Friday, May 07, 2010

Twelve percent of NAS establish their AGW inquisition

The letter was accompanied by a well-known fake picture of a lone polar bear.

Yesterday, 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences - which has 2100 members in total - signed an open but originally paid letter in Science:
Climate Change and the Integrity of Science (available now)
As ABC and other media wrote, the researchers are "deeply disturbed by political assaults on scientists".

"For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet," they argue. The first three paragraphs say:
We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Scientific conclusions derive from an understanding of basic laws supported by laboratory experiments, observations of nature, and mathematical and computer modeling. Like all human beings, scientists make mistakes, but the scientific process is designed to find and correct them. This process is inherently adversarial - scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That's what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. But when some conclusions have been thoroughly and deeply tested, questioned, and examined, they gain the status of "well-established theories" and are often spoken of as "facts."

For instance, there is compelling scientific evidence that our planet is about 4.5 billion years old (the theory of the origin of Earth), that our universe was born from a single event about 14 billion years ago (the Big Bang theory), and that today's organisms evolved from ones living in the past (the theory of evolution). Even as these are overwhelmingly accepted by the scientific community, fame still awaits anyone who could show these theories to be wrong. Climate change now falls into this category: There is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend. (p. 689)
That's a set of remarkable misinterpretations of the actual findings. Indeed, science is never certain. But rational actions of the humans should reflect the current ideas about the probabilities of various outcomes rather than unscientific, ideological preconceptions masked as various kinds of "precautionary principles". There is an overwhelming evidence that the climate change in the next decades, century, or two - regardless of its causes - will be harmless while attempts to "phase out" carbon out of our lives would be devastating.

The press releases are supplemented by comments by climate researchers that the debate is over. Too bad, it means that the following individuals have banned themselves from any further discussions on this blog and others that join (this statement doesn't imply that they have ever contributed anything to the climate science or the climate debate):
P. H. Gleick, R. M. Adams, R. M. Amasino, E. Anders, D. J. Anderson, W. W. Anderson, L. E. Anselin, M. K. Arroyo, B. Asfaw, F. J. Ayala, A. Bax, A. J. Bebbington, G. Bell, M. V. L. Bennett, J. L. Bennetzen, M. R. Berenbaum, O. B. Berlin, P. J. Bjorkman, E. Blackburn, J. E. Blamont, M. R. Botchan, J. S. Boyer, E. A. Boyle, D. Branton, S. P. Briggs, W. R. Briggs, W. J. Brill, R. J. Britten, W. S. Broecker, J. H. Brown, P. O. Brown, A. T. Brunger, J. Cairns, Jr., D. E. Canfield, S. R. Carpenter, J. C. Carrington, A. R. Cashmore, J. C. Castilla, A. Cazenave, F. S. Chapin, III, A. J. Ciechanover, D. E. Clapham, W. C. Clark, R. N. Clayton, M. D. Coe, E. M. Conwell, E. B. Cowling, R. M Cowling, C. S. Cox, R. B. Croteau, D. M. Crothers, P. J. Crutzen, G. C. Daily, G. B. Dalrymple, J. L. Dangl, S. A. Darst, D. R. Davies, M. B. Davis, P. V. de Camilli, C. Dean, R. S. Defries, J. Deisenhofer, D. P. Delmer, E. F. Delong, D. J. Derosier, T. O. Diener, R. Dirzo, J. E. Dixon, M. J. Donoghue, R. F. Doolittle, T. Dunne, P. R. Ehrlich, S. N. Eisenstadt, T. Eisner, K. A. Emanuel, S. W. Englander, W. G. Ernst, P. G. Falkowski, G. Feher, J. A. Ferejohn, A. Fersht, E. H. Fischer, R. Fischer, K. V. Flannery, J. Frank, P. A. Frey, I. Fridovich, C. Frieden, D. J. Futuyma, W. R. Gardner, C. J. R. Garrett, W. Gilbert, R. B. Goldberg, W. H. Goodenough, C. S. Goodman, M. Goodman, P. Greengard, S. Hake, G. Hammel, S. Hanson, S. C. Harrison, S. R. Hart, D. L. Hartl, R. Haselkorn, K. Hawkes, J. M. Hayes, B. Hille, T. Hökfelt, J. S. House, M. Hout, D. M. Hunten, I. A. Izquierdo, A. T. Jagendorf, D. H. Janzen, R. Jeanloz, C. S. Jencks, W. A. Jury, H. R. Kaback, T. Kailath, P. Kay, S. A. Kay, D. Kennedy, A. Kerr, R. C. Kessler, G. S. Khush, S. W. Kieffer, P. V. Kirch, K. Kirk, M. G. Kivelson, J. P. Klinman, A. Klug, L. Knopoff, H. Kornberg, J. E. Kutzbach, J. C. Lagarias, K. Lambeck, A. Landy, C. H. Langmuir, B. A. Larkins, X. T. Le Pichon, R. E. Lenski, E. B. Leopold, S. A. Levin, M. Levitt, G. E. Likens, J. Lippincott-Schwartz, L. Lorand, C. O. Lovejoy, M. Lynch, A. L. Mabogunje, T. F. Malone, S. Manabe, J. Marcus, D. S. Massey, J. C. McWilliams, E. Medina, H. J. Melosh, D. J. Meltzer, C. D. Michener, E. L. Miles, H. A. Mooney, P. B. Moore, F. M. M. Morel, E. S. Mosley-Thompson, B. Moss, W. H. Munk, N. Myers, G. B. Nair, J. Nathans, E. W. Nester, R. A. Nicoll, R. P. Novick, J. F. O'Connell, P. E. Olsen, N. D. Opdyke, G. F. Oster, E. Ostrom, N. R. Pace, R. T. Paine, R. D. Palmiter, J. Pedlosky, G. A. Petsko, G. H. Pettengill, S. G. Philander, D. R. Piperno, T. D. Pollard, P. B. Price, Jr., P. A. Reichard, B. F. Reskin, R. E. Ricklefs, R. L. Rivest, J. D. Roberts, A. K. Romney, M. G. Rossmann, D. W. Russell, W. J. Rutter, J. A. Sabloff, R. Z. Sagdeev, M. D. Sahlins, A. Salmond, J. R. Sanes, R. Schekman, J. Schellnhuber, D. W. Schindler, J. Schmitt, S. H. Schneider, V. L. Schramm, R. R. Sederoff, C. J. Shatz, F. Sherman, R. L. Sidman, K. Sieh, E. L. Simons, B. H. Singer, M. F. Singer, B. Skyrms, N. H. Sleep, B. D. Smith, S. H. Snyder, R. R. Sokal, C. S. Spencer, T. A. Steitz, K. B. Strier, T. C. Südhof, S. S. Taylor, J. Terborgh, D. H. Thomas, L. G. Thompson, R. T. TJian, M. G. Turner, S. Uyeda, J. W. Valentine, J. S. Valentine, J. L. van Etten, K. E. van Holde, M. Vaughan, S. Verba, P. H. von Hippel, D. B. Wake, A. Walker, J. E. Walker, E. B. Watson, P. J. Watson, D. Weigel, S. R. Wessler, M. J. West-Eberhard, T. D. White, W. J. Wilson, R. V. Wolfenden, J. A. Wood, G. M. Woodwell, H. E. Wright, Jr., C. Wu, C. Wunsch, and M. L. Zoback
I know almost no one on the list - and it's great not to see most of the NAS members I know well. However, it's still sad to see people like Paul Crutzen, Kerry Emanuel, Wally Gilbert, Carl Wunsch, and others on this blacklist.

I have no idea why they haven't managed to convince Rev James Hansen to sign the letter; he's been an NAS member since 1996.

Such letters usually create lots of noise but we shouldn't forget that the signatories represent just a fringe minority of the National Academy of Sciences so this letter doesn't directly imply that the whole academy is rotten.

You can check a detailed description of the signatories and their disciplines (pages 14-37, via Joao).


  1. This demonstrates nothing but the difficulty of dissociation of false beliefs from human cognition.

    The more evidence that accumulates against a false proposition, the more forcible becomes the assertion of the validity of the belief and the criticism of those who reject it

  2. "There is an overwhelming evidence that the climate change in the next decades, century, or two - regardless of its causes - will be harmless."
    Coming from a physicist, that is a powerful statement. I assume you do not use the term "overwhelming evidence" lightly. Could you please point me to the evidence and explain how sea-level rise will be harmless?

    Clay Farris Naff
    Science Journalist

  3. Dear Dr Naff,

    I am not using the words lightly because this has unfortunately become a serious topic blocking huge resources of the human society.

    The sea level rise in the next century or two will be not only harmless: it will be pretty much undetectable without sophisticated special methods and devices.

    The best estimates predict around 10 cm plus minus 10 cm by 2100: see this interview with Nils-Axel Morner who is, in my opinion, the world's #1 expert in sea levels.

    That's about 10% of the changes due to tides that occur twice a day (two periods a day). I am not sure whether you understand the absurdity of this "problem": in 1 century, the sea level will change by an amount that is 10 times smaller than the normal changes that occur in 6 hours and some people call it a "problem".

    Even if you believed the IPCC mean estimates for a 43-centimeter rise in a century, it would clearly be harmless. The sea levels have been clearly changing by similar amounts in the past. Their impact was always fought against - whenever it made sense - locally.

    The local fluctuations of the sea levels are more important than the global trend, even at the centennial scale. That implies that there are surely places where the sea level rises by a few decimeters per century. However, the biggest "rises" are due to erosion, tectonics/geology, and other things that are completely unrelated to the climate.

    The places where sea level rises - usually because of the latter causes - may decide to fight it if the people are rich and they find the land important. So the Netherlands is doing fine even though 1/5 of the country is below the sea levels. Others would migrate a bit.

    But the percentage of the migration and reconstruction due to this cause is entirely negligible compared to other causes.

    The idea that the sea level rise will represent a problem worth talking about in the next 100 or 200 years is a complete fraud. It is a a new kind of religion, pseudoscientific gibberish.

    Concerning the best estimates, be sure that I was also skeptical about the arguments of e.g. Nils-Axel Morner, and maybe even about his impartiality and expertise. I did many tests while listening to him in Berlin last December and my doubts are mostly gone. That doesn't mean that I would treat him as a prophet - but yes, I do think that his estimates are justified by more proper and impartial science than what the IPCC does.

    But again, even if the upper estimates by the IPCC are right, the results will be completely harmless.

    By the way, as recently as 10,000 years ago, the sea level rise rate was much (ten times?) higher than recently, several meters per century. That's because there were still large continental ice sheets melting - above America or Eurasia. They're gone so the rapid sea level changes are gone, too.

    Greenland and Antarctica are the last possible big sources of sea level rise and by geograpy, most of their ice is safely frozen for quite some time.

    By Archimedes' law, melting sea ice doesn't change sea levels. Except for some changes in salinity etc. which, when counted, change the sea level by a breadth of a human hair.

    So in the case of sea level, the statement that the changes will be "harmless" is a huge overstatement of the "damages". The changes will really be undetectable.

    Best wishes

  4. The part of the post with which I take issue is the phrase right after the one about overwhelming evidence. There is not a period after the word evidence, the sentence concludes with the following "while attempts to "phase out" carbon out of our lives would be devastating."

    There is a carbon free alternative fuel that has already demonstrated its ability to replace coal combustion without any devastating effects. In fact, that replacement is cleaner, more abundant, more reliable, and its extraction causes less environmental harm because its energy density is 3 MILLION times greater than coal - if you are generous to coal in the comparison and ignore the mass of the oxygen required to burn the coal.

    If Jimmy Carter had not repaid a political debt to the coal states by discouraging the use of nuclear energy and encouraging the doubling of coal combustion, the United States would have achieved a coal free economy by about 2000. All we would have needed to do to reach that state would have been to continue building the plants that were already under construction and continue the enterprise at about the same level as it reached in 1973. Much of the money required to complete the plants was already spent on partially completed plants that never produced any electricity - which means that they helped Carter's supporters by never displacing any coal from the energy market.

    If we have a relatively easy path to reduce carbon emissions to a level that is within the ability of natural removal mechanisms that actually increases the general prosperity, why not take it? The only losers will be coal mine owners; there are plenty of jobs for the miners in the enterprise of the power source that will replace the coal.

  5. Dear Rod,

    I am a pro-nuclear guy, if you know or care, but you can't pretend that it's a universal winner and savior.

    The current nuclear technologies would deplete all the known uranium reserves, if the energy were used for all the purposes we need - including those served by fossil fuels today - for something like 30 years.

    It's plausible that we will eventually or soon build new plants that can reprocess other isotopes. But it's not guaranteed.

    Moreover, even if such things could be done, the transformation of all the cars and highways to electromobiles and their friendly electro-highways - or having a network to recharge efficiently - could probably be prohibitively expensive.

    When you count all the pluses and minuses, the coal and other fossil fuels are not "substantially" worse than the nuclear energy.

    Finally, you ask "why not take it?" Well, the actual people and companies have good reasons why they're not paying for a full transformation of themselves to nuclear players. When you ask such important questions such as "why not take it", why don't you actually listen to the answers?

    Best wishes