Monday, January 11, 2016

The Baloney Detection Kit used on 100% WWS schemes

I have always been fascinated by science, it gives us the opportunity to shed some light on the questions nature imposes on us. By nature we mean the whole spectrum of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Geology, Biology, Cosmology, and so forth.

One of the videos anyone interested in science needs to see is the one about "Baloney Detection Kit" by Michael Shermer.

Essential is the acknowledgement that if any one of these tens points gets assessed in a negative way about the claimant, we can basically call it baloney. And it doesn't matter if the claimant is a regular bloke off the street, or a Nobel Laureate. Academic pedigree, or acclaim does not matter. If there is a truth claim, you can use the baloney detection kit.

What about the 100% WWS schemes that are being presented such as the "solutionsproject" by Mark Z. Jacobson

Note that the 100%WWS scheme not only tries to prove the feasibility of the 100%WWS future, it also tries to prove that there is a necessity to stop all nuclear energy activities.

1. How reliable is the source of the claim?

The first strike : All the evidence presented concerning nuclear energy, slant to one direction. Jacobson only provides negative evidence, he doesn't acknowledge the positive evidence that has been provided by decades of operation, and therefore negates the argument that nuclear has no role to play in a non-carbon-emitting energy landscape. Each time Jacobson is pressed on this issue, he falls back on the strategy of rhetoric and solely relies on negative issues.

He does this in order to reinforce the necessity of a rampant growth model for WWS (a new name for Renewable Energy).

Secondly he doesn't look at resource limitations, and doesn't acknowledge what needs to be done in order to ramp up production figures.

Suppose we would make a matrix showing positive arguments versus negative arguments.

My arguments in favour of Nuclear Energy
  • High energy density
  • Low material requirements 
  • Low [high value] waste production
  • provides base load
  • Ensures isotopic production for space exploration
  • Ensures isotopic production for medicine
  • Boon for chemists
  • Good safety record
  • Well regulated
  • Long Lifespan
  • Great step forward in terms of energy addition per new unit
My arguments against Nuclear Energy
  • Proliferation risk
  • Non-transparent costs
  • Delays in construction due to regulations
  • What if - angst for catastrophic events
  • Requires Uranium and/or Thorium mining
  • High security requirements

Do you see what I do here? I don't cherry pick arguments, I present both positive and negative arguments regarding nuclear energy. Also acknowledge that the arguments against nuclear energy are all fixable. However - Jacobson's argumentation looks like this :

Jacobson's Arguments against Nuclear Energy
  • Proliferation risk
  • Non-transparent costs
  • Delays in construction due to regulations
  • Requires a grid
  • What if - angst for catastrophic events
  • Fear of radiation
  • Requires Uranium and/or Thorium mining
  • High security requirements
  • Loss of land due to waste storage
  • Long lived waste products

If we take each bullet and give it one point and put in a matrix our respective matrices would look like this :

Which one of these is more honest? The one that weighs positives and negatives, or the one that only shows negatives? What do we learn from this? Not only is Jacobson NOT trying to prove himself wrong, he's also trying to discredit other technologies by just providing negative arguments, and this strengthens his position, his argument, but does so on false premises. This is a fundamental treachery to his academic credibility.

Note that these are arbitrary, there are many more arguments to make regarding these technologies.

Also note that evidence in this respect is rather subjective, especially in matters where the jury is still out, and no certainty can be claimed and furthermore fear is a factor, which is an appeal to credulity and irrationality.

2.Does the source make similar claims?

I question whether Jacobson is susceptible to positive claims / evidence in favour of nuclear energy, because it flies in the face of what he has been telling everyone for so long. In fact he is one of those people who tries to pit the public influence against nuclear technology. This is called the sunk-cost fallacy. And it shows because he tries to present his own hypothesis based on overly optimistic possibility biases, while he does the reverse for nuclear energy, he makes them diametrically opposed to each-other. While it is not necessarily so, we need both technology on the peak of their ability, but at some point WWS/RE needs to be tuned down because when its cumulative requirements kick in, we're in for sunk-costs ourselves.

What if the MSR revival get's into the practical testing stage and proves that nuclear energy can be done for the same or lesser price than renewables, is almost completely proliferation resistant, meltdown proof, walk-away safe, works at atmospheric pressure rather than High-pressure, would he then change his mind?

I am sceptical about Jacobson and his motives, and wonder if he would change his mind if ITER or the Wendelstein 7-X would prove technically viable. Or what would happen if MSRs proved their worth.

3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?

The feasibility study has been reviewed by peers, so the answer to this question is : Yes.
The question is who has done the review? To what extend have they tried to disprove the 100% WWS Hypothesis, AND disprove the part of this hypothesis in which nuclear energy gets addressed. What if the claims made about nuclear energy are not substantiated well enough, what does this do to this feasibility study? Does it then take away grounds for this study in the first place? What about vital omissions such as cumulative upkeep and replacements?

I question validity of this peer review and base my stance of the numerous facts that have been omitted.

Secondly also note that peer-review by no means is perfect as can be read here :

Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals which has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Since Jacobson grounds his articles in subjects that are heavily influenced by biases, I question the validity of his findings.

Also consider the findings of this article :
"and up to one third admitted a variety of other questionable research practices including “dropping data points based on a gut feeling”, and “changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source"

There are many academics that like to point out that Jacobson's studies are suspect because of questionable sources of funding and double agenda's. I'm not inclined to dismiss nor to accept these off hand, but they give one pause. Especially when confronted with a very defensive and dismissive Jacobson.

4. Does this fit with the way the world works?

The answer is no, Jacobson blatantly disregards resource limitations, even though he has done a study on resources, it's fallacious, just as this one is. In order to reach his goals current [world] production levels of wind and solar have to be increased by at least fifteen times. This requires equal increases in mining, transportation, purification processes. Not to mention the amount of denudation required to get these resources, IF we can get them, which is highly questionable.

Also consider the fact that he wants to shut down the entire nuclear industry. This means that we will shut down all flux-reactors required to create medical isotopes, research isotopes, isotopes required for space exploration, etc. Has Jacobson ever been to the radiology department in a hospital? Has he ever had a dental X-ray? No... It's time he get's educated on the ancillary benefits of the nuclear industry, which are certainly not negligible.

Our activities and effects on the planet have forced us to show our hand. How will we solve the most dire threats of ocean acidification and increased fresh water demand?

The reality is that we cannot discount any non-carbon-emitting energy source. We will see an increase in energy demand because of a growing world population. We will need more energy than ever to capture carbon and sequester it in Basalt, and we will need more energy than ever to build a sustainable water network that brings water to drought stricken areas, that helps with recharging aquifers and defends against the effects of desertification.


The slow and gradual and eventually stagnating pace of the 100% WWS scheme proposed by Mark Z Jacobson will not satiate the growing demand of energy.

To make matters worse, Jacobson fully omits cumulative upkeep and replacement requirements for Wind and Solar which range between ten and twenty-five years, which will require annual additions to grow exponentially, and eventually make sure that the growth curve bends downwards again. Also consider that even though many renewable proponents claim that renewable energy is "growing fast" on the larger scheme of things this is absolutely meaningless. Renewables (without maxed out hydro) is less than a percent of the total energy consumption in the world thus totally negating the proportional "large push" of renewable energy sources. 50% of 1% is still 0.5%. Even it would grow by 100% in the first few years, it wouldn't amount to much. In fact a growth ratio of 1500% is required, which makes the task at hand a rather steep one - and, dare I say it, insurmountable.

Also consider the fact that each 100% WWS / RE scenario depends on an increase in the size of grids, an increase of the complexity of grids, and a vast array of energy storage devices, which compounds the problem even more.

5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?

Countless people have disproven his claim. The fact that James Hansen claims that is not possible to save the world, using only renewables/WWS is a testament to the fact that Jacobson's findings are invalid. Also note that when confronted with claims such as "Nuclear energy is also required to fight anthropogenic carbon emissions", he and his colleagues resort to name-calling and attempt at character assassination.

Let's consider this article regarding the 100% WWS / RE claim :

Also take note of some simple calculations done on this blog :

My response to Jacobson's dismissal and a brief look on his 100% WWS article
Are renewables capable of defeating fossil fuels?
Response to Bill Nye's 100% RE claim

There are many others like it...

6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?

The first acknowledgement we need to make here is that he doesn't set out to disprove the 100%WWS. He is looking if it CAN be done. And as such he sets out to prove the 100% WWS hypothesis, without looking at true limitations. Current production rates of wind-turbines support the view that it is hard to increase production significantly, at least not by the rates required to be meaningful and confirmatory of Jacobson's claims. Again he presents a too-optimistic scenario that slants away from what is really happening and possible.

7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?

The funny thing is that I wanted a 100% WSS world to become a reality, which meant that I went out to figure out if this was possible. Basically I wanted to do the same as Jacobson has done. Ask yourself this question : how is it possible that Jacobson thinks it is feasible, and this guy doesn't. In fact after I did the legwork in order to be able to derive some conclusions I changed my mind. Jacobson doesn't, and that's unscientific. In fact he attacks nuclear energy almost dogmatically, totally disregarding ANY positive arguments in favour of the nuclear industry. He has all the hallmarks of a demagogue, a man that has rigid beliefs and is inflexible once invested and doesn't accept criticism.

8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?

On first glance it looks like he is providing positive evidence for his claims, yet upon further investigation his claims are too optimistic, as proven in the aforementioned articles. I suspect that Jacobson therefore needs to present a laden subject like Nuclear Energy to fix the bias of the person reading his article.

9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?

There is no previous 100% WWS hypothesis, we're now talking about a 100%WWS / 0% Nuclear dichotomy, which is now being fuelled by the question about Jacobson's credibility as an academic.

10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

First question : Why does Jacobson try to do a feasibility study on 100% WWS scenarios? Subsequently, why does he need to demonize nuclear energy in order to push his 100% WWS scenario? What sticks behind it? If he is a true academic he wouldn't be as adamant to go into extremes : the 100%WWS/0%Nuclear dichotomy.

Also ask this question : Why is nuclear even mentioned in his feasibility study?

Because if this is a feasibility study to prove the possibility of a 100% WSS future, why is it necessary to say that nuclear energy is not a credible option? Here's why : Jacobson has to wipe all other sources of energy from the table, even the well regulated, safe and robust nuclear industry that provides a sturdy 3.500 / 4.000 TWh per year and has new reactors being build every year.

I'll re-iterate this ad nauseam if need be :

  1. Ocean Acidification
  2. Arctic Methane release
  3. Growing water troubles

These three issues will drive energy demand upward, apart from the already exploding population. The 100%WWS scheme does not foresee these three major impacts we have precipitated on the Earth. Without acknowledging these, Jacobson discredits himself even further.

Also consider this fact : Renewable Energy looks good, it is the feel-good technology that kindles hope in the hearts of those who are afraid of the effects of Anthropogenic Climate Change. And as such nuclear energy easily can be brushed aside. There are a plethora of 100% WWS / RE schemes out there, since it caters to the feelings of people. Nuclear on the other side only spells doom and gloom in the mind of many, but the question is this : Would we rather not build the most effective technologies to fight anthropogenic climate change, before it is too late? Or are we going to rely on what-if-scenario's that depend on very optimistic models, while discarding an entire non-carbon-emitting industry that can power a significant (note significant, not 100%) portion of our civilization?

This is the final nail in the coffin. Consider James Hansen for instance : James Hansen has always tried to explain what is happening to our planet and which processes are having adverse effects. He was one of the first to do it. Now he steps up to annunciate that nuclear has to be part of the solution, people like Jacobson, Romm, Oreskes and many more jump onto the barricades to call foul. The question is : What drives this [nigh pavlovian] response? Isn't it obvious?

Since there are multiple question marks I will call Jacobson's 100% WSS scheme : BALONEY

No comments:

Post a Comment