Sunday, November 06, 2016

Ralph Cicerone: 1943-2016

Ralph John Cicerone died in Short Hills, NJ unexpectedly yesterday. The cause of death remains unknown. RIP, Dr Cicerone.

He was an atmospheric scientist and, as Google Scholar indicates, a successful one. You may see that his well-known papers are about trace gases, methane, halogens, ozone, florides, bromides, and other compounds in the atmosphere. This diversity differs from the one-dimensional approach of the climate alarmists who want everyone to be obsessed with the greenhouse gases in general and CO2 in particular. With these diverse interests, it should be expected that the person is at most a lukewarmer when it comes to the climate hysteria. And while he has avoided any contradictions with the "prevailing scientific opinions" that sound technical enough, I think that Ralph Cicerone was a canonical lukewarmer. Well, a very senior climate skeptic has called Cicerone "a personal friend and a closet skeptic" today.

L.A. Times claims that he was an ex-chancellor of UC Irvine who studied "causes of climate change". But this is an extremely manipulative description. One may see that his most famous paper as well as 90% of his other well-known articles have nothing to do with man-made (and, usually, any other) climate change.

Ralph Cicerone was particularly important to the global scientific community because he was the president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences between 2005 and June 2016. Only in recent months, he was replaced by Marcia McNutt. Among other things, the last decade was a decade of climate hysteria which numerous loud people wanted to promote to the "main concern" of organizations such as the U.S. National Academy of Science.

What was the role of Ralph Cicerone? It was changing with time and, in later years, moderate if you compare his views with those of the loudest alarmists who often like to refer to the NAS and similar bodies as the "authorities on their side".

In a 2010 blog post Cicerone Then And Now (published a few months after the Climategate, see also a TRF blog post from February 2010), Steve McIntyre recalls that Cicerone was pretty much one of the hurdles that made transparency of the data impossible in 2005, when he took over the NAS, in 2006, and especially in 2007 when Steve asked him for some help. In 2010, however, Cicerone already said that "clarity and transparency must be reinforced to build and maintain trust" and he realized that the suspicion over the Mann-like climate reconstructions was the main problem that arose from the scandal.

But aside from the transparency issues, what did he think about the beef of the climate panic?

You may check a a 2012 interview with Cicerone (hat tip: Tom Nelson, Marc Morano). He basically joins the claims that the CO2 causes a greenhouse effect and even disagrees with Dick Lindzen that the net feedback is negative. But the end of the interview is somewhat different:
John Humphrys: You don't sound - if I can use this word - apocalyptic. I mean, you're not saying "If we don't do these things, we're going to go to hell in a handbasket, we're going to fry, in a few years".

Ralph Cicerone: Well, there are people who are saying those things -

John Humphrys: But not you.

Ralph Cicerone: No. I don't think it's useful, I don't think it gets us anywhere, and we don't have that kind of evidence. Obviously, what a self-fulfilling prophecy that would be. It's like someone running down the main street of a small town saying "The bank is going to fail! The bank is going to fail!" And sure enough, everyone goes to the bank and removes their deposits, and guess what? The bank fails. So...

John Humphrys: Professor Cicerone, thank you very much indeed.
Cicerone thought that we didn't have the evidence that we're going to hell in a handbasket or fry in a few years. And it's not useful to say such things. He also said that those claims could become true as self-fulling prophesies do. I don't quite see how the screaming by the alarmists could make the alarmists' claims true – deluded screaming causes even less of a climate change than the CO2 emissions – but at least, you can see the obvious distance between Cicerone and the "sky is falling" people.

Even though he was sitting in this prestigious chair of the global science establishment for over 10 years, and even though he was an actual achieved atmospheric scientist, we couldn't hear much about his actual opinions. He wasn't a star of Leonardo DiCaprio's or similar apocalyptic movies. The academies were often said to be fully supporting the most radical forms of the climate hysteria. But who were the actual people who supported this stuff? It was (and it is) a loud minority of radicals, Michael-Mann-like fraudsters. The hysteria wasn't and isn't supported by a majority of the rank-and-file members – no one has ever asked them about their views under any controllable circumstances. And the most unhinged hysteria wasn't really supported by many of the heads such as Ralph Cicerone, either.

This effect of the "excessively visible aggressive minority" may be seen everywhere. For example, in September 2016, 376 members of the same U.S. National Academy of Sciences (well, including Cicerone, in this case) have called themselves ResponsibleScientists.ORG, registered an Internet domain, and posted a stupid pamphlet on its main web page.

You know, a letter like that – with a large number of 376 achieved senior scientists including 30 Nobel laureates – may look intimidating. Lots of people (including other scientists) surely think: "Who am I to dare to criticize or disagree with this prestigious bunch?" But if you think about it rationally, this whole respect is unreasonable. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has over 2,300 members. It's rather likely that an overwhelming majority of these members was contacted and asked to support the climate alarmist petition. I know how it works. As Harvard faculty, I have received all this green spam – and it was incoming every day. I wanted to get some of those spammers (e.g. bureaucrats at Harvard) to jail but I didn't have the courage to go after their neck.

However, only 376 members signed the "responsible scientist" pamphlet. It's not 97% of the members. It is just 16% or so. Those 84% who were probably asked to sign but didn't sign – they probably needed some courage not to sign – were also expressing some opinion. These 84% of members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences aren't "irresponsible scientists".

The climate hysteria is really "created" by an aggressive minority of extreme and highly politically polarized researchers, perhaps by something like 16% of the body of researchers. It's a similar percentage as the percentage of voters supporting some/the Nazi party before it conquers the society. Political movements such as Nazism and global warming alarmism don't have any respect to the opinions of others and they use morally indefensible methods to deal with those who disagree with them – and that's why they may often formally get to the 97% support of the society.

But it's a task for the silent majority not to allow such a dangerous evolution.

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