Friday, March 21, 2008


As Tonstant Weader knows, Eli has found the Good Diplom Beck a bit too hummy. Bunny Labs has had a word or two or three or four to say about Ernst-Georg Beck who never met a CO2 measurement he did not accept as representative of the background atmosphere, especially when it was taken in the middle of Paris or some other large city, which as we all know has a bit more CO2 in the air, then in your average fizzy beverage of choice. The Rabett is not the only one to notice this, so has Coby Beck, as has Tim Lambert, as has Stoat (see we only disagree about how much ice to put in the Scotch, Eli says none for the good stuff) and as has Real Climate, in a post titled Beck to the Future, Eli believes one of the first times the eminent scholars over there were so enraged they resorted to punishment.

Having misplaced an early copy of Becks manuscript, 180 Years of Atmospheric CO2 Gas Analysis by Chemical Methods" Eli didn't have the carrots (you guys better pay attention to those ads on the top left) to penetrate the Energy & Environment paywall, but, good fortune, it now has reappeared on Beck's Blog, together with some comments published in E&E by Harro Meijer and Raph Keeling, CD's son, and a pretty good atmospheric scientist himself.

Meijer starts gently

Beck has re-interpreted various 19th and early 20th century chemical CO2 measurements, and derived very far-reaching conclusions. His work, however, contains major flaws, such that the conclusions are completely wrong, as they are based on poor understanding of the atmosphere.
Which, of course, was Eli's point in Amateur Hour. Meijer concludes by stating his disappointment with Princess Denial, Sonja Boehmer-Christiansen
It is shocking that this paper has been able to pass the journal's referee system. "Energy and Environment" apparently has been unable to organise a proper peer review process for this paper, thereby discrediting the journal.
Ralph Keeling is not so forbearing
The Beck article provides an interesting test case for E&E's recently advertised willingness to serve as a forum for "skeptical analyses of global warming" (E&E mission statement, Dec. 2006). The result was the publication of a paper with serious conceptual oversights that would have been spotted by any reasonably qualified reviewer. Is it really the intent of E&E to provide a forum for laundering pseudo-science? I suggest that some clarification or review of the practice is appropriate
This pretty much ensures a never ending supply of Beckies, so let's go to the tape

Ernst-Georg, of course, could not let it go, being the toast of the
Theodor-Heuss-Akademie, is not something to be sneezed at if you are a bio teacher at a Gymnasium. Meijer and Keeling pretty much said the same things that were laid out in the blog links above, e.g. it is not very smart to use measurements taken in areas where there is a lot of combustion to represent the background level of CO2. Georg Hoffman pointed this out in Real Climate

Secondly, nearly all early sampling facilities were tested in continental environments often under the sporadic influence of heavily polluted air masses (such as Paris, Parc Montsouris, Copenhagen, Dieppe etc.). How large is the influence of such “CO2 pollution”? A quick tour through my car-traffic-saturated home town, Paris, can give us a good first impression:

  • Jardin Luxembourg (major but still tiny green spot in the center of Paris) 425ppm
  • Place de la Bastille: 430ppm
  • Place de l’Etoile (the crazy huge roundabout around the Arc de Triomphe): 508ppm
  • And the winner was Place de la Nation: 542ppm (ie 160ppm over background!).
All these measurements by David Widory and Marc Javoy (reference below) were snapshot measurements, but they show how CO2 concentrations can vary strongly due to nearby fossil fuel combustion.
Keeling makes a point echoed by many
“It should be added that Beck’s analysis also runs afoul of a basic accounting problem. Beck’s 11–year averages show large swings, including an increase from 310 to 420 ppm between 1920 and 1945 (Beck’s Figure 11). To drive an increase of this magnitude globally requires the release of 233 billion metric tons of C to the atmosphere. The amount is equivalent to more than a third of all the carbon contained in land plants globally. Other CO2 swings noted by Beck require similarly large releases or uptakes. To make a credible case, Beck would have needed to offer evidence for losses or gains of carbon of this magnitude from somewhere. He offered none.”
And, what else, dear bunnies, Beck completely misses the point
The criticism that my paper presents no evidence for loss of gains of carbon makes sense, but this was not the subject of the paper: it is restricted to quality assessments of the selection of old data.
Beck says that according to those truly excellent 90,0000 CO2 titrations by Nobel Prize Winners!!!! using chemical methods, CO2 went from 310 to 420 ppm in 25 years. Keeling notes that this requires an enormous release of carbon, one that no one has noticed, but that surely WOULD have been noticed. In polite seminars, this is called a Bull Chocolate Test, aka inducing a GOGI situation, if you get garbage out, you put garbage in. EGB is not one to notice that the thing melted in his hand.
It is surprising, that the old data suggest a variability of the sizes mentioned.
Ernst, follow the bouncing bunny. It is not surprising. It shows that the old data was not representative of the background CO2 levels, but was representative of the local situation, dominated by urban ills. You don't have to go any further
If, however, the base line over the period 1800 to 1950 was at a higher level than the generally assumed pre-industrial level of 280 ppm, then the swings reduce.
Keeling and Meijer and everyone else were using Beck's baseline. Beck does not recognize (pay attention you there in the back with the bunny Peeps) a worse problem on the downslope between 1945 and 1960 when the decrease in atmospheric CO2 would require that the earth opened and swallowed back the CO2 it generated between 1920 and 1945. BTW, we really do know about the background level in 1960, because the Mauna Loa measurements were going by then, but never mind because "if we don't know anything, we know nothing" according to Beck
There seem to be many aspects of the carbon cycle which are insufficiently resolved (e.g. the up welling from the deep sea in equatorial waters, a major source in natural cycle).
some frantic and irrelevant handwaving
Another aspect that seems to be neglected to date is that ice core data may indicate a too low CO2 value because of the presence of CO2 fixing bacteria (see Table 1 in Christner et al.).
and finally
It should be noted that the fundamentals of my assessment of the quality of the old measurements has not been challenged by RFK or by Meijer.
which, in case anyone is still paying attention, was because they did not have to do that to show that what was being measured was not what Beck (and those who did the measurements) thought they were measuring and besides which, if you know the literature, has already been done.

More to come. Get your Beckies here

** Garbage out, garbage in, a very common way that scientists think about things. If the result is beyond belief, so were the assumptions on which it was based. Eli will now hie himself over to the Wikipedia.


tamino said...

Very nice post. I'll also agree with the rabett, that when it comes to scotch there should be no ice in the good stuff.

Anonymous said...

How does this guy continue to get "air time"? He brings to mind Bobby Vee and that bouncing rubber ball.

BTW, you're both wrong. The only way to take scotch is with ginger ale!

Take a scotch glass, fill it to the brim with your chosen brand of dry ginger ale. Consume. Aah!

I've tried it three or four times (scotch that is), and each time it reminds me of the taste one gets in one's mouth following behind the tarmacadam layer.

Disgusting and overrated drink, is my considered opinion. But each to their own. And mine's a ... anything but scotch.

Cymraeg llygoden

John Mashey said...

1) "The Winelands of Britain" expects that Loch Ness will have a fine winery sometimes post-2100AD ... Maybe after a while, wine will take over from scotch.

2) Speaking of Sonja B-C, it appears that she changed her mind about rejecting the Schulte paper from last Fall.

So, it will take its place in E&E with Beck, etc.

Anonymous said...

"Is it really the intent of E&E to provide a forum for laundering pseudo-science?"

Er, yes, very much so.
And I agree that scotch is very overrated, as are all strong liquors. For me nothing beats a good Bourgogne, although I have a weakness for the EKU from across the Rhine.

bi said...

"if we don't know anything, we know nothing"

By "anything" I think you mean "everything"...

EliRabett said...

Hi bi,

Nope, in Beck's case I mean exactly what I said. He don't know anything, he just thinks he does.

bi said...

Um... then maybe make that "if I don't know anything, then we know nothing"...

Lazar said...

Medieval Warm Pie!

guthrie said...

I find it a very common thing, when debating non-scientists, that they think that if we don't know anything, we know nothing. Or to refine it, if we don't know something for certain, we don't know anything at all. They ignore the fact that narrowing down the possibilities is very important, not to mention that precision is tricky.

Georg Hoffmann said...

Still I think this Beck thing is potentially the lackmus test for the entire sceptics scene: and its coloured dark red. Besides of two/three exceptions they all more or less agree with the brave bio teacher's revolt against the establishment. That gives you an idea how far they wanna go.
Cheers Georg

Lazar said...

I find it a very common thing, when debating non-scientists, that they think that if we don't know anything, we know nothing.

The corollary to 'if there is uncertainty, there is no understanding'; 'if there is understanding, there is certainty'. Like the plot of pi estimates on Deltoid, I thought this plot neatly communicates a) convergence (confidence), b) outliers (skepticism). Seems knowledge from all the areas of climate science are trending toward one conclusion.
Thanks, Barton!

John Mashey said...

I think I sort of disagree, as might Sir Francis Bacon:

"If a man will begin in certainties, he shall end in doubts, but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties."

Put another way, if you *always* think in terms of uncertainties, and the bounding thereof, you are not seduced by the idea of exactness in places where it isn't. There is often perfectly adequate understanding, as long as the uncertainty is small enough.

Psychologically, some people are comfortable with this, and with probabilistic arguments, either by inclination of training.

But many aren't, and are very uncomfortable with it.

Lazar said...

... what I meant to say :)
Someone who deals in certainty is shown an IPCC report dealing with uncertainty, and s/he may conclude they know nothing. Show them one paper demonstrating a sun-climate correlation and they may assume it's proven.

"‘Wanting something?’ inquired Jeff, lugging it up from far down.

‘Not exactly.’ Harrison eyed the succulent food display and decided that anything unsold by nightfall was not thrown out to the cats. ‘I’m looking for a certain person.’

‘Are you now? Usually I avoid that sort—but every man to his taste.’ He plucked a fat lip while he mused a moment, then suggested. ‘Try Sid Wilcock over on Dane Avenue. He’s the most certain man I know.’" -- And Then There Were None, Eric Frank Russell

guthrie said...

I always thought it was GiGo, as in Garbage in, Garbage out. I first came across it in a Frank Herbert novel when I was at uni.

I am always astounded by the denialists ability to spot patterns using only their naked eyes, or to make shit up based upon their own predilections.

Anyone done a survey of these amateur auditors? I wonder if a higher percentage of them would be engineers than in the normal run of the mill blog commentators.

EliRabett said...

Yeah guthrie, but Eli always was a backwards rabett, and besides GOGI captures the point so well. If you get garbage out, you probably put garbage in, either as the data or the method.

John Mashey said...

The difference is:

GIGO: if you put garbage in, you certainly will get garbage out, whether the method is good or not.

GOGI: you observe that the result is garbage, now you have to figure out whether the method was wrong, the input was wrong, or both.

EliRabett said...

True, but it is a reasonably strong hint that something is rotten and you should sniff before swallowing

Besides which Eli is campaigning to get this into the Wikipedia