2011-09-07 19:46:17CO2 is a Trace Gas - Intermediate Rebuttal
Glenn Tamblyn


Draft of the Intermediate version is here. Comments please.

Since the basis of the skeptic argument is essentially about not 'getting' the magnitude of something, I felt the best focus was to counter with some numbers - just how many CO2 molecules there actually are. However this is a rather dry subject if all you have are calculations. So I have tried to use a little humour to draw people in initially then used lots of references to some basic science on Wikipedia to try and include a bit of a teaching moment. Hopefully this will subconsciously convey yhe message that the scientists know what they are talking about precisely because there is all this 'stuff' that the layman don't  even know, till now, exists.

2011-09-07 20:19:12
Rob Painting

I think you've done a fantastic job with this, the humor and everyday examples really gets the message across, and is great 'sticky' messaging.

One problem - the length, and use of so many unfamiliar terms and equations (despite your great work in explaining these) is probably well beyond that of an intermediate rebuttal. Maybe this should be the advanced version, and a 'stripped down' version of this, made into the intermediate rebuttal?

The other details you mention (at the end of the rebuttal) are certainly worth covering, but maybe they should be the subject of a seperate post - linking back to the intermediate/advanced?

2011-09-07 21:52:24



- One point missing: wrt to the pirahna and the other fish: The reason the other fish don't matter is that they neither compete with the pirahna nor get in their way. Instead, they stay out of their way. (This is implicit already, but it is useful to state.)

- You have a nice presentation of lots of information; but not all that information is useful. To pick on one topic out of probably about 5: The history of Avogadro's number is not particularly relevant to the discussion at hand. It doesn't advance the plot. It's better just to state that the number of CO2 molecules were talking about is X, and leave it at that.

- Likewise, I think you have gone way overboard with the amount of information you're presenting. The great majority of people will not take the time to read it. I suggest thinking again about what specific ideas you want to impart, and anything that isn't essential must be pared back ruthlessly. We aren't here to provide general information on science: We're here to convince the reader that global warming is real.

"Advanced or Intermediate" doesn't' always mean "more information". It just means you expect the reader to have more experience intellectually, so you can use more sophisticated reasoning, which can even be shorter; it doesn't mean that we think they have nothing better to do than to read our posts.

Quite a few studies have shown that people have MUCH less patience for reading material - particularly internet-sourced material - than several years ago. We can't fight that; we need to work with it.

2011-09-08 14:57:40
Glenn Tamblyn


Thanks for the comment guys.

Neal, I disagree with you somewhat on giving information on general science. We are not here to do that for its own sake certainly. However there are situations where the layman's lack of science means they can't see how the scientists reach their conclusion. So it really becomes just an argument from authority. 'I'm the expert and this is how it is, your wrong'. And when you throw that at them you loose them. They need some sense that the scientists haven't pulled things out of thin air and their own uninformed perceptions lead them to think that. So some degree of education is needed to show that the scientists claims have a basis. Also an important sub-text here is continually showing how Climate Science is embedded in all the rest of Science - it is often portayed by the denialists as if its a cabal off in its own little world. Subliminally countering that is important.

Also my point that without some humour and distraction this is a rather dry subject, even though it is actually quite important.

Your comments about reading attention span is all to accurate, lamentably. Twitter exemplifies this perfectly. Try to imagine how successful a social networking site called Expound - with a minimum word count - would be? Sometimes I feel like finding a nice, very secluded, ivory tower. Pull up the drawbridge, turn off the gadgets and just spend the ret of my life reading the classics

I will work on a modified version. Might move the details to a note at the end while keeping the core of it at the top.

2011-09-08 18:29:29


I agree that the science needs to be presented; but my view is that your first version goes way beyond what is really needed to explain the essential points. That would be fine if the article were short, but it's not: So you stand a good chance of losing half your audience about a third of the way down; and faster attenuation after that.

For a "science as entertainment" blog, this wouldn't be a problem: there is also an audience for authors like Lewis Thomas and Carl Sagan. But that's not the audience we're particularly aiming at: People like that don't need to be convinced. Where we can make some impact is on real fence-sitters; and they're not likely to follow you through that many pages to come to a conclusion.