Another Global Warming Counterfeit

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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So while browsing Fark.com, I ran into a link stating " Global warming could be caused by bacteria, not man." (November 7, 2007). I clicked the link and got transferred to Journal of Geoclimatic Studies (2007) 13:3. 223-231, where I found an article entitled: Carbon dioxide production by benthic bacteria: the death of manmade global warming theory?

Now this is impressive. Authors from prestigious institutions, a journal logo, dates of submission, acceptance and publication, editorial board names, the whole nine yards.

I'm only into the second paragraph when I hit a red flag, the assertion "bacterial emissions, unlike industrial CO2, precisely match the fluctuations in global temperature over the past 140 years." Now how does anybody know that? We don't have data on bacterial emissions going back that far, and climate data that far back will be sparse and imprecise.

In the next paragraph, a red flag with flashing lights and sirens: "A series of natural algal blooms, beginning in the late 19th Century, have caused mass mortality among the bacteria's major predators: brachiopod molluscs of the genus Tetrarhynchia." Whoa! Brachiopods are not molluscs. They belong to a completely different phylum. It's like confusing starfish with real fish. And I don't care what your specialty is; any literate scientist ought to know this.

Then there's a section on methodology that ends with a graph of "Mean mass fluctuations of benthic eubacteria on the Pacific and Atlantic continental shelves since the early Pliocene." and a precisely perfect sine curve. Nothing in real world data describes perfect sine curves, certainly nothing in the geologic past, where there are significant uncertainties in even the best data. But the vertical axis of the graph is the real gem. The density of algae is given in terms of grams per square meter, with values ranging between 10-20 and 10-30. This graph is a real joy for two reasons beyond the obviously fake curve:

Then there are graphs of bacterial emissions, carbon dioxide content, and temperature, identical down to even tiny wiggles in each graph. None of those data are known that precisely and they certainly don't track each other that precisely.

The best part was a citation, now unfortunately removed, entitled "Submarine lightning strikes in the Hadean Zone: an unacknowledged cause of fish mortality?" Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Submarine lightning strikes? And the deepest zone of the ocean is called Hadal, not Hadean. Hadean refers to the first half billion years of geologic time.

When I Googled that absurd title, I quickly ran across sites identifying the paper as a hoax. I share the view of a lot of readers that this paper was outed way too fast, before it had a chance to suck in some of the less astute climate doubters. The math in the methodology section, as far as I can tell, is complete gibberish. The authors and their institutional affiliations are all bogus.

At least one person was taken in:

I would like to draw your attention to the really scandalous treatment of some academic colleagues by what seems like a kind of 'climate change mafia'. I am an astrophysicist with an interest in issues related to climate change. But please do not mention my name to anyone in connection with this. [Hmm... astrophysicist? One of the folks in this episode, mayhap?]

As you can see here, Daniel Klein and colleagues have published a paper which completely shatters the theory of ‘manmade global warming’:

The blog that posted the above message did figure out the hoax and commented "there appears to be someone with entirely too much time on their hands and an agenda." Agenda? It took me as far as the claim that bacterial emissions match temperature precisely to smell a rat, by the time I was at "brachiopod molluscs" I was convinced at least that the science was incompetent and the journal a mere front for climate change skeptics. I didn't immediately suspect a hoax because, quite frankly, some of the science presented by real skeptics and parroted on blog sites is every bit as as bad. But nobody with a scrap of scientific literacy could look at this paper more than a few minutes without spotting it at least as lousy science.

One of the all time classic scientific jokes was Harald Stumpke's 1957 booklet The Snouters: Form and Life of the Rhinogrades, about a unique assemblage of tiny mammals that had evolved on a Pacific island and had evolved specialized snouts that they used for locomotion, catching prey, and so on. Alas, the island sank beneath the waves after an atomic bomb test nearby, taking with it nearly all the scientists engaged in rhinograde research, as well as all their data. The only "agenda" there was to have some fun, although a few anti-testing activists were taken in. Only people with no sense of humor and no critical reasoning skills can get angry about things like this. The paper above is in the same class.


Well, the paper was taken down by November 9, having survived only a week or so. But in its short life it snagged talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Even better was the response of a blog called Peer Review Florida.:

The heart of my previous post dealt with the hostile environment surrounding the global warming debate. Despite the the fact that the paper I used as the lead-in was false, it remains true that global warming advocates have a religious zeal about defending their beliefs on the subject and those who dare disagree are scorned.

Love the reasoning. Even though he couldn't tell the difference between real science and a hoax, he insists his conclusions are still sound! If you can't tell the difference between real science and a hoax like this, you deserve to be scorned. Then Peer Review Florida goes on to note:

(though, certainly, I or anyone else publishing made up research on purpose or accident should be scorned!).

Nice spin. It's not his fault for being fooled, it's the fault of the people who wrote the article! Now this isn't a phishing scam, deliberately designed to deceive even the most careful. And it's not a counterfeit article, designed to look like a real scientific paper. It's a joke, one that any informed scientist should spot quickly. It was never meant to be taken seriously.

Considering how often scientists are accused of being "arrogant," check out this quote:

As I've stated in the past, I claim no expertise on the science behind the debate, but when the UN's Food and Agricultural Organisation announces, just a few months back, that livestock flatulence accounts for close to one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions, I suggest there is room for doubt that we've got it all figured out.

He openly admits he has no expertise, has so little expertise, in fact, that he fell for a hoax, but still feels qualified to advise us how the climate debate should go. Arrogant?


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Created 06 March 2007;  Last Update 02 June, 2010

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