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Discerning Deceptions in Science

May 2022

While information science suffers from the usual EuroSplaining, WhiteSplaining and ManSplaining, it largely escapes the far more ubiquitous MeatSplaining that dominates our industrial civilization.

Climate Healers

When I successfully completed my Ph. D. thesis defense at the Information Systems Laboratory of Stanford University in 1985, I went to my advisor, Prof. Thomas Kailath and asked him,

“Is this what a Ph.D. is all about? I feel like I know everything about nothing. I took one problem and beat it to death. Is this why you gave me a Ph.D.?”

He replied,

“No, I gave you a Ph.D. because I think you are capable of tackling any problem in any field and making a credible contribution.”

I owe him a lifetime of gratitude for giving me that auspicious start to my systems engineering career. Over the course of this career, I have trained myself to discern solid science from industry sponsored puff pieces and other deceptive articles in science. In a world largely shaped by special interests, there is plenty of the latter, even from reputable academic sources.

In general, scientists report to their funders while engineers, and especially systems engineers, ultimately report to Mother Nature. If what we are building is not in alignment with nature, engineers will get found out sooner or later and systems engineers typically take the brunt of the blame. Over the course of nearly 40 years, I have scars to prove it.

However, I have never seen the extreme level of deceptions in science until I began looking into nutrition science and climate science. Scientists who work on transistor physics and electrical communication don’t seem to cause as much fluttering of moneyed, special interests as scientists who work on nutrition and climate. While information science suffers from the usual EuroSplaining, WhiteSplaining and ManSplaining, it largely escapes the far more ubiquitous MeatSplaining that dominates our industrial civilization.

When it comes to climate and nutrition, not only are scientists greatly influenced by special interests, but also by their taste buds and barbecue recipes. The resulting MeatSplaining is almost comical when seen through a dispassionate, systems engineering lens. Specifically, when it comes to the impact of animal agriculture on the climate, scientists suddenly seem to develop fog in the brain to even perform long division accurately. They develop fat fingers that can’t even punch buttons on their calculators correctly.

Discerning deceptions in science is an art, but there are tools that I use as a systems engineer to sniff them out. One such tool is to look for inconsistency in the data. For instance, the UN IPCC has documented that of the 39 Gigatons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere annually from fossil fuel burning, only 17.6 Gigatons remains in the atmosphere while 21.4 Gigatons is sequestered on land and in the ocean, despite all the depredations that industrial civilization is causing on earth.

Think about that. Despite burning down an additional 30 million acres of pristine forests each year, despite causing 20 million acres of land to desertify each year, despite all the pasture maintenance fires on grazing land – 37% of the ice-free land area of the planet, despite bottom trawling 4 billion acres of the ocean floor to catch the last remaining fish, nature is storing away 55% of our fossil fuel CO2 emissions.

While reputable climate scientists, such as Dr. James Hansen, freely admit that they don’t know how exactly 21.4 Gigatons of our fossil fuel CO2 emissions gets sequestered annually, other reputable climate scientists assert with certainty that if we stop doing all these depredations and release 80% of the earth’s surface back to Mother Nature, she will only sequester an additional 12 Gigatons of CO2 annually and no more.

It makes me wonder whether the steak dinner they ate at the American Geophysical Union Fall meeting banquet – yes, they were serving steak as the main course at the AGU Fall Meeting banquet I attended in 2015 and I have been boycotting these meetings ever since – had anything to do with their certainty on this upper bound.

use map

Unfortunately for them, the UN IPCC also reported that domestic animals are currently consuming 7.27 Gigatons of dry matter biomass annually, which contains (7.27*0.5*44/12 = 13.3) Gigatons of CO2 embedded in it. Since this food is already being sequestered by nature in the form of above-ground vegetation and then consumed by domestic animals, such sequestration would have remained in above-ground vegetation if these animals weren’t around. We can then triple this amount to take into account CO2 sequestration in soil and below ground root systems, thereby making the total sequestration at least 39.9 Gigatons of CO2 if the animals weren’t around.

We can deduct a small portion of that to take into account the 12% of human foods that these animals are providing and hence calculate the opportunity cost of animal agriculture, the lost CO2 sequestration due to our unnecessary indulgence in disease-promoting, planet-destroying animal foods, to be at least 34.5 Gigatons of CO2.

So, how can climate scientists come up with an upper bound that is one-third the lower bound that we can calculate based on the IPCC’s own numbers and that is consistent with other biophysical considerations such as CO2 from animal respiration?

The only plausible explanation is that the upper bound is part of the pervasive MeatSplaining in our culture and any systems engineer worth her or his salt ought to sniff it out as such.

So what’s stopping us from doing the right thing? Nothing.

Eat plants.

Plant trees.

Love animals.

Heal the planet.

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