Return to Website

Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
Start a New Topic 
Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

April 1st comes around and I get caught by something or other so I tend to be wary.
But who would think that MIT would perpetrate an April Fool's joke? Not MIT. From the date on the article, April 11th, it appears they are serious.
Over at WUWT virtually no one is fooled nor on other sites where it is being discussed but MIT Professor Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli believes she has found a way to make the conversion of CO2 to CH4 more efficient.
The proposal is that CO2 released from fossil fuel burning is converted to CH4 using Au coated Cu nanoparticles as catalysts.
The CH4 is then used as a fuel.
The fact that this is as obvious energy sink seems to have escaped her attention. Or maybe the blame will be laid at the door of the MIT news person Jenifer Chu for not understanding a word that was said to her. Or maybe the interview was massaged.
That copper Nano particles will act as a catalyst and will reduce the energy required may be good science. To suppose that anything useful will come of it is questionable. To suggest that it will make fossil fuel burning more efficient instead of less is vary bad.
But if MIT is bad, what about Nature?
I read this when I was a student. It was densely written articles only some of which were relevant to my studies. But it was honest objective and reliable.
Today it is little more than a propaganda rag with all the credibility of Pravda. Who says the communists didn't have a sense of humour; Pravda means "Truth".
Today's seems somewhat dumbed down and to have suspended proper peer reviews. Perhaps the greenie NGO's have taken it over. But it is depressing to see this once great magazine perverted to such an extent that it can never again be considered as trustworthy.
The hype that surrounds the paper in question is here:
This is the sort of headline you'd expect from a Red Top. Since when was it ever necessary for Nature to hype papers in its own journal?
The paper itself is thoroughly analysed in WUWT and it seems that it is very easily debunked which makes you wonder seriously about the quality of the Nature peer review process. More of the CRU manipulations perhaps? But surely the end of Nature as a credible journal.

Re: Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

Anyone or any publication that refers to oil or natural gas as 'fossil fuels' has ZERO credibility.

There is no way that oil and natural gas could be formed from fossils.

Besides, much of it is found at levels that are far below any fossil level.

Re: Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

Sorry, Gary. "Fossil" simply means "dug up" and, although in modern times is used to refer only to accidentally buried plant and animal remains, has in the past been used of archaeological artifacts.

Oil and gas are both formed from buried organic remains and so are quite reasonably described as "fossil fuels", distinguished thereby from nuclear fuels and biomass.

Re: Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

I think Gary must be referring to the abiotic hypothesis of oil & gas.

Theoretically possible and demonstrated in a lab, there is no evidence to support the hypothesis in the real World.

As it is possible however, I'm not going to dismiss the hypothesis out of hand. Count me as a fence sitter.

Re: Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

We are as of now getting crude oil from depths far below any plant or organic organisms have ever been present. How about drilling at depths of 3 miles (from the bed, already 3 miled down, in the sea-bed in the gulf of Mexico. And how about all the methane on Titan, a moon of Jupiter? Do you realise how high a pile of timber it would take to be compressed to become coal?

There is no scientific way that these deposits could have come from organic matter.

Just do the calculations.

Re: Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

Oh dear, I see the abiogenesis nuttery is back.

Carbon is of inorganic origin, hydrogen is of inorganic origin. Plentiful hydrocarbons are also of inorganic origin, but seemingly not most of the ones we find and dig or pump up. The carbon isotope ratio pretty much nails that. The stuff miles below ground is there because it used to be above ground (or under water) and on geological timescales things get churned up.

It looks like another example of physicists and engineers thinking they must be able to do that soft girly science biology (my apologies to those physicists and engineers who do not fit my stereotype). And as every armchair physicist knows all non radioactive isotopes of an atom are absolutely identical. Except they aren't, and living organisms do not like carbon 13.

So I'm afraid Prof. Dr. Dr. Sheehan, PE(teacher), D.I.C., T.I.T. is in error.

Re: Nature and MIT - April is a Dangerous month for Science

Looking at this thread from a few months back (which seems to have veered markedly off-topic), it may be worth making a few comments.

Disputin's definition of a fossil fuel as being something that can be used as a fuel which is dug up out of the ground is etymologically correct, but virtually nobody uses that definition in practice. Under that definition I'd say uranium ore could reasonably be classified as a fossil fuel. It obviously requires a lot of work to turn uranium ore into nuclear fuel, but a lot of processing effort is also required to turn crude oil into petrol or other practical fuels, and even natural gas requires some processing effort, like hydrogen sulphide, carbon dioxide and water vapour being removed for practical use.

The carbon 13 depletion argument is pretty strong for petroleum being of biogenic origin, as the C13 ‰ depletion range for petroleum ties up very well with photosynthesis, but a much greater C13 depletion than produced by photosynthesis can be observed with natural gas, which also varies with depth below the ground surface, suggesting that physical diffusion through the ground is causing a lot of its C13 depletion. So it is more difficult to pin down whether natural gas is abiogenic or biogenic.

I came across an interesting alternative theory for the origin of fossil fuels a few years ago called the "anhydride theory" by C Warren Hunt. A free to view copy of the theory is available on the site:

As I understand Hunt's theory, he thinks natural gas is mainly abiogenic. Petroleum is biogenic, but produced by microbes which convert methane coming from the Earth's interior to higher hydrocarbons at depth rather than being biological material that found its way down from the surface. (Presumably this microbial action might produce a similar C13 depletion to photosynthesis). So natural gas and petroleum would not be fossil fuels in the sense of them being fossilised material that originally started at the surface. Hunt's theory (if valid) might provide an explanation for why petroleum can be biogenic but also occur at what some might see as implausibly large depths below the ground surface or seabed.