By Christopher Monckton of Brenchley
I am designing a cottage orné in the high Classical manner, to be built on our little patch of the Scottish Highlands. The Doric Order, the earliest of the three orders of Grecian architecture that have been so influential throughout the Western world, has always impressed me by its elegant solidity. If there is an architectural embodiment of the virtue of honesty, it is the Doric.
Here is the principal front of our little cottage.
A Doric building is a formalization in stone of what must once have been a much-loved timber building. The tree-trunks became stone columns; the vertical emphasis of the bark was represented by the 20 vertical channels or flutes; the stone triglyphs in the frieze above the colonnade represent purlin-ends; the acroteria are stylizations of the palmette. My own take on the acroterion is art-deco.
Does the thickness of the tree-trunk plus all branches therefrom remain constant? Is that why tree-trunks become narrower as they ascend? Leonardo da Vinci considered this question in one of his notebooks, in the age when science was more about enquiring than proclaiming, learning than preaching.
He carefully drew a formalized tree as a heuristic, ensuring that the combined thickness at every bifurcation remained constant. The result looks uncommonly like a real tree.
Be that as it may, the Greeks, like the Persians, Hindus, Arabs and Egyptians before them and the Romans after them, were enthusiastic mathematicians. Dr. Hugh Plommer, the eminent scholar who taught me Classical architecture at Cambridge, used to theorize that the gently convex curvature of the stylobate in a Doric temple, designed to overcome the optical illusion that a colonnaded temple sags in the middle, was a shallow parabola.
He also considered that the echinus, the cushion on which the abacus and, above it, the entablature rests, was a hyperbola. But where, I asked him, was the third conic section, the ellipse?
Dr. Plommer left that question unanswered. He liked to set a hare running and watch his students gallop after it under their own steam. I galloped to the faculty library and rootled about among the Classical journals.
I found what I had expected to find. There were two schools of thought about the extent to which the architects of noble temples such as the Parthenon, the archetype of the Doric, had consciously deployed the conic sections and other elements of mathematics in their designs.
Most scholars thought that there was so much variation from one temple to another, and that the correspondence between the actual curves as carved by the stonemasons and the pure theoretical forms was so approximate, that it was mere coincidence.
However, a substantial and not uninfluential minority, which I shall dub the Plommerian school in honor of the great man, maintained that the architects of the Doric Order had deliberately adopted the conic sections in their designs. For one thing, it was necessary for them to brief the stonemasons on the curvature they desired. Using established curve-generating functions would have made that easier.
In the learned literature the debate on this charming but arcane question had raged – or, rather, delightfully maundered on – for years, without ever becoming so vulgar as to reach a conclusion in one direction or another.
By now you will be gagging to know where the missing ellipse was in Doric buildings. My answer, well supported in the literature, is that the architects of ancient Greece achieved the startling combination of diminution (tapering towards the top) and entasis (bulging on the way up) that is the most instantly recognizable and distinctive feature of the Doric column by constructing it as a truncated semi-ellipse.
The minor axis of the ellipse, so the Plommerian theory goes, corresponded to the diameter of the column at its foot. The semi-major axis, of unit length, extended from the center of the foot all the way to the geison (cornice). The resultant semi-ellipse was truncated approximately 0.618, or (1 + √5) / 2, units above the stylobate (the stone floor).
The distinctive profile of the Doric column, then, was an ellipse whose semi-major axis stood in the golden ratio to the height of the column.
I once explained the Plommerian theory to the parish priest of Paestum, which has some fine Doric temples. Startled, he gave me a postcard and asked me to use my architectural drawing program to overlay semi-ellipses on a couple of the columns. He was fascinated to see how close the fit was.
What, you may wonder, has any of this got to do with climate change? The answer is this. The polite debate in the Classical journals about the origin of the Doric column’s form is in one crucial respect similar to the viciously angry debate about global warming.
Both debates are about matters that are in essence quantitative, not qualitative. Yet it is the propensity of academics, followed by politicians and environmental lobbyists and even short term loans UK companies, to argue qualitatively about climate change (and, for that matter, about Doric columns) when they should really get out into the field and do some measurements, and then get back to the pub and do the math.
By now it ought to be obvious to all who are not already blinded by politics, prejudice or passion that there is no definitive method of determining the sensitivity of the climate to carbon dioxide. The extravagant guesses of the global warming profiteers are just that – guesses – and no more. Guesswork is not a sound basis for policy-making.
So we are going to have to wait and see. This is where the measurements come in.
History will crown Anthony Watts as one of the great heroes who defended the freedom to do science rationally against the political forces that would have flung us into a new Dark Age by their Marxian insistence that science should conform to the party line (excitingly rebranded “consensus”) rather than vice versa.
The Climate Reference Nursing Homes Network – has only been in existence for a short time. Already, though, its results are strongly suggesting that much of the imagined “global warming” of the past 60 years may have been not just imagined but imaginary.
Before we spend any more trillions on making putative “global warming” go away, it would surely be wise to find out whether and to what extent it is occurring. At present, the measurement uncertainty in the global instrumental temperature record is a twentieth of a Celsius degree.
Given that the climate debate is about minuscule fractions of a degree, that measurement uncertainty is too large for comfort. It is one reason why we are able to say that over the past couple of decades the measured global warming is statistically indistinguishable from zero.
To make matters worse, there is now overwhelming evidence that climatologists all over the world have been tampering with temperature data, sea-level data, paleoclimate data, etc., etc.. The tampering always seems to be in the direction of making it appear, artificially, that there is more of a problem than there is.
So we now need to extend the Climate Reference Network from the United States to the rest of the world. The cost would be a small fraction of the vast sums being squandered on windmills, solar panels and suchlike fooleries.
As far as possible, the Climate Reference Network should be independently supervised by experts in instrumentation and in statistics. Climatologists should be allowed nowhere near it: they have proven themselves untrustworthy. Their role will be to receive the results from their betters with appropriate humility and gratitude.
The same applies to sea level, where the NOAA has recently had to confirm what the Envisat satellite had long and clearly showed: sea level is rising at a rate equivalent to two or three inches per century, or less than a quarter of the rate reported by the climatologists who have been tampering inappropriately with the raw data from the laser-altimetry and gravitational-anomaly satellites.
While we’re about it, we should also establish a new network of bathytelemetry buoys to take repeated, worldwide measurements of the acid-base balance of the oceans. Are the oceans becoming less alkaline or not? I suspect the answer is “not a lot”, but we shall not know unless and until someone stops giving money to the 50-odd climate models that now cost us a purposeless fortune and redirects it towards actual measurement.
So it is with the Doric columns. When I retire, in about half a century, I shall bumble around Greece, Asia Minor and the Italian littoral taking careful measurements of the circumference of each drum of a typical Doric column. Then I shall do some curve-fitting to see how close the results come to the shape of an ellipse.
There will be uncertainties, of course: the stones have been around for a long time, and they are well worn by the weather, the Turks and the restorers. At the end of it, though, I shall have a clearer answer to the ellipse question than anything now available in the scientific literature.
In the meantime, I have asked Anthony to post up a link to a PowerPoint presentation that shows my design for our little cottage in Rannoch. Here is its East Front, which faces the long view down Loch Rannoch to the snowy hills.
It looks big, but it is small (just 26 ft high). It looks expensive, but, like the original Doric temple, its ornamentation, including the columns, will be of timber, carved by a trainee craftsman as his apprentice-piece. It is a simple building and will not cost much.
The profile of each column is a truncated semi-ellipse. The apprentice will have no difficulty in reproducing it accurately.
Finally, the wreaths in the metopes are taken from the Choragic Monument of Thrasyllus on the flank of the Acropolis in Athens. The Turks blew it up in 1820, but it had been much admired and sketched by then, and its influence on architecture – especially in the United States – is out of all proportion to its size.
I am a devoted admirer of the United States, so I wanted to incorporate in my cottage one detail from the Capitol in Washington DC. Next time you visit the Capitol, take your binoculars into the Rotunda and train them on the frieze high above you. There you will see the Thrasyllean wreaths. If you visit us in Rannoch, you will see them there too, but you will not need binoculars.
Let me know what you think of the Plommerian theory, and of my designs for the cottage in Rannoch. If climatologists were half as systematic in their approach to their subject as the architects of ancient Greece, there would be no climate scare.
Footnote: In case one or two of the architectural terms are unfamiliar, here is a glossary of the ornamentation characteristic of the Doric order.
See the plans here in this PowerPoint: doric (pptx)