Pathetic Science

A&E tries to do science

    The propaganda begins

    Black absorbs sunlight?  What a surprise!

    NASA discovers the obvious

    Another great surprise

    Heat is not temperature
    Temperature is not heat

    The globe involves the whole globe

The Arts and Entertainment (A&E) network has given us a pathetic show entitled "Global Warming," (The New Explorers, A&E, 6/4/98) featuring Bill Kurtis as the narrator. He represents obvious facts as discoveries (high-priced ones, to be sure), makes authoritative statements not justified by those facts (or any others), and makes sinister inferences about civilization in general. 

The intellectual level of The New Explorers is divulged as Kurtis says, "And yet, there's no firm data to link natural phenomena like hurricanes and earthquakes [earthquakes??] to atmospheric changes [video: pictures of a volcano!!] _ only predictions that weather extremes will increase as the earth warms up." 

Black cars are not popular in Phoenix, especially in the summertime. If it isn't unpleasant enough getting into a hot car, scalding an arm on the black surface usually delivers a strong enough message to make the densest of people prefer light-colored cars. These facts are, of course, not worthy of a vast research grant. 

But suppose we compare a flat granite plate with a lake full of black coffee. Which would be hotter? Practically everybody would guess _ correctly _ that the plate would be hotter. Even though the black coffee absorbs sunlight better than the gray plate, water evaporates, thereby cooling the remaining coffee. The plate is cooled by radiation; the coffee is cooled by radiation and evaporation. 

And what if we compared the temperature of an ordinary rooftop with that of a city park where there are lots of trees and grass? Obviously, the city park would be cooler, because of evaporation. Although a few people would not immediately identify the reasons why, probably even Al Gore would correctly identify which would be cooler. 

But NASA evidently doesn't mind supporting scientists who specialize in discovering the obvious. Bill Kurtis trails around after NASA scientist Dr. Y [his name was never spelled out, from Stennis Space Center] as he describes how they remotely measure ground temperatures from airplanes. Surprise of surprises! Dr. Y has found that in arid Salt Lake City, the city park is cooler than most rooftops! 

With scientific muddleheadedness that would embarrass a freshman, Dr. Y describes the cool aluminum rooftop on one building this way: "Aluminum is a very low emitter of thermal energy." Following this irrelevant truth, he first confuses emission with reflection, then emission with absorption: "That is, it emits _ reflects it back _ so therefore it looks like a black hole." 

The implication of all this is that there is an urban heat-island effect (surprise!). The obvious, but false, implication is that higher temperature in urban areas means Global Warming. 

But Kurtis doesn't stop there. He flits off to Costa Rica where NASA- Stennis's Dr. Z measures atmospheric parameters from towers that extend above the forest canopy, and waxes eloquent about yet another discovery of the obvious: the tree tops are cooler than the grasslands! 

But what would they expect? Trees have deep roots (at least compared to grass), enormous leaf area, and plenty of air circulation _ the perfect combination for evaporative cooling. 

Heat is not temperature and temperature is not heat. In the example of the coffee, we noted that the coffee absorbed more heat, yet was actually cooler. Evaporation is driven by heat, but the energy is simply transported by the evaporated water to wherever it condenses into clouds, likely high in the atmosphere, releasing the heat absorbed earlier. Locally, the leaves are cooler, but globally, the same heat is absorbed in both cases. 

"Global warming" has to do with excessive heat retention by the entire earth. The discoveries of the obvious by Dr. Y and Dr. Z are of precious little consequence to global warming. But the irrelevance doesn't stop NASA from supporting such nonsense or A&E from sending Kurtis out to follow these New Explorers around with instruments that tell them exactly what every car owner in Phoenix would be willing to tell them for free. 

Unfortunately, the likes of Al Gore gobble up this pathetic science and run off to far-flung places like Kyoto to sign treaties to stifle energy production. 

The Energy Advocate


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