Global Warming and the Age of the Earth: a Lesson on the Nature of Scientific Knowledge

knowledge1In the wake of Karl et al. 2015, which revises data to match a consensus, we can all take a lesson from how scientific consensus has operated in the past

Guest essay by Dr. David Deming

The world stands on the verge of committing itself to limits on the emission of carbon dioxide that would drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. If this fateful decision is made, the economies of developed nations will be strangled. Human prosperity will be reduced. Our ability to solve pressing problems, both human and environmental, will be severely limited. We have been told that these shackles must be imposed to forestall a hypothetical global warming projected to occur some time in the distant future. But to date the only unambiguous evidence for planetary warming is a modest rise in temperature (less than one degree Celsius) that falls well within the range of natural variation.

The validity of warming predictions depends upon the questionable reliability of computer models of the climate system. But Earth’s climate system is complex and poorly understood. And the integrity of the computer models cannot be demonstrated or even tested. To anyone with an awareness of the nature and limitations of scientific knowledge, it must appear that the human race is repeating a foolish mistake from the past. We have been down this road before, most notably in the latter half of the nineteenth century when it appeared that mathematics and physics had conclusively answered the question of the Earth’s age. At that time, a science that had been definitely “settled” fell apart in the space of a few years. The mathematical models that appeared to be so certain proved to be completely, even ridiculously wrong.

The age of the Earth is one of the great questions that has puzzled people for thousands of years. In Meteorologica, Aristotle (384-322 BC) asserted that the world was eternal. But with the advent of Christianity and Islam, scholars began to assume that humanity was coeval with the Creation of the world. It followed that the age of the Earth could be estimated from a careful examination of sacred writings.

The first person to make a quantitative estimate of the Earth’s age was the Islamic scientist al-Biruni (c. 973-1050). al-Biruni based his chronology on the Hindu, Jewish, and Christian religious scriptures. He divided the history of the world into eras, and concluded that it had been less than ten thousand years since the Creation.

Working in the tradition begun by al-Biruni, Bishop James Ussher (1581-1686) estimated the age of the Earth by meticulously studying the Bible and other historical documents. In The Annals of the World Deduced from the Origin of Time, Ussher pinpointed the date of Creation as the “night preceding the 23rd of October, 4004 BC.” Ussher’s scholarship was impressive, and his dates were accepted as the standard chronology. Bible editors began to place Ussher’s dates in the margins of their texts.

Isaac Newton (1642-1727), the greatest scientist of the age, was also a Biblical fundamentalist who believed in a young Earth. Newton explained to his nephew, John Conduitt, that the Earth could not be old because all human technology was of recent invention. Like Ussher, Newton wrote his own universal history, Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms Amended, that was published posthumously in 1728.

The procedures for establishing a scientific estimate of the age of the Earth were laid out in the seventeenth century by the Danish anatomist, Nicolaus Steno (1638-1686). Steno was the first person to state unequivocally that the history of the Earth was not to be found in human chronicles, but in the Earth itself. Steno’s principles of geologic investigation became the basis for establishing the relative age of rock sequences and the foundation of historical geology.

Armed with Steno’s principles, eighteenth century naturalists began to seriously consider the implications of the rock record. It became apparent to them that an immense amount of time was required to deposit the rock layers that covered the Earth’s surface.

One of the first to recognize the scope of geologic time was the Scottish philosopher James Hutton (1726-1797). In the year 1788, Hutton was accompanied on a field trip by his friend, the mathematician, John Playfair (1748-1819). They traveled up the coastline of Scotland to Siccar Point, and Hutton described the history implied by the sequence of rocks exposed there. After listening to Hutton’s exposition, Playfair later wrote “the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.”

By the time Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published Origin of Species in 1859, geologists were of the opinion that the Earth was practically, although not literally, of infinite age. With infinite time at this disposal, Darwin was able to invoke the slow mechanism of natural selection as an explanation for the organic evolution evidenced in the fossil record.

To demonstrate the vast extent of geologic time, Darwin offered the erosion of the Weald, a seaside cliff in England, as an offhand example. Darwin assumed an erosion rate of an inch a century, and then extrapolated that some 300 million years were apparently necessary to explain the total amount of erosion that had occurred.

But Darwin’s estimated erosion rate of one inch per century was little more than speculation. The number was unconstrained by any measurement or scientific observation. Nineteenth-century geologists lacked any quantitative method for establishing dates. The rocks of the Earth’s crust might represent the passage of ten million years. But just as easily, the amount of time could have been a hundred, a thousand, or ten thousand million years.

Darwin and his geological colleagues were soon taken to the woodshed by the greatest physicist of the nineteenth century, William Thomson (1824-1907). Better known as Lord Kelvin, Thomson was a man of prodigious gifts who possessed enormous intellectual stature. He published his first scientific paper at age sixteen, and had been appointed a chaired professor at the University of Glasgow at the precocious age of twenty-two.

In 1861, Lord Kelvin began to seriously address the question of dating the Earth. He was aware that the Earth radiated internal heat. This process could not have been going on forever. By maintaining that the Earth was infinitely old, the geologists in effect were postulating that energy was not conserved. This violated the First Law of Thermodynamics, and Kelvin was aroused to do battle.

In the nineteenth century, the only known source for the internal heat of the Earth was the original mechanical heat of accretion. Reasoning that the Earth had been molten at the time of its formation, but cooling ever since, Kelvin was able to construct an elegant mathematical model that constrained the age of the Earth on the basis of its measured geothermal gradient. Much the same method is used today by coroners who estimate the time of death by taking the temperature of a cadaver.

In 1862, Kelvin published his analysis in a paper titled On the Secular Cooling of the Earth. He arrived at a best estimate for the age of the Earth of 100 million years. Kelvin’s estimate was no idle speculation. It was based on a precise mathematical model constrained by laboratory measurements and the laws of thermodynamics.

Kelvin attacked Darwin directly. He raised the question: were the laboratory measurements and mathematical calculations in error, or was it more likely “that a stormy sea, with possibly channel tides of extreme violence, should encroach on a chalk cliff 1,000 times more rapidly than Mr. Darwin’s estimate of one inch per century?”

Darwin was devastated. He wrote to his mentor, Charles Lyell, “for heaven’s sake take care of your fingers; to burn them severely, as I have done, is very unpleasant.” Geologists were left sputtering. They had no effective rebuttal to Kelvin’s calculations. Within a few years, the geological establishment began to line up with Lord Kelvin. Among the influential converts was Archibald Geikie, President of both the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of London.

Researchers began to look for evidence that would confirm Kelvin’s calculations. In 1865, Geologist Samuel Haughton had estimated the age of the Earth as 2300 million years, a number reasonably close to the modern value of 4500 million years. But under the influence of Kelvin’s authority, in 1878 Haughton drastically shortened his earlier calculation to 153 million years.

A lone voice of dissent was raised by the biologist, Thomas Huxley (1825-1895). Huxley pointed out that there was a fundamental weakness in Kelvin’s mathematical model. “Mathematics may be compared to a mill of exquisite workmanship, which grinds you stuff of any degree of fineness; but, nevertheless, what you get out depends on what you put in.” Put in more modern terms, Huxley’s observation amounted to “garbage in, garbage out.”

But as the end of the nineteenth century approached, the scientific community was beginning to regard Kelvin’s estimate of 100 million years as a near certainty. Writing in the American Journal of Science in 1893, geologist Warren Upham characterized Kelvin’s estimate of the age of the Earth as the most “important conclusion in the natural sciences…[that] has been reached during this century.”

The science was definitely settled in 1899 by the Irish physicist, John Joly (1857-1933). Joly hit upon a robust method for calculating the age of the Earth that was entirely different from Kelvin’s. Joly’s calculation was childishly simple, yet apparently foolproof. He estimated the age of the Earth by dividing the total salt content of the oceans by the rate at which salt was being carried to the sea by the rivers. He found that it would take 80 to 90 million years for the ocean’s salt to accumulate.

In consideration of the uncertainties involved, Joly’s age estimate was essentially identical to Thomson’s. With different methods yielding the same result, it seemed evident that the result was conclusive: the Earth was 100 million years old. It seemed that to deny this reality, was to deny not only the authority of the scientific establishment but the very laws of nature themselves.

The ingenious calculations of Kelvin and Joly were soon to be overturned by an improbable empiricism. In the thirteenth century, modern science began when philosophers came to the realization that logic alone could never uncover the secrets of the cosmos, no matter how seductive its appeal. Contemplation of the mysterious properties of the magnet convinced Roger Bacon and his contemporaries that nature contained occult or hidden forces that could never be discerned or anticipated rationally, only discovered experimentally.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel accidentally discovered radioactivity when he found that photographic plates were exposed when placed next to certain minerals. By 1904, it became apparent that there were radioactive minerals inside the Earth releasing heat. Lord Kelvin’s assumption of no internal heat sources was wrong. At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was not even clear if the Earth was cooling or heating. Thomson’s calculations were precise, but he had no way of knowing about radioactivity.

Radioactivity also provided a rigorous way to calculate the age of the Earth. The accepted modern estimate for the age of the Earth is 4500 million years. The nineteenth-century estimate of 100 million years that seemed so certain was wrong, not just by 20 or 30 percent, but by a factor of 45. In retrospect, the reason that Thomson’s estimates had been independently confirmed is that geologists looked for data that would support Thomson’s physics. The consensus that had emerged was the product of a human psychological process, not objective science. The nature of science is such that people who look for confirming evidence will always find it.

Compared to modern climate models, William Thomson’s models were simple, and contained only a few assumptions. In contrast, global warming models are hideously complex, and contain numerous hidden assumptions, many of which are highly uncertain. The most significant of these is whether water vapor will exert a negative or positive feedback on the warming induced by carbon dioxide. All the major climate models assume the feedback will be positive, exaggerating any possible warming. But recent research indicates the feedback may be negative. We don’t know.

There is also much we do not understand about why Earth’s climate changes. It is possible that cosmic rays, modulated by the Sun’s magnetic field, cool Earth by inducing the formation of clouds. We don’t know why Ice Ages end so spectacularly and suddenly. Once they begin, Ice Ages should continue indefinitely, as cooling is reinforced by a number of positive feedbacks.

We ought to be intelligent enough to acknowledge that we don’t know what we don’t know. Science is never settled. We should keep in mind Seneca’s admonition. “Nature does not reveal all her secrets at once. We imagine we are initiated in her mysteries: we are, as yet, but hanging around her outer courts.”

There has never been a time when the need for understanding the limits and nature of scientific knowledge is so compelling, or the ramifications of ignorance so consequential. Those who ignore history are apt to repeat its mistakes.


David Deming ( is a geophysicist and professor of arts and sciences at the University of Oklahoma. He is the author of a history of science in three volumes, Science and Technology in World History.


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Geology is an old science. It has had lots of time to slowly incorporate the scientific method into its principles and modus operadi and teaching methods. And it has had lots of time for new theories to be tested, adjusted and proven by others through other approaches. It has become a non-emotional objective science where facts and evidence rule the day.
Climate science is young and is still an emotional battleground where group-think rules the day.

Gary M

“”The world stands on the verge of committing itself to limits on the emission of carbon dioxide that would drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. If this fateful decision is made, the economies of developed nations will be strangled. Human prosperity will be reduced. …..””
I believe that, to a great extent, if not completely. After all there is that human ingenuity!
I believe constricting crude consumption, less than coal, for reasons of global warming is useful – yet for the wrong reason. Whether the politicians do it or the tall ladder of fracking does it the results may well be the same. My reference to the tall ladder is about the low hanging fruit analogy used by peak oil advocates. Fracking may have kicked the can way down the road – but still – down the road.
On topic, CO2 is the wrong reason to do the right thing. By my readings here, the proof seems obvious.
My wish is that the scientists, politicians – all of us can get past this “us against them” mentality” and start doing the right things for the right reasons!!

There are also the socialists who would like to see more control over populations and re distribution of wealth. I don’t think there is any way to reason with them. As for the others, I agree with you wholeheartedly.


If this fateful decision is made, the economies of developed nations will be strangled. Human prosperity will be reduced. …..”

I think restricting the growth of emerging nations is a self-serving goal. It is saying, “Look we have used fossils fuels to accumulate great wealth and power, but sorry you can’t”, The second part of the quote is only half right, not all human prosperity will be reduced equally, human prosperity will primarily be reduced for emerging countries.
Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons sounds like a variation on the ends justify the means. Sometimes in a practical sense that is true, in a moral or ethical sense it is never true.


The peak oil argument boils down the position that we need to make fossil fuels expensive now, because if we don’t, they will become expensive some time in the future.
Regardless of when the oil begins to run out (my personal feeling is we have a couple hundred years before we have to worry), the solution to the problem will be technology.
Given the fact that the richer we are as a people, the faster technology will advance.
The logical conclusion is that we need to become richer now, so that we can develop the technologies that will replace fossil fuels when the time comes. And the way to become richer now is by burning fossil fuels.


Geology may have been studied for hundreds of years but it is not short on discoveries. We have only known about how the Earth works some 55years ago, Plate tectonics was derided for years until leartning about magnetic pole swings, and the ability to measure rock magnetism which was a petroleum company discovery hunting new oil reserves and measuring the Polar swings across the Atlantic during IGY in 1958. There is much more to discover, abiotic natural gas for one.


There was a lot of heat regarding the theory of continental drift not that many years ago.


I also recall some comic relief in those days when someone referred to the continental drip theory, pointing out that the form and appendages of many land masses seemed to be dripping from north to south!

K Fine

So, why was Joly’s salt argument wrong?


My guess is that he erred in assuming a constant rate for salt addition.


He also erred in assuming that no salt was removed from the ocean.

Pat Frank

Exactly right.


He also erred in that no one knows when the oceans were formed, probably long after the crust had cooled.


I wonder where he thought the salt as in “salt mines,” came from. And yes, the oldest ocean basin is Jurassic, not Archaen.


The oceans formed within a few million years of the crust cooling enough that it was no longer hot enough to evaporate water.


He also failed to take into account extraterrestrial contributions of water from comets over time.

In a similar fashion to Thompsons error, Joly assumed that salt only entered the water and never left it. The great beds of salt formations of the world, such as the Louanne salt formed in the Jurassic when the Gulf of Mexico was a deep restricted “dead sea” during the opening of the Atlantic ocean, took enormous quantities of salt and other evaporate minerals out of the ocean as the water evaporated to fall as fresh water rain elsewhere.
This article from, which appears to be from Dr. Jürgen Schieber’s G105 Introduction to Geology class at Indiana U. also mentions a deep-sea volcanic process that removes salt from the water.


I guess one could say that ultimately, Thompson wasn’t worth his salt.

K. Kilty

He had no idea what was the actual residence time of salt, and the actual inputs and outputs. Perfectly good model not well constrained by data.

Because salt is so easily eroded, 19th century geologists had no concept of how much salt is in geologic formations around the world until we started drilling for oil and used seismic and gravity methods to map the beds and salt diapirs. Sure, there were salt mines here and there but they are insignificant. These massive salt formations were formed as a consequence of the moving continents as basins formed in the gaps. It requires the Theory of Plate Tectonics and rise and fall of sea level by over 200 meters to understand how much salt can be removed from the oceans.


…rise and fall of sea level by over 200 meters…
Didn’t the IPCC say this is supposed to happen next week or something?


According to a 2009 ABC special, NYC was supposed to be under water already.


For the first few billion years, there wasn’t any water..


Controversial subject but 2.5by bp, if not much earlier, there was abundant water.

Geologist Down The Pub Sez

I think you will find good evidence for water at least 3.6 billion years ago – fossil cyanobacteria. And some for water as early as 4.2 billion years.

The crust solidified by about 3.7 billion years ago. Water condensed into oceans shortly thereafter, in geologic terms. So there was liquid water on its surface while earth was still a bit less than a billion years old.


“The crust solidified by about 3.7 billion years ago”
Much earlier than that. The oldest preserved minerals (zircon) are about 4.4 billion years old. The oldest reasonably large preserved pieces of crust (Greenland, Canada) are at least 3.8 billion years old.
It seems likely that the original crust was largely destroyed during “the Late Heavy Bombardment” c. 3.8-4.0 billion years ago, but the existence of older minerals proves that it did not melt completely.

I was referring to the final complete solidification of the crust, which had to be after the Heavy Late Bombardment. There were of course crust and probably even seas before that time.


sturgishopper: The late heavy bombardment couldn’t have remelted the crust, otherwise the heavy materials they brought to the earth would have sunk to the core. The LHB lasted for 10’s to 100’s of millions of years. That would be sufficient to have every point on the surface hit at least once, but still not be heavy enough to destroy the oceans.

It evaporated a lot of them, so that the water remained but filling large basins. Clearly liquid water did exist at least intermittently during the LHB.

Steve from Rockwood

I would start by asking the Irish physicist how he managed to calculate the total amount of salt in all the oceans way back in 1899. He made up the numerator, estimated the denominator and got 80-90 million years thus proving the consensus.


You mean how did he estimate the total volume of water? The area would have been easy, the average depth a problem. There were, however, some deep-water sounding studies done in the 1800s, so they would have had a rough idea of the depths of the oceans.

Huge salt deposits are formed when seas become isolated and the water evaporates. These salt basins are covered by other sediments, and when the ocean waters cover the area the salt doesn’t dissolve. This is the origin of huge salt layers we see under portions of Texas, Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. Similar layers are found in West Africa and South America, in Poland, Egypt, and other countries. And then there are huge deposits of carbonates, including dolomites, and other rocks which remove huge volumes of ions from sea water (including carbon, of course).


I think the argument was good but the data used to make the theory was not so good.
That is a general problem with arguments and logic; if an argument is based on false or incomplete data or false assumptions, the argument can remain valid but is useless.
The point that data and evidence is the most important part of an argument is often lost in the presence of a well presented “elegant” argument.

Discovering errors in your understanding of the physical world is one of the most pleasurable experiences you can have while following the scientific method. When I read historical accounts of people making their best efforts at describing physical processes, it becomes abundantly clear to me that what humans believe to be true at any given period of time is most probably incorrect.
People that have great faith in catastrophic global warming are missing this historical perspective of scientific discovery and missing the humility of mankind stumbling from one wrong answer to the next.

Brett Keane

Yes, seeing the error opens up exciting new pathways for a scientist. Pity the agw believers are not really scientists.


A Sydney University student has for the first time used radio telescopes like a giant pair of electronic eyes to locate huge plasma tubes in the atmosphere that interfere with astronomy observations and which could affect some civilian and military navigation systems.
Ms Loi, who graduated in March, had to overcome the initial scepticism of senior colleagues who thought her observations were too good to be true.

Robert B

I would describe science as the art of realising that we were wrong. The few occasions that we got it right is genius.


Not always wrong, sometimes just incomplete.
For example Newton’s laws of motion aren’t wrong, they are perfectly adequate for large masses traveling at non-relativistic speeds. Which was all that Newton was able to observe in his day.
Einstein’s laws of motion, when resolved for large slow objects, match Netwon’s laws almost perfectly. (The differences, when they exist are in the parts per million to parts per billion range.)

The important point IMO is that science isn’t done by consensus, which is almost always wrong to a greater or lesser extent. And when it is objectively correct, it’s because of observation rather than of the consensus.
That earth orbits the sun is objectively “true”, contrary to the consensus of 2000 years, but this hypothesis can now be confirmed by direct observation, so doesn’t need to be inferred, as was the case when published by Copernicus in 1543.
The baleful influence of CACCA advocacy has now corrupted the philosophy of science as well as its practice. Thus does Oreskes try to make consensus rather falsification and confirmation the basis of the scientific method.

Jim G1

Excellent post. Sums it up quite well.


And it was entertaining too. Thank you, Mr. Deming,


Thank you David and Anthony. I only hope that others will read and think about what has been said.

george e. smith

Well I too enjoyed reading Dr Deming’s account of the history of estimating the age of the earth. Apparently ingenuity is not a modern trait.
One place where I would differ with Dr Deming’s narrative, comes later when he refers to the complexity of climate models.
He states (presumably factually) that the climate models assume that H2O forms a positive feedback amplification of CO2 induced warming. He then asserts that we don’t know if that feedback is positive or negative.
That is where I would disagree.
The idea that the climate models assume that H2O requires an “ignition” from CO2 to begin its own atmospheric absorption of LWIR radiant energy emitted from the earth’s condensed surface, and that without CO2 in the atmosphere, the earth would be a frozen ball at subzero deg. C Temperature, is in my view just plain silly.
Now let’s settle one aspect of the story. I do not for a second, disagree that a surface warming (whatever its cause) will produce increased atmospheric water, which will absorb more surface emitted LWIR radiant energy.
So that is NOT an issue.
So what then if there were NO CO2 in earth’s atmosphere; and here I use CO2 as a proxy for any and all GHG molecules EXCEPT H2O.
So let’s get rid of them all. Evidently we would be according to the folklore some 33 deg C colder at earth’s surface, and there is no CO2 to goose the H2O into action.
Well Ray Pierrehumbert did a computer simulation experiment, where he removed every last water molecule from the atmosphere.
Well that means NO clouds, and NO H2O absorption of incoming solar energy starting from about 700 nm. The ground level solar insolation would experience the largest “forcing” you could possibly imagine, and water evaporation would begin in earnest.
Well in Ray’s simulation, he got all of earth’s atmospheric H2O back in just three months.
That paper can be found in relatively recent SCIENCE. I don’t belong any more so I can’t give your a reference. It might also have been mentioned in “Physics Today.”
Even if earth’s surface Temperature was 255 K instead of 288 K, the vapor pressure of H2O is far from zero, and with the huge increase in surface insolation from the sun, the evaporation of water would be significant.
And yes; that increasing H2O in the atmosphere, even in the presence of NO CO2, would begin to capture LWIR emissions from the surface which presumably warms the atmosphere. I say presumably, because I don’t fully understand the claimed mechanisms for doing that. Yes I do believe that the GHG spectral line absorptions will raise the internal energy of the H2O molecules. It’s the “thermalization” process which I don’t have a good handle on. (but just accept as gospel at this point).
But to me this LWIR warming of the atmosphere is peanuts compared to the interception of incoming solar energy, by that same H2O regardless of what phase it is in (solid, liquid or gas).
I’m told Earth’s cloud cover is about 60%, and that the albedo is about 30%.
That is a huge attenuation of the ground level solar spectrum radiant energy, most of which goes into the deep oceans to be converted into heat.
Anybody who even imagines that H2O in the atmosphere could be a positive feedback on earth’s stable steady state Temperature , in my view has simply never ever built a feedback amplifier, and doesn’t understand how they work.
And I wouldn’t say that unless I had designed and built a great many of them.
The effect of H2O in the atmosphere is to REDUCE the surface level incoming solar spectrum energy, and the part of that reduction that is absorbed by the H2O at solar spectrum frequencies, is eventually lost as an isotropic LWIR emission, only half of which can reach the surface, and when it does, it is strongly absorbed in the top few microns of ocean water, and simply leads to further enhanced evaporation.
I don’t know if Pierrehumbert did his water simulation with and without the CO2, but if he didn’t he should be chastised for not doing both.
In any case I don’t think the outcome would be significantly different.
The idea that earth’s stable Temperature is controlled by GHG interception of outgoing LWIR radiant energy, rather than H2O interception of incoming solar energy, is laughable in my view.
Now I could be wrong. If I am, when somebody proves that I am, I will change my opinion.
In the meantime, don’t use this in your PhD oral presentation because I can give no guarantee of your passing.

David A

George, do you know the clear sky absorption of insolation due to water vapor?


The atmosphere absorbs about 20% of incoming solar radiation. For clear sky, water vapour accounts for 70% of this (according to KT97).


It’s a very interesting point you raise George. It would be good if you could find a reference or link to Pierrehumbert’s experiment.
As for ‘Thermalisation’, here’s a starter….
A CO2 molecule has a number of quantized ‘vibrational modes’. One of these vibrational modes is ‘tuned’ to radiation at 15 microns. CO2 will therefore selectively absorb radiation at this wavelength whilst ignoring other wavelengths which do not coincide with one of its internal energy states. When a molecule absorbs a photon it is raised to a higher energy level and it is said to be in an ‘exited’ state.
A CO2 molecule will typically remain in this state for a few milliseconds after absorbing a photon at 15 microns, before emitting a packet of energy (photon) at 15 micron and reverting back to its ground state. If, before this can happen, the molecule collides with another air molecule, then its newly acquired energy will instead be translated to kinetic energy, appearing as increased momentum in the colliding molecules; as a result it can no longer emit a photon. The absorbed energy is now said to be ‘thermalised’ and, since the average time between collisions at low altitudes is of the order of nanoseconds, this is by far the most likely outcome.
The temperature of a gas can be considered proportional to the average speed of its molecules and so ‘thermalisation’ has the effect of warming the nearby air. Note that all the gases in a local ‘parcel’ of air will be at the same temperature including those, like oxygen and nitrogen, which do not absorb radiation directly.
An important feature of ‘thermalisation’ is that it is a reversible process. A CO2 molecule, for example, may be kicked into an ‘excited’ state through collisions with other air molecules so that, even though it didn’t absorb a photon, it may now emit one.
The proportion of CO2 molecules in the excited state at any one time is constant and depends on the air temperature (the equipartition principle). The amount of radiation emitted by CO2 is thus dependent on the air temperature. In the region where CO2 emits, around 15 microns, the intensity of emission will be in accordance with Planck’s Law.
You may have seen spectral measurements from space of outgoing LWIR. By comparing the intensity of radiation at 15 microns with that from a blackbody, it is possible to determine the temperature of the air from which the emission originated. This in turn indicates the ‘effective radiating level’ from which radiation in the CO2 absorption band can escape to space.

David A

Thank you Mike. So, in an earth atmosphere of equal density, yet sans GHG, about 14% more insolation would strike the surface? This is 14 % of TOA insolation of some 1366 watts per s meter, so about plus 190 watts per sq meter? I am curious as to the different W/L of this insolation, vs the W/L of DWLWIR from GHGs, and if this would partially compensate for the DWLWIR in an atmosphere sans GHGs.


The 1366 watts needs to be divided by 4 if you are considering it in relation to the Earth’s surface.comment image
That 70% figure was for clear sky conditions.
“For cloudy conditions, water vapour accounts for nearly half of the total atmospheric absorption, while the second most important absorber is ozone; the contribution by carbon dioxide is small” (KT97)
In fact in cloudy conditions the effect of CO2 is zero.
99% of the Sun’s radiation is emitted at wavelengths shorter than 4 microns; 99% of the Earth’s outgoing radiation is longer than 5 microns.
It’s safe to say that if we detect radiation shorter than 4 microns then it is from the Sun (or a rocket engine or a furnace). The corollary is that infrared radiation above 5 microns is from the Earth or its atmosphere

george e. smith

No David, I don’t.
But I have always assumed (lacking any information to the contrary) that for a clear sky with the sun at zenith and presumably at the annual mean TSI value of circa 1362 W/m^2, the surface irradiance with global average water content, is about 1,000 W/m^2.
All the books I have on solar energy including thermal solar collection seem to use that number.
So that implies that 362 W/m^2 goes “astray”.
Some of that is the Raleigh and Mie scattering that gives us the blue sky.
As near as I can tell the blue sky is essentially isotropic. That is in a local region, the effect of multiple scatterings is that there is as much of that shorter wavelengths blue radiation going in one direction as another, so about half of it reaches the ground eventually (which is why we see a blue sky of course).
But we know from the earth rise photo from the moon that this is the “blue planet.” It looks blue looking down as well.
On a flight to Hawaii, I spent a good amount of time at 38,000 feet and whenever we were over CAVU conditions, when I looked down on the sea, it was blue. Well actually, I couldn’t even see the sea, because it is actually black. So what I could see was the blue sky above that black sea, just as the blue sky looking up prevents us from seeing the black sky of outer space (stars etc not withstanding).
Now I don’t have a good number for what the blue sky radiance is; I’m sure it is in some book or other. I do have a pretty good “light meter” for photography, but it is relatively difficult to find a good location sans extrania to measure the blue sky radiance without getting the near sun in the field of view.
Then of course there is the atmospheric absorptions, which includes ozone at UV->visible wavelengths, and water from about 700 nm to about 4 microns, beyond which less than 1% of solar energy resides.
But I would believe the 20% number that somebody cited here, especially in the tropics.
The point is that what is absorbed by molecular phenomena, rather than scattered a la the blue doesn’t make it to the surface at solar spectrum wavelengths so it doesn’t propagate deeply in the ocean and become heat energy.
That plus the cloud scattering reflectance contribution to albedo makes the CO2 dip rather minor in my view.
Even CO2 exhibits some IR solar energy absorption so CO2 also has a contribution to the negative feedback factor, as does ozone and oxygen (UV).
The direct attenuation of incoming solar spectrum energy, either by scattering or cloud albedo or GHG gas absorption, is what regulates earth’s Temperature, not what outgoing LWIR interception by GHG molecules does.
And water doesn’t need CO2 to activate its own “greenhouse effect” absorption.

MikeB June 8, 2015 at 1:15 am
As for ‘Thermalisation’, here’s a starter….
A CO2 molecule has a number of quantized ‘vibrational modes’. One of these vibrational modes is ‘tuned’ to radiation at 15 microns. CO2 will therefore selectively absorb radiation at this wavelength whilst ignoring other wavelengths which do not coincide with one of its internal energy states. When a molecule absorbs a photon it is raised to a higher energy level and it is said to be in an ‘exited’ state.
A CO2 molecule will typically remain in this state for a few milliseconds after absorbing a photon at 15 microns, before emitting a packet of energy (photon) at 15 micron and reverting back to its ground state.

It’s often significantly more than msecs.
If, before this can happen, the molecule collides with another air molecule, then its newly acquired energy will instead be translated to kinetic energy, appearing as increased momentum in the colliding molecules; as a result it can no longer emit a photon. The absorbed energy is now said to be ‘thermalised’ and, since the average time between collisions at low altitudes is of the order of nanoseconds, this is by far the most likely outcome.
Yes, although more like 0.1nsec.
The temperature of a gas can be considered proportional to the average speed of its molecules and so ‘thermalisation’ has the effect of warming the nearby air. Note that all the gases in a local ‘parcel’ of air will be at the same temperature including those, like oxygen and nitrogen, which do not absorb radiation directly.
An important feature of ‘thermalisation’ is that it is a reversible process. A CO2 molecule, for example, may be kicked into an ‘excited’ state through collisions with other air molecules so that, even though it didn’t absorb a photon, it may now emit one.

Actually it’s not strictly reversible, after IR excitation all the excess energy is in one vibrational mode, collisional deactivation ‘chips it away’ into translational energy of the various colliding molecules. As to collisional activation even if a colliding molecule has energy equal to the vibrational mode it is more likely to end up as translational energy of the CO2, only a collision at a particular orientation would be able to excite the vibrational mode.
The proportion of CO2 molecules in the excited state at any one time is constant and depends on the air temperature (the equipartition principle).
While the total energy of the CO2 molecule has to have a Boltzmann distribution you can’t apply equipartition when the vibrational energy level spacing is greater than kT (in this case T is ~288K).


Hi Phil, thanks for the critique, all sensible and informed comments are welcome.
The equipartition principle is cited by Pierrehumbert in this context
“According to the equipartition principle, molecular collisions maintain an equilibrium distribution of molecules in higher vibrational and rotational states”
Infrared Radiation and Planetary Temperatures, Raymond T. Pierrehumbert, 2011
The values given for excited state lifetimes and collision times were indicative and sufficient to show that thermalisation was by far the most likely outcome. Pierrehumbert gives the lifetime of the CO2 excited state as ranging “from a few milliseconds to tenths of a second” and the time between collisions as “well under 10^-7 seconds”
I don’t understand your comment “Actually it’s not strictly reversible” when later you say “only a collision at a particular orientation would be able to excite the vibrational mode”. Although that sounds correct, to me it still means it is reversible – yes?
And I don’t understand “collisional deactivation ‘chips it away”. The vibrational state is a quantised state, the molecule is either in it or not, there is no half-way house. So it cannot be chipped away?

george e. smith

June 8, 2015 at 1:15 am
It’s a very interesting point you raise George. It would be good if you could find a reference or link to Pierrehumbert’s experiment.
As for ‘Thermalisation’, here’s a starter….”””””
MikeB, Thanks for the thermalization descripton, which roughly I understand with some reservations.
My understanding of the CO2 15 micron absorption / emission event, is that this is associated with a particular internal oscillation mode of the CO2 molecule; the so called degenerate (elbow) bending mode(s) , which would seem to be a molecular resonance, and have a very specific internal energy change associated with it.
I don’t understand how the molecule can enter or exit such a specific resonance oscillation mode without transfer (in or out) of a photon of that energy, as it would seem that the molecule is either in that oscillatory state, or it isn’t, and the energy difference must be quite specific.
Now I can appreciate how a collision can disrupt that oscillatory mode. Are you suggesting that in that case, the energy / momentum change is in effect some sort of phonon transaction rather than a photon reaction.
I know that one does get phonon events instead of photon events in the solid state (LEDs and photodiodes for example) and of course the phonon is basically a quantum of heat.
That would seem to make sense. I can grasp that, without understanding one whit of the QM associated with it.
In yellow GaAsP LEDs, which is an indirect band-gap semiconductor, the bottom of the conduction and the top of the valence band don’t match up in momentum, so such a photon transfer would be forbidden. But when an isoelectronic trap like a Nitrogen doping atom, is introduced, and physically localizes the position; Heisenberg then renders the momentum uncertain enough to spread out in momentum, so that it is often enough to cover the difference in the conduction and valence band positions so the photon emission can take place. It’s one of the most dramatic demonstrations of Heisenberg uncertainty that I know of.
My description is a little bit bush, but close enough to the four syllable words the SS Physicists use to describe it.
Can the atmospheric thermalization be that simple. I guess I’ve been assuming that elbow bend oscillation can’t start or stop without a 15 micron photon coming or going, but a phonon would be a nice way to make waste heat instead. ??
Anyhow, thanks for the description.
I’ll see if I can dig out that Peter Humbug paper from some where.

george e. smith

And I see that Phil jumped in there too. The bit that has been puzzling me is that it seems (to me) that the bending mode oscillation and its associated energy (delta) is internal to the frame of reference of the CO2 molecule, and really shouldn’t show up as part of the gas Temperature energy of that molecule.
The center of mass of the oscillating CO2 molecule would seem to be not affected as regards the molecule in free flight between collisions. I can appreciate that a collisional nudge, can make the juggler drop the ball; but why doesn’t the ball simply remain a ball.
Isn’t equi-partition a statistical property of a system in thermal equilibrium ??
Thanx Phil and MikeB.


Hi George,
I guess we live in different time zones.
My understanding of the CO2 15 micron absorption / emission event, is that this is associated with a particular internal oscillation mode of the CO2 molecule; the so called degenerate (elbow) bending mode(s) , which would seem to be a molecular resonance, and have a very specific internal energy change associated with it.
Yes, for what it’s worth, the ‘15 micron vibrational mode’ is a bending mode. There’s a picture and some explanation of it here
I don’t understand how the molecule can enter or exit such a specific resonance oscillation mode without transfer (in or out) of a photon of that energy, as it would seem that the molecule is either in that oscillatory state, or it isn’t, and the energy difference must be quite specific.
The vibrational state is quantised and, as you say, the molecule is either in that state or it isn’t. It can be put in that state in two ways. By absorbing a photon which has precisely the right amount of energy to move it from one quantised energy level to another. A photon at a frequency ‘v’ has an energy ‘hv’ ( or E=hc/wavelength since we are using wavelengths). [From that I have just calculated the energy of 15 micron photon to be about 10^-20 joules, but it was a quick calculation, I could be wrong]. In the case of CO2, a photon at 15 micron has just the right amount of energy to move the molecule from its ground state to a particular vibrational state. So, the excited state can be induced by the absorption of a photon. It can also be induced by collision with another molecule, such that the impact causes the molecule to vibrate at the right frequency (the energy is derived from the kinetic energy of the colliding molecules).
The excited molecule (i.e. vibrating molecule) can revert to its ground state by two ways. By emitting a photon with energy equal to the difference in energy level between the excited and ground state (i.e. at 15 microns) or by colliding with another molecule which stops the CO2 molecule vibrating and ‘translates’ its vibrational energy into kinetic energy.
…the bending mode oscillation and its associated energy (delta) is internal to the frame of reference of the CO2 molecule, and really shouldn’t show up as part of the gas Temperature energy of that molecule.
Yes, I believe that is right. I have always believed that gas temperature depends on the kinetic energy of the molecules in the gas and that the internal energy levels do not affect the temperature directly. But now I am having doubts – I could be wrong about that.
Isn’t equi-partition a statistical property of a system in thermal equilibrium
Yes. But any ‘parcel’ of air will normally be in Local Thermal Equilibrium(LTE) unless someone has just set fire to it, or something equally drastic.

“Except in the tenuous outer reaches of atmospheres, the matter can generally be divided into parcels containing enough molecules for thermodynamics to apply but small enough to be regarded as isothermal and hence in local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE)”

george e. smith

June 8, 2015 at 1:15 am
It’s a very interesting point you raise George. It would be good if you could find a reference or link to Pierrehumbert’s experiment. …..”””””
Mike if as you say, GHGs such as CO2 can non-radiatively exit from a photon induced excited state, and instead transfer that photon energy as waste heat to the atmospheric gases, rather than normally re-emitting a nearly alike photon, that might be Doppler or otherwise shifted, but basically the same 15 micron band photon in the case of CO2, then above some “saturation” altitude, one would not expect to find ANY CO2 absorption band radiation. Any LWIR radiation above that level would seem to be necessarily a Temperature dependent thermal spectrum, and unless the thermal energy of the atmosphere IS converted to radiation; then it isn’t going anywhere near outer space.
I’m not among those who believe mono or diatomic gases do not emit thermal radiation; albeit, not at the efficiency of the much denser solid and liquid phases.
I have a perfectly good classical Maxwell / Hertz explanation for collision induced EM radiation, based simply on the presumption, that accelerated electric charge always can radiate, even if the necessary antenna only exists for nanoseconds or less. And in collisions between charge symmetrical atoms or molecules, and any other molecules, that symmetrical charge distribution, with no electric dipole moment MUST become asymmetrical, because while the electric charge is balanced between the nucleus, and the electron “cloud” the nuclear and electron masses are decidedly unbalanced, often to the tune of about 3750:1 ratio in light atoms. So the acceleration / deceleration of nucleus and electrons is quite unequal and must result in a finite charge separation during the collision, and even atto-seconds are long enough to emit some EM waves.
Anyhow, Since there is always some CO2 band (15 micron) found in the extra-terrestrial spectrum of the earth, apparently the CO2 molecule can decay radiatively some of the time.

george e. smith

A 650 nm red photon such as from a GaAs60P40 LED is about 2.0 electron Volts, so a 1.5 micron photon, would be about 867 eV or 86.7 meV for a 15 micron photon.


“Apparently ingenuity is not a modern trait.”
This is one of things that really bugs me about some of the ancient astronaut enthusiasts. They assume that ancient people must have been dumb.
If they see something ancient, and they can’t figure out how it could have been done, they immediately jump to the conclusion that aliens must have done it, or at least taught our ancestors how to do it.


George, that’s quite a leap to make from no data.
Saying that the climate models assume that CO2 would cause an increase in H2O is not the same thing as saying that without CO2 in the atmosphere, there would be no H2O in the atmosphere.
Quite obviously H20 would always find it’s equilibrium value based on the current temperature of the atmosphere.
The claim which you explicitly accept is that more CO2 means a warmer atmosphere, which should cause the equilibrium point of H2O to shift upwards.
The problem is that this is just an assumption, and studies involving the real world have shown that the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
In the real world evaporating water absorbs energy.
In the real world, humid air is unstable and has a tendency to start rising. When it rises, it cools and the water in it condenses. This does two things, it creates clouds which shade the ground beneath and it releases heat which causes the air to continue to rise.
None of this has been added to the climate models. They just assume warmer equals more water vapor which means more warming, which means … and so on.
There in lie the big problem with the climate models. They assume major forces which either have not been demonstrated, or in many cases have been proven false.

June 12, 2015 at 11:21 am
I too find that modelers’ assumptions about H2O feedback are not in evidence, and indeed demonstrably false, since they ignore many observable phenomena.
As to the relationship between CO2 and H2O in the atmosphere, consider that as the high H2O content of the air fell drastically during the early Archaean Eon, CO2 increased spectacularly, then it too crashed.
Hope this graph shows up. The source is not ideal but the science is up to date:–/YXBwaWQ9c3JjaGRkO2g9MzA1O3E9OTU7dz0zNDU-/

Lysenkoism comes to mind as well.


Good call.


Thank you for a wonderful post.

Gentle Tramp

Thank you – this is an excellent essay. I like the following sentence best:
“The nature of science is such that people who look for confirming evidence will always find it.”
Though this is valid for both sides of the debate, of course, it concerns more the people who claim “The Science is settled”…

Harvey H Homitz.

An excellent dissertation on the age of the earth. Now for the age of the universe, currently set at 13.7 billion years. But wait! By what measure can we use for the first 9.2 billion ? before the earth began its circum-perambulation of the sun? Plus ca change..etc.


Good question particularly since we now think the universe is accelerating its expansion.


I wonder if time is only in our perception and not actually a physical property. Am I just entertaining my naive imagination, or does anybody else ever ponder this?

Jim G1

The age of the universe is not set in stone. Quantum corrections to general relativity may indicate that it had no beginning and is infinite in size, in which case the “big bang” may have been a local event.

george e. smith

It was actually a very little bang. And time is rather handy to ensure that everything doesn’t all happen at once.

Jim G1

In an eternity, at once may be a very long time and a matter of the perspective of the observer, like the collapse of a wave function when observed.

george e. smith

Jim G1
June 7, 2015 at 7:03 pm
Well I’m quite partial to being interested in “Archeo-Physics” which is everything that happened in the first 10^-43 seconds after the little bang. After that the universe got sort of ho hum.
But even that requires that time exists; so no need to evoke eternity.

Jim G1

Not denying the existence of time. It has been measured to behave according to general relativity per the Lorentz Transformations. That would not be possible if it were merely a psychological phenomenon. Just trying to put some perspective on it. Whether it is a part of the fabric of space/time has been questioned, however, as unzipping time from space does get rid of some of the other problems with the standard theory, like allowing C to vary, but both result in other problems.

Gary Pearse

“There has never been a time when the need for understanding the limits and nature of scientific knowledge is so compelling, or the ramifications of ignorance so consequential. Those who ignore history are apt to repeat its mistakes.”
David, please remove the last cliched sentence from your perfect essay. We wouldn’t be repeating a mistake. We would be making the greatest mistake possible to make by passing the science over to marxist elitist politicians to resolve our ‘problem’. The sentence before it is sufficient.

John Peter

Don’t forget WW2 for destruction. The thing about Paris is that the real money would not start to roll until after 2020 and if the cooling continues as RSS shows then a new US president and a change of key politicians in Europe could scupper the whole thing on the basis that all agreements were based of fraud. We already have Australia, Japan and Canada on the right side of the battle line.


In the wake of Karl et al. 2015, which revises data to match a consensus….
I wonder if they will ever realize they just proved the computer games were wrong?
by changing the data to fit the games……that was not the data fed into the games to get that result

Gary Pearse

” Newton explained to his nephew, John Conduitt, that the Earth could not be old because all human technology was of recent invention.”
Of course this would make sense if the earth and human life began existence at the same time. It is also the reasoning behind intelligent life in outer space expected to be more advanced than we – a much weaker argument than Newton’s.

“The force of gravity”. To create a force one needs energy. 300 years after Newton and we still don’t know what gravity IS or how it is created. We only know of its effects. I propose that one of it’s effects is to heat the centre of our planet. That the earth didn’t cool after it formed, but heated as it formed and gained mass and increased gravity.


If I could discover a graviton I, or someone else, might be able to make use of it.

Robert Austin

Back to basics. Force is not energy, force times distance is energy. In other words, gravitational force would only serve to heat the planet if the planet were collapsing. And it ain’t measurably collapsing.


In fact gravity can and does continue to heat the earth (though not to the same degree as radioactive decay), at least indirectly, through the stratification of materials and through accretion onto the core of denser metals. This can be viewed as a form of “collapse”. The liquid portion of the core itself is thought to undergo liquid convection, giving rise the earth’s magnetic field.

Leo Smth

To create a force one needs energy.
No. One doesn’t.

Sam Carey was an Australian geologist who championed the concept of an expanding earth. James Maxlow has a YouTube presentation on this topic, e.g.,
The constant diameter odf the earth is another example of a ‘settled science’ that needs a serious rethink.

george e. smith

Well energy is the capacity to do work. If you don’t move, you do no work, so you need no energy.
It seems (to me) that an earth forming by accretion of smaller massive bodies under mutual gravitational force, would all tend to move towards their common center of mass, and be accelerating as they approach. Eventually they would all land on each other and that gained kinetic energy, would be largely dissipated as heat. As the body grew, its volume would grow faster than its surface area, so it’s rate of cooling through that surface would diminish. Whether the Temperature rises or falls, would apparently depend on the rate of accretion.

Hello Wicked Wench, It is indeed a travesty of the physical sciences that gravity is still a mystery, one day they will discover that 95% of the universe that is missing, is hiding in plain sight. That, that is missing creates the minor force that is gravity. The wrongness that is the standard models, blind them into trying to find ways to make their models work. The same blindness controls the manipulation of data by the global warming crowd trying to prove they are not wrong.


Great article! It should be followed by another example from geology; the establishment of continental drift and plate tectonics.

I agree. Part of the information for that history is here in a commented debate about the evolution of new theories:
Inside an extended discussion with Leif on

:The issue was with the emergence of a NEW theory, that breaks with the past [like Plate Tectonics]. This almost always only occurs when new and unexpected data becomes available. Such data forces us to seek a new theory, and forces acceptance of such.


If Hess was “forced by that particular observation” [paleomag ocean floor Zebra stripes] to adopt the New Theory, then why were not hundreds of open minded scientists simultaneously arriving at the same Theory? New Theories are a product of an open human mind, triggered by new data and other new Theories, shaped by existing data and experience. The differences in experiences are key.

I found this essay engaging, and had never appreciated the contortions geologists and biologists inflicted on themselves to conform to Kelvin. It seems their present genuflection to the likes of James Hansen has a long and dishonorable tradition. However, I think Dr. Demming’s assessment of the present political situation is wrong. IMHO, the world is not on the verge of drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels. As we have seen in the US with fracked old and gas, in Germany with coal, etc., planetary saviors use carbon-phobia only as a lever to maintain their political power, and then seek to maximize the flow of economic benefit from fossil-fuel use to their followers.

Robert of Ottawa

A difference. The geologists were sincere in their error; I have my doubts about the government funded crimatologists. Leif nails it with Lysenko.

Well, apologies to Victorian geologists and biologists who were caught between religious authority and the hazards of observational science, to Kelvin who might have been a little arrogant but never viewed himself as a messiah, and to Dr. Deming for spelling his name wrong.

What is “fracked old gas?”

Another example of ‘settled science’: autocorrection of spelling


OT but the excellent “Gavin says the funniest things!” allows no comments. Can that change?

I very much agree with the thrust of this post. Thanks for your efforts Dr. Deming.
We just don’t know enough to dismantle the modern industrialized society we live in and watch perhaps 6 billion people die as a result: and additionally, most of what we think we know is erroneous. I would point out the the present ideas of both the alarmists and the luke-warmers are fatally flawed. Over time, if we return to real science, we will begin to understand our planet’s climate but we do not at this time.
We do not understand the huge effect of our oceans and the water vapor in the atmosphere. We don’t understand the impact of clouds nor of storms. We have failed to understand water while we live on a water world! Oh my!
We fail to understand the effect of that mysterious force called gravity upon the atmosphere, and that understanding gravity, atmosphere mass, and water content are vital to understanding our climate. (lapse rate?? what lapse rate??) We also don’t understand the huge role the oceans play in distributing heat from the equator towards the poles. We ignore basic physics and claim that it all boils down to CO2 and “back radiation”. Oh my.
This present “consensus” by alarmists and luke-warmers alike will someday be viewed as the biggest failure of “science” in the history of the planet. School children will someday ask if the people believing in this modern CO2 consensus also thought the earth was flat. They will ask why “learned men and women” thought plant fertilizer was evil.


June 7, 2015 at 8:20 am “We just don’t know enough to dismantle the modern industrialized society we live in and watch perhaps 6 billion people die as a result”
All too true, but you neglect the flip side of the coin – that perhaps 9 billion people, and our entire civilization, and perhaps even all higher life forms (thanks to our monkeying with nuclear energy) may die because we allowed ourselves to be completely dependent for the essentials of existence (energy, food, communication) on supremely fragile continental and/or global systems of transport and electricity, without any provision for backup, should these systems fail catastrophically through something as mundane and as unpredictable as a recurrence of the Carrington event.
I agree wholeheartedly that we should not dismantle the energy resources currently in use, except for the nuclear element, which poses a danger we cannot possibly contain without the current infrastructure. As you say, the continuation of our society could depend on it, especially in the face of an ice age.
But to cry “Chicken Little” and “alarmist” is an absolutely irresponsible tactic, because it encourages precisely the “que sera, sera”, “what me worry” attitude that humanity naturally adopts in the face of unpleasant prospects, especially if they are difficult to resolve, and even more so when higher authority encourages such fatalism.

Why would you single out nuclear energy as impossible to contain without the current infrastructure? I could contain the radioactive material in a nuclear power system with the technology of the 18th century. I’d be more worried about toxins that don’t naturally break down, like heavy metals. Are you referring to a nuclear war instead?
Civilization has grown to this scale because of the use of networked industry and energy. There’s only so much redundancy you can add without it becoming ruinously expensive. We can’t have everyone be fully self-sufficient without killing our standard of living.

Jim Francisco

Well now we have it folks, an admission that they think the real problem is running out of fossil fuels and not wanting to use nuclear power. There are probably many scientist like otropogo that think that because they are so smart and they cannot come up with another solution to the end of oil and gas besides windmills and solar panels that there aren’t any to come. They are willing to bring for sure ruin to the worlds economy now and with that usually come world war because they have no imagination. For the life of me I cannot understand the fear of nuclear power. When you consider the lives lost obtaining, transporting and using fossil fuels against those lost doing the same with nuclear fuels there should be no opposition.
Is there some secret knowledge of a disaster coming (besides the false CAGW and end of oil) that only a few scientist are privy to?

The ancient Romans had the technology to contain nuclear reactions.


What are these fantasy problems regarding nuclear power that haunt your night time visions?
Are you one of these people who thinks that even the tiniest amount of radiation is evil and will kill us?
I sure hope you don’t have a granite counter top in your house. It’s going to kill you with radiation.

Not to mention living in a brick house.

Bad Apple

Geologists ROCK!

R. Shearer

I doubt that Ussher lived from “1581-1686.”

The same thought crossed my mind, 1581-1656

But that does not take away from the article.
It may however highlight the fact that everything to do with all and any religion should be taken with a grain of salt.


It’s not religion that’s at fault here. It’s your author not checking his facts. like also not noticing that Ussher was an Archbishop, not a Bishop.


The palaeontologist William Buckland invented the word and the study of coprolites, described the megalosaur (the first known dinosaur) and was willing to adjust his view to promote the idea of Ice Ages as evidence indicated.
A great scientist who is relevant to his discussion.
He also happened to be a clergyman who reached the high role of ‘Dean of Westminster’.

Buckland was the quintessential Victorian eccentric, who at the end went bonkers. The odious Owen persuaded Mrs. Buckland to institutionalize him.
To Buckland’s credit, he was initially persuaded by Agassiz that northern Britain had indeed been covered by ice, but faced with opposition from the Geological Society of London, backpeddled toward the then politically and religiously correct “flood geology”.

M Courtney

sturgishooper, it was the other way round.
Buckland initially went with the flood explanation that seemed most likely to his background. But he later adopted ice ages when the evidence came in.
He was an eccentric gastronome, it is true. But he never sank so far as to eat a KFC Bargain bucket.

Natually he was initially a “flood geologist”, until persuaded by Agassiz of ice ages, but then backtracked to what remained the consensus opinion that there were some alpine glaciers in Britain but not a vast ice sheet “flood”. The politically and religiously correct water diluvians held sway and he rejoined them.
This link contains some information on the ice-diluvian debate at the GSL. Under pressure, Buckland withdrew his pro-ice paper. The extent to which he recanted deep down is debatable, but did not come out in support of Agassiz in public after these debates:
I don’t know if he would have balked at KFC or not. But anybody who licks alleged blood off the floor of a cathedral might well consume anything.


Yet St. Shenouda – Shenoute is an alternative spelling – lived for 118 years, apparently – 347-465 or 348-466.
As per the peerless Wiki-thingy, which even I can edit (and have edits, about Shenouda, made no longer operative . . .), so is inestimably reliable.
NB – Shenouda is not included in the GRG’s list of longest lived human beings. refers.

K. Kilty

The history of Kelvin’s role in the age of the earth debate has other interesting parallels to the current CAWG madness. Kelvin controlled the debate for a very long time by virtue of his authority. Kelvin’s position as a scientific authority was well earned, indeed, but utterly misused. The details of the end of the debate are well documented in a series of letters in Nature Magazine, which involved Kelvin and Tait (a mathematician) on one side, and the geologist John Perry and physicist Oliver Heaviside on the other.
Indeed, Kelvin’s mathematical model was simple, and most people, including Kelvin, believed it was well constrained by observations. In point of fact, Heaviside and Perry showed that Kelvin’s model was ill-posed, or at least that is how we would characterize it today, and that a small change in the observed data, a change so small that it it could not be resolved in measurements, would change the solution by many orders of magnitude. Heaviside, of course, was self-taught, a skeptic, and had no university credentials, and was therefore at a disadvantage in any dispute with Kelvin.
Geophysicists and historians have redeemed Kelvin’s role in this whole affair by making it seem his only mistake was to not recognize the impact of radioactive decay. But in fact his mistake was more fundamental (lousy model) and completely irredeemable. How like the CAGW imbroglio is this?


That wasn’t Lord Kelvin’s only mistake, he also said
“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now, All that remains is more and more precise measurement.”
Shortly before Planck and others put a spanner in the works.

K. Kilty

I don’t mind scientific “authority” being used to enforce good science. In this case making certain that skepticism received its due would be a good use, but authority used as Kelvin did in many instances, as an ex cathedra argument, is the worst possible use.

Louis LeBlanc

Maybe the best quote from earlier scientists to describe the current lemming-like 97% consensus.

Billy Liar

Kelvin also said in 1902:
“No balloon and no aeroplane will ever be practically successful.”

Billy Liar

In 1898 Kevin predicted peak oxygen:
only 400 years of oxygen supply remained on the planet

Billy Liar

It wasn’t Kevin , it was Kelvin!

Brett Keane

So, Kelvin was only human, but still a stupendous scientist. Cannot be said about me, nor the agw mob!

Lord Kelvin was a good scientist, but also human, so let his ego get in the way of his science. This is a common failing among human scientists.
Maybe robotic scientists of the future will not share this weakness.

How did Kelvin account for Volcanoes releasing heat from inside the earth?


When the history of the 20th century is written, the names Tom Karl and Sepp Blatter will be mentioned in the same sentence as examples of the same contemporary phenomenon, of the workings of organisations that were untouchable political totems “too big to fail”, blindly trusted until discovered to be riddled to the core by corruption and dishonesty. Ten million dollars was the going rate for a world cup, and is probaby also about the price on a result-U-like paper like Karl et al. 2015, served up as an hors d’oevre for the Paris carve up of political and tax-raising power.

John Peter

We are into billions of Dollars costs if an agreement is signed in Paris. Fortunately we have a Republican Congress in USA. Whatever Obama signs up to can be changed or withdrawn by the next President – hopefully not a Clinton.


I agree with you – except for the century.

Why know the name of a thing, when the thing itself you do not know? Whose work is it but your own to open your eyes? But indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise.
George MacDonald, Lilith, 1895.


Thank you Dr. Demming for risking so much to expose the truth and save science from politically inspired manipulation and outright violation.
This article should be circulated through every educational institution in the world. Instead, it is at risk of being censored under the Rico act. Meanwhile, the general public is unaware of anything but the MSM spoonfed selection of politically correct information.


Rats! I misspelled his name too. 1K pardons, please.

Bill Yarber

Process control reveals that any system dominated by positive feedbacks will saturate. With respect to AGW, it means we either have runaway warming or a constant ice age. Geology tells us it is probable we have see two “Ice Ball” Earth’s – on ~2.4 billion years ago, the other ~600 million years ago. But Earth recovered both times due to plate tectonics and volcanic activities (ash as primary driver instead of CO2 concentration changes).
Geology also tells us the Earth has been as much as ~9C warmer in the past 400 million years. Yet, humanity as developed and flourished over the last 2 million years when Earth’s mean temperature has been -2/+4C from today climate. It is quite obvious Earth’s climate is not dominated by positive feedbacks. That’s the primary why the AGW sponsored models are constantly exerating the changes over the past 20 years.
It’s not rocket science, just science and common sense.

John Peter

So blooming obvious that you wonder how people calling themselves scientists deny it. Follow the money rather than the science and observations.

John Peter

Looks like some members of Congress (R) thinks along the same lines – the science is uncertain and needs further investigation before more money is doled out:
I hope they “stand firm” on this. I am also awaiting Inhofe’s move (Senate hearings) on the “homogenizers” in NOAA/GIS. He should get some results out before Paris in December.

Ian Macdonald

In a similar vein, the Nyquist/Shannon theorem that no electronic system could transmit data at more than twice the carrier frequency held back the development telecoms for decades. It has now been quietly forgotten that textbooks once stated boldly that no phone line could carry data at more than 2400bps, so there was no point in trying. Because of the existence of that theorem, for a long time no-one tried. When someone did actually have the brass neck to try… they found out it that 9600bps was easily attainable, and speeds of up to 56000bps were eventually achieved using trellis encoding of the same 1200Hz carrier.
If nobody had had the nerve to ‘deny’ that particular piece of ‘settled science’ then I’d be typing this on a Wildcat BBS, using ASCII graphics.

K. Kilty

That’s not what the Shannon theorem says. Shannon’s theorem says that an encoding can be found to transmit data without error as long as it does not exceed the capacity of the channel. I know of no statement claiming that telephone circuits could not pass data at a rate more than 2400 bps, boldly or otherwise.

Ian Macdonald

I am reasonably sure that is what USED to be said. In fact, I know it was. The fact that it is not said now, and the textbooks have been surreptitiously corrected, might give us some inkling of how climate theory will be corrected when they finally give up on the warming scare.
1953 text: “If the essential frequency range is limited to B cycles per second, 2B was given by Nyquist as the maximum number of code elements per second that could be unambiguously resolved, assuming the peak interference is less half a quantum step.”
BTW, this had nothing to do with noise as in Shannon-Hartley; it was claimed to be a simple hard limit.

Billy Liar

The 1953 text is quoting the 1928 Nyquist paper entitled ‘Certain Topics in Telegraph Transmission Theory’. The concept became known as the Nyquist rate for a telegraph channel.
See the following article to see how this idea was developed, first by Ralph Hartley in 1928 and later by Claude Shannon during WWII.

george e. smith

Shannon’s theorem about capacity and bandwidth also includes the s/n ratio as a consideration. Noisy channels are lower capacity, no matter how great their bandwidth.
And the channel capacity issue is quite separate from the sampling theorem attributed to Nyquist and Shannon (and numerous others.)
All this stuff came about when we had that great Bell Telephone Laboratories, National treasure, before a busybody government destroyed it.
That was when the telephone system actually worked. I have an ATT “telephone”, that is a piece of unmitigated garbage. We use a rubber band to hold the handset on the wall unit. That NEVER happened when Western Electric built the telephone hardware.

Billy Liar

I think you are confusing the Nyquist-Shannon theorem with the Shannon-Hartley theorem; it is the latter which deals with the maximum capacity of a channel of a specified bandwidth. The Shannon-Hartley theorem still seems to apply even to very fancy encoding schemes – they just require higher signal-to-noise ratios.

Really good essay, thank you.
In other words, something we have all known; cutting edge science is only cutting edge for a few years until it is replaced by something that could not be predicted.
Astronomy is another science that has improved out of all recognition. due to unforseen technology. I was always taught that telescopes no mater how big could not capture any more detail than they could in the 1940’s when the 200″ Mt Palomar Reflector was built, due to atmospheric distortion and if they could, grinding a bigger mirror was difficult if not impossible due to the weight and resulting distortion distortion. Computer technology has negated the atmospheric distortion and much bigger telescopes can be built using hundreds of computer controlled compound mirrors. It was said that exo-planets could not be seen due to the glare from the star they orbit around. Who fifty years ago could have predicted that measurement of stellar light could ever become do precise that a transit could be detected?
It is frightening that advances such as these will end because of lack of cheap. reliable power based on the lie of AGW.

E.M. Smith (Chiefio) wrote sometime ago:

“It is peculiar that everyone is so taken in by the whole notion of the so-called ’radiative greenhouse effect’ being such an ingrained necessity, such a self-evident, requisite part, as it were, of our atmosphere’s inner workings. The ’truth’ and the ’reality’ of the effect is completely taken for granted, a priori. And yet, the actual effect is still only a theoretical construct.

What if the whole thing can be explained in a very different way? I have read several people offer much different theories of why our planet keeps such a relatively stable temperature. One fellow, an amateur I think, said:

The Earth, a rocky sphere at a distance from the Sun of ~149.6 million kilometers, where the Solar irradiance comes in at 1361.7 W/m2, with a mean global albedo, mostly from clouds, of 0.3 and with an atmosphere surrounding it containing a gaseous mass held in place by the planet’s gravity, producing a surface pressure of ~1013 mb, with an ocean of H2O covering 71% of its surface and with a rotation time around its own axis of ~24h, boasts an average global surface temperature of +15°C (288K).
Why this specific temperature? Because, with an atmosphere weighing down upon us with the particular pressure that ours exerts, this is the temperature level the surface has to reach and stay at for the global convectional engine to be able to pull enough heat away fast enough from it to be able to balance the particular averaged out energy input from the Sun that we experience.
It’s that simple.

I don’t think it is that simple myself. I think that fellow hit upon a large and important part of it all, but there are other factors. Perhaps many other factors.
My point being that the CO2 effect, “taken for granted”, need not be true at all. There are many other factors far more important; as time will demonstrate to us.


I pretty much agree with the quote and what you’ve stated….and I wonder if the folks that are doing all those climate models include the convection them. The rotation of the planet (night/day cooling/heating) and the winds from the equator to the poles and back again, and opposing seasons keep the planet pretty stable temperature-wise. It would take a lot more than our relatively minor contribution to CO2 to change all that.


Came across an interesting article with some possible parallels in current edition of IEEE Spectrum magazine, about attempts to model the recent Ebola outbreak (link )
Summary – model predicted exponential growth, and >>10X the actual number of deaths that actually occurred by start of 2015.
In this case, validation (or otherwise) was possible on a timescale of months, not decades. Patchy historic data, paucity of observations, complexity of multiple factors all contributed.
Perhaps, to quote J L Borges, “The machinery of the world is far too complex for the simplicity of men”


I wonder why Dr Deming forgot to mention the fact that Nicolaus Steno (1638-1686) was a Catholic priest.

Robert B

and became a bishop and was beatified but when he was a scientist, he was a lapsed Lutheran.

Frederick Davies

Great article; probably the best for a long while. Many people tend to forget that Science is about empirical fact, not rational argument.

The most loaded word in law is: “reasonable”.

george e. smith

I would say it is the phrase; “in other words”. In “other words” lies “other meaning”.
Lawyers always try to get you to use “other words” than the ones that say what you intend to say.
I always use my words; they mean what I intend them to say.

Jim Francisco

I would like to know if those who were so outspoken and wrong about the age of the earth suffered in any way. I have a great fascination for stories like this one. There have been many, some were very costly to many people.

D. Cohen

Alas, as one historian has said, science advances one funeral at a time…


“But with the advent of Christianity and Islam, scholars began to assume that humanity was coeval with the Creation of the world. It followed that the age of the Earth could be estimated from a careful examination of sacred writings.”
And the first Christian quoted as an example of that claim is Archbishop Ussher who lived from 1581 to 1656. That’s virtually 1500 year after the start of Christianity. That’s rather a long gap. You would think that if such scholars existed as claimed by Dr Deming he would have found one much earlier.
For those who prefer to look at the real data rather than the fanciful notions expressed by Dr Deming, they might like to refer to St Augustine (354 to 430) on the matter in hand. St Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274) is also worth a look. The thing to notice about both those gentlemen is that they were Catholics, not fundamentalist Protestants.

Augustine was a young earth creationist. He shared with other figures in the early Church the chronology of the Septuagint, by which a host of Church Fathers computed that Creation occurred around 5400 to 5600 BC. Calculations based upon the Masoretic text yield dates around 4300 to 4400 BC.
For the first several centuries of Christianity at least, the Greek Septuagint chronology prevailed, starting with Clement of Alexander, who came up with 5592 BC. He was followed by many others in the first millennium.
The Byzantine calendar dated the creation of the world to September 1, 5509 BC, Greek Orthodoxy still uses the Septuagint as its Old Testament text.
Book XII of Augustine’s “City of God”:
Chapter 10.— Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past.
Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. For some hold the same opinion regarding men that they hold regarding the world itself, that they have always been. Thus Apuleius says when he is describing our race, “Individually they are mortal, but collectively, and as a race, they are immortal.” And when they are asked, how, if the human race has always been, they vindicate the truth of their history, which narrates who were the inventors, and what they invented, and who first instituted the liberal studies and the other arts, and who first inhabited this or that region, and this or that island? They reply, that most, if not all lands, were so desolated at intervals by fire and flood, that men were greatly reduced in numbers, and from these, again, the population was restored to its former numbers, and that thus there was at intervals a new beginning made, and though those things which had been interrupted and checked by the severe devastations were only renewed, yet they seemed to be originated then; but that man could not exist at all save as produced by man. But they say what they think, not what they know.
They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed. And, not to spend many words in exposing the baselessness of these documents, in which so many thousands of years are accounted for, nor in proving that their authorities are totally inadequate, let me cite only that letter which Alexander the Great wrote to his mother Olympias, giving her the narrative he had from an Egyptian priest, which he had extracted from their sacred archives, and which gave an account of kingdoms mentioned also by the Greek historians. In this letter of Alexander’s a term of upwards of 5000 years is assigned to the kingdom of Assyria; while in the Greek history only 1300 years are reckoned from the reign of Bel himself, whom both Greek and Egyptian agree in counting the first king of Assyria. Then to the empire of the Persians and Macedonians this Egyptian assigned more than 8000 years, counting to the time of Alexander, to whom he was speaking; while among the Greeks, 485 years are assigned to the Macedonians down to the death of Alexander, and to the Persians 233 years, reckoning to the termination of his conquests. Thus these give a much smaller number of years than the Egyptians; and indeed, though multiplied three times, the Greek chronology would still be shorter. For the Egyptians are said to have formerly reckoned only four months to their year; so that one year, according to the fuller and truer computation now in use among them as well as among ourselves, would comprehend three of their old years. But not even thus, as I said, does the Greek history correspond with the Egyptian in its chronology. And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred. Further, if this letter of Alexander, which has become so famous, differs widely in this matter of chronology from the probable credible account, how much less can we believe these documents which, though full of fabulous and fictitious antiquities, they would fain oppose to the authority of our well-known and divine books, which predicted that the whole world would believe them, and which the whole world accordingly has believed; which proved, too, that it had truly narrated past events by its prediction of future events, which have so exactly come to pass!
Book XV:


An absolute pleasure to read – lots of facts from our human history (but will we learn?); and all so eloquently presented. Thank you


I’ve always loved how they talk about how long it took for that little bitty narrow river to carve the grand canyon, when it’s quite obvious that it’s one giant gully-washer. Whether there was a glacial lake that softened the soil before the dam broke, or it happened some other way, it’s still quite obvious it’s one giant gully-washer – no different than those large, if somewhat smaller, canyons in the NW. The idea that erosion on that great of a scale doesn’t take into consideration (hmmm, sounds like global warming theory) a whole lot of other factors.
When it comes to evolutionary science, we only see changes within species; we have yet to see one species change into another – and that needs to be observed and tested. So far, it hasn’t happened. On the other hand, we see species reproducing themselves on a daily basis.


I meant to say that they kept changing the age of the earth to fit the theory on those issues as well, i.e., it took longer to carve the Grand Canyon; it took a longer period to evolve life from non-life, etc.


Next time you fly over the states surrounding the Colorado River or even the Mississippi River, look carefully at the proliferation of erosion, and washed out areas that could only be caused by a massive outflow of water. It is clearly obvious in the drier states where these artifacts are not hidden by foliage. Along areas of the Missouri River near me there are flat valleys more than 5 miles wide that could only have been caused by the release of a major dam break, older than any dam other than the ice age could have caused.

Sturgis Hooper

The Grand Canyon was not formed by glacial lake outbreak floods like the channeled scablands of Eastern Washington State. It was formed by the Colorado River’s cutting into the rising Colorado Plateau.
New species evolving from old has been observed so often as to be trivial. Speciation events observed in the wild have been recreated in the lab. Evolution is a consequence of reproduction.


Evolution has never been observed happening across species. No, that itty bitty river did not carve that mile wide canyon.

Pat Frank
Sturgis Hooper

Regarding evolution, why would you make such a baseless assertion so easily shown false?
Not only new species but new genera have been made by people, both rapidly and slowly.
Your unfounded assertion re the Grand Canyon is also false. The same forces which made it over millions of years are still observable today. In 2008 the beginning of the process was reliably dated.


Please name one “kind” that has been observed changing into another.

Please define what you mean by a “kind”? If it isn’t a species, what is it?
You’ve been shown copious examples of species evolving into new species by a variety of means, and of new genera evolving from existing genera naturally and of being created in the lab.
If the Bible be your “biology” text, then “kind” clearly means species, since the Ark had breeding pairs (or seven of each clean kind, depending upon by which of the myth’s self-contradictory passages you swear). However if you in spite of this fact still maintain that a biblical “kind” is a higher taxon than species, the farthest you can go in the Linnaean system is family, since among the Ark’s passengers were both crows (or ravens) and doves, which are not just in different families but orders and higher taxa in the clade Neoaves.

D. Cohen

Make that “Evolution is a consequence of **slightly imperfect** reproduction.”


Among the anecdotal pointers to the reality of evolution are curious facts, such as the hippo being closer genetically to the whales than to pigs, horses or cows. Or teeth, which no bird possesses, being coded in silent bird genes like deleted files on a hard disc, quite easy to switch back on with a little genetic manipulation.
Genesis itself talks about “the earth producing” plants, animals, and “the sea producing” fish. This allows many Christians to accept the overwhelming evidence for evolution. Genesis did not say “God waved a magic wand and such-and-such animals, birds etc. appeared out of nowhere”. “Let there be light” is not a bad 1500 BC approximation to the big bang.

D. Cohen
June 8, 2015 at 5:43 am
Evolution also occurs without mistakes. The “slight imperfections” help, though.


“Please name one “kind” that has been observed changing into another. ”
Spartina maritima and Spartina alterniflora to Spartina anglica. Happened around 1870 in southern England.
There are any number of examples.

The instances of observed speciation are legion, which is why 4Times has given up on science and reverted to the biblical “kind”, which has no precise scientific meaning, but clearly from the Old Testament means “species”, as it’s commonly used. But being imprecise, it provides wiggle room. Hence, it can mean anything from the family “bears” (thus allowing for a grizzly to evolve into a polar) to an entire kingdom, as in bacteria (thus allowing sugar-eating bacteria to evolve into nylon-eating bacteria by a single base pair mutation).
IOW it allows anti-scientific fundamentalists to d*ny the fact of evolution while using it to explain away, for instance, how so many “kinds” were crammed onto the Ark, requiring rapid evolution after the waters–three times the volume of all the planet’s present oceans (over 29,000 feet across the entire globe)–which somehow came from above and beneath the earth receded to wherever they went.

For “kingdom”, please read “domain”.

george e. smith

Ever heard of “meandering” ??


If you think that the Grand Canyon was washed out in a year, please explain why unconsolidated sediments would not have flowed in to fill it. There should be no near-vertical walls. The pressure on the mud at the bottom would be about 5000 psi. On the other hand, if the walls were already lithified, how long would it have taken the sediments to be deposited and cemented? The young canyon idea just doesn’t hold water. It is also interesting that there are igneous intrusives in the canyon walls.


I didn’t give a time frame. I merely said it was a gully washer. I have no idea how long it took. Gully washers are notorious for doing their job in a relatively short period of time.

The problem is that there is zero evidence in favor of your assertion and all the evidence against it.

Joe Dunfee

Mount St. Helens has been given by some to be an example of the kinds of erosions that can result in formations like what you see in the Grand Canyon. Some were formed in very soft recent, And others formed through long established deposits by a rapidly flowing mud slurry. I don’t know the current status of the formations, and how much they have hardened. But, certainly they can form in a year, and last many years since.

Apparently you’re unaware that the ICR is a pack of shameless, paid liars.

Steve Reddish

Sturgis, are you stating there was no rapid canyon carving at the Mt. St. Helens locale, or that those canyons do not persist to this day? Or are you just vilifying the messenger?

Steve Reddish

Bones, a very reasonable question (at 1:39).
I have seen eroded canyons that were dug by narrow streams, such as in the Badlands of South Dakota. These canyons are typically deep, narrow V shaped valleys. Each (very narrow) side canyon is separated from its neighbor side canyons by a narrow knife ridge. The bottom of each canyon is only the width of the greatest runoff that occurs during periodic washouts.
A continued flow creates a deeper canyon over time, not a wider one.
On the other hand, the coulees in the scablands of the Columbia Plateau in Washington State are wide and flat bottomed, and are believed to have been carved very rapidly by very large flows. It appears the width of a canyon’s floor is directly related to the magnitude of the flow of water that created it.
I have also seen small streams carving miniature canyons through beach sands washed smooth by high tides on the Washington coast. These little canyons were always flat bottomed and vertical sided. When the sides did collapse, it was usually by vertical slabs toppling into the stream flow, to be rapidly carried away. Even though the sand was easily eroded, the mini-canyons were always much wider than deep.
Note that the Grand Canyon is carved through a plateau. It is rimmed by flat topped mesas consisting of sandstone layers deposited by flowing water. These deposits are hundred of miles in extent. The ridges separating side canyons are flat topped. The main canyon consists of a very wide canyon with a deep, narrow canyon carved within. Most of the canyon walls are tall cliffs.
The physical layout of the Grand Canyon is consistent with strata laid down by a flood of at least continental proportions, followed by a very large sheet runoff producing a very flat landscape, dwindling to very large rivers which carved wide, flat bottomed canyons. Bones, this first canyon carving episode would have occurred as the flood waters receded, but was not to the full depth of the present day Grand Canyon. As you pointed out, the pressures at depth within these layers would have been tremendous. The greater the pressure, the faster consolidation would have progressed. Upper layers would have eroded more easily during this first runoff, promoting canyons that were much wider than deep, just the way beach sand eroded.
This first catastrophic runoff was followed by a smaller flood flowing within the main canyon, carving out a deep inner canyon. The water for this flood was probably provided by the Canyonlands Lake. Think of the Lake Missoula flood. Note that there is very little fallen rock at the base of the tall cliffs that form much of the inner canyon. This indicates that the flow that carved the inner canyon filled the valley floor from cliff to cliff and flowed with enough force to carry away all debris. Finally, the present day Colorado river flows within the inner canyon. That there is still very little fallen rock at the base of the canyon cliffs indicates the brief age of the canyons.
Like every scenario of past events, confirmation is difficult to come by, but this scenario is consistent with all my observations of present day erosion.
The Colorado river could have carved a deep canyon over eons, but not a wide canyon, no matter how much time passed.
PS. A lava flow dated at 6 million years appears to have flowed from one side of the canyon to the other. This puts a maximum age on the canyon of 6 million years, assuming lava dating can be trusted.

I’m saying that the St. Helens floods do not contribute to understanding the formation of the Grand Canyon.
I don’t know which lava flow you have in mind there from six million years ago, but the Grand Canyon was dammed repeatedly during the active volcanism that began about three million years ago. The dams and their lakes each didn’t last very long, but there were a lot of them, including 150 in just one 625,000 year period ending 100,000 years ago.
The layers exposed in the canyon are ancient. They generally range in age from Triassic (~200 to 250 million years ago) and Permian (Paleozoic) at the top down to Paleoproterozoic (~1.8 billion years old) at the bottom. Most of the newer deposits from the later Mesozoic and Cenozoic have eroded away on the plateau. Marine layers alternate with terrestrial. That a single flood could have caused the plateau to form is simply preposterous, as is the notion that one flood carved the canyon through it.


Actually the Grand Canyon (and the other dramatic landscapes of the Colorado Plateau) are fairly young. They are all due to the plateau having risen a kilometer or more in just 5-6 million years.

Bellator Deus

Assuming that massive floods occur from the rupture of ice dams at the end of each glacial period. Over millions of years there have been quite a number of huge floods. Thus it is logical that large floods have contributed both to broad river valleys in general as well as the grand canyon.

Correct. The Colorado River cut through its plateau rapidly (since the Pliocene Epoch) because the landscape has been rising.
However the plateau itself is composed of ancient rocks, exposed by the cutting of the canyon. Its cake is missing some layers (eg Ordovician and Silurian Periods), but otherwise is a good record of the past going on two billion years.

Bellator Deus
June 8, 2015 at 1:02 pm
Ice dams not so much in the case of the Colorado, but the pluvial intervals of the Pleistocene ice ages did increase its flow and make it a more vigorous canyon cutter.


The parallels with CAGW,,AGW, Climate Change and the ideologically driven followers just stagers the mind. What I still find amusing is that a value for the effects of “CO2” were calculated in the very early 20th century, about the same time that radio and TV were getting started, and has not been refined, changed, OR PROVEN since. AS if to do so would be blasphemy. The tactics of the Believers are the same (actually worse) than those that followed Kelvin, more like the Spanish inquisition. Their fame, fortune, and devoted following came from the power that they abused. And we still “honor” these charlatans, con-men, etc., by naming scientific attributes and parameters after them. How much have they set back science? How much money time and lives were wasted? Would you name a college, hospital, or restaurant after Jeffery Dahmer? A rape center after Ted Bundy?


In addition to the 18+ year global warming hiatus, climatology seems to be also suffering from a Scientific Method Hiatus….
It’s depressing to see climatologists like Karl arbitrarily adjust raw data to force the data to conform to CAGW hypothetical projections. That is not how the Scientific Method works…
Normally, when hypothetical projections fail to match empirical data within statistically significant boundaries, the hypothesis is either tossed in the trash bin or the hypothesis is modified to match reality… Not so with the CAGW hypothesis; It’s far easier to just “fix” the raw data to keep the hypothesis within the disconfirmatiin boundaries.
The way things are going, Karl 2015, will not be the last of the “fixes”…. As long as there is a Scientific Method Hiatus, there will always be creative ways to “fix” the raw data to keep the hypothesis on life support…
I’m just thankful UAH, RSS and radiosonde data have not all been “fixed”….yet….

Pat Frank

I’m with you, Samurai.
This whole AGW-driven corrosion of science, incredibly aided and abetted by such institutions as the APS, has nearly destroyed the joy of science for me. I’ve become cynical about every announcement these days, almost no matter the field.

John Shade

A most enjoyable and enlightening essay. A scientific genius like Kelvin was shown to be wrong in that theory only by the discovery of new knowledge. No such advance is required to expose the weaknesses of the scientific mediocrities who pushed CO2 as a catastrophic threat, aided and abetted by highly talented political operators and lucky political opportunists.


It is worth noting here that Logic can only tell us what is necessary given the premises we have assumed. Which essentially guarantees that we can only guarantee that the theorems arising from Logic are correct when our chosen premises are all fictitious — or otherwise disconnected — from reality. In every other case, perfect Logic will lead us to a perfectly wrong conclusion.
But this is highly desirable. This is not a case of “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” From the get go, if we attain absurd results — either that they are self-inconsistent or inconsistent with reality — then we know at least one of our premises is false. But we cannot necessarily state which one or how many. This is highly desirable as it tells us when and where we’re hunting unicorns.
Conversely and perversely, however, it cannot tell us when we’ve attained the Alpha and Omega of right answers unless our knowledge of the system goes far deeper than that part of the system we’re speaking about. And that gets into a whole mess of notions relating to Godel’s Incompleteness theorems. In the loosest sense, we cannot prove that we have ‘the’ answer unless we can entirely simulate the reality we’re discussing. But that requires that we simulate reality to the same level of detail. At various limits this becomes impossible due to computational constraints. For everything else we necessarily take a fuzzy and statistical notion of things. Which simply means that any testable notions must exist where the signal is greater than the noise.
It is unsurprising then that the productive theoretical output of science busies itself with the unknowns within the realm of statistical insignificance. Even if it cannot be tested now, it may be able to be tested someday. But if it cannot be tested now, then it’s as useful and interesting as any random navel gazing of a street corner preacher. It is Philosophy writ large, and has no current connection to empiricism or falsifiability.
This is ably shown in the discussion about the age of the Earth. Where the responsible and scientific statement was never: “The Earth is 100 million years old.” But: “if we assume that heat only came from accretion, and that accretion is the only manner of genesis of a planetary body, and that there do not exist mechanisms that would accelerate cooling of the body, then the Earth is 100 million years old, give or take.”
These assumptions and hypotheticals exist even when they’re not stated; a notion that can be found discussed in the writings of Popper and Quine. But one can hardly uphold theoretical navel gazing as having the same imperious majesty of engineering if one sketches out such doubt explicitly. One can hardly dictate national or global policies without engaging in such mendacity — not even on a precautionary principle basis. And one can hardly elevate themselves and their peers to the status of religious clergy if one sketches out all the doubts and notions that must be swallowed to reach a conclusion that cannot yet, if ever, be demonstrated.
But if you discard such requirements of logic then you’re well in hand to establish a new revealed religion. Undoing the entire work of the enlightenment from Baruch Spinoza on.

Sturgis Hooper

The Weald is not a sea cliff, but an eroded rock dome between the North Downs, where Darwin lived, and the South Downs. It extends from Kent to Hampshire.
Darwin did however derive his estimated erosion rate from the effect of the sea on nearby rock cliffs. It turns out that his estimate was off for the Weald. It’s quite a bit younger than 306 million years, but did yield some important dinosaur fossils.
IMO Lord Kelvin was not the greatest 19th century physicist. I’d vote for Faraday or Maxwell, two of Einstein’s three heroes (with Newton).

I go with Maxwell without a doubt.

Kelvin was one among many greats in the 19th century flowering of physics . Maxwell would get my nod too .

Sturgis Hooper

I’d vote for the Scot too but I’m partial to Englishman Faraday as well because of his lack academic credentials.


I go with Faraday, also without doubt. Probably the greatest experimentalist of all times.
However, being a self-learned man without an university education he was unable to give a strict mathematical formulation of his results. This was done by Maxwell (“Maxwell’s equations”)


Evolution is a chaotic process. The Earth’s climate system is incompletely or insufficiently characterized and unwieldy. Science is a frame-based philosophy that establishes a fourth logical domain with accuracy inversely proportional to the product of time (or perhaps motion) and space offsets from an established frame of reference. Scientific theories begin in the philosophical domain and remain there until there is a probable path (excluding unreasonable assumptions of uniformity and continuity, reasoning through inference, and establishment with circumstantial evidence) to apply the scientific method; otherwise, they are shunted to one of the remaining logical domains: faith and fantasy.
That said, climate science is more aptly suited to service a risk management protocol, rather than as a skillful scientific discipline. Perhaps climate science could be reduce to weather forecasting in a prospective but still limited frame of reference. The scientific method was intended to constrain conflation of the logical domains, but has failed in its purpose in in the post-normal era, where people believe that science and technology are omniscient and omnipotent. respectively, and many “scientists” are eager to exploit their unearned status.

Richard Ortiz

One problem I see is that there is no one definition even of “science”. Nor one explanation of the “scientific method”.
There are two broad definitions that I have come across: modern science, also known as empirical science, is limited to that which can be observed. Noticed, I didn’t say what can be explained, for observations often can’t be explained until more observations are made. The identity of the observer is unimportant as long as the observations are accurately made. The other is pre-modern science, also post-modern science is following the same pattern, which is dependent on models, explanations and the reputation of “scientists” rather than observation as the primary source of scientific knowledge.
What makes it confusing is that researchers often mix the two different definitions, and get garbage out.
A good example is Kelvin’s determination of the age of the earth. In order to be accurate, he needed to know the original temperature of the earth, what was the rate of cooling over time, were there any factors that may have changed the rate of cooling or created a bump in the temperatures, none of which are based on observation. Yes, he got a date “assuming” all the factors that could be observed and measured stayed constant, but did they? Can’t be observed, therefore not modern, empirical science. By mixing together the different ways of thinking, he gave a result that appears to be scientific, but is it?
Now apply that to CAGW—post-modern science—the models and explanations must be correct, the experts have told us so, therefore go out and try to back up the models. Most skeptics base their skepticism on modern science—where are the observations? These are two different ways of thinking, two different ways of practicing science. Which is more accurate?


You’ve damned and proclaimed Climate Science and Kelvin together. The problem with Climate Science is that it is “assuming” all manner of factors — no differently than Kelvin. But Climate Science is also predicated on factors that can and have been observed, measured, and assumed to be constant — no differently than Kelvin.
And yes, mixing definitions is a huge problem. For example, modern means… well, ‘now.’ But your example of modern is historical and your example of post-modern is modern. And where they are not differentiated at all in the underpinnings of their notions or of the observations of their outcomes. And that’s aside that ’empirical’ is not restricted to ‘can’ be observed — but has been.
The only manner in which to differentiate Kelvin and Climate Science is not in their premises but in their conclusions. Climate Science states that it is True despite a match between observation and theory. Did Kelvin say the same? For if all Kelvin stated by conclusion was ‘assuming these things, then…’ we do indeed find a difference. Otherwise, not so much.


“Bible editors began to place Ussher’s dates in the margins of their texts.” BIBLE EDITORS! In the words of Bill Hicks: “I have never been THAT confident.”


The Weald is about 80 million years old, so Darwin was wrong by a factor of 4. Which is a lot better than Kelvin! But not all scientists meekly accepted Kelvin’s figures. Darwin had a vicarious revenge on Kelvin, as his son George Darwin, a mathematical physicist, was one of the first to point out that the discovery of radioactivity invalidated Kelvin’s estimates.

I’m far from an expert on the Weald, but my impression is that it is Early Cretaceous in age rather than Late Cretaceous. This is not based upon geological work there, but simply stems from the fact that Early Cretaceous fossil dinosaurs have been found within it, namely Mantell’s famous Iguanodon and more recently the spinosaur Baryonyx, from 125 to 130 Ma.


Yes, you’re right about the age of the Wealden deposits – Lower Cretaceous, before about 100mya. I didn’t look it up, I just guessed at around 80mya based on the Greensand being the last layer below the Chalk.
The age of the Weald as a geomorphological feature – an eroded anticline – is another matter. The anticline can’t be older than its top layer – the Chalk – so I suppose erosion must have started after 65mya. (On a quick glance at Wiki, the folding of the anticline is dated to the Oligocene, around 35mya. So Darwin was out by a factor of 10. Still better than Kelvin!)

Steve from Rockwood

Excellent article.
Kelvin based his estimate of the age of the Earth on the work by Joseph Fourier who many cite as one of the fathers of global warming (the other being Svante Arrhenius).
While Kelvin originally came to a value of 100 million years he later reduced it to a more accurate value of 20 million years.

Gunga Din

The Bible never says how long ago Genesis 1:1 occurred.
An excerpt from a comment I made on another blog.

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
There are two things I want to point out here. God, as He spoke in His Word via men who believed Him (II Peter 1:20, 21), didn’t use words haphazardly as men do. The word “create” is to bring something into existence that never existed before. In verse 3 it doesn’t say that God “created” light. What light is was created in verse 1. He “put it back together” in verse 3. He “made” light from what He had created in verse 1.
The reason He needed to “put it back together” is in verse 2.
Note the two places the word “was” appears. The second is in italics and the first is not. There is probably a more precise way of phrasing this but in Hebrew there was no word for “was” as a simple statement of a past state. They had a way of expressing the idea but not a single word form to do so. That’s why the second is in italics.
The first “was” (and in verse 3) is a form of the Hebrew word “hayah”. It’s often translated “it came to pass” or “became”.
(If I said in Hebrew that “I was angry” and used “hayah” then I wouldn’t simply be saying that at some time in the past I was angry but that at some time in the past something happened and I became angry.)
The next place the exact same form of “hayah” in verse 2 is used is in Genesis 2.
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Here it is translated “became”.

PS Please don’t respond there. Caleb has allowed this to remain but he has no dog in this fight and I won’t respond.))
As far as I know, not much is said about how it became “without form and void” beyond,
2 Peter 3:6 Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: (KJV).
(Hence the need for the firmament, the space, in Genesis 1:6)
So, how old does the Bible say the Earth is? It doesn’t. Might evidence remain of the “the world that then was”? Yes.
Does any of that have much to say about CO2 and CAGW? No.
(Though II Peter 3:7 does mention “heat”, that heat ain’t going to be Man-Made.)

I found this essay very interesting, a good analysis which I enjoyed to read.There are several issues connected to the global warming, and one of the most important is the human one. Humans are, in the same time, factors and victims of global warming. Although you cannot say that the greenhouse gasses are the major factor that contributed to the climate change, you can’t say either that people don’t influence climate at all. There are other ways in which humans affected climate: through oceanic activities (sailing, navigation, warfare, etc). You can see what I’m talking about here: In conclusion, when talking about global warming, we should discuss also the topics of: humans, environment and – last, but not at least! – oceans.


My guess is that over time alarmist positions will simply be steadily revised down into a non-alarmist shadow of their former selves and then forgotten about.
And that any great insights which lead to any greater understanding that will arise, will be credited to official state-sanctioned science.
Official science will be unlikely even to credit those such as Curry, Pielke Sr or Christy who threatened the mainstream from within.
But, bit by bit, people will start to say things along the lines of, “we now know that in the light of new evidence or the latest research, that earlier concerns were overstated.”
In rare instances that might say, “this completely changes how we think about topic X”.
As a perfect example of how this phenomenon may play out, just look at what WUWT was saying about coral atolls 5 years ago, here:
And see how five days ago, the popular magazine for nerds, alarmists and fantasists – New Scientist, reports on the same conclusions here:
Presented as though nobody had ever thought of this before.
So, no apology from the same magazine that was specifically telling everyone that Tuvalu could be GONE by the middle of the century, here:
And no credit given to the rare individuals who managed to remain unconfused on this topic, throughout. Unconfused, despite the best efforts of alarmist scientists, journalists and politicians to try to muddle everyone up, including themselves.
Is “sorry, we were wrong”, to much to ask?


Actually this was described by Darwin in detail in The structure and distribution of coral reefs. Being the first part of the geology of the voyage of the Beagle, under the command of Capt. Fitzroy, R.N. during the years 1832 to 1836 in 1842.
So I suppose it is about par for the course that the news have now reached New Scientist


The problem is that the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere does not depend on C02. There is no such observations. In contrast, the direct absorption of solar radiation by water, the density of the clouds, the amount of precipitation, wind speed influences the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. In particular, the role of wind strength is underestimated.

Steve from Rockwood

The discovery of radioactivity is not what discredits Kelvin’s calculation on the age of the Earth. Adding in heat from radioactivity makes little difference to his 100 million year calculation.
Kelvin’s method was challenged quietly by his assistant John Perry who saw Kelvin’s assumption of a uniform heat distribution from the interior to surface as likely wrong. Perry argued that the interior of the Earth could be more efficient at heat transfer (if it were a liquid, for example). This would produce a higher thermal gradient, transferring more heat to match known measurements, but producing an age for the Earth as high as 2-3 billion years.
If Kelvin had accepted Perry’s argument and revised his work, he would have reached the right answer (using wrong assumptions). Instead Kelvin ignored Perry’s criticism.
In 1904 Ernest Rutherford (the father of nuclear theory) addressed a crowd in front of Kelvin and stated that Kelvin had succeeded in limiting the age of the Earth provided that no new source of heat had been discovered. The discovery of radioactivity allowed Kelvin to now be wrong, even though his original assumption on the transfer of heat from the interior to the surface of the Earth was what invalidated his theory.
Worth the read.
What Kelvin did accomplish was to force a discussion on the age of the earth that did not allow for an infinite age on one hand (geologists) or 10,000 years on the other (creationism).

Geologists in the late 18th and 19th century did not imagine that the age of the earth was infinite. That;s based upon a false interpretation of Hutton’s famous statement regarding the cycles of erosion and deposition that “we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end”.
Based upon what was known about the planetary crust during Lord Kelvin’s time, geologists estimated that the oldest rocks were thousands of millions of years old, not tens or hundreds. They were right as to order of magnitude, although generally a little on the low side.
In this case, the geologists and biologists were correct and a leading physicist and his supporters (including Darwin’s son) were wrong.