Tech Central Station flunks Physics

I wrote earlier correcting Ross McKitrick’s false claim that there is no such thing as Global Temperature. Unfortunately McKitrick’s claim has been adopted and spread by people ignorant of basic physics. For example, consider this review of Essex and McKitrick’s book Taken by Storm at (where else?) Tech Central Station, by Paul Georgia. If you look at Georgia’s biographical details, you will see that he has studied political economy and economics and there is no evidence that he ever studied physics and it certainly shows in his review.

Before I examine what Georgia wrote in his review, I’d like to give Wikipedia a plug. I thought I’d have to quote passages from basics physics texts, but Wikipedia has accurate and careful explanations that I can link to.

Georgia writes:

No Physical Meaning

Essex, who studies the underlying mathematics, physics and computation of complex dynamic processes, raises some very fundamental scientific issues with regard to global warming. Take, for instance, the “average global temperature,” which is the primary statistic offered as evidence of global warming. The problem with this statistic is that it has no physical meaning. Temperature is not a thermodynamic variable that lends itself to statistical analysis, nor does it measure a physical quantity.

If you read the Wikipedia page on temperature you will discover that it does have a physical meaning and also that it is a physical quantity. And that there is the whole field of statistical mechanics based on the application of statistics to temperature. Go figure.

Georgia continues:

Thermodynamic variables are of two types, says Essex, extensive and intensive. Extensive variables, like energy or mass, occur in amounts. Intensive variables, such as temperature, refer to conditions of a system. A cup of hot coffee, for example, contains an amount of energy and has a temperature. If you add an equal amount of coffee with the same amount of energy and the same temperature to the cup, the amount of energy doubles, but not the temperature. The temperature remains the same. Thus, while you can add up the energy from two separate systems and get total energy, it is physically meaningless to add up the two systems’ temperatures. And dividing that number by two doesn’t give you the average temperature either. Such an exercise results in a statistic that has no physical meaning. Yet that is exactly what occurs when the average global temperature is computed.

So let’s see. We have some coffee at 60 degrees and add an equal amount also at 60 degrees. Georgia tells us that the mixture will have a temperature of 60 degrees. So far so good. And that adding the two temperatures doesn’t give the right answer. Let’s see: 60+60 = 120, which is not the right answer. OK. And that “dividing that number by two doesn’t give you the average temperature either”. Let’s see: 120/2 = 60, which, err, is the right answer. I don’t want to be too harsh here, but I think your average eight year old could figure out that if you add a number to itself and divide by two you get the original number back again. But this was too much for Georgia.

In fact, adding the temperatures and dividing by two also works if you add an equal quantity at a different temperature. the Wikipedia page on intensive variables has the formula if the quantities are different—it’s a weighted mean of the two temperatures.

Georgia continues:

Moreover, temperature and energy aren’t the same thing. The internal energy of a system can change without changing the temperature and the temperature can change while the internal energy of the system remains the same. In fact, this occurs all the time in the climate because the two variables are fundamentally different classes of thermodynamic variables and there is no physical law that requires that they move together.

Wow. I guess we’ll just have to ditch the entire field of thermodynamics then. In fact, Temperature T and internal energy U are related by the formula

ΔU=ΔT*m*c

where m is the mass and c the specific heat. It is true that it is possible for internal energy to change without affecting the temperature if there is a phase change, but the atmosphere stays way above the temperature of liquid nitrogen, so this makes almost no difference to temperatures.

Georgia continues:

The next time somebody informs you that the planet’s “average temperature” has increased, you can rest assured that they have told you exactly nothing.

It’s clear that Georgia does not understand the basic physics of temperature, but he is willing confidently make false claims about temperature. Furthermore, the fact that Tech Central Station published his nonsense demonstrates that the editors there know nothing about physics either, which is a rather sad state of affairs for a site that publishes commentry on scientific matters.

Update: Chris Mooney has another example of pseudoscience from Paul Georgia, while David Appell concludes that Georgia is “unfit to be writing about any scientific concept”.

1. #1 Eli Rabett
May 20, 2004

Well ben, ol boy you are talking carrots and beans. Water vapor and CO2 (and clouds) are the principal absorbers of infrared radiation in the atmosphere, however, how much they contribute to the specific heat of the air is another thing entirely.

2. #2 Eli Rabett
May 20, 2004

Dano and Mark, while the amount of black road has gone up in the last century, the amount of black buildings has gone down. As you may remember if you are in your nineties, in the eary 1900s there was a lot of soot in cities from inefficient burning of coal and wood.

The amount of soot emitted had already peaked in the UK by 1900 and in the US by 1920.

3. #3 Dano
May 20, 2004

Eli, the important thing is the extent of the UHI. How far it goes out from the hot core. Not the intensity.

Once you get out to farm fields, particularly irrigated annual row crops in clay soils, the temp drops right off. Very very few GHCN monitors are located in city centers – they usually are located around big cities at the ICAO weather stations at airports.

I would be happy to show you how the UHI works in Sacramento, CA, USA, where I used to live. I still subscribe (I believe) to the CIMIS wx station network there, and did a little study (unpublished) on the UHI there. It is typical of many UHIs, particularly in the midwestern US.

And Mark mentioned the LBL/LLNL/whatever Heat Island Group. Their folks, particularly Hashem Akbari, have numerous studies on roof color and composition and effects on UHI. I have the URL and many of his papers if you would like them.

Point being, the UHI has only a slight statistical effect on the overall temps reported by the GHCN in the CONUS; this has been dissected numerous times and the current knowledge appears robust.

Anyway, the conversion of land to cropped systems changes the albedo, cooling the land, and it has been shown that aggregate landcover change in the CONUS has actually cooled the average temp.

HTH

D

4. #4 Eli Rabett
May 20, 2004

Dano, I know it is local, see original comment about walking into a park in a city (the temperature used to be measured in New York City Central Park above a meadow, quite a cool place). I also know about the various tests for effects of the UHI on surface temperature anomoly records, but the primary reason there is little effect is that what is measured are anomolies. If the surrounding area of a measuring station does not change, the bias does not change.

I want to go beyond this. My contention is that there are places where the UHI effect has been LOWERED in the past century, and that a priori, one cannot simply say that cities are larger, therefore the effect is larges, because the UHI effect has a very short range, and what you must look at is the density of population, albedo and other factors in the immediate neighborhood of the measuring station.

I am not surprised that land use on average has cooled the US in the past century, if for no other reason, the regrowth of the eastern forests.

5. #5 Dano
May 20, 2004

Ah. I see your point Eli. That is exactly the contention you should be making.

Imhoff has published 2 papers looking at the DMSP sat pix and landcover change attempting to define your contention:

Marc L. Imhoff, Lahouari Bounoua, Ruth DeFries, William T. Lawrence, David Stutzer, Compton J. Tucker and Taylor Ricketts 2004. The consequences of urban land transformation on net primary productivity in the United States Remote Sensing of Environment 89:4 Pages 434-443

and

Christopher D. Elvidge, Marc L. Imhoff, Kimberly E. Baugh, Vinita Ruth Hobson, Ingrid Nelson, Jeff Safran, John B. Dietz and Benjamin T. Tuttle 2001. Night-time lights of the world: 1994-1995 ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing 56:2 Pages 81-99.

I have these papers and can send them on if you can’t get them.

BTW, forests have a darker reflectivity (darker albedo) and thus tend to be slightly warmer than bare soil or cropped fields, despite evapotranspiration’s cooling effects and shade cast (counterintuitive, yes?).

HTH

D

6. #6 Mark Bahner
May 20, 2004

Tom wrote, “On the subject of water vapor/humidity, what’s the score on Lindzen versus Lin on the Infrared Iris hypothesis?”

I’m not interested in discussing that, because it’s not relevant to this discussion. This discussion is about whether the things Paul Georgia wrote were right or wrong, and whether the things Tim Lambert wrote in response were right or wrong.

Tom continued, “Sorry Mark, can’t see how you can defend: ‘Temperature is not a thermodynamic variable that lends itself to statistical analysis, nor does it measure a physical quantity.'”

When did I ever attempt to defend that statement, Tom? If you read my postings, you’ll in fact find that I wrote (on 19 May, at 7:13):

“I score it: Paul Georgia = 1, Tim Lambert =0.”

“P.S. Truth in posting comment: actually, I’d score it as 1 to 1, since I don’t agree with Georgia’s comment that, ‘Temperature is not a thermodynamic variable that lends itself to statistical analysis, nor does it measure a physical quantity.'”

So I’ve already written that I think Paul Georgia was wrong on that statement.

Just like I think Tim Lambert is wrong/irrelevant in some of his statements.

7. #7 Mark Bahner
May 20, 2004

Oh, I missed Tom’s concluding remark: “Also, there’s absolutely no mention of humidity in the LobbyistCentralStation article.”

Humidity came into the discussion due to Tim Lambert’s claim that the delta U = m c delta T is as accurate to describe the relationship between internal energy and temperature in the atmosphere as Newtonian mechanics (i.e. neglecting relativistic effects).

I will show why humidity matters after Tim Lambert answers my question about whether 1 kg of dry (0% RH) air, air at 30% RH, and air at 80% RH all have the same internal energy, if they are all at 20 degrees Celsius.

And if he says, “Yes, they all have the same internal energy,” I will ask him if that’s true if all the packets of air were at 30 degrees Celsius. And if he answers “yes” to that, I will ask him about the amount of energy that must be removed to cool 1 kg of air at 30 degrees Celsius to 20 degrees Celsius, if the 1 kg is a) dry air, b) air at 30% RH, and c) air at 80% RH.

8. #8 Name
May 21, 2004

Here’s a suggestion. Brush up on your college (not middle school) science:

http://www.indstate.edu/thcme/mwking/thermodynamics.html

9. #9 Dano's name
May 21, 2004

Say, thanks! I brushed up on my Collidge Rhetoric too. It says context is, like, kinda real important.

D

10. #10 Mark Bahner
May 21, 2004

NoName writes, “Here’s a suggestion. Brush up on your college (not middle school) science:”

Bwahahahahaha! An ANONYMOUS poster suggesting that…I?…”brush up” on science. And then links to a site about thermodynamics as it applies to BIOCHEMISTRY (e.g. liquids with little or no gas present).

Sorry, NoName, I’m not impressed! Answer my questions (since it looks like Tim Lambert never will), and I’ll be at least respectful. Answer them correctly, and I’ll be impressed. Otherwise, you probably ought to go back to your trolling.

Dano writes, “….” Blah, blah, blah. Dano certainly doesn’t have anything to add to this discussion (beyond the urban heat island stuff, which isn’t really on-topic). If DANO answers my questions correctly, I’ll send him \$20!

11. #11 Mark Bahner
May 29, 2004

Limited time free money offer for Tim Lambert! (And Dano, though he has no hope of winning it.)

Mark’s most generous free money offer

12. #12 Bolo
June 2, 2004

A nice post by Tim, and I would say that Sarah and Mark Bahner had the best comments (staying composed while going ‘against the grain’).

Its too bad Hal had to come along and spoil a lot of the debate midway through.

My take on the article: Paul Georgia doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Anyone who can write ‘Temperature is not a thermodynamic variable that lends itself to statistical analysis, nor does it measure a physical quantity’ obviously does not know what he is talking about. The fact that his later statement about temperature not necessarily tracking with internal energy is correct is–I believe–is most likely a happy coincidence. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

But we can’t really know what thought processes went on in Mr. Georgia’s head.

Anyhow, an excellent discussion. I always knew that the global warming debate was a tricky one, and its nice to hear facts/opinions from both sides.

One last thing: The next time you encounter someone as immature and foolish as Hal online, please don’t say things like ‘I forgot that liberals were this bad,’ etc. His main identification should not be ‘liberal’ but ‘ignorant.’ There are a lot of ignorant people out there who throw around the terms liberal and conservative, but they often either don’t know what these words mean or are too inarticulate to get their points across and simply fall back on stereotypes. They should not be taken as representative of the entire ‘other side.’

13. #13 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

Sarah: “So, 17,000 scientists rejecting Kyoto isn’t relevant, but the opinions of a couple thousand scientists — who do believe global warming — is sufficient to change worldwide policy?

I’d love to see someone actually refute the OISM findings rather than nitpick over credentials.”

I was motivated at one point to check how many people in the US had somr form of scientific qualification (ie.e a B Sc. or better).

I believe the number was somewhere around 2 million.

Does anyone doubt I could find more than 17,000 of them prepared to sign a petition supporting the global warming hypothesis?

Would anyone who currently doesn’t support the hypothesis feel compelled to reverse their position if I did?

14. #14 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

Tim Lambert wrote:
17/5/2004 02:07:54
“Sarah, I don’t know enough about the economic impact of Kyoto to make any firm comments on it. But I find it striking that the people who say the climate science is far too uncertain to justify any action turn around and tell me that the economic science is quite certain and shows that Kyoto will have a severe negative impact. ”

For Australia at least, the economic science definitely does NOT show definite and large negative impacts for ratifying Kyoto.

Warwick McKibbin, who is a critic of Kyoto, conducted a modelling exercise which concluded that in the short to medium term the economic impact of ratifying Kyoto would be only slightly negative or possibly even marginally negative.

In the longer term, he concldued there would be moderate negative impact however when I took a detailed look at his underlying assumptions I concldued this was probably an overstatement.

15. #15 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

Sarah wrote:
17/5/2004 15:58:52
<<Tim, if you want to see living proof of the economic impact of environmental regulation, look no further than the energy crisis in California. Every state in the union is awash in cheap electrical energy, except for the one that has massive regulation. >>

Sara,

If you want to see how corporate interests can abuse both science and economics go back to the debates that preceded both the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances and the introduction of the US sulphur dioxide trading scheme.

In both cases, corporations and their hired advocates claimed that the costs of complaince would be massive and the economic benefits woudl be trivial.

In both cases, the actual costs were below what even the advocates of the restrictions had expected.

Never underestimate the ability of the free market to find cost-effective solutions when provided with the correct price signals.

16. #16 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

I also find it amusing to hear that high energy prices are the inevitable result of governemnt regulation.

How is it then that the government-owned elecrtricity industries in the Autralian states of New South Wales and Queensland produce some of the cheapest, if not the cheapest, power in the devleoped world AND regularly make significant dividend payments to the state governments.

Next door, in Victoria, a string of major international power companies have lost billions investing in privatised power plants in the belief that they would be able to compete successfully agaisnt the publicly-owned utilities in Australia’s National Energy Market.

17. #17 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

“I tracked down the AASC web-site and found something that might be of interest. All of the members of the AASC are political appointees (see here)”

Guess which political party currently controls the governorshipd of (I beleive) 37 or 38 of the 50 Us states?

18. #18 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

Sara: “Japan has a prosperous economy, because it is comprised of exceptionally hard-working people who live in a largely puritan culture.”

I must have missed the bit about the Puritans being massive fans of love hotels; pornogrpahy, all-night drinking parties and conspicuous consumption.

19. #19 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

Sara: “Cannabisbananabog (I can’t spell)”

In that case, the polite thing to do would be to check the spelling, not to engage in mockery.

20. #20 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

ben wrote:
<<19/5/2004 01:26:36
that may all be very well, but what about the fact that no one can meet their Kyoto targets? We will certainly find out if global warming is a real threat, because our tiny attempt at reducing it will fail miserably. The global economy simply cannot take the hit that Kyoto would bring. >>

What are your economic qualifications to make this claim?

Even the professional economists who oppose Kyoto argue that the costs we will outweigh the benefits not becasue the global economy “can not take the hit”.

Global economic output is approximately \$20 trillion a year.

The targets for the first Kyoto commital period amount to a n annual reduction in emissions of around one billion tonnes compared with business-as-usual scenarios.

The market price for a credit for a one tonne reduction in emissions is around US\$20.

So how is an annual cost \$20 billion not sustaianble for a global economy one thousand tiems that size.

I fully expect that if you respond at all to this post, you’ll raise various distractions such as “But what about China?”

Fine but answer the questions first.

As for my economic qualifications, my uiversity degree is a BA with a major in economics (Griffith University didn’t offer B.Ec at the time). I recently resigned from the Queensalnd EPA were I spent abotu a decade as an economist working on greenhouse; resource and energy issues.

How is an annual cost of around

21. #21 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

“The thing about russia is that if they can meet their target without trying, what was the point of their target? And Putin being able to “shop around”? What the hell is that? Bribing him to get him to sign on to Kyoto? How shitty is that?”

Well see, when the US and the oil majors started trying to bribe him NOT to sign it didn’t leave the Europeans and Japanese much choice.

22. #22 Ian Gould
June 7, 2004

<< Mark Bahner wrote:
19/5/2004 13:54:56
Eli Rabett writes, “Urban densities have decreased in the past century.”

As I wrote before, Eli, that’s completely irrelevant. What’s relevant is that urban concentrations of asphalt roads, parking lots, and roofs have increased tremendously, because there essentially was NO asphalt 100 years ago. >>

What is the contribution to the heat island effect of the reduction in dark-colored aerosols and gases over the past century as industrial economies have repalced wood and coal with cleaner fuels?

I ask out of genuine curiosity as my background is economics not the physical sciences.

23. #23 martin
June 8, 2004

The TCS piece says:

To restore radiative balance, the energy must be transported back to space in roughly the same amounts in which it arrived. The energy is transported via two processes – infrared radiation (heat transfer) and fluid dynamics (turbulence).

How does turbulence transport energy away from the Earth? It’s not travelling in a medium that can be perturbed?

Certainly a regular garden greenhouse keeps the wind off the plants and therefore keeps them warmer. I can also see how increased energy in the atmosphere could be present as movement of air masses as well as increased temperature. But unless there is a net loss of atmosphere from the Earth I don’t see how turbulence could transport energy to space.

Can someone enlighten me, or is TCS just wrong?

24. #24 Elvis
June 9, 2004

Is it possible within the ATMOSPHERE for temperature to go up (kinetic energy increases) while at the same time total energy goes down (internal energy descreases by more)? Could someone with know-how answer this question for me please.

25. #25 Scott Church
June 11, 2004

I’m a little late adding to this blog, but I couldn’t help notice all the back and forth about the OISM and the “consensus” of 17,000 scientists on global warming. I noticed also the back and forth about MSU measured satellite temperatures and “global cooling”. Where to begin?

First, the OISM and the “consensus”. The Petition Project was first circulated in early 1998 by mail mainly to meteorological professionals. Then, on the internet where virtually anyone could sign it. There were numerous bogus signatures, including “Dr.” Geri Halliwell (Ginger Spice) whom we were told, had a Phd. in microbiology! Of the 17,000, only 2600 were actually verified as having degrees. Of these, the large majority were physicists. Only a few were actual climate scientists or scientists in any relevant field (my own Masters is in Applied Physics, and it did NOT prepare me at all to discuss global warming – what I learned, I learned of climate science on my own through years of study). According to PR Watch, the principal architect of the Petition, Arthur Robinson, admitted a few years back that only a few dozen signatories were climate scientists. Bear in mind also, that the study of meteorology emphasizes local forecasting and short range climate – not
The long range behavior of global climate. Weathermen (who were first targeted by the mailing and also comprise some of the signatories) are not qualified to speak on it. The petition is still posted at the OISM web site. I asks for only a name and a degree. No information about one’s professional experience or publications is requested, nor is the university the degree came from, or even whether it is accredited. My mother could have signed it as a “climate scientist”, and the background check on her may or may not have turned up anything.

As for the “science” behind the Petition, the paper which accompanied it by Robinson and his 22 year old son (who has no degree and was home schooled by his dad), S. Baliunas (whom I believe, also is involved with TCS), and W. Soon, was riddled with errors including references to out-of-date data, misquoted numbers, and even outright falsehoods. It was also deliberately formatted in a layout that mimicked the publishing format of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their denunciation of it shortly after the release of the Petition was to distance themselves from its conclusions and to condemn the attempted association with their journal.

And that’s just the satellite part. I don’t have the time or space to go into their blunders about the surface record and urban heat island effect, which they claim the IPCC ignored despite the fact that a review of their publication shows extensive discussion of it (IPCC, 2001). Nor have I gotten to their ignorance of climate models – one of their figures shows numbers that though cited to the IPCC, not only cannot be found in any IPCC publication, but also display a complete misunderstanding of what flux corrections to these models are, and also ignored the many models which do not use them. Nor do I have time to discuss their blunders regarding the impacts of global warming on plant life or on historic warming.

For more on the Petition Project and the OISM, visit the page I have devoted to it at my web site at http://www.scottchurchimages.com/enviro/ccgwpp.asp. By the way, the Leipzig Declaration Sarah mentioned was equally ridiculous, and my page on it is at
http://www.scottchurchimages.com/enviro/ccgwpp.asp.

26. #26 Scott Church
June 12, 2004

A few more thoughts on the OISM. First, one minor correction to my last post. I said that Robinson et. al. cited Christy et. al., 1990 and Christy & McNider, 1994. I checked my notes again, and they cited two works of Christy et. al. from 1990 and the correspondence in nature was from 1997. Neither point changes anything I said about the citations or the correspondence — just trying to be thorough and keep my story straight.

Second, regarding the “consensus”, it is worth noting that Scientific American recently interviewed 30 or so of the Petition’s signatories chosen entirely at random. Of the 30, only one was a climate change researcher and only two others had any sort of background in relevant fields. Eight (nearly a third of those sampled) said they signed the petition based on nothing more than an informal evaluation of the accompanying Robinson et. al. paper with little or no attempt to check the quality of the research behind it. Six said that based on what they know today, they would not have signed the petition, and three said they did not even remember it. Five did not respond. My Petition page linked above has a link to the article. If these results are even remotely representative of the whole, over 6000 of the signatories didn’t even read the accompanying paper with anything more than a quick glance over, and 1 in 5 signatories regret having signed and wouldn’t sign it today knowing what they now know. Thousands wouldn’t even remember it! Folks, I could come up with a better “scientific consensus” than this standing out in front of a Howard Johnson’s with a cheap suit and a pink carnation offering a free pen and a car wash to anyone who would sign my petition and say they were a “scientist”. This is not acceptable work.

Also, the paper even contains basic numerical errors. At one point for instance, citing Douglas, B.C., 1995, they quote a figure for the rate of global sea level rise in an attempt to show that global warming is not impacting oceans. A check of the paper they cited reveals that the figure in question was an acceleration, not a rate of rise. 30 minutes of proper proofreading should have caught something like this.

Etc. etc. etc. I could go on and on about that paper and that Petition! It’s no wonder that the PNAS refused to publish it. It is also noteworthy that today, 7 years after it was first released, the paper is still at the OISM web site, and no attempt of any kind has been made to correct any of the errors or to update it in any way. The MSU satellite data cited therein in now almost a decade old, with some of the information used going back 14 years (before my niece was born, and she’s already thinking about where she wants to attend college)! The MSU analyses they reference have been through 2 or 3 full revisions in the meantime, and Robinson et. al. are still quoting the decade+ old ones! Folks, if I had defended my Masters Thesis in physics this way, I would have been unceremoniously flunked 10 minutes into my defense.

One last thing. We can get an idea of the overall quality of science done by the OISM by considering some of their other endeavors such as an online creationism news group set up to help fundamentalists (of which Robinson is one) defeat the demon of evolution. Then, there is their home schooling kit which sells for \$200 and in Robinson’s words, is intended to “teach your children to teach themselves and to acquire ‘superior knowledge’ as did many of America’s most outstanding citizens in the days before socialism in education”. The kit is based largely on the 1911 (!) Encyclopedia Brittanica and the old McGuffey Reader. Here we go! More paranoia about “socialism” in education. And for heaven’s sake — The 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica???

Folks, I rest my case!

27. #27 Lars
June 13, 2004

Nice and thorough, Scott. Thanks.