Roberto Muehlenkamp’s favored methodology consists of long strings of extrapolations absent any empirical cross-checking, a system which allows him to fiddle his figures so as to obtain the results desired. For the sake of appearances, however, he does have to cite empirical results from time to time, but he does so only to distort and misuse them. Another tactic he favors is to cite empirical results of the wrong type, and pretend that they apply to an entirely different situation. This post will address two such examples of seemingly empirical evidence to which Muehlenkamp has attempted to appeal in his responses to my dissection of his faulty work.
First, we consider some advised procedures concerning the disposal of anthrax carcasses in Argentina. The issue at hand is whether bones burn easily, to the point that once ignited they will continue to burn without any need of further fuel. (Recall that Muehlenkamp has defended Sergey Romanov’s absurd argument that human fat cannot sustain a fire in this manner when it is in the form of a large puddle in a pit; evidently he thinks that bones are more combustible than fat.) In support of his belief that this is the case, Muehlenkamp has cited procedures for the disposal of anthrax carcasses, involving a long wait for the body’s soft tissue to largely decay, followed by a burning process for what remained. He states that this burning takes place “using 5 L of diesel”, but while the instructions in question do mention such a quantity of diesel, they also state that after that quantity is added, one should “add more fuel until the burning is complete.” The quantity of this additional fuel is not specified. Muehlenkamp lies – or, more charitably, demonstrates his illiteracy – by omitting this fact.
Thus, we can easily answer Muehlenkamp’s question:
Is this Argentine bone-burning empirical enough for you, Mr. Jansson?
No, it is not empirical enough. In fact, it is not empirical at all, with respect to the question at hand. An empirical report would give an account of a real-life attempt to burn bones in this fashion, with the details on the quantity of fuel used and the precise results attained. The document which Muehlenkamp cites offers nothing of the sort. It would be very easy, however, to test Muehlenkamp’s belief that bones burn very easily, and that one need only light them on fire to see them continue to burn until nothing but dust remains. Simply buy some bones from the butcher or supermarket, pour some liquid fuel over them, light them on fire, and observe the results. Do they burn to ash? If Muehlenkamp had any courage in his convictions he would perform this experiment, but he will not – because deep down he knows that he’s talking nonsense, and that the bones certainly would not behave in the manner which he claims.
Second, there is the matter of air curtain incinerators (a.k.a. pit burners). Muehlenkamp alludes to these indirectly when he refers to some examples of mass cremation, and states that
These examples show that it is possible to cremate pig carcasses, other carcasses or human corpses with much less fuel expenditure, in terms of the ratio between wood or wood equivalent weight and carcass/corpse weight, than in the case mentioned by Jansson. The ratio may be 2:1, less than 2:1 or even as low as 1:1 according to these examples
I will defer my discussion of Muehlenkamp’s examples until later. For now, I want to focus on the ratio of fuel-to-carcass mass ratio of 1:1 which Muehlenkamp claims is supported by his examples. In fact, it is not supported by any example of open air burning, but rather by statements about air curtain incineration. Air curtain incineration is not open air burning. There are dramatic differences between the two. It would be false to claim that because cremation can be achieved with a certain amount of fuel with an air curtain incinerator, it can be achieved with that amount of fuel via open-air burning, just as it would be false to claim that because cremation can be achieved with a certain amount of fuel in a crematory oven, it can also be achieved with that same amount of fuel on an open-air pyre. This fact alone suffices to refute Muehlenkamp’s statements.
Moreover, one source which Muehenkamp mentions in support of his 1:1 ratio (which he pretends is for open air burning, rather than air curtain incineration) is the nothing more than statements from a sales manager of a company that sells air curtain incinerators – absent, of course, any details about any experimental support for such claims, the details of the setup and what sort of carcasses were incinerated with such efficiency, or what precisely the final results were. Given a sales manager’s obvious interest in presenting the product he is paid to market in the most favorable light possible, this is hardly a usable source, and the statements Muehlenkamp quotes are contradicted by those experiments with air curtain incinerators that have actually documented fuel consumption.
In fact, a document which Muehlenkamp himself has cited states that “[Pit burners] appear to be especially suited to pigs and fat sheep.” Recall that these are animals which, according to Muehlenkamp’s assumptions, have enough fuel in their own bodies that they can cremate themselves. The fact that air curtain incinerators are considered to be particularly suitable for burning pigs and fat sheep – i.e. for circumstances where combustion is comparatively easy – offers more support for the notion that a sales manager’s statement would likely be a significant understatement of the fuel requirements for a more typical case.
In the manifesto, Muehlenkamp also attempts to insinuate that air curtain incinerators is more fuel intensive than open-air burning:
air curtain incinerators are not noted for fuel efficiency, according to the TAHC’s aforementioned General Guidelines for the Disposal of Carcasses, whereby air curtain incineration is “fuel intensive”
Such insinuation rests on a misinterpretation of the passage. Certainly air curtain incineration is fuel intensive, but so is open air burning. In fact, open air burning can be expected to be, in general, less fuel efficient than air curtain incineration, due to the favorable conditions for heat retention created by the air curtain, although there is no general way do derive a conversion from the one case to the other – the circumstances are too variable. Thus this piece of rhetoric fails as well.