review to Roy Spencer’s book, The Great Global Warming Blunder.  For Lehr, Roy Spencer is “one of the nation’s leading climate scientists”.

Spencer documents that the science clearly shows man does not in fact control the climate in any significant way and the natural forces that continually alter the earth’s climate are relatively easy to discern and understand….

I can assure you that anyone with honesty and an IQ exceeding plant life will, after reading Spencer’s book, at last understand the workings and proper role of mathematical climate models.

Being a “skeptic” who rejects the majority view of climate specialists because he’s a tough-minded iconoclast–a true scientist–he came to these conclusions after he checked into Spencer’s models for himself, right?

Wrong.  I know this because I did an extensive review of Spencer’s book myself.  One of Spencer’s main claims was that a natural mode of climate oscillation, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), has lately been the main driver of global climate change, and that climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases is low.  He supported this conclusion by creating a simple climate model that, when forced by the PDO index, still explained most of the 20th century warming.  I reproduced Spencer’s model, showing that there were so many free parameters that an infinite number of solutions existed.  The statistical technique he used to obtain “best-fit” parameters could have given him any climate sensitivity he wanted.  In addition, to get his model to resemble the data at all, he had to start his model wildly out of equilibrium in the year 1900.  Physicist Arthur Smith followed up my review by doing a mathematical proof, showing that Spencer’s model HAS TO have an infinite number of solutions.  He also showed that if the model had been started 1000 years ago, Spencer would have had to have the starting temperature be a few trillion degrees out of equilibrium to properly reproduce the 20th century trend.  In other words, Spencer’s modeling effort was pure junk.  It didn’t even deserve the epithet “junk science.”

You might object that you’d believe Roy Spencer and Jim Lehr over me any day, but not so fast.  If you got a degree in chemistry, you should have the tools to learn how to evaluate Spencer’s model.  I can teach you how to code it in MATLAB (and maybe even Excel), explain all the relevant statistics, and so on.  We could make a “Roy Spencer’s PDO Model Study Group,” and include others you trust.  Roy Spencer refuses to answer my criticisms, so maybe a smart guy like you could do him a favor and put them to rest.

Finally, Heartland always invites Christopher Monckton to speak at their climate conference.  Oh, please.

In any case, this is what other scientists see when they look at Heartland–a few ideologues of varying intelligence who aren’t nearly as “skeptical” as they want people to believe.

5. No really, we’re talking about the Heartland Institute, which has shilled for the tobacco industry, for Pete’s sake.

For me, it’s not the climate change disinformation campaign that’s the worst thing about Heartland–it’s the tobacco.  Back in the 1990’s, Heartland was paid by Philip Morris to distribute materials questioning the health risks of second-hand smoke.  [UPDATE:  Heartland is actually still partly funded by tobacco companies like Philip Morris and Reynolds.  H/T John Mashey.]  Here we have a case where, after decades of obfuscation, the tobacco industry now generally admits that smoking is harmful to health, but now they are trying to maintain that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful.  Smokers can’t sue the tobacco companies because cigarette packages have health warnings stamped on them, and the tobacco companies want to protect themselves from people who are involuntarily exposed to tobacco smoke by maintaining that second-hand smoke isn’t harmful.  A committee of the UK House of Commons, after conducting an inquiry in 2000 about the tobacco industry’s behavior in such matters, concluded,

In analysing the past and present record of the tobacco industry’s response to the health risks of smoking we have observed a pattern. It seems to us that the companies have sought to undermine the scientific consensus until such time as that position appears ridiculous. So the companies now generally accept that smoking is dangerous (but put forward distracting arguments to suggest that epidemiology is not an exact science, so that the figures for those killed by tobacco may be exaggerated); are equivocal about nicotine’s addictiveness; and are still attempting to undermine the argument that passive smoking is dangerous. The current exceptions to this – based on the evidence they gave us – are firstly Philip Morris who claim no longer to comment on these issues except to protect themselves in law and secondly Imperial who claim not to know whether smoking is dangerous or nicotine addictive.

The Philip Morris company (Heartland’s former sugar-daddy) is wise to keep their pie-holes shut about what they know about the health effects of second-hand smoke.  A 2005 article in The Lancet summarizes their quandary as follows.

The tobacco industry maintained, for many years, that it was unaware of research about the toxic effects of smoking. By the 1970s, however, the industry decided that it needed this information but they were unwilling to seek it in a way that was open to public scrutiny. By means of material from internal industry documents it can be revealed that one company, Philip Morris, acquired a research facility, INBIFO, in Germany and created a complex mechanism seeking to ensure that the work done in the facility could not be linked to Philip Morris. In particular it involved the appointment of a Swedish professor as a ‘co-ordinator’, who would synthesise reports for onward transmission to the USA. Various arrangements were made to conceal this process, not only from the wider public, but also from many within Philip Morris, although it was known to some senior executives. INBIFO appears to have published only a small amount of its research and what was published appears to differ considerably from what was not. In particular, the unpublished reports provided evidence of the greater toxicity of sidestream than mainstream smoke, a finding of particular relevance given the industry’s continuing denial of the harmful effects of passive smoking. By contrast, much of its published work comprises papers that convey a message that could be considered useful to the industry, in particular casting doubt on methods used to assess the effects of passive smoking.

Fast-forward to 2003, and we find one of your Heartland pals, James Taylor, promoting a study that “concluded that secondhand smoke has little if any negative impact on mortality.”  Was this study credible?  Taylor quoted two people, Jacob Sullum, a journalist writing for the Washington Times, and Kimberly Bowman of the American Council on Science and Health, saying that this new study was actually consistent with most previous studies.

Really?  Because that’s not the vibe I get from the medical research community.  The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer said the following in a 2004 meta-analysis of all significant published research on second-hand smoke health effects.

These meta-analyses show that there is a statistically significant and consistent association between lung cancer risk in spouses of smokers and exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke from the spouse who smokes. The excess risk is of the order of 20% for women and 30% for men and remains after controlling for some potential sources of bias and confounding.

Boy, that seems strange… until one realizes that Jacob Sullum is a journalist who regularly writes for various libertarian-leaning publications about how smokers and drug users are picked on, and the American Council on Science and Health is another industry-funded think-tank that regularly argues against environmental regulations, although at least it usually acknowledges adverse health effects from tobacco (now that nobody would take them seriously if they didn’t).  And it turns out that the study in question was funded by the tobacco industry.

That’s why most scientists don’t merely see the Heartland Institute as a collection of deluded ideologues.  Think-tanks-for-hire that would even cater to Big Tobacco truly creep us out.  We see them as the sort of ghouls who, whether for profit or in service of their extreme libertarian ideologies, can all too easily convince themselves to promote activities that demonstrably hurt, or even kill, many innocent people.  They accomplish this by acting as if the scientific community is in their corner, when really they are leaving out most of the evidence and citing mostly industry-funded studies and think-tanks, as well as a few genuine crackpots.

Once in a while, the “concerned citizen” facade falls, and we get to see how these ghouls really think.  This happened to the Chairman of the RJR Nabisco corporation at the 1996 annual shareholders meeting.  (Here’s the transcript.  See pp. 61-63.)  One Ms. Donley asked the Chairman, Charles M. Harper, whether he had children or grandchildren, and whether he wanted anyone smoking around those children.  The Chairman initially replied that he would try to discourage the children from smoking, but he didn’t want to restrict their right to be smokers.  Ms. Donley wasn’t having it.

MS. DONLEY:  That’s not my question, sir.  Excuse me for interrupting you.  I’m not asking you whether you want them to smoke, I’m asking whether you want people to smoke around them.

THE CHAIRMAN:  I will not restrict anybody’s right to smoke.  If the children don’t like to be in a smoky room, and I wouldn’t like to be, they’ll leave.  I don’t know if you’ve got any grandchildren;  I do.  And if there is smoke around that’s uncomfortable, they’ll leave.

MS. DONLEY:  An infant cannot leave a room.

THE CHAIRMAN:  Well–okay.  At some point they begin to crawl, okay?  And then they begin to walk, and so on.  Anyway, I guess that’s enough said.

Apparently, the crowd of shareholders was applauding the Chairman, which shocked the next person to speak, one Father Michael Crosby.

MR. CROSBY:  Mr. Harper, I was going to say something else, but when people clap at what you just said, that–that children will crawl out of a room and will have to wait until they crawl–

THE CHAIRMAN:  That’s a bit of a misstatement, Father.

MR. CROSBY:  I mean, that is insensitive.  And I think that’s terribly insensitive that the shareholders would clap at a statement like that.  I don’t want to do a guilt thing, but it really is a disappointing thing.  You  might disagree, but children should not have to take in other peoples’ smoke.  We don’t need it and we can walk out; a child can’t.

And these are the kind of people that Heartland has shilled for–the sort who care more about share prices than dead babies.  If the babies don’t like it, they can learn to crawl and take a hike.

You have a tough row to hoe if you want scientists to take you seriously, my friend.  I know you say that having people call you a baby-killer has toughened you up, but if it really does bother you, your first move should be to dump Heartland like a hot brick.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | August 2, 2013

Heartland Institute Knows Squat About Science

I told you so.  For years, I have been arguing that scientists and science educators should stop talking about science as if it were possible to completely “prove” a hypothesis or theory.  Instead, we should be MILITANTLY trying to get our students and the public to understand that science is always tentative, involves creativity, and so on.  For example, I argued this point in a recent talk at DePauw University, a 2010 blog post, and a couple 2009 papers published in the Journal of Geoscience Education.  Here’s a passage from one of the papers.

Scientists and science educators are often frustrated when their students or the general public reject certain scientific theories (e.g., evolution or climate change) without a proper hearing.  We then complain that if people only understood the nature of science (NOS,) they wouldn’t be so militant in their resistance.  This is true, but much of the fault lies with us.  Science educators often either neglect to teach the NOS, or hold to outdated views and pass them on to students.  If we hold more sophisticated views of the NOS, we often soft-pedal the creative and tentative aspects of scientific thought, out of fear that students will take this as license to reject science outright.  (Bickmore et al., 2009, On teaching the nature of science and the science-religion interface, Journal of Geoscience Education, 57, 168-177.)

Now, a recent case in point.  On the “Somewhat Reasonable [sic]” blog of the discredited Heartland Institute, James Trzupek reported his astonishment at a comment about the nature of science by climate scientist Michael Mann.  Here’s how Trzupek begins.

In a post over at Peter Guest’s blog, Michael “Hockey Stick” Mann is quoted making one of the most remarkable statements that I’ve ever heard coming out of a supposed scientist’s mouth:

“Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”

He goes on to explain that science is all about “credible theories” and “best explanations” and his gosh-darn critics supposedly don’t offer up any of those.

Now it seems pretty obvious that Mann’s attempt to separate proof from science stems from increasing public awareness that the warming predicted by the high-sensitivity models that Mann and others have championed just hasn’t occurred over the last fifteen years. No matter. You don’t need “proof” when you have “credible theories.”

That comes as something of a shock to me. When I was going to school to earn my degree in chemistry, we were taught that science was indeed all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day. “Credible theories” is how you got to those truths, not an alternative to them.

Mr. Trzupek’s comments seem to show an astonishing ignorance about the nature of science that could be cured by taking a single course in the History and Philosophy of Science or reading a single textbook on the subject.  My recommendation for the beginner would be Samir Okasha’s Philosophy of Science:  A Very Short Introduction, but if you don’t want to spend the time to read Okasha’s 160 pages, I wrote a 15 page piece on the subject for introductory science students called “Science As Storytelling“.

The idea that scientific theories (or any other kind of theories) are always “underdetermined” by the data has been around at least since David Hume in the 18th century, but since the last half of the 20th century it has been the standard position among historians and philosophers of science.  E.g., even back in 1934 Karl Popper could write (in Logik der Forschung) that scientific theories are “forever tentative,” because they can never be conclusively proven true, but he clung to the idea that at least they can be “falsified,” i.e., conclusively proven false.  Subsequent scholars like Imre Lakatos and Thomas Kuhn employed very strong historical and philosophical arguments to show that even Popper’s falsifiability criterion was too strong.  Now, a standard textbook in Philosophy of Science can bluntly state,

As a matter of logic, scientific law can neither be completely established by available evidence, nor conclusively falsified by a finite body of evidence.  This does not mean that scientists are not justified on the occasions at which they surrender hypotheses because of countervailing evidence, or accept them because of the outcome of an experiment.  What it means is that confirmation and disconfirmation are more complex matters than the mere derivation of positive or negative instances of a hypothesis being tested.  (Alex Rosenberg, Philosophy of Science:  A Contemporary Introduction.  London, Routledge, 2000, p. 114.)

But are the philosophers going off on a tangent, here?  No, well informed science educators all accept this point, so that the National Academies of Science publication, Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science can say that “the statements of science should never be accepted as ‘final truth.’”

I said Mr. Trzupek’s comments “seem” to show an “astonishing” ignorance, but unfortunately his ignorance isn’t so surprising.  The fact is that it is well known to historians and philosophers of science that scientists themselves are often quite ignorant about these things, and even if they aren’t, they don’t spend a lot of time trying to help their students come to the same understanding.  The result is that it is perfectly possible for someone like Mr. Trzupek to earn an entire BS in Chemistry, and still believe that “science [is]… all about absolute truths and proofs at the end of the day.”  This problem was noted back in 1990 by Virginia Tech philosopher of science Joseph Pitt.

Rarely is a connection made between the different sciences and it certainly is the case that little, if any, effort is made to touch on the history, philosophy or sociology of science.  In short, most of our students are exposed to a year of the current (and soon to be obsolete) thinking about biology, or physics or chemistry and we call that science education.  That’s a laugh.

The situation is not much better in the colleges.  While it is true that there are more courses taught there, it is generally the case that in no science or engineering curriculum are students required to take courses in the history, sociology or philosophy of science, nor are they required to consider the relationships among the various sciences.   (Pitt, 1990, The myth of science education, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 10, 7-17.)

Given these considerations, here are my conclusions about the Heartland Institute’s recent pontifications on the nature of science.

1. BRAVO to Mike Mann.  What he said about the nature of science is spot-on, and scientists need to keep pounding this point home to students and the public.  “Proof is for mathematical theorems and alcoholic beverages. It’s not for science.”

2. Mr. Trzupek provides us with an excellent example of what happens when we fail to pound the message in.  Here we have a guy who managed to graduate with a degree in chemistry, and still has wildly naive ideas about the nature of science.  Thinking that “real science” is a matter of proof, all he has to do to convince himself to reject any branch of science he doesn’t like (climate science, evolutionary science, or whatever) is to point out a few grey areas.  I invite Mr. Trzupek to update his thinking about the nature of science so that he can join substantive conversations about climate science.  (WARNING:  It’s a lot more work.)

3.  People like Al Gore, while I appreciate what he and others have done to publicize the problem of climate change, need to knock it off with their pronouncements that “the science is settled.”  Warts and all, science has a pretty darn good track record, and everyone knows it.  Thanks, but scientists don’t need that kind of help to make our case, because it’s too easy to point out some grey areas in ANY branch of science.

[NOTE:  Tamino has also posted about Mr. Trzupek’s nonsense.]

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | July 31, 2013

Video: Climate Change and the Open Mind

Back in April I gave an invited talk entitled “Climate Change and the Open Mind” at DePauw University.  This was part of a workshop called “Cool Talk about a Hot Topic: The Ethics of Communicating about Climate Change,” put on by the Prindle Institute for Ethics.  Click here to see the video of the talk.  There are also links there to the other talks given at the symposium.

The question I asked was why things like political ideology are much better predictors of a person’s views about climate change than things like education.  I think some of the answer has to do with flaws in how we educate people about 1) what it means to be a critical thinker, and 2) what it means to do science.  My primary example to illustrate my points was Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and of course I had to bring in Christopher Monckton.  That’s just a given.


Posted by: Barry Bickmore | July 2, 2013

New Videos Page

Make sure to check out my new videos page, which you can access by clicking here or clicking on the “Videos” tab above.  This page collects together the recorded talks I’ve given about climate change and other informational videos I’ve made.  Yes, I make fun of Christopher Monckton.  😉

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 16, 2013

Rebuttal to Former Senator Bob Bennett

A couple weeks ago, former U.S. Senator Bob Bennett (R-Utah) published an op-ed in the Deseret News, in which he went on about how climate science isn’t “settled,” and that we shouldn’t “panic,” but instead do things that “make sense” to combat climate change.  They just published my reply.



Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 10, 2013

National Journal: The Coming GOP Civil War Over Climate Change

A number of Republicans like me believe we are shooting ourselves in the foot by acting like a bunch of slack-jawed yokels and tinfoil-hat-wearing loons with respect to climate change.  Here’s a very good National Journal article about moves within the Republican party to start addressing climate change.

Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 8, 2013

WaPo Fact Checker on Rep. Stewart

In my last post, I linked to a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) in which he said,

There is also uncertainty regarding to what degree man is to blame for global warming. However, the claim that 98 percent of scientists agree that humans are the singular driver of climate change has been repeatedly discounted. This oft-cited statistic is based on an online survey with a sample size of only 77 people, and the survey didn’t even ask to what degree humans contribute to climate change.

In my op-ed response, I said,

Several lines of evidence, including multiple surveys of climate science experts and the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change, indicate that at most a few percent of the experts disagree with the consensus view that humans are mostly responsible for the climate change over the past half century. Stewart doesn’t challenge this view with any competing study, He just nitpicks a single study and ignores the rest.

Now Glenn Kessler, who writes the Fact Checker blog at The Washington Post, has gone into much more detail about why Stewart’s cherrypicking is disingenuous.  He ends up awarding Rep. Stewart “4 Pinocchios,” which translates as “Whoppers”.

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