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Monday, April 14, 2014

Quote of the Day at WUWT: Beginner's Mind or Fools Rush In

Sou | 2:04 PM Go to the first of 2 comments. Add a comment

From Wondering Willis Eschenbach today at WUWT (archived here):
Now most folks would likely do a search of the literature first, to find out what is currently known about the subject.
I don’t like doing that. Oh, the literature search is important, don’t get me wrong … but I postpone it as long as I possibly can. You see, I don’t want to be mesmerized by what is claimed to be already known. I want to look whatever it is with a fresh eye, what the Buddhists call “Beginner’s Mind”, unencumbered by decades of claims and counter-claims. 

That short passage sums up why Willis Eschenbach gets into strife so often. He claims to "postpone it" but is there evidence that Willis ever reads the literature? (I'm not talking about a random paper here or there that he might try to pull to bits, I'm talking about a proper literature review on a subject of interest.)

The above passage by Willis was from a lead in to an article about beryllium isotopes and solar cycles in which Willis confesses he did do a search, apparently for a data set not the literature on the subject.  He found one, for which he provided a title and abstract but not the authors or source or any other information.  A quick search shows Willis found the data at NASA.  He ignored the requested citation, which is:
Pedro, Joel and Smith, Andrew M (2012, updated 2012) Annually-resolved polar ice core 10Be records spanning the Neutron Monitor era Australian Antarctic Data Centre - CAASM Metadata (

And Willis seems to have ignored the associated paper (available here):
Pedro, J. B., Simon, K. J., Smith, A. M., van Ommen T. D. and Curran, M. A. J. (2011), High-resolution records of beryllium-10 in ice from Law Dome, East Antarctica: measurement, reproducibility and principal trends, Climate of the Past, 7, 707-721, doi:doi:10.5194/cp-7-707-2011 

There is much more research that he could have found had he really been interested in the subject.

Fools rush in...

Once again Willis has rushed in to a field, found some data, performed a couple of simple plots and decided that all the scientists are wrong.  He expects either pats on the back from the WUWT-ers, or for someone else to do the hard work.  Mostly the former from what I gather.

Willis' did go as far as look at the notes to the data set and found that the scientists commented on the difference in solar cycle correlation between concentration and flux:
Concentrations at both DSS and Das2 are significantly correlated to the 11-yr solar cycle modulation of cosmic ray intensity, r = 0.54 with 95% CI [0.31; 0.70], and r = 0.45 with 95% CI [0.22; 0.62], respectively. For both sites, if fluxes are used instead of concentrations then correlations with solar activity decrease.

He wasn't at all happy.  He put a question to WUWT-ers (not the researchers themselves) (my bold italics):
If you use flux rates the “Correlations with solar activity decrease”??? Yeah, they do … they decrease to insignificance. And this is a big problem. It’s a good thing I didn’t read the notes first …
Now, my understanding is that using 10Be concentrations in ice cores doesn’t give valid results. This is because the 10Be is coming down from the sky … but so is the snow. As a result, the concentration is a factor of both the 10Be flux and the snow accumulation rate. So if we want to understand the production and subsequent deposition rate of 10Be, it is necessary to correct the 10Be concentrations by using the corresponding snow accumulation rate to give us the actual flux rate. So 10Be flux rates should show a better correlation with sunspots than concentrations, because they’re free of the confounding variable of snow accumulation rate.
As a result, I’ve used the flux rates and not the concentrations … and found nothing of interest. No correlation between the datasets, no 11-year periodicity, no relationship to the solar cycle.
What am I missing here? What am I doing wrong? How can they use the concentration of 10Be rather than the flux? Are we getting accurate results from the ice cores? If not, why not?

It's not that the questions themselves are unreasonable for a "beginner".  The problem I have is that Willis goes barging in without doing any reading on the subject. And his questions are like a red rag to a bull at WUWT.  It means all the science is wrong! (In fact, Willis has some fans and some who really don't like him at WUWT, so he often gets a mixed reception.)

I'm not the person to answer Willis' question.  All I can do is suggest he read the literature. As the authors of the above paper say (my bold italics):
...obtaining reliable information from the 10Be record requires proven sample processing and measurement techniques, along with a good understanding of the sequence of environmental processes controlling production in the atmosphere and ultimate storage in the ice sheet.

There's more, in a discussion of how best to "test the response of 10Be concentrations in ice to variations in the atmospheric production rate", for example:
By contrast, the sunspot record is less useful since the relation between sunspots and 10Be production is neither linear nor direct.

My question to Willis is: Why don't you read the literature?

From the WUWT comments

Quite a few people try to help Willis out.  None of them come right out and ask - "why don't you read the literature?" However a number of them did just that and quoted various papers on the topic (not all of them reliable sources, needless to say).  Plus one for WUWT commenters, FAIL for Wondering Willis Eschenbach.

Tom in Florida isn't one for reading literature - he says:
April 13, 2014 at 4:28 pm
“What am I missing here? What am I doing wrong? How can they use the concentration of 10Be rather than the flux?”
I believe you know the answer,…………. it gives them the results they were seeking.

Brad who is not an expert on beryllium in ice but a building auditor, says:
April 13, 2014 at 4:32 pm
It is obvious what you are missing, GRANT MONEY!!!! You could have strung this out for at lest a few years and made a million or more, plus publishing rights. You also need to run it through the DIY a few times to get it thoroughly “scientificey”, so most eyes will glaze over and bow to the master. sarc/off
Your “beginners eyes” are greatly appreciated… that is a term I will remember in the future when auditing commercial buildings. I always tell operators they have blinders on when it comes to some problems. They just can’t see it, and will argue until the cows come home.
A new set of eyes can see that which others can’t.

scarletmacaw takes a wild guess but comes down on the side of the scientists, not Willis and says:
April 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm
I would think the difference between flux and concentration depends on how the Be10 is deposited. If it is captured in ice crystals and deposited in snow fall, then using concentration makes sense. I guess my question is where does the Beryllium come from?

Cynical Scientst goes a bit further and says:
April 13, 2014 at 6:07 pm
It depends strongly on how the beryllium is being deposited.
Flux is the appropriate measure only if we assume that beryllium is deposited evenly and steadily across the entire surface of the planet. But it seems much more likely to me that beryllium is transported out of the atmosphere by precipitation and hence is deposited quite unevenly and unsteadily across the planet. Areas with high precipitation would then be expected to receive a high beryllium flux while those with low precipitation will get only a small amount. In this scenario concentration is much better measure than flux of the rate of beryllium production as in a well mixed atmosphere the rate of beryllium production should determine the concentration of beryllium in precipitation.
Look to see which of flux or concentration is least strongly correlated with local rates of precipitation. That would be the best measure to use.

markx might not understand what's been written, but he likes the style. He says:
April 13, 2014 at 6:12 pm
Very interesting, and very nicely laid out.
Willis, you write very clearly.
We would all do well if scientific papers were written in a similar clear prose, instead of being immersed and obfuscated in the accepted contemporary ‘scientific’ phrasing and jargon.

bushbunny takes exception to something Willis wrote and says:
April 13, 2014 at 7:53 pm
Willis I appreciate your hard work producing these graphs. They must give you some exciting work and I commend you for that, but remember that most of us here haven’t a deep scientific understanding to comment on your graphs To stipulate whom should respond to them is a bit elitist and selective in my opinion. I say no more.We know cosmic rays are deflected from earth due to solar activities, hence less contact with water vapour in our atmosphere.


  1. "Cynical Scientst" appears to have worked out the mysteries of Be deposition on their own: it is dominated by wet deposition. More precipitation, more Be. I really don't know why Willis does not bother to either try to work things out for himself or read the literature. This type of information is easy to find.
    I guess"I understand Be deposition and the scientists do to" does not get so many readers to WUWT.

  2. Not reading the scientific literature is inefficient, but you increase the chance of doing something original. Thus there is some value to postponing reading much.

    That does not go so far as not reading the paper that describes how the data you are using was obtained. That should be read immediately. And one should also at least know the basic of the field, in this case how Be deposition works.

    Furthermore, I can get away with reading the literature later because I already have an coarse overview from visiting scientific conferences. If I were a citizen scientists I would probably read more and earlier.


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