Consulting  Geologist

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Timothy Casey B.Sc.(Hons.): Consulting Geologist   

The Most Misquoted and Most Misunderstood Science Papers in the Public Domain.


I have reproduced the full text of a number of articles that seem to be chronically misquoted or misunderstood. This is possibly because access is difficult, and so my objective is that by improving access, perhaps the many people who misquote these papers will endeavour to read what is written before citing it. Fourier, putatively the father of the "Greenhouse Effect" says something quite different in the text of his work (Fourier, 1824; Fourier, 1827; Burgess, 1837). Tyndall (1861), who first proposes the radiation trap on which the "Greenhouse Effect" is based, not only misquotes Fourier but bases his own heat transfer theory on the assumption of luminiferous aether - an idea Fourier impled might change substantially. Moreover, Tyndall confused opacity and absorption, in spite of the significant visible reflection presented by chlorine gas - which he examined. This is perhaps because he neglected to consider gaseous reflection of wavelengths outside the visible spectrum. Tyndall is celebrated as the scientist who proved the "Greenhouse Effect" when in actual fact, his work on the infrared absorption of gases failed to address absorption as opposed to opacity. Moreover, his speculations on climate were hypothetical and rooted in his own aethereal heat transfer mechanism, which was refuted in 1887. Moving on from the "Greenhouse Effect" to natural sources of carbon dioxide, Gerlach (1991) is spectacularly misrepresented as a tally of measured volcanic carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, Gerlach (1991) is a guess based on a grand total of seven subaerial volcano emission measurements, three hydrothermal vent site emission measurements, and corroboration with even more tenuous estimates available at the time.



In a very interesting paper demonstrating the real, rather than imagined, origins of key elements in folk tradition, Luciani (2013) opens with a quotation, concerning folklore, which is strangely relevant to the behaviour of some modern scientists:

the mediæval story-teller is pillaging an antiquity of which he does not fully possess the secret; he is like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Ephesus; he builds, but what he builds is full of materials of which he knows not the history, or knows by a glimmering tradition merely; stones ‘not of this building’, but of an older architecture

This quote, from Arnold (1867, p. 61), could just as easily be said of the modern scientists, of certain political persuasion, who are pillaging an antiquity of which they do not possess the secret; they are like a peasant building his hut on the site of Halicarnassus or Epesus; they build their science but what they build is full of conceptual underpinning of which they neither know the history nor the facts. At most, such scientists know the meagrest glimmering tradition concerning these texts which they have not even bothered to read themselves and, as such, their science is not of modern science, but of an older conjecture. Unlike the peasant's hut, this is a profound problem for science and, it is for the demonstration of this problem, that I showcase some of the most misquoted literature in the sciences; so that you may read for yourself, what the "experts" did not bother to read, before citing it.



Fourier (1824) is often confused with Fourier (1827). Although the typesetting for Fourier (1827) indicates the possibility of an earlier printing in 1824, this dissertation is less specific than Fourier (1824), and includes a number of major additions to the text. The original typesetting of Fourier (1827) indicates the possibility that it may have been published in an 1824 broadsheet. However, as no earlier printing of Fourier (1827) has been produced, it cannot be established that it was, in fact, published in 1824. Volume 7 of Mémoires de l'Académie royale des sciences de l'Institut de France provides the only printing of this article in extant, and this volume was not published until 1827. Hence, the alleged earlier printing of Fourier's 1827 dissertation, is unsubstantiated. More importantly, referring to Fourier (1827) via an unknown and unsubstantiated publication whose very existence is in question, only serves to mislead and misdirect readers away from much more accessible editions of this paper.

According to Weart (2003), Flannery (2005) and Archer (2009), the "Greenhouse Effect" originates with Fourier. However, the point of republishing Fourier (1824) and Fourier (1827) is so that you can see for yourself, that the cornerstone of the "Greenhouse Effect", namely the backradiation mechanism speculated by Pouillet, is not even alluded to by Fourier, who maintained that closed spaces such as hotboxes (and by extension greenhouses) retained their heat by cutting off circulation with the cooler atmosphere. I am not the first author to discover this by reading Fourier's work for myself (Fleming, 1999; Gerlich & Tscheuschner, 2007; Gerlich & Tscheuschner, 2009), and one may be tempted to ask why authors continue to propagate the misinformation that Fourier fathered the "Greenhouse Effect" when it is clear from his own pen that he did not. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Fourier is historically misquoted and misrepresented with respect to the "Greenhouse Effect". Citing Fourier (1827), Arrhenius claimed:

Fourier maintained that the atmosphere acts like the glass of a hothouse, because it lets through the light rays of the sun but retains the dark rays from the ground.

Arrhenius (1896, p. 237)

Fourier (1824, p. 154) and Fourier (1827, p. 586) pointed out that a hotbox works by preventing the replenishment of warm air with cooler air, which is a natural atmospheric process that later came to be known as convection. Moreover, this mechanism is enhanced by the poor thermal concuctivity of the materials from which the hotbox is constructed to slow the conduction of heat into the atmosphere. It is not hard to see why Fourier's dissertation completely contradicts Arrhenius' claim when we consider the fact that Fourier was subsequently forced to invoke an impossible hypothetical in order to relate the atmosphere to De Saussure's experimental apparatus:

In short, if all the strata of air of which the atmosphere is formed, preserved their density with their transparency, and lost only the mobility which is peculiar to them, this mass of air, thus become solid, on being exposed to the rays of the sun, would produce an effect the same in kind with that we have just described.

Fourier (1824, p. 155)
Fourier (1827, p. 586)

Fourier, in fact, was using the applicability of his calculus to De Saussure's (1779) results in an attempt to extend the scope of his method to include the calculation of atmospheric temperature. In this endeavour, Fourier focuses on the key difference between the mechanisms governing temperature in a hotbox, and those governing temperature in the atmosphere. In doing so, Fourier goes on suggest that what we now call convection only affects the magnitude of net heat flow or thermal conduction. Nevertheless, Fourier is misquoted by Tyndall who made the following claim:

Hence the differential action, as regards the heat coming from the sun to the earth and that radiated from the earth into space, is vastly augmented by the aqueous vapour of the atmosphere. De Saussure, Fourier, M. Pouillet, and Mr. Hopkins regard this interception of terrestrial rays as exercising the most important influence on climate.

Tyndall (1861, pp. 276-277)

Although it looks similar and may well have inspired Tyndall, what Fourier said was actually quite different:

The heat of the sun, coming in the form of light, possesses the property of penetrating transparent solids or liquids, and loses this property entirely, when by communication with terrestrial bodies, it is turned into heat radiating without light.

Fourier (1824, p. 140)
Fourier (1827, p. 573)

According to Fourier, above, non-luminous heat cannot be transmitted back to space through the atmosphere because it has "lost entirely" this property of luminous heat to "penetrate" the atmosphere. As we have seen, Fourier considers the motion of the atmosphere to be the primary vector for the dissipation of the dark heat back into space. Moreover, he is discussing net heat transfer, namely thermal conduction, and not just radiation. In this case, Fourier continues with, "This distinction of luminous and non-luminous heat, explains the elevation of temperature caused by transparent bodies." This explanation, in the context of Fourier's discussion of net heat flow through the atmosphere by thermal conduction, is obviously referring to heat concentration via transparent insulation (dubbed, "the Blanket Effect" by Abbot, 1909, p. 35), as opposed to Tyndall's differential radiation mechanism. Fourier goes on to clarify this by consistently specifying the primary importance of convective processes, with the insulating properties of transparent materials noted as only of secondary importance:

The theory of the instrument is easily understood. It is sufficient to remark, 1st, that the acquired heat is concentrated, because it is not dissipated immediately by renewing the air; 2nd, that the heat of the sun, has properties different from those of heat without light.


The mobility of the air, which is rapidly displaced in every direction, and which rises when heated, and the radiation of non-luminous heat into the air, diminish the intensity of the effects which would take place in a transparent and solid atmosphere

Fourier (1824, pp. 154, 155)
Fourier (1827, p. 586)

As you can see, Fourier regards convection as the most important influence on atmospheric temperature, other than the three sources of heat he lists at the outset. Moreover, Fourier only addresses radiation independently of net heat transfer in the context of saying that, at the time, we did not know enough to say anything:

We might, doubtless, suppose radiating heat to possess properties hitherto unknown, which might, in some way, take the form of this fundamental temperature, which we attribute to space. But in the present state of physical science, all known facts are naturally explained without having recourse to other properties than those derived from actual observation.

Fourier (1824, p. 164)
Fourier (1827, p. 598)

The supposition of the time was that light was propagated as waves through the luminiferous aether, which Fourier very carefully avoided mentioning and, moreover, seems to have made the prophetic suggestion that we may yet have something to learn about the propagation of light and heat through space.

Contrary to the claims of Svante Arrhenius and many subsequent "Greenhouse Effect" authors, Fourier did not think that air was like the glass of a greenhouse. Fourier explicitly states that in order for air to act as it does in hotboxes such as De Saussure's, it would have to solidify in layers sufficient to stop the motion of the air - without altering its thermal or optical properties. In fact, the reason why Fourier cites the De Saussure experiment is to offer empirical evidence that confirms the applicability of his calculus (later known as Fourier's Law) to air. This is clearly apparent in Fourier (1824, p. 154, ¶. 2) and Fourier (1827, p. 586, ¶. 1). Moreover, this idea is extended with Fourier (1824, p. 155, ¶. 1) and Fourier (1827, p. 587, ¶. 1) in an attempt to include the atmosphere. Here Fourier argues that while the motion of the air diminishes the warmth due to the preferential penetration of "bright heat", this does not entirely change the character of this effect, namely a thermal gradient or lapse rate not dissimilar in character to that observed in De Saussure's experiment. Fourier's claims concerning the applicability of his calculus to heat flow in the atmosphere are confirmed by the constant mean lapse rate we observe in the convecting troposphere.

With respect to the "Greenhouse Effect", so commonly misattributed to Fourier, the fact that the backradiation from the glass did not prevent Fourier's calculus from corroborating De Saussure's results proves that heat distribution between the earth's surface and the atmosphere is a question of contact transfer. What we may learn from this is that calculation of heat flow using radiative transfer (the Stefan-Boltzmann Law - Bolzmann, 1884) is only valid when the heat flow in question is between bodies that are not in thermal contact. After all, Fourier had no way of excluding this mode of heat transfer, when he developed his heat flow calculus from empirical methods limited to the observation of heat flow between bodies in thermal contact.



Tyndall (1861) is not so much misquoted as quoted out of context. Many authors studiously avoid discussing Tyndall's errors and particularly the fact that Tyndall's differential radiation hypothesis is based on his idea of aethereal heat transfer. Tyndall (1861) is most significant as a historical example of what modern university students describe with the saying, "fake it until you make it." The paper is filled with technical buzz-words of the time, some of which are totally misused. As we have seen, moreover, Tyndall misattributes his differential radiation principle to Fourier, perhaps because Fourier's transparent insulation theory was an inspiration, or perhaps because Tyndall confused it with his own idea. This pattern of equating very different phenomena on the basis of purely apparent similarity is the most striking feature of Tyndall's 1861 paper.

Tyndall misuses the word absorb, and its derivatives, a total of 148 times throughout his dissertation. Opacity and transparency are determined by simply measuring the passage of radiation through the substance in question. In order to measure absorptivity, it is necessary to eliminate the portion of opacity due to reflection (e.g. Nicolau & Maluf, 2001). This can only be done by measuring the reflection of the material in question as well as the transmission, and then subtracting the reflection from the observed opacity. Tyndall very clearly describes in complete detail, his method of measuring the passage of radiation through a chamber of gas. Nowhere does Tyndall mention measuring the component of radiation reflected by the gases he examines which, in such a detailed account, cannot be said to have been done. This is in spite of Tyndall's having handled chlorine gas, which is coloured by its reflection of visible light. It is clear that Tyndall measured opacity and relative opacity, not absorptivity and absorption as he seems to claim. In fact, Tyndall uses the terms "opacity" and "absorbing power" interchangably throughout his work. This is indicative of a fundamental misunderstanding, which is nonetheless studiously avoided by nearly all authors who claim that Tyndall's work proved the "Greenhouse Effect". In fact, it was another fundamental misunderstanding that lead to the proposition of the "Greenhouse Effect".

I have already adduced considerations which show that the molecules of rock-salt glide with facility through the ether; but the ease of motion which these molecules enjoy must facilitate their mutual collision. Their motion, instead of being expended on the ether which exists between them, and communicated by it to the external ether, is in great part transferred directly from particle to particle, or in other words, is freely conducted. When a molecule of alum, on the contrary, approaches a neighbour molecule, it produces a swell on the intervening ether of space, which swell is in part transmitted, not to the molecules, but to the general ether of space, and thus lost as regards conduction. This lateral waste prevents the motion from penetrating the alum to any great extent, and the substance is what we all a bad conductor.

Tyndall (1861, p. 285)

Above is Tyndall's idea of aethereal heat transfer, one of the dirty secrets of the "Greenhouse Effect". Here, Tyndall assumes that any radiative transfer is lost to conduction and this is a significant derivative expression of the myth that radiative transfer (between the molecules of a material) does not contribute to conductive transfer. This assumption propagated into Arrhenius' work such that Arrhenius (1896, p. 255) adds radiation within a material (e.g. the atmosphere) to the net heat flow or thermal conduction of the material (e.g. the atmosphere), thereby duplicating the proportion of heat accumulating due to radiative transfer, in accordance with the amount of carbon dioxide present. However, considering quantum mechanics, inasmuch as heat may be transferred from molecule to molecule by molecular collision, it may also be transfered from molecule to molecule by emission of a photon or phonon due to a falling electron potential, which is subsequently absorbed into another molecule producing a gain in electron potential (For the explanation in English, see In this sense, we can say that both kinetic and radiative heat transfer processes contribute to the thermal conduction measured in materials, contrary to the ethereal heat transfer idea of Tyndall and Arrhenius. Even so, the process of electron potential swapping, which we can verify as occuring via radiation across a distance, cannot be ruled out when molecules "collide" or come into range of interaction. As such, without additional experimental confirmation of kinetic heat transfer (not to be confused with the thermal effects of the universal gas law), kinetic theory remains an unnecessary and unverifiable complication to the conclusions we may draw about heat transfer. However, Tyndall's conceptual underpinning in various 19th Century pseudoscience is either glibly ignored or unknown to those who claim that he proved the "Greenhouse Effect".

Tyndall's radiative emission experiments yield the inevitable aporia consequent to confusing two totally different optical properties such as opacity and absorption. While he successfully shows that carbon dioxide ("carbonic acid") is many times more opaque than zero grade air ("pure air"), Tyndall's results show that carbon dioxide exhibits, at most, only 30% more radiative emission than zero grade air does for the same amount of heat. I refer you to Tyndall (1861, p. 278, ¶. 3) where "pure" air rising over a heated spatula produces a deflection of more than 60 degrees. Compare this with results listed by Tyndall (1861, p. 279). The thermopile, when calibrated to subtract this hot air radiation, deflects meagrely a further 18 degrees as a result of radiation from carbon dioxide that was subject to a presumeably similar amount of heat applied to a copper ball, with which the rising air made contact. Rather than discuss this dramatic difference of proportion relative to air, evident between his "absorption" measurements and his emission measurements, Tyndall (1861, p. 280) goes on to argue by arithmetic analogy that his radiative emission results reflect his "absorption" results. However, he fails to recollect the sixty degree deflection due to air prior to callibrating his equipment to subtract the radiating effect of air.

Although historical authors such as Arrhenius generally acknowledge that Tyndall regarded "absorbing" gases as thermal buffers rather than warming agents, contemporary and historical authors alike (Arrhenius, 1896; Weart, 2003, p. 3) fail to acknowledge the fact that Tyndall made absolutely no measurement of actual absorption, he confused absorption and opacity, and if anything, his differential radiation idea rests heavily on the idea of luminiferous aether - later refuted by Michelson & Morley (1887).



I have included the full text of Gerlach's 1991 paper concerning volcanic carbon dioxide emissions because so few people who cite Gerlach's work have actually read it. This is hardly surprising, considering that until now, this paper has not been available online. Contrary to the claims of Monbiot, the USGS, and many other authors, Gerlach (1991) includes no measurement-based carbon dioxide emission estimates of any submarine volcanoes, makes no attempt at modal representation, and Gerlach's global volcanic emission estimate is based on carbon dioxide emission measurements taken from only seven subaerial volcanoes (Gerlach, 1991, §4, ¶1) and three hydrothermal vent sites (Gerlach, 1991, §3, ¶3). Yet the USGS (2010) stated that:

Scientists have calculated that volcanoes emit between about 130-230 million tonnes (145-255 million tons) of CO2 into the atmosphere every year (Gerlach, 1991). This estimate includes both subaerial and submarine volcanoes, about in equal amounts.

Dare I point out the fact that although a hydrothermal vent site might be one of many features of a submarine volcano, a hydrothermal vent site is most definitely not a submarine volcano. Notwithstanding such inconvenient details, suffice it to ask how seven subaerial volcanoes is roughly equal to three hydrothermal vent sites? This statement of the USGS (2010) may have something to do with the claim, put forward by Tony Jones, that the carbon dioxide emissions of submarine volcanoes are counted in the USGS figures:

Can I ask you a question about that, if you don't mind? Because one British journalist whom you quoted those exact figures to went back to the US geological survey after you told him about this 85 per cent figure, and asked he them to confirm their claim that actually 130 times the amount of CO2 is produced by man than volcanoes. The volcanologist Dr Terrance Gerlach confirmed that figure and said furthermore that in their counting they count the undersea volcanoes. So your response to that.

Tony Jones
ABC Lateline

"In their counting, they count the undersea volcanoes." I wonder how this might be possible if no-one can quote the carbon dioxide emission for even one submarine volcano predating Tony Jones' statement? There are certainly no submarine volcano emission estimates listed in Gerlach (1991), which up until April, 2010, was the sole source for the USGS claim. In spite of this, George Monbiot went on to say:

Yeah, sure. I mean, it's, again, straightforward fabrication. Ian produces no new evidence to suggest that the USGS figures are wrong. He keeps citing this statement that they don't include submarine volcanoes. It's been pointed out to him many, many times that the USGS figures do include submarine volcanoes. And actually, it's the height of bad manners Professor Plimer to lie on national television about something that you know to be plain wrong.

George Monbiot
ABC Lateline

The facts of the ABC interview suggest that George Monbiot knows all about the various and diverse altitudes of "bad manners". But more importantly, did he know the following? A measurement-based estimate of a hydrothermal vent site's carbon dioxide emission is a completely different thing to a measurement-based estimate of a submarine volcano's carbon dioxide emission. Although Gerlach (1991) does mention submarine volcanoes, there is not even one single submarine volcano's carbon dioxide emission estimate in the entire paper. The point of republishing Gerlach (1991) is so you may verify this for yourself. This paper not only confirms Plimer's (2009, p. 207) assertion that we do not measure the carbon dioxide emission of submarine volcanoes, it reveals a disturbing contrast between reality and the above-quoted statements of prominent and respected journalists such as Tony Jones and George Monbiot. Gerlach (1991), which is the putative academic source for the assertions of both Tony Jones' and George Monbiot's above-quoted statements, includes measurement-based carbon dioxide emission estimates of only seven subaerial volcanoes, three hydrothermal vent sites, and not one single solitary submarine volcano. Dare I ask if Jones or Monbiot actually bothered to check their sources? George Monbiot's attack on the character of Australia's best known geoscience professor on national television, hinges on the unavailability of Gerlach (1991) to the typical Lateline audience. This entire episode, regarding volcanic carbon dioxide emission, speaks to a conspicuous lack of caution in the assertions of those seeking to blame human beings for the cycles and seasons of climate.

Moreover, I draw your attention to Gerlach (1991, §1, ¶4) where Gerlach telegraph's his emphasis on the fact that the data available at the time was woefully inadequate to a global estimate. Although Gerlach (1991, §3, ¶3) does mention some proxy measurements for mid oceanic-ridge degassing, he also demonstrates that these are nonetheless doubtful as the degree of fractionation remains unknown (Gerlach, 1991, §3, ¶4). About persistant submarine volcanoes, Gerlach (1991, §3, ¶1) asserts "There are no estimates for off-ridge volcanos". In fact, Gerlach (1991, §6, ¶5) had sufficient foresight to caution his readers as follows:

The adequacy of seafloor spreading rates as a predictor of mid-plate volcano degassing rates is less clear, and it is possible that CO2 degassing at mid-plate volcanos is outside the conceptual framework of the current carbon cycle models. The high CO2 degassing rates for Mount Etna underscore the need to ensure that mid-plate volcano degassing is satisfactorily represented in models of the carbon geochemical cycle.

Although Gerlach's foresight may seem prophetic, the large number of active seamounts had already been documented (Batiza, 1982), and even this figure was later found to be somewhat conservative with the latest estimate of submarine volcanoes standing at more than three million (Hillier & Watts, 2007 - See for details). Moreover, it has been known for more than seven years now that the global volcanic carbon dioxide emission figures put forward by the USGS are long out of date and quite clearly wrong, as the figures of Morner & Etiope (2002) show. Perhaps, if not for Monbiot's campaign of interruption, Professor Plimer might have been afforded the opportunity to cite sources such as Morner & Etiope (2002) and explain the empirical limitations of Gerlach's study. The text of Gerlach (1991) would suggest that Monsieur Monbiot's fraud allegations against Plimer, regarding the content and basis of Gerlach (1991), are specious and without foundation. Moreover, I challenge anyone taken in by those specious allegations to name so much as a single submarine seamount CO2 emission measurement in any of the peer-reviewed literature to date.



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Fourier, J. B. J., 1824, "Remarques Générales Sur Les Températures Du Globe Terrestre Et Des Espaces Planétaires.", Annales de Chimie et de Physique, Vol. 27, pp. 136–167.

Fourier, J. B. J., 1827, "MEMOIRE sur les temperatures du globe terrestre et des espaces planetaires", Memoires de l'Acadeémie Royale des Sciences, Vol. 7, pp. 569-604, source:

Gerlach, T. M., 1991, "Present-Day CO2 Emissions from Volcanoes", EOS, Transactions, American Geophysical Union, Vol. 72, pp. 249, 254-255.

Tyndall J., 1861, "On the Absorption and Radiation of Heat by Gases and Vapours, and on the Physical Connexion of Radiation, Absorption, Conduction.-The Bakerian Lecture.", The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, Series 4, Vol. 22, pp. 169-194, 273-285.



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Michelson, A. A., & Morley, E. W., 1887, "The Relative Motion of the Earth and the Luminiferous Aether", American Journal of Science, Vol. 34, p. 333

Morner N. A., Etiope, G, 2002, "Carbon degassing from the lithosphere", Global and Planetary Change, Vol. 33, pp. 185-203

Plimer, I. R., 2009, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science, 503 pp., ISBN13: 978-1-9214-2114-3

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