June 09, 2005

Bellamy KO'ed by Scientific Fact

Follow-up to Lies, Damned Lies, and Global Warming Deniers from The Militant Wing of Pacifism

Well, it seems that Monbiot has won his little spat with David Bellamy. That would be the Bellamy I blogged about previously for making crap up about Global Warming. He's just been kicked out from the Centre for Alternative Technology for:

Some of Prof Bellamy’s recent published statements seem to be flying in the face of the considered opinion of the majority of the scientific community. Such statements are clearly inconsistent with the standpoint of CAT.

Of course, it would be unseemly for me to gloat too excessively at his personal misfortune, but really, if you want to pick a fight, then you really need to make sure the facts are at least partially on your side. On subjective issues of judgement, there is always plenty of wriggle room in any argument, but if your statements are based on complete and utter lies, then you are just looking like an idiot.

This has been blogged about somewhat, here and here.


- 19 comments by 2 or more people Not publicly viewable

[Skip to the latest comment]
  1. Regardless of the correctness or not of his views, that's not a good reason to kick someone out.

    "Some of Prof Bellamy’s recent published statements seem to be flying in the face of the considered opinion of the majority of the scientific community."

    So were Galileos opinions. And Einsteins.

    10 Jun 2005, 11:49

  2. The exception doesn't prove the rule. Being rejected is not proof of worth.

    Galileo's work explained key discrepancies with the Geocentric model – though at the time he put them forward, it did not really have too much going for it. People forget that pre-Newton, elliptical orbits made as much sense as epicircles and stuff, they both gave the same numbers. It took Newton to provide the background that crushed the earth-centric view (though the solar centric view was similarly crushed, or rather modified, since planets orbit around their mutual centres of mass.)

    Einstein's views were in fact quickly embraced the physics community. Why? Because they were grounded in a mathematical logic, so anyone who reads his paper can re-create his logic. Pre-Einstein, people had been suspicious of the etheric theory – it was simply too ad hoc – even the people repairing it said so.

    The difference here is that Bellamy is not some revolutionary. He is not jumping on the scene with a grand new unifying, predictive theory. He is pointing at unresolved problems in current science, and claiming that they will never be resolved. He is making up evidence, putting words into other scientists' mouths. He has no experience of the climatology field, has barely even read a paper in the field. He has been engaged intellectually by people who have reasoned, logical, and mathematically verifiable arguments, people whose theories have lead to valid predictions and is supported by experiment and known physical fact, and all he can respond is by ideological taunts and false data.

    Einstein and Galileo he is not. His words and actions mean he has zero credibility in what he is talking about. CAT have to kick him out, because otherwise CAT is endorsing his lies, and so has no credibility as a result.

    10 Jun 2005, 15:19

  3. Christopher Sigournay

    I took a thirty second look at that website, originally to see who remained in that organisation. CAT are against Nuclear Power, claiming it's dangerous and unneccessary, as all future energy demands can be met by renewables. I don't think Bellamy is losing out on much by being evicted from an organisation with views like that.

    10 Jun 2005, 18:37

  4. "Being rejected is not proof of worth"

    I never said that it was. My point was that I do not believe that a scientific organisation should kick someone out because their views don't follow the group norm. Not saying that kicking him out was proving the worth of his ideas.

    11 Jun 2005, 02:39

  5. CAT are against Nuclear Power, claiming it's dangerous and unneccessary, as all future energy demands can be met by renewables.

    Not everyone agrees as to the safety and effectiveness of Nuclear power. There is a real scientific debate in this area. CAT, to their credit, and going beyond that and actively working (a) to find alternatives and (b) reduce environmental damage in the meantime.

    I never said that it was. My point was that I do not believe that a scientific organisation should kick someone out because their views don't follow the group norm. Not saying that kicking him out was proving the worth of his ideas.

    Do you expect the Tories to allow a socialist pro-European to join? Or the Lib dems to allow a neo-nazi to be a member? Would Warwick University allow a creationist to teach biology, or an etheric theorist to teach relativity? Being utter insane like Bellamy is neccessitates it's firing, because being scientifically accurate is at the essence of what groups like CAT are.

    11 Jun 2005, 12:22

  6. "Do you expect the Tories to allow a socialist pro-European to join? Or the Lib dems to allow a neo-nazi to be a member?"

    Which of these are scientific organisations? These are groups that you join based on your beliefs and then try and enact them, NOT bodies set up to discover information.

    "Would Warwick University allow a creationist to teach biology"

    I'd hope not, although in areas of the US that would be seriously considered. The position of teacher is different to that of researcher, as you're responsible for passing on information to future generations.

    For the third time, I'm not defending Bellamy, but saying that having a none mainstream view should not be reason for dismissal from a scientific organisations.

    11 Jun 2005, 15:44

  7. Christopher Sigournay

    What's unsafe about Nuclear Power? To stick with what most people consider to be "Nuclear Power" for a second, Fisison reactors essentially control a chain reaction of the splitting of atoms, usually by absorbing the excess neutrons released in the reaction (conventionally by the use of graphite control rods) to give a reproduction rate of 1, thus for every atom that splits one neutron goes to split another atom, and the reaction rate does not accelerate. The first misconception people have about nuclear power is related to Chernobyl – this was not a nuclear explosion, but the reaction rate accelerated from a control rod jam, and so the reactor got too hot and went into "melt-down". This was not an atomic explosion (coming back to this later), and was a preventable disaster. I believe much of the blame for this incident was later placed on someone who was not sufficiently qualified/authorised being placed in charge, and experimenting with the control rods and not maintaining the reaction rate correctly.

    Processing of nuclear fuel in breeder reactors allows us to convert Uranium ores (naturally Uranium ore has a very high percentage of the U-235 isotope, whereas for fission the U-238 isotope is required) into more fuel, and the supply of Uranium is such that it will be able to supply our power demands for quite some time yet. The atomic bomb, as a sidepoint, is created by suddenly introducing a large number of excess neutrons into a lump of pure uranium 238 – in a reactor, the fuel is largely uranium 235, so a rapid increase in reaction rate (explosion) is impossible to create anyway – another public misconception. It also of course releases no carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a stop gap, if climate change really is a threat, I think building nuclear fission stations would be a somewhat better route than accelerating fossil fuel consumption. Renewables targets for the short term are pitiful, and in the long term are ridiculously expensive and still cover nothing like our predicted demand, but no-one, CAT included I'm willing to bet, suggests where the rest will come from.

    In the long term, Nuclear Fusion, which is safe by design, is the most likely solution to our energy demands. This is because the chain reaction is dependent on magnetic fields confining the plasma of a fusion reaction in a high strength vacuum, and the fuel is injected into the reactor. Any problems with the magnetic shields or vacuum – the reaction expands, very quickly cools and ceases as it becomes unsustainable. And of course, without constant injection of deuterium/tritium fuel, the reaction stops anyway too, whereas with a fission reactor a large lump of fuel is always present. Furthermore, the sole product is Helium-4, which has a radioactive half-life of 10 minutes. Why there is not more investment in fusion is beyond me.

    Note: apologies Zhou and others if you are already familiar with the processes described above, however as I don't think everyone is I felt it necessary to justify why I consider nuclear power to be safe.

    11 Jun 2005, 16:28

  8. Yes, yes, whatever. But that doesn't answer the question as to whether nuclear power is safe. The safety question comes in several directions:

    1. Human error is inevitable. I remember some estimates that if we were to go the Nuclear route world wide, then no matter how much training we do, how much care we act, we will end up with 3 or 4 Chernobyl scale disasters per decade. The Chernobyl disaster was not the result of 'experimenting', but of a routine safety check leading to a momentary loss of understanding on what is going on. The question we need to ask then is how much of an impact this is going to have. We don't have alot of data on this.

    2. The waste problem is hard to solve. And not for lack of trying. Can the waste problem be solved, conceivably? As of today, Nuclear power is actually hugely expensive, and in fact on a par with many renewable alternatives.

    3. Nuclear technology is itself dangerous. If we are going to expand nuclear power, then it is going to get everywhere. Nuclear technology is very much a dual use technology – it is not hugely difficult to obscure a military weapons project behind some nuclear power stations. Nuclear expansion will almost certainly lead to weapons proliferation – can we cope with this?

    Nuclear fusion is, of course, all well and nice. But it still appears unattainable. We have spent massively in this direction, but it still seems no closer. It's existence has no relevance to the nuclear/no nuclear debate.

    11 Jun 2005, 17:50

  9. Christopher Sigournay

    1. Human error is indeed inevitable. Our challenge is to design to remove the human error element. With fully automated control systems and dual (or greater, perhaps even quad) redundancy, human error I believe is not a significant problem with Fission.

    2. The waste problem requires a concerted unified effort to deal with, as opposed to haphazard attempts to bury it shallowly. Consider that below the earth's crust, the massive heat of the earth is generated by radioactive decay. Burying nuclear waste deep (and by deep I'm talking a couple of miles) below the surface in an area of stable geology out of the reach of water tables (say, the Sahara desert) would be a solution, where it could just sit forevermore being radioactive if it wanted and it wouldn't be a problem. Of course, such a project would be expensive in the billions of pounds scale, and so a large concerted effort would be required, but given enough material, I don't think the cost would be any greater than it is at present. Put the stuff back from whence it came in short.

    3. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, as I already mentioned, is quite a different technology to that of power generation, due to the purified U-238 required. Uranium enrichment and purification is not an easy task, and not a difficult one to monitor. Furthermore, we are talking primarily about powering the western world, because as we well know the western world consumes the vast majority of the world's resources. Russia and China already have nuclear weapons anyway, as do India and Pakistan. Between them that represents well over a third of non-western population, and a considerable proportion of non-western energy demand. Combined with the western load, is there really that much left?

    Fusion still appears unattainable? On what evidence do you base this? We have indeed spent quite a bit already in this direction, primarily with the JET research reactor. Problems that have been overcome include plasma heating and confinement, reactor design, and fuelling. Why do you say it's unattainable? If you're talking about the fact that JET requires more energy to power it than is generated in fusion, well yes. But then JET was always designed as a 7/8th scale reactor. It was well known from the outset that it wouldn't be big enough, because it's below the critical size required for fusion to break even. The next stage, ITER, will be full scale, and is likely to be the last experimental reactor before a full-scale demonstation reactor is constructed to validate fusion viability. As such, it's future has massive relevance to the future energy debate.

    11 Jun 2005, 21:44

  10. 1. Automated systems are still coded by humans. Computers crash. Accidents are an inevitability in any enterprise. Even if you can guarantee good maintenance in the West, what about in poorer countries? What happens after a few years of safety? What about transportation – we know that planes inevitably crash. You can't just wave a finger and say 'we'll make it safer', and expect the problems to go away. We could make cars safer too. We could make planes safer. We could end world hunger. Non-nuclear renewables can be reliable and cheap. In theory.

    2.

    Consider that below the earth's crust, the massive heat of the earth is generated by radioactive decay.

    That's not accepted, mainstream science.

    The thing is, all these scheme have been raised in the past. The problems have come up again and again. Most would raise the costs of nuclear power far in excess of renewables. And they would add their own problems. How are you going to get all that waste to the Sahara? Securely? And remember, we are supposedly only deploying a short term solution before fusion is going to come and save our asses. Fission plants have huge decommissioning costs.

    3. No one uses Uranium to make nukes, anymore. It's plutonium, all the way. You make it by reprocessing the waste from nuclear reactors, like the nuclear reactors used for power generation. That's why we've been so worried about Iran and North Korea. We don't expect them to have the vast purification capabilities to generate a Hiroshima-style Uranium bomb, but a bomb like that of Nagasaki is a very possible byproduct of nuclear waste. And we haven't even started to mention simple 'Dirty' bombs.

    Weaponisible nuclear material have gone missing in the past. Far more will go missing in the future, if we proceed with nuclear expansion.

    As such, it's future has massive relevance to the future energy debate.

    No it doesn't. Not in the debate outlined above. Whether or not we go to nuclear fission power in the short term has no effect on whether or fusion power will be developed and installed. It is essentially an exogenous factor in the equation. It tells us that possibly, our energy problems will be solved for the long term. But the short term problem of how to fill the gap still exists, and the structure of the problem is unchanged. It's not the solution, it can't be part of the solution, and so, in dealing with the immediate problem, we might as well ignore it.

    11 Jun 2005, 22:55

  11. Back to the point, Siggy: Bellamy loses out, presumably, on some money from CAT (which, by the by, is where the 2nd year EDAT field trip is based), and loses some/lots of his reputation as a scientist judging fact.

    If your main interest was to see who was left at CAT, then clearly your initial reaction, like Andrew McF's, was that he'd been forced out for holding an unpopular, controversial or minority view. However, this isn't the case: he was sacked for being a bad, ranting ex-scientist.

    I took the time to spend more than 30 seconds on the websites and came across a couple more links. The first (1) is a concise deconstruction of an anti-global-warming letter Bellamy wrote to New Scientist. The second link (2) is in some ways more relevant: reproduced correspondence between Monbiot (the website owner) and Bellamy. Incidentally Siggy, I know you won't like Monbiot much – neither do I particularly – but that doesn't make his deconstruction of Bellamy any less accurate.

    11 Jun 2005, 23:32

  12. Christopher Sigournay

    "The future energy debate" Zhou. Your exact wording was "It's existence has no relevance to the nuclear/no nuclear debate". This would dismiss fusion power from future energy production, which is, I believe, a gross error. Of course, it's a long term solution. But then, so are renewables. In the short term, if we are going to be serious about reducing carbon emissions (50% of CO2 is from domestic sources, and another 30% from non-transport industries. The UK electricity demand alone is some 47GW, and that's with a lot of heat produced by burning fossil fuels) in the short term, then the only alternative is a program of nuclear power building. It's no use having 60% of energy being renewable by 2050 if you want to cut carbon emissions now. What about the other 40% anyway?

    My initial reaction was to find out what kind of people are involved at CAT. I suspect, from what I've heard back from EDATers about CAT, that the vast majority of them are pretty radical left-wing types. Political bias and all that. You're quite right, I don't like Monbiot very much at all. He writes for the Guardian as a start… Although you're right, it is hard to fault his analysis of Bellamy, even if it is fuelled by some sort of rivalry they seem to be having.

    12 Jun 2005, 09:09

  13. 2.

    Consider that below the earth's crust, the massive heat of the earth is generated by radioactive decay.

    That's not accepted, mainstream science.

    That's a bit of a bugger, since it is in the Geophysics exam I've got tomorrow. Pressure also applies, but radioactivity becomes a more important factor as the Earth ages.

    12 Jun 2005, 12:09

  14. Ok, ok, never mind.

    Brain fart.

    12 Jun 2005, 12:16

  15. "The future energy debate" Zhou. Your exact wording was "It's existence has no relevance to the nuclear/no nuclear debate". This would dismiss fusion power from future energy production, which is, I believe, a gross error.

    No. You are being silly here. No one opposes fusion power. It's all nice and sweet. CAT does not oppose fusion power. Anti-nuclear campaigners and the green movement are often the very people who are working on nuclear fusion. When people talk about nuclear power, fusion is not what is meant. You might as well ask if anti-nuclear people oppose the sun. It's a well, duh, thing. It's just not a matter of debate, Spiderman the Movie references notwithstanding.

    Nuclear power, as in current nuclear power, is in no way a short term solution. Nuclear power is hugely expensive, will take just as long as renewables to build up, hard to port to isolated locations, has huge political fallout, and will lead to vast long-term decommissioning headaches. These are unavoidable facts.

    I, personally, actually support nuclear power. But surely you can see that there is an objective scientific debate here, and that it is totally wrong to just dismiss the other side as stupid or something for simply disagreeing.

    12 Jun 2005, 12:36

  16. Mrs Prof Siegefried Von Haddock

    "Einstein and Galileo he is not."

    Chortle!

    12 Jul 2005, 14:40

  17. Andy Baxter

    There are two points which have been mostly missed in this:

    – The point isn't just about whether chernobyl could have been prevented – it's also about the fact that, given that most human designed systems (or evolved systems come to that) are likely to fail at some point, however hard people try to make them safe, and the potential damage caused by an accident (or deliberate sabotage) at a nuclear plant is far greater than from a coal fired power station or a wind farm.

    – also, people talk about the waste problem, but rarely the mining problem – uranium mining causes radioactive pollution as well (though not so bad as badly disposed waste), and is also associated with abuse of native peoples in various countries.

    (p.s. – I like your spam-trap technique)

    19 Sep 2005, 19:53

  18. andy baxter

    P.S. – sorry, I read too quick – several people have said about human error. The point I was making was it's not just about the risk of failure, but also the potential for catastrophic damage, given that all systems can fail. So better to keep things closer to a 'ground level' of technology unless there are strong reasons not to.

    20 Sep 2005, 00:07

  19. Clae

    The "safe" nuclear fusion technologies that are realistically being discussed and developed today are acknowledged to be decades and billions of dollars away from viable commercial deployment. Knock a zero off both of those scales for wind and solar.

    01 Oct 2005, 06:10


Add a comment

You are not allowed to comment on this entry as it has restricted commenting permissions.

Trackbacks

June 2005

Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa Su
May |  Today  | Jul
      1 2 3 4 5
6 7 8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16 17 18 19
20 21 22 23 24 25 26
27 28 29 30         

Search this blog

Galleries

Most recent comments

  • Ok this is odd, I got here via Stumble Upon… It's the first time I've come across a Warwick Blogs pa… by on this entry
  • I've been wondering the same question…what's the secret? I know there's an easier way. I'm just goin… by Wanda on this entry
  • chinese? by confucian on this entry
  • Please… please we're not called global warming "deniers" we prefer to be called global warming "infi… by Peter Jungmann on this entry
  • Now, to continue, if you need evidence that the 1998 anomaly was not due to solar activity, pick a d… by Zhou on this entry

Blog archive

Loading…
Not signed in
Sign in

Powered by BlogBuilder
© MMXIV