Anthony Watts….lazy, hypocritical and wrong…again.

In Anthony crybaby Watts’ latest post, it would appear he has an issue with a press release from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville that discusses a recent paper from PNAS that has identified genes responsible in soil biota that deal with converting N2O into N2. Here is his post.

Let’s deal with the last bit first. Anthony has a real bee in his bonnet about people not providing accurate citations. He really wants to know the name of the paper and the DOI. Well, I took about 5 seconds and did this…

It then took me 2 seconds of scrolling to find this…

Hey Presto! There it is. 7 seconds tops. It really isn’t difficult to track down a paper, especially when you have an author and a journal and a year. You cannot go through life expecting everyone to lay everything out on the table for you. Sometimes you actually have to do a little bit of work yourself. It is this kind of laziness from deniers that sees them failing to read papers properly and subsequently misrepresenting them or not fully understanding them. What is ironic (hypocritical?) here is that with the press release that Anthony has reproduced in his post, we are expected to either take it on face value that he has put the complete release up or go and track it down as he doesn’t provide either a reference or a link to it. The nearest he comes is in the provision of a link to the University of Tennessee home page. I took the liberty of tracking down the press release and reading it and can now verify that Anthony has reproduced the whole thing. It can be found here.   

Now, as for the rest, let’s deal with a bit of basic chemistry. Now, I’m no chemist but I thought laughing gas was N2O? To be fair, it’s probably just a typo (NO2) from Anthony, we all do them. I certainly have my fair share so I’ll cut him a bit of slack there especially since the release and the paper is all about nitrous oxide. everyone is entitled to some sloppiness. But let’s get to a few points.

It is another example of Nature’s adaptation.

Nature’s adaptation? I mean to be picky here because when you are discussing aspects of biology it is important to use the correct words to remove ambiguity. Adaptation in biology generally refers to individual organisms and not sweeping generalisations like “Nature”.  For example, Dodzhansky’s definition of adaptation is :  the evolutionary process whereby an organism becomes better able to live in its habitat or habitats. Perhaps you mean something like “It is another example how evolutionary processes have allowed species to fill particular niches over time.”?

But I have to wonder though why they think this is “unexpected”, because dentrification (sic) (bacterial conversion to N2) has been well known to science and agriculture for decades.

Here,  Anthony is repeating what is already stated in the press release but is delivering it in a tone that suggests he is trying to educate or correct not only the author of the press release but also the paper. I can only wonder if Anthony actually read the press release correctly? Perhaps he is trying to appear knowledgable for his readers? It actually states in the press release…

Scientists have long known about naturally occurring microorganisms called denitrifiers, which fight nitrous oxide by transforming it into harmless nitrogen gas.

…so thanks for that Anthony. Thanks to you, the press release you are critiquing, and many scientists, I now know that scientists have known about denitrification for a long time. But let’s get to the issue of it being “unexpected”. There is one of two things happening here. Anthony either didn’t bother to track down the paper and read it, or he did and didn’t understand it. Whichever it is would not surprise me. The authors of the paper, which can be found here, state…

To date, N2O-to-N2 reduction in the environment has been attributed exclusively to denitrifying microorganisms expressing the typical Z-type NosZ (29, 30). Typical nosZ genes  (77 sequences) were found on 75 genomes belonging to the Alpha-, Beta-, and Gammaproteobacteria harboring complete sets of denitrification genes. Ten genomes harboring a typical nosZ lacked nirS or nirK homologs, corroborating previous observations that some microorganisms with a typical nosZ may not denitrify (21, 30). Interestingly, bioinformatic sequence analyses identified bacteria with phylogenetically distinct, atypical nosZ genes in diverse microbial taxa abundant in terrestrial and marine environments…

…N2O is a potent greenhouse gas that destroys the ozone layer and therefore affects global warming and climate change. Obviously, the processes that affect (i.e., control) N2O flux must be understood, and substantial efforts have elucidated N2O sources to generate refined N2O emission models (4, 54,55). To date, complete denitrifiers have been considered the key functional guild that controls N2O emissions from soil and sediments to the atmosphere (28, 56-58). Our results imply that the analysis of the typical denitrifier nosZ provides an incomplete picture and is insufficient to account for or accurately predict N2O flux. The discovery of functional, atypical nosZ genes from Bacteria and Archaea from a variety of habitats, including agricultural soils, indicates that a much broader group of microbes contributes to N2O turnover. This heretofore unrecognized diversity broadens our understanding of the ecological controls of N2O consumption, and the contributions of microbes with atypical nosZ genes should be considered in monitoring regimes and future greenhouse gas flux models.

To put this in layman’s terms…

  • Scientists have known for a long time that soil microbes break down N2O to N2
  • They attributed this to a large guild of bacteria and archaea with a particular genetic make-up
  • These genes produce nosZ which is an enzyme that breaks down N2O
  • These authors have discovered different genes in other microbes that also code for nosZ
  • This was unexpected and now means N2O flux models need to incorporate these microbes

So, Anthony Watts’ assertion that they should expect to find denitrification is occurring is correct, however that is not what the “unexpected” result was. The unexpected component was that there was atypical production of the enzyme that performs that task. The devil is always in the detail and the accurate interpretation of information. Unfortunately, deniers like Anthony Watts are not interested in accuracy. They run around spouting half-baked idiotic assertions based on their inability to either find accurate information or understand it when they do. But of course, Anthony can’t let the truth get in the way of a good bit of bullshit. His sycophantic followers would be lost without his echo chamber.

Finally, Anthony’s assertion that…

This PR looks like code for “more studies are needed, please send money”.

I didn’t pick up that vibe from the press release but even so, science is a process of ongoing discovery. The very nature of science and its conventions dictates that there are no absolute truths. It is this that allows science to progress. One can only wonder if Anthony thinks scientific exploration should stop completely? How the hell does he think anything will be done without funding? Should we stop funding cancer research? How about materials science? Should we abandon research into how the brain works or probe the universe to try to answer the questions about our origins? Should we stop research into agricultural diseases? Perhaps Anthony is just upset about funding of climate science simply because he has taken his ideological position but knows deep down that he not only lacks the capacity to understand the science but also that he is wrong? But here is the ultimate irony. What we have here is a paper that highlights a way in which climate models can be fine tuned, improved, made more accurate and Anthony is opposed to funding that kind of research. Why is it ironic?

It is ironic because he complains so much about models being wrong, I would have thought he would be pleased to see work go into improving the flaws he alleges they have. Just sayin…

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