My last post mentioned I had decided to read a book John Cook was a co-author of, Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand. I quickly found a significant amount of the book had been copied and used in another book by Cook’s co-author (Haydn Washington’s Human Dependence on Nature: How to Help Solve the Environmental Crisis). Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an eBook version of it, and I didn’t care to spend $40+ of my own money for a physical copy.
To add to the problem, I found out Cook was a co-author on another book, Climate Change Science: A Modern Synthesis. Happily, I was informed the Springer publishing group would give out free copies of this book to bloggers so I wouldn’t need to buy it. I registered with the company’s website, got an eBook copy and began reading.
I began by looking at the plagiarism issue just to see how much copying happened in these books. I’m not sure if self-plagiarism like Washington’s is “wrong” or not, but it is certainly a matter of interest to people who might buy the books. Before I could get to that though, I stumbled across a number of oddities. Many merit discussion, but the one I want to highlight right now can be seen below:
This section is titled, “More Fossil Fuel Carbon in Coral,” but it never mentions coral. It refers to plants with this misleading statement:
Plants prefer carbon-12 over carbon-13. This means the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 is less in plants than it is in the atmosphere.
This statement is misleading because not all plants prefer “carbon-12 over carbon-13.” Many plants do not discriminate much (if at all) between types of carbon.* Two major examples are corn and sugar plants. I’m not sure how this book manages to make a claim about plants as a whole despite it being false for such major crops, but… whatever. That’s not the part which really confuses me.
The part that confuses me is, where’s the discussion of coral? Do the authors believe corals are plants? If so, they’re wrong. Humans realized corals aren’t plants in the 18th century. Are the authors just unaware of this basic fact?
I get corals “eat” plant life. I get the carbon ratio of a plant can travel up the food chain and be present in any animal on the planet. I even get the carbon ratio in various animals depends on what plant life they eat (as not all plants prefer carbon-13 over carbon-12).
What I don’t get is what this section tells us about corals. It doesn’t appear to discuss corals in any way, unless the authors foolishly believe corals are plants. I suspect they do. In 2010, one of the authors of this book, John Cook, published this on his website:
The most common carbon isotope is carbon-12 (12C) which is found in roughly 99% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The slightly heavier carbon-13 (13C) makes up most of the rest. Plants prefer carbon-12 over carbon-13. This means the ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 is less in plants than it is in the atmosphere. As fossil fuels originally come from plants, it means when we burn fossil fuels, we’re releasing more 12C into the atmosphere. If fossil fuel burning is responsible for the rise in atmospheric CO2 levels, we should be seeing the ratio of 13C to 12C decrease.
This text is nearly identical to that found in the book, and it is found in a post titled, “The human fingerprint in coral.” It never explains why it only discusses plants in a post about corals, when everyone knows (or should know) corals are not plants.
I suspect John Cook genuinely believe all “plants prefer carbon-12 over carbon-13” even though that’s only true for some plants. I suspect John Cook genuinely believes corals are plants even though humans have known better for hundreds of years. I suspect John Cook simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
*Some might even prefer carbon-13 over carbon-12. I’m not sure as I have only a limited experience in biology. If anyone knows more, I’d be happy to hear from them.