An unimportant moment in science history, but perhaps a lesson in “normal science” that will shut down Cuccinelli’s witch hunt
A physicist named Hal Lewis who doesn’t know the first thing about climate science has resigned from the American Physical Society because he doesn’t know the first thing about climate science.
The anti-science crowd has, with unintentional irony, compared his words of resignation to “a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door.” That laughable assertion might be a half-truth, I suppose, if scientific views were no different from religious ones, which, I suppose, for the disinformers they are. And it might even be a quarter truth if Luther hadn’t actually included any theses in his letter but instead cited, say, the work of Nostradamus in defending his critique of the Catholic Church. But it isn’t even be a semi-hemi-demi truth because it won’t be leading to a major new science religion of Lewisism, since, of course, that’s not how science works.
As we’ll see, Lewis couldn’t even bother himself to learn the basics of climate science and he apparently doesn’t know or talk to very many if any climate scientists. Indeed, this whole story isn’t terribly newsworthy: Lewis isn’t even the first physicist born in 1923 who was a longtime member of the JASON defense advisory group, who studied nuclear winter, and who has said absurdly unscientific things about climate science. That honor belongs to Freeman Dyson.
UPDATE: To see the APS’s reply, click here.
But it did inspire me to break out my copy of Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which is marked up from my MIT undergraduate physics days and still has some amazingly relevant insights for today, as we’ll see. It was Kuhn, after all, who originated the term “normal science,” a term confusionists and Tea Party extremists like Viriginia AG Ken Cuccinelli are, well, confused about.
If you want some backstory on Lewis and the APS, read our good bunny friend at Rabett Run, “Dear fellow member of the American Physical Society.”
Lewis’s letter itself is almost a satire of one of those “when I was a kid” reminisces of how great things used to be when people (physicists, in this case) were pure and poor:
When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago).
Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence””it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?
How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’ªtre of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs.
Just as an aside, I did get to meet many of the physics greats at M.I.T. They were giants, and we were in awe of them. They also developed the atomic bomb and then spent decades trying to convince our government and others not to enter into an arms race, advice that was ignored for decades. So I’m not entirely certain that having this life of supposed poverty and abstinence proves anybody had either any moral superiority or greater influence on government policy.
Ah but kids today, well, they are all about the money — and who wouldn’t be, given all the money at stake, at least according to Lewis:
For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.
It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.
So what has the APS, as an organization, done in the face of this challenge? It has accepted the corruption as the norm, and gone along with it….
This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue. I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club.
Seriously. Or, rather, not serious in the least bit.
First off, he apparently doesn’t know what the word “literally” means — I’d like to assume he knows what the word “trillions” mean. But then he repeats and insists on trillions. Where the frig are all these trillions of dollars? America’s entire GDP is $14 trillion. There are tens of millions of dollars involved, to be sure, although only a small fraction of that money ends up in the hands of U.S. physicists, who really are only a small part of climate science research. So it is hard to see how the APS could be corrupted by it.
Second, it is just absurd for him to say that climate scientists are somehow corrupted by “the fame and glory” — that was precisely what motivated many of the giants. And as a trivial aside, travel was always one of the perks of being a big-league physicist. Heck, they actually had sabbaticals every seven years!
Third, the Inhofe-esque statement “this is the greatest and most successful pseudo-scientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist,” accuses the scientific community broadly defined of conspiring in deliberate fraud – and not just the community of climate scientists, but the leading National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and the American Geophysical Union, an organization of geophysicists that consists of more than 45,000 members and the American Meteorological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see “Yet more scientists call for deep GHG cuts“). Such a statement accuses all of the member governments of the IPCC, including ours, of participating in that conspiracy, since they all sign off on the Assessment Reports word for word. And it accuses all of the leading scientific journals of being in on this fraud, since the IPCC reports are primarily a review and synthesis of the published scientific literature.
Fourth, “Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.” Well, if you are getting most of your “facts” from Nostradamus Montford, well, I daresay that’s the very definition of no longer engaging in the scientific method. See, for instance, the outstanding Real Climate post, “The Montford Delusion.”
The letter is devoid of any actual critique of climate science, but here are some of Lewis’s amazingly uninformed statements on the subject:
I think it behooves us to be careful about how we state the science. I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help (and specifically since the Little Ice Age a few hundred years ago), and is most likely to continue to do so in its own sweet time. The important question is how much warming does the future hold, is it good or bad, and if bad is it too much for normal adaptation to handle. The real answer to the first is that no one knows, the real answer to the second is more likely good than bad (people and plants die from cold, not warmth), and the answer to the third is almost certainly not. And nobody doubts that CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for the better part of a century, but the disobedient temperature seems not to care very much. And nobody denies that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, along with other gases like water vapor, but despite the claims of those who are profiting by this craze, no one knows whether the temperature affects the CO2 or vice versa. The weight of the evidence is the former.
So the tragedy is that the serious questions are quantitative, and it’s easy to fool people with slogans. If you say that the Earth is warming you are telling the truth, but not the whole truth, and if you say it is due to the burning of fossil fuels you are on thin ice. If you say that the Earth is warming and therefore catastrophe lies ahead, you are pulling an ordinary bait and switch scam. If you are a demagogue, of course, these distinctions don’t bother you — you have little interest in that quaint concept called truth.
So it isn’t simple, and the catastrophe mongers are playing a very lucrative game.
Eli Rabett debunks the whole thing here, while noting that Lewis is a devoted data destroyer! Eli notes among other things, “The temperatures are tracking the CO2 forcing just fine.”
Feel free to debunk whatever statement you find more absurd — “people and plants die from cold, not warmth” is notable. But far more so is:
I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help…
This line tells you the author not only doesn’t follow the scientific literature, but that he doesn’t actually associate with or talk to anybody who does.
That statement made Eli hopping mad. As he explained, “Well, actually most people who have a clue think that without our contributions the surface would be cooling a bit right now due to the Milankovitch cycles which have reached and passed the warm peak.” Indeed, he points us to the 1980 Science article, “Modeling the Climatic Response to Orbital Variations,” which concludes
Ignoring anthropogenic and other possible sources of variation acting at frequencies higher than one cycle per 19,000 years, this model predicts that the long-term cooling trend which began some 6000 years ago will continue for the next 23,000 years.
Of course, that piece is by John Imbrie and John Z. Imbrie — and they sure sound like the names of conspirators in some sort of pseudoscientific hoax, no? Even back in 1980 they were just in it for the trillions!
More recent money-grubbing conspirators include those folks at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:
Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in at least 2,000 years, new research indicates. The study, which incorporates geologic records and computer simulations, provides new evidence that the Arctic would be cooling if not for greenhouse gas emissions that are overpowering natural climate patterns.
But Lewis knows not a single person who denies the earth has been warming for thousands of years.
Lewis’s unscientific statemenst really aren’t a surprise. The notion that ‘puny’ humans can drastically change something as vast as the Earth’s climate is really an amazing paradigm shift. Many scientists and others simply can’t get their heads around it, so they don’t even bother to read the scientific literature or talk to actual climate scientists. They know in their gut it can’t be true, just as for decades many geologist couldn’t accept the paradigm of plate tectonics.
The term paradigm as it applies to scientific understanding was popularized by Kuhn in his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Indeed, when I first read Lewis’s statements, I was reminded of something I remembered reading in the book about how “the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time”:
Newton’s work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent for more than half a century after the Principia appeared…. Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalist whose views are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during the long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine…. [B]ut I look with confidence in the future, — too young and rising naturalist, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.” And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Even the old giants are very slow to embrace new scientific paradigms. Heck, “Einstein himself is well known for rejecting some of the claims of quantum mechanics” even though Einstein actually helped establish some of the foundations of quantum mechanics (a name coined by Planck).
So Lewis might have been a brilliant physicist in his own right, but it means nothing whatsoever that he can’t accept a new paradigm — particularly if he hasn’t bothered to study the scientific literature or talk to experts in the field. It is just “normal science.”
Interestingly, the very next paragraph in Kuhn’s book states something even more relevant for today:
Lifelong resistance, particularly from those whose productive careers have committed them to an older tradition of normal science, is not a violation of scientific standards but an index to the nature scientific research itself. The source of resistance is the assurance that the older paradigm will ultimately solve all its problems, that nature can be shoved into the box the paradigm provides. Inevitably, at times of revolution, that assurance seems stubborn and pigheaded as indeed it sometimes becomes, but it is also something more. That same assurance is what makes normal or puzzle-solving science possible. And it is only through normal science that the professional community of scientists succeeds, first, in exploiting the potential scope and precision of the older paradigm and, then, in isolating the difficulty through the study of which a new paradigm may emerge.
I know what you are thinking: Stop the presses — or at least, stop the criminalization of climate science! Let’s run back that key phrase:
And it is only through normal science that the professional community of scientists succeeds….
As I noted here (see Cuccinelli attempts to criminalize all of climate science “” with Post Normal logic & fervor), the Virginia Attorney General built his entire legal case around Michael Mann around this “logic”:
Mann’s reference to “the community” when writing to Hulme in the first e-mail quoted above appears to be Post Normal jargon. As recently as September 16, 2009, Mann posted this remark to his blog RealClimate: “More than anything else, the book attempts to show us what the community is doing wrong in our efforts to communicate our science to the public.” (emphasis added). This is also probably Post Normal jargon.
Academics are free to follow any philosophy of science they wish. Nonetheless, Post-Normal Science has produced jargon which might be misleading/fraudulent in the context of a grant application if its specialized meaning is not disclosed or otherwise known to the grantmaker.
You read that right. The word “community” as it applies to the professional community of scientists is in fact part of “normal science” as explained by the man who originated and elaborated the term “normal science”!
So if nothing else good comes from Lewis’s uninformed letter, I hope somebody filing a legal brief in the Cuccinelli-UVA-Mann case will cite pages 152 and 153 of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to eviscerate the case.