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CLOUD@CERN: global warming may have been due to decreasing aroma from trees

Just a short report plus a collection of links (thanks to Steve from CERN).

CLOUD, the experiment that measures the birth of clouds at CERN, has released new papers:

Nature: Ion-induced nucleation of pure biogenic particles

Science: New particle formation in the free troposphere: A question of chemistry and timing

AP (a popular/politicized distortion): New Cloud Formation Discovery May Lessen Warming Forecast
CLOUD has done lots of measurements of the processes that are needed to create clouds which, as many kids have noticed, usually cool down the weather.

The experiment has been taking place at CERN because the cosmic rays (emulated by the CERN's sources of beams) are important for the creation of the cloud (condensation) nuclei. Even in the new papers, cosmic rays are found to increase the nucleation rate by 1-2 orders of magnitude.

Recall that the Sun's activity may influence the cosmic ray flux, and therefore its variations may be responsible for "climate change". Svensmark's theory generally argues that a stronger solar activity means a more perfect shielding of the cosmic rays, therefore less cloudiness, and therefore warmer weather.

However, the focus of the new papers is on something else than the cosmic rays: the molecules that should be present for the cloud nuclei to emerge and surpass the critical mass.

It's been generally thought that the sulfuric acid was almost necessary. Chimneys (or volcano eruptions etc.) should increase cloudiness. However, there have been inconclusive hints in some papers that some organic molecules are enough. You may have worried: How could have the clouds existed in the past, before the chimneys were built? ;-)

Jasper Kirkby and collaborators have found out that the molecules known as "aroma of the trees" may indeed do the same job and that is decisive in the pristine environments without chimneys.

More precisely, the molecules that can do the job are the "highly oxygenated molecules" (HOMs) which are produced by ozonolysis of α-pinene. The lesson for "global warming" seems clear: deforestation may decrease the amount of aroma from the trees, and therefore the amount of clouds, and it may therefore lead to global warming.

This may be the explanation of the changes in the 20th century and because the deforestation is over, so may be "global warming".

AP's Seth Borenstein chose an acceptable title but he span the papers in a bizarre way, anyway, e.g. by including the sentence:
Nonetheless, he [Kirkby] added, "We are definitely warming the planet."
We weren't informed whether the 800-pound gorilla Borenstein has placed his body over Kirkby's or otherwise tortured Kirkby to make him say this statement.

Maybe the statement is true but the papers contain zero evidence for such a statement – the actual scientific content and the very point of the new papers clearly point in the opposite direction.

Because I have mentioned α-pinene, the aroma, I can't resist to mention that yesterday, I learned a fascinating thing from a user aptly named Lemon on the Physics Stack Exchange. For our noses, lemons and oranges are mirror images of each other!

Orange and lemon peel both contain a molecule called limonene, somewhat analogous to α-pinene which creates the smell of the trees. However, the limonene molecule in orange peel has a different structure than the limonene in lemon peel. The different structures have different smells. The types of limonene in oranges and lemons are mirror molecules. The molecule in the orange is "left-handed," and the one in the lemon is the "right-handed" version.

(I suppose that the two parts of the yellow picture must have some hidden and different "depth" because otherwise one could get one from the other by a rotation by 180 degrees and they wouldn't be different, after all.)

It's really cool – the two smells are related by a symmetry but how we smell them doesn't seem "equivalent" at all (the smells are similar but a \(\ZZ_2\) symmetry should be a closer equivalence than a similarity). It's because our noses are full of asymmetries – molecules that are more likely to respect one handedness over the other. So they discriminate between the orange and lemon smells, too.

Another topic. I wanted to dedicate a full blog post to that but I decided otherwise.

Science and The New York Times are among those who write about a new preprint by Nathan Myhrvold,
Asteroid thermal modeling in the presence of reflected sunlight with an application to WISE/NEOWISE observational data
I have never heard of Myhrvold but he is apparently an entry-level billionaire (or at least near-billionaire) who co-founded Microsoft Research, retired in 1999, founded a company specializing in patent trolling, and led the publication of a 2500-page-long semi-scientific cookbook, not to mention a maverick 2013 paper about the growth of dinosaurs.

In both papers, one about the dinosaurs and one about the asteroids, he seems to attack assorted small technicalities in the conventional experts' treatment of their fields. And they seem to respond that he's either sharply wrong on many of these things or his proposed "fixes" wouldn't change a damn thing.

The style of his texts seems good enough although I had to laugh when I read the following arXiv comments attached to the paper about the asteroids:
Comments: Longer abstract in PDF, due to the limitation "The abstract field cannot be longer than 1,920 characters."
This is hilarious. Like every other submitter who tries to write an abstract longer than the allowed limit, he gets a warning. A regular submitter just shortens the abstract. He copied the warning to the Comments as if he didn't understand what it means or as if he were insulted that some computer dares to limit the length of his abstract at all. ;-) The limitation has very good reasons and it applies to everyone. After all, even Myhrvold's former co-author (named Bill Gates) has noticed that "640 kilobytes should be enough for everyone". So why shouldn't 1,920 characters be enough for every abstract? It's called the abstract because it shouldn't be as long as a paper.

At any rate, this Myhrvold guy has given lots of talks (I've listened to random 6 minutes from 3 talks), said lots of reasonable and unreasonable things, and isn't stupid. (Although his being labeled as an "old friend" of Peter W*it isn't exactly something that allows him to keep any credibility.) But I find him to be just an annoying troll who disagrees for the sake of disagreeing.

There are lots of totally tiny technical questions like whether you should use the length or mass of dinosaur bones to measure some trend, and so on, and he seems to pick the opposite – according to the conventional experts, wrong – answers to all these questions. (Yes, I was persuaded by the experts that you should use the mass and not the length, as Myhrvold did.) And he seems to repeat the claim "the error is much greater than everyone thinks" all the time. (This does look like the kind of the approach of the eternally critical, whining, fourth-class "citizen scientists".) Why does he bother? Is one supposed to believe that these mundane daily questions of a dinosaur or asteroid researcher require a Microsoft Research billionaire to be done right? They're not the hardest sciences, anyway, and a Microsoft billionaire is unlikely to change this fact.

With his wealth, he may surely increase the visibility of his opinions about the independent and dependent variables in some dinosaur or asteroid graphs or any other third-class uninteresting question of this sort. But the right question is: Should he? Does it bring anything good to science or himself? Isn't an expert getting an average researcher's salary who has spent years with the dinosaurs or asteroids (and who interacts with lots of colleagues who are similarly competent) enough? And even if some asteroid size had an error margin greater by 10% relatively to what is reported, who really cares? The dinosaur and asteroid researchers are professionals who earn less than 1% of what this Microsoft guy did. So even if he did something a bit better than they do, it wouldn't be shocking or important.

Most of us think that Milner won't send a fast probe to Alpha Centauri and he's largely throwing $100 million away. But one thing is sure: this is the kind of a toy you expect from a billionaire. But if you are technically oriented and if and when you become a billionaire, is your dream to hire a few chefs and write a cookbook? Sorry, it just looks so laughable to me. The appropriate author of a famous cookbook should be someone like Ms Magdalena Dobromila Rettigová, not a Microsoft Research billionaire. And even this legendary author of a Czech cookbook doesn't end up being a genius in our eyes. She was just a good cook who could write well – and who wrote a cookbook almost 2 centuries ago, without any Microsoft technologies. Ladies, it's just a cookbook!

Moreover, the very fact that someone wants to write a 2,500-page-long text about something as mundane as cooking suggests that he lacks the depth and is too obsessed with superficial details (and collection of patents, another hobby of that guy).

So mostly due to my lack of interest, I haven't analyzed any of his detailed criticisms of the research of the dinosaurs or asteroids. But it's my guess that if the normal experts dismiss him as an annoying amateur and troll, it's most likely because he is just an annoying amateur and troll. I am sure that he may pay lots of people to pretend something else but I am not one of them. If he were really much smarter than the NASA's asteroid experts or dinosaur experts, he would pick a more challenging topic than burned hamburgers, dinosaur bones, and asteroids' heat.

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