Saturday, December 7, 2019

Myth: Ocean Acidification Requires that an Ocean Becomes an Acid

The outline for this post is as follows:
  1. The Myth and Its Flaw
  2. Context and Analysis (divided into multiple sections)
  3. Posts Providing Further Information and Analysis
  4. References

This is the "main version" version of this post, which means that this post lacks most of my references and citations. If you would like a more comprehensive version with all the references and citations, then please go to the "+References" version of this post.

References are cited as follows: "[#]", with "#" corresponding to the reference number given in the References section at the end of this post.

1.  The Myth and Its Flaw

The myth claims that ocean acidification occurs only if the oceans become an acid. And since the oceans have not become an acid, no ocean acidification occurred. Scientists recently began to mislead the public into thinking human-made (a.k.a. anthropogenic) ocean acidification occurred, because scientists wanted to illegitimately frighten people about environmental changes.

Proponents of this myth include the oil industry scientist David Middleton of the blog WattsUpWithThat, Patrick Moore, Ned Nikolov, Chip Knappenberger, Christopher Monckton, James Delingpole writing for The Spectator (Australia), Roger Helmer, Tim Ball, Kenneth Richard of the NoTricksZone blog, the Climatism blog, Matt Ridley of Quadrant, Cliff Ollier of Quadrant, Principia Scientific International, and various contrarians on the Internet.

Other individuals rebutted this myth as well.

The myth's flaw: Acidification in science means an increase in acidity, which is measured in terms of an increased concentration of H+ (or H3O+) ions and a decrease in pH. So ocean acidification occurs when ocean pH decreases, regardless of whether or not the ocean becomes an acid with a pH below 7. If one claims otherwise by using dictionary definitions of "acidification", then one incorrectly assumes that dictionary definitions that reflect common usage must match what scientific terms mean in technical disciplines. Scientists', doctors', chemists', climatologists', etc. use of terms such as "acidification" and "acidosis" reflects standard technical terminology, not some malicious conspiracy to mislead and terrify the public. 

Anthropogenic ocean acidification occurred, increasing ocean acidity by ~30% during the post-1750s industrial-era that continues to the present. The ocean acidification accelerated during the late 20th century, leading to a ~13% or more increase in acidity since the 1990s. During this post-1990 period, ocean de-oxygenation also continued, ice melted across the globe, and a human-made mass extinction progressed. Moreover, sea level rose, and the Earth's surface warmed (including warming of the oceans), at a rate predicted by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as discussed in "Myth: The IPCC's 1990 Report Over-estimated Greenhouse-gas-induced Global Warming".

(Note: section 2.1 below covers the science rebutting the myth, while supplementary sections 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 dismantle the paranoid, conspiracist reasoning myth defenders use to prop up the myth. So section 2.1 serves as the main rebuttal of the myth, while the supplementary sections are just for those interested in understanding flaws in deluded, denialist reasoning.)

2. Context and Analysis

Section 2.1: What "acidification" means in science, and what this means for observed ocean acidification

The discipline of chemistry includes at least three main definitions of chemicals as acids and bases:
  1. Arrhenius' definition: Acids form H+ ions (also known as a protons or hydrogen ions) in water and bases produce OH- ions (also known as hydroxide ions) in water.
  2. Brønsted + Lowry's definition: Acids donate an H+ ion and bases accept an H+ ion.
  3. Lewis' definition: Acids accept electrons and bases donate electrons.

The Brønsted-Lowry definition is the most pertinent definition for this blogpost. On the Brønsted-Lowry definition, acidity is determined by the concentration of H+ ions. This makes sense since acids donate an H+ ion and thus increase acidity, with stronger acids donating more H+ ions more readily. In water-based solutions (also known as aqueous solutions), H2O often binds to available H+ ions, forming H3O+. So H3O+ concentration can be used as a surrogate for H+ concentration in aqueous solutions. H+ concentration is also related to the pH, where pH is the negative logarithm of H+ concentration (pH = -log[H+]). Thus decreasing pH means increasing H+ (H3O+) concentration. An acid solution has a pH below 7 and base solution has pH above 7.

So taken together, this means that increased acidity involves:
  • increasing concentration of H+ (or H3O+)
  • decreasing pH
Since pH is a logarithmic scale, each pH change of 1 represents a 10-fold change in H+ concentration and therefore a 10-fold change in acidity. So a solution with a pH of 5 is ten times more acidic than a solution with a pH of 6.

In science, increased acidity means "acidification". For example, take the example of blood acidification. Blood pH is normally around 7.40. Since blood is a buffered solution, blood resists pH changes within a range of pH values. Despite this, blood pH can still change under duress; acidosis or acidemia involves blood pH dropping (that is: acidifying) to below 7.30 or 7.35, and occurs in various organisms, including humans. So a blood pH of 7.05 qualifies as acidosis, even though blood pH is above 7 and thus the blood is not an acid.

Blood is not the only buffered, aqueous solution to which this applies; the point extends to rain and oceans as well. Acid rain forms when compounds such as SO2 (sulphur dioxide) enter rainwater, generating acids that make the rainwater more acidic. Industrial processes produced this SO2, just as human industry produced CO2 (carbon dioxide). So human industry released greenhouse gases such as CO2, causing a near-exponential increase in atmospheric CO2 levels to the highest levels in at least 2 million years and at a rate not seen for tens of millions of years. This increase in atmospheric CO2 drove some CO2 from the atmosphere into the non-CO2-saturated oceans, as per Henry's law (for further discussion of this, see section 2.8 of "Myth: Attributing Warming to CO2 Involves the Fallaciously Inferring Causation from a Mere Correlation"). This CO2 uptake by the oceans forms acidic compounds that result in ocean acidification

Figure 1 below depicts recent ocean acidification in a particular region, in conjunction with increased CO2 levels in both the ocean and the atmosphere:

Figure 1:  Ocean surface pH, ocean CO2 levels (pCO2), and atmospheric CO2 levels at the noted locations in the north Pacific. This image is taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website [1], adapted from another paper, and with another paper cited as the data reference.

Other sources discuss ocean pH changes at various depths below the ocean surface.

While ocean acidification involves a decrease in ocean pH, ocean alkalinization comes with an increase in ocean pH. Discussion of water alkalinization in the scientific literature dates back to at least 1985. Similarly, alkalosis or alkalemia involves an increase in blood pH to above 7.45, just as acidosis involves a decrease in blood pH to below 7.30 or 7.35. In addition to the aforementioned terminology, scientists use the word "hypercapnia" to discuss CO2 increases in the context of acidification of both blood and oceans. Thus scientists are fairly consistent in their "acidification" / "alkanization" terminology across scientific disciplines when discussing aqueous solutions, though scientists may use alternative definitions when discussing acidification in other topics, such as soils

So just as doctors, biochemists, etc. refer to blood acidification (acidosis) from excess CO2 dissolving in blood, ocean biologists, climatologists, etc. discuss ocean acidification from excess CO2 dissolving in the oceans, and have done so since at least 1977. For instance:

"Ocean CO2 uptake, however, is not benign; it causes pH reductions and alterations in fundamental chemical balances that together are commonly referred to as ocean acidification [2, page 170]."

"The oceans are absorbing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and this is causing chemical changes by making them more acidic (that is, decreasing the pH of the oceans) [3, page vi]." 

"Another mechanism that might remove excess CO2 is dissolution of near-surface carbonate sediments due to acidification of the seawater by the higher CO2 concentration (see below), which would correspond to a lower apparent buffer factor [4, page 391]."

"The deep sea will be gradually “acidified” by the downward mixing of surface water enriched in fossil fuel CO2 [...] [5, page 340]."

This rebuts denialists, such as the oil industry scientist David Middleton of the contrarian blog WattsUpWithThat, who peddle the fabricated claim that scientists invented the term "ocean acidification" out of thin air in 2003 in order to scare people.

Increases in greenhouse gases such as CO2 also caused ocean acidificationglobal warming, sea level rise, and ice melt in the distant past, along with ocean de-oxygenation, contributing to mass extinctions. This has pertinent implications for the current anthropogenic mass extinction, which also came with a near-exponential increase in atmospheric CO2 to the highest levels in at least 2 million years and at a rate not seen for tens of millions of years. Along with this CO2 increase came ocean acidification, ocean de-oxygenation, global warming (including warming of the oceans), sea level rise, and ice melt (for further discussion, see section 2.2 of "Myth: Attributing Warming to CO2 Involves the Fallaciously Inferring Causation from a Mere Correlation"). So CO2-induced ocean acidification negatively impacted various organisms in the distant past, recently, and for the foreseeable future.

During the post-1750s industrial-era that continues to the present, ocean pH dropped by about 0.1, representing a ~30% increase in ocean acidity. The contrarian Judith Curry manufactures false doubt about this well-established ~30% increase. The calculation for this increase is relatively simple, though a particularly petulant myth proponent struggles with this junior-high-school-level calculation. Below is an illustration of how to do this calculation:
  1. pH  =  -log[H+]
  2. Given point 1, for a pH of 8.2  :  [H+] = 10 ^ -8.2  =  6.3e-9 moles/liter
  3. Given point 1, for a pH of 8.1  :  [H+] = 10 ^ -8.1  =  7.9e-9 moles/liter
  4. 7.9e-9  /  6.3e-9  =  1.26
  5. Given point 4, a ~26% acidity increase occurs for pH decrease from 8.2 to 8.1
  6. Rounding ~26% to the nearest tens of a percent yields a 30% acidity increase

The calculation can be modified to:
  • 10 ^ (-X)  =  Y
where X is the change in pH, and Y is the corresponding fold-change in acidity. So, for example, a decrease in pH from 8.2 to 8.1 would be a decrease in pH of 0.1, giving an X on -0.1, a corresponding Y of 1.26, and thus a 26% increase in acidity. As noted previously, this represents the increase in ocean surface acidity during the post-1750s industrial-era. This increase accelerated during the late 20th century, resulting in a ~13% or more increase in acidity since the 1990s.

Figure 2 shows increased ocean acidity globally since the 1990s, while figure 3 illustrates model-based projections of near-future ocean acidification under different scenarios for anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2:

Figure 2: Relative change in average ocean surface pH globally from 1990 to 2018. The solid red line represents the pH relative to a baseline of the average pH from 1990-2010. The red shaded area depicts the standard deviation range (+/- 1σ), while the red dotted lines on the far-left and far-right depict the long-term trend in pH. The number on the top-right is the slope of the dotted line (i.e. the rate of ocean acidification), with "±" indicating the 95% confidence interval [6].

This ~0.052 decrease in pH from 1990-2018 represents a ~13% increase in ocean surface acidity in 29 years, as per the acidity calculation discussed earlier in this section.

Figure 3: 1870-2100 modeled decrease in ocean surface relative pH over the historical period, and under various future greenhouse gas emission scenarios. The pH is relative to a baseline of the average pH from 1990-1999. The RCPs (representative concentration pathways) reflect different emissions scenarios, with RCP 2.6 having the lowest level of greenhouse gas emissions, RCP 4.5 having greater emissions, then RCP 6.0, and finally RCP 8.5. The numbers in parentheses represent the number of climate models used in the corresponding estimate [7, figure 4 on page 113; 8, figure 3 on page 6232].

Based on the acidity calculation discussed earlier in this section, the depicted historical change in pH constitutes a ~25% increase in acidity from 1870 to the early 21st century. The RCP 2.6, RCP 4.5, RCP 6.0, and RCP 8.5 scenarios have the following increases in acidity from the early 21st century to 2100: ~10%, ~33%, ~59%, and ~110%, respectively.

At this point, one might object that the ocean pH decreases in figures 1, 2, and 3 do not qualify as ocean acidification, since the oceans did not become acids with a pH of less than 7. One might also then claim that scientists misled the public when they discussed ocean acidification, likely in an attempt to unjustifiably scare the public about the environmental effects of anthropogenic CO2. This line of objection is the myth this blogpost focuses on. 

The central, scientific portion of the myth fails since ocean acidification does not require that the oceans become an acid with a pH of less than 7, as covered in this section. To give an analogy: "cooler" means decreasing temperature, and "warmer" means increasing temperature. One can also use the term "cool" to refer to objects below a given temperature, while using the term "warm" to refer to objects above a given temperature. But that is still compatible with a warm object cooling (ex: warm water getting cooler) and a cool object warming. Similarly, "acidifying" means decreasing pH / increasing acidity, and "alkalizing" means increasing pH / decreasing acidity. One can also use the term "acid" to refer to objects below a pH of 7, while using the term "base" or "alkaline" to refer to objects above a pH of 7. But that is still compatible with a base acidifying and an acid alkalizing. Therefore, an ocean can acidify while remaining a base with a pH above 7. The same point applies to acidifying blood, as per the aforementioned acidosis.

In addition to this 'warm object cooling' example, one can make the same point with other comparisons, such as a 'young people aging'. The general point is that something of one side of a scale (ex: a base on the high end of the pH scale, a young person on the low end of the age scale, etc.) can shift towards the other end of the scale; one refers to that shift using terms such as "acidifying", "cooling", and "aging". The myth falls afoul of this point, and is thus akin on par with saying only cool objects can cool. So let's close with an illustration of what myth proponents engage in when they misrepresent CO2-induced ocean acidification in order to avoid policies/regulations on CO2-producing industries:

"Air Traffic Control: Six-Niner-Charlie, lower your altitude by five thousand feet!

Pilot: But I'm not low.  I'm 38,000 feet in the air!  You mean make less high.

ATC: ...

Pilot: *Crashes into oncoming plane* [16]"

This concludes section 2.1's discussion of the scientific flaws in the myth. Supplementary sections 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, and 2.5 will cover other flaws in the paranoid reasoning underlying the myth. If you are not interested in responses to the deluded, denialist reasoning myth defenders resort to, then there is no need to read the supplementary sections.

Supplementary section 2.2: Myth proponents confuse common usage with technical usage

Take the following dictionary definitions of "acidification" or "acidify":

"the action or process of making or becoming acidic [14]"

"To acidify something is to chemically turn it into an acid or make it more acidic [15]."

These dictionary definitions fit with section 2.1's point that making a solution more acidic (by decreasing its pH) suffices for acidification. Myth proponents, however, sometimes defend their position by citing other dictionary definitions of "acidification," such as:

Definition of acidify
acidified; acidifying
transitive verb
1 : to make acid
2 : to convert into an acid
— acidification [9]" 

Yet this same dictionary cites multiple examples of acidification being used to refer to ocean acidification and decreased pH:

cent Examples of acidify from the Web
But even as seas are rising, coral reefs around the world have been suffering from severe bleaching events, and are also weakened further by acidifying oceans.
Organic matter will lower the pH (that is, acidify it) and hold moisture and nutrients in sandy soil, or break up claylike soil.
Oceans acidified and heated up to the temperature of bathtubs [9]."

So though myth proponents rely on dictionaries, many dictionaries cite myth-rebutting examples as instances of how terms such as "acidification" and "acidifying" are used. 

But there is a larger problem here: dictionaries reflect common usage of a term, which often does not match the technical/scientific usage of a term. A classic example of this is creationists claiming that evolution is just a theory, while using a dictionary definition of "theory" as meaning something like "educated guess". Theory may often mean "educated guess" in everyday life, but that is not what it means in science. In science, theory is one of the highest, if not the highest, position an idea can reach, once the idea becomes a comprehensive explanation supported large amounts of evidence. Evolutionary theory is a theory in this scientific sense, as are cell theory, germ theory, Einstein's theory of relativity, gravitational theory, and the theory of plate tectonics.

So just as "theory" does not mean the same thing in science as it means in everyday life, "acidification" need not mean the same thing in science as it sometimes means in everyday life. A similar point applies to other scientific terms, such as the meaning of "flavor" in particle physics (hint: it is not about how a particle tastes). Since dictionaries often reflect everyday, common usage, dictionaries are not the best guide to what terms mean in science. Instead one should rely on technical/scientific sources, such as those cited in section 2.1 with respect to what "acidification" means. Yet as previously noted, even if one still chose to rely on dictionaries, there are dictionaries that use "acidification" to refer to ocean acidification and that allow increasing acidity (via decreasing pH) to qualify as acidification. So the myth would still fail.

Despite the aforementioned points on common usage vs. technical usage, one might still be tempted to use non-expert guessing to determine the meaning of scientific terms. For instance, one might defend the myth by saying that the meaning of a term can be revealed just by looking at the term's structure. So since "acidification" comes from "acidify", which contains the word "acid", then "acidification" must mean become an acid. But this line of argument fails, since in science, the "acid" in "acidify" applies in the context of "becoming more acidic due to decreasing pH", not "becoming an acid".

Moreover, one often cannot read the meaning of a term from the term's structure. Take the following example: based on word structure, one would think that Democrats and Republicans in the United States debate over a democracy vs. a republic as organizing principles. But that is not what the Democrats vs. Republican debate is about. "Democrat" and "Republican" have specific meanings in the technical disciplines of politics and public policy, and these meanings cannot be simply inferred from the structure of the terms "Democrat" and "Republican". 

This point applies not only to technical usage, but common usage as well. So, for instance, a denialist does not have to be someone who denies a well-evidenced claim. Refusing to accept the claim in the face of strong evidence suffices for denialism, as reflected in both technical sources and dictionaries of common usage, as per section 2.1 of "Myth: Science Denialism is as Rampant Among Liberals as Among Conservatives". So the meaning of the term "denialism" (and the related term "denier") cannot be read off the term's structure, just as in the case of "Democrat" and "Republican". One instead needs to examine what those terms mean in the disciplines that use these terms. A parallel point applies of "ocean acidification": one cannot defend the myth simply by noting that the term contains the term "acid" and thus must mean "oceans become an acid".

Supplementary section 2.3: There is no malicious conspiracy behind scientists use of terms such as "(ocean) acidification"

Not only do myth advocates abuse language, but many of them also defend paranoid ideas about the scientific community. Hence the myth that scientists abuse the term "ocean acidification" in order to underhandedly scare the public regarding environmental effects. This amounts to a conspiracy theory, a tactic many science denialists use to avoid accepting evidence-based claims.

A conspiracy theory of this sort under-estimates the public's intelligence. Many people access to the Internet (or a library) can look up what "ocean acidification" means in science. And members of the public with at least a high-school-level education in chemistry ought to know that "acidification" means "pH reduction / increased acidity" in science. Scientists likely know these points regarding public knowledge. So scientists would not ignorantly believe that they could use the term "acidification" to trick the public into thinking that the oceans became an acid. That is especially the case since scientists often tell the public that "acidification" means pH reduction / increased acidity, as shown in section 2.1. This leaves myth advocates in the absurd position of saying scientists want to mislead the public into thinking something that explicitly conflicts with what those same scientists repeatedly tell the public. Scientists would not get the public to believe a fabrication by repeatedly telling them true claims that debunk that fabrication

The myth proponents' position suffers from a further problem: the public would not be necessarily frightened by terms such as "acid". For example, many people know that citric acid is present in many tasty citrus fruits, that folic acid is a good molecule to ingest in moderate doses, that amino acids are crucial building blocks in the human body, that nucleic acids make up the DNA and RNA that is essential to human life, that the body uses fatty acids for energy, etc. So scientists, doctors, etc. are not involved in a malicious conspiracy to scare people by using terms such as amino acid and folic acid. Similarly, the myth fails when it assumes that scientists unfairly try to frighten people by abusing terms such as "ocean acidification".

In addition to under-estimating the public's intelligence, the myth's conspiracy theory also suffers from a number of the flaws I discuss in response to objection 1 in section 3.1 of "John Christy, Climate Models, and Long-term Tropospheric Warming". To see this, note that the myth's conspiracy would need to go back to at least 1977 to cover every scientific discussion of ocean acidification. The conspiracy must also include a large number of scientists and scientific organizations who discuss ocean acidification and ocean alkanization. And the conspiracy needs to include biochemists, doctors, etc. who discuss alkalosis and acidosis, since those individuals support the conspiracy by accepting that acidification does not require that an aqueous solution becomes an acid (as I discussed in section 2.1). These scientists must have also maintained the conspiracy by saying that excess CO2 dissolves in blood to cause acidosis, paving the way for climate scientists, ocean biologists, etc. to claim that excess CO2 dissolves in oceans to cause ocean acidification

By 1915, this CO2-induced acidosis was so well-known that medical scientists called it a familiar condition. Thus the medical scientists engaged in the conspiracy by at least 1915, less than 20 years after the scientist Arrhenius proposed in 1896 that increased amounts of CO2 would cause large amounts of warming. So the myth implicitly posits a complex conspiracy of a large number of scientists from diverse fields spanning at least 104 years, beginning near the early stages of the science on CO2-induced climate change

Such a conspiracy is very unlikely to exist, since conspiracies become more difficult to maintain the longer they continue and the more people they include. In contrast to this ad hoc conspiracy theory, section 2.1 and supplementary section 2.2 offered a more parsimonious, evidence-based explanation: scientific experts correctly used "acidification" to mean "increased acidity" in science, while myth proponents applied their own uninformed, non-expert misconceptions about what this scientific terminology meant. The myth advocates' conspiracy theory just allows them to feel better about themselves, as having access to special insight lacked by the wider public; this represents a common psychological need among many conspiracy theorists.

Supplementary section 2.4: Why ideologically-motivated myth proponents will likely stand by the myth, even in the face of contrary evidence and rebuttals

Many myth advocates also use logic that can be turned against the advocates' own position, as per the response to objection 1 in section 3.1 of "John Christy, Climate Models, and Long-term Tropospheric Warming". For instance, the myth proponents' paranoid conspiracy theory includes doctors, medical scientists, and other experts that myth proponents likely rely on other topics; so their conspiracy theory amounts to special pleading / a double standard regarding which scientists to trust. And just as many myth advocates accuse scientists of malicious intent with respect to ocean acidification, one could accuse myth proponents of malicious intent with respect to their distortion of the term "ocean acidification". Maybe many myth proponents want to confuse the public on this aspect of CO2-induced, anthropogenic climate climate, because either:
  1. many myth proponents wish to avoid certain policy responses to anthropogenic climate change, and/or
  2. many myth proponents think humans cannot detrimentally affect the climate God creates, and that the science on anthropogenic climate change is associated with nature worship?

Unlike the myth proponents' evidence-free conspiracy theory, there is scientific evidence showing that many people object to climate science for these religious and political reasons. This results in a negative correlation in the US between political conservatism vs. trusting climate scientists and accepting various scientific claims regarding climatology, as discussed in section 2.1 of "Myth: Science Denialism is as Rampant Among Liberals as Among Conservatives". It also results in a negative correlation between certain religious positions vs. environmental concern and accepting various scientific claims regarding climatology. So the myth proponents' motive-based critique more likely applies to myth advocates than to the scientists proponents criticize. It also helps explain why myth advocates may stand by the myth, even in the face of evidence debunking it.

Not only do myth defenders use self-undermining reasoning, but they will also likely defend their myth in unfalsifiable ways, as conspiracy theorists and science denialists often do. In the conspiracy theorist's mind: 
  • Evidence against their conspiracy theory is actually evidence for their conspiracy theory, since the conspirators must have fabricated the contrary evidence. Accordingly, scientists fabricated when they discussed "acidification" as being pH reduction for decades (as per section 2.1).
  • Absence of evidence for the conspiracy theory is also evidence for the conspiracy theory, since the conspirators must have suppressed the evidence. Thus scientists suppressed any scientific sources defining "acidification" as being "become an acid", and/or pressured scientists who might object to the terminology.
  • Baseless claims count as support for the conspiracy theory, even if the baseless claims come from uninformed people who contradict the evidence. So, for instance, the oil industry scientist David Middleton must be right when he says climate scientists invented the term "ocean acidification" out of thin air in 2003 in order to scare people, despite clear evidence that scientists were using such terms decades earlier (as per section 2.1).

Objecting to the conspiracy theory also means you are either part of the conspiracy or you are among the ignorant sheeple duped by the conspiracy. So I must be one of the sheeple duped by scientists on ocean acidification, or I am one of the scientists in the conspiracy. Furthermore, denialists often move the goalposts in order to avoid accepting evidence against their position, as will likely occur in response to the evidence I cited in section 2.1.

In these ways, the denialist offers an impossible burden of proof that no scientific research could ever meet, and the denialist immunizes their position against falsification. I expect most (maybe even all) myth proponents will resort to these sorts of tactics in order to defend their myth in the face of the points I made. So I am under no illusion that I can convince committed myth defenders, anymore than I am under the illusion that I can use evidence-based arguments to convince other paranoid science denialists, such as flat Earthers. It is instead enough for me to expose the flaws in the myth and in the myth advocates' position.

Supplementary section 2.5: How the contrarian Judith Curry uses false balance and other fallacious tactics to mislead people on ocean acidification

Contrarians such as Judith Curry attempt to distort the science on ocean acidification. Curry offered her distortions in response to 2013 congressional testimony from Scott Doney, an expert in ocean acidification who has numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers in the topic. Curry, who admits to having no expertise in the topic of ocean acidification, objected that when she did a word search through Doney's testimony, she did not find enough instances of the terms "uncertain," "disagreement," "debate," and, "unknown." So she performed a quick Google search.

Curry used this Google search to find a document written by Craig Idso on ocean acidification, on behalf of the fossil-fuel-industry-funded Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change (a.k.a. CO2 Science). Idso, in contrast to Doney, lacks expertise in ocean acidification, as illustrated by his lack of a significant number of peer-reviewed publications in this field, in reputable journals with substantial impact factors and listed in citation indices such as the Master Journal List. Yet Curry still presents Idso's article as illustrating "another side to this story [13]" that conflicts with Doney's testimony, thereby (supposedly) reflecting uncertainty, disagreement, and debate.

Curry's therefore resorts to a number of fallacious tactics often used by science denialists. One tactic involves manufacture of false doubt, where one exaggerates disagreement on a topic. This tactic lacks merit since, as Curry herself notes, some scientific points are so well-evidenced that they are beyond reasonable doubt, no matter how much one appeals to "uncertainty", "debate", or "uncertainty" to cast false doubt on those points. Moreover, doubt about one topic does not necessarily constitute grounds for doubt about a different topic; I discuss this further in section 2.9 of "Myth: Attributing Warming to CO2 Involves the Fallaciously Inferring Causation from a Mere Correlation". In section 2.5 of that post I also discuss how Craig Idso gave presentations for, and was paid by, the fossil-fuel-industry-funded Heartland Institute; this is the same tobacco-industry-funded front organization who's leader used fake experts to manufacture false doubt regarding smoking's health risks. Curry also receives funding from the fossil fuel industry. 

This makes it rather telling that Curry employs those same tactics with Heartland's Idso to mislead the public on anthropogenic ocean acidification. And as mentioned above, another tactic used by denialists involves relying on non-peer-reviewed claims by fake experts who's claims contradict scientific evidence; Curry does this on the topic of ocean acidification when she cites Idso' CO2 Science work, and she does do habitually on other topics, as I discuss in "Myth: Judith Curry Fully and Accurately Represents Scientific Research". Curry also resorts to false balance and false equivalence, where she acts as if both sides in a discussion are on par, when she compares Idso's CO2 Science article to Doney's work on ocean acidification. This makes as little sense as saying AIDS denialists' non-peer-reviewed reports need to be taken as seriously as peer-reviewed, evidence-based claims from mainstream medicine, immunology, and virology.

To put the magnitude of Curry's cited distortion into context: the CO2 Science article Curry cites peddles no less than three fabrications within its first paragraph. The article falsely claims there was a shift from the term "global warming" to "climate change" because global warming stopped. Curry's source then follows that up by falsely stating that climate was changing no more than it ever had, a claim rebutted in sections 2.5 and 2.7 of  "Myth: Attributing Warming to CO2 Involves the Fallaciously Inferring Causation from a Mere Correlation", along with figure 4 below:

Figure 4: Global surface temperature trend over the past 2000 years back to 1 CE, based on instrumental data (thermometers) and reconstructions from indirect, proxy measurements of temperature. The instrumental data extends from 1850 - 2017. Each trend covers a period of 51 years, stated in units of °C/century, and ends on the year given on the x-axis. The horizontal lines represent the upper range of pre-industrial (pre-1850) warming rates from reconstructions (solid green line) or calculated by climate models (dashed orange line).
This figure is a simplification [10; 11] of a previously published analysis [12, figure 4a].

Multiproxy analyses confirm the instrumental warming trend, as do other indirect measures that do not use thermometer data for air temperatures. For further discussion of industrial-era temperature trends relative to the distant past, see sections 2.5 and 2.7 of "Myth: Attributing Warming to CO2 Involves the Fallaciously Inferring Causation from a Mere Correlation".

And the article rounds out its first paragraph by advocating a form of the myth debunked in this blogpost: that scientists switched from the term "climate change" to "ocean acidification" in order to unjustifiably frighten people, even though anthropogenic increases in CO2 cannot cause ocean acidification. It is quite telling that Curry cites this nonsense source in order to offset Doney, a scientist who co-authored peer-reviewed, reputable papers on anthropogenic CO2-induced ocean acidification. This seems surprising... until one remembers that Curry defends the Heartland Institute (with thanks from its leader, who previously used fake experts to mislead the public on smoking), and her libertarian ideology likely accords with Heartland's anti-regulation stance. So it makes sense that she would cite an article from Heartland's Idso.

(For more on the negative correlation in the US between politically conservative ideology vs. trusting climate scientists and accepting various scientific claims regarding climatology, see sections 2.1 and 2.2 of "Myth: Science Denialism is as Rampant Among Liberals as Among Conservatives").

3. Posts Providing Further Information and Analysis

4. References

  2. "Ocean acidification: The other CO2 problem" [2009; doi: 10.1146/annurev.marine.010908.163834]
  3. "Ocean acidification due to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide"
  4. "Predicting future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels"
  5. "Neutralization of fossil fuel CO2 by marine calcium carbonate" (in: "The warming papers: The scientific foundation for the climate change forecast")
  6. ["Ocean acidification in the global ocean";]
  7. "Historical and future trends in ocean climate and biogeochemistry"
  8. "Multiple stressors of ocean ecosystems in the 21st century: projections with CMIP5 models"
  9. [as of May 17, 2018 ;]
  10. (
  11. ( ; image: [])
  12. "Consistent multidecadal variability in global temperature reconstructions and simulations over the Common Era" [figure 4a:]
  13. []
  14. []
  15. []
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