New Paper! A Volatile Discourse

Here’s the abstract from the peer-reviewed (so you know everything in it must be true and sworn to by every rational human being now and forever) paper “A volatile discourse — reviewing aspects of ammonia emissions, models and atmospheric concentrations in The Netherlands” by Jaap Hanekamp, WM Briggs, and Marcel Crok in Soil Use & Management.

In the Netherlands, there is a vigorous debate on ammonia emissions, atmospheric concentrations and deposition between stakeholders and research institutions. In this article, we scrutinise some aspects of the ammonia discourse. In particular, we want to improve the understanding of the methodology for handling experimentally determined ammonia emissions. We show that uncertainty in published results is substantial. This uncertainty is under- or even unreported, and as a result, data in national emission inventories are overconfident by a wide margin. Next, we demonstrate that the statistical handling of data on atmospheric ammonia concentrations to produce national yearly atmospheric averages is oversimplified and consequently atmospheric concentrations are substantially overestimated. Finally, we show that the much-discussed ‘ammonia gap’ — either the discrepancy between calculated and measured atmospheric ammonia concentrations or the difference observed between estimated NH3 emission levels and those indicated by atmospheric measurements — is an expression of the widespread overconfidence placed in atmospheric modelling.

Since that might be obscure to some of you, Hanekamp has written a popular article “The logic of scientific discourse and the ammonia debate in the Netherlands“. The article has a large header in Dutch; be sure to scroll down (if you are like me and your Dutch is sketchy) for the English. Hanekamp, incidentally, speaks better English than I.

My heart soared like a hawk when I read the following:

Empiricism and logic

Conversely, scientific arguments start from empirical premises and draw probabilistic conclusions prone to correction. What the empirical sciences produce are contingent propositions, not necessarily true or false: “chemical A interacts with protein X resulting in effect Y”; “the element thallium has the atomic weight of 204.38”; “the lethal dose of X for rats is Y”; “the consumption of this food adds to our health and longevity”.

These and many other propositions generated by the empirical sciences are all (as in all) conditionally true, given various facts and evidence. None of the four propositions above are logically necessary. It is logically possible for these statements to be false, say, due to measurement errors, mistakes in experimental setups, incorrect starting materials, the limitations of available facts, and so on.

Already well into the upper reaches of the troposphere, I ascended to the outer reaches with this:


The use of mathematics thus unearthed quite the errors in this discourse. And only one such paper is needed to do so. Obviously, mistakes can be made in mathematics, but such mistakes have nothing to do with e.g. contrasting empirical results that outnumber our paper. Reducing the former to the latter is a serious, yet much-practiced, category mistake.

Another issue that should be addressed is the reification fallacy, found in many environmental debates that rely heav-ily on modelling. Reification is a widespread and classical fallacy dubbed by Alfred North Whitehead (1925) as the ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’. Reification is making something that is hypothetical or abstract physically real. The ammonia gap is one such reification, where models to calculate national ammonia emissions or atmospheric concentrations, as if by magic, denote the concrete reality of actual emissions or actual concentrations that do not fall in line with physical measurements.

Not only that, but he tackles “Unquantifiability leads to begging the question”, “Wholesome skepticism”, “Scientism” and even “Epic scientism”.

Go there to read the rest.


  1. brian (bulaoren)

    Don’t you just love the Dutch! They’ve got a small country, but they’ve always fought fearlessly, way above their weight class. I was once called a racist for refering to Holland as a “low country”. That’s the caliber of intellect we confront. Anyway, Dutch heroes, May God bless you.

  2. Joy

    Don’t get carried away, Holland is responsible for much of the PC and political mind games and diversity ideology that the rest of central Europe has adopted.

    The problem started in the Netherlands and in parts of Scandinavia. They are always the nation quoted as being ‘so far ahead in the league tables of X (social policy or cultural attitude), think Amsterdam and Euurotrash.

    “Unquantifiability leads to begging the question”,
    You can’t odds the truth.
    Nobody’s taking any notice of the articles unless they say what the party wants them to say, which ever side. This is how these things work in practice and have done for a very long time.

  3. brian (bulaoren)

    HMmmm… Well, to quote Joe E. Brown; “Nobody’s perfect”.

  4. Joy

    Brian,na, they can’t help it,
    Nnobody’s perfect but being English is close enough.

  5. brian (bulaoren)

    Yeah, yeah, yeah; The Dutch clomp around in silly wooden shoes, cutting doors in half and developing un- beatable gambling schemes…
    I confess, I like the English too. Still, I sometimes wonder what life would have been like in America, if you folks hadn’t driven Holland out of her North American possessions.

  6. Joy

    Driven Holland out of her North American Possessions?
    You’d have been up to your neck in tulips and have an epidemic of plantar fasciitis.
    with all the tiptoeing.

  7. Ken

    That ammonia emissions paper looks eerily similar to, a proxy for, a paper one might write regarding issues with CO2 climate analyses.

    Employing a proxy topic is a good means of introducing analytical issues that might not otherwise penetrate an audience’s minds wedded to a particular answer — a warming alarmist, for example, might read this openly and once the ideas penetrated they could fester and create nagging doubts about the religiously-believed warming models. As the saying goes, once a mind is stretched by a new idea/understanding it cannot shrink back to its earlier proportions. This paper was a good endeavor for accomplishing something, planting intellectual seeds that might take root.

    However, employing jargon & concepts few use (e.g. “scientism”) is a sure-fire way to identify oneself as being an eccentric (if not from the lunatic fringe).

    The harsh condemnations regarding shortfalls with other’s analyses with absolutely no positive, constructive, recommendations for further study [recommendations that might be specific] to improve the level of understanding reached so far, is a certain technique for alienating audiences that might otherwise be receptive to ideas for further study (e.g. ideas that might get funding/grants to pursue). Simply asserting the ‘other guy’ is wrong-wrong-wrong is a sure-fire way of ensuring one’s input is ignored entirely (Golden Rule cuts both ways: If you thought your approach was ok, then some outsider, speaking arcane jargon nobody else you associate with uses came along and told you how wrong you were-and only how wrong you were, how much attention would you pay them? El zippo…maybe even you’d poke fun of them in your blog….).

    That renders the paper’s intent somewhat clear: The authors seem intent on “preaching to the choir”, informing themselves and others like-minded what they know & believe — and choosing a presentation style that makes clear what they think of those not-like-minded, to maybe offend, certainly repulse, audiences that might really benefit. Some a bit more receptive will also reject the paper out of a desire, often career need, to get along with those repulsed. So what does that render the paper in terms of impact: Opportunities lost…mental masturbation.

  8. Mike86

    I’m going to assume your use of that specific photo for this article was intentionally inaccurate. I suppose there’s ammonia in that material, but the article is likely more concerned about anhydrous ammonia application.

  9. I like that bit about “reification”. It’s applicable to theoretical physicists (I won’t name names) who say the universe was created by Gravity (upper-case intentional) or quantum fluctuations.

  10. Mikey likes it. I have been trying to get this kind of a point across to others for some time. First, that there are categories of truths, of which science deals with conditional truths, and second that there are absolute truths, but I now see that necessary truths is a better way to say it.

    Thank you very much for this article.

  11. Richard A

    “Baggers belief”?

  12. Sander van der Wal


    I am afraid that the current SJW culture is an Anglo-Saxon invention. At the very least, they have run with it like no other nation has. Sweden is following in that path to ruin, nobody cares about Norway, and Denmark is very nationalistic, so not a lot of problems there that are not imported from Sweden and Germany.

    Not to say that there are no SJWs in Holland. Way too many, but not at the level of lunacy that permeates the USA, or England. Secondly, the local SJWs are depending on their American cousins for ideas. The Dutch Left hasn’t had an original Leftish idea since the invention of Internet access in the nineties.

  13. Joy

    There are no SJW’s in England. They are an American invention.
    The first I ever heard of one was last year on this site and the Twit feed and the interview with Theryn Meyer interview, again, only discovered as a result of investigation of transgenerness.

    Nobody cares about Norway? Britain’s friend in the war. Norway and Britain have a close association and friendship on an official level.
    They send us a Christmas tree, Norway spruce, for Trafalgar Square every year! What greater love can there be?
    Denmark? Vikings! the original SJWs! (Robin Hood, the original left winger.)

    …but my notice on the bookshelf from the army base says:
    “Make Tea Not War”.
    Bless Sander. I’ve never met a Dutch person I didn’t like.

    Singing it all afternoon!

  14. brian (bulaoren)

    Speaking of Norway, July 18th is Vidkun Quisling’s birthday (1887).
    Also, these days, I’m having trouble distinguishing the SJW from the WSJ.

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