Friday, December 04, 2009

Climategate and the American Physical Society

I got this email message today. Again, I haven't done my homework on this issue, so I don't have a strong opinion. But the signatories to this email and (I suspect) a fair number of APS members do.

Dear fellow member of the American Physical Society:

This is a matter of great importance to the integrity of the Society. It is being sent to a random fraction of the membership, so we hope you will pass it on.

By now everyone has heard of what has come to be known as ClimateGate, which was and is an international scientific fraud, the worst any of us have seen in our cumulative 223 years of APS membership. For those who have missed the news we recommend the excellent summary article by Richard Lindzen in the November 30 edition of the Wall Street journal, entitled "The Climate Science isn't Settled," for a balanced account of the situation. It was written by a scientist of unquestioned authority and integrity. A copy can be found among the items at, and a visit to can fill in the details of the scandal, while adding spice.

What has this to do with APS? In 2007 the APS Council adopted a Statement on global warming (also reproduced at the tinyurl site mentioned above) that was based largely on the scientific work that is now revealed to have been corrupted. (The principals in this escapade have not denied what they did, but have sought to dismiss it by saying that it is normal practice among scientists. You know and we know that that is simply untrue. Physicists are not expected to cheat.)

We have asked the APS management to put the 2007 Statement on ice until the extent to which it is tainted can be determined, but that has not been done. We have also asked that the membership be consulted on this point, but that too has not been done.

None of us would use corrupted science in our own work, nor would we sign off on a thesis by a student who did so. This is not only a matter of science, it is a matter of integrity, and the integrity of the APS is now at stake. That is why we are taking the unusual step of communicating directly with at least a fraction of the membership.

If you believe that the APS should withdraw a Policy Statement that is based on admittedly corrupted science, and should then undertake to clarify the real state of the art in the best tradition of a learned society, please send a note to the incoming President of the APS ccallan@pr****, with the single word YES in the subject line. That will make it easier for him to count.

Bob Austin, Professor of Physics, Princeton
Hal Lewis, emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara
Will Happer, Professor of Physics, Princeton
Larry Gould, Professor of Physics, Hartford
Roger Cohen, former Manager, Strategic Planning, ExxonMobil


Seth said...

Citing Richard Lindzen's account of the story is a bit of a 'tell' here, given his prominence as a climate change skeptic. The author of this letter is clearly looking to magnify the impact of the stolen emails from an embarrassment for East Anglia into a major reconsideration of AGW.

You are increasingly part of the jury, and I hope you will consider investing some real effort in assessing the evidence. Jury duty is a pain, but the verdict here is potentially quite important.

The letter contends that the APS policy statement "was based largely on the scientific work that is now revealed to have been corrupted?" [emphasis added] That seems unlikely to me. I'm inclined to say "please go tell those glaciers they can regrow now, it was all a false alarm." But I suppose global warming could be occurring even if we're being told an exaggerated story about the role of human carbon emissions in causing the warming.

Ian Smith said...

The skeptics are parnoid.

Oswald really did act alone.

Martin said...

You know there's been a coal fire burning in Centralia Pennsylvania since 1956?

I read the emissions of coal fires burning just in China equals the annual output of all American vehicles, and the coal firs in India are bigger.

Can we all at least agree that we should extinguish these fires. It's wasting coal if nothing else.

And if that's costs prohibitive or technologically infeasible, well then...

CW said...

I would like to second STS's comment. A lot of people have done a lot of hard work investigating various aspects of this question—in particular, a lot of hard empirical work in alpine regions and at the poles. If the skeptics are honest they will be bending over backwards to recognize and acknowledge the sound work that is out there, whether or not it supports their general stance.

The simple fact is that if we ignore the potential that human activities are altering the global climate, as if this were the 19th century and the world's population was still less than two billion, then we could be setting the stage for catastrophic impacts on many millions of people, with few if any viable options for ameliorating these impacts.

I remain deeply suspicious of the motives of many of the skeptics and their supporters. After all, in the last century a major industry marketing a potentially dangerous product to the general public—tobacco—knowingly concealed the evidence of the product's dangers in order to serve its business interests, and continues to do so in many developing countries. In the last 15 years, another major industry, much more powerful and central to the economy than the tobacco industry, knowingly drove dangerous trends in regulatory, lending, and credit rating practices in order to serve its narrow interests, apparently with the mendacious rationale that before the bus went over the cliff, the smarter and more worthy passengers would know enough to jump off. I see no reason to complacently assume that the fossil fuel industries and their political cronies are incapable of similar behavior.

(* And I didn't even mention the pharmaceutical industry...)

LondonYoung said...

I don't want to get off topic, but I have to agree with Martin's implication that "something is missing" in our fight against rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere. The case for AGW seems so much more attractive to "some" when it means religious-like sacrifices to our standard of living than when it means dealing with horrible problems like coal fires.

If this wikipedia article doesn't touch you ... perhaps you have no soul?,_Pennsylvania

Luke Lea said...

For a fascinating inside look at how climate scientists frankly discuss the uncertainties inherent in their field among themselves, here is an interesting workshop (sponsored by National Academy of Sciences?)from several years back:

Nothing scandalous, but also not very re-assuring.

CW said...

Nature Editorial — Climatologists under pressure
[doi:10.1038/462545a; Published online 2 December 2009]

Alex said...

I also haven't invested the effort to have what you'd call a "strong opinion", though I do indeed have a strong *presumption* that the scientific consensus on any issue -- including this one -- is the most likely to be closest to reality.

But this particular letter has clearly false statement in it, that the emails display "an international scientific fraud". I've seen lots of talk about what the emails show, but I haven't seen **anyone** point to any evidence of actual scientific fraud in the emails -- no evidence of fabricated data, no evidence of intentionally misstated result, nothing.

I've seen plenty of talk about the emails showing misleading spin, attempts to corrupt the peer review, suppress dissenting voices, and avoid release of data. But fraud? That's a *very* strong claim, and there's nothing in the emails (that I've seen mentioned) that approaches what this guy did a decade ago. Did the authors 223 years of APS membership happen to include 2002, when the Schön fraud was revealed, or did they take the year off? :-)

Unknown said...

Lindzen and Happer? Seriously? Cranks reveling in their own iconoclasm.

Just because a piece of a puzzle is bent (if it is bent) does not change the big picture.

John Mashey said...

There is way more history to this particular effort , which is part of an organized anti-science campaign.
Science Bypass - Anti-science Petition to APS from folks with SEPP, George C. Marshall Insitute, Heartland, CATO.
Read the 3-page Executive Summary at least.

Basically, they petitioned the APS, their (silly) petition was rejected, so now they are trying again.

John Mashey said...

Oops, one more thing: Prof Hsu: can you edit your post here to make Callan's email address less visible to harvesters? He's done nothing to deserve a big increase in spam.

John Mashey said...


Unknown said...

When I was in graduate school, the (physics) department regularly got self-published tracts by cranks claiming that conventional wisdom regarding thermodynamics, or quantum theory, or some such was all wrong and that their discoveries would revolutionize our understanding of physics.

Ever since (but, I understand not directly as a result of) the events surrounding the murder of Eileen Fahey, the APS has had a very open policy, at least for meetings, where any member "in good standing"--that is, having paid his/her dues--may give a contributed talk.

But with this recent email, apparently sent to all APS members, and the similar one a month or so ago, what I want to know is: who exactly gets access to the entire APS email list for the purposes of pushing their own pet issue? Can any APS member send out such missives to all of us? Can we expect future emails from other APS members touting perpetual motion machines and the like? Are Hal Lewis and friends the Canter and Siegel of the APS?

John Mashey said...

1) I don't think it was sent to all APS members. I didn't get one (but of course, that is no surprise).

2) The originators certainly have mailing lists from the Petition effort, and it would be amazing if they didn't send to them.

3) Any APS member can rummage in the Directory and find some names, because certainly some people got it that were not on the Petition list.

4) When the dust settles, it will be fascinating to see how "random" the email list.

Thanks to Stee Hsu for doing the right thing with Curtis Callan's email address. Unfortunately, many others haven't.

Unknown said...

I'm sure that by now most people know this letter is a fake. The APS home page ( says, "Please be assured that these were not official APS messages, nor were they sent with APS knowledge or approval".

John Mashey said...


Let me try again. Much of this APS campaign doesn't seem like a real effort to change APS's position, but to generate publicity to confuse the general public, amny of whom will remember
"But didn't some serious physicists disagree?" and not take the time to go back and check.

Here is a useful experiment:
a) Google:
By now everyone has heard of what has come to be known as ClimateGate, which was and is an international scientific fraud, the worst any of us have seen in our cumulative 223 years of APS membership.

b) Sample the hits you get back.

privacy protection virus said...

I don't dare to open such emails, most of which are viruses.

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