A couple days ago I came across a link on Twitter to a post on Judith Curry's blog saying a scientist was suing critics to shut them up. Naturally, I was curious. I went to the blog post and saw it starts off:
Mannian litigation gone wild. — Steve McIntyre
Details given by Michael Schellenberger in Environmental Progress:
Stanford University professor Mark Z. Jacobson has filed a lawsuit, demanding $10 million in damages, against the peer-reviewed scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) [link to published paper] and a group of eminent scientists (Clack et al.) for their study showing that Jacobson made improper assumptions in order to claim that he had demonstrated U.S. energy could be provided exclusively by renewable energy, primarily wind, water, and solar.
What Jacobson has done is unprecedented. Scientific disagreements must be decided not in court but rather through the scientific process. We urge Stanford University, Stanford Alumni, and everyone who loves science and free speech to denounce this lawsuit.
The idea presented here is quite serious, but I wanted to do a little checking before drawing conclusions as filing a lawsuit is not trivial a thing to most people. Why would someone file a lawsuit like this? Would they think they could shut their critics up just by filing baseless lawsuits?
I know plenty of people like to act as though the answer to that question is yes. Anthony Watts ran a post about this lawsuit titled, "UGLY: Disputing peer review by lawsuit" and began it by saying:
Wow, just wow. Some scientists and their egos. Sheesh.
Another blog ran a post titled,
Academia Stunned As Science Anti-Free Speech Neurosis Flares…”Eminent Scientists” Sued Over Dissident Paper!
While quoting the reaction of only one academic (Judith Curry), which seems odd for an article saying academia as a whole is having any particular reaction. There doesn't seem to have been any effort to gauge how academics feel about this in general, much less an effort to examine what the lawsuit is really about. It's just more of the typical lazy talking points with no substance. It makes me wonder, is that all there really is?
The timing of this topic makes it particularly interesting to me given the topic of my last blog post. As that post discusses, people seem perfectly content to say the most bizarre things, no matter how untrue as there is no consequence to doing so. That last post talked about the lack of social repercussion as people seem to be so partisan they'll accept anything that supports their "side."
This lawsuit seems to further show this mentality that people, or at least people one one's own side, should be free to say anything they want without legal repercussion. Mark Jacobson's lawsuit doesn't complain that people criticized his work. It alleges people intentionally lied about his work. That's a serious accusation. I would hope society as a whole could agree intentionally lying about people and their work is not okay.
That doesn't seem to be the case though. Not a single blog post or news article I could find complaining about this lawsuit even mentioned Jacobson's allegation. No matter how much you might oppose a person's ideas or actions, you should at least be able to say what those ideas or actions are. That doesn't seem to be the case. By failing to even acknolwedge Jacobson's allegations, people seem to be defending the right of Jacobson's critics to lie about him.
And yes, it does appear they intentionally lied about his work. I can't see any other conclusion. The final version of the paper which triggered this lawsuit basically says Jacobson's work is complete rubbish because of things like modeling errors. One of the central "errors" is described:
As we detail in SI Appendix, section S1, ref. 11 includes several modeling mistakes that call into question the conclusions of the study. For example, the numbers given in the supporting information of ref. 11 imply that maximum output from hydroelectric facilities cannot exceed 145.26 GW (SI Appendix, section S1.1), about 50% more than exists in the United States today (15), but figure 4B of ref. 11 (Fig. 1) shows hydroelectric output exceeding 1,300 GW. Similarly, as detailed in SI Appendix, section S1.2, the total amount of load labeled as flexible in the figures of ref. 11 is much greater than the amount of flexible load represented in their supporting tabular data. In fact, the flexible load used by LOADMATCH is more than double the maximum possible value from table 1 of ref. 11. The maximum possible from table 1 of ref. 11 is given as 1,064.16 GW, whereas figure 3 of ref. 11 shows that flexible load (in green) used up to 1,944 GW (on day 912.6).
These two papers are about the feasibility of switching the United States energy system to rely entirely upon renewable energy sources. Jacobson argues a case for saying it would be possible to do so. I don't agree with that conclusion, particularly since even if it were technically feasible to do so, market forces would never allow that to happen.
But whether or not Jacobson's conclusions are ultimately correct is not the issue. There is plenty of room for argument and debate on this topic. What there is not, or at least should not be, room for is lies. That is the issue here. The argument in the quotation above is quite simple. It says Jacobson's paper indicates hydroelectric power generation could produce a maximum of 145.26 GW power yet Jacobson's paper show "hydroelectric output exceeding 1,300 GW."
You can't have an output greater than the maximum potential output so clearly Jacobson's model must be garbage. This same error is also found in total electric production from all sources, which again has the listed maximum output as being lower than the output Jacobson relies upon. This means there must be some sort of modeling error that's causing numbers to be wildly inconsistent with one another, completely invalidating the model.
The problem with that argument is it is all a lie. To understand what the lie is, you need to know an important feature of hydropower stations. Hydropower stations produce electricity for consumers by converting the kinetic energy of flowing water into electricity. That amount of electricity which can be produced depends on how much water flows through the river the facility is located on.
In times where a hydropower facility could produce more electricity than is needed, it can choose to reduce the flow of the water flowing through it. This causes water to back up, getting stored in a reservoir. Later, when greater amounts of electricity need to be produced, the rate of the flow of water can be increased. In this manner, hydropower stations can store up energy. until is is needed. Additionally, some hydropower facilities even use excess electricity they produce to run pumps which pump water into elevated reservoirs for the purpose of storing energy.
With that in mind, consider this table from the Supporting Information for Jacobson's paper:
Hydropower in this table is listed as only being able to produce 87.48 GW of power in the 2050 scenario Jacobson envisioned where the United States relied solely upon renewable power. That is, as his critics noted, far short of the 1,300 GW of power Jacobson showed might be output from hydropower sources at a particular moment. That sounds like a contradiction only as long as you ignore the fact hydropower facilities can store energy.
If a 100 gallons of water flows through a creek every hour,would we say a dam built in the creek could only release 100 gallons of water in one hour? of course not. The dam could cut off water flow for 10 hours and store up 1,000 gallons of water. The dam could then release as much of that water as it wanted, even releasing 1,000 gallons in a single hour to create a flow of water 10x the normal flow of the creek.
Many modern dams have the same fundamental design. The difference is they have things like turbines which use the flowing water to produce electricity. The result is the amount of electricity discharged by a hydropower facility can vary over time, being changed as needed without affecting the total amount of water flowing through the faciity (and thus, eletricity produced). I can't imagine any reason Jacobson's critics would be unaware of this. Even if they had somehow been unaware of it, Jacobson pointed the error out multiple times. For instance, when asked to peer-review the work of his critics, Jacobson quoted the draft paper and responded:
...Jacobson et al. include several modeling mistakes. For example, the numbers given in the Supporting Information of ref. 11 impluy that maximum output from hydroelectric facilities cannot exceed 145.26 GW (see our Section S1.1), about 50% more than exists in the U.S. today, yet in Jacobson et al. Figure 4(b) shows hydroelectric output exceeding 1,300 GW.
False. Increasing the discharge rate was not a mistake but a model assumption, and Dr. Clack is well aware that it was not a mistake yet falsely and intentionally calls it a mistake here. On Monday, February 29,2016, I informed Dr. Clack by email that we assumed an increase in discharge rate while keeping annual energy output constant...
That's quite simple. Jacobson's model relied on the assumption the rate at which hydropower stations could send out electricity (the discharge rate) would increase while the total amount of energy they output did not. That is, the stations wouldn't produce more electricity overall, but when sending out the electricity they had stored, they'd be able to send it out in larger amounts.
Maybe that assumption is unrealistic, but it's one Jacobson's critics were well-aware of. As Jacobson notes, he spoke to the lead author of the paper criticizing his work about this very issue via e-mail. Here is a quote from an e-mail Jacobson sent when questioned about this very issue:
The result is based on the assumption that we would increase the discarge rate conventional hydro while holding the 2050 annual energy output constraint...
For the study, we assumed that the discharge rate of hydro would be increased as needed...
Please also note, that, even if we could not add 1 TW of discharge to current hydro plants, the solution could still be obtained with more CSP albeit as higher cost than the presnt solution.
Jacobson's critic asked him about this issue. Jacobson responded by explaining the distinction between energy production and discharge rates, noting the model he used assumed the latter would be increased while the former was not. He then said even if that assumption wouldn't work, alternative solutions would exist within his model.
In the following exchanges, his critic showed he understood this distinction perfectly fine, discussing the assumption and providing rough estimates for the costs involved in increasing discharge rates without increasing overall power production. He even said he didn't disagree with the possibility of it being done:
I am not disagreeing with the possibility that it can be done with CSP and hydro etc, I just think that the costs are skewed quite badly by getting all this free dispatchable power.
Which to me seems a fair point. I think Jacobson is under-estimating the costs involved in increasing the discharge rate at hydropower facilities. Jacobson even acknowledges he failed to include that cost in his calculations. The only point of dispute was how much it would affect the costs he estimated.
But then, despite knowing fully well Jacobson's paper listed 84.48 GW as a production value, not an instantaneous output rate, this guy helped write a paper which claimed to find a modeling error:
For example, the numbers given in the supporting information of ref. 11 imply that maximum output from hydroelectric facilities cannot exceed 145.26 GW (SI Appendix, section S1.1), about 50% more than exists in the United States today (15), but figure 4B of ref. 11 (Fig. 1) shows hydroelectric output exceeding 1,300 GW.
He knew fully well the two numbers he was comparing were for different things. He had a discussion in which he discussed the possibility of having a much higher output rate than the production the rate (during times of high demand). The only conclusion I can reach is he understood the point fully well and simply decided to lie in the paper.
This wasn't just a one-off thing either. Jacobson raised this issue when asked to review a draft of the paper. He then raised it again when shown an updated version of the paper. He then raised it a third time after the journal published this paper when he asked for teh paper to be retracted.
That's (at least) three separate times Jacobson pointed out a simple and obvious untruth in this paper, each time providing clear evidence the lead author of the paper knew what he said was false. Nobody is talking about this. Nobody who is criticizing Jacobson's lawsuit has done anything to challenge the idea what Jacobson's critics said was false and they knew it to be false. Instead, everyone is just crying, "You can't sue over scientific disputes!"
Well guess what? This isn't a scientific dispute. Authors of a paper willfully and flagrantly telling lies with a scientific journal's tacit acceptance isn't a matter of science. They may be lying about a scientific publication, but this lawsuit isn't intended to settle a scientific dispute. This lawsuit is intended to address the blatant dishonesty of people who fabricated claims to trash a person's professional work.
If someone could show Jacobson's claims about what his work did and did not say were false, I would condemn this lawsuit. If someone could show the authors of this paper really did just fail to understand an incredibly simple point, and that neither they nor the journal understood the point despite it being pointed out many times (and one of the authors directly discussing it), I would condemn this lawsuit.
But if it turns out people really did blatantly lie to fabricate claims so they could portray Mark Jacobson's work as garbage, then I will wholeheartedly support this lawsuit
Because lying is wrong. Lying to hurt a person's career is both wrong and legally defamatory. Nobody should defend it, either explicitly or by willfully ignoring what this lawsuit alleges to pretend this is just a guy suing his critics so they'll stop publishing scientific criticisms of his work.
(I have only discussed the first of the lies Jacobson claims his critics have told. There are several more. I didn't discuss them today due to space, but I do find them just as damning.)
November 11, 1:15 AM Update: This post has been updated to change an example used in it to ensure there were no errors in using GW as opposed to GWh. Additionally, it has been updated to remove the conflation of pumped hydropower storage (PHS) stations and regular hydropower stations. The latter was an embarrassing error to make made more embarrassing by the fact it went unnoticed for several days. The substance of the post should not be affected by these changes.