Harvard Claims CO2 Makes You Stupid

You must be pretty dumb. Not the royal “you”. You as in you, dear reader.

This isn’t me saying it. This is Harvard. Our best university, and therefore our best scientists, are saying you must suffer from cognitive defects.

Why? Because you breathe.

Yes. The act of breathing is making you stupid. Hey, it’s not me. It’s Science!

No, it’s more than that. This is peer-reviewed Science, so it cannot be disputed. The paper is “Associations of Cognitive Function Scores with Carbon Dioxide, Ventilation, and Volatile Organic Compound Exposures in Office Workers: A Controlled Exposure Study of Green and Conventional Office Environments” by Joseph G Allen and a slew of other great minds, in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

From the Abstract:

Objective: We simulated indoor environmental quality (IEQ) conditions in “Green” and “Conventional” buildings and evaluated the impacts on an objective measure of human performance: higher-order cognitive function.

Methods: Twenty-four participants spent 6 full work days (0900–1700 hours) in an environmentally controlled office space, blinded to test conditions. On different days, they were exposed to IEQ conditions representative of Conventional [high concentrations of volatile organic compounds (VOCs)] and Green (low concentrations of VOCs) office buildings in the United States. Additional conditions simulated a Green building with a high outdoor air ventilation rate (labeled Green+) and artificially elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) levels independent of ventilation.

Results: On average, cognitive scores were 61% higher on the Green building day and 101% higher on the two Green+ building days than on the Conventional building day (p<0.0001). VOCs and CO2 were independently associated with cognitive scores.

Each of the people was paid 800 bucks. Which is a lot of money, and would tend to encourage cooperation. Meaning participants might help scientists by giving them the answers the scientists hoped for. Of course, the scientists say the conditions were “blinded”, which if true would eliminate cooperation. Skip that for now.

A complex statistical model ensued, and the parameter associated with adding about 1,000 PPM of CO2 to the background air concentration of about 400 PPM gave a wee P for lower test scores. Our scientists, like everybody else, then used the p-value fallacy to infer it was CO2 that caused lower scores.

Take a breath. Exhale.

That exhalation contains about 4% CO2. If you’ve just walked up a flight of stairs, or are lounging on the couch after a big meal, the number can be a lot higher or a tad lower. In any case, 4% is 40,000 PPM.

Which means there’s a figurative ton of CO2 sloshing around in your lungs—at all times. You don’t get a day off where you are free from this dumb-inducing gas. Adding 1,000 PPM to the input breath changes the lung amount by about 2%, plus or minus.

It’s this teeny tiny additional amount to this ever-present gas what our great scientists claim is making a causative difference in test scores. An amount you’d get from walking up the stairs. There is a serious ailment called acidosis, which can happen in extreme CO2 conditions, something around 15,000 to 50,000 atmospheric PPM, but we’re nowhere near that.

They’re right that CO2 makes people dumber, but it isn’t because of any chemical effects. It’s purely political.

For instance, they say “evidence mounts for CO2 as a direct pollutant”, which is dumb. Do they even know that plants eat CO2? That CO2 plus water provide almost all of the mass of every plant?

Science now is, in many and in an increasing number of fields, the process whereby a politically pleasing theory is proposed and scientists are tasked with finding evidence in its favor.

Now about that so-called blinding. A lot of papers like this are in the too-good-to-be-true category. The results go in their favor, which is odd given the scenario. Yet something must explain the results. Good luck perhaps accounts for some of this, which is always possible when the focus is on wee Ps.

The rest could be sensory leakage.

I know a lot about psychic testing (I even wrote a book about it). Psychic tests are infamous for initial reports of effects which are subsequently proved to have been caused by sensory leakage. Crude example: you can see the value of the card in the reflection of the guy holding it.

Consequently, psychic tests go to great pains to eliminate any possibility of leakage. Still, the number of reports that are eventually disproved cannot be counted. It’s just far, far, far too easy to communicate to people what is going on, even if you don’t use words. And when people know what’s happening, the results of experiments can’t be trusted.

My suspicion is that’s what’s happening here. Of course, I don’t have proof and am no making an accusation. But it’s certainly a possibility.

Categories: Statistics

14 replies »

  1. I checked and Harvard is supposedly “green buildings”, so if the theory is true, something else is making them stupid. Interesting, though, here is what certification for “green” is:
    If I remember biology and chemistry and atmospherics including air movement, many of these tests are easily passed by leaving open windows and/or adding vent fans before the building is tested (anyone remember Volkswagon?). So, standards are easily faked. Plus, the whole “green building” was fake, so who can say? England’s “green” buildings were toxic….

    Also, “green” is a political definition, which CANNOT be tested scientifically, so the entire study is bunk. There is zero science behind most of these standards. Better to study what IS making Harvard stupid. I suspect it is green—and printed by the US mint.

  2. “Twenty-four participants spent 6 full work days”
    Is that a statistically significant sample? Next thing you know we will be seeing studies with only one participant.

  3. CO2 fixation is actually one of the least efficient biological processes we know of, believe it or not. Plants have to deal with O2 getting in the way pretty much constantly and it burns a fair amount of the energy they capture in photosynthesis.

    http://atavisionary .com/green-peace-founder-comes-out-against-the-climate-apocalypse-prognosticators/

  4. The dose makes the poison.
    Harmful short or long-term effects of CO2 are well-documented in basic physiology, and to negate them would be akin to ignoring basic laws of physics. Altitude and SCUBA-diving literature provide precise measurements. So does the mechanism of panic attacks (there is a reason they breathe in a paper bag-CO2 depleted/too much oxygen). Pilots training for hypoxia undergo a similar, much harsher assessments, where at the end of a trial (just before passing out) are given cognitive memory tests. You can imaging how well they perform in those last few seconds. CO2 affects delicate Ph balance in blood and it is best not to mess with it.
    How the real world pollution affects us on a large scale is much more difficult to study, but claiming there is no effect is laughable at best.
    A typical response on this blog is if there is no definitive demonstrable effect in one direction – it MUST be the opposite. No, it doesn’t work that way. All it means is there is no good evidence in one direction.
    Is there evidence that higher concentrations of VOCs and CO2 are good for us? We perform better on cognitive tests?
    I do have issues with the methodology in this paper, but not of the kind seen in some of the comments.

  5. @Yonason

    “…The list is inTable3 here…
    Quite a cocktail of nasty stuff.

    Oh, yeah. Clear as day. CO2 was the problem for sure. //s//…”

    But that’s what you have in the real world office environment. Formaldehyde in furniture, anti-flammable crap in anything from PJs to sofas, all sorts of paints, glues, etc. Not just CO2. If both groups have the same baseline (other stuff), but CO2 varies, than you can somewhat point to CO2 as a potential culprit, but only after you know what the basic variability among adults in exposure to other chemicals is without CO2 (which they didn’t provide).

  6. @Atavisionary

    “…CO2 fixation is actually one of the least efficient biological processes we know of, believe it or not…”

    True that. Same goes with gravity, the weakest of four (or is it five?) main forces. However, it doesn’t mean I’ll go around jumping off from buildings to prove it ‘wrong’. Mainly because I may not get too many chances to replicate the experiment. Just because we don’t understand it fully, doesn’t mean we can ignore it and pretend it can’t do us any harm. We do understand it well enough in basic human physiology, and that’s all that counts for now.

  7. There is probably more to it than CO2. For example …
    In 1968 the Harvard Crimson reported that Harvard beats Yale 29-29.
    The Lampoon people even told John Wayne that they had more guts than he did. So, the Duke invaded Harvard Square.
    And, the same Lampoon ran a spoof VW ad about the Chappaquiddick-driver-challenged Senator only to incur the wrath of VW.

  8. @Kalif

    “If both groups have the same baseline (other stuff), but CO2 varies, than you can somewhat point to CO2 as a potential culprit, but only after you know what the basic variability among adults in exposure to other chemicals is without CO2 (which they didn’t provide).”

    Yes. Hence my //s// tag – so no argument there.

    Another name for the “real world office environment” is “Sick Building Syndrome,” as I recall.
    (LOL – they reference the Haahvaad study in their “similar articles.”)

    Apart from the names I don’t see any significant difference in [VOC] between their “green” and “conventional” environments, except on day 5 when they appear to be substantially artificially raising the concentrations of Isopropanol and Heptane (see table 3). Maybe their lawyers told them to forget about Benzene and a few of the others?

    Also, from table 3 their timing of upping the [CO2] was interesting, raising it stepwise sequentially on days 2 (Tue) and 3 (Wed): then, artificially raising the two above mentioned VOC’s on (I’m so happy it’s) day 5 (Thu), followed by putting them in the “green+” room on (TGI) day 6 (Fri). Where I’m going with this is… I wonder if anything other than the VOC’s and CO2 contributed to what looks to me like their mid-week slump.

    If we’re going to be realistic, they do need to account for all variables. A way to do that for the slump might be to add another group of volunteers who were treated identically, except for being provided a decent sound system playing sequentially more up-beat music on days 2, 3, and 4.

  9. @Kalif
    “Harmful short or long-term effects of CO2 are well-documented in basic physiology,…”

    Yes, they have. Tested for decades in Submarines, a limit of 8,000 ppm has repeatedly been shown to be perfectly safe (as long as normal [O2] is maintained, which only makes sense), and not affect critical-task performance. 30,000-50,000 isn’t optional. And 100,000 is right out!

    I repeat. Those experiments have been and are continuing to be performed as we exchange opinions. We don’t need Harvard geniuses to investigate what we already know, about low [CO2].

    But of course, it’s a lot easier and safer to search under the street light for the item you dropped in the dark alley down the block. Just don’t expect to be believed if you claim to have found it.

  10. RE my: Yonason – December 2, 2019 at 7:43 pm

    “…30,000-50,000 isn’t optional.”
    should have been
    “…30,000-50,000 isn’t optimal.”

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