Atmospheric Science: Mushroom Management

Mushroom Management

Researching the Earth’s Atmosphere is a curious occupation because so many intriguing threads end up being parked on the back burner waiting for inspiration or the arrival of [as in accidentally stumble across] further information.

Atmospheric Science, like so many areas of science, appears to apply Mushroom Management techniques.

Mushroom management is a term used to describe a situation where management does not communicate properly with staff members, either purposefully or accidentally.

The term alludes to management treating their staff like mushrooms in that they “keep them in the dark, feed them dung, watch them grow“.

This phenomenon is an anti-pattern most commonly found in organizations which have a strict hierarchy and barriers to cross-organizational communication (especially those with a stovepipe organization) but can be found in any organization.

Wikipedia primarily associates Mushroom Management techniques with Stovepipe Organizations.

A stovepipe organization has a structure which largely or entirely restricts the flow of information within the organisation to up-down through lines of control, inhibiting or preventing cross-organisational communication.

Many traditional, large (especially governmental or transnational) organisations have, or risk falling into having, a stovepipe pattern.

Intelligence organisations may deliberately adopt a stovepipe pattern so that a breach or compromise in one area cannot easily spread to others.

A famous example of this is Bletchley Park (an allied forces Second World War codebreaking centre where messages encrypted by the Enigma machine were decrypted) where people working in one hut would not know what the people in any other hut did.

The Wikipedia article on Stovepipe Organizations neatly avoids mentioning science or academia.

However, academia increasing exhibits stovepipe characteristics.

This is especially true in scientific disciplines where peer review is employed to strictly enforce quality control upon their manufactured settled science [which is frequently made to order for public consumption] so they can maximise their government funding [which may be channelled through NGOs].

Peer review is the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers). It constitutes a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer review methods are employed to maintain standards of quality, improve performance, and provide credibility. In academia peer review is often used to determine an academic paper’s suitability for publication.

“The science is settled” is a slogan attributed by opponents of the Kyoto Protocol and global warming theory to supporters notably in the Clinton administration. There are no known examples of its use outside the skeptic press, though some of the statements that were made have similar implications. The slogan itself has therefore become a detail in the political debate.

In the arena of Atmospheric Science there are many famous examples of Mushroom Management where the public has been fed various grades of academic dung [such as the ozone hole, the greenhouse effect, back radiation and catastrophic anthropomorphic global warming] or been deliberately misled [for example: the mainstream banishing the photodissociation of water vapour and carbon dioxide to outer space].

Therefore fact checking is always advisable when it comes to Atmospheric Science [as in every other branch of science].

However, fact checking is not always easy and in many instances it is impossible.

Even fact checking the basics is fraught with problems.

Wikipedia provides a wonderful example of Mushroom Management with their “major constituents of dry air, by volume” table.

Dry Air

The first problem with this table is that it’s very misleading because it suggests the “major constituents” of the Earth’s Atmosphere are evenly distributed in fixed proportions.

This misdirection is achieved by excluding water vapour from their table.

The concentration of water vapor (a greenhouse gas) varies significantly from around 10 ppmv in the coldest portions of the atmosphere to as much as 5% by volume in hot, humid air masses…
Water Vapour

Because the Earth’s Atmosphere contains water vapour “from around 10 ppmv” to as much as 50,000 ppmv [5%] then the proportions of all the other atmospheric constituents must also vary.

Notice how Wikipedia curiously switches from ppmv to percent when it quotes the range for water vapour in the Earth’s Atmosphere.

Evidently, Wikipedia would prefer the public didn’t realise that 5% water vapour equates to 50,000 ppmv whilst the demonised carbon dioxide only clocks in at 397 ppmv [in dry air].

Regardless of the games played by Wikipedia the bottom line is that the constituents of the Earth’s Atmosphere dynamically vary.

In chemistry and physics, the dimensionless mixing ratio is defined as the abundance of one component of a mixture relative to that of all other components. The term can refer either to mole ratio or mass ratio.
Mole ratio
In atmospheric chemistry, mixing ratio usually refers to the mole ratio, which is defined as the amount of a constituent divided by the total amount of all other constituents in a mixture…

Amount of substance is a standards-defined quantity that measures the size of an ensemble of elementary entities, such as atoms, molecules, electrons, and other particles.
It is a macroscopic property and it is sometimes referred to as chemical amount.
The International System of Units (SI) defines the amount of substance to be proportional to the number of elementary entities present.
The SI unit for amount of substance is the mole.
It has the unit symbol mol.
The mole is defined as the amount of substance that contains an equal number of elementary entities as there are atoms in 12g of the isotope carbon-12.

Mixing Ratios
Methane and Carbon Monoxide in the Troposphere
Atmospheric Physics Group, University of Toronto

Daytime ionospheric and atmospheric composition
These figures also illustrate how O+ dominates the plasma at altitudes from about 150 km to about 600 km, while H+ dominates above about 1000 km. This difference can be important; for instance, the space shuttle encounters primarily an O+ e- plasma at its altitude ~ 300 km permitting collisional charge-exchange with water outgassing from the shuttle and causing the shuttle’s plasma environment to be filled with H2O+ pickup ions and associated plasma waves.

Earth’s Atmosphere – School of Physics, University of Sydney

However, the mainstream’s most grievous misdirection is when they imply the “major constituents” of the Earth’s Atmosphere are static and do not change.

The reality is that the Earth’s Atmosphere varies significantly with altitude so that, for example, atomic oxygen [O] is the dominate constituent of the Earth’s Atmosphere between [about] 200 and 900 kilometres.


Atomic spectra – Institut für Theoretische Physik, Universität Hannover

Sadly, I have yet to find a source that provides a detailed analysis of the Earth’s Atmosphere at ground level or a detailed analysis of how the constituents change with altitude.

Atmospheric Science is compartmentalised and littered with selectivity [and half-truths].

Atmospheric Science is most definitely not holistic.

Evidently, there has been a lot of detailed research and prodigious amounts of data have been collected during the satellite age.

However, it is equally evident that the scientific establishment prefers to keep the public unenlightened by feeding them various grades of academic dung.

Tragically, given the mainstream preference for the three Ms [Mathematics, Modelling and Manipulation] it is doubtful there are many practitioners of the Scientific Method left in Atmospheric Science.

The more you dig the stranger it gets…

Wikipedia has an extended list of constituents of air in their Density of Air article.

2014 - Air Constituents

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17 Responses to Atmospheric Science: Mushroom Management

  1. geran says:

    Ah yes, the “three M’s” of atmospheric science–rings so true. And fits in well with the “fourth M”, Mushrooms”.

    You made many good points, including the slight of H2O (50000 ppm) versus CO2–and “they” are worried about 400 ppm CO2???

    It also brings to mind that other phony science distraction “ERL”–Effective Radiative Level. More Mathematical Manipulation by the Modelers for the Mushrooms!

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  3. George says:

    Evidently, Wikipedia would prefer the public didn’t realise that 5% water vapour equates to 50,000 ppmv whilst the demonised carbon dioxide only clocks in at 397 ppmv [in dry air].

    Yes, but the problem is that it’s not simply the amounts of things that cause an effect. It’s more about how they interact with one another, the processes that take place. This is not a bad description, despite the source. Or here. Summary:

    So skeptics are right in saying that water vapor is the dominant greenhouse gas. What they don’t mention is that the water vapor feedback loop actually makes temperature changes caused by CO2 even bigger.


    This misdirection is achieved by excluding water vapour from their table.

    But it’s not excluded, it’s on the very next row in the table! The split is because the first figures are “dry” and then it makes sense to have “water vapour”.

    Evidently, Wikipedia would prefer the public didn’t realise that 5% water vapour equates to 50,000 ppmv whilst the demonised carbon dioxide only clocks in at 397 ppmv [in dry air].

    But percentage values are provided for everything, so you can still easily compare.

    I’m all for being skeptical of climate change claims – there’s a lot of dubious fluff around – but they need to be robust objections; this sort of thing weakens the argument. Also, Wikipedia is not a great source for this sort of thing, neither is talking about it as if Wikipedia was itself part of some great propaganda conspiracy. Your criticism become ad hominem rather than about the facts or research. It’s not hard to find other, original sources for this info.

    But glad you’re on the case…

    • geran says:

      “I’m all for being skeptical of climate change claims – there’s a lot of dubious fluff around – but they need to be robust objections; this sort of thing weakens the argument.”
      George, who gets to define “robust”? Skeptics have “thrown the book” at the false science of AGW, but, like zombies, they won’t go away. Huge funds are available for their use. Their corruption and perversion of science is historically monumental.

      “Also, Wikipedia is not a great source for this sort of thing, neither is talking about it as if Wikipedia was itself part of some great propaganda conspiracy.”
      Wikipedia is heavily slanted toward AGW. If you don’t call that a propaganda conspiracy, then you have missed the point. (Ever heard of the “Conn-Man”?

      • George says:

        The reader gets to define “robust”, of course, and we must imagine what the less-informed reader might make of our posts. This just doesn’t read very persuasively, it’s too defensive. And we want to appear professional and convincing, don’t we?

        However, the mainstream’s most grievous misdirection is when they imply the “major constituents” of the Earth’s Atmosphere are static and do not change.

        Well, they are static and do not change overall (summed over height), it is no secret that composition, pressure and temperature all vary with altitude though. In fact, it’s implicit within the AGW model that this must be the case, is it not?

        Wikipedia is heavily slanted toward AGW.

        Wikipedia does tend towards the mainstream media view, it’s true, which is AGW. I’m not sure it’s a “propaganda conspiracy” as such, or only in as much as these guys. However, the table example you highlight isn’t really part of that. And attacking sources is just never very persuasive. Meanwhile, it’s fine to point out that science is a funding-fueled endeavour that is therefore likely to follow the “money line” – not necessarily the scientists’ fault. If you can get funding for “The Relationship Between Warming and CO2” but not for “An Investigation Into CO2 Reabsorption And Cooling”, you end up doing the former. Your research will be honest, within its boundaries, but it’s biased by being select-ed. So it’s also not persuasive, of itself. Most scientists are attached to their subject, and to their particular area of experimental or theoretical expertise, but very few are actually dishonest. It takes too long to get there to maintain that. The problem is that there is only funding available for the mainstream ‘topic of the moment’ generally – this applies to laser physics as much as to climate studies. (Rants about missing data don’t persuade either. You can’t convince people about an absence.)

        Arguing against Wikipedia is pretty pointless, because its simply not a quality-science-level publication and is not perceived as such. It’s a scrapbook, and whoever can be bothered to enter and edit an article is probably going to follow the mainstream, noncontroversial angle. And AGW is now seen as noncontroversial, even if we disagree with it. The science is perceived as settled, because pretty much all scientists are with it, whether we like it or not. So – – –

        What’s persuasive is taking the arguments and refuting them. For instance, taking this page and countering its assertions.

        Meanwhile, here is a decent paper on Atmospheric Composition and Vertical Structure which you might find of interest:

        This article considers the gases constituting Earth’s atmosphere and the vertical structure of the atmosphere to roughly 1,000-km altitude.

        Atmospheric Composition and Vertical Structure, Thomas W. Schlatter.

        PS. I’m not intending to be critical here, only constructive and helpful. I hope that comes across!

  4. geran says:

    George, you amuse me. You spew endless words to basically attack what you say you basically support.

    You probably enjoy discussing politics….

    • George says:

      Really not, I’m just doubtful about the approach!

      Atmospheric Science is certainly a hack-job and not yet ready for use as a ‘predictive power’, and it has a problem in that its theories are pretty hard to lock down experimentally, it’s all models, so all sort of ideas get a free pass because of the popularity / influential position of the groups that came up with them.

      But I don’t think attacking a table in Wikipedia (which is pretty clearly labelled) really persuades. Maybe because I don’t see the conspiracy – not as in, a planned effort to mislead. There’s just the conspiracy of people keeping their jobs / the scientific version of bandwagon-jumping because of the funding issues. (Try getting funding for cold fusion either.) It’s not that they are deceiving, it’s that they actually believe it’s true (or in the case of politicians, rather than scientists, it’s just expedient for their aims).

      Do you think scientists are actually lying, or do you think they are just sincere-but-wrong? Note, I mean scientists in the lab doing work, not ‘anti-skeptic’ ranters or politicians, because those people have their own agendas. I tend towards the first interpretation. But maybe I’m just too trusting! 😉

      • George says:

        “it’s that they actually believe it’s true ” – or rather, they believe that the avenue for a particular research project can be investigated.

      • geran says:

        George, one of your un-labeled sites above took me to “skeptical science”. That blog is not “skeptical”, and the “science” is corrupted.

        Do you go to that site to learn science? Do you not see the conspiracy there?

        Or, if you know they present false science, do you criticize them?

      • George says:

        Skeptical Science Blog: No, I agree. That’s what I mean by ‘anti-skeptic ranters’.

        So I guess what I was trying to say is that there are two fronts:

        1. Countering the biased ‘anti-skeptics’, who cherry pick the science to present the view they want to take hold. Propaganda, yes – in that it’s basically political. Note, this is different from the science itself. For this, you just need to demonstrate the “cherry picking” and bias. However, it’s important that we do not adopt the same approach, criticise just presentation, or resort to anything like ad hominem attacks – otherwise the still-unpartial reader just sees us as bad as each other.

        But that’s not sufficient, and nor is it as persuasive or important as –

        2. Showing the flaws in the scientific models, or that they don’t necessarily imply the interpretations attributed to them. This stuff isn’t propaganda (believing that scientist are basically honest), although the actual subject of the studies may be (are) funding-dependent, which of course has a selection bias. This about finding and highlighting genuine scientific studies which cast doubt or allow alternative interpretations.

        Just dealing with the first is always going to be ‘us against them’. Wikipedia analysis doesn’t really help. Without referencing the original sources, we’re just one opinion against another. The only way to persuade people is to highlight alternative conclusions from rigorous work, or highlight the flaws in actual studies. For instance, that atmospheric composition paper is pretty comprehensive – you can skip the maths, jump to the graphs and diagrams and there’s lots of food for thought.

        Because otherwise, to someone who hasn’t reached a conclusion or is tentative about their position, both sides just look like they’re spewing propaganda or superficial attacks.

        My opinion is not that AGW is happening or not, but that it is unproven given the available evidence and the quality of the models. The climate is changing, but the complexity of climate – and the simplicity of the arguments used by either side – mean it is not that persuasive either way, currently. Meaning that pro-AGW is basically a Pascal’s Wager type deal.

        And this sort of stuff – the reporting, the event, or the bias revealed in the comments – isn’t helpful for anyone, for instance. But that’s what happens when it becomes a propaganda battle.

        On Learning Science: Background is in physics and philosophy with an interest in the ‘nature of knowledge and models’, etc. I’m skeptical of any group who sides with a model a being ‘true’ rather than ‘useful and predictive’ and personally identifies with an opinion. Protesting too much, etc! I see scientists as pretty honest in general at the work they do. However, the work they do is dictated by context, the accepted views and hidden assumptions of the time; and by available funding. I see politicians and advocacy groups as biased and prone to propaganda, because they see leverage for other aims (politicians) or emotional reasons (hardline individuals), depending. Sometimes.

      • George says:

        (Sorry, and I should add that you have some great and well-researched articles here. It’s just a bit disappointing when ‘urge to counter’ over-reaches or feels incomplete, like in the above article.)

  5. geran says:

    (Sorry, and I should add that you have some great and well-researched articles here. It’s just a bit disappointing when ‘urge to counter’ over-reaches or feels incomplete, like in the above article.)
    George, aren’t YOU are the one that has the “urge to counter”?

    • George says:

      Yeah, bad phrasing! 🙂

      Sorry if I seemed a bit “ranty”. I’m not ‘countering’ your position. We don’t disagree in our fundamental intention, just maybe in what’s persuasive.

      I’ve read countless essays on science in other areas which use the simplified/viewpoint of Wikipedia articles and say “a-ha, lies”! If you know about the subject, you know that there’s much more detail and subtlety than in Wikipedia’s summary – maybe a book’s worth – so you kind of sigh. That doesn’t matter usually, because it’s just someone’s hobby pet theory (not to say people don’t have good non-mainstream ideas or can’t notice errors!) – but countering AGW is more important and it’ll get lumped in with the rest of them, if we highlight every Wikipedia formatting choice and simplification as a sign of devious intention. 😉

      Anyway – I think I’ve come across as far more aggressive and disagreeable than I really am! 🙂

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