As a scientist with a blog, I am apparently contractually obligated to link to the New York Times Magazine profile of Freeman Dyson. If I don't, they'll take away my privileges as a scientist. (Of course, since those consist mostly of the right to review grant applications for the NSF, maybe it'd be worth the risk...)
I don't mind linking to it, though, because it is a nice piece of work. The focus is mostly on Dyson's (relatively) recent climate skepticism, because that's a high-profile offbeat opinion to have these days, but it gives a nice sketch of his background and accomplishments.
One surprising thing about the article, though, was its failure to mention Fred Hoyle. They don't have any deep scientific connections (that I know of), but if you asked me to name a British-born physicist best known for advocating unpopular or downright odd ideas, it's a toss-up whether I'd name Dyson or Hoyle first. If I were assigned to write about one, it's a sure bet that I'd end up mentioning the other.
Chad, I think you are annoyed with Dyson for his dissonant voice in the global warming choir, and you resent the fact that he cannot be easily shushed or ignored. He might well be stubbornly wrong but you have to admire his guts - it would be so much easier for him to grumble in private and enjoy his retirement. (By the way as a chemist I find Dyson's views on the foolishness of the carbon dioxide business quite sound).
One of the really nice things about having a blog is that I no longer have to wonder what I think about something. All I have to do is post a link or two, and people are happy to stop by and explain exactly what I think about the subject, in some detail.
One of the really nice things about having a blog is that you are free to explain to other people what you think about various subjects, in some detail. Over the years you had been quite generous with scorn about global warming dissidents. My impression of you has not been based on your reaction to Dyson but of course it does fit quite well.
2 dollar am Tag leben
Wo die Krise zur Katastrophe werden kÃ¶nnen
Die reichen Staaten haben ihre Entwicklungshilfe im Jahr 2008 effektiv um zehn Prozent auf 120 Milliarden Dollar erhÃ¶ht. Schuldenerlasse, die die EntwicklungslÃ¤nder zwar ebenfalls von Altlasten befreien, sie aber nicht in die Lage versetzen, Ã¼ber zusÃ¤tzliche Mittel verfÃ¼gen zu kÃ¶nnen, sind dabei nicht berÃ¼cksichtigt. Gemessen an der Wirtschaftskraft der IndustrielÃ¤nder stieg die Hilfsquote der IndustrielÃ¤nder von 0,28 Prozent im Jahr 2007 auf 0,30 Prozent im vergangenen Jahr. Diese Zahlen hat die Organisation fÃ¼r wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung (OECD) ermittelt. Sie sollen an diesem Montag in London verÃ¶ffentlicht werden.
Am Donnerstag nÃ¤chster Woche kommen die Staats- und Regierungschefs aus zwanzig groÃen Industrie- und SchwellenlÃ¤ndern in der britischen Hauptstadt zusammen, um Ã¼ber Antworten auf die Finanzkrise zu beraten. Es geht darum, wie man die FinanzmÃ¤rkte besser reguliert und wie man das Wachstum wieder in Gang bringt. Doch dÃ¼rfe die wirtschaftliche Erholung nicht zu Lasten der Armen der Welt gehen, heiÃt die offizielle Losung. Man mÃ¼sse die Millenniumsentwicklungsziele weiterverfolgen. Dazu gehÃ¶rt das Versprechen, die Armut und den Hunger in der Welt bis zum Jahr 2015 um die HÃ¤lfte zu reduzieren. Insgesamt acht entwicklungspolitische Ziele wurden auf einem Gipfeltreffen der Vereinten Nationen im Jahr 2000 vereinbart.
Im Jahr 2005 sagten die acht groÃen IndustrielÃ¤nder im schottischen Gleneagles darÃ¼ber hinaus zu, ihre Hilfe bis zum Jahr 2010 um 50 Milliarden Dollar aufzustocken, die HÃ¤lfte davon war fÃ¼r Afrika vorgesehen. Auf dem Gipfel in Heiligendamm bekrÃ¤ftigten sie im Jahr 2007 ihre Absicht, die Lage der armen LÃ¤nder zu verbessern. Afrika hat nach den neuesten Zahlen der OECD im Jahr 2008 26 Milliarden Dollar erhalten, davon entfiel mit 22,5 Milliarden Dollar der allergrÃ¶Ãte Teil auf die Region sÃ¼dlich der Sahara. Ohne Schuldenerlass entspricht dies einem Plus von 10,5 Prozent. Gleichwohl ist man nach EinschÃ¤tzung von Fachleuten von den in Gleneagles gemachten Zusagen noch weit entfernt; es fehlten immer noch 20 Milliarden Euro fÃ¼r die EntwicklungslÃ¤nder, heiÃt es.
Vom letzten Aufschwung verwÃ¶hnt, trifft die Wirtschaftskrise die Ã¤rmsten LÃ¤nder besonders hart. Der Internationale WÃ¤hrungsfonds schÃ¤tzt das afrikanische Wachstum fÃ¼r 2009 auf 3,25 Prozent ein. Das ist deutlich weniger als im vergangenen Jahr, als die WirtschaftstÃ¤tigkeit dort um mehr als fÃ¼nf Prozent zulegte. GegenÃ¼ber der vorangegangenen Prognose vom Januar 2008 nahm er seine Vorhersage sogar um drei Prozentpunkte zurÃ¼ck. Das entspricht auch den Erwartungen fÃ¼r die anderen Schwellen- und EntwicklungslÃ¤nder. FÃ¼r Afrika, wo die BevÃ¶lkerung stark wÃ¤chst, ist das Wachstum zu gering. Die Krise gefÃ¤hrdet nun auch das wenige, was zuletzt erreicht worden ist.
Experten halten Entwicklungshilfe fÃ¼r gescheitert
BundesprÃ¤sident Horst KÃ¶hler hat in seiner Berliner Rede daran erinnert, dass von den 6,5 Milliarden Menschen, die auf der Erde leben, weit Ã¼ber zwei Milliarden Menschen mit zwei Dollar am Tag auskommen mÃ¼ssen, eine Milliarde sogar nur mit einem Dollar. âFÃ¼r mich entscheidet sich die Menschlichkeit unserer Welt am Schicksal Afrikasâ, mahnte er. Zugleich gab er zu bedenken, dass es ein geringeres Risiko gewesen wÃ¤re, eine Eisenbahnlinie quer durch Afrika zu bauen, als in eine angesehene New Yorker Investmentbank zu investieren.
Doch die kritische Frage bleibt, ob die Hilfe, wie hoch sie auch immer sein mÃ¶ge, die Folgen des Einbruchs der Weltwirtschaft fÃ¼r die EntwicklungslÃ¤nder ausgleichen kÃ¶nnen. Fachleute sind skeptisch, nicht nur die, die gerade den âBonner Aufruf Plusâ verabschiedet haben. Deren Autoren, die zumeist lange in Afrika gelebt haben und die VerhÃ¤ltnisse bestens kennen, halten die gesamte staatliche Entwicklungszusammenarbeit fÃ¼r gescheitert. âUnsere Entwicklungshilfe hat die Eigenverantwortung der Afrikaner nicht gefÃ¶rdert und gestÃ¤rkt, sondern oft sogar das Gegenteil bewirktâ, urteilen sie. âDie verantwortlichen Politiker konnten sich auf Grund der finanziellen UnterstÃ¼tzung der Gebergemeinschaft aus der Verantwortung stehlen.â
Reiche LÃ¤nder in der Pflicht
Rolf Langhammer vom Kieler Institut fÃ¼r Weltwirtschaft geht soweit nicht. Er sieht die reichen LÃ¤nder in der Pflicht, ihre Hilfszusagen aufzustocken. âHilfen sind nicht alles, aber ohne Hilfen ist vieles nichtsâ, sagt er. Wo es keine Infrastruktur gebe, blieben private Investoren aus. Er sieht die EntwicklungslÃ¤nder aus mehreren GrÃ¼nden unter Druck geraten: âDie LÃ¤nder mit Rohstoffen leiden, weil die Preise gefallen sind, die LÃ¤nder, die Gastarbeiter entsandt haben, bekommen von diesen weniger Ã¼berwiesen.â Zudem hÃ¤tten die LÃ¤nder, die auf Entwicklungshilfe angewiesen seien, die Sorge, dass die Finanzminister der reichen LÃ¤nder ihre Hilfen absenken kÃ¶nnten. In besonders armen LÃ¤ndern mache die Entwicklungshilfe 20 bis 50 Prozent der gesamtwirtschaftlichen Leistung aus.
Viel wichtiger als die staatlichen Hilfen sind nach Angaben des EntwicklungsÃ¶konomen Langhammer die privaten KapitalstrÃ¶me: 2007 flossen noch etwa 900 Milliarden Euro an Direktinvestitionen, Anlagen und Krediten in die Schwellen- und EntwicklungslÃ¤nder. FÃ¼r dieses Jahr wÃ¼rden nur noch 180 Milliarden Euro an privaten KapitalflÃ¼ssen erwartet. âWenn Direktinvestitionen unterbleiben, dann kann das die Entwicklungshilfe nicht ausgleichenâ, meint Langhammer.
So dÃ¼rfte sich die Lage fÃ¼r die Ãrmsten in der Krise wieder verschlechtern. Die groÃen entwicklungspolitischen Ziele, die sich die Weltgemeinschaft gesteckt hat, drohen verfehlt zu werden. Bisher hat das starke Wachstum in China zig Millionen Menschen aus der Armut geholt. Nachdem auch dort das Wachstum eingebrochen ist, haben schon viele ihre Arbeit in den StÃ¤dten verloren. Ohne soziales Netz fallen sie sofort zurÃ¼ck ins Elend. Dann mÃ¼ssen sie wieder von einem oder zwei Dollar am Tag leben.
predictably, humans have an easier time learning to revere people than learning to focus on the quality of ideas, regardless of who thinks them.
it does us no more service to have people regard a person as "infinitely smart" than it does to call them a "blowhard". they are equally biased positions.
discovery certainly requires unorthodoxy. but being subversive for its own sake it more suited to teenagers experimenting with sex and drugs than to influential scientists thinking aloud about problems through the popular media.
This is a subject I feel I really should start learning more about. I do get the impression that most people seem to have ideas about global warming dominated by their political leanings, and most scientists I know certainly haven't thought through any of the models or arguments. If it does turn out that the problem is largely overstated, then it could well be the case that regulations striving to fight a relatively minor problem will have real negative effects for developing countries that would sure like to have cheap energy. Right now I tend to believe that global warming is a problem and these things are worth pursuing but I'm quite aware that this is lacking anything like a rigorous foundation and there are very capable people who believe the other way, too.
I think it's hard to tag Dyson as a genuine skeptic - he accepts that CO2 is rising due to human action, and that the earth will warm as a result.
What he actually does is venture into areas where he has no more expertise than you or I do. His position boils down to: a.) warming doesn't matter because it's good for plants (Botany) and b.) if it does matter we'll just plant "carbon-eating trees" (Genetic Engineering)
ie he's pontificating on subjects he has no special expertise in. Just like any other crank.
I'm not sure I'd link Hoyle with Dyson in that way, myself. Hoyle spent the latter part of his life assiduously promoting and defending a (semi-)coherent set of related ideas, based on a cosmological theory he built from the ground up. Whereas Dyson is just playing dilettante, making comments about something not remotely in his field, in which he's never done any serious research. Now, if Dyson were still arguing for what had turned out to be an erroneous formulation of QED many years after everyone else agreed it was a dead issue, then there'd be more of a comparison.
Anyway -- what about Brian Josephson, if you want an example of "a British-born physicist best known for advocating unpopular or downright odd ideas"?
It's a nice article, but the global warming contrarianism makes me uncomfortable. His stance seems to boil down to having faith that technology will solve everything, which is only really a useful attitude from people who are working on that technology. But from what I've seen, most people who really are technological experts are much more pessimistic. If "carbon-eating trees" were as feasible as he thinks they are, wouldn't there be hordes of people working on them by now?
It also seems like he got to this attitude just by thinking that the developing world needs energy, and that it would be a terrible thing to not let all those people in poor countries use all the oil and gas they want. Which I'm sympathetic to, but to get from there to thinking that regulating greenhouse gases is a net bad thing, he has to ignore all the work that's been done on how the bad effects of climate change are going to fall much harder on developing nations than developed ones. To take an extreme case, the people of Bangladesh would probably prefer slightly slower economic growth if it keeps their country from being submerged in the ocean. (And the "slightly" there is important too, since the literature on economic growth in a world with carbon regulation seems to point to relatively modest economic slowdown.)
Freeman Dyson isn't really a dilettante. I heard him give a very detailed global warming talk in 1991 or so where his main argument was that global warming could be a great global catastrophe - for humans, that is, in the long run the world would be fine. He argued that we should be acquiring data and that we were spending a tiny fraction of the money we ought to on studying and measuring climate change. At the time he knew an enormous amount about what had been measured and what the models were telling us.
I'm afraid he's really just a grumpy old contrarian rather than a dilettante.
I have read Dyson on carbon-eating trees before. As to be expected, it's an interesting idea, but in that and some other things he has written, it is obvious that he does not think much about biology. New species introduced into an ecosystem have an inherent potential instability. Go look up rabbits or Opuntia in Australia, or zebra mussels, or ... So, what's going to happen with the carbon-eating trees? Dyson never stops to consider that, and it makes his suggestion interesting, but requiring much more thought. What they do not even come close to doing, however, is showing that climate change is no big deal.
David @ 10:
The problem is that Dyson apparently feels qualified to opine about this topic when he -- at least these days -- shows a serious absence of knowledge about it.
Read this post by Michael Tobis on one of Dyson's recent essays -- and in particular, read the comments about 3/4 of the way down, where someone points to a passage in Dyson's essay that Tobis originally missed, one which shows that Dyson simply does not understand how the greenhouse effect works. As Tobis puts it, "... the author [Dyson] has never even sat down with the undergraduate level approximation of how atmospheric radiative transfer actually works. It's really quite shocking."
(I remember enough about radiative transfer from my stellar atmospheres class to see that Tobis is quite correct on this point.)
The similarities between the two scientists may go deeper. Hoyle wrote a truly awful book about ice ages. He learned a little, a very little, about the topic, then it was off to the races!
He might well be stubbornly wrong but you have to admire his guts
There's no reason to admire his intellectual dishonesty, his gross ad hominems against Hanson, Gore, and the entire climate science community ("a worldwide secular religion"), his absurd strawman claim that "According to the global-warming people, I say what I say because Iâm paid by the oil industry.", his trotting out repeatedly debunked nonsense about it having been "fashionable to worry about the coming ice age." He says "all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated." -- that's a purely ideological, unscientific sentiment, not that of a person with an open mind -- not on this subject. Fred Hoyle's intelligence and scientific training didn't stop him from being a crank when it came to the theory of evolution, and the same is true of Dyson when it comes to global warming.
Intellectual dishonesty: Well that's the exact term that the Orwellian committee used in its attempts to destroy Bjorn Lomborg credibility. By the way I don't find critique of Gore as a "propagandist" to be an ad hominem attack. Dyson is quite fond of watching the "Inconvenient Truth" and taking it apart - he disagrees with its chain of reasoning because unlike Gore he knows how shaky some of the used "scientific" statements are. (Ad hominem attack would be if Dyson said that Al Gore is an orotund turd turkey.)
I've been coming to loathe the term "global warming". It is a misnomer that has largely become, as noted by Dyson, a "political dividing line". "Climate change" or "climate destabilization" are so much more accurate and convey the very real difficulties in studying/modeling such a complex system as the biosphere/climate. I wholeheartedly agree in principle with Dyson that we don't know precisely what will happen. However, there is very little doubt that (e.g.) even a 1 foot rise in ocean levels will lead to a very real human and economic toll of catastrophic proportions. It is for these kinds of scenarios that I feel Dyson is being disingenuous to the climate change community. It also seems naive to think that the political will can EVER be mustered in "enough" time to address the climate change problems without painting some worst-case scenarios for the public.
I don't consider that dishonest in the least when you consider the climate change research and renewable energy research = insurance model. You certainly don't buy insurance thinking that you WILL have your house burn down or your car stolen (i.e. "day after tomorrow" scenarios). The chances are actually really low. However, you DO appreciate insurance when somebody rear-ends you or your pipes freeze and flood your furnished basement (i.e. the "1 foot of ocean level rise scenario).
Given the amount of money the someday "Bill Gates" or "google" of the solar industry make in india and china I really can't fathom why there aren't more companies spending more money and more academics doing solar research (IF a solution to the problem actually exists).
"ie he's pontificating on subjects he has no special expertise in. Just like any other crank."
I usually ignore ad hominem remarks but since Freeman is a friend, while he does not need my defense against such scurrilous remarks, I will weigh in. Freeman has certainly studied both global warming (in the 80s) and genetic engineering in the last 10 years. It may not be his "specialty" but he is a very quick study. Perhaps Mr. JM does not have the experience of knowing really intelligent people. I do not have Freeman's optimism about science being able to solve problems but a crank he is definitely not.
bobh, your friend's a CRANK. deal with it.
Furthermore, if a climate scientist had come to Dyson back when he MATTERED, which is not now, with the same level of ignorant raving Dyson is exhibiting about global warming attacking Dyson in his field(s) of expertise, I doubt he'd get, from Dyson, the unjustified respectful hearing Dyson is getting.
And this takes, by the way, zero courage. Both of the US's state religions - Rapture Christianity and market fundamentalism - are foursquare on the side of "global warming's not a problem, and if it were a problem, business and ingenuity would magically evolve to deal with it"
P.S. Most people were more patient the first pass all this had. What's really bad behavior on Dyson's part is, none of this - nothing of what he's saying now - is even new for him. And the very patient, respectful, and thorough analyses his notions got 2-4 years ago (for one thing, it was all over the science blogs, and I believe that reflected mentions in popular science magazines, which in turn reflected passing mentions in scientific presentations) was not responded to, by him, with anything like "Gee, I might be wrong!" or any correction or recalculation. Nada.
Now, finally, he admits the "might" possibility? So who's the dogmatist here? And who are the skeptics doing actual science?
Having known a few brilliant quick studies, I agree. What I'm noticing here is that it's mostly just "Dyson's a crank, it's "out of his field" so he can't make a true statement."
Sounds like theologians' refutations to me.
The real issue is why don't we fix the present sociological problems as they come up? Where's the EFFECTIVE disposition of women's education, nuclear drawdown, fair distribution of resources, O clever scientists?
Maybe we need more cognitive scientists working in progressive politics and a lot fewer ivory tower technicians whose "field" is not the movement of public opinion.
Maybe Dyson will move more public opinion toward the problems I mention above than all the sniping about "out of his field" will ever do.
Ever heard of the circular firing squad so beloved of Berkeley liberals?