Freeman Dyson is flailing outside his field of expertise; the NYT should be embarrassed

Freeman Dyson seems like a nice man and, in 1949, he was certainly one of the most impressive physicists in the world. Nicholas Dawidoff is a great sportswriter. And the New York Times (with obvious exceptions) is held to be a reputable and credible publication.

But none of that helps to explain why the NYT Magazine would ask a sportswriter to research an 8,000-word article on an issue he knows nothing about - featuring an 85-year-old “expert” who is similarly at sea on the issue.

Take what position you will on the degree of urgency, climate change is unquestionably one of the most important public policy issues currently facing any government in the world. It is somewhere between casually irresponsible and criminally reckless for a respected medium like the New York Times to undermine the quality of public discussion by putting so much focus on people who are so clearly out of their depth.

Dyson’s position as a climate change is pretty well established, and the position that he himself describes as “heretical” has been categorically debunked point by point. As the University of Texas Research Scientist Michael Tobis puts it in this dismissal, Dyson makes fundamental errors which show, “that the author has never even sat down with the undergraduate level approximation of how atmospheric radiative transfer actually works. It’s really quite shocking.”

Dyson might be forgiven such late-in-life contrarianism. He is a hugely accomplished physicist who deserves to be treated with respect. But that doesn’t mean he deserves to be taken seriously - at this point in his unrelated career - on an issue on which he has never conducted research or published in legitimate scientific journals.

Yet the NYT, which we have a right to assume has a sense of responsibility, serves up Dyson - as interpreted by the aforementioned sportswriter. Even if the NYT had offered a steady stream of interesting (and better-informed) articles on climate change in the last six or seven issues, this would be a questionable choice.

In the circumstances, it’s purely irresponsible - and it plays, shamefully and stupidly, into the hands of those people who would like to keep us confused on the issue of climate change.

If this clumsiness had come from a news outlet that is better know for pursuing an anti-science agenda - from Fox News, or Canada’s National Post - you might just shake your head and think: “typical.” From the New York Times, well, you would have hoped that we could expect more - so much more.


Hmm, let’s see. Freeman Dyson, prize-winning  theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. Or Michael Mann, of discredited “Hockey Stick” infamy, and Climate Alarmist in Chief and supporter of civil disobedience, James Hansen, who would you believe?

Freeman Dyson, whose area of expertise has nothing to do with climate science.  Or Michael Mann, whose results have been independently duplicated, reproduced ad nauseum, and who happens to be a highly respected (yes, you heard me – a HIGHLY RESPECTED, whether you like it or not) climate scientist. 

I know whom I believe.


What kind of doctor do you see if you’re worried about a heart attack? Do you go to your Dermatologist? No, because while a Dermatologist is a trained doctor, he/she knows nothing about heart disease.

Just because Dyson is renowned in one area of science, it does not make him an authority in all that is science.

I’m not sure “debunked” is right. I think it’s more accurate to say that I couldn’t find any trace of Dyson actually expressing a theory. He just grumbled about this and that. And that in an article he himself wrote two years ago! There were a bunch of disconnected ideas, many of them wrong. That’s all.

As far as I know that is the only thing he’s written on the subject for a long time. I was pretty shocked and disappointed at the time, as I had previously held a high opinion of Dyson. Not as shocked and disappointed though, as I was at the recent coverage in the NY Times!


Michael Tobis

Once you get as old as Dyson, you can pretty much say whatever you want. Doesn’t mean he’s not an ultracrepidarian, just that you need to affectionately respect him the same way you would a cranky old uncle who smiles out of context and gets your name wrong.

If you want to believe someone, believe Femack, she is a wise-woman, or so I’ve heard. Smile

The 1949 bit is true, but you left out that he’s been one of the most impressive physicists in the world in the other years from about 1947 when he first went to Cornell until the present (or at least well into the 70’s and 80’s).

And then there are his impressive mathematical contributions since even earlier in the 40’s.

A shame that people have to resort to ad hominem attacks.

No one is denying his impressive record as a physicist and all the contributions he’s made to science in his career. But once he steps outside his field, he is opening himself to potential criticism, especially when he makes the sorts of claims he does about climate change.