Are Bacteria the Cause of Global Warming?*


*hoaxed see below.

A new report in the Journal of Geoclimatic Studies by researchers from the University of Arizona and the University of Goteborg in Sweden argues that benthic bacteria are responsible for increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide. According to the abstract:

It is now well-established that rising global temperatures are largely the result of increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The "consensus" position attributes the increase in atmospheric CO2 to the combustion of fossil fuels by industrial processes. This is the mechanism which underpins the theory of manmade global warming.

Our data demonstrate that those who subscribe to the consensus theory have overlooked the primary source of carbon dioxide emissions. While a small part of the rise in emissions is attributable to industrial activity, it is greatly outweighed (by >300 times) by rising volumes of CO2 produced by saprotrophic eubacteria living in the sediments of the continental shelves fringing the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Moreover, the bacterial emissions, unlike industrial CO2, precisely match the fluctuations in global temperature over the past 140 years.

This paper also posits a mechanism for the increase in bacterial CO2 emissions. A series of natural algal blooms, beginning in the late 19th Century, have caused mass mortality among the bacteria's major predators: brachiopod molluscs of the genus Tetrarhynchia. These periods of algal bloom, as the palaeontological record shows, have been occurring for over three million years, and are always accompanied by a major increase in carbon dioxide emissions, as a result of the multiplication of bacteria when predator pressure is reduced. They generally last for 150-200 years. If the current episode is consistent with this record, we should expect carbon dioxide emissions to peak between now and mid-century, then return to background levels. Our data suggest that current concerns about manmade global warming are unfounded.

This is a rather sweeping conclusion from research published in a minor journal and will likely produce howls of outrage from defenders of the consensus. Only further research and time will tell if these guys are on to something significant or if they have somehow misinterpreted what they believe they have discovered.

Disturbingly, the article suggests that efforts were made to suppress their findings. Of course, what they are interpreting as suppression might be well-intended advice by colleagues telling them not to make fools of themselves. Or it might be something worse? Here is what they have to say:

It was not our intention in researching this issue to disprove manmade global warming theory. We have received no funds, directly or indirectly, from fossil fuel companies and have no personal interest in the outcome of the debate. We simply noticed an anomaly in the figures used by those who accept the "consensus" position on climate change and sought to investigate it. But the findings presented in this paper could not be more damaging to manmade global warming theory or to the thousands of climate scientists who have overlooked—sometimes, we fear, deliberately—the anomaly. We have found a near-perfect match between the levels of carbon dioxide produced by benthic eubacteria and recent global temperature records. By contrast we note what must be obvious to all those who have studied the figures with an open mind: a very poor match between carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels and recent global temperature records.

Moreover we note that there is no possible mechanism by which industrial emissions could have caused the recent temperature increase, as they are two orders of magnitude too small to have exerted an effect of this size. We have no choice but to conclude that the recent increase in global temperatures, which has caused so much disquiet among policy makers, bears no relation to industrial emissions, but is in fact a natural phenomenom.

These findings place us in a difficult position. We feel an obligation to publish, both in the cause of scientific objectivity and to prevent a terrible mistake—with extremely costly implications—from being made by the world's governments. But we recognise that in doing so, we lay our careers on the line. As we have found in seeking to broach this issue gently with colleagues, and in attempting to publish these findings in other peer-reviewed journals, the "consensus" on climate change is enforced not by fact but by fear. We have been warned, collectively and individually, that in bringing our findings to public attention we are not only likely to be deprived of all future sources of funding, but that we also jeopardise the funding of the departments for which we work.

We believe that academic intimidation of this kind contradicts the spirit of open enquiry in which scientific investigations should be conducted. We deplore the aggressive responses we encountered before our findings were published, and fear the reaction this paper might provoke. But dangerous as these findings are, we feel we have no choice but to publish.

Unfortunately, a good case can be made that moden academia is all about enforcing intellectual conformity rather than nurturing originality, but I will not attempt to make that case in this blogpost.

Whole article here.

*Yesterday I was hoaxed for about ten minutes by the above "study" on bacteria and global warming. I am on a listserv run by a prominent global warming skeptic who is generally a reliable source for the latest news and studies on the subject. This skeptic sent around the "study" as an extra yesterday. Another blogosphere friend also sent it along as well.

So I decided to write a quick post with the caveats you see above. About two minutes after I posted it, I received more information that it was hoax. Since it had been up a very short while I decided to take the post down immediately rather than mislead readers. Also, because it's embarassing to be hoaxed.

Well, the hoaxers were alert to identifying people whom they had successfully hoaxed (that would be me with the bright red face) and are now spreading the word that I fell for it (albeit for about ten minutes). Alas blogging can be a treacherous activity. Thus, I replace the original blogpost for all to enjoy at my all too well-deserved expense. The incident is entirely my fault.

Finally, regular reason readers know that I have not been in the skeptics camp for some time. For some examples, see my recent articles, "Carbon Taxes versus Carbon Markets," and "Confessions of an Alleged ExxonMobil Whore."

NEXT: Giuliani Was Right: It Does Depend on Who Does It

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  1. Ron comes clean. Nothing but respect man, in the internet age its all too easy for misinformation to propagate. The awesome thing though is corrections to misnformation propgates much faster than before.

  2. I agree. RB wasn’t one of my favorite bloggers at first, but he consistently has solid analysis, is aware of his biases, and owns up to mistakes. I disagree with some of his perspectives, but I always read with respect.

  3. Not much of a hoax if they don’t even give you a day to check out the science before they pounce on you. Pretty lame and I don’t see how that makes any kind of point at all. Wouldn’t we want to check out all the possibilities?

    I agree with Goldfinger: I don’t know that Mr. Bailey could have handled it any better… except perhaps never taking it down in the first place, but that was again well-handled by putting it back up.

  4. I think RB is better than most paid commenpotators. But I often find his analysis faulty to some degree. Bettah is good enough for me though.

    Assuming the paper was not a hoax, I would have some serious questions for these folks. CO2 from bacterial sources is isotopically different from than fossil carbon burned by man. And that isotopic differnece has been detected, and it’s proportion is rising.

  5. So, what does this teach us children?
    Look before you leap and research before you post.

    But good on you Ron for “manning up”, reposting the original plus the “It’s a hoax and I fell for it” portion. You have my respect.

  6. You are still falling for the anthropogenic global warming hoax.

  7. Why waste time on a global warming skeptics mailling list? I hear the flat earth society’s mailing list is pretty cool though.

  8. Ron Bailey originally posted the item along with his “Hmm, they might be overreaching but this is pretty damned interesting and important if true” comments. Then he took it down when he realized he had been hoaxed. Then he put it back up with the confession that he had been tricked — apparently for the benefit of any readers who happened to see the post earlier, rather than let the error sink into the memory hole unremarked.

    I have disagreed with Ron’s reasoning, analysis and conclusions on other issues before, but I cannot fault anything he did here.

    Past history has shown it is actually possible to convince Ron that he has been mistaken, and once convinced, he owns up to it. That’s better than most people, who will rarely reconsider a position, and just as rarely own up to their fallibility. Respect here also.

  9. Good show, RB. I honestly don’t get the hubbub.

  10. Ron,

    I was reading at The Corner today where Rush Limbaugh got hoaxed by this and then admitted to realizing having been hoaxed after a break.

    If you think they are razzing you just wait until they get going on him!

  11. If you’re going to publish a BS paper, the least you could do is insert a bit of randomness into your charts.

    Figures 1, 3, 4, and 5 are a dead giveaway that the story is made up. They’re all way too perfect.

  12. Paging joe…
    joe, please come to the lobby.

    Golden opportunity for joe to crow.

    Paging joe…


  13. That’s a lame hoax. Give me Piltdown Man, Jenkem, or Andy Kaufman’s death any day over this crap.

  14. So is the Ron Paul candidacy a hoax, too? C’mon, guys, own up.

  15. Give me…Jenkem,…

    You mean to tell me the kids aren’t huffing sewer gas in your town.

    I heard it was all the rage.


  16. You’ve got more of the right stuff than most, Mr. Bailey.

    And in the long run, this kind of upfront acknowledgement just enhances your credibility.

  17. Hi Ron,

    You don’t seem to be as clever as the “science” writers over at “Scientific” American.

    Over there, David Biello wrote on the SciAm blog, “The results of this can be seen at American Electric Power’s Cook plant in Michigan where temperatures in the control room reached 120 degrees F.”

    In other words, he was saying that the temperatures in the CONTROL ROOM of an *operating* nuclear power plant reached 120 degrees F.

    Of course, the article he referenced said nothing of the sort…it was the *containment* building that reached 120 degrees F. When another person and I pointed this out to him–repeatedly–he insisted that he knew what he was talking about, and the control room reached 120 degrees F.

    Here’s just one of the comments he made:

    “I am confused about one thing: is there something unclear in my sentence that leads some to believe that I am confusing a containment room and a control room? I was trying to point to two different (but connected) problems related to heat that nuclear power plants were suffering. Perhaps it was merely proximity? Or perhaps I should have further explained the cooling mechanics of such a power plant? Anyway, it’s an interesting writing question for me.”

    Then, when I finally made an exasperated post on my own blog offering him or anyone at “Scientific” American $120, if anyone could point to an article from an authoritative source that said the control room got to 120 degrees F, he finally saw his mistake.

    So how did he address that? He simply changed his original blog post to “containment building”…to make it look like that was what he said all along! No apology or even acknowledgment of the original mistake.

    That’s what you could do, if you really knew how to cover your tracks. And if honesty and facts were not of particular concern.


  18. Good on you for putting your post back up, but you’ve been writing about global warming for about two decades. How could you not have noticed that the spoof paper’s graphs of global temperature and CO2 were entirely fictional?

  19. Mark Bahner,

    That is at least the 3rd time I have read this story in one of your posts.

    Man, you sure showed him.
    You must be very proud.
    We are all very impressed.

  20. Mark Bahner,

    I lost all respect for Sci Am after I saw how they treated Lomborg.


    I can’t help but wonder how many neo-Levelers would bite much harder than you did on a hoax that concluded that global warming is drastically worsened by GMOs.

  21. Rimfax,

    Regarding Lomborg & SciAm,

    By their treatment, do you mean the article that included responses to Lomborg’s claims by some of the scientists he criticizes? The publishing of his response to their response, including hosting Lomborg’s longer detailed version on their own website? Or is it the reply to his reply the the inital reply that turned you off?

  22. Edward | November 8, 2007, 9:17pm | #

    Seems someone is impersonating Edward as the quoted commentator did not promise to leave and has not yet commented again in the same thread.

  23. AGW is still a hoax, I hope you can figure out one of these days that it is the bigger hoax, in fact, it is the one that they want us to pay for.

    I mean, really, just look at the #^$% lake Baikal data (the real kind of data) that shows global warming starting before the industrial revolution, and also indicates we are in a cold spell.

  24. Ron:

    Please stick to reporting and not pontificating. You are not a scientist and you obviously do not have the intellect of a scientist.

    Any goober scientist looking at the plots in the hoax would know in an instant that it was a made up POS. The visual correlation was just a bit too perfect and the plots did not have any of the random noise that nature produces. How could you not see that??

    Please, please, please, pretty please just stick to reporting and writing, I am sure you can do that well if you try. I know it’s not sexy and you get pressure to scoop and swoop. Just because your chosen trade is not a profession does not prevent you from being professional.

    Just stick to your fucking job and let the scientists pontificate… and double check your sources.

    Isn’t that Occam’s Razor for reporters?

    One “reliable” douche-bag spams you a turd and you try to sell it as chocolate ice cream.

    You are as big a DUMBASS as Rush Limbaugh!

    You report and let us decide.

  25. See what happens when you come clean, Ron?

  26. Suckers!

    This story stunk to high heaven as soon as I read it.

    First, legitimate scientists publishing thehir research don’t write purple prose about political conspiracies. Second, they don’t put scare quotes around “consensus.” It was very, very obvious that that piece wasn’t real, and was deliberately written to push the buttons of the easily-manipulated cohort that flatters itself with the term “skeptic.” And Reason’s Senior Science Correspondant fell for it, because of the same confirmation-bias pitfall he always falls for.

    That’s some great skepticism right there, folks.

    a prominent global warming skeptic who is generally a reliable source

    See, that’s your first mistake right there.

  27. Yeah, I think it’s time to kiss the word “skeptic” bye-bye, deniers.

    Quite the skeptic, aren’t you, Ron?

  28. Hey, can we see the old comment thread?


    Pretty please?

    I want to see some REAL skepticism.


  29. joe, where is the church located for your new religion?

  30. You’re projecting again, Episiarch. I’m the one who didn’t believe the hoax, remember?

  31. It’s located at the corner of Evidence and Rational Thought.

    You ought to come by some time. I’ll send you directions, if your denial cult lets you see mail from the outside.

  32. Ronald Bailey is Hit and Reason’s second-most-predictable blogger, after M.C. Moynihan. If you know the topic, you know what he’ll say about it every time. B-B-BORing!

  33. joe,

    I know RB stole your girlfriend when you were freshmen, but jeez.

    I will, however, agree with you that I find it amazing (amazing! that RB was fooled by this hoax for a second, and had to be told by someone else that it was a hoax (“I received more information that it was hoax”).

    It reads more like a parody, than an attempt to pass itself off as real.

    Reason should really consider hiring someone with basic science training to report on science. Publishing the interpretations of Ron and Jacob Sullum does little to help their readership understand the scientific aspects of the issues they cover, imho.

  34. This is what you get when you judge science by how well it fits your pre-conceived notions.

    The fact that this “study” included all the dogwhistle poltical shibboleths the deniers love so much made it MORE credible in Bailey’s mind.

    It’s the DDT scam all over again. He wants so desperately to believe what he reads, he allows his critical reasoning skills to be overridden time and time again.

    And yet, he calls himself a skeptic.

    Real skeptical, Ron. Way to see right through the bullshit.

  35. This is what you get when you judge science by how well it fits your pre-conceived notions.

    A very good point, joe, and one that you might want to take to heart.

  36. I’m the one who wasn’t fooled, dipshit.

  37. You’re also somebody who wrote 7 out of 11 posts since 9:30. You care WAY too much about this stuff, joe.

  38. me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me me…

  39. Finally, regular reason readers know that I have not been in the skeptics camp for some time.

    So… if you don’t believe what Ron Bailey wrote then does that make you a Ron Bailey skeptic or a Ron Bailey denier?

  40. Naw, skeptics are just fighting a rear-guard action, like Intelligent Designers.

    Oh, no, I’m not a creationist! I haven’t been for some time. I just have my doubts about…

  41. “Finally, regular reason readers know that I have not been in the skeptics camp for some time.”

    … so, you did quit worshiping the devil ?

    I fell for it, too, even if the curves were too smooth. I have even bothered an ecologist (the kind that checks the impact of pesticides by setting hundreds of bug traps in the fields, then sorting the bugs by hand under a big lens, counting them by species and by the quadrant they were captured in etc., not the computer-model kind) to find out if the article makes sense, and the guy told me that it is quite plausible, since most of the biomass on Earth is in the oceans, of which we know very little, so surprises of this kind might very well occur. I guess he did not read the article and relied only on my summary.

    I am still waiting for Mann et. Comp to come clean on their hoax, too, to prove it’s not a scam.

  42. the guy told me that it is quite plausible

    Lots of things are plausible.
    Most of those are wrong.

  43. Episiarch, your church comment, beautiful. BTW, thanks for giving me a book to read. I had forgotten that as a kid I had met Brin at a bookfair and had enjoyed reading Glory Season, though I never read anything else he had written. Tracking down what the hell an episiarch is triggered the memory.

  44. Wow. That is at least the 3rd time I have read this story in one of your posts.

    So you don’t think it’s any big deal when a science writer gets an elementary fact wrong, repeatedly insists that he is not wrong–and that others are wrong for pointing out his error–and then finishes by surreptiously changing his post to make it look like he never made the mistake in the first place?

    Well, if so, you’ll love Scientific American’s environmental reporting. (And you’ll probably also not see anything wrong with their helpful illustrations of harvesters running on photovoltaic panels.)

  45. I think Thorpe got screwed. I mean, Al Gore got a Nobel Peace Prize for his global warming hoax.

    OTOH, we hear stories every day about global warming causing earthquakes, making little kids play with matches, and stranding polar bears on ice floes, so Al’s competition for best hoax was a lot stiffer.

  46. HAA HAA!

  47. Mark Bahner,

    You misunderstand.
    We are all really impressed.

    You showed that dumb writer.
    He’s so dumb.

    Tell us how you did it again.

    And this time flex your muscles when you type.

  48. Mark B,

    repeatedly insists that he is not wrong

    Here’s just one of the comments he made:

    A quick look at the offending comments section includes a single post by you and a single reply.

    Has this incident grown in your head in the year and a half since it occurred?

    Do you have evidence to back up the “repeatedly?”

  49. “I think Thorpe got screwed. I mean, Al Gore got a Nobel Peace Prize for his global warming hoax.”

    Thorpe /claims/ that the articles hosted were from a customer named Hiroko Takebe in Okinawa, Japan.

    If that’s not true, this sort of joke would be better done on April 1st.

  50. Ron:
    I only got as far as:

    4?161 x ????5,6,1,8?-4 = {(????yt3 – 14?P9) x 49}/2? x ?kxgt -?

    before the fuses in may gibberish alarm blew, and I dropped a dime to _Nature_ . They are monitoring the fallout from this charming wheeze, and their( no subscription required) blog has interviewed, but not unmasked, the anonymous scientist who put the gunpowder in Rush Limbaugh’s cigar.

    Reports on both in Adamant:

    In a richly comic episode, Limbaugh refused to believe Roy Spencer’s e-mails telling him it was an obvious crock, and kept on the air extolling the virtues of the miraculous microbe to 20,000,000 dittoheads.

    Funniest thing since the CEI CO2 ad aired.

  51. NO. THIS IS WHY YOU HAVE TO THINK. You don’t just swallow things that people feed you. Do your homework. You deserved it. You bought it because you wanted the message to be true, not because you cared about the science. If you had cared about the science instead of the political position it seemed to support, you’d have read the flippin’ paper.


  52. Hoaxed for “10 minutes”?

    Yeah, right.


  53. a “global warming skeptic who is generally a reliable source for the latest news and studies on the subject”?

    hah what an oxymoron

  54. You seriously couldn’t tell this was a hoax at first? Did you even read it? The equations were obviously ridiculous fakes, as anyone with the slightest background in math or science would be able to tell. I’d most certainly expect someone with the title of “science correspondent” to realize this in a heartbeat.

    Maybe Reason needs to re-check your credentials. A science writer should be able to understand the more technical parts of a published paper, with some help, not just the abstract and conclusion.

  55. Scientists have spent decades figuring out what is causing global warming. They’ve looked at the natural cycles and events that are known to influence climate. But the amount and pattern of warming that’s been measured can’t be explained by these factors alone. The only way to explain the pattern is to include the effect of greenhouse gases (GHGs) emitted by humans.

    To bring all this information together, the United Nations formed a group of scientists called the International Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The IPCC meets every few years to review the latest scientific findings and write a report summarizing all that is known about global warming. Each report represents a consensus, or agreement, among hundreds of leading scientists.

    One of the first things scientists learned is that there are several greenhouse gases responsible for warming, and humans emit them in a variety of ways. Most come from the combustion of fossil fuels in cars, factories and electricity production. The gas responsible for the most warming is carbon dioxide, also called CO2. Other contributors include methane released from landfills and agriculture (especially from the digestive systems of grazing animals), nitrous oxide from fertilizers, gases used for refrigeration and industrial processes, and the loss of forests that would otherwise store CO2.

    Different greenhouse gases have very different heat-trapping abilities. Some of them can even trap more heat than CO2. A molecule of methane produces more than 20 times the warming of a molecule of CO2. Nitrous oxide is 300 times more powerful than CO2. Other gases, such as chlorofluorocarbons (which have been banned in much of the world because they also degrade the ozone layer), have heat-trapping potential thousands of times greater than CO2. But because their concentrations are much lower than CO2, none of these gases adds as much warmth to the atmosphere as CO2 does.

    In order to understand the effects of all the gases together, scientists tend to talk about all greenhouse gases in terms of the equivalent amount of CO2. Since 1990, yearly emissions have gone up by about 6 billion metric tons of “carbon dioxide equivalent” worldwide, more than a 20% increase.

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