In his contribution to the HC manifesto, Roberto Muehlenkamp based his calculations of cremation fuel requirements on a wild extrapolation from his misinterpretation of some experiments by the veterinarians Lothes and Profé. Prior to entering into this dead end of reasoning, however, he discussed some pieces of evidence concerning mass cremation, whose results he then proceeded to ignore (HC manifesto, pp. 461-463). This discussion, which was largely warmed-over material from his previous blogs, is full of errors. This post will examine some, but certainly not all, of these errors. Muehlenkamp’s point “a” can be ignored, as he does not bother to give any figures here. We proceed to his the first of his four main examples:
b) The fuel requirements recommendations of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which according to the author’s calculations, converting various types of fuel into wood equivalents imply a wood to carcass ratio of 1.84:1
Here Muehlenkamp uses information from this document. Leaving aside the other problems in his calculations, Muehlenkamp’s figures are unusable because he uses outdated information. First, one should notice that the information on fuel requirements in the document he cited are inconsistent with the pyre diagram presented in that very same document. The picture illustrates the use of tyres as a major source of fuel, but figures for this are missing in the list of required fuels.
Ultimately, where did this FAO document come from? We examine the acknowledgements:
This Manual of procedures for disease eradication by stamping out is based on The destruction of animals, Disposal procedures and Decontamination operation procedures manuals of AUSVETPLAN (second edition, 1996).
So, we look at AusVetPlan, 2nd edition – available here – and find the same information. However, we also notice that there is now a third edition of AusVetPlan, released in 2007. As there was a great deal of experience with mass pyre cremations during the interim (most significantly the 2001 UK FMD epidemic), the authors had every opportunity to fix the problems with the previous statements on fuel requirements. Indeed, they did so, and overhauled the section. The new text reads:
Experience has demonstrated that carcases can be completely consumed using dry wood alone at the rate of 1.5 tonnes for a 500 kg adult bovine or 1.5 tonnes of coal briquettes or equivalent combinations. For multiple carcases, the amount of fuel may be reduced to 1.0 tonne per adult bovine because of economies of scale. Straw and liquid fuel are required to start the burn.
For fuel estimation, one adult cattle carcase is equivalent to four adult pigs or shorn sheep, or three woolly adult sheep.
The fuel assumption is now 1,000 kg of wood per cow in a large pyre, or 250 kg per shorn sheep or pig. These figures offer very strong support to revisionist contentions on fuel requirements, and contradict Muehlenkamp’s assumptions (such as that pigs are self cremating) dramatically. Certainly they show a considerably lower fuel mass to carcass mass ratio for cattle than for smaller animals, an interesting phenomenon which I have mentioned before, but as the smaller examples are the proper starting points for extrapolation to humans, this fact is intriguing but irrelevant.
The information about economies of scale offering a reduction of fuel requirements of one third (from 1500 to 1000 kg for a cow) gives us yet another method for estimating fuel requirements: we can take the fuel requirements of cremation pyres in India (variously reported, but clearly several hundred kg) and reduce the value by one third to obtain an estimate for the fuel requirements for mass pyres of humans. The result of this procedure is again in agreement with revisionist claims about fuel requirements.
In light of how strikingly this newer information contradicts Muehlenkamp’s cremation fantasies, it’s easy to understand why he ignored this source.
Now on to his second example:
c) The burning of 600 rams and 218 other sheep carried out in March 2001 near Lille, France, with a wood to carcass ratio of 2.19:1 using dry wood and 2.41:1 using fresh wood
The first thing that must be noticed is that Muehlenkamp’s respective ratios for the requisite mass of dry (i.e. seasoned, not bone-dry) wood and fresh wood differ by only some 10%, which is manifestly absurd. Just adding back in the water weight lost in the drying of the quantity of dry wood which Muehlenkamp deems necessary would lead to a much higher result. Where did Muehlenkamp go wrong? A glance at his calculations shows that he assumed that the weight of a cord of dry wood is equal to the weight of a cord of green wood. To say it another way: he treats cords as though they were a unit of weight. This is of course false, as anyone who has ever bought or even stacked firewood knows – and as anyone who bothers to run a brief web search can learn. If you take one cord of green wood and leave it to dry for a couple of years, you are left with… one cord of seasoned wood. The weight of that cord of seasoned wood, however, is considerably less than the weight of the initial cord of green wood with which you began (because much of the water has evaporated). Muehlenkamp reuses the erroneous numbers which he draws from this blunder in a number of his other calculations, which are consequently invalidated by this correction, but I’ll spare the reader the tedious details.
Leaving aside Muehlenkamp’s blunder with the green wood (and the wave of errors ensuing therefrom), are his calculations any good? No. Muehlenkamp assumes that the sheep weighed an average of 90 kg. Mattogno had assumed this weight for the purpose of his calculations in order to be as generous as possible to his opponent – i.e. to assume an excessive weight and show that his arguments went through nevertheless, and therefore show that with the correct weight they would be even more valid. The weight of 90 kg is seriously excessive: during the 2001 UK FMD epidemic, sheep were assessed at an average weight of 50 kg. While we do not know the weight of the sheep in the French cremation, the weight from the UK is the best available estimate, as it comes from the same year and a neighboring country. Making just this one correction forces us to multiply Muehlenkamp’s derived fuel to carcass ratio by 1.8, and refutes his argument altogether.
This example has illustrated one of Muehlenkamp’s favorite methods of deceit: misusing statements of his opponents which were intended to give a bound, rather than an actual value, or as concessions for the sake of argument (so as to support a conclusion a fortiori). The pattern is as follows: some author suggests that some number is no less than (or no more than) a certain value, or that it can be conservatively estimated (or generously estimated) as equalling whatever. Muehlenkamp then assumes that the author has accepted that value as the actual value. To give an example, suppose that I were arguing that Muehlenkamp is unable to touch a 20-foot ceiling. I might say that Muehlenkamp is clearly less than ten feet tall, as even the world’s tallest man wasn’t that tall, that Muehlenkamp’s arms certainly don’t reach any more than three feet over his head, so that even if his vertical jump were five feet, he would only be able to reach a maximum of 18 feet, and therefore be unable to reach the 20-foot ceiling. Following his dishonest practice of exchanging upper/lower bounds and conservative/generous estimates for actual values, Muehlenkamp would reply: “Jansson has conceded that I am ten feet tall and have a five foot vertical jump, but he ignored the fact that I wear twenty-inch heels and…” – and proceed to invent more unsubstantiated ad hoc arguments to support the idea that he can touch a 20-foot ceiling. (Of course, as he’s terrified of experiments, he wouldn’t dare try to prove his ability by actually doing so.)
Next up is Muehlenkamp’s third example:
d) Other incineration cases mentioned by fellow Revisionist Heinrich Köchel, which according to Mattogno show that a wood or wood equivalent weight of 140 kg is required to burn a human corpse weighing 70 kg, i.e. a wood-to-corpse weight ratio of 2:1
Köchel’s paper, now also available in English here, made it clear that he was simply making a “conservative estimate” in suggesting that two Jews correspond to one pig. We have the same problem as in the above example: Muehlenkamp is using a number given as a rhetorical concession as if it were the correct value.
Pigs were estimated at an average weight of 100 kg during the 2001 UK FMD epidemic, and have notably high levels of body fat, probably around 40% at this weight. Assuming that two Jews corresponds to one pig, as Köchel did, is exceedingly generous: it suggests that Jews can be considered to weigh 50 kg but still to have 40% body fat. It seems unreasonable to assume that Polish Jews were as fat as, say, Nick Terry. (While photographs of what certain body fat percentages look like should be treated with scepticism, as we have no guarantee that the figures are accurate – and they often are not – a few links of this sort may help give an idea of how fat someone with 40% body fat is.) A more reasonably assumption would be to suppose that a Jew takes the same amount of fuel as a shorn sheep. Sheep were assessed at an average of 50 kg, which is in the right ballpark for the Jews. Even if one wishes to follow Muehlenkamp’s unsubstantiated speculations and claim their weight was significantly lower than this, the difference would still be compensated by the fact that sheep still have rather high levels of body fat at this size. This change in calculation methods results in doubling the numbers obtained by Köchel’s very conservative estimate.
(Köchel’s paper is quite good on the whole, though I have some quibbles, but does contain one bizarre error: it presents an image – its final figure – of a mass burial from Great Orton labelled as if it showed a mass cremation.)
Finally, Muehlenkamp’s fourth and last example:
e) The Mokshda Green Cremation System, an innovative device introduced in India for human funeral pyres with the express objective of considerably reducing
fuel consumption. The description suggests that it’s a rather simple device, and an open-air pyre rather than a cremation oven. It should also be noted that its
inventor, Vinod Kumar Agarwal, thinks it should be possible to burn a human body with no more than 22 kg of wood (ratio assuming a body weight of 70 kg as Mattogno does: 0.31 to 1), and that he managed with 100 kg per body (ratio: 1.43 to 1) using the “raised human size brazier” he unsuccessfully (obviously not because of its efficiency but because it failed to gain acceptance among tradition-minded Hindus) tried to introduce in 1993. An essential feature of this brazier was its elevation, which “allowed air to circulate and feed the fire”.
As Carlo Mattogno has already pointed out (pp. 1229-1230), Muehlenkamp’s assumption that this system was an open-air pyre (on the basis of the name, without actually looking at photos of the apparatus) is incorrect, and it is not at all comparable to an open-air pyre, and is therefore of very limited relevance to the problem at hand. Moreover, the source which Muehlenkamp gives actually says “about 100 kg”, not “100 kg”. As this source is a piece of low-grade promotional journalism, obviously written without any real research (basically a regurgitated press release), there is a great significance in that “about”. As Carlo Mattogno has shown, a more serious report gave the fuel consumption as 150 kg per body (ibid, p. 1227).
In summary, in every single one of his examples, Muehlenkamp either made a mathematical error, an inadmissible assumption, or ignored vital related information. That’s quite an achievement. (I should add that my list of his errors is certainly not exhaustive.)