Speak some ill of some dead
Recent weeks bring news of the death of Fred Seitz and Robert Jastrow. Eli is not shedding a bunch of tears. Rabett Run has described how over three decades Seitz provided cover for the tobacco companies. Together with William Nierenberg, Seitz and Jastrow founded the George Marshall Institute, ostensibly to promote the Strategic Defense Initiative but later to deny the ills of tobacco, ozone depletion, man-made climate change and more. Nierenberg died in 2000
Three new papers deal with our trio (freely available):
- Challenging Knowledge: How Climate Science Became a Victim of the Cold War by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway,
- From Chicken Little to Dr. Pangloss: William Nierenberg, Global Warming and the Social Deconstruction of Scientific Knowledge by Oreskes, Conway and Matthew Shindell, and
- Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a "physicist "trio" supporting the backlash against global warming, by Myanna Lahsen
One can also look for papers from a recent conference "Dissent in Science".
Lahsen thinks that the three came to their positions through a combination of arrogance and their loss of status as they aged.
In some respects Nierenberg, Seitz and Jastrow are representative of broader categories of which they are partly part. They share common characteristics with other physicists and with a particular subgroup of physicists and governmental advisors in particular, an older generation of elite physicists shaped by nuclear physicists. The Marshall Institute trio has lived through dramatic changes in popular attitudes towards science and the environment. Their engagement in US climate politics can be understood in part as a struggle to preserve their particular culturally and historically charged understandings of scientific and environmental reality, and an associated, particular normative order. The trio has found support for important dimensions of their worldviews and policy preferences within the backlash and among Congressional Republicans, but they must continuously contend with challenges to the privilege to which they had grown accustomed in science and government.In passing she records a conversation with a young physicist which explains the arrogance
this is a problem with physicists: they think they know everything, because they’re smart. What they don’t understand is that yes, it is true, actually meteorology is a branch of physics. And so you take a physicist, like me, and you can sit him down, and in 2 or 3 years, they could learn meteorology. But physicists confuse being smart and having the ability to learn everything with actually knowing stuff!Oreskes and Conway are not convinced, if for no other reason that Nierenberg was director of Scripps, and built up climate science there and Jastrow hired Hansen and built up atmospheric sciences at GISS. O&C ask if they would kill their own babies
Indeed, in David Randall's book General Circulation Model Development, (much there that bears on recent conversations) Hansen writes
But at about that time, the director of GISS, Robert Jastrow, concluded that the days of generous NASA support for planetary studies were numbered, and he thus began to direct institutional resourses towards Earth applications.Still, Eli has heard rumors that Jastrow left GISS when he ran afoul of regulations and was offered a Hobson's choice, without a doubt Nierenberg, Seitz and Jastrow were arrogantly proud, and Seitz was willing to front for the tobacco industry in return for power, money and visibility so he is not convinced totally of Oreskes and Conway's argument on this score.
They prefer another point Lahsen also makes:
The political preferences of climate change "contrarians" including Singer, Nierenberg and Seitz can be characterized as anti-communist, pro-capitalish and anti-government interference. We agree. Indeed, philanthropist George Soros has given this perspective a succinct label: "market fundamentalism". Market fundamentalists hold a dogmatic, quasi-religious belief in unfettered market capitalism, and therefore oppose anything that restrains the business community, be it restrictions on the use of tobacco or the emission of greenhouse gases.Oreskes and Conway conclude that Nierenberg, Seitz and Jastrow viewed climate change through the lens of the Cold War
There is something very peculiar about this, because many people believe in the merits of free markets but still accept the reality of global climate change. One can argue the merits or demerits of carbon taxes, emission control, carbon credits and all kinds of other potential responses to cliamte change without denying the scientific facts - and indeed all over the world people are doing just that.
The Cold War however is over. We face now not a binary choice between communism and capitalism (if ever we did) but rather the realization that capitalism has had unintended consequences. When humans began to burn fossil fuels, no one intended to create global warming. But they (and we) did. Capitalism triumphed over communism, but now must deal with its own waste products.