Sunday, May 16, 2010

Boston Globe on Lindzen and Emanuel

Beth Daley of The Boston Globe wrote a story how the relationships between friends may be altered by the global warming confrontations:
A cooling trend (mobile version)
In the early 1980s, both Gentlemen would come to MIT. Richard Lindzen was a registered Democrat. Kerry Emanuel had just voted for Ronald Reagan, being more right-wing than Attila the Hun according to Lindzen. ;-)

Both men are relaxed and other things made them natural friends.

As their discipline found itself at the epicenter of a major political battle, times were getting harder. Kerry Emanuel was slowly transformed into an AGW believer, at least superficially. Now, Richard Lindzen gave us some hints that because of their special closer relationship, he knows something more about Emanuel's motivation. And Emanuel has explicitly told Lindzen that joining the AGW bandwagon could be good for their department, the funding, and so on.

Well, I understand that this is probably annoying for Emanuel to hear. But I personally have almost no doubt that this is how Emanuel was thinking. After all, there's also no doubt that he has literally become famous because of the hypotheses that "global warming" strengthens the hurricanes. That was a hot topic after Katrina 2005 that made Emanuel a "star" and the absence of intense hurricanes in the four following seasons hasn't changed it because many people are only able to think "in one direction".

Concerning the motivation that makes many people pay lip service to the AGW orthodoxy, I have no doubt that the reasons are pragmatic in a huge percentage of cases. It is mostly about the funding, fame, money, and careers. Whoever denies that such things play role, at least for "typical" members of the Academia, is immensely naive.

I have had lots of interactions about these matters that would be surprising for me at the beginning - because I am a big immaterial idealist myself - but they became predictable once I learned how the things work and what the people care about.

For example, I liked (and like) a top string theorist at Harvard whom I will call A.S. so that everyone can find who he is. ;-) I chose him to be very specific but be sure that I could tell you many analogous stories involving other people.

You know, I think that while A.S. is a liberal who has had lunch with Al Gore and dinners with Naomi Oreskes etc. ;-), he represented the common-sense thinking I was familiar with from the "normal" people in Czechia. And in many respects, he was a moderate Democrat. Unlike most other people at Harvard, he would say that the U.S. was the only 20th century empire for which A.S. would be uncertain whether its contribution to the world has been positive or negative; all other superpowers have contributed negatively, he said.

That's a rather moderate attitude because most other people in the Academia would say that the U.S. has been the true axis of evil.

A.S. also knew how to write various applications so that he maximizes the benefits per invested time and money, and so on. :-) He's good at it, his reasoning is immensely rational and clever, and he knows how to do it. I am not saying it as a criticism because in some sense, this is a more acceptable position for me than the ideological fanaticism.

When it came to global warming, A.S. would be very uncertain about science, much like many others. Of course that my opinions or insights had always been respected in various discussions among a couple of physicists during dinners or parties, and so on, especially if they knew that I had spent more time with these issues than they did and I was not a complete idiot, either. Of course that the problematic confrontations had always come from the exterior of my immediate environment and they were ignited by the obvious players such as Naomi Oreskes, almost always by e-mail.

Once upon a time, she would send a complaint against me - that by being a skeptic, I was spitting on the work of the best scientists of the last 50 years, or something like that - and a copy of the e-mail was "conveniently" sent to several people in the Harvard (and Harvard physics as well as Harvard oceanography) hierarchy that Oreskes considered to be hardcore AGW believers who had a potential to cause problems to me.

At any rate, A.S. - and many others - would repeatedly tell me that he didn't really know what were the right scientific answers to the climate questions. But whatever they are, isn't it irrelevant? Aren't the goals of the AGW movement good, anyway? Literally dozens of left-wing people in the Academia have explicitly told me an equivalent statement. For example, A.S. would be willing to "pay extra 10 percent of his salary to the protection of the planet".

Well, he doesn't have to say it explicitly but it's obvious why such a redistribution is not bad for the people in Academia: they're getting nearly 100% of their income because of redistribution. So of course that if redistribution that favors scientific research etc. substantially increases, paying 10% of the new salary is not such a problem because their living standards will still improve.

I don't remember whether I have ever said these things to A.S. explicitly. But it doesn't really matter.

I think it's obvious that with his impressive understanding of the funding of science, A.S. understands the logic of my argument, too. I am sure that Kerry Emanuel must know these things as well. I don't believe that Kerry Emanuel could misunderstand the point that the funding of the department is easier if the department rides on the AGW bandwagon. And if Richard Lindzen says that Kerry Emanuel has explicitly articulated this point, I have no reason not to believe Richard Lindzen.

It's just way too obvious and Kerry Emanuel is surely not silly to fail to realize such things. Also, Richard Lindzen doesn't accuse Emanuel from a huge crime: he just says that Emanuel behaves as a rational, not necessarily quite idealistic human.

Now, we can be open-minded about the question whether Kerry Emanuel liked the "personal" boost he received when he promoted the AGW-hurricane link. I don't want to say anything strict for his case because I don't know him in person (unlike Richard Lindzen) but I am absolutely sure that such things are damn important for the average people in the Academia - and for very many people I have known in person. They just hugely care about their careers - to the extent that may be instinctively natural but I have always found it stunning.

Another, even more general question is whether Kerry Emanuel actually believes that the AGW is a genuine threat. If he became a leader of a new nation that would have no preconceptions or funding structures, so that all sociological pressures would be eliminated, would he recommend the nation to fight against AGW?

Again, I don't know about his deepest personal opinions - although Richard Lindzen probably does. But I do know the answer about many other people in the Academia. And I know the rough statistical answer about the Academia as a whole. Clearly, the number of people who believe that AGW is a threat is much lower than what you see simply because (most) people realize the benefits of saying "Yes" and they like these benefits.

So while both Gentlemen in this debate may be cool and fine from many viewpoints, it's clear to me that Richard Lindzen represents the idealism while Kerry Emanuel represents the personal pragmatism in these exchanges. Even if you agree with me, it doesn't imply that Richard Lindzen is right and Kerry Emanuel is wrong about the AGW threats. But it does mean that you can't consider all the opinions of all the AGW proponents as their genuine opinions or authentic scientific conclusions. They're surely tainted by something else, too.

Via Marc Morano


  1. The expedient willingness of the science community to go along with politically determined policy incurs huge long term costs to its credibility.
    Why would anyone trust such a group in other matters? So there should be no surprise that fundamentalists and creationists disregards their views.

    Seems that short term thinking is not confined to the corporate/financial world.

  2. Dear Lubos,
    I'd like to draw your
    attention to a paper by P. Wagoner et al,
    Am.J.Phys. Vol.78(5), May 2010. Their experimental results are very convincing and suggesting that it it is very difficult to demonstrate in a lab a radiative effect of CO2, but the authors are clearly afraid of destroying a current dogma.
    They show clearly that in their experiment adding Argon instead of CO2 leads to a similar increase of temperature.

  3. Hi, here is the abstract.

    I think that you distorted the content a little bit. They showed that the "school" experiments demonstrating the greenhouse effect actually measure very different phenomena and the greenhouse effect in these experiments is smaller.

    This doesn't imply that the greenhouse effect is zero, or negligible, on the Earth (even though it actually is negligible, because of other reasons).