S. Fred Singer and the Global Warming Denial Machine

Tue, 2008-03-25 13:41Kevin Grandia
Kevin Grandia's picture

S. Fred Singer and the Global Warming Denial Machine

ABC News aired a sweeping piece on career contrarion S. Fred Singer, a character well-known to us here at the DeSmogBlog.

The 84-year old “grandfather of the global warming 'skeptics'” shows just how over the edge he is in the following exchange:

ABC Anchor, Dan Harris: There are so many scientists who disagree with what you're saying, the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], NASA, NOAA, the National Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the American Meteorological Society - we're talking about scientists all over the globe.

S. Fred Singer: What can I say? They're wrong.

Harris: All of those people are wrong?

S. Fred Singer: Yes.

Of course one could argue that Singer is some kind of modern day Galileo. However, that's more than a bit of a stretch when you consider Singer's connections to the oil and tobacco industry.

Previous Comments

Speaking of which,
Was there ever a formal rebuttal done to Douglass et al 2007?

(Or Spencer 2007, Svensmark 2007, for that matter)

“Was there ever a formal rebuttal done to Douglass et al 2007?”

No “formal” rebuttal as far as I know, but you probably know about the informal one at RealClimate.

There was no outright rebuttal of Svensmark et al. 2007 either, but Lockwood and Fröhlich 2007 – which shows that the sun wasn’t the cause of recent warming – was published at around the same time. (Svensmark and Friis-Christensen have published their reply to that – though it’s not “formal” in the sense of being submitted via the peer-review process.)

http://tinyurl.com/2aobxs

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Frank Bi, http://tinyurl.com/yrpnmd
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

of substantial criticism? Is the old ad hominem “tobacco and oil” mantra all you can come up with?

No wonder this site is so rarely visited.

Oh yeah, Singer’s bald assertion that “They’re wrong” is much more logic-filled.

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Frank Bi, http://tinyurl.com/yrpnmd
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

What’s the point in repeating it all? The amazing thing is that anyone bothers to interview this geezer who just stands there and says “they’re wrong” without offering up a single piece of original research to support his position. This guy stopped doing any real scientific research decades ago.

I’m not aware of any significant work Singer ever did. His one
paper in the early sixties was an obfuscating carp at a set of experiments.

I am glad Kevin reminded us of Singer’s connections to the oil and tobacco industry. I’m starting to think these connections are a bad thing.

Yes, in the sense that tobacco is bad for your health.

And whatever you’re smoking now is probably not that good either.

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Frank Bi, http://tinyurl.com/yrpnmd
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

“Repeat, repeat, repeat […] Your “new” truth may also require many repetitions.”

– James Hoggan, PR Huckster

A nice paper by Myanna Lahsen, primarily about the elders of Marshall, but with some mention of Singer:

“Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a physicist ‘‘trio’’ supporting the backlash against global warming”,

http://sciencepolicy.colorado.edu/admin/publication_files/resource-2590-2008.05.pdf

This is a nice complement to second half of Naomi Oreskes’ “American Denial of Global Warming”

http://www.uctv.tv/search-details.asp?showID=13459

H/T to bigcitylib

Lahsen, Myanna. 2008. Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a physicist “trio” supporting the backlash against global warming. Global Environmental Change, 18(2008):204—219. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2007.10.001.

Anyway, the paper’s interesting. Besides the Left-Right-Left-Right thing, we now have… what, a culture of “self-assertion and bravado” in the field of high-energy physics? This is some pretty weird crap.

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Frank Bi, http://tinyurl.com/yrpnmd
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

Weird crap … actually, I think Myanna makes a pretty good case, and while I’m certainly not a nuclear or high-energy physicist …

a) Until I was about 22, I was aiming to get a PhD in nuclear or high-energy physics (most likely fusion physics), but then got wrapped up in computing.

b) When I was at Bell Labs, we had some pretty good physicists. One of them (who happens to have Nobel Prize) is somebody we have dinner with occasionally. I’ve visited SLAC on occasion, and I’ve heard Burton Richter (another Nobel physicist) talk. These are quite sensible people who listen as well as speak.

c) I’ve spoken at Lawrence Livermore, Fermilab, CERN, etc, and helped handle visits from Los Alamos and other physics places, as well at numerous universities who used SGI supercomputers for physics.

d) Most physicists I’ve known seemed quite reasonable … but a few go off the deep end, and indeed, there are a few who *know* that physics is the most basic and important science, and anyone who can do physics can do anything. Physicists are human, they are normally distributed like many other things, and it is not at all surprising that a few top physicists would be both arrogant and angry that their area of science was seeing less prestige and funding. They probably weren’t happy that the nuclear industry stalled, they definitely weren’t happy that most scientists didn’t buy “Star Wars”.

e) Physics was a very important factor for the US in WW II, and some physicists achieved new peaks of influence, in some cases in areas beyond their actual expertise.

John Hennessy, the current President of Stanford says something like:

The first half of the last century belonged to the physicists. The second half was for us computer folks, and we’re not done yet. The next century is the biosciences.

Of course, that’s an over-simplification, as John certainly knows, given that he encourages interdiscplinary work across many academic departments. But, it’s a nice pithy statement.

f) You might want to look at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JASON_Defense_Advisory_Group

I’ve met one of them (Richter), and worked with or served on committees with 3 others., and I’ve certainly heard of many others, but it seems broader than I think it was earlier.

g) Anyway, given that Fred Singer, to this day, asserts there’s little or no human influence on climate… and occasional experiences I’ve had with a few physicists lends credence to Myanna’s study.

h) Real science is science, regardless of political beliefs.

Thanks, John, for the link and the longer analysis.

It all scans very well, though it might also be time for someone to write a paper about the surly geologists, who also seem to feel that they have been left out of the climate conversation (and who have certainly been left out of the IPCC loop). When you look at the PhDs who sign the petitions and join the quibbler community, there is a representation of physicists and geologists that much outstrips what might be the statistical expectation.

In the case of Singer, though, I think you’re being too generous to attribute his climate science skepticism to his background in physics. How, for example, might a physics bias have contributed to his willingness to defend the healthy aspects of second-hand smoke, the beneficial effects of DDT and the atmospheric friendliness of CFCs? For some people in the argument, skepticism might be sincere, even if it demands a certain amount of self-induced blindness to sustain. For others, it’s more a reflection of cynicism and opportunism. I think Singer self-selects into the latter group.

But thanks, again, for the link and the thoughtful comment. It’s a nice break from the troll traffic. 

To clarify, recall that I was mostly trying to calibrate Myanna’s paper. From everything I’ve seen, my best guess is that Singer went from being a fine scientist to otherwise via political leanings and perhaps strong influence from the “trio”, not just because he was a physicist.

The “physicist” thing, once again is:

- there are large numbers of quite reasonable physicists, many of whom were against SDI.

- but there are a few physicists who are both very smart and overly arrogant

There may be some cynicism & oppurtunism, but on balance, I’d actually speculate that it’s “No government regulation” first … now, given that belief, where might funding come from?

S. FRED SINGER, Ph.D.
Professional Background

——————————————————————————–

POSITIONS HELD:
1989- Director and President, The Science and Environmental Policy Project. Foundation-funded, independent research group, incorporated in 1992, to advance environment and health policies through sound science. SEPP is a non-profit, education organization.
1994- Distinguished Research Professor, Institute for Humane Studies at George Mason University, Fairfax, VA
1989-1994 Distinguished Research Professor, Institute for Space Science and Technology, Gainesville, FL. Principal investigator, Cosmic Dust/Orbital Debris Project.
1987-1989 Chief Scientist, U.S. Department of Transportation. Also: Deputy Administrator, Research and Special Programs Administration; Chairman, Navigation Council (GPS applications). Technical advisor on Air Traffic Control System procurement.
1971-1994 Professor of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Planetary science; global environmental issues (acid rain, greenhouse warming, ozone depletion); cost-benefit analysis; oil and energy(economics and public policy); economic and environmental impacts of population growth.
1970-1971 Deputy Assistant Administrator (Policy), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Also, chaired Interagency Work Group on Environmental Impacts of the Supersonic Transport.
1967-1970 Deputy Assistant Secretary (Water Quality and Research), U.S. Department of the Interior. Also, integrated atmospheric/oceanographic activities within the Department.
1964-1967 (First) Dean of the School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL. Expanded the oceanographic institute and added departments of atmospheric sciences and geophysics.
1962-1964 (First) Director, National Weather Satellite Center (now part of NOAA), U.S. Department of Commerce. Established operational systems for remote sensing and for management of atmosphere, ocean, and land surface data.
1953-1962 Director, Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics, and Professor of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD. Experiments, theory, and publications on rocket and satellite technology, remote sensing, cosmic rays, radiation belts, magnetosphere, the Moon, meteorites, general relativity.
1950-1953 Scientific Liaison Officer, U.S. Office of Naval Research, London. Reported on research in nuclear physics, astrophysics, and geophysics in European universities and laboratories.
1946-1950 Research Physicist, Upper Atmosphere Rocket Program, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Silver Spring, MD. Cosmic ray, ozone, and ionosphere research with instrumented V-2 and Aerobee rockets, launched from White Sands, NM and shipboard.

——————————————————————————–

VISITING POSITIONS:
1997 Research Fellow, Independent Institute, Oakland, CA. Global climate change research.
1992-1993 Distinguished Visiting Fellow, The Hoover Institution, Stanford, CA. Environmental policy and economic impacts.
1991 Guest Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. U.S. space policy.
1991 Guest Scholar, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Early history of rocket and space science.
1984-1987 Visiting Eminent Scholar, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA. Public policy analysis on natural resources, environment, climate effects, strategic defense, space travel.
1982-1983 Senior Fellow, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C. Natural resources policy; oil price forecasts.
1978 (First) Sid Richardson Professor, Lyndon Baines Johnson School for Public Affairs, University of Texas, Austin, TX. Studies of manned exploration of Mars and Martian moons.
1972 U.S. National Academy of Sciences Exchange Scholar, Soviet Academy of Sciences Institute for Physics of the Earth, Moscow, USSR.
1971 Federal Executive Fellow, The Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. Cost-benefit analysis of environmental regulation.
1961-1962 Visiting Scientist, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Cal Tech, Pasadena, CA. Research and publications on planetary atmospheres.

——————————————————————————–

HONORS: (Partial List)

Selected as one of “Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Nation,” by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce, 1959.

White House Commendation (President Eisenhower) for early design of space satellites; for drafting in 1954 the resolutions on satellites for IUGG, URSI, and the International Geophysical Year.

Elected to the International Academy of Astronautics (Paris).

Member, European Academy for Environmental Affairs

U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award for the development and management of weather satellites.

(First)Science Medal from the British Interplanetary Society.

Commendation (1997), National Aeronautics and Space Administration, for research on particle clouds.

Honorary Doctorate of Science, Ohio State University, 1970.

Elected Fellow: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), American Geophysical Union, American Physical Society, American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics. Elected to the AAAS Council: Committee on Council Affairs, and Section Secretary.

Phi Beta Kappa National Lectureship

Membership in honorary societies, including Tau Beta Pi, Eta Kappa Nu, Sigma Xi.

Listed in Who’s Who in America, American Men of Science, etc.

——————————————————————————–

MAJOR SCIENTIFIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS:

First measurements, with V-2 and Aerobee rockets, of primary cosmic radiation in space (with James A. Van Allen, 1947-1950) and upper-atmospheric ozone (with J.J.Hopfield and H. Clearman, 1948).

Discovery, with rocket-borne magnetometer, of equatorial electrojet current in the ionosphere (1949).

Calculation of cosmic ray effects on meteorites, followed by first measurements of their ages (1952).

Design of Minimum Orbital Unmanned Satellite (MOUSE), (1952-1954).

Design of sensing instruments for MOUSE, including the first instrument for measuring stratospheric ozone (1956), now used in satellites.

First publications predicting the existence of trapped radiation in the earth’s magnetic field (radiation belts, later discovered by Van Allen) to explain the magnetic-storm ring current (1956).

Design of the high-altitude FARSIDE rocket, to search for geomagnetically trapped radiation (1956).

Capture theory for the origin of the Moon and of the Martian satellites, Phobos and Deimos (1966).

Design study of Martian exploration by way of a manned base on Phobos/Deimos (Ph-D Project) (1977-78)

First calculation of methane increase due to population growth, and its effects on the stratosphere (1971). The theory serves as a paradigm for CFC-stratosphere effects. While developed in connection with the SST controversy, it is now of importance for both greenhouse warming and ozone depletion theories.

Theory for the behavior of world oil prices, and prediction in 1980 of the price collapse of 1983.

Discovery of orbiting debris clouds, using instruments on the LDEF satellite (1990).

——————————————————————————–

PUBLICATIONS:

Books and Monographs(Partial List)

Global Effects of Environmental Pollution (Reidel, 1970)
Manned Laboratories in Space (Reidel, 1970)
Is There an Optimum Level of Population? (McGraw-Hill, 1971)
The Changing Global Environment (Reidel, 1975)
Arid Zone Development (Ballinger, 1977)
Economic Effects of Demographic Changes (Joint Economic Committee, U.S. Congress, 1977)
Cost-Benefit Analysis in Environmental Decisionmaking (Mitre Corp, 1979)
Energy (W.H. Freeman, 1979)
The Price of World Oil (Annual Reviews of Energy, Vol. 8, 1983)
Free Market Energy (Universe Books, 1984)
Oil Policy in a Changing Market (Annual Reviews of Energy, Vol. 12, 1987)
The Ocean in Human Affairs (Paragon House, 1989)
The Universe and Its Origin: From Ancient Myths to Present Reality and Future Fantasy (Paragon House, 1990)
Global Climate Change: Human and Natural Influences (Paragon House, 1989)
The Greenhouse Debate Continued (ICS Press, 1992)
The Scientific Case Against the Global Climate Treaty (SEPP, 1997)
Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate, (The Independent Institute, 1997)

——————————————————————————–

Articles

More than 400 technical publications in scientific, economics, and public policy journals.
More than 200 articles and editorials in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, Newsday, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Newsweek, New Republic, National Review„ Readers’ Digest, and other publications.

News Media

Major features in Time, Life, U.S. News & World Report (cover stories on space research).

Numerous radio and television appearances in the United States and abroad: ABC News Nightline, NBC TODAY Show, PBS MacNeil-Lehrer News Hour, CBS Nightwatch, BBC, CNN, C-SPAN, National Public Radio, among others.

PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES (Partial List):

National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres–Vice Chairman and member, 1981-1986.
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy–Acid Rain Panel and consultant, 1982-1987.
U.S. Dept. of State Science Advisory Board (Oceans, Environment, Science), 1982-1987.
White House Panel on U.S.-Brazil Science and Technology Exchange, 1987.
U.S. Department of Energy Nuclear Waste Panel, 1984.
NASA Space Applications Advisory Committee, 1983-1985.
Governor of Virginia Task Force on Transportation, 1975.

Consultant:

Federal government–House Select Committee on Space, GAO, OTA, NSF, DOE, NASA, AEC, Treasury (Secy. William Simon), DOD (Strategic Defense Initiative)
State governments–Alaska, Pennsylvania, Virginia

Corporations, Mitre Corp., Institute for Defense Analysis, GE, Ford, GM;
on oil pricing (late 1970s)–EXXON, Shell, Unocal, Sun Oil, ARCO;
on space research–Lockheed, Martin-Marietta, McDonnell-Douglas, ANSER, IBM.

Advisory Editor:

Regulation (CATO Institute), Environmental Conservation (Elsevier), Environmental Geology (Springer)
MILITARY SERVICE:

U.S. Navy–Mine warfare and countermeasures, design of electronic computer. 1944-1946.
U.S. Air Force Reserve, 1950-1953.

EDUCATION:

B.E.E. (Electrical Engineering), Ohio State University
A.M. and Ph.D.(Physics), Princeton University.

Even Nobel Prize winners sometimes go off the rails into non-science or even anti-science towards the ends of their careers, for ideological or other reasons.

I was impressed by Singer’s background enough to buy his first book and read the SEPP blog site … and rapidly became unimpressed, and then looked at his second book, and it was certainly clear that “no government regulation” was the key theme carried over, even though the reasons for it changed.

Nierenberg, Jastrow, and Seitz were also once great scientists.
====
And in the extreme case, Nobel prize winners:
William Shockley shared a Nobel for the transistor, and in later years, went off into eugenics.

Linus Pauling was a towering scientist … then got convinced in later years that Vitamin C was The Thing, perhaps in advance of the evidence.

===
Fortunately, *most* high-calibre scientists do not go off the rails into anti-science later on. Certainly, of the 3 Nobelists (2 Physics, 1 Chemistry) I know or have met, all still seem sharp and sensible, and aren’t running around trying to attack good science, and are generally doing constructive work.

For instance, see Burton Richter’s presentation, which I was lucky enough to be able to hear in a small group and ask questions:

http://www-group.slac.stanford.edu/do/brichter/presentations/2004_10_05.htm

For related commentary, see #84 in: http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/06/global-warming-payola/#comments

When someone with such obvious intelligence, experience and potential allows ideology to take priority over objectivity and an open mind to new research, we all lose. Myanna Lahsen’s work dovetails nicely with Naomi Oreske’s presentation covered here recently. Culture, religion, political and social philosophy can all have a huge impact on whether/how even the most intelligent interpret the data.

Very interesting paper, John.

Fern Mackenzie

I found this string as I was looking for commentaries of Lahsen’s paper. I recognize it is a bit after her paper was released but it seems to be a touchstone for many who seek to explain (or explain away) climate change skeptics.

I also have met and interviewed a number of Nobel Prize winners. They were all gracious and forthright in their opinions. They also were opinionated and their cognitive style was to make forceful statements rather than equivocating ones. From this I would argue that there is nothing in Lahsen’s paper that could not be said of “experts” in any field. James Hansen’s, another physicist, prior and recent intemperate remarks are a case in point. It is troubling to me that her contribution should be viewed so uncritically here. It is also troubling that there should be such tacit approval of the classic technique of marginalizing those who dissent. One example of marginalization in Lahsen’s paper is her characterizing her three “trio” as proponents of the “anti-environmental movement”. If she means that the Marshall Institute is a counterweight to Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and similar ideological groups - then it is a reasonable assertion. However, if she means to imply that they are anti-environment, whatever that might possibly mean, then she presents no evidence that this is in fact the case, unless tautologically she wants to argue that anyone who is opposed to increased governement regulations and the political agenda of Greenpeace, etc., is automatically anti-environment. At least Oreskes’ characterization of “anti-government regulation” and championing “laissez faire” was reasonably accurate, less perjorative and explicitly ideological. It certainly would have helped contextualize her argument if she had clearly stated her own position on the climate change debate and her affiliations with organizations akin to the Marshall Instiitute.
The scientists aligned with the Marshall Institute and those opposed to the current presentation of catastrophic AGW may or may not be wrong - but the character assasination is really unnecessary and largely counter-productive. The attacks on Bjorn Lomborg is another example of the almost hysterical reaction in some quarters to anyone who dissents from the orthodoxy.

As for Oreskes presentation - hers is an even more explicit partisan attack. I am sure there is an activists playbook somewhere that recommends attacking one’s critics by associating them with people, policies and institutions that are reflexively seen as evil and/or silly.

Please note I am not saying that Singer et al should not be criticized for what they say but it should be for what they say - and not some simple-minded psychologizing of why they say it.

[x]

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