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This Article Is One of the Reasons Why I F'n Hate "I F'n Love Science"

RibbitingScienceJan 28, 2018, 6:09:32 PM

Here's a brief rebuttal I wrote to one of the (oh so many terrible) articles on the IFLS website, a few months back (decided to officially turn it into a blog):

Link to the original article: "X-Ray Studies Hint At The Romans' Secret To Stopping Climate Change"

There is so much wrong with this article (and the IFLS site in general) that it's actually a bit infuriating...

1. Pure clickbait title

2. We already knew about the molecular composition of Roman concrete, that material has probably been examined by every model of x-ray diffractometer ever mass produced by this point.

3. This statement: "Superior engineering contributed to the Roman Empire's success, but of course, we have long since surpassed their technology. Concrete, is the big exception, however. The ancient product was in many ways more advanced than the one we build with today, as demonstrated by the survival of some 2000-year-old roads and buildings, even in earthquake zones."

Concrete today is specifically designed to fulfill a purpose for a set amount of time and that includes the number of years it lasts. Engineering is a balance of three design criteria - safety, function, and cost (guess which one keeps us from going crazy with over-designing every building in the hopes it will last a few millennia). The reason those construction projects still stand today is due to overengineering, not mystical super concrete. What you don't see are the thousands of projects that failed using the same concrete. It's the same as looking only at the songs that are still popular from the 70s and assuming the music of the time must have been universally good rather than the crappy songs fading from memory, leaving us with a warped perception of the entire music scene, at the time, as a whole.

4. Also this entire statement: "Modern concrete, including the vital ingredient Portland cement, is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses, accounting for around 5 percent of human-induced emissions. If that doesn't sound like much, consider the vast and increasingly successful efforts to replace larger sources with clean technologies. Yet a world run on renewable energy and electric cars could still be brought undone if our ever-growing thirst for carbon-emitting concrete eats up our remaining carbon budget."

This statement is egregiously ignorant (and the root of the clickbait title). The reason concrete is such a large contributor to carbon emissions is that we use a MASSIVE amount of it. If you examine the embodied energy of various building materials, the carbon cost of concrete is actually significantly LOWER on a per unit basis than wood (plywood, lumber, etc.) construction.