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Earth Science

The Global Warming Heretic 1190

Posted by Soulskill
from the sphere-of-influence dept.
theodp writes "In The Civil Heretic, the NYT Magazine takes a look at how world-renowned scientist Freeman Dyson wound up opposing those who care most about global warming. Since coming out of the closet on global warming, Dyson has found himself described as 'a pompous twit,' 'a blowhard,' and 'a mad scientist.' He argues that climate change has become an obsession for 'a worldwide secular religion' known as environmentalism. Dyson has been particularly dismissive of Al Gore, calling him climate change's chief propagandist and accusing him of relying too heavily on computer-generated climate models and promoting 'lousy science' that's distracting attention from more serious and more immediate dangers to the planet." Dyson himself wrote about the need for heretics in science not long ago.
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The Global Warming Heretic

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:18PM (#27370837)

    Funny how since the beginning of history, groups of people have been claiming that the world is going to end. And it keeps not happening.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:25PM (#27370885)
      In fairness it will only keep on not happening until the day it does happen.

      AKA, it's not a matter of "if."
    • by StartledGnu (548387) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:41PM (#27371055)

      Funny how since the beginning of history, groups of people have been claiming that the world is going to end. And it keeps not happening.

      "Past Performance is Not Necessarily Indicative of Future Results"

    • by Adrian Lopez (2615) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:45PM (#27371099) Homepage

      The world will go on, but humanity might not.

    • Funny how since the beginning of history, groups of people have been claiming that the world is going to end. And it keeps not happening.

      That holds true whatever we do. If mankind would turn this planet into a radioactive, toxic wasteland that's uninhabitable for humans or animals, we might just succeed in making ourselves extinct (like the dinosaurs). Given enough time, environmental conditions would change/improve and other lifeforms would rule the planet. 'Mother earth' will be fine regardless.

      But perhaps it's better to look at climate change as a simple cost problem. Raised CO2 levels might cause higher global temperatures, sea level

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by orzetto (545509)

      First off, no one has ever said that "global warming will mark the world's end". Its consequences are claimed to be very expensive to handle, involve lots of suffering, massive displacements of populations and annexed refugee problems (see recent Bangladesh flooding pattern).

      Second, it is also funny how since the beginning of history, groups of people have been claiming that the world is just fine:

      • Don't worry, that horse is a sign of the gods! Break the wall to let it pass!
      • Barbarians? How could that be a p
  • beacon of hope (Score:4, Insightful)

    by okooolo (1372815) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:24PM (#27370877)
    I dread the day we stop questioning ourselves
  • Heretics are GOOD (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DreamsAreOkToo (1414963) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:32PM (#27370943)

    A lot of time in Science, you see people get aggressive towards dissenters of the popular opinion. Not aggressive in a good way, mind you. Heretics are GOOD because they strengthen or destroy good/bad science.

    Just remember that next time you read an ID article ;-)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:32PM (#27370949)

    Unfortunately, he also happens to be wrong. He is a lone voice who has never published or conducted any research in Climatology; it is not his field. Those who insult and demean Dyson because of his views engage in abhorrent rhetoric. But the fact that some crazy people engage in abusive conduct does not make Professor Dyson's scientific views on this issue correct. It simply means that some people are assholes.

    I'm sorry. There is a strong sentiment among slashdotters that Global Warming is bunk. Which shows just how ignorant the population at slashdot really is (never mind the general public).

    • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:12PM (#27371447)

      .. who has never published or conducted any research in Climatology;

      Neither has Al Gore.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        What the hell does Al Gore have to do with climatology science? Nothing. The claims of climatologists have a large data set backing them now. It is far more than just a few computer models. That was the case in 1988. Today, there is over twenty years of accumulated hard data from ice cores, tree rings, and geological evidence showing change over time going back from thousands of years (tree ring) hundreds of thousands of years (ice core) to millions of years (geologic). This is not about simple computer mod

        • by Enahs (1606) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @08:42PM (#27374665) Journal

          See, here's what people are getting at. Since you seem to be quick to lean on the idiot's crutch of using profanity and intimidation in lieu of intelligent discourse, I'll keep this as simple as possible.

          Someone like, say, Michael Chrighton, or Freeman Dyson, is vilified for speaking out against AGW, especially given their lack of expertise in climatology.

          Al Gore, however, is treated like a hero, despite having not only no experience in climatology, but his total lack of scientific expertise, because he espouses an opinion for which there is scientific consensus.

          Have you got it, or do you need it to be further dumbed down?

  • by artor3 (1344997) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:34PM (#27370965)

    I'm sure this discussion will be flooded with global warming deniers, but if you actually read Dyson's opinions, he believes that global warming IS happening and we ARE to blame.

    His only complaint with the science is that he feels that some of the computer models are fudged to make the results look worse than they might actually be.

    Of course, his opinion on this seems utterly pointless to me. The man is a physicist, specializing in solid-state and quantum physics. He's no more qualified to analyze the science behind climate change than an electrical engineer is to build a bridge.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:01PM (#27371289)

      His only complaint with the science is that he feels that some of the computer models are fudged to make the results look worse than they might actually be.

      An engineer, a mathematician and a computer scientist are being interviewed to become CFO of a big company. The CEO asks, "What is two plus two?"

      The engineer whips out his cell phone, uses the calculator, and shows it to the CEO. "Two plus two is four!"

      The mathematician whips out his portable whiteboard, scribbles some stuff one it, and shows it to the CEO. "This proves that two plus two is four!"

      The computer scientist whips out a computer model, shrugs, sighs and asks, "How much do you want it to be?"

    • by presidenteloco (659168) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:05PM (#27371355)

      Particularly unfortunate then that the real data over the last decade has been showing across several indicators that the reality of warming is worse than the consensus model interpretations are predicting.

      So he may be right that the models are inaccurate, but the general theory of the greenhouse effect is simple and correct, and is impacting us more than models guessed.

  • by Narpak (961733) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:36PM (#27370987)
    While I will wholeheartedly agree that there are dogmatic idiots on both sides of this issue. And while I have no personal experience or knowledge on how, what and why things happen the way they do; I feel that those supporting doing nothing and ignoring any potential problem related to global warming and increased pollution are sticking their heads in the sand.

    This isn't just about Environmental Nutters (though there are plenty of those); it's about responsible use of our resources and how to dispose of any waste generated. Continually, and increasingly, dumping chemicals and pumping exhaust from cars and factories into the atmosphere is not a positive thing. Our planet is big, and the problems related to increased pollution builds up over time; but it is absolutely clear in my mind that we can't keep doing what we do; there are simply too many people on the planet for it to magically absorb and breakdown all our waste (especially at the level we now generate and discard it).

    Basically my point is that investing and researching more energy efficient ways is a good thing. Cutting down on consumption, and perhaps thinking a bit more about the stability and continuity of our ecosystem is a good thing.
    • by presidenteloco (659168) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:12PM (#27371445)

      Why is a person who is aware of and opposed to the large-scale destructive effects and massive alterations we are having on Earth's ecosystems and climate called a "nutter" (translation for US audience: "Crazy wackjob")

      whereas

      someone who is either ignorant of these problems, incapable of comprehending them and rationally analyzing them, or willfully denying our negative environmental effects in order to selfishly further a comfortable but unethical and unsustainable lifestyle,
      is presumeable called a normal sane member of society?

      Things that make you go hmmmmmmm.

  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:37PM (#27370999) Journal

    He hasn't lost his mind, it just ain't particullary rooted in reality. Never was.

    His solution should CO2 become a problem? Plant trees.

    Forest around the world are being cut down. Where would we plant not just the trees to replace the ones we had last year but the ones we need extra? He doesn't so much deny that CO2 is a potential problem but seems to think planting lots of trees is the answer without apparenly ever having thought about how we are supposed to do that. Great minds are like that, they can think about immense and complex things we can't fathom, but can't quite grasp that the world can't just turn farmland into forests.

    "Bio-tech, he writes in his book, Infinite in All Directions (1988), offers us the chance to imitate natures speed and flexibility, and he imagines the furniture and art that people will grow for themselves, the pet dinosaurs they will grow for their children, along with an idiosyncratic menagerie of genetically engineered cousins of the carbon-eating tree: termites to consume derelict automobiles, a potato capable of flourishing on the dry red surfaces of Mars, a collision-avoiding car."

    A potato that grown on Mars. How nice. And how do we get there einstein? This is the kind of stuff we read about 20 years ago that would be with us in 20 years. It is flying cars. As well all know, they don't exist and probably never will. Why? Because they are practical.

    Enviromentalists like Al Gore have to be practical. They are dealing with the very real effects of ricing sea levels NOW because you can't just build higher dikes when they have been destroyed by a storm. That is for instance the problems in Holland right now. As a country we are more then rich enough to raise the dikes but we need to do it NOW when the danger is years or even decades away because it will take years and even decades to finish and worse, if the predictions are to conservative, then those higher dikes might be needed sooner rather then later. You can't just plant a lot of trees if Dyson is wrong in 30 years. By then it will be to late.

    That is the real problem with the supposed climate change. Say we follow Al Gore and there turns out not to be a problem. We would have wasted lots of money. Say we don't follow Al Gore and he is right, then we are in deep shit and it is to late to do anything about it. That is roughly the left and the right. The left want to be save and pay insurance now. The right wants to keep their money and their childeren be damned.

  • by damn_registrars (1103043) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:39PM (#27371021) Homepage Journal
    It is one thing to oppose an idea because you dislike it or you distrust it. There is no shortage of people running around claiming global warming to be total FUD.

    However, there is a distinct shortage of people who are actually able to provide DATA to support their opposition to it. There is a significant difference between saying "I don't agree with that data" and "I have this data set that shows that data set is wrong". Global warming, by definition, is based on the global mean temperature of the earth. Plenty of people try to go for statements like "it snowed in Atlanta, so global warming must be BS"; though of course a statement like that ignores the global aspect of global warming.

    As I don't have a NY Times account, I could not read the article provided. Can anyone tell us, did he actually provide meaningful data, or is he just criticizing the existing data?
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:40PM (#27371031) Homepage

    ...and human-caused, Dyson has far more credibility with me than Gore does.

  • I could be wrong (Score:4, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @01:50PM (#27371165) Homepage Journal
    Repeat that 20 times a day, and one can remain objective. Modern science is based on that premise. This is beyond simply observing the natural world and deriving defensible predictive processes. It is admitting that even though these processes reliably predict all known verifiable phenomena, it could still be wrong.

    This is what Kuhn was saying in the Structure of Scientific Revolution. Paradigms, as defined and used in the book, not in the modern sense corrupted by brain dead executives, are created by an elite group of scientists and these paradigms are mistaken for truth. It is a priori truth instead of a posteriori truth, but if we are actively searching for the ultimate nature of the divine, and not just the static representation, then truth is of no use.

    History has shown that our static representations of the truth are always incomplete. In An Incomplete Guide to the Art of Discovery [cornell.edu] Oliver asserts that such incompleteness can be the basis of science. By finding the one verifiable phenomena that does not seem to fit perfectly, we can do science, either by showing an error in the measurement or interpretation of the phenomena or showing that the theory used to describe the phenomena is incomplete.

    Which is to say we should really think about what we are talking about. For the most part when scientists argue about this stuff, they are fighting over old and new paradigms. It is often not about whether humans are impacting the climate, which is a conclusion, but often how we go about collecting data and developing the processes used to quantify those changes. Because the average person only cares about conclusions, they really don't see the subtle difference, and they just see a person who says that people they disagree are wrong. But it is not about right or wrong. It is not about really about whether the earth is 10,000 years old or 10,000,000,000. It is about whether we are being honest and developing ideas that reflect the observations we make, and not just what we are raised to believe.

  • Linus Pauling (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hachete (473378) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:14PM (#27371471) Homepage Journal

    Yes, one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century - a greater scientist than Freeman Dyson if one counts Nobel Prizes - and for years he kept banging on about Vitamin C as a cure for cancer. At one time, he even put his wife through the treatment. Vitamin C as a cure for cancer is baloney. Pauling wasn't a nutritionist.

    If you dab your toe in a field outside your expertise, you're liable to get it bitten off. I wouldn't take the advice of a Doctor of medicine on writing PERL.

  • Credentials (Score:3, Funny)

    by Windrip (303053) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:27PM (#27371587) Journal

    Dyson's opinions on climate are as valid as Shockley's on genetics.

  • by krygny (473134) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @02:27PM (#27371589)

    The votes are in. The cutoff point for new knowledge has passed.

    We have to have a cutoff point. Otherwise we might discover we were wr... wr... misinterpreted and taken out of context.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @03:18PM (#27372123)

    Not exactly news. Ray Bradbury said all sorts of horrible things about Michael Moore and Fahrenheit 911 and was a huge supporter of the Bush wars. Issac Newton believed in alchemy and conducted all sorts of pseudo-scientific experiments in nonsense. Edison spent the last years of his life working on a spook phone to talk to the dead. Orson Scott Card is a Mormon and says bad things about gay people. George Lucas went from Beloved Creator of Star Wars to the Beard, Defiler of the Films.

    People start saying and believing stupid shit when they pass their prime. They'll also mistake specialist expertise in one field for generalist expertise in everything.

  • by quixote9 (999874) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @04:05PM (#27372475) Homepage
    He's a physicist. All he's done is show that non-specialists aren't necessarily as good as specialists at understanding the evidence.

    I'm a biologist, and a good one if I do say so myself. I'm also convinced that faster than light travel (and the necessary new physics) is just waiting to be discovered. I'm sure the physics community will be immediately rethinking all their principles now.
  • The 800 Year Gap (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Burnova (1388741) on Saturday March 28, 2009 @05:54PM (#27373433)
    I scanned through and didn't see it mentioned anywhere, but has anyone else heard about this problem? The entire global warming problem is contingent on the concept that an increase in CO2 leads to higher temperatures, and this is based on the data compiled into the nice chart that Al Gore displays and comments, "They look like the belong together." Or something like that. The problem is that CO2 amounts don't precede the increase in temperature, they actually lag behind the temperature changes by about 800 years. This can be explained by the idea that as the world heats up, the oceans heat as well. As the oceans heat, they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Of course this leaves the question, "Why does the planet heat up?" to be answered, and while the data is much more limited, there seems to be a very strong correlation between solar activity and global temperature. Has anyone else come across this line of research? Or have anything that builds on or refutes this?

It is impossible to travel faster than light, and certainly not desirable, as one's hat keeps blowing off. -- Woody Allen

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