John Tierney (of NYT) on Freeman Dyson

I find I often like TierneyLab, which is John Tierney’s blog on science issues via the NY Times web site.  Today (from Instapundit, Glenn Reynolds’s blog) I linked to a Tierney article on Freeman Dyson, a noted  nuclear physicist– worked at Los Alamos, then Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies.  Dyson’s biography Disturbing the Universe was very interesting.  And so is the Tierney article, entitled “Tragedy is not Freeman Dyson’s Business”:

“Nicholas Dawidoff’s article about Freeman Dyson in the Times Magazine nicely captures Mr. Dyson’s independent spirit as well as a couple of other appealing traits: humanism and optimism. While so many other scientists and intellectuals fret about humans ruining the planet — and some even revel in fantasies about a world free of our pernicious presence — Mr. Dyson has long had faith in humans’ ability to deal with problems like nuclear weapons and global warming.”

It was first of all surprising that the NYT Magazine published a long, favorable article on Dyson, who has strongly criticized climate change alarmism.  The full TierneyLab piece can be found here. Maybe the Times is ready to change course on some science policy issues?  I certainly hope so.

4 Responses to “John Tierney (of NYT) on Freeman Dyson”

  1. Ed Says:

    Unfortunately, Dyson is more of an engineer than a scientist when it comes to the domain of climate change. He proposes that geneticists modify plants to make them take up more CO2. (A similar geo-engineering proposal by someone else suggested that geo-biological-engineers make plants more reflective.)

    A few weeks ago, Beth and I heard a talk by a local scientist who listed 19 reasons why geo-engineering was a bad idea. In addition he listed major criteria that geo-engineering schemes must satisfy that might make them acceptable. Here are three:

    1. It must be cost-effective
    (this rules out Roger Angels multi-$trillion, 30-year scheme to launch reflectors up to the L-1 point)
    2. It must be quickly reversible in case of multiple volcanic eruptions (say) or an abrupt return of the ice ages.
    (This rules out the plant genetic schemes, which would be difficult to reverse)
    3. It must have few undesirable side effects
    (This rules out the plan to fill the stratosphere with oxides of nitrogen)

    A number of other criteria that this scientist listed combine to rule out all of the existing geo-engineering proposals.

    It’s not surprising that Dyson, who after all, invented the outlandish concept of the “Dyson Sphere”, would be proposing geo-engineering for changing the planet. But, as UC’s Alex Fillipenko says, “we are presently performing an uncontrolled experiment on the planet.” Do we really need to perform more such uncontrolled experiments?

    • pjoenotes Says:

      Ed. I agree with you that we should approach any “geo-engineering” scheme with caution; and that goes for what Obama’s science adviser Holdren was musing about recently. And yes, increasing CO2 by our activities is another “uncontrolled experiment on the planet”– I wouldn’t have favored that either if it had been done by conscious choice.
      But: I don’t think that the alarmist fears of utter disaster from rising CO2 levels, justified by math. modeling, are being borne out very well. The earth’s atmosphere, ocean currents, solar variance, feedback mechanisms– all very complicated. And hasn’t the warming slowed down considerably in the past few years? — for whatever reason.
      I’d like to ask your opinion on Roger Pielke, Jr., of the Center for Science and Technology Policy (of CU) Research, in your own town of Boulder– particularly, do you read his Prometheus blog, at He certainly isn’t a climate-change “denier”, but he often shoots down the red-hots on the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) issue. (And he has thoughtful things to say about other science & tech policy issues).
      There’s also the viewpoint of Bjorn Lomborg, who says that yes, climate change may be a problem, but we’re better off dealing with more pressing matters which the world faces, especially in the poor countries; and weigh the costs vs. benefits involved before investing mucho $billions & crippling the world economy (which is in pretty bad shape now for other reasons). I read his recent book “Cool It”, liked it. Though I’m sure Lomborg is damned as one of the “deniers” by the crusaders on the issue.

  2. Ed Says:

    “And hasn’t the warming slowed down considerably in the past few years?”

    Is that a serious question? Or is it a rhetorical question? It sounds like maybe you think the warming has slowed down on some time scale, or over some unspecified time range. If so, please show me a link to a plot that quantitatively demonstrates that.

    The only ones I’ve seen are from the American Geophysical Union, NOAA, and NCAR. Their plots show that for the last 30 years the trend of globally-averaged has been uniformly upward, using averages that smooth out weather fluctuations and the quasi-biennial Nino/Nina fluctuations.

  3. Ed Says:

    Since I haven’t yet received an answer to my concern about the sincerity of the question, “And hasn’t the warming slowed down considerably in the past few years?”, I will take the opportunity to provide an answer from NASA scientists.

    The answer appears to be NO.
    One might, however, argue, “But didn’t 2008 show a downward trend?” Yes it did, but, as, “One swallow does not a summer make”, it is also true that one year does not constitute a trend. I seem to recall walking out of a hall at Goddard with someone who shall remain nameless (initials PJK) who agreed with me that one year of hurricanes proves nothing! (Also one should note that the Nino/Nina sea-surface anomaly for 2008 is a reasonable explanation for the 1-year downturn.)

    So now it is the blogmeister’s turn to show us where the evidence is that the earth has been cooling for the “past few years”!

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