13 December 2008

Deep fusion, deep oil, deep nonsense

The incredible paper about evidence for nuclear fusion in the deep Earth coming from some of my old papers spurred my curiosity about its background. The theory of geo-fusion seems to go back to a certain Steven Jones. He even published a Nature paper about it in 1989, in the heydays of the cold-fusion mania. But it has not been confirmed, as the search for magmatic tritium was not successful. The new paper by Jiang et al. seems to change that, but it does not convince even a tiny little bit.

It rather seems to me that this geo-fusion theory is of about the same quality as the theory of deep, abiogenic oil, of which I have already written. Alas, no deep oil or deep fusion will save us from what appears to be a serious energy crisis. Would be nice, but these theories are nonsense.

Interestingly, Steven Jones seems to like nonsensical theories. As his Wikipedia entry reveals, he is a strong proponent of the theory that the the World Trade Center was destroyed by controlled demolition during the September 11 attacks, rather than by the airplanes crashing into it. I don't have a high opinion of such conspiracy theories, as I mentioned before. It seems that Prof. Jones, as great a physicist as he may be, is due for a reality check.

Physicists (I am one!) tend to think that they are very intelligent. Sometimes, this leads them to venture into areas of which they do not know very much. I also do this, but I try to be careful. Others are sometimes overly self-confident. Such as the German physicists who tried to reject the greenhouse warming theory as contradicting basic physics. Somewhere along the way they lost track and started to produce deep nonsense. Too bad.

07 December 2008

Natural Nuclear Fusion in the Earth’s Interior?

Here comes the promised funny story about real junk science. Recently, the following article was published in the Journal of Fusion Energy:
Jiang et al., 2008. Tritium Released from Mantle Source: Implications for Natural Nuclear Fusion in the Earth’s Interior. J. Fusion Energ. 27:346–354. DOI 10.1007/s10894-008-9149-y.
As usual, the entire article is not freely available, but you can get at least a free preview of the first page here.

What's so funny about this article? Well, first of all, the hypothesis that nuclear fusion takes place in the deep Earth (geo-fusion) is quite unusual, but more on that later. The point that raised my interest (after being tipped-off by a colleague, thanks Rainer!) is that this article cites no less than 5 papers which I have (co-)authored. Ok, on three occasions my name is misspelled in the citation, but still they must mean those papers. Up to now, I did not know I was into fusion research. How come I get cited in the Journal of Fusion Energy?

I have been involved in some research on tritium and He isotopes in volcanic lakes, together with my former Swiss colleagues from Eawag. The authors of the current article heavily rely on our papers dealing with Lake Nemrut (Turkey) and Laacher See (Germany). There we found clear evidence for the presence of gases (He) from the Earth's mantle, which is not too surprising in volcanic areas. The lake water also contains some tritium (3H, radioactive hydrogen). Tritium is a product of fusion reactions, but other sources are prominent in the environment. The proponents of geo-fusion now look for evidence of tritium fluxes from the deep Earth to support their idea. And Jiang and co-authors think they found it in our old papers! Gee, if these guys win the Nobel Prize with this discovery, they owe me something!

Have we been stupid not to see the signs of geo-fusion in our data? I don't think so. I rather think that the claims made by Jiang et al. are pure fantasy. They interpret small increases of tritium concentrations with depth in these lakes as evidence for a flux of tritium from the lake bottom. But there are much simpler explanations, most importantly that the surface water is being diluted by the recent input of low-tritium water. The data are from the 1990s, when tritium in precipitation was clearly decreasing with time, so many lakes would show such "reversed" tritium profiles. And the one volcanic crater lake where there is an isolated deep water that shows the signature of the subsurface input, Lac Pavin in France, actually shows very low tritium in that deep water. Jiang et al. even cite one of our papers on Lac Pavin, but they do not mention the low tritium there, as it does not fit their theory.

I do not want to write a review of the Jiang paper here. It would be devastating. I wonder, however, how such a controversial paper can be published apparently without proper review. The entire argument is based on data of our papers. It would be natural to invite one of us as a reviewer. I am quite sure this did not happen, as none of us would have accepted this manuscript. Obviously the authors have no expertise on lake physics and tritium in the environment. Otherwise, it would be clear that the presented evidence is extremely spurious, at best.

So, once again, my confidence in the quality of the scientific literature is shattered. This case is probably less severe (and certainly of lesser political importance) than that of the papers by Chilingar and colleagues, but is shows the same failure of the review system. So, yes, there is enough junk science out there to be debunked. But unfortunately, the one website that claims to do this in reality attacks serious science and only produces more junk.

I do my best to uncover some of the junk that falls along my way. But its a gigantic Sisyphus task. If this is the state of confusion humanity is into, then good night...

06 December 2008

Finally: News on Twin Papers

I started this blog after Eli Rabett had pointed out to me that the reply to my rebuttal of a climate-sceptic paper had been published in duplicate in two journals. This highly unusual and suspicious event triggered me to blog about strange things going on at the fringe of science.

As a more direct response, I asked the editors of the involved journals (Environmental Geology and Energy Sources) if they were aware of the twin papers and what they intended to do about it. After a long wait, I finally got an answer.

The editorial office of Environmental Geology explained that their Editor in Chief had been informed about the second publication and had approved it. So there is no plagiarism, everything was officially sanctioned. The core of the explanation in detail:

"Due to the backlog of manuscripts, printing of the paper copy of Chilingar's comments was delayed for several months. In the interim, Dr. Chilingar contacted Dr. LaMoreaux and asked permission to "reprint" parts of his comments in the journal Energy Sources, where he serves on the editorial board. Dr. LaMoreaux gave Dr. Chilinger permission to quote from his comments to your rebuttal originally published in Environmental Geology."

Great. I am relieved. I will not stop this blog, though, as there are still enough questionable things going on within and around the scientific literature. A really funny example will follow soon...

03 December 2008

Living in the Anthropocene

I recently gave a presentation at the University of Augsburg in Germany about climate change, in which I argued that we are living in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. Of course, the term is not new, it was coined in 2000 by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen. I think it is a nice concept and useful to present modern environmental and climatic changes in the context of geological history.

Those among my readers who can read German may want to download my presentation here (others may still enjoy the graphics...). I included a final section about dubious climate sceptic literature and organisations, citing the Exxon Report of the Union of Concerned Scientists. I figured that few people here in Germany would now about the background of the propaganda machinery that is active in the US.