A little knowledge

By August 4, 2019Science

I had a very strange interaction online a couple of days ago. Some weeks ago I was invited to join a Facebook group entitled ‘Church of Hawking Year 2 AH’ (After Hawking) or something similar (they have now blocked me). I was invited by someone who apparently ran the Facebook page. Yesterday, they wrote a comment on some story on global warming, and in that they indicated that they didn’t know what an icecap was, by effectively stating that the Arctic sea ice was part of the northern ‘ice cap’. This is incorrect. They apparently didn’t know the difference between an ice cap, an ice sheet and sea ice. I attempted to put them straight but had forgotten the term ice sheet, which I had looked up some months previously for an article I wrote1, so I incorrectly used the term ‘ice cap’ for the Greenland ice sheet. Realising and admitting my mistake later, and at the same time receiving some derogatory comments, I googled it and came up with the definitions of these terms from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)2. They are as follows:

An ice sheet is a mass of glacial ice based on land which extends over more than 50,000 square kilometres. They are of fresh water ice, as they come from precipitation. There are only two ice sheets currently on the planet. They are the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. During the last ice age, ice sheets covered much of North America and Scandinavia3.

An ice cap is a mass of glacial ice which is based on land and is less than 50,000 square kilometres in extent. They generally form in polar and sub-polar regions and are relatively flat and high in elevation. Like ice sheets, they are of fresh water ice as they too come from precipitation. Iceland has an ice cap and it is found on the southern part of the island and covers about 8,000 square kilometres4.

Sea Ice is frozen ocean water, but for most of the year it is covered in snow. Because it is so bright, it reflects about 80% of the sunlight that hits it, back into space. When it melts, the darker water absorbs 90% of the light hitting it5. This is one of the global heating feedbacks concerning climate scientists, as the amount of Arctic sea ice is rapidly decreasing.

Given that these people online were pontificating incorrectly about the cryosphere, the fact that none of them seem to have heard of the NSIDC is extraordinary. The person who invited me onto the Facebook page continued to spit the dummy, effectively accusing me of lying about the climate and eventually blocked me. It is an odd thing to be subject to abuse while attempting to politely enlighten someone when they have committed an error. It is something I have rarely suffered before, except from creationists and climate change deniers. In retrospect, to be blocked by this bunch is probably a bonus.


  1. http://www.blotreport.com/environment/the-danger-of-feedback/
  2. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quick-facts
  3. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/icesheets.html
  4. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/glaciers/gallery/icecaps.html
  5. https://nsidc.org/cryosphere/quickfacts/seaice.html


  • Russell says:

    A good illustration of the bad side of complex modes of communication these days; increasing awful balkanisation of society via abusing the net, and the reign of the blind conferring with the deaf as it were. People with a bit of knowledge but a whopping need to grab at any influence, get onto a social media platform. The less smart and really informed they are, the more likely they are able to attract those even less capable of real knowledge. Their ego is inflated at having willing followers to whom they peddle their half-baked or spurious ideas. Rarely do they quote expert sources that they have critiqued themselves or cross referenced to sift whether the knowledge is sound or not. The world now has a billion egoes competing, pushing out their “correct” beliefs or hunches or narratives based on shaky grounds. However, besides clowns who are quickly dismissed by perceptive media users, there is the insidious mass of more “intelligent “, devious “troublemakers” The worst by far are hypocrites who deliberately draw a crowd as they oppose sensible verifiable data sets and factual proven research. Many are climate change deniers or contrarians who refuse to accept the terrible effects wrought by human activities on every part of every ecological system on the planet. Some of the beasts have political lies to spew forth to the foolish, or racist tones/intentions. And we cannot rid ourselves of the scourge it seems. Your experience is that when faced with obviously proper definitions and proposals, the egotist on the social media loses its cool, letting the reptilian brain take over. One both laughs and weeps at the overall results we see everywhere of the bland leading the blind leading the lame-minded leading….and so on. Homo “sapiens sapiens”? Give me a break.

    • admin says:

      Yep; it seems to be that way. Although there are many smart people online, there are an enormous number of people who would have a hard time walking and chewing gum at the same time. What has surprised me is that people who you hope would have at least some knowledge, often don’t. In addition, the profound ignorance of science has astonished me. I had bumped into this often in my life from relatives and friends, but although they didn’t really understand it, they were not antipathetic to it. The visceral hatred of science by people who should know better has surprised me. I think you might be right; ‘sapiens’ might be a misleading specific name.

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