Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #365

By Ken Haapala, President, Science and Environmental Policy Project

Brought to You by Swww.SEPP.org

Quote of the Week:for the purpose of promoting scientific inquiry’ — Cambridge Philosophical Society – See Article # 2

Number of the Week: 2.34 mmb/d

0.04% NOT 0.4%: Last week’s TWTW contained a significant typo, which was caught by a number of readers. The current concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is approximately 0.04%, not 0.4% as erroneously stated. This is based on measurements made at Mauna Loa, an observatory at 3402 m, or 11,200 feet above sea level on the island of Hawaii (the Big Island). The actual average for May was 414.7 parts per million (ppm). It declines as the summer season takes hold in the Northern Hemisphere and plants use photosynthesis to create food and oxygen from CO2 and water. In May 2018, the average was 411.2 ppm. TWTW appreciates those who corrected the typo and regrets any confusion the typo may have caused.

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The Greenhouse Effect – Molecular Spectroscopy: Also last week, using plain English, TWTW tried to explain a complex concept in physics to illustrate that the greenhouse effect is not simple physics, as erroneously claimed by many politicians and climate activists, including magazines considered “scientific.” The explanation was based on an interview of William van Wijngaarden, a professor of physics at York University in Canada, and an unpublished highly technical paper written by van Wijngaarden and Will Happer, which SEPP has reviewed.

In physics, the concept discussed is called molecular spectroscopy:

“Spectroscopy generally is defined as the area of science concerned with the absorption, emission, and scattering of electromagnetic radiation by atoms and molecules, which may be in the gas, liquid, or solid phase. Visible electromagnetic radiation is called light, although the terms light, radiation, and electromagnetic radiation can be used interchangeably. Spectroscopy played a key role in the development of quantum mechanics and is essential to understanding molecular properties and the results of spectroscopic experiments. It is used as a ‘stepping-stone’ to take us to the concepts of quantum mechanics and the quantum mechanical description of molecular properties in order to make the discussion more concrete and less abstract and mathematical.”

Specifically, molecular spectroscopy involves the absorption and emission of electromagnetic photons by molecules. In the high atmosphere (at low pressure) molecules exhibit absorption in narrow lines, in regions of the spectrum called spectral bands; they are characteristic of the molecule as well as the temperature and pressure of its environment. In the lower atmosphere, where the pressure and temperature are higher, the spectral peaks broaden, and the spectral bands have no gaps between the lines.

Photons may be emitted anytime molecules are in an excited state and may go in any direction. Greenhouse gas molecules that are excited by an additional phone my emit it by hitting other molecules. When, the photon travels into space it can be picked up by sensors on satellites, such as Landsat.

The data measured from satellites can then infer information about what altitude the photons were emitted. As van Wijngaarden discussed, these observations are compiled into libraries; they can be used to estimate the greenhouse effect at various latitudes, and to estimate what varies as greenhouse gases increase.

TWTW is not a forum to discuss details of the physics involved. This discussion only demonstrates that the physics is complex, not simple; that the general climate models (especially those of the United States) fail to capture what is physically occurring in the atmosphere with changing greenhouse gases; that contrary to the models, the increasing greenhouse effect is not dangerous. SEPP will suggest reasons why the models greatly overestimate the greenhouse effect; and that the models should be discarded or changed because they are unsuitable for government policy. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy and https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Physical_and_Theoretical_Chemistry_Textbook_Maps/Map%3A_Physical_Chemistry_(McQuarrie_and_Simon)/13%3A_Molecular_Spectroscopy

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The Greenhouse Effect – Logarithmic Not Linear: The influence of carbon dioxide is logarithmic (“natural” logarithms are logarithms to the base e rather than base 10). In his interview van Wijngaarden mentions this topic (which Richard Lindzen has discussed as well). This fact appears to be totally missing in the global climate models relied upon by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its followers, including the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)

The “forcing” of greenhouse gas (in watts per square meter) is directly proportional to the logarithm of the amount of CO2, as compared to some starting amount. In turn, the temperature rise is supposedly proportional to the “forcing.” There is some disagreement about both constants of proportionality.

The reason we hear about the “sensitivity to doubling of CO2” is precisely because of the logarithmic relationship. Related matters are time for an investment to double in value, and half-life of radioactive materials.

Disregarding ozone because it is unimportant in the lower atmosphere, for the troposphere van Wijngaarden doubled CO2, methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) and increased water vapor by 6% in his climate model as an estimate of what would happen with an increase of 1ºC (about 2 ºF). From these changes he calculated that global temperatures would rise by about 1 to 1.5 ºC (about 2 to 3 ºF). Humanity probably would not notice it.

The calculations above, coupled with the calculations by John Christy based on atmospheric temperature trends begin establishing a relationship between greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide and water vapor, and temperatures. [As stated last week, John Christy calculates a doubling of CO2 would result in a warming of about 1.1 ºC. The estimates are remarkably similar given that the estimates were made by different groups, using different databases, and different methodologies (procedures).]

But it must be remembered that water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas, and it must be considered in any such calculations, as it was by van Wijngaarden. And the effect of water vapor is included in the temperature trends calculationed by Christy.

By contrast, the IPCC claims a doubling of CO2 will increase temperatures by 3ºC (plus or minus 1.5 ºC). Evidence suggests that to get that much warming would require at least another doubling of CO2 to 1640 parts per million. To reach the high end of the IPCC estimates would require yet another doubling to 3280 parts per million. Such calculations indicate that there is no end to the earth’s fossil fuels — quite the opposite to what was claimed in the 1970s. IPCC’s estimates of up to 10 ºC require an absurd amount of CO2.

Many of the IPCC models have what Judith Curry calls long, fat tails. A virtual unending of the amount of warming that may happen with increasing CO2. Based on what is happening in the atmosphere, such models are ludicrous. See links under Challenging the Orthodoxy.

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Science – a Political Slogan: The US political season is open, and the term science is being used as a political slogan more frequently than in recent years, though it has often been used in the past. A political poster child is climate change / global warming. How increasing carbon dioxide causes global cooling is not clear, but why bother with messy details?

Unfortunately, the leadership of a large collection of medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, etc. have issued a “Call to Action on Climate, Health, and Equity: A Political Action Agenda. It states:

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats to health America has ever faced—it is a true public health emergency. The health, safety and wellbeing of millions of people in the U.S. have already been harmed by human-caused climate change, and health risks in the future are dire without urgent action to fight climate change. As former Surgeon Generals Richard Carmona and David Satcher said: “We’re all at risk and our leaders must lead on global warming. Now.” But the health crisis caused by climate change also presents a major health opportunity. Building healthy energy, transportation, land use, and agriculture systems now will deliver immediate and sustained health benefits to all and reduce future health risks from climate change.” [Boldface in the original]

“Therefore, we call on government, business, and civil society leaders, elected officials, and candidates for office to recognize climate change as a health emergency and to work across government agencies and with communities and businesses to prioritize action on this Climate, Health and Equity Policy Action Agenda. [Boldface in the original]

Climate change is the “greatest public health challenge of the 21st century.” Extreme heat, powerful storms and floods, year-round wildfires, droughts, and other climate-related events have already caused thousands of deaths and displaced tens of thousands of people in the U.S. from their homes, with significant personal loss and mental health impacts especially for first responders and children. Air pollution, whose primary driver—fossil fuel combustion—is also the primary driver of climate change, causes hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S. annually. Mosquito and tick-borne diseases are spreading to new communities. The agricultural, food, and water systems we depend on for our survival are under threat. Without an urgent and effective response, these harms will greatly increase.” [Boldface in original]

Number 1 of the Priority Actions is:

“Meet and strengthen U.S. commitments under the Paris agreement. A large and rapid reduction in carbon emissions is essential for our health and the health of future generations. The U.S. must recommit to the Paris Agreement and to aggressive emissions reductions sufficient to limit global temperature increases to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and continue to engage with international and national leaders, business, and civil society to encourage and support others to develop multilateral, binding commitments to do the same, The US must ratify and implement the Kigali Amendment to reduce the use of hydrofluorocarbons

Priority Number 2 is:

“Transition rapidly away from the use of coal, oil and natural gas to clean, safe, and renewable energy and energy efficiency. With the technology available today, we can dramatically change U.S. energy use and systems to meet growing energy needs affordably, while reducing climate and air pollution. Proposed policies are

Establish ambitious goals and timelines for renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy conservation.

Support financing for the technologies and infrastructure needed to transition to zero carbon emissions, including development, adoption, and scale-up of renewable energy sources and investments in energy efficiency. Put a price on carbon that reflects its true social costs and phase out investments in and subsidies for fossil fuels for energy extraction and generation.

Ensure that climate policies support sustainable energy for all by promoting distributed renewable energy and zero emission transportation technologies, with a priority on disadvantaged communities.

Support a rapid reduction of petroleum and natural gas use in transportation through steady investment and regulations to increase fuel efficiency and transition to zero emission vehicle technologies as quickly as possible across the transportation sector.

Establish ambitious goals for building efficiency and move toward a zero-carbon future by reducing carbon impacts from new and existing buildings. Transition away from wood burning, oil, and natural gas use for home heating and cooking.”

It goes on including discussion about agriculture. Apparently, the authors and signers do not recognize that CO2 is critical for photosynthesis, upon which all multicellular life is based.

The “call for action” would be far more impressive it if contained a pledge, with definitive times, to stop all use of fossil fuels in powering medical facilities (including electricity generation), emergency vehicles, and water and wastewater purification facilities in which the medical groups are involved.

Since a large part of the medical industry has declared itself to be competent in climate science, one is tempted to ask the doctor at their next visit to carefully explain how Molecular Spectroscopy is used to understand the greenhouse effect or explain the Kigali amendment on which any physician must be an expert. This “call to action” is one example of how the UN IPCC, the USGCRP, and others, have politicized science, especially climate science. See links under Defending the Orthodoxy.

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Playing for the Camera: On her blog, Climate Etc., Judith Curry discusses her recent experiences in testifying before a US House Committee. She questions the practices and utility involved in presenting such testimony. Unfortunately, Curry is learning that for many, such as Mr. Mann, Congressional hearings are just for show, and accomplish little except political posturing. See links under The Political Games Continue.

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Lowering Standards: A reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Russell Gold, wrote an article that was little more than fawning praise for a book he wrote on a wind promoter in Oklahoma. One quote reveals the reporter’s “in depth” analysis:

“Put it all on a big enough grid, one that could use the ample sunshine from the desert Southwest to keep Atlanta’s office towers cool, or the persistent wind in the Great Plains to run Midwestern factories, and you’d address the often-repeated critique of renewable energy: The sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing. On a big enough grid, that’s not an issue. There is wind somewhere and the clouds don’t cover the entire U.S.”

In their blogs, Donn Dears and Francis Menton demolish the article. But what about moving wind turbines when the wind patterns change? In his book, “Energy: A Textbook” Howard Hayden gives some indication of what may be involved. For example, just considering size and weight:

“…a Vestas V-90 1.8 MW [wind turbine] can be placed on an 80-meter (262-foot) or 95-meter (312-foot) tower and has a diameter of 90 meters (295feet). Each of the three blades is 44 meters (144 feet) and has a maximum width of 3.5 m (11.5 feet) and has a mass of 6,700 kg (14,770 pounds). Together, the hub and nacelle weight in at 88 metric tonnes (14,780,000 pounds). The weights of the towers are 155 metric tonnes [342,000 lbs.] (80-m) and 205 metric tonnes [452,000 lbs.] (95-m).”

Then one must stabilize the turbine:

“For this case the wind turbine’s torque on the ground is equivalent to the weight of a large school bus at the end of a plank the length of a football field.” [120 yards or 110 meters]

The small circular part shown above ground “will contain 63 metric tons of concrete [139,000 lbs.]; the rest of the base will contain 570 metric tons [1,254,000 lbs.]. The base will contain 41 metric tons [90,000 lbs.] of rebar.

One can see that it would not be easy to transport wind turbines for changing seasons or weather patterns. Further, it is doubtful that the ideas of placing such turbines on huge balloons could be possible because the ability to stabilize the balloons from buffeting winds and the instability created by the turbines is unlikely. See links under Lower Standards.

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It’s Magic! Earlier in June, a visitor to Finland from France commented it’s 10 degrees C warmer in Helsinki than in Paris. The weather has flipped. Now its much colder in Finland and much warmer in France. News sources are claiming an extreme heat wave in France.

Are the owners of vineyards in Bordeaux, France, worried? NO! The hot, dry weather is destroying the mildew that was forming on the grapes during the cold, wet spring and promoting photosynthesis to give the grapes the necessary sugars to create complex wines.

One cannot predict what will happen in this vintage. Right now, it appears that the heat wave of 2019 may create complex Bordeaux wines in the second and third growth vineyards that are reasonably affordable – It’s Magic! See links under Changing Weather.

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SEPP’S APRIL FOOLS AWARD

THE JACKSON

SEPP is conducting its annual vote for the recipient of the coveted trophy, The Jackson, a lump of coal. Readers are asked to nominate and vote for who they think is most deserving.

Top vote getters include, but are not limited to: U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (Always-on-Camera); Bill Nye, the Science Guy; John Schellnhuber, Director of Potsdam Center for Climate Impacts, advisor to Angela Merkle and Pope Francis; Pope Francis; Theresa May, retiring as UK PM, leaving huge presents; Paul Krugman, NYT columnist and public “intellectual”; and Greta Thunberg, “the young thing.” Voting will close on July 15, extended from June 30, with the winner announced shortly thereafter.

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Number of the Week: 2.34 mmb/d. According to the US Energy Information Agency, in 2018 the US imported 9.93 million barrels of oil per day (mmb/d) and exported 7.59 mmb/d for a net import of 2.34 mmb/d for the year. The top five source countries of U.S. petroleum imports in 2018 were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=727&t=6

The US refineries on the Gulf Coast need to blend a combination of heavy crude and the light crude that is usually produced by hydraulic fracturing. The change in imports has been dramatic. “U.S. Gulf Coast crude oil imports averaged 1.8 million barrels per day (b/d) in March 2019, the lowest level since March 1986 and significantly lower than the peak of 6.6 million b/d in March 2007. Preliminary weekly data indicate that Gulf Coast crude oil imports have averaged about 1.9 million b/d through April and May.”

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ARTICLES

1. ‘Life Finds a Way’ and ‘Good Enough’ Review: The Drive to Thrive

Evolution is a process of solving real-world problems, not achieving abstract ideals. Some solutions are just good enough.

By David P. Barash, WSJ, June 28, 2019

https://www.wsj.com/articles/life-finds-a-way-and-good-enough-review-the-drive-to-thrive-11561759246?mod=ig_booksjune29

SUMMARY: In reviewing two books, “Life Finds a Way” by Andreas Wagner, and “Good Enough” Daniel Milo, the author, a professor of psychology emeritus, brings up many interesting facets of species adaption and evolution. He writes:

“Human beings are well adapted critters, but hardly perfect. Our knees and lower backs are frequent problems, a man’s prostate is awkwardly close to his urethra (sometimes requiring surgery), a woman’s birth canal is sometimes too small for an infant’s head (necessitating Caesarean delivery). In sum, we were not ‘intelligently designed’ but are the products of an evolutionary path filled with twists and turns, chance events and accidents. The process of natural selection maximizes fitness but is limited by what came before.

“In the 1930s, the biologist Sewall Wright introduced the concept of ‘adaptive landscapes,’ a useful way of conceptualizing evolutionary fitness by imagining living things on a multi-dimensional topography in which altitude indicates degree of adaptation. As with a real mountain landscape, an organism restricted to only going blindly uphill would eventually hit a cliff, and be doomed to languish at a less-than-optimal elevation. Sometimes you need to double back, or descend a bit, in order to attain the heights. Sometimes you find a new path, but one determined by where you started.

“In ‘Life Finds a Way,’ Andreas Wagner, a professor at the University of Zurich, underscores that evolution is a process of solving real-world problems, not achieving some abstract ideal. ‘Among the many paths that lead toward a peak, only a few reach it,’ he writes. ‘On the remaining paths, natural selection dead-ends below the highest peak—sometimes far below. In evolution’s landscapes, a climber’s risk of getting stuck near base camp is very real.’ Mr. Wagner’s key question is how nature enables an evolving species to avoid getting stuck on dead-end, low rise peaks. He answers by taking the reader on an impressively brisk intellectual tour through the glory days of early 20th-century evolutionary biology, when such polymaths as Wright, R.A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane connected genetics and natural selection, birthing the ‘neo-Darwinian synthesis’ that still illuminates the field.

“The book’s opening chapter, ‘The Cartography of Evolution,’ is an accessible nonmathematical introduction to population genetics, natural selection and evolution. Then, ‘On the Importance of Going Through Hell’ recounts how genetic sloughs of despond (such as inbreeding and intermittently maladaptive small group size) can often be prerequisites to ascending to higher fitness, through the process of small random changes in populations that Wright called ‘genetic drift.’ ‘Teleportation in Genetic Landscapes’ shows how sexual reproduction, with its unpredictable recombination of parental genomes, opens the door to adaptive novelty not available to organisms that replicate asexually.

“Mr. Wagner next takes an interesting further step, showing that evolution isn’t nature’s only problem-solving mechanism. ‘Of Diamonds and Snowflakes’ explores molecular structures based on minimizing energy expenditure. He points out that ‘many acts of creation are acts of problem solving. A gleaming quartz crystal embodies a solution to the problem of finding a stable arrangement of silicon and oxygen atoms. A metabolic enzyme breaking down glucose has solved the problem of harvesting energy from carbon bonds.’

“In later chapters, Mr. Wagner moves beyond evolutionary mechanisms to discuss creative problem-solving more generally. ‘Darwin in the Mind’ suggests that human intellectual creativity is a microcosm of Darwinian evolution, played out inside our heads, while a chapter called ‘Creative Machines’ describes how computers generate novelty. If ‘Life Finds a Way’ disappoints, it is only when the author tries to suggest what’s needed to cultivate creative problem-solving on a societal level. It is hardly original, in this regard, to recommend exchange of ideas, tolerance of failure, an abundance of free, unstructured time and an attitude of playfulness.

“Daniel Milo’s ‘Good Enough’ parallels ‘Life Finds a Way’ in seeking to apply insights from evolution to a human cultural phenomenon. But that is the only similarity. It is painfully obvious that Mr. Milo, chair of Natural Philosophy at Paris’s École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, isn’t a biologist. He is nonetheless eager to critique what he sees as biology’s excessive embrace of the theory of natural selection, which he blames for valorizing ‘Darwinian’ competition at the societal level.”

The author of the review concludes with further criticism of Milo’s book.

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‘The Spirit of Inquiry’ Review: Inventing the Scientist

A history of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, a forum for the ‘spirit of inquiry’ founded 200 years ago this year.

By Christoph Irmscher, WSJ, June 28, 2019

https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-spirit-of-inquiry-review-inventing-the-scientist-11561732216?mod=ig_booksjune29

SUMMARY: In reviewing the book prepared for the 200th anniversary of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, the author writes:

‘We like to tell tales of scientific discovery as if they were mostly the work of heroic individuals, thrust into glorious awareness during moments of epiphany: Archimedes figuring out how to measure the volume of objects while taking a bath and then running naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting ‘Eureka!’; young Newton bonked on the head by a falling apple and thus coming up with the idea of the law of gravity; Darwin glimpsing the outlines of natural selection in the beaks of unsuspecting Galápagos finches; Marie Curie’s lab illuminated, on a dark December night in Paris, by the bluish glow of the new element radium. The reality was often quite different: For example, it took the services of John Gould, preserver of the collections at the London Zoological Society, to help Darwin understand what he had seen in the Galápagos (Gould quite appropriately excoriated him for not taking better notes).

“We prefer to think of history not as ‘swaddled with darkness,’ in that wonderful phrase from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Gerontion,’ but as punctuated by moments of rapt wonder. Susannah Gibson’s brilliant study of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, ‘The Spirit of Inquiry,’ a model of what happens when a skilled historian breathes new life into dusty archival material, suggests another option: to think of scientific progress as a series of incremental changes over time, born, at least in part, from looking, listening, reading, talking, dreaming and dining together.

“Ms. Gibson’s bicentennial tribute beautifully re-creates the history of the society, which was conceived by a pair of Cambridge men, Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), the Woodwardian Professor of Geology, and John Stevens Henslow (1796-1861), a recent graduate and convert to geological fieldwork. Away from the stuffy classrooms of the university, collecting fossils on the shores of the Isle of Wight, where the Continent seemed almost within reach, they became painfully aware of the backward state of scientific knowledge in their country. Sedgwick, a poor pastor’s son from Yorkshire, gripped early on by ‘mathematical mania,’ had worked hard to get to where he was. Science was a deeply personal matter to him, filling his waking hours as well as his nights, when mathematical symbols danced through his dreams. Once Sedgwick had been a dancing man himself, of a different sort, and had even fallen ‘three-quarters’ in love with a girl, but Cambridge Fellows were required to remain bachelors. Arguably, it was a kind of love, too, when, in November 1819, Sedgwick, Henslow and their friends sat down to establish the Cambridge Philosophical Society, solemnly vowing to ‘keep alive the spirit of inquiry.’

“In the early 1800s, Cambridge was not the most exciting place to be. Caught in the tight web of religious orthodoxy, closed to Jews, Catholics and women alike, it was thought of as little more than a finishing school for future clergy. The founders of the new society decided that if Cambridge wasn’t about to open up to the world, they would have the world come to Cambridge. Adopting Isaac Newton as their patron saint and limiting membership to graduates of the university, they weren’t going to question the supremacy of mathematics enshrined in the curriculum. And yet, widening the horizons of inquiry, society members slowly dismantled old models of thought, replacing the natural philosopher of old with the more specialized ‘scientist,’ a term that was, as it happened, coined by one of the society’s most prominent members, the Trinity College polymath William Whewell.

Meetings took place every second Monday during the term, from 7 p.m. to 9. Guests were welcome, including women, although they had to wait until later in the century to give lectures (and even longer to get full membership). Behind the arched windows of the society’s headquarters at 2 All Saints Passage in Cambridge, lit by flickering gaslight, the world unfolded to the spellbound members as they peered at collections of shimmering butterflies, intricately shaped shells and outlandish fossils, or as they listened to lectures on topics ranging from Phoenician archaeology and celestial mechanics to the best ways of preventing railroad accidents. The society’s peer-reviewed journal, Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, was dispatched to scientific institutions all over the world, in the hope that they would reciprocate by mailing their publications, which they did. In due course, the society’s library and reading room, where, in Ms. Gibson’s felicitous phrase, the ‘ungentlemanly hogging of the newspapers’ was frowned upon, became sites of excited discovery, too.

“Ms. Gibson rightly dwells on a signature moment in the society’s history. At a meeting in November 1835, Henslow read young Charles Darwin’s breathless letters from South America sharing stories about seashells found at elevations of thousands of feet and about the eerie stillness of the Andean Mountains, where it seemed as if the Earth’s crust had cracked open just yesterday. Had the members realized that Henslow’s friend was inching toward a theory that would upset everything they believed, they would have been far less pleased when Darwin returned to Cambridge a year later, laden with specimens and itching to talk about his exploits (‘it went off very prosperously,’ he bragged to his sister Caroline).

“Evolution, to the skeptical minds of these Cambridge savants, was poppycock, pure and simple. ‘Before [a student] can reach that elevation from whence he may look down upon and comprehend the mysteries of the natural world,’ Sedgwick intoned, ‘his way is steep and toilsome, and he must read the records of creation, in a strange, and to many minds, a repulsive language, which rejecting both the senses and the imagination, speaks only to the understanding.’ Once you had learned to use that language properly (and Sedgwick was talking about math, of course), the world was yours. In Sedgwick’s skeptical view, Darwin had skipped more than a couple of steps on that arduous path toward enlightenment; the transmutation of species was nothing but a ‘phrensied dream.’ But when Sedgwick proceeded to lambaste Darwin in public, the mild-mannered Henslow pulled him back. By the turn of the century, society members were celebrating Darwin’s memory.

“There is something quite heartening about a book buoyed by the unshakable belief that everything will come out all right in the end. The only serpent in Ms. Gibson’s enchanted garden of discovery is the aptly named John Crouch, the society’s dark-suited, live-in custodian until 1851, a character of Dickensian proportions, who had spent years quietly fiddling the books, diverting, for some unknown purpose, a significant portion of the society’s funds his way. While Crouch’s nefarious doings forced the society to give up its separate quarters, dissolve its collections and move into Cambridge University’s New Museums building, this shift also led to greater cooperation between the society and the university, changing both of them for the better.

“Mostly, that is. Take the gigantic anthropometric project that would soon take shape in the society’s new library, where thousands of undergraduates subjected themselves to procedures that measured their heads every which way, with the loosely eugenicist goal of finding correlations between head size and intelligence (read: high honors in college). Ms. Gibson charitably reads these efforts as the inevitable result of the honorable Cantabrigian impulse to drag math into every field of knowledge. Fittingly, those dismal biometric records went missing for decades, until they were located in a tea chest at the university’s zoology museum.”

The author concludes with a positive discussion of the admission of woman into the Society and a negative discussion of the nuclear research undertaken by some of its later members.

CONTINUE READING –>

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