Climate Change / Global Warming Science Demonstrations, Activities and Labs

Avoiding Flawed, Problem Science Demonstrations -- Greenhouse Effect in a Bottle; Heating Carbon Dioxide vs. Air;
Let's be sure the demonstrations we recommend to fellow educators are authentic and get the science right!
Example of getting on the cold fusion demo bandwagon, claims way out of sync of NOAA's own science:
CLEAN Promoted Greenhouse Gas in a Bottle Demonstration
Hands-on Science Avoiding Flawed Demos > Greenhouse Effect > Problem Examples > CLEAN

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Avoiding Flawed

Greenhouse Effect

Faulty Demos
Errors, Misconceptions
Testing, Lab Results
Scientifically Strong

** Lab Results **
Test after test:
there just were not any
real, measurable
temperature differential

The air samples were as
likely to be slightly
higher than the CO2
as the other way around.

At 40 cm distance

Three runs at a time
at 5 cm distance

Different Amounts
of Alka Seltzer

Various types of
incandescent lamps,
varying wattages

Room Ambient Temp

Calibration of
temperature probes.
All seven track together
within 0.2 Celsius from
5 to 60 degrees C.
Most within 0.05 C

Thank you,
Pasco Scientific

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Index and Introduction (Special section's home page)
Overview of Flawed Demo Examples
Menu of the individual examples: Analysis and testing of flawed demo designs
Being most heavily promoted: Need -- National Energy Education Development     Keystone Center
Prominent demos:     CLEAN     Bill Nye & Al Gore    On BBC TV    AMNH -- American Museum of Natural History
Many examples currently on-line:    Spin on That   PBS's Nova Capturing Carbon    Pico Tech     CIRES        
Flawed demos of this variety have been carefully reviewed, tested and analyzed by other reputable scientists: Lueddecke
Common errors with these relatively rare variations: Using other heat trapping (greenhouse) gases    Sunlight as the energy source variations

Reviewing and testing the:
"Greenhouse Gas in a Bottle Demonstration"

The basic demo is a part of NOAA approved curriculum at
CLEAN's: "Greenhouse Gas in a Bottle Demonstration"
Examining and testing the CLEAN demo in
Mobile Climate Science Labs.

Review of the CLEAN "Greenhouse Gas in a Bottle Demonstration"
Based on: demo video; lab tests; communication with CLEAN representatives; and discussion among educators, scientists & students.

Results of Lab Tests Conducted
by the Mobile Climate Science Labs

Misconceptions and
Errors found in demo, include:

Value as a Case Study
Based on test results, including having replicated the
demo as it appears in the video:

• Does not produce results claimed. All test runs
consistently produced temperature differentials
between the gas samples that were too small to
with equipment available to educators.

• Demo tends to spread confusion, rather than
deepen a scientific understanding of the basics
of global warming and "the greenhouse effect."

• Regarding the claim made that this is an "easy"
demo to do: This is inaccurate:

== Experience of several other labs has shown
that producing an authentic measurable temperature
differential in gas samples due to absorption of
infrared energy is actually quite difficult among
demonstrations currently available on climate
change, global warming science, and "the
greenhouse effect". For example.

== To stress that something is easy tends to
discourage teachers for asking for help or asking
questions. When teachers come to us asking for
help in doing this demo, they are often
embarrassed, as if we might think they are stupid
for not getting the 9 degree result. They are
relieved to hear that almost all of other teachers
we've spoken also saw little or no differential
readings, either way.

== In our labs, we did not find getting a clear
differential temperature rise to be easy at all --
until we started to deliberately skew the layout, to intentionally force temperature differentials.

== This demo, even as shown, is of at least
moderate difficulty to replicate, among those

== Given the vastly different results labs
independent of each other have gotten, it is
reasonable to say that the demo is more difficult to
do well than is appreciated in the video.
(Someone had to be doing something wrong, in one
lab or another. One needs to be careful in order to
get repeatable, verifiable results. It is not so easy.)

== As it does not demonstrate what it claims,
the video does not indicate the true complexity of
the necessary steps to produce a working demo
of this nature.

Note on this type of demo, among the many
vetted demos being done about global warming:

There are many approaches taken by various
demos. Global Warming and "the greenhouse effect"
is a very rich subject. Many components of the
topic readily lend themselves to great hands-on
science demonstrations. Taking a multi-layer
approach more closely follows the way scientists
have discovered and continue to study the basic
mechanisms of global warming. The approach of this
demo is not one scientists tend to use, in part
because it is so challenging relative to the rewards.
It is not how global warming was discovered. There
are so many topics worthy of study through
experimentation in this field -- both by scientists
and the public. There is a significant downside
to try to reduce hands-on lab experiences to only
one demonstration. Especially with this being such a
tough one to do right.

A great thing about hands-on science demonstrations:
You need not simply trust the findings of the Mobile
Climate Science Labs, Lawrence Hall of Science, the
US Government, global energy corporations or any other
authority and influence in America's education system.
It is possible to replicate the demo where you are.
Try the demo yourself and see what results you get.
If you'd like, we can post your results & experience here.

We encourage you to be active in the verification process
of climate science and climate science education -- your
participation makes it stronger.

Details of test results, and methods used
will appear here soon.
• Video describes producing a 9 degree Celsius
temperature differential. That is far in excess of
what scientific theory indicates one would expect
to measure under such conditions. No explanation
is offered on how the results displayed in video are
scientifically possible.

• Providing a powerful energy source which is
overwhelmingly in infrared and visible wavelengths
carbon dioxide does not absorb, yet promotes
expectation that CO2 sample would somehow
become substantially warmer than air sample.
(Demos using common lamps/light bulbs are very
difficult to do successfully, and tend to promote
misconceptions if adequate interpretation is not

• Describes bottles used in the demo as "clear."
Misses the opportunity to demonstrate a central
feature of global warming and "greenhouse" gas
theory: an object that is transparent in visible light is
often not in various frequencies of infrared light
(and vice versa). This is true of solids, liquids and
gases. Without that, the "greenhouse effect" would
not exist. The heat lamp isn't heating the gas and
water so much as it is heating the plastic bottle.
From there, the plastic is transfering heat to the
water and gas. Demo promotes lack of awareness
and confusion on this. The choice of materials made
for gas and water containers is part of the reason
this demo does not work as claimed.

• Does not appear to address how students might
go about generating a higher signal and a lower
noise level. i.e. more energy that CO2 absorbs and
re-emits, less energy that it does not.
Also, less background heat energy that drowns out
the temperature rise signal generated by CO2.

• In the actual Earth system, incoming solar energy
is of the order of 1300 watts per square meter,
radiative forcing by carbon dioxide of the order of
0.85 watts/meter sq. The demo blasts the bottles
with energy not unlike sunlight. Would we expect
this demo set up and the equipment used to detect
the CO2 warming signal in all that energy noise?

• Poor lab techniques. Examples:
== Lack of calibration, checking for accuracy of
temperature probes.
== No multiple runs recommended, designed as
controls, to bring to the surface experimental errors.
We have great respect for professional illusionists (magicians). A rule of theirs is "never repeat
your tricks." We, however, should always repeat
our experiments. As a chance for the public, and
ourselves, to look for tricks. No hidden errors.
== Angle of the bottles relative to heating
lamp can have a significant affect on temperatures.
(By contract, at the 40 cm distance recommended
in the video, a millimeter or two change in distance
in this set up does not cause big temp changes)
== Parabolic reflective lamps, in particular, do
not always emit radiation in a uniform radial pattern.
Especially in infrared. (They are designed to be
fairly uniform in visible spectrum luminous
intensity, to conform to the pattern in their specs.)
Not checked, not accounted for in demo.
== Stress should be placed on care in checking
bottle seals. A leaky seal can produce markedly
lower temperatures in a sample bottle.

• Confuses the multiple steps by which global
warming is taking place. Attempts to combine
several into one, with no explanation.

Elaboration and background on each of the
above will soon be available in this sub-section.
The CLEAN Greenhouse Gas demo contains
errors common to most of the demos
being reviewed that we have found to contain
serious flaws.

Spreading Doubt, Confusion and Distrust:
This version is one of many similar versions.
Educators are being instructed to perform demos
that don't work as claimed. Feedback we receive
indicates that this is spreading doubt, confusion
and distrust in climate science in the schools.
When educators are told that it is "easy"
to get the results claimed, they are put in a bind:
Do they carefully run the experiments? --
only to get no temperature differential.
They then risk facing criticism or ridicule that they
"did the demo wrong".

Or, do they fudge the results? -- intentionally or
subconsciously: Set up the apparatus to force the
desired temperature differential to appear? That is
not hard to do. Labs work hard to avoid this.

Educators should never be put in that position.
Climate science can be well represented with
quality science demonstrations.
We must never be among those who
fake the evidence presented to the public.

Please be advised: demos such as these can also
be used -- and are being used-- by those wishing
to "prove" that CO2 is not a greenhouse gas --
as part of smoke and mirror parlor tricks.
Fake science demos are being presented as
evidence that "global warming is a hoax."
Faulty demos are ripe for use in deception.

Should science educators be among those
using them, concealing how they can be used
to misrepresent valid science?

We can not recommend such flawed demos. has been in communication with CLEAN representatives about faulty demos such as this for some time now.
Discussion began long before CLEAN elected to promote this demonstration on its website and within its resources.
This has been in both informal and official communications.
For instance, during a recorded national teleconference, our representative was asked to elaborate about issues we saw in this type of demo.
He expressed his concern, wanting to avoid federal programs find themselves promoting "cold fusion" demos.
What an embarassment that would be for the government and science education if these demos were recommended by federally funded websites.
Unverified and erroneous claims have been publicized in the media before, such as the infamous cold fusion experiment of 1989.
Global warming is very real, just as nuclear fusion is real -- as in the sun. Yet not every science demo under the sun is what it claims to be.
We asked for the opportunity to share our experience with such flawed demos--based on lab & field work, plus discussion among science advisors.
At least one other well known and respected member of the climate science education community has also written CLEAN,
expressing his alarm over apparent lack of concern about the errors in this demo.
We have no desire to embarrass CLEAN or agencies of the US Government represented in CLEAN.
To the contrary, we have put scores of hours trying to alert agencies and their representatives about potential embarrassment.
With dismay, we've seen the unfolding of CLEAN placing the US government among the significant promoters of this type of flawed demos.
Accurate, sound science is our highest priority in the service of science education -- we can not ethically compromise on that.
As we can no longer wait to address these faulty demos publically, we can therefore not ignore CLEAN's demo. In part, as it is currently lending
the appearance of legitimacy to many of the faulty demos being promoted, most sharing the same basic errors.

"Greenhouse Gas in a Bottle Demonstration"
Written instructions:
Video on Youtube
In a careful reading of the CLEAN website, it is noted that demos such as these are part of the CLEAN Community Collection of Teaching Materials.
There, it is noted that such listed hands-on resources are not formally a part of the CLEAN collection of reviewed resources.
This resource has run prominently on the CLEAN website for many months and is very well ranked by the major search engines.
It has been placed into listings on very reputable portals such as
Feedback from educators indicate that this demo is widely recognized as having been approved by United States Government agencies as a recommended resource.

Appropriately and respectfully, the video notes that this demo is adapted from material developed by the National Weather Service's Jetstream Online School for Weather.
The basic demo is a part of NOAA approved curriculum at

CLEAN sponsors include:
National Science Foundation      NOAA

Educational institutions in the United States presenting this demo include:
K-12 schools, government outreach and education,
teacher professional development workshops, websites, videos.

That this demo is approved and being promoted by the United States Government agencies is a powerful force for rapid adoption and adaption.
Note: it has become a common practice to present educational materials without giving due acknowledgement and credit to their original creator.
This is not good academic etiquette or protocol, and weakens science education, we feel.Demos are frequently presented without crediting the original developer(s).

Safety Concerns:
An exposed heat lamp is used in the demo. Care should be exercised to protect students, teachers and the public.
Although it is not specified whether to use a more common incandescent lamp (light bulb) or an infrared heat lamp, in either case there are safety concerns to address.
Infrared heat lamps, whether the red or white/"clear" variety can get especially hot.
It is an essential practice to include demo specific safety training as part of educator professional development.
Teachers and students should be specifically warned to be careful not to touch the surface or move objects in a way that they might strike the lamp.
Regarding physical steps, recommendations include: Placing a shield around the heating lamp -- to lessen the chance of physical contact with the hot surface.
Wearing safety glasses and gloves, especially during set up and take down of demo.
Provide GFCI (ground fault circuitinterrupter ) protection is recommended: As a precaution against potential shock if a lamp were to break.
Further, as in the demo, the presenter touches the electrical socket and switch with his/her hands, at the same time the demo is being presented near sinks and water.

Demos can and must be safe. Not providing great hands-on science for the public contributes to public health and safety risks. Careful attention to safety is an absolute essential.

Introduction and Index
>>  Faulty demonstrations being heavily promoted -- over a dozen examples <<
Errors and misconceptions commonly found in flawed demonstrations
Testing the demos, mistakes revealed -- lab & field results from scientists and hundreds of students & teachers

Scientifically strong demonstrations engaging millions. Powerful, fun, dramatic, unforgettable.
Resources & Further Background
Encouraging rebuttal: welcoming sponsor-promoters to defend if demos are scientifically valid.
Testing the evidence for everyone to see, experience for themselves -- that's what has made science demonstrations so very powerful in history

Acknowledgements, Thank You's            Contact

2011 Climate Education Specialists, since 1999
We are a team of teachers, docents, scientists, engineers, techs, artists, students and parents providing
pro bono services for thousands of climate education programs worldwide. While primarily based at science museums
and the University of California, we work with hundreds of schools, programs and science institutions around the world
to strengthen the climate education community.  If we should be working with you too, let us know.

For over ten years: we have been designing, developing and presenting hands-on science demonstrations for 100,000's of participants.
Sharing experiences, mutual learning with science education programs worldwide..
If you are part of designing, teaching, presenting and/or supporting sound science hands-on demonstrations on climate change, perhaps we should be working together.