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Freeman Dyson on PhD, global warming, biotechnology, and superpowers

Via William Connolley.

Freeman Dyson has been and is an eminent physicist who has never received a PhD even though his name appears in the main text of 1,410 scientific articles. In fact, he considers the PhD system to be deeply flawed. In December 2005, he offered a very interesting

in which he promotes three opinions that he calls "heresies".

  1. Global warming theories are unreliable, exaggerated, and based on models with many flaws (Dyson describes them in detail), and the researchers in this field create a lot of hype to steal money from more legitimate human activities
  2. Biotechnology will become as domesticated as computer games and children and housewives will create their new animal and plant species at home. Most people don't realize that this will happen much like John von Neumann didn't appreciate computer games as a major source of the 21st century entertainment
  3. The United States have less than 100 years left as a global superpower because in most cases, the superpowers become overextended and eventually collapse - and Dyson who is British American sees signs that the United States may slowly be approaching this point

At the celebration, Freeman Dyson also informed the new PhDs that their education will probably turn out to be overspecialized and they may be declared redundant; indeed, Dyson is just like the Fairy Blackstick from his fairy-tale. Much like in the fairy-tale, such a redundancy may also be an opportunity because the students can always join the heretics. Dyson himself is a proud heretic but, unfortunately, an "old heretic" - one of those who don't "cut much ice". The world needs young heretics, he says. And in November 2006 he will release a book about scientists as rebels. You should buy it:

Are there any young heretics in this world?

Well, I, for one, don't think that the statement that the global warming industry is essentially a fraud is a heresy. And I am not a heretic but a mainsteam person; there just happens to be too many stupid people around who oppose my opinions. It is they, not me, who should be burned at stake. ;-) William Connolley who is unwilling to recognize that he is less qualified than Dyson and your humble correspondent to judge the reliability of the climate models is one of them.

This world is a scientific world that belongs to people like me and the climate charlatans are just guests. Also, I share Dyson's predictions about the growth of family biotechnology and general estimates about the lifetime of superpowers - although I would probably think that 100 years is too long a time period to price the predictions in and we don't know exactly when the changes will occur.

William Dembski's creationist readers also liked Dyson's speech. Incidentally, The Uncommon Descent is the place where climate scientists such as William Connolley learn new things. Too bad that the sympathy is not mutual and both Dyson (who has spent a lot of time by research of the origins of life) and I consider creationism to be complete crap. Your humble correspondent also thinks that plants with parabolic mirrors don't live near Saturn, as Dyson proposed during a talk after which I took the picture linked at the top, but that would be another story. :-) Dyson, whose Motl number is 4, has also constructed an interesting and apparently unprovable mathematical assertion here.

If William Connolley and others really believe that Freeman Dyson, one of the most versatile physicists of the 20th century and beyond, must be less qualified than they are, they should think twice. Dyson who has been important in the development of nuclear technology and who has proven the equivalence of different approaches to quantum field theory is no beginner in climate science. For example, he's been thinking about the wet Sahara in the past for 47 years; his conclusion is that the increasing levels of CO2 could make Sahara wet again which would be an improvement.

And the global warming is not the first hypothesis that Dyson found problematic, to put it mildly. Dyson has said the following sentence about the theory of "nuclear winter":

  • It's an absolutely atrocious piece of science but who wants to be accused of being in favor of nuclear war?

Of course, he was right on this one: a nuclear blast has no lasting consequences such as a multi-decade absence of life. Is he right about the global warming? I hope that Prof. Dyson has strong enough nerves today when he opens the outrageously idiotic main article of the Time magazine, also reprinted as the main story of CNN.COM on Sunday.

See The American Thinker, Mike Jericho's blog and Katy Delay's blog for rational analyses of the Time magazine article.

In 1999, Dyson said the following about the climate change:

  • The public has been led to believe that problem of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a single cause and a single consequence, that, put simply, fossil fuel burning leads directly to global warming. But in fact, there are multiple causes and multiple consequences, and these need to be understood and measured. It is my belief that too much Federal money has been spent on modeling and not enough on measurement of the causes of climate change.

In 1979, Freeman Dyson showed that if there were a problem of global warming, it could be easily solved - for hundreds of millions of dollars per year (1,000 times less than Kyoto that moreover solves nothing) by introducing fine particles into the upper atmosphere. In 1997, this approach was also elaborated upon by Edward Teller, the father of the Hydrogen bomb (and the main initiator of the Star Wars), who was also a climate skeptic and who died in 2003.

One month ago, Freeman Dyson has co-authored the very same letter to the editors of Science as Steve McIntyre did, asking Science to assure that the data used to create the "hockey team" climate reconstructions are archived, as required by the magazine's policies.

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snail feedback (4) :

reader MacroMouse said...

So, just to make things clear:
1. Nuclear winter is "junk science", i.e. the theory that the climate will cool as result nuclear explosions, which introduce dust, smoke etc. into the atmosphere is highly questionable, unreliable etc...
2. The global warming "problem" can be quickly and cheaply solved by "by introducing fine particles into the upper atmosphere" = this is well documented and supported scientific theory...

In summary, a nuclear war, which would (could) cause some cooling is junk science, but the same nuclear war, which would be started to fight global warming by the completely same mechanism is an elegant and cheap solution to GW....
Right, or am I missing something???

Your humble reader.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear MacroMouse,

thanks for your feedback and good point. It may seem as a contradiction in Prof. Dyson's statements but there is no contradiction once you actually evaluate these things quantitatively.

The nuclear winter theory was about an actual winter, i.e. the predicted coolings were around 20-40 degrees.

Dyson/Teller's method was designed to induce cooling by 1 degree only. Moreover, the Dyson/Teller method is designed for this purpose, and their fine particles are indeed more efficient than generic dust from nuclear explosions. This is just how these things have to work. Of course that if an intelligent person such as Teller or Dyson wants to use fine particles to cool the Earth, he won't use some random generic particles but those that have the ability to do the desired job effectively.

But this sort of rational, quantitative thinking is something that the global warming activists don't want to hear. If they want to cool down a place, they always prefer to try to cool down the whole planet, with the most average type of aerosol, and so forth.

Teller and Dyson have always been thinking as scientists as engineers, i.e. they try to isolate and quantify the problem if there is a problem, and solve it in a focused manner instead of some intellectually diluted, "egalitarian" method.

I hope it solves your concerns.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Incidentally, the detailed technical description of Teller et al. 1997 strategy to reflect 1% of the solar radiation is here:

Teller - scattering

They analyze the choice of the particles in depth.

reader MacroMouse said...

I looked at the article, which includes a lot of generarly good ideas...

On the other hand most of the cost calculations seem to be out of reality by several orders of magnitude.
E.g. on the top of page 12 they propose, that the cost of 3 different "metallic systems" should lie in the range of $0.07-0.14 billion/year. One of the "systems" is a proposal to launch 10^17 small balloons (4mm diameter) over a period of 50years, i.e. with a speed of 6*10^7 balloons/sec. If we take the $140 million as the annual cost estimate (i.e. the upper limit indicated) it comes to approx. $4 per second, or less than 1 USD per 10 million of stratospheric balloons.

Although I admire other Tellers works, including the unique design of hydrogen bomb, these proposals to fight global warming probably need some serious reconsideration at least for the cost calculations.

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