A short while ago, Eli was reading Chemical and Engineering News when his eye gazed across a letter from somebunny, never mind who
Having recently become a 50-year member of the American Chemical Society, I am embarrassed to see that C&EN has become a propaganda machine attempting to brainwash ACS members. Strong claim, you say?
The cover of the March 25 issue points to the article about ocean acidification with the words: “Shellfish die-off threatens Pacific Northwest” (C&EN, March 25, page 36). The article says: “Over the past 250 years, the average upper-ocean pH has decreased by about 0.1 units, from about 8.2 to 8.1.” This is the only quantitative data, relative to ocean acidification, in this two-page article.
But 250 years ago an acid was a substance that tasted sour, and a base was a substance that tasted bitter. Fritz Haber and Zygmunt Klemensiewicz constructed the first glass pH electrode in 1906. So the pH scale did not exist before 1909. In 1934 Arnold Beckman began marketing his commercial pH meter, the first manufactured in the U.S
The convention taught in chemistry was that the right-most digit of a quantitative measurement was uncertain; it could be at least one or two units greater or lesser. Therefore, the data cited in the article should not be interpreted as if any change has occurred.
Relative to a shellfish die-off threatening the Pacific Northwest, near the end of the article it says: “In recent years, the tribe’s natural resources have been threatened by oil spills, overharvesting, and illegal poachers supplying the Asian seafood market.” Maybe it is these three factors, instead of ocean acidification, that threaten Pacific Northwest shellfish.
The proper way of responding to a letter such as that from Some Bunny on the issue of ocean acidification is difficult (C&EN, May 13, page 2). Perhaps it’s best to mention simple things. Bunny points out that the acid concept is relatively new, and electrochemical methods of measuring pH date back only to 1906. He asks how it is possible, then, that we have measurements of pH going back more than 250 years.Eli, and Ms. Rabett have been doing other stuff, so imagine his surprise to find that similar foolishness has caused the long suffering Weasel to reach his limit, and that, especially after a winning boat races, is for the sharp toothed one a high barrier, but he has found it in Curry's Wide Sargasso Sea of Stupidity
As one who follows such things, I know there are biogeochemical proxies for pH including, among others, boron isotope ratios of foraminiferal carbonate, which can take us back much further than 250 years. Bunny tries to minimize the measured decrease of pH in the oceans from 8.2 to 8.1 as not being precise. He can be assured that pH variations with location and time have been measured well enough by both proxy and more recent instrumental methods to make such a statement meaningful. In addition, we have observed the expected decrease in the amounts of aragonite from which many sea animals build their shells.I agree with Bunny that many factors are stressing the productivity of Pacific Northwest fisheries. Indeed, this is a classic case of not one thing or another—but rather one thing and another and yet another and so on. But each “another” counts, and for the fishery to flourish each must be dealt with, including acidification, the effects of which are global.
The motive for this was, now that I have a moment from the rowing to pause to think, me thinking “hmm, I haven’t written about science much recently”. That is partly an inevitable, and predicted, consequence of me not doing science any more. But also, it seems to me, because there isn’t that much going on. So since James and Eli are on hols, and not much was showing up elsewhere, I thought I’d range off into Curry-land, to see what she had found. And it was looking pretty thin to me: weekend discussion threads and stuff. But then I found Ocean acidification discussion thread, and took a look. On the surface, its yet another of those rubbish posts that JC does which boil down to “I haven’t got a clue about subject X, but here are two people who disagree, errrm, well that didn’t teach anyone anything did it, never mind I got a pile of page hits”. But there is far more wrong with it than that.and indeed, it is the usual swamp. For example, Harold NLN
pH is measured with an electrochemical probe. They may have had some very crude galvinometer – based device 200 years ago, but it wouldn’t be very accurate. Until the de Forest tube was invented, the measurement was low precision.and Nick Stokes tries his best but cannot beat the difference between a chemical equilibrium and a static equilibrium into Jim NLN
Well, those were some of the better ones, but blog scientists are on the case, 473 comments as of now.