Saturday, March 26, 2011

Physics Follies

Back in 2007, the Council of the American Physical Society issued a statement saying that manmade global warming is real, and is potentially dangerous. In 2010, a group of physicists, including some prominent deniers, attempted to get the Council of the American Physical Society to revoke their statement. The deniers failed, and the APS Council issued an even stronger statement. Both the old (2007) and the new (2010) statements can be found here.

In the December 2010 issue of APS News, Robert Levine wrote a letter to the Editor in which he claimed that a petition by deniers was thwarted by Curtis Callan, APS President and physics prof at Princeton. Levine claimed that the APS was handling this kerfuffle in ways that violated the Constitution: the APS Constitution.

Levine was apparently hoping to establish an APS-affiliated climate-study group that could be captured by the deniers.

The letter by Robert Levine in turn led to ANOTHER letter in the March 2011 issue of APS News, pointing out that Levine had misunderstood the APS Constitution.

The headline read

Member Actually Reads APS Constitution

Folks, the US Constitution is like the Bible. Everybody cites it or invokes its authorities in arguments. But hardly anybody actually reads either document.

When is the last time that anybody cited the Old Testament book of Joshua, in which Joshua slaughters an appalling number of people: "So Joshua smote all of the country of the hills, and of the south, and of the vale, and of the springs, and all their kings: he left none remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God commanded." (Joshua 10:40)

And the APS Constitution is even more obscure.


Jim Bouldin said...

Good job Eli!

Horatio Algeranon said...

"The Book of Eli: Some will kill to have it. He will kill to protect it."

"Eli hops alone in post-apocalyptic America. He heads west along the Highway of Death on a mission he doesn't fully understand but knows he must complete. In his backpack is the last copy of a book that could become the wellspring of a revived society. Or in the wrong hands, the (broken) hockey stick of a despot..."

Hank Roberts said...

Sheesh, I turn away from climate to read about nuclear reactors for a couple of weeks and miss all sorts of stuff .... has anyone got more info on this one? Maybe a transcript? *cough* Mosher?? *cough*

Horatio Algeranon said...

Engineers help us, we're in the hands of physicists.

John Mashey said...

For those who want to catch up on the history of all this, see Nov 2009's Another Silly Climate Petition Exposed.
Sad to say, Happer&co were not pleased by my writeup.

Basically, ~0.5% of APS members are (as one of the other letter writers found where Eli's is) "old geezers". The singer demographics were:
- heavily skewed old
- skewed politically conservative

and many were clearly collected via close personal relationships.
See the social network analysis there.

One of the letter writers laments problems in the APS-NES., whose newsletter co-editor is Larry Gould, whose website bunnies can evaluate. He was one of the organizers of the petition and almost every issue has climate discussions. See APS-NES Newsletters. The Spring 2011 features Ross McKitrick on Lisbon...
I'm off to the slopes, but maybe Eli will find some carrots.

Arthur said...

Eli, that was a literal LOL moment at our house last night when I read that headline! Well done to all involved :)

EliRabett said...

This post is by John. We are going to have to sign our posts! Thanks John

John Mashey said...

For those new to this, see this, from late 2009. Basically 0.5% of APS members disbelieve physics, mostly long-gone emeritus, often with strong conservative politics. There's a good list, and some write books not much better than James Barrante's (see RC thread on scientists blogging).

Read the other letters at APS, you can look up names in the list of petitioners.

Pinko Punko said...

Some would say, not Pinko to be sure, that the writer of that letter has a sense of humor.

John said...

I edited the post to include my headshot, so I can get credit for this insightful post. I certainly wouldn't want the wascally wabbit to get the credit for my "work". Actually Eli pointed out my authorship. It's just that some of the readers overlooked my by-line.


JohnMashey said...

Note: Levine was a long-time Schlumberger/Halliburton guy, see the report I mentioned earlier. He is mentioned often.

Steve Bloom said...

We all look forward to more smiting from Joshua.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

I could use some help.

JGR and J. Clim. turned down my drought paper. So did Adv. Sp. Res. when I tried dressing it up as a comment on the Drake Equation. I have no idea what to do next. Who would take me seriously? Tamino does, but he doesn't edit a journal.


Anonymous said...


Some suggestions:

You could look to the likes of Global Planet Change (impact factor: 3.2); Climatic Change (if: 3.6) or Global Change Biology (if: 5.5).

You could put an 'effect on agriculture' spin on it & put it to the likes of Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment (if: 3.1); J. Agricultural Science (if: 1.6); Food Policy (if: 1.6) or Agriculture & Human Values (if: 1.1).

Or a more general environmental impact & go for Frontiers in Ecology & Environment (if: 6.9); Environmental Research Letters (if: 3.3) or Science of the Total Environment (if: 2.9).

You may need to give some serious rewrites to fit some of these though. Does tamino not have any suggestions?

Chris S.

Steve Bloom said...

Barton, I think your difficulty is that you took what should have been a footnote and ignored the many reasons to think such a thing is implausible (due to other influences). At a minimum, you would need to discuss and analyze those other influences, which I suspect would transform your effort into a GCM exercise. There's also the problem that past warmer climates don't seem to be consistent with the severe drought scenario you projected. Alternatively, it might be interesting to consider what the theoretical maximum drought state might be based on physical expectations of trends in atmospheric water vapor and evapotranspiration. But since ultimately the water vapor isn't leaving the system and descending/ascending air masses must always be equal, I think it's clear that there has to be a limit. That said, what's most important is where we're going to get more drought, the confluence of breadbasket regions with the expansion zone of the subtropics being extremely bad news in that regard. (Caveats: I haven't seen your current draft, and of course IANAS.)

Chris Colose said...

Barton, if I could look at your paper, that would be great...

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Chris S, Thanks.

Chris C, I'll email you a copy of the most recent draft.

Steve... What the cake said to Alice.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Chris Colose,

My email address for you bounces. Can you provide me with an up-to-date one?