Postma’s confusion

This could hopefully be a nice learning experience as part of our ongoing discussion on ‘how to heat a planetary surface’.

I went over to Joseph Postma’s site to see how they treat the whole sphere/shell problem there, having learned that some commenter had linked to my last post on the subject on one of his threads, evidently leading to the appearance soon after of a couple of climateofsophistry.com regulars on this blog.

What I found quite frankly appalled me.

It is just as much a cultic echo chamber as any warmist site I’ve ever visited. They live firmly and tightly packed inside their little pink bubble, completely detached from reality, but keep patting each other on the back, congratulating themselves whenever more elaborate ways are found to consolidate and entrench the cult’s profoundly absurd ideas about the world, loudly and indiscriminately thrashing everyone not agreeing with them, calling them idiots, criminals and the like. Anyone who dares question the dogma is immediately and summarily labelled a ‘sophist’. The cult leader, Postma himself, is of course first in line, the worst of the lot, a person with clear megalomaniacal tendencies, whose modus operandi when it comes to meeting a challenge consistently revolves around twisting the opponent’s every word, nitpicking on irrelevant semantic details to evade major points being made, constantly ‘misunderstanding’ opposing arguments, thus creating the opportunity to divert and build straw men to tear down, all of it sprinkled with a nice dose of mockery and verbal abuse.

In short, the perfect sophist, surely a dedicated student of the Alinsky method.

Following are a couple of exchanges from Postma’s blog exemplifying precisely what I mean, highlighting the blinkered, confused nature of Postma’s world view, plus his aggressive rhetorical tactics employed whenever he needs to escape rational – but obviously uncomfortable – counter-arguments threatening to trap and expose him, keeping his flock’s cognitive dissonance safely at bay:


My involvement actually started with observing Postma’s reaction (on a different, yet parallel thread to the one I eventually joined) to the rather fundamental points made by a commenter calling himself ‘Tom OregonCity’. What ‘Tom OregonCity’ is describing here is simply a physical phenomenon that we all experience every single day, the effect of which is well-established and completely uncontroversial in the world of ordinary physics. That phenomenon is called ‘insulation’. Note, the setup discussed here is the heated sphere and the surrounding shell:

“With the outside not presenting any reflection of energy, or retarding energy flow outward in any significant manner, any object which intervenes must slow the cooling of the sphere surface, thus increasing its temperature (always below the maximum available from the heat source) until it can overcome the reduction in flow because of that intervening object.

How does that in any way violate the 2nd law, Joe? You seem so preoccupied with the whole CO2 thing that you can’t agree to simple resistance of energy flow causing a slower cooling rate, and that flies right in the face of the work equation you yourself cite. How is that?”

He’s absolutely correct of course. Postma completely ignores this very simple point. Postma’s assertion, after all, is that after the sphere’s energy output has equilibrated with the energy input from its nuclear power source, its surface temperature cannot rise any further, no matter what you put up around it. This is his categorical, dogmatic stance on this problem: IT WILL NOT WARM!

So how does Postma respond to this easy-to-grasp insulation argument put forward by ‘Tom OregonCity’? If you somehow reduce the output from the sphere, but keep its input constant, then the sphere will of course by necessity warm further. How can this in any way be disputed or rejected?

Like this:

“The surface of the sphere is never cooling, because it has an internal power source, and so a question of “slowed cooling” doesn’t even enter here anywhere.”

I mean, how inanely disingenuous and evasive is this response!? He’s not addressing at all what ‘Tom OregonCity’ is trying to discuss, rather nitpicking on the meaning of the word ‘cool’. And it gets worse. He absolutely will not understand the argument that ‘Tom OregonCity’ presents. ‘Tom OregonCity’ replies:

“This is getting ridiculous. Of course the surface of the sphere is cooling: it is shedding energy to the “outside”. If it were not being cooled by its radiative relationship with space, it would heat to infinite temperature, a physical impossibility but required by your reasoning.

Correctly stated, the surface is being heated by the internal source of energy, and cooled by radiation to space. The claim of “constant temperature” is only valid because in such an operational system, equilibrium will be reached.”

This is simply a matter of the Qin versus the Qout of the sphere. The former ‘heats’ the sphere, the latter ‘cools’ it. Meaning, the Qin always brings energy in to the system while the Qout always brings energy out of it. Elementary stuff, really. And again, ‘Tom OregonCity’ is simply stating some of the more basic principles of thermodynamics.

So does Postma now ‘get’ what ‘Tom OregonCity’ is talking about? Not at all. He just digs his heels in, and of course, to any observing bystander, thereby evidently also digging the hole he’s already in even deeper:

“From http://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/cooling: “the process of becoming cooler; a falling temperature“. The surface of the sphere is a heat source, with constant power input, hence it is not cooling. It is radiating heat to cooler surroundings, because it is a heater – we don’t say that an active heater is cooling, especially when it’s temperature is not dropping.”

Quite fascinating to behold such determined, blinkered obstinacy, don’t you think …?


‘Tom OregonCity’ also points out an obvious inconsistency in Postma’s argumentation, when Postma apparently agrees to the notion that a blanket would insulate a body by suppressing its heat loss through convection:

“Joe also wrote: “having that air which automatically convects and wicks heat away from your skin”.

Admission that the skin is being cooled by the air, but kept from cooling by the blanket.”

Does Postma’s mind open up at this point? Nope:

“That’s not a problem. As was explained and can be easily thought about, if you layered the sphere with a new shell layer of steel, it wouldn’t make the sphere hotter. The sense-perception analogy with an ambient environment and air is false. The physics and math of the situation we’re actually discussing with only radiant emission and vacuum is what is relevant.”

And yet the principle of insulation remains exactly the same in both situations: the slowing of heat loss from the surface of the warm object. Convective, conductive, evaporative or radiative heat loss, it doesn’t matter. Postma just seems utterly unwilling to concede any such point. He seems unwilling to even understand the point being made.

There is even much more to delve into here. Postma’s confusion truly runs deep. But we’ll leave that to another day …


We rather move on to another exchange, the very exchange that prompted me to finally enter the discussion. On a parallel thread to the one where the sound argument of ‘Tom OregonCity’ hit a brick wall of passionate ‘I-can’t-hear-you’-tactics, another commenter, going by the name of ‘Quokka’, attempts the same argument, only with the approach even more incisive. He questions Postma’s unwavering conviction that the sphere absolutely will not warm beyond the original steady-state temperature after equilibration with its internal power source even after the shell is up and starts warming, by presenting him with an analogy:

“A more accurate example might be: suppose I have a cup of coffee, with a small heating element in it, drawing energy from outside, that has reached equilibrium. If I wrap the cup in a huggy, will the temperature go up? And now, the answer is: yes, it most certainly will.

This is, after all, why people wrap their hot water systems in insulation, though the purpose there is not to increase the temperature, but to reduce the amount of time the heating element needs to run for. But if the insulation lets you get the same temperature with less power, obviously it would increase the temperature if you kept the same power level the same.”

A clever and apposite analogy by ‘Quokka’ that should make people think, even make them get the point, the same simple, straightforward, intuitive point that ‘Tom OregonCity’ made on the neighboring thread, that if you insulate a constantly heated object, meaning, you reduce the Qout from an object with an unchanged Qin, then some of the energy supplied as Qin will naturally start piling up inside the object, warming it further. How people cannot and will not see this is beyond me. A schoolchild would see it at once; it’s all basic arithmetic, basic accounting.

Postma, though, true to form refuses to get the message at all, completely blinded by his own dogma: “THE HEATED SPHERE WILL NOT WARM FURTHER WITH THE SHELL AROUND IT!”

His nonsensical response:

“Sorry this is wrong. Adding a layer of steel on top of the inner sphere in the steel greenhouse example doesn’t make the sphere hotter. Nor if the sphere were wrapped in a blanket. You can’t take analogies of everyday things where there is an ambient environment with air and convective cooling etc., and infer that some radiative analogue occurs with a radiative greenhouse effect.

The coffee isn’t the source of heat in any case, just as the atmosphere isn’t. Wrapping the coffee cup with insulation won’t increase temperature of the source of heat, the heating element, just like the atmosphere can’t increase the temperature of its source of heat, which is the surface.”

He just willfully ‘misunderstands’ the analogy altogether. And by that he doesn’t have to relate to it at all, doesn’t have to address what would otherwise destroy his particular view of the world. He just finds a way to justify for himself that it somehow doesn’t concern his argument.

A totally deluded person, bedazzled by the image of his own excellence.

Well, ‘Quokka’ tries one more time (surely knowing it’s useless):

“I’m sorry, does anyone else *seriously* believe that if you add insulation around a hot water heater, and keep running it for the same amount of time, it won’t get hotter? We all know that when you dial up the thermostat on a hot water unit, the heater runs for longer to get the higher temperature – that’s why it costs more. When you install insulation on it, it will then run less often to maintain the same temperature, saving money. Obviously, if you then make the heater run as often as it used to, *by turning up the thermostat*, the tank will get hotter. Is this, or is this not, true? (Please address this example directly, without any “look over here at this shiny steel greenhouse” misdirections)”

This is everyday knowledge to common people. The effect is readily explained by physics. Yet Postma and his bunch fervently deny its relevance. They have simply decided for themselves that this principle doesn’t concern the sphere and the steel shell problem, the matter of the solar-heated surface of the Earth and the massive atmosphere resting on top of it. In this particular case it doesn’t exist.

Why? Hard to tell indeed …

“That’s not what we disagreed with Quokka.

And firstly, we don’t need to state simple things here that have no purpose to the cause, secondly, we’re not adding a layer of insulation around the atmosphere, third, you can’t make the coffee hotter by adding creme, or anything else, to it – the most you can do is change the heat capacity of the coffee, and this does not change its final temperature.

To use the analogy: the heating element is the heat generated by the action of sunlight on the surface, then the coffee is the atmosphere, then there is no analogue at all for putting insulation around the mug, or around the hot water heater, etc., because we’re not wrapping the Earth’s atmosphere with insulation. For the coffee, if you add cream it can’t raise its temperature, no matter if the coffee is still on the warmer and you let equilibrium be achieved again; likewise if you add something to the atmosphere (CO2), it can’t change its equilibrium temperature.”

At this point it is pretty clear Postma knows he’s been cornered and, rather than admit defeat, he employs his full sophistic arsenal to get out of this most precarious position, get himself out of harm’s way, so to speak, and avoid losing face right in front of all his devoted followers watching, seeing him, it appears, as some kind of messianic figure.

So, at this stage I’m afraid I felt I had to enter the fray:

“You appear to misunderstand the analogy. The heating element heats the coffee, just like the Sun heats the surface of the Earth, which means the analogy is: ‘heating element = Sun’, ‘coffee = Earth’s surface’. The insulation put up around the coffee is equivalent to the atmosphere. The Earth’s surface needs to shed most of its energy to the atmosphere and get it transported up through it in order to get it removed all the way out to space, the ultimate heat sink. In the same way, the heated coffee needs to shed its energy through the insulating layer rather than directly to the air surrounding the cup, its final heat sink.

The atmosphere simply insulates the solar-heated surface of the Earth. By being warmer (and heavier) than space.”

Postma, though, seems intent on not getting it:

“Sorry that’s just complete nonsense Kristian.

The heating element for the atmosphere is the Earth’s surface, but THE POWER SOURCE FOR THE EARTH SURFACE HEATING ELEMENT IS THE SUNSHINE. Just like how the power source for the heating element inside the coffee comes from elsewhere, but the element is the heat source. So your analogy is wrong – the Sun is the power source, not the heating element…that’s your mistake. The electrical grid is the power source, not the heating element. The electrical grid = the sun.

He’s just scooting the whole set of equivalents one step to the right in order for him to conclude that “We are not insulating the atmosphere”, from which he can freely dismiss the analogy as irrelevant to his ‘bubble reality’.

Quokka and I say:

  • (a) heating element > (b) coffee > (c) huggy equals
  • (a) the Sun (the provider of heat) > (b) Earth’s surface (the heated object) > (c) the atmosphere (the insulating layer)

I mean, any sane person would immediately spot and understand how the upper chain here is directly equivalent to the lower one. Not Postma, though. He absolutely refuses. He simply tells Quokka, the originator of the analogy, that he is not allowed to draw such parallels. No, he insists that this is how the analogy should be understood:

  • (a) electrical grid > (b) heating element > (c) coffee > (d) huggy equals
  • (a) the Sun > (b) Earth’s surface > (c) the atmosphere > (d) some insulating layer surrounding the atmosphere

Which enables him to say that “There is no such insulating layer surrounding the atmosphere, hence your analogy is irrelevant to the issue at hand”:

“The only correct analogy would be: outside power source for heating element = sunshine; heating element = earth surface; coffee = atmosphere; insulation around coffee mug = analogy for climate pseudoscience greenhouse effect breaks down because there is no insulation being put around the atmosphere, and adding anything to the coffee doesn’t change its equilibrium temperature.”

How mental is this? If this isn’t sophistry in its purest form, please tell me what is!?

And of course he rounds it all off with the following:

“Always be sure to check your logic before making comments; otherwise, learn from your mistakes. The Sun is the power source, the electrical grid is the power source. The Earth surface is the heat source, the heating element is the heat source, etc.

Clever sophistry though, your attempt to explain it that way. Very nice job of sophistry – not that you intended it, just hope you see the correction now.”

A prime example of classic Alinsky tactics. The great Radical projecting his own sophistry onto his opponents. And his disciples rejoice!


I’m sorry I even got involved in this in the first place. I just thought I’d let you know about this particular experience of mine.

From this I will swiftly move back to the ‘How to Heat a Planetary Surface’ series (Part 1 and Part 2).

The point is, I agree with Postma and his adherents on one thing: There is no heating of the surface of the Earth by “back radiation” from the cooler atmosphere. However, I do not agree with them on an equally simple fact: The constantly heated ground WILL warm beyond its pure solar radiative equilibrium temperature with a massive atmosphere on top of it. Because that atmosphere will INSULATE the ground against the infinite ‘cold’ of space. Just like the steel shell does to the sphere in Eschenbach’s ‘Steel Greenhouse’.

The EFFECT is real. The “back radiation” EXPLANATION of it is wrong.

And I will explain why …

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3 comments on “Postma’s confusion

  1. markstoval says:

    I was hoping that you and the folks over there would have a productive discussion so I could better understand the situation. Unfortunately emotions seemed to run high at times.

    I see that Joseph Postma did post a reply on insulation and the steel greenhouse with his latest post. See here: http://climateofsophistry.com/2015/01/21/atmosphere-not-insulation

    I wonder if you could give your opinion on that post. (not the back and forth in comments necessarily)

    By the way, my apologies if my original comment that caused a back and forth caused any discomfort. I certainly did not mean to cause any.

    ~ Mark

    • okulaer says:

      Mark,

      I tried having a productive discussion with Postma over at his blog. It didn’t work. I was immediately dubbed a ‘sophist’. As is so often the case with Postma. Hence this – yes, probably a bit emotionally over-the-top kind of – post.

      There is no ‘discomfort’. I’m just a bit tired of his pigheadedness. He’s so furious that he has lost the ability to deal properly even with those folks who basically agree with him that this “radiative greenhouse back radiation warming” thing is utter bullshit, but who have a different view on the mechanics of – for instance – insulation and how the atmosphere does in fact influence the surface temperature of the Earth (OF COURSE the atmosphere insulates the surface, only it does so with its MASS, making it harder for the energy to escape (convectively/evaporatively), certainly not by returning its own energy by radiation).

      He’s become a bit too much of a fundamentalist for my taste. And I think that has something to do with how he’s been treated by the common “lukewarmer” dimwits. He’s retreated a bit too far into his den.

      I will soon publish my Part 3 on this issue which will (hopefully) clarify my position.

      Cheers 🙂

  2. Quokka says:

    Quokka here. I find Postma’s claims fascinating, and have spent many hours trying to understand them, but it’s like trying to nail jelly to a wall. You quoted him above: “That’s not what we disagreed with Quokka” even though it was, in fact, exactly what he’d disagreed with. He’d explicitly stated that wrapping a blanket around a [powered] steel greenhouse scenario wouldn’t cause it to warm up, but that’s really the same scenario as wrapping a huggy around a powered cup of coffee. Then he changes his mind and tried to make out it was my fault. I tried to examine his ideas in a few threads on his site, and I don’t think I ever got a straight answer to a question, it was always technobabble. It’s like trying to wrestle with a fog bank. And the other commenters are like poster children for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

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