Like a Boss

like-a-bossJim Steele struck again at Judy’s: after walrus science and coral bleaching, he audited Gaia herself. In the walrus episode, I made around 50 comments; Brandon Gates spent 75 in the bleaching one. The Gaia episode features 20 or so, most shorter and more expedient than the ones in the first two episodes.

The key to the reduction was to focus – my previous experience with Jim made me expect that he’d contradict everything I’d say over and over again. Since Jim’s obduracy creates some kind of fixed point, it helps when one’s commitments are both minimal and amusing.  There’s no downside to follow this ClimateBall ™ advice as a general principle. Everything you say can (and will) be never endingly challenged, so you might as well limit your commitments and enjoy defending them.

My first comment thus consisted in quoting Jim’s

There is also ample evidence that lower pH does not inhibit photosynthesis or lower ocean productivity (Mackey 2015). On the contrary, rising CO2 makes photosynthesis less costly.

and to quote Mackey 2015’s abstract, with an emphasis on the following sentence: This could suggest that the photosynthetic benefits of high CO2 are minor relative to the cell’s overall energy and material balances, or that the benefit to photosynthesis is counteracted by other negative effects, such as possible respiratory costs from low pH.

Mackey 2015 fails to support Jim’s claim about CO2 and photosynthesis. (Besides, citing a lone paper fails to prove an inexistence, and positing linear relationships clashes with Gaia theories.) Instead of acknowledging that his hypothesis went beyond Mackey 2015, Jim (a) told me to read the paper, (b) accused me of cherrypicking one sentence, and (c) challenged me to provide a list where Mackey says rising CO2 has been detrimental to photosynthesis.

None of these attacks counter my point, i.e. the very mundane observation that the first sentence quoted doesn’t substantiate the thesis Jim puts forward in the second. Many players may (and will) try to challenge things you haven’t said or done. This can be done by trying to turn the discussion about you, e.g. (a); making baseless accusations, e.g. (b); burdening you with commitments you don’t have, e.g. (c). Jim follows a long ClimateBall tradition, and his playstyle shares affinities with Brave Brandon’s. Incidentally, both rather enjoy lulzing.

It costs very little to sidestep these overburdening attempts. A boss may ignore them all. However, returning monkey wrenches back can also be rewarding. I chose to follow through “you cherrypicked,” because it could help clarify my commitment, but also because it’s kinda silly. So I quoted the relevant paragraph from Mackey 2015’s conclusion, this time with no emphasis:

Photosynthetic responses to enhanced CO2 under OA are remarkably diverse, and variability exists both between and within taxonomic groups (Figure 2). As the substrate for photosynthesis, elevated CO2 would be expected to increase photosynthetic rates either directly by relieving carbon limitation or indirectly by lowering the energy required to concentrate CO2 against a smaller concentration gradient. Nevertheless, despite the growing body of literature on the topic, clear trends in the photosynthetic responses of phytoplankton to elevated CO2 have not emerged, and the positive effects, if any, are small (Figure 2). Additionally, many studies finding “no effect” of OA are likely not published, resulting in a bias in the literature. That no significant difference is apparent even in light of this bias suggests the net effects of OA on photosynthesis are minor for a large proportion of phytoplankton species. The small effect could indicate that the benefits afforded by high CO2 are small relative to the cell’s overall energy and material balances. Alternatively, the small effect of OA could indicate that its expected benefit to photosynthesis is counteracted by other negative effects, such as possible respiratory costs from low pH. Moving forward in OA research, experiments should encompass a broader suite of measurements to probe how different physiological processes in addition to photosynthesis respond to OA.

I also tweeted the Figure 2 into the thread:

The cherrypicking accusation can’t hold – I’m not distorting what the authors are saying. It doesn’t parry the simple point that one does not simply cite a paper that says CO2 doesn’t make photosynthesis less costly in any significant manner and then claim that CO2 makes photosynthesis less costly. At least insofar as one would like to make that thesis significant.

Jim’s only response in that sub-thread was to misread a comment that wasn’t directed at him. Of course he persisted in perpetrating (a)-(c) above elsewhere in the comments, not without trying to mitigate his own well poisoning by echoing the chamber’s sentiments and by throwing some other squirrels.

The most expedient way to meet my point would have been for Jim to own his thesis. All he had to do, then, was to amend his text to clarify that, in contrast to Mackey 2015, he himself argues that CO2 makes photosynthesis less costly. Then would follow some arguments to that effect, preferably not mere handwaving toward Gaia.

That would have met the criticism like a boss.


There are three other exchanges between me and Jim in that episode. They more or less follow the same pattern. Let’s end this note with my second contribution, which underlined that Jim’s

It has been estimated that without the biological pump, pre-industrial atmospheric CO2 would have out gassed and raised atmospheric CO2 to 500 ppm, instead of the observed 280 ppm.

cites what I believe is a preprint to an encyclopedic entry, which itself cites Maier-Reimer 1996. Citing a secondary source for something like an estimate is suboptimal. I don’t know why Jim did this, nor do I care to know. Jim’s motivations are none of my concerns.

Here again, instead of taking that criticism like a boss, Jim accused me of dishonesty. To meet that criticism like a boss, all Jim needed to do was to correct one single URL.

Nevertheless, hours of frenzied ClimateBall can save minutes editing.


About Willard
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9 Responses to Like a Boss

  1. Magma says:

    “Since Jim’s obduracy creates some kind of fixed point”

    He is, after all, a Man of Steele.

  2. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    Nevertheless, hours of frenzied ClimateBall can save minutes editing.

    And mere seconds of hand-waving at relevance can save days and weeks and months and years of making measurements.

    If there is “other stuff” which is relevant to your problem then you simply need to include this “other stuff” in your equations too.

    That’s playing like a boss who’s reasonment is universally valid.

  3. verytallguy says:

    There are much more toxic things at Judy’s, if you like highlighting things there.

    P u s s y is an extremely popular topic when boys get together. For any of you boys who don’t understand this perhaps you can do a study on sexual reproduction in primates of the homo family. That’s the latin homo of course. Regular homos probably don’t discuss p u s s y much but I’m just guessing.

    You may need a thorough wash after going there.

    Blogs. Get the commenters they deserve.

  4. Willard says:

    I could try to raise you, Very Tall:

    At this point, [teh Donald] could shoot someone on 5th avenue and I’d still vote for him over [Hitlery].

    but I’d prefer we stick to the Gaia thing. I rather liked Jim’s citation to the Gaia theories, in which we can gind this gem, related to Reverend’s:

    Aside from clarifying his language and understanding of what is meant by a life form, Lovelock himself ascribes most of the criticism to a lack of understanding of non-linear mathematics by his critics, and a linearizing form of greedy reductionism in which all events have to be immediately ascribed to specific causes before the fact. He notes also that his theory suggests experiments in many different fields, but few of them in biology, which most of his critics are trained in. “I’m a general practitioner in a world where there’s nothing but specialists… science in the last two centuries has tended to be ever-dividing” and often rivalrous, especially for funding, which Lovelock describes as overly abundant and overly focused on institutions rather than original thought. He points out that Richard Feynman not only shared this opinion (coining the term cargo cult science) but also accepted a lack of general cause and effect explanation as an inevitable phase in a theory’s development, and believed that some self-regulating phenomena may not be explainable at all mathematically

    That’s an excerpt from Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist.

    Non-linearity, Feynman, and independent science – what’s not to like?

  5. The Very Reverend Jebediah Hypotenuse says:

    but I’d prefer we stick to the Gaia thing.

    You can raise AND stick to the Gaia thing, Willard.

    From the Wiki:

    Hesiod’s Theogony tells how, after Chaos, “wide-bosomed” Gaia (Earth) arose to be the everlasting seat of the immortals who possess Olympus above, and the depths of Tartarus below. He then tells that Gaia brought forth her equal Uranus (Heaven, Sky) to “cover her on every side” and to be the abode of the gods. Gaia also bore the hills (ourea), and Pontus (Sea), “without sweet union of love” (i.e., with no father).
    She lay with Heaven and bore deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos [Cronus] the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.
    Afterwards with Uranus she gave birth to the Titans.
    According to Hesiod, Gaia conceived further offspring with Uranus, first the giant one-eyed Cyclopes: Brontes (“Thunder”), Steropes (“Lightning”) and Arges (“Bright”); then the Hecatonchires: Cottus, Briareos and Gyges, each with a hundred arms and fifty heads. As each of the Cyclopes and Hecatonchires were born, Uranus hid them in a secret place within Gaia, causing her great pain. So Gaia devised a plan. She created a grey flint (or adamantine) sickle. And Cronus used the sickle to castrate his father Uranus as he approached Gaia to have sex with her. From Uranus’ spilled blood, Gaia produced the Erinyes, the Giants and the Meliae (ash-tree nymphs). From the testicles of Uranus in the sea came forth Aphrodite.

    Now, that’s playing god’s balls like a boss.

    The ancient Greeks would have loved the internet – Hubris, hubris everywhere.

  6. Steven Mosher says:

    I was amazed Willard.
    I read his offhand reference to Mackey… and that in itself was the clue. it was just a barren refrence. I would have expected ( in a blog post unlike a scientific article) some exposition
    of Mackey.. a quote or two.. a brief synopsis.. instead there is this bald reference.
    So, I read Mackey.. again… skim skim… then go hit the money paragraphs.


    I mean WTF?

    glad you had the patience.. I’m out of what little patience I have.

  7. Steven Mosher says:

    “You may need a thorough wash after going there.”

    recall that you cannot gross out libertarians.

    you can try our patience by being less than perfectly rational. but you can;t gross us out.

  8. Willard says:

    > it was just a barren refrence.

    That’s a nicer way to put it than:


    I think it’s more prudent to observe that handwaving to Mackey (who is a she) may not suffice to corroborate Jim’s claim, which goes beyond his other claim that altogether there appears to be few negative effects on photosynthesis due to elevated CO2 and depending on the species small to large benefits (Mackey 2015).

    The main problem with the “misrepresented” line is that it shifts the burden of proof. Jim can respond to it by asking for the misrepresentation instead of showing his rationale for his claim that rising CO2 makes photosynthesis less costly. This claim doesn’t rest on Mackey 2015 – the benefits rest on Gaia’s shoulders, to whom Jim only paid lip service.

    Another interesting line of attack would be to wonder why Jim insists so much on Mackey 2015 while judging that

    Indeed most of the calcification studies are flawed […]

    After all, Mackey 2015 is a review paper of these very studies.

  9. Steven Mosher says:

    good points Willard.

    I was prepared for the burden shift, I didnt focus too much on the Gaia stuff once I found the gray lit and the Mackey stuff. patience.

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