Getting Heated

Friday, April 10, 2009


A couple of weeks ago, the New York Times Magazine published a cover story on the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson and his unconventional view on global warming. The article generated a lot of attention – much of it unfavorable. Joe Romm, physicist and fellow at the Center for American Progress says publishing Dyson’s views gives too much credence to what he deems pseudoscience. Author Nicholas Dawidoff, who wrote the piece, says Dyson is much too interesting and serious a thinker to be ignored.

Comments [45]

M Ritzenhein from Michigan

Kudos to Don B for his cogent explication of the matter here. Now it is OTM's obligation to do a better job with this subject, and not just be willing or unwitting dupes for those who have an anti-agenda for political/power change to address global warming.

Apr. 30 2009 07:17 AM
DonB from Massachusetts

I would like Mr. Garfield to revisit this issue in a way that shows he has learned something new. If he has followed this set of comments, even in the journalist blind mode he was in with regards to Mr. Dawidoff, he should perceive that there is a big problem in the way those who want to discredit Global Warming science go about their task and how he (and Mr. Dawidoff) have played into it. Scientists do constantly question aspects of GW science, but those questions have to do with the DETAILS of the science, not the overall thrust. That is what is important for the public to understand, not the opponents objective that the public be confused as to what the science says.

I dare Mr. Garfield to revisit this issue, but I don't think he will. And I would not have had that opinion before this terrible miscarriage of journalism.

Apr. 29 2009 08:59 AM
DonB from Massachusetts

This is where Mr. Dyson goes so wrong. He gave a preliminary overlook of a few physics equations and came to the conclusion that they did not support global warming. But he has evidently REFUSED to revisit his initial investigation. Why? If Mr. Dawidoff had investigated that question, the magazine article might have been worthwhile; but Mr. Dawidoff is a scientific illiterate and he might just as well have written his article for People magazine or rather the National Inquirer to appear alongside an article on green monsters from Mars. The truth, in his own words, is irrelevant to him. I wonder if the truth of his bank account or 401 K is irrelevant to him?

But again, I dare Mr. Garfield to revisit this subject and do a better piece. I doubt he will. And before this, I would not have had that opinion.

Mr. Garfield needs to show that he also is NOT a scientific illiterate, or why in a national debate of existential consequence, it is not necessary to be scientifically literate. I would love to see him try. But I don't think he is capable of it.

He can start learning about Climate Change by visiting YouTube for "Climate Denial Crock of the Week" and then go to the presentation by Naomi Oreskes, Ph.D., Professor of History, Science Studies Program, UCSD, "The American Denial of Global Warming."

(to be continued)

Apr. 29 2009 08:59 AM
DonB from Massachusetts

The theory is NOT based on computer models; it is based on known physical laws and observed temperatures, temperature changes, measurements of atmospheric "rare" gases (CO2, H2O, CH4, etc.), temperatures from the past derived from "proxies" (e.g., tree ring sizes, atmospheric content from that captured in glaciers, etc.
Then computer models are built based on the most understood and dominant physical laws and then are validated by showing that they can predict today's climate from the known climate at some time in the past with the known inputs over the time period. The models give a range of values for a basic reason: no one can measure the previous climate and the subsequent inputs perfectly and so a range of values are input in separate calculations which then give a range of outputs. Then the model is improved by adding the equations for less dominant laws or feedback effects (when one effect increases the value of an input to another law, etc.).

This improvement of the computer models has provided the ability to give more specific predictions, but NOT predictions that differ qualitatively from those the understanding of the physics gives. Jim Hansen of NASA gave predictions in 1980 that were nearly as accurate as the ones he gives today, many of which are already being documented as true.

(to be continued)

Apr. 29 2009 08:50 AM
DonB from Massachusetts

A better analogy for the "discussion" of the truth of Global Warming would be to compare it with the "problem" of our understanding of Gravity. I believe a consensus exists (among the public as well as scientists) for the "fact" of gravity. But all scientists know that the "full theory" of Gravity is not yet known. How is that? Einstein's General Theory of Relativity predicts with astonishing accuracy the effects of gravity on large bodies, and is necessary for predicting the effects of forces acting on large bodies moving at high speeds near that of the velocity of light. But the Quantum Theory predicts, also with astonishing accuracy -- to more than 7 digits -- the effects of forces on small bodies at nuclear distance scales. Therefore a "complete theory of Gravity" still awaits us. But the lack of that complete theory does NOT prevent us from using Einstein's Theory, or its reduction to speeds negligible to the speed of light, Newton's theory for calculating the effects of forces in designing our buildings, roads, cars, electronics, etc. By the same standards of rigor, the "Theory" of Climate Change as understood today is sufficient to predict the future on our present "business as usual" path.

Those who wish to discredit this theory, or delay the necessary response of the world to avoid the severe consequences like to point to minor weaknesses of this theory (like claiming the effects of gravity cannot be predicted because there is no general theory that shows how to incorporate gravity with quantum mechanics) are disingenuous in the extreme.

(to be cont.)

Apr. 29 2009 08:50 AM
DonB from Massachusetts

This may be too late to be read by many, but here goes...

As a long-time listener and believer in the worth of this program, I am greatly disturbed by Mr. Garfield's dismissal of the need for journalists to tell the truth. If Mr. Dawidoff had begun his piece saying that he didn't care whether global warming was true of not, but he was fascinated by people like Mr. Dyson who make statements about fields that they have NOT deeply studied (even less than Dr. Shockley studied race and intelligence).

Joe Romm does get a bit overwrought at times, but that does not invalidate his arguments, though it sometimes allows his opponents to switch the subject.

There are MANY studies which document how people continue to remember the false parts of a story as true from their first introduction to a subject and how hard it is to change it once it gets set. Mr. Garfield may have referenced some of them in discussing Dan Rather's problem with George Bush's National Guard duty (or was that just how people disregard the true parts of a story when they can find something wrong with it and they don't want to have to confront the real true parts?)

(to be cont.)

Apr. 29 2009 08:49 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Meanwhile, I notice that my overlong defense of my progressive credentials and support for what I already saw as the true Obama transportation plan, into which the fun, clown-like new product from GM & Segway could play an important role (as a transition to truly effective mass transit, always my emphasis) disappeared or I spaced it. (Yeah, sure, but I'm not saving them all, as I did before rehab.)

If it retains GM as part of our industrial basis, more to the good.

I still remember the wooden, hand-powered Ferris wheels in Afghanistan after the Taliban took their first powder, to let it dry. It was the first fun for those kids in ages! Then came the kites.

Apr. 17 2009 04:57 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

As I wrote to an old friend, tonight, "Well, I don't know if you ever noticed it but, when I was in the carnival with Mom & Dad, Mr. Chancy, John, not his brother George who was a dead ringer for Wallace in looks and accent, said, "You're good at this, Chris. You act a little crazy and people spend a little more money for the fun of it!"

"They brought Charles Z. Wick of the US Information Agency to New Haven to point out that the Green Party was a GERMAN political party two days before our first election, with the slogan "Tax Yale, Not Us" (not my work, mind you) and we still got 10% out of my shenanigans!

"So, as I get time, I'll look up your stuff and maybe talk it up, for old times sake. Barack and Michelle don't seem to mind my talking about our time in the community organizing business together. I wonder if Big Bill minds being reminded of being Joe Lieberman's "body man"."

They're not above making him seem as bad as Shockley or, at least, Larry Summers at Harvard! So Romm's a physicist and Dyson's a physicist; is there a moral equivalecy, here, at least?

Apr. 17 2009 03:54 AM
Michael Trigoboff from Portland, Oregon

RE: Trigoboff Calling someone a "Denialist" is a reference to Holocaust Denial...

Wrong. "Denialist" as in global warming denial.
Yeah, but the word is a reference to "Holocaust denier." You guys were calling skeptics "deniers" before you switched to "Denialist." Tricky, but everyone knows what you're doing.

Apr. 16 2009 11:40 PM
D. Everett from Keokuk, Iowa

Romm's hysterical denunciation of Tyson should set off alarm bells about his credibility. Trying to shout down anyone who questions your arguments is the very antithesis of good scientific thinking. Romm's comparison to holocaust deniers is inexcusable. He doesn't seem to grasp the difference between an actual holocaust and a highly theoretical one. Amen to Colleen Fleury's remarks.

Apr. 16 2009 02:37 PM
M Ritzenhein from Lansing Michigan

RE: Trigoboff Calling someone a "Denialist" is a reference to Holocaust Denial...

Wrong. "Denialist" as in global warming denial.

Apr. 14 2009 10:01 PM
Michael Trigoboff from Portland, Oregon

Ritzenhein: This is Denialist rubbish, and displays ignorance of scientific method, and the culture of the science community of scholars in general.
Calling someone a "Denialist" is a reference to Holocaust Denial, an attempt to cast skeptics as (not to put too fine a point on it) Nazis.

This is not how science is done. This is how religious dogmas are enforced. This is how the Catholic Church reacted to Galileo.

These tactics tell me that there's something more going on here than a debate about science.

Apr. 14 2009 08:02 PM
Michael Trigoboff from Portland, Oregon

I just heard Joe Romm's comments regarding Freeman Dyson. His comparison of Dyson to a Holocaust denier is completely beyond the pale. Among many other things, Romm is guilty of violating Godwin's Law..

I'm a computer scientist, and I have severe doubts about the global climate models which support the theory of global warming. The last time any of those models was verified independently was 40 years ago.

After over 35 years of experience building and debugging software, I have a feel for the potential pitfalls in complex software that might escape someone without that experience. And I've got a bad feeling about the reliability of climate predictions based largely on the global climate models.

Science is supposed to accept input from skeptics and proceed based on logic and evidence. The way Romm and other climate change advocates react to skepticism reminds me of the Catholic Church's actions towards Galileo. The social phenomenon surrounding climate change smells like a religion in science drag to me, and Romm's behavior with respect to Dyson fits right into that perception.

Apr. 14 2009 07:57 PM
Vijay Subramanian

Mr. Freeman Dyson being a brilliant and accomplished physicist does not imply that his opinion (not discovery/deduction, as pointed out by other comments) on a topic where has he not done any work in, should be treated any different from that of any other citizen. Enough examples on this can be found in history with Sir Francis Galton and his opinions on race and genetics (Eugenics) being a particular case in point.

Apr. 14 2009 04:49 PM
Bill O'Brien from Corvallis

Nicholas Dawidoff's article bothered me. I thought about it for a couple of days. His treatment of Freeman Dyson was odd. He kept mentioning how brilliant Freeman was (and presumably is) and as evidence would repeatedly point to eccentricities, as if this particularly relevant, or to the fact that Freeman would be attracted to a contrarians’ position. To do a character piece is one thing, but to present such a brilliant person as a caricature and then to stretch it farther by tying this caricature to a serious scientific topic with real world consequences is despicable.

Science requires doing the science, something that Freeman brushed off in this case. It also requires objectivity, not being seduced by one’s contrarian tendencies. I have always admired Freeman, now he is tarnished.

Apr. 14 2009 01:50 AM
Dale Heltzer from Rochester, MN

Methinks Doc Rom is interested in publicity for Doc Romm and his institution. He does not help his cause AT ALL when he begins the interview comparing Dyson to Holocaust deniers and those who might opine that cigarette smoking is good. His claim that [Dyson is] shouting "ther is no fire" in a burning theater is dead wrong. "If there *is a fire, we can deal with it - we know about fire-suppression," might be more accurate. What Romm forgets is that a panicked crowd may stampede, and so cause itself more harm than the purported danger. GW believers are so terrified they cannot brook dissent; skeptics cannot say what maximum level of anthropogenous CO2 is safe, nor whether humanity can deal with the rate or extent of the change. Human activity *may or *may *not be relevant to the course of GW, its progress or abatement, but as a matter of prudence, we ought to make a concerted effort to minimize our push on the system. Continuing with the burning-theater analogy: We have nowhere to run to if there is indeed a fire.

Apr. 13 2009 08:35 PM
Doctor D from an undisclosed location

I wish all the movements and ideologies and dogmas would stay away from the scientists. The word belief has no place in the scientific method.

I understand Romm's reaction, if a bit over the top, against any hint of attacking our current understanding of climate change and its impacts.

You have to put it in context. From my perspective, which includes years in science, two branches of science have been under intense pressure: evolution and climate science. Why just these two? Why not the hundreds of others? Because these two were chosen by the right wing to protect their power structure. Evolution was a divisive issue that Karl Rove knew would push evangelicals to the GOP. Climate science is attacked because of the huge money and power in the energy industry.

And the attacking is by people who haven't spent years studying these phenomena. They typically parrot right wing talking points, and eventually people in science, or on the periphery fight back and are driven to a highly sensitive disposition.

There is a common strawman in claiming that all support of negative impacts of anthropogenic climate change is from liberal equivalents of right wing ideologues. This is not the case. The more we study the climate, and the better our models and data collection get, the worse it looks for us.

Apr. 13 2009 02:52 PM
Paul Donohoe from Lake Oswego, OR

I have rarely been as disappointed in an interview from a member of NPR as I am by the interviewer of Romm and Dawidoff. The interviewer's bias in favor of Dawidoff is obvious; however, it is not his bias that disturbs me but his allowing Dawidoff's hypocrisy to go unchallenged. Dawidoff tries to claim the moral high ground by arguing that it is essential in a democracy to consider the views of those who challenge accepted theories, especially ones that may result in broad political action; but he goes on to say that he has no interest in whether Dyson is correct or incorrect in his views on climate change. If Dawidoff were genuinely concerned about broad-reaching policy decisions, one would assume that he would care about the validity of Dyson's views. The truth is that Dawidoff saw a chance to grab the spotlight with an outrageous puff piece. He succeeded--but Romm is right: had Dawidoff been profiling a man who questioned whether Hitler's view on eugenics were worthy of attention, his writing would have been derided for the stunt that it is, and never seen print--or at least not the cover of the NY Times magazine.

Apr. 13 2009 01:05 AM
Ken Enockson from Fargo, ND

It is an interesting phenomenon that whenever a particular ideology or opinion gains acceptance after facing a long period of antagonism and resistance that it's defenders resort to their own reactionary purges in favor of the new orthodoxy. This is clearly the case in regards to Joseph Romm's overwrought and vehement comments during his April 12 interview with On the Media. In a liberal democratic society it is the ideal, if not necessarily the practice, to allow disparate points of view in the public square of ideas.

I would like to remind Mr. Romm that it was that very principle that allowed his particular point of view to gain its current ascendancy in public opinion and policy making. Unless he has the arrogance to assume that he has the corner of the market on all truth in regards to climate change, perhaps he could allow that unorthodox voices have a role to play in the environmental policy dialogue. In addition, Romm might take care to remember that it was once his own voice that was often shouted down by critics of the ‘old’ orthodoxy.

Apr. 12 2009 11:54 PM
Jodi Smith from Oregon


Amen brother, well said! Dogmatism can exist everywhere, not just in the Church.

Apr. 12 2009 10:31 PM
Robert Milligan from Issaquah, WA

I would welcome NPR discussing US Senate Proceedings, and the opinions expressed by these 700+ scientists:

Apr. 12 2009 10:30 PM
warren l from dallas, texas

Alright, to hear the real scientist talks about the real world of climate experiments 20 years before it became fashionable:

Apr. 12 2009 10:28 PM
Keith from Detroit

Joe Romm's tirade against the NYT Magazine's story and denouncing Freeman Dyson reminded me of the attitude of the church in the Middle Ages whenever some stray freethinker dared espouse some heterodoxy. Unless you were an archbishop or employed by the Vatican, your opinion, no matter how reasoned or learned, was obviously of no value and must be silenced. Freeman Dyson is the closest living person we have to an Einstein or a Newton, and most of us know him from his humanist warnings against nuclear weapons, but were it not for the fire codes in Princeton, New Jersey, I would expect to see the Rt. Rev. Romm, S.J., and the rest of orthodox clergy put an end to Dyson's heresy in an auto-da-fé.

The late Michael Crichton remarked that the environmental movement closely resembles a religion, and one of the salient features of religion is that there can be no opposing point of view. Anthropogenic Global Warming is the only hypothesis ever averred in which there can be no question as to its validity. Anyone who doubts it as being an established scientific fact is either ignorant, a lunatic, or in the pay of the villainous oil companies.

Apr. 12 2009 09:55 PM
Doctor D from an undisclosed location

Climate change, desertification, extinction, and evolution will continue whether humans believe in them or not.

Apr. 12 2009 09:38 PM
Doctor D from an undisclosed location

I thought the host was correct in stating that the article didn't push his point, and was a biography, not a climate change article. As a scientist myself, hearing someone with no research or expertise in climatology make statements like that is very disappointing, especially when the person is a scientist--he should know better.

But the real issue here is that what Dyson said was opinion. It was not supported, or with any substantiated basis. That is the problem. All of our "news" media is so infused with opinion and these feaux debate shouting matches, that we get much more drama, opinion and strawman arguments than real, objective information--outside of NPR and PBS, that is. The author from the NYT should have only included things that pertained to Dyson's life, and not unfounded opinions that could have negative repercussions on scientists in the field.

"Obama has a new economic strategy, and here to talk about it is a Democratic strategist, and a Republican strategist..." I haven't been told what the plan is, what an economist's take on it is, but now I will hear people with a known bias yell at each other. How can a democracy function in this environment? OTM needs to look at this.

Apr. 12 2009 09:31 PM

Joe Romm is a Farenheit 451 fireman, on call to attack anything that threatens the global warming orthodoxy. He is not a scientist, he is a propagandist of the most extreme. Any organization with the title "Center for (file in the blank) Progress", is part of the Soros/Podesta "progressive" propaganda machine. I wouldn't give him the time of day.

Apr. 12 2009 07:31 PM
Jim Hall from Washington State

I agree with what has been presented as Joe Romm's assesment of Global Warming. I believe that Global Warming is much more advanced then is commonly held. However, I consider Joe Romm's position on the Dyson interview frightening, almost a call for censorship. Although not his exact words, the message that I took from his statement was to hold back information that is too complicated for an ignorant public to sort out, to make the "correct" decision. Whether it is Romm's position or not, this kind of censorship of ideas historically has led to many tragic and unjust results. Censorship of ideas and debate is one of the root causes of the Global Warming mess that we are in now.

Apr. 12 2009 07:23 PM
David from Rhode Island

Ben Morton - I don't think you are a jerk at all, you just make little sense. Perhaps English is not your native languange?

Apr. 12 2009 12:32 PM
warren l from dallas, texas

Listening to Joe Romm proved one of the main thrust of Dyson's critique of climate study: that it has become a religion. Romm made it as though at least one of its practitioner thinks himself as a sort-of shaman who is beyond question. Romm's entire interview was to attack Dyson-as-a-bad-person solely because Dyson happens to challenge certain aspects of climatic predictions. While it is prudent for us to live with the precept that we are part of the environment, we do not need policy maker like Romm expounding to us that we live within his absolute doctrine.

Apr. 12 2009 12:19 PM
ben morton from Providence, RI

Chris Gray
I agree that the signs don't help, but neither does rational discussion with a populace more concerned with Wal-Mart sales. Why are they more concerned with these, because they are advertised and fun and nice. They don’t think of the horrible misery that already exists in the world and that can come for us.

Global warming and other big problems, don't come with rainbows or toys if you fix them. They give you a reprieve from suffering. Humans seem to fight against suffering best, once they are in it.

I support Obama, but I really cannot stand to hear somebody else tell me about saving the auto industry. This is industrial suicide. If you look at issues of oil, energy, and climate change, you will realize that cars are not the answer. Even fuel cells need to be powered and right now that power looks likely to come from coal.

Have you noticed that the auto industry has not yet done much to combat this issue. That is part of why they have a problem. Why are the oil companies not investing in new refineries or other equipment? Why is GM proposing a Seqgmay scooter car, that will let you die on the road and let you kill pedestrians on a sidewalk?

Oh, right, I see something serious with no fun clown like options so I must be a jerk like the the two Mr. R's.

SInce I am from the beginning of generation Y they forgot to give me the pills that make me want everything to be chill and ok. So, no, I don’t believe that everything can be changed by being nice and sitting in your place. Your attitude, that being vocally argumentative about something you believe in will undermine it and is not cool, are part of the attitude that tried to stop both the civil rights movement and the US revolution. I hope that being part of a stop global warming maybe Facebook Cause helps the world or at least you.

I mean this seriously, how are the energy and auto industries being remade right now, in a way that addresses climate change?

Apr. 12 2009 11:46 AM
ben morton from Providence, RI

Davidoff's position is ridiculous. Not a sports reporter, a great reporter!?
Whether we have caused all of GW, some of it, or none of it, one would think that those most opposed to the environmental movement would be out there with wild, yet maybe wonderful, ideas to keep the status quo.
Instead our debate is between those who love nature, and want it to stay the same and those who don't give a damn and want to keep their cars and lawn, but won't lift a finger to keep their own lifestyle afloat. Very bizarre.
Back to the main point, it does matter who you elevate, precisely because you should have an opinion on your subject's opinions. A journalist should understand what they are communicating. If this happened our papers, radio, and tv could broadcast a greater range of opinion and thought. Then again the democratic ideal requires an educational system with far fewer dropouts and much better comprehension.
Whatever grade level the NYT purports to write to, a large swath of this country can't read at that level, nor can an even greater range, comprehend and debate at this level. Many NPR pieces with ordinary people, demonstrate the inability of Americans to differentiate cause and effect.
As a last line of educators, this is something for journalists to consider. Last week I wrote about Kunstler and Kurzweil. The dreamer of nanobots was taken seriously on this program and there was no response or even thought of a different, or more likely future. This week, the global warming guy (who has some consensus on his side) was questioned as though he were on the BBC). Then a ‘journalist’, saying he doesn't care if his story tells people what is correct gets a nicely padded interview.
Thats what I was complaining about before.
PS If the Earth decided to annihilate us and we had a way to stop it and it took many industrial machines, would those of you who question global warming be in favor of a big program (public or private) to keep things the way the are?

Apr. 12 2009 11:31 AM
Caroline Jennings

Mr. Dawidoff's article - which was a character study, NOT a treatise on global warming as Mr. Romm would like to convince us - was interesting, well-written, and objective. Mr. Romm's comments strike me as extremely degrading to the mental capacity of the reader. There is, indeed, always the danger of people drawing "wrong" conclusions, or using published statements in support of their own forgone conclusions; but to stifle or repress speculation and argument out of fear of that is a greater danger still. I don't agree with Dyson at all, but I do find the machinations of his brilliant mind fascinating and worthy of considered thought, and it's always important to recognize the very different ways in which people speculate on things and arrive at their opinions. Dyson is an original, and a courageous one at that - he is the first to say that he could well be wrong.

Apr. 12 2009 10:41 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Talk about a run-on sentence!

Apr. 12 2009 04:12 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Mr. Ritzenhein, you and Joe Romm, are right but you're both being jerks about it.

Don't worry about having people much less aware of the situation argue about it. I know that somewhere in my notes I have Dyson's name written as someone's whose thoughts on his chosen field of study were fascinating and, yet, his thoughts on this issue are certainly outside the consensus, so if we are correct, that consensus is now in the driver's seat, politically speaking. That won't change next week.

Yelling or carrying signs that say, "THE WORLD IS GOING TO END!", as you're doing here, really doesn't help. Supporting Obama in his attempts to remake the auto and energy industries and global diplomacy is.

Apr. 12 2009 04:05 AM
David from Rhode Island

Mark R. - 7%?? The fact that you can even claim a number like that is ridiculous. Every scientist was asked? There was really a study to determine that? I doubt that very much. But I will point out that the media at the time made it seem like it was fact and consensus, whether it was or not. Kind of proves the point about the media.

You rather contradict yourself with the statement about calling scientific theories into question, since your previous statements basically do nothing except seem to advocate shutting off all discussion that doesn't agree with your position. Also, even if you are right about the being " scientifically justifiable evidence that can attribute the remarkable warming trend since 1868 except to human activity through the burning of fossil fuels most of all. There is no lack of scientific consensus on this matter.", that just means there is no evidence yet for an alternative explanation, not that the current evidence explains everything. 1868? How could there possibly have been enough human activity at that time or for the next 50 years or more (that was preautomobile after all) to possibly affect an ecosystem the size of the atmosphere? The amount of CO2 produced by man then, compared to the amount naturally present, would have been miniscule.

The fact of the matter is that in your world and the world of like minded people there is not just a consensus, but it is dogma that is shutting down any possibility for alternative theories to be discussed. That is the point. You may well be right, but closing down discussions as "Hitler vs. Jesus" and similar comments is equally distressing as the other matters brought up here.

Apr. 11 2009 10:36 PM
Mark Ritzenhein from Lansing Michigan

Part II

"Extremely few scientists deny that there has been global warming, but whether or not the cause is all man-made..."

This statement is also untrue. There is no scientifically justifiable evidence that can attribute the remarkable warming trend since 1868 except to human activity through the burning of fossil fuels most of all. There is no lack of scientific consensus on this matter.

Calling a scientific theory into question is what scientists continually do as part of their discipline. There is no legitimate climatologist who would not readily abandon any current theory for a more accurate one. The disinformation spread here in this discussion is typical of those who for whatever personal reasons wish to embrace such ideas. This is a political agenda, not a scientific one. Major coal magnates have created a deliberate disinformation campaign spread through right-wing pundits, who are glad to perform the dirty work of political hackery for personal or ideological gain. Meanwhile, we'll all pay a greater price for it in the end.

I won't respond further here, since this commentary has already degenerated into an irresolvable squabble. There will be no ultimate satisfaction for those who defend the status quo of power and exploitation, either as willing henchmen or ignorant dupes, when it shortly comes time for all of us to pay the price of having forestalled any useful action. The maintenance of established Money and Power now will not buy survival for anyone in the near future, including the greedy and selfish few who will stop at nothing to cling to their power position.

Apr. 11 2009 10:04 PM
Mark Ritzenhein from Lansing Michigan

RE: "The problem is, back in the 1970's and 1980's the "scientific consensus" was in fact that we were facing a new ice age."
This is a deliberate untruth, promulgated to confuse the uninformed public. 7% of scientists in the 1970's speculated that global cooling was imminent. There was no consensus or even general agreement on this matter. There are better explanations of the slower growth of global warming in the 1950's and 1960's, namely increased postwar industrial production introduced more particulate pollution into the atmosphere, which was reduced with environmental laws coming online. After 1980, the warming trend quickly caught back up to the average.

Apr. 11 2009 10:04 PM
Chuck from Las Vegas

Joe Romm seemed to say that only the voice of climate-change orthodoxy should be allowed in the media (presumably his voice), because the crisis is so certain and imminent. He equated dissenters with Holocaust deniers, and insisted that the media 'filters' should responsibly stifle dissenting voices. Crisis justifies control. Works great in Iran, North Korea, and other shining lights of free press and free thought.

Apr. 11 2009 08:53 PM
David from Rhode Island

Yet Mark R is guilty of the same tactics he decries in his posts. Of course it is easy when you have as your premise that only one answer is correct and everything else is worthless drivel. You cannot have scientific debate if you assume your conclusion is unassailable from the start. Again, some theories are at that stage, except at the most detailed levels. Others, and the cause(s) of global warming is one of them, are far from completely understood. Dyson has been right about many, many things in his life, sometimes against the "consensus". I don't personally think he is on this one, but to ignore him is equally foolish.

Apr. 11 2009 07:42 PM
David from Rhode Island

The problem is, back in the 1970's and 1980's the "scientific consensus" was in fact that we were facing a new ice age. The relatively small number of scientists that said that was wrong, and that the models were inaccurate, were scorned as much as those that have doubts about the models of today. Let's also be clear about one important point: Extremely few scientists deny that there has been global warming, but whether or not the cause is all man-made, partially man-made and to what extent, or not caused by man at all is certainly a debatable topic. Mark R.'s comments notwithstanding, the theories of what is causing the global warming and to what degree must be debated, there is no theory that is accepted to the degree of say, atomic theory or genetics. So Fleury's #1 is actually right on the mark. She did not say that global warming was not occuring, but that the theories as to what makes up something that complex need to be constantly tested. There are significant implications in going down a path that in fact will not fix the problem, just because we have a "scientific consensus" and we are all so sure.

As far as point #2 by Fleury, the general press rarely gets scientific reporting right, and botch it further when they try to make it understandable to non-scientists. I sympathize on this last point. Many scientists study in school for 8 years getting their PhD, often post-doc, then specialize in their own research for years. Making this understandable to the nonscientific public and getting it right is pretty hard.

Apr. 11 2009 07:42 PM
MM from California

On the Media has been critical of false equivalency journalism before, but the underlying problem with most journalism is a problem of incentives: media organizations care less about informing their readers than paying the bills.

Becoming knowledgeable on a subject takes time and effort; copying down what various people say on a subject is quick and easy. Stories on how there is (still) a scientific consensus on a particular issue are boring; controversies are more interesting.

After hearing this story on OTM, I went to to read the article in question. Mission accomplished.

I found Nicholas Dawidoff's claim on OTM that he did a great deal of research on climate change science to be unbelievable. The article contains little, if any, discussion of climate science. And Dawidoff admits that he has little interest in knowing whether Dyson's claims had any truth.

Only two paragraphs discuss Dyson's claims regarding climate change. In the second, Dawidoff writes, "One of Dyson’s more significant surmises is that a warming climate could be forestalling a new ice age. Is he wrong? No one can say for sure."

This sentence would have been much more accurate if Dawidoff replaced "No one can say" with "I don't know," or perhaps, “The vast majority of knowledgeable people who actually study the climate say he is.”

Overall, the article was quite boring with very general statements of Dyson's claims and mainly focused on his generally anti-consensus bias and his personal life. It might have been much better acticle if it spent time focusing on Dyson's claimed expertise: theoretical physics. But that would not have been a NY Times Magazine cover story...

Apr. 11 2009 05:54 PM
Mark Ritzenhein from Lansing Michigan

RE: Fleury

1. "He (Romm) clearly thinks that global warming theories do not need to be questioned or tested anymore." --This is Denialist rubbish, and displays ignorance of scientific method, and the culture of the science community of scholars in general.

2. "he believes that media coverage needs to be entirely one-sided..." --Another Denialist sideshow argument. In the interest of "fairness," media (including OTM) often practice lazy journalism, and in seeking sensationalism for its entertainment value often have denialist Hitlers debate scientific Jesus' (in this case). There is no time or room for such arguments in regards to global warming and general human environmental destruction.

If the media want to have a truly valuable and compelling debate then they should set up a conversation between those who think we will have six billion humans suffering rapid and untimely death because of overextension beyond our sustainable niche in 2020, and those who think it will happen in 2050. That is the only debatable point remaining now.

Apr. 11 2009 01:29 PM
Colleen Fleury from Greenwich, CT

I will disclose upfront that I do not know enough about climate change to have a real opinion on who's right in the debate. But I do think Joe Romm is entirely out of line.

A key part of Freeman Dyson's position is that he is anti-consensus building. Science is defined by the questioning and challenging of theories, and it can be dangerous when the questioning stops.

Joe Romm is out of line for 2 reasons:
1 - he clearly thinks that global warming theories do not need to be questioned or tested anymore. This is dangerous, bad science. If he is so confident in his theories, he should welcome counter-arguments because that should only make his position stronger.

2 - he believes that media coverage needs to be entirely one-sided, and anything that does not support his point of view is not worth printing. He thinks it is the media's responsibility to give biased, one-sided coverage. And actually the reverse is true - the media should be reporting on all sides of the story.

Apr. 11 2009 10:29 AM
Dgsbdy from Bronx

I was dubious as I listened to Joe Romm, it seemed that he was over reacting. But when I heard Dawidoff I was convinced.
It wasn't just his precious and supercilious tone.
His assertion that policy needs to be informed by the contrary opinions of eminent thinkers is indistinguishable from the false equivalence kind of climate change reporting that all of you rightly condemned. The clincher was when he said that he didn't care if Dyson was right or wrong about climate change. His claim that he had done the work necessary understand the issue was completely undercut by this casual dismissal.

Apr. 11 2009 08:03 AM
Mark Ritzenhein from Lansing Michigan

Your report on Freeman Dyson is disingenuous at best. The NYT magazine cover story was a puff piece which presents the general, ignorant public with an easy option for denial. The interviewer of Dyson, speaking as I write, is apologizing for his own great denial on this matter. His intentions were obvious: to poke in the eye the environmental movement and intelligent and concerned scientists with a provocative and bogus argument. Nicholas Dawidoff can't possibly know fully what he is talking about on the matter of global warming, or he would never in good conscience have ever set up this absurd interview with Dyson. Dyson may be "interesting," but so are a lot of people riding the bus.
Your counterpoint interviewee, Joe Romm, however, was absolutely correct in his assessment of this piece, and the media's complicity/duplicity on the subject of global warming. We humans, as a species, have about twelve years left before the consequences of our negligent and destructive actions suddenly become inflamed, and engulf us in our own self-destruction. There is absolutely no time left for such snarky provocations as the Dyson profile.
OTM host's apparent defense of Dawidoff adds to the great push for disinformation, in the guise of balance.

Apr. 11 2009 07:38 AM

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