Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Freeman Dyson

[pictured, latest NASA Sunspot activity]
FOR MORE THAN HALF A CENTURY the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Prince ton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country’s most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.”

I wouldn't describe his residence a "quiet" but you get the idea. One of the greatest minds in history applies his intellect to a modern problem and is excoriated for the answers.
Sure keep watching the data. Follow the arguments. Listen to all sides.


Pleather Murse said...

Looks like the low end of a sunspot cycle, I don't see any.

This is interesting, from Wikipedia:

"Research conducted by Biometeorological Research Center in the Netherlands supports the proposition that solar activity causes lowered human immunity: Thirty years of research using 740,000 male subjects shows that blood sedimentation rates—and resulting albumin and gamma globulin rates—changes with the sunspot cycle. Researchers have also discovered correlation between human longevity and the amount of sunspot activity during the mother's birth year: The average person lives 2-3 years longer if their mother was born during a sunspot minimum."

s said...

The really sad thing is that Dyson was working in this field before most of the people criticizing him had even heard of "the greenhouse effect".

He published a proposed a solution in 1977 before most environmentalists were born.

Kurt said...

I tend to think of it in terms of changes in the composition of the atmosphere instead of temperatures. Temperature is wildly variable like the market...why is there debate about the temperature when it's the atmosphere that's in question?

So, they can do ice core samples where they measure the ppm of CO2 in bubbles trapped in the ice. Scientist can get accurate data going back for a couple hundred thousand years. I think there was one epoch in the past that had similar concentrations of CO2. However, there was an intact and stable system for sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and that's one thing that humans have clearly and rapidly changed. We've been radically terraforming the planet for the past 15,000 years (a very SHORT time period). There used to be a vast black forest across Europe, the great plains used to have a dense prairie grasslands, the Amazon, etc. The biggest way in which carbon is sequestered is in the shells of ocean creatures. Unfortunately, it seems that process is seeing interruptions as well. As an avid scuba diver, I'm disturbed about the coral bleaching (dying) that is taking place across in many areas of the ocean. This is due to rising temperatures and acidification of the ocean from the atmospheric changes taking place. Of course, CO2 is just one dimension of it all, methane makes the computer models even less accurate.

Lifeforms tend to go extinct, I think something like 99% of all lifeforms that ever were have gone extinct. It's probable we'll be joining them in a short time geologically. I'm sure there will be life on earth though until the sun turns into a red giant and then there will be some extreme global warming.

The main lesson, less pictures of celestial bodies and more of the borderline NSFW risque pictures :)

tj and the bear said...

It's always a mixed bag with me.

One the one hand the data is totally unconvincing, let alone the charlatans promoting it. OTOH, I'm all for better care of the environment (and wildlife) so the goals generally align.

Still, between the people behind it and their proposed solutions the whole thing doesn't smell right.

Byzantine said...

Howzabout that botspam?

Lost Cause said...

There are mammoths defrosting in Siberia. Doesn't that tell you something?

Rob Dawg said...

There are mammoths defrosting in Siberia. Doesn't that tell you something?I'm gonna need a bigger BBQ?

Rob Dawg said...

Hey Byz. Yeah that was a hoot. Watcha doing here? Slummin?

Mr. Outspoken said...

The reason people focus on temperature instead of atmosphere is because of two factors. 1)The composition of the atmosphere is relatively stable and measurable, and so not eligible for debate. 2)The composition of the atmosphere doesn't lead to changes that most people can visualize.
Oh boo hoo, the coral is bleaching. Waah farmers are getting less harvest due to acid rain. Boring. But the polar ice caps are melting? A fuzzy polar bear is hungry? Instant enviroradicalism.

Lex said...

The NYT story on Dyson:

The Civil HereticA bigger story, generally ignored, was Harrison Schmidtt's resignation from the Planetary Society.

Or you can skip the physics and geology courses and go straight to George Carlin (RIP), who I would trust far more than most of the elected officials in this country.

Jean ValJean said...


That's Liberals for you: They'll defend to the death your right to agree with them.

Peripheral Visionary said...

I think I'm more or less on the same page as most the people here--sympathetic to environmental causes, wanting to get away from fossil fuels, and thinking we should be doing more to protect the planet, but appalled at the Environmental Inquisition that has been forming over the last few years.

The unfortunate reality is that a small number of people (most of whom are not scientists, but rather political activists) have seen problems with the environment as their big opportunity to put themselves into power and suppress their enemies. It's a new orthodoxy, the Middle Ages all over, with heretics being publicly condemned and banned from the community, with people having no scientific background telling scientists what they should be thinking. Unfortunately, too many scientists have gone along with the new orthodoxy--but it's hard to blame them, given that their funding and reputations are on the line, and in light of the shameful treatment of those who dare to disagree.

A response would be, so environmentalism has turned into a crusade, if its objectives are noble, what can the harm be? The harm comes from its damage to the process of scientific inquiry, and to the process of designing solutions to environmental problems. Once the process becomes corrupted, it is entirely possible for completely inappropriate solutions that benefit entrenched special interests more than they benefit the environment to be put forward--e.g. the atrocious "carbon offsets" that give the wealthy a green light to pollute as much as they want (indulgences all over again.)

So kudos to Dyson (who I respected prior to this development) for speaking his mind, as scientists should. Hopefully his voice will be heard and the toxic atmosphere of orthodoxy in climate science will get a breath of fresh air.

w said...

Very well said PV!

Jean ValJean said...

Holy Cow, this reminds me of Vince Foster:

Freddy Mac CFO commits suicide

Kurt said...

Related story:


Lost Cause said...

Happy Earth Day. Climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is now the central thesis in many of the earth sciences, just like evolution is to biology. The political action is a result of the evidence being uncovered by the basic research of science, even though some would twist it to be the other way around. I am astounded that there is virtually nothing being done to halt the use of fossil fuels. Global warming is an important fact of life for us now -- yet it is but one of many reason why we should get off of petroleum now. God bless.