Microscopic shells can record thousands of years of temperature, by the hour


I thought misleading headlines and sloppy science journalism were bad?

I don’t think the shells record “temperature, by the hour”; they can reflect changes in temperature over time scales as short as an hour or so. There’s a pretty big difference between knowing the temperature 3,147 years, 47 days, and 15 hours ago and knowing that there were some temperature swings in the period of a few hours at some point in time a few thousand years ago.

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It is possible that this is what is happening, but it’s also possible that our extreme desire for the data to exist is obscuring the dirty realities of its nature. I would encourage people to be skeptical on the details of all dating. Ask questions like: What is the claimed scientific process which creates the chronology? What assumptions go into the reliability of this process? How well does the data actually correspond with other data sources? And the one that tends to get forgotten is: What is the social process for formulating a case-by-case decision as to the validity of the data set? After all, at the end of the day, it is a group of people who possess worldviews which is deciding which sets of data to throw out.

If a person wanted to be even more rigorous than this, they would also question the uniformitarian assumption. However, asking that question probably leads to dark alleys, and since we tend to generally be biased away from uncertainty, there is generally a stigma associated with questioning this assumption today.

No doubt, but you seem to have very frustrating double standards for that. That temperature reconstructions can be enhanced based on foraminiferan shells must be looked at with the utmost scrutiny; the idea that electric fields awaken primeval code is offered as well-established. Since you encourage hyper-skepticism for some findings but entirely trust others, how are you deciding?

If you know the change in temperature with respect to time, and you know the temperature at at least one point in time (e.g. right now), then unless I’m mistaken, a temperature can be found for any time, over the period which the shell records.

Granted, integrating an equation produced from seashell records across thousands of years would produce a pretty complicated equation, but it can be done, right?

You may know that the temperature changed over some approximate time span without knowing the exact change in temperature or the exact time over which it changed. The article nowhere suggests that the relative chemical composition of the shell has the precision of a thermometer, merely that changes in mineral ratio reflect changes in temperature. Further, given the difficulties in precisely dating shells as well as the unlikeliness of there being some universally constant shell deposition rate, it’s difficult to precisely judge the age of the shells as well as length of time the organism was alive and creating shell.

You’re right, of course. Still, the information drawn from these shells could be used to approximate temperatures, and the period of time across which the shells have “recorded” their information is enormous. It’s still a potentially very important find.

Though like you said, the headline exaggerated things.

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