Fred Seitz: Death of an Icon

Read time: 2 mins

Dr. Frederick Seitz , who died yesterday at the age of 96, was a great scientist, a President-Emeritus at Rockefeller University and a past president of the U.S. National Academy of Science.

Which makes it a greater scandal that people like Dr. S. Fred Singer took such advantage of the man in his declining years.

It must be said that Seitz originally invited the abuse. In the 1970s and '80s, he accepted $585,000 (which, if it need be said, was a lot of money) from the tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds and he helped the smoke promoters spend $45 million (which is still a lot of money) on research that pointed didn't prove any adverse health effects from smoking.

In the '90s, he switched his allegiance to a new corporate funder and started denying the science that explains global warming. Perhaps he enjoyed hanging around with the self-styled “skeptics” who buy lavish lunches at the country's wealthiest think tanks. And perhaps the other people in that circle just realized that they could profit by their association with a man who had once had a stellar reputation in the science community.

Certainly, he seems to have lost his edge. Because in 1989, in this internal memo, Alexander Holtzman at Philip Morris suggested that his company find another cooperative science expert because the word was out that “Dr. Seitz is quite elderly and not sufficiently rational to offer advice.”

That was August 31, 1989 - the tobacco industry dismissed Seitz as “not sufficiently rational” 18-and-a-half years ago - and yet Fred Singer was passing around a new report earlier yesterday, crediting Seitz in the foreword.

Seitz may or may not be facing his own judgment even now - the answer to that question is even more complex than whether climate change can be proven to the Heartland Institute's satisfaction. But Singer is still around to be judged on Earth. And “innocent” just doesn't seem to be one of the available verdicts.

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Seitz was the one who roped Singer in if anything. He was an eager and willing sell out to Philip Morris and the rest of the tobacco gang and quite the fan of star wars.

de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est but you don’t have to buy a new dress for a pig either.

Point taken. And I would have lined up with everyone else to pick on Seitz in the mid-80s - he clearly broke new ground in the struggle to separate the concept of integrity from the daily practice of science.

But I struggle with the vision of somebody who was too crazy for Philip Morris in 1989 still being used as a signatory on Fred Singer’s ridiculous outpourings in 2008. It is, to me, a mark of how completely shameless they are that they would continue to trade on Seitz name, rank and former reputation up to the very day he died.


and Rob, we’ve been through this before: if you want to respond here, and you can find a way to do so without the scatology, come on down. Otherwise, bye bye.

Well, Singer was a quick study. He took advantage of the good nature of a very sick man. He got Roger Revelle’s name included on an article he wrote for Cosmos magazine. Singer used the phrase ‘look before you leap’ in the title. It still turns up occasionally.

This article was then represented as Revelle’s true view after his death. That fraud was disputed Dr. Justin Lancaster, a post-doc for R.R. at the time. Lancaster has a website where he tells what happened, including Singer’s slander suit against him.

Lancaster has posted here in the past, this thread for instance -

Singer bit off more than he could chew because Lancaster was also an attorney. He deposed Singer and the transcript is on the site above. It is very long but is worth reading to feel Singer squirming. Lancaster forced Singer to admit that his income didn’t really come from science contracts or grants at all.

Well-covered in minutes 29-58 of Naomi Oreskes’ video: