The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), established in Geneva in 1954, is a leading laboratory for physics research, involving over 2,400 employees and nearly 8,000 physicists and engineers from universities around the world. In July the head of CERN issued an interesting gag order, prohibiting scientists from drawing conclusions from a major experiment. The director is not speaking about leaking results, since scientists often do, in fact, just that by making conference presentations prior to publication. What worried the director was discussion of the whether the results might be counter to the politically popular paradigm that human CO2 emissions will end life as we know it. What should have worried the director is the possibility that scientists would quash exciting results because of politics. In an interview with a German newspaper, he said the following:
I have asked the colleagues to present the results clearly, but not to interpret them. That would go immediately into the highly political arena of the climate change debate. One has to make clear that cosmic radiation is only one of many parameters.
This is an odd way of interfering with science. Was it because the results were suspect, the scientists incompetent or corrupt, or that public discussion might compromise future experiments as competing laboratories used new results to leapfrog over the CERN team? Were it any one of these things which prompted the director to issue his gag order, one might at least have some sympathy for his position. The first results of the experiment, published this week, suggest another possibility.
The CLOUD (“Cosmics Leaving Outdoor Droplets”) experiment examines the role that energetic particles from deep space play in cloud formation. CLOUD is designed to study the effects of cosmic rays on aerosols, cloud droplets and ice particles, under precisely controlled laboratory conditions.
Had the CLOUD results falsified the hypothesis that cosmic rays seed clouds, thus influencing climate, would the director have issued a gag order? It seems odd that merely stating ‘No,’ the hypothesis is falsified would be worthy of a gag. And if the hypothesis was not falsified, if it appears that cosmic rays do seed clouds, why would that positive result, indeed a very exciting scientific result, be worthy of a gag order?
Was the director concerned that the results would undermine the already extremely weak arguments that global warming from roughly the middle of the 1970s to near the end of the 1990s (there has been none since) was almost entirely the result of human-caused processes? The CLOUD experiment could then turn into an embarrassment for the many governments funding CERN, each of which had committed enormous political and economic capital to ameliorating the alleged effects of human economic activity on the climate of our planet.
Before going further into the details of the CLOUD results, it would be good to know more about cosmic rays.
Cosmic rays were discovered in Austria by Victor Hess in the early 1900s. During balloon flights he and other physicists carried electroscopes to high altitudes with the goal of measuring ionizing radiation in the atmosphere. An electroscope is a device that can measure ionizing radiation, like cosmic rays, and is similar in function to the geiger counter which measures radiation. This was cutting edge science, and Hess was often on the edge, later being the first also to measure gamma rays — ultra-high energy light — with geiger counters.
Physicists were puzzled because the expectation was that since the earth was the only source of radiation (yes, Virginia, even remote unreached aborigines are constantly bathed in radiation from natural sources), as one measured radiation from a balloon, the radiation intensity should drop with altitude, because one was receding from the source. Hess found that as altitude increased, ionizing radiation did indeed decrease, as expected.
However, with still further increasing altitude, something surprising was discovered. The radiation levels suddenly increased. The implication of this discovery was that ionizing radiation exists naturally not only on the surface of the earth, but is also coming from space.
Since space is mostly empty, when the ionizing radiation from space encounters the very dense atmosphere of the Earth it is steadily absorbed until very little of it is observed beyond a certain altitude.
Hess had discovered cosmic rays. At first it was thought that these were indeed rays — very high energy electromagnetic radiation. However, cosmic rays are particles. They are energetic charged subatomic particles, originating from outer space. But if space is mostly empty, where do the rays come from?
The most common type of cosmic ray, comprising about 89% of all cosmic rays, are protons. A mere 10% are helium nuclei, and 1% are the nuclei of heavier elements. Cosmic rays have extremely high energies, as can be seen from the figure above, replicated from Hess’ research, which delivered to him the Nobel prize in physics in later years, after he had moved to the United States.
When cosmic rays penetrate our planet’s atmosphere they can cause cosmic ray showers when secondary particles are produced through collisions with the atoms and molecules in our atmosphere. Cosmic rays interact very strongly with matter.
Three major types of cosmic rays are classified according to their sources. The first is galactic cosmic rays (GCR) which originate from within our galaxy. Second are anomalous cosmic rays (ACR) which have an unknown source. Third, solar energetic particles (SEP) originate in the star closest to us — the Sun, and are modulated by its roughly 11-year solar cycle.
The CLOUD experiment
CLOUD’s genesis is in the mid-1990s, when space physicist Hendrik Svensmark hypothesized that cosmic rays as mediated by solar effects, play a very large role on the physics of climate, and could explain the warming and cooling trends. Svensmark’s research, performed at the Danish Space Research Institute, was met by immediate outrage. Hardly a moment thereafter, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) denounced Svensmark, and presumably also his theory, saying,
“I find the move from this pair scientifically extremely naïve and irresponsible.”
The only possible reason for saying this, is the recognition that the whole issue of global warming, as it was then called, was politically charged and carefully calculated to have specific political ramifications. Svensmark was presumably ‘irresponsible’ because the data which he marshaled was not favorable to the hypothesis being marketed by the IPCC, and therefore could derail the whole political process which had theretofore been so carefully orchestrated. Svensmark was the child pointing out that the Emperor appeared naked as a jay bird.
Svensmark had the nerve to hypothesize that most of the global warming of the 20th Century can be explained by the reduction in cosmic rays due to livelier solar activity, resulting in less low cloud cover and warmer surface temperatures. But this was not the only offence. Svensmark was presumably naïve — no, extremely naïve — because he was so idealistic as to prefer science over politics. Follow the evidence wherever it leads; ask difficult questions; question authority. This is how science should work.
Jasper Kirkby, a CERN scientist became aware of the Svensmark hypothesis, and found it worthy of investigation. He developed a plan to create a cloud chamber — he called it CLOUD, for “Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets,” in which to simulate the interaction of cosmic rays with our atmosphere.
The outrage from the global warming industry, which bears all the marks of an unfortunate chimera, a government-scientific-industrial complex if ever there was one, was to say the least, very cool. Kirkby’s interesting experiment was set aside for over a decade, until now. According to Lawrence Solomon,
“The global warming establishment sprang into action, pressured the Western governments that control CERN, and almost immediately succeeded in suspending CLOUD. It took Mr. Kirkby almost a decade of negotiation with his superiors, and who knows how many compromises and unspoken commitments, to convince the CERN bureaucracy to allow the project to proceed. And years more to create the cloud chamber and convincingly validate the Danes’ groundbreaking theory.”
It is remarkable that — and this should not be overlooked — a potentially game changing experiment like this should be mothballed, at such an urgent moment. I know not one adult who cannot repeat the mantra that we hear endlessly, but we must act now, that delay means doom, that the planet is in peril. Given the urgency of the crisis one would hope that cooler heads prevail. One would hope that governments, as they prepare to take evasive actions to save humanity and the planet, actions that would doom their economies and people to grinding poverty and unprecedented losses of freedom, would do due diligence and investigate compelling counter arguments. And at the forefront should be scientists.
Svensmark and Kirby had done their duty. They had done even more, with Svensmark leading the important proof of concept SKY experiment showing the feasibility of his hypothesis. Why, then, has Svensmark suffered so much at the hands of the scientific colleagues who should applaud his efforts? For the past decade and more, he has been vilified and mocked, called a denier, and had to walk around at scientific meetings carrying a sense of shame, a card carrying ‘denier’, as if his credentials had been called into question? If the scientific establishment was a guild, Svensmark would have been excommunicated.
How dangerous it is to question the ruling paradigm of human caused global warming, a once interesting idea that the United Nations latched onto with all the enthusiasm of a fox in a hen coop, simultaneously drawing the interest of various national governments, and dragging with it many unwitting but eager scientifically credentialed sycophants.
Ironically, the World Wide Web, which CERN invented, is in large part to thank for the fact that Svensmark is largely vindicated by this experiment, and that his vindication is being publicized. As James Delingpole, at the Telegraph, notes, establishment media is paying scant attention to the results of this important experiment. They are ignoring CLOUD results, just as they ignored Svensmark’s decade old excellent work challenging the increasingly feeble, but politically powerful human-global warming hypothesis. But the cracks are widening and the monument to the politicization of science may soon come crashing down.
Svensmark is a scientist, and is by no means won over to his very own pet hypothesis. He says he thought the solar-cosmic ray-climate link was only one of four significant factors: man-made factors, volcanoes, a “regime shift” in the mid-’70s, and cosmic rays. Again, this is how science should function. One should question and challenge cherished hypotheses, especially our own. None of this business about consensus, and settled science, and being quiet about results that are not politically correct.
After reading the paper published by Kirkby et al. in the journal Nature, the gag order by the director of CERN seems gratuitous and petty. The director who stated that he wished no one to interfere with the current global warming adventures proposed by the funding governments, simply makes clear his own fears and prejudices. The director’s nervous fretting, so unedifying and so unnecessary, is no doubt related to statements like this, in the Kirkby et al. paper:
“Because the primary source of ions in the global troposphere is galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), their role in atmospheric nucleation is of considerable interest as a possible physical mechanism for climate variability caused by the Sun.”
They state, in other words, that their results have direct bearing on the global warming issues, issues currently before governments faced with heavy lobbying from wealthy environmentalist groups, and the United Nations, which just this year will arrange around 38 meetings in 17 countries to push the theme, not counting the other enormous resources they have devoted to the theme that humans are destroying the planet.
Kirby et al. find that the net result of the published experimental results, is that:
“Ground-level GCR ionization substantially increases the nucleation rate of sulphuric acid and sulphuric acid–ammonia particles, by between twofold and tenfold or more, provided that the nucleation rate lies below the limiting ion-pair production rate.”
The results almost need no explanation. But just to be even clearer, in plain English, what this means is that for the most part it appears that galactic cosmic rays significantly increase the formation of cloud nucleation, the formation of a seed about which vapor can condense, perhaps orders of magnitude more than previously known. More experiments are needed to explore the full extent of the effects that have been uncovered.
Further, things get even more exciting when different chemistry is considered,
“We find that atmospherically relevant ammonia mixing ratios of 100 parts per trillion by volume, or less, increase the nucleation rate of sulphuric acid particles more than 100–1,000-fold.”
“Ion-induced nucleation [cosmic ray action] will manifest itself as a steady production of new particles [molecular clusters] that is difficult to isolate in atmospheric observations because of other sources of variability but is nevertheless taking place and could be quite large when averaged globally over the troposphere [the lower atmosphere].”
TRANSLATION: Cosmic rays entering our atmosphere will manifest as a steady production of new molecular clusters could be quite large when averaged globally over the the lower atmosphere.
Physicist and science journalist, Nigel Calder, wonders what would have happened if Svensmark had not been blocked and frustrated, if CLOUD had lofted ahead rather than held back. He writes,
“Retracing those 14 years, what if physics had functioned as it is supposed to do? What if CLOUD, quickly approved and funded, had verified the Svensmark effect with all the authority of CERN, in the early 2000s. What if the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had done a responsible job, acknowledging the role of the Sun and curtailing the prophecies of catastrophic warming?
For a start there would have no surprise about the “travesty” that global warming has stopped since the mid-1990s, with the Sun becoming sulky. Vast sums might have been saved on misdirected research and technology, and on climate change fests and wheezes of every kind. The world’s poor and their fragile living environment could have had far more useful help than precautions against warming.
And there would have been less time for so many eminent folk from science, politics, industry, finance, the media and the arts to be taken in by man-made climate catastrophe. (In London, for example, from the Royal Society to the National Theatre.) Sadly for them, in the past ten years they’ve crowded with their warmist badges into a Hall of Shame, like bankers before the crash.”
CERN is entirely dependent on annual funding from the governments of its member states, to the tune of almost €700 million each year (about US$1 billion). This suggests that those associated with CERN are advised to explore science that is approved by the governments which pay its bills. For instance, budget cuts last year, forced the mothballing, for over a year, maybe more, of the entire CERN accelerator complex, and no doubt contributed mightily to the CERN director’s discomfort. So, for now, no more smashing protons together at near the speed of light.
The director fretted over CLOUD because he is well aware that when government bureaucrats desire more of a particular behavior or good, for instance education and research laboratories, then they fund it massively, and waive taxes, fees, and regulations.
“If somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Barack Obama, 2008
The corollary, government bureaucrats conclude, is that one of the best ways to discourage behaviors of which they disapprove is to tax and regulate it into oblivion, as is seen in the US through the current assaults on power generating capacity by the Environmental Protection Agency. Hard totalitarians simply exiled their unreconstructed subjects and critics to Siberia, but soft totalitarians prefer tying their subjects in a morass of ever thickening regulations, denying their critics any airtime – slow starvation being so much more humane and progressive.
But the truth will out. This is an instance where the persistence of one man, Henrik Svensmark, who is the real hero of this story, could – in a rational world – change the course of history for billions of people. Unfortunately, the global warming train has gathered so much momentum through the acquiescence of scientists, who should know better, or large businesses like General Electric, who should know better, and the politicians, who can’t help themselves.
Could the CLOUD experiment derail the global warming bandwagon? Someone could get hurt. I believe the only possibility of this happening is if scientists begin to develop a backbone, and resist the lure of all the money being thrown at them, to the tune of billions of dollars each year, to produce results that politicians and the United Nations urgently desire in order to justify policies that will, unfortunately, dramatically reduce human liberty and prosperity.
Now that there are increasing results that are not consistent with the human caused global warming paradigm, perhaps scientists who are not yet totally corrupted, will no longer simply go along to get along, but begin instead to ask the hard questions.