I was sent this today by Roger Cohen, a respected fellow of the APS. He writes:
Since you have previously carried items relating to the American Physical Society, I thought you might be interested in the attached. It concerns my experience with the Society over the past three years. The “Recollection” document explains the context of the letter of resignation from the Executive Committee of the new APS climate activity, the “Topical Group on the Physics of Climate.” The bottom line is that we cannot have science if only one view is heard. That is authority, not science.
On Saturday I sent the attached to some 150 of our supporters. Thus far more than two dozen have told me that they have resigned or will resign from the APS climate activity. A few may resign from the APS though I have discouraged that.
- Roger Cohen
The American Physical Society and the Global Warming Question
A Personal Recollection
“It is in the admission of ignorance and the admission of uncertainty that there is a hope for the continuous motion of human beings in some direction that doesn’t get confined, permanently blocked, as it has so many times before in various periods in the history of man.” – Richard Feynman
The accompanying open letter concerns an episode in the ongoing debate over the largest scientific question of our age – anthropogenic global warming. But the debate is really about the conduct of science itself, and the scientific process that has been put together by important thinkers and practitioners over the centuries.
The scientific process relies on the collection of observational evidence and the development, verification, and falsification of predictive theories. It also relies on free inquiry and free exchange of information between scientists, and on the freedom to debate the scientific evidence. Without these freedoms, science can become as corrupt as the worst of human institutions. It can be bureaucratic, engage in the suppression of dissent, attempt to speak with the authority of a single voice, and, perhaps worst of all, become the willing tool of political interests in exchange for the promise of support, just like any other special interest. Trofim Lysenko’s hijacking and corruption of biology in the old Soviet Union and the eugenics experience of the 20th century are warnings of how science can “go rogue.”
With this backdrop, it is understandable that one of the most discouraging developments to emerge from the global warming question has been the co-opting of some American scientific societies, and indeed the National Academy of Sciences, by those intent on broadcasting climate alarm and on suppressing the dissemination of opposing scientific evidence. The American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society have shed their traditional roles as supporters of science inquiry in favor of out and out advocacy. It is also widely known that scientists seeking to publish opposing scientific evidence experience great difficulty getting papers published in journals sponsored by these societies and others.
However the American Physical Society (APS) – the second largest society of physicists in the world, and my “home society” – had stopped short of this level of shrill advocacy and bias. Physicists, perhaps more broadly trained in their relatively mature field and having a somewhat broader perspective than some other science practitioners, might be expected to adopt a more hands off stance when it comes declaring a complex and difficult science question “settled.” And indeed this was the case…until the 2007 Statement on Climate Change was issued.
So the story leading to the letter begins with the development and approval of the APS Statement. There is evidence that the process itself that produced the Statement was at least highly questionable if not downright illegitimate. It is known that a small group of individuals, not satisfied with the degree of alarm contained in the original draft produced by the officially charged committee, acted unilaterally and without authority to raise the level of alarm. A senior APS professional confides in writing that
“This [the original draft] was unfortunately changed ‘on the fly, over lunch’ by several [APS] Council members who were not pleased with the ‘mild tone’ of the drafted statement. Then the modified statement was voted on at the end of the Council meeting (probably as people were leaving to catch planes) [parentheses original].”
The overwritten Statement was far more radical, containing the antiscientific phrase that angered many members and provided a focal point for member opposition: “The science is incontrovertible.” The nature of science is such that nothing is incontrovertible; and indeed its history is replete with examples of how deeply held conviction was overturned by subsequent developments. Science pioneer, inventor, and Royal Society president Sir Humphry Davy put it as follows:
“Nothing is so dangerous to the progress of the human mind than to assume that our views of science are ultimate, that there are no mysteries in nature, that our triumphs are complete and that there are no new worlds to conquer.”
Driven by concern over the Statement, in 2009 I joined a small team of APS members. We collected and submitted a petition signed by nearly 300 physicists calling for the Statement to be moderated. The signatures were gathered one-by-one and included nearly 100 Fellows of major scientific societies, 17 members of national academies, and two Nobel Laureates. A number had published major research on the global warming issue, authored books on the issue, or worked in contiguous areas of meteorology and climate. Nearly all had backgrounds in key science areas that underlie the global warming issue.
The APS response to the petition was the appointment of a committee that took months to review the 157-word Statement. Only one of the members was familiar with the climate science field, and more than one had a vested interest in continued climate alarm. The committee’s final report referred only to IPCC reports and its supporting material, and so we had the predictable outcome: not a single change to the original Statement. Thus, as is the practice of bureaucracies, a position once taken is rigidly adhered to, even when the process that produced it was flawed.
However, some 750 words were added to the Statement to try to explain what the original 157 words really meant. These explanatory words are included as the “Climate Change Commentary” of April 18, 2010 accessible at the link provided above. APS members were permitted to send in comments, but the comments were never made public. A survey was also conducted whose outcome we were told supported the Statement, but numerical results were never provided, and we know that a substantial fraction of the membership did not support it.
Disgusted with these developments, some APS members quietly resigned or let their memberships lapse. The most publicly visible of these resignations were Nobel Laureate Ivar Giaever http://www.ibtimes.com/nobel-laureate-ivar-giaever-quits-physics-group-over-stand-global-warming-313636 and distinguished APS Fellow Hal Lewis http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/1019/Climate-change-fraud-letter-a-Martin-Luther-moment-in-science-history .
Preferring to work within the Society to try to effect positive change, our group of petitioners and APS leaders of good will came to an agreement in 2010 to try to focus the discussion back where it belonged – on the science itself. Thus I joined an officially sanctioned committee to organize a new “topical group” within the APS. Bylaws were written and approved whose main characteristic was a declaration of focus on the science, and an avoidance of matters of policy, public opinion, or political views. Here is the key objective statement from the Bylaws:
“The objective of the GPC shall be to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge concerning the physics, measurement, and modeling of climate processes, within the domain of natural science and outside the domains of societal impact and policy, legislation and broader societal issues. The objective includes the integration of scientific knowledge and analysis methods across disciplines to address the dynamical complexities and uncertainties of climate physics.”
It was thus hoped that the disagreement among APS membership would be diverted from attack and defense of the Statement to a discussion and scientific debate of the science itself.
All well and good. But to achieve the objective, one cannot move to exclude scientists and their findings that do not support the contentions of the APS Statement. As the letter relates, that is exactly what has happened. One should not conclude from the letter that all the APS people I worked with were of the same mind and wanted to exclude scientists who do not conform to the doctrine. A few tried hard to make the process scientifically inclusive, but they were far outweighed by the dominant influence which saw no reason to be inclusive.
At the end of the day, science progress does rely on the free exchange of information between scientists who may look at what nature is telling us and interpret these revelations differently. The practical outcome of exposing all the relevant science is the determination of the path to future critical experiments and improved theories. Without the freedom to do this, we have only authority and advocacy.
As I reflect on my experience, I cannot avoid the question of whether we have passed the point of no return, whether the descent of once grand scientific societies into advocating bureaucracies and self-satisfied clubs lobbying for funds can be arrested, reversed, and integrity restored; or is what we have now a permanent feature of modern science – a postmodern distortion of the best values of the scientific tradition that has served humanity well for centuries. If it is permanent, the only alternative is the emergence of new alternative institutions that can recover what science once had. We shall see.
Roger W. Cohen
Fellow, American Physical Society
Dr. James G. Brasseur
Chairman, Topical Group on the Physics of Climate
American Physical Society
It has become clear that I can no longer contribute effectively to the progress of the Topical Group on the Physics of Climate (GPC) as it was originally envisioned. Therefore, I am tendering my resignation from the Topical Group and the Executive Committee.
The GPC Executive Committee has yielded to pressure from within, and from others involved in the development of GPC activities, to exclude discussion of science that does not conform to the doctrine of strong anthropogenic global warming. This disregards the desires of a substantial fraction of the membership to discuss all the relevant science. Furthermore, without having demonstrated that the fledgling GPC can actually achieve the inclusive science-focused objective set forth in the Bylaws, we are moving to explore joint activities with other societies which are completely invested in climate alarm and which will not support GPC’s objective. These developments indicate that the GPC has set a course to become yet another outlet for promoting the doctrine.
As demonstrated in the development of the inaugural GPC speakers program (to be presented in March 2013), we have effectively drawn a boundary around the science so as to substantially exclude peer-reviewed, published work that conflicts with the doctrine of strong anthropogenic global warming, regardless of a speaker’s credentials and distinguished research record. For example, one accomplished physicist, an expert on the key issue of solar variability effects on terrestrial climate, was shunted off to “back up speaker” status due to the intervention of an IPCC lead author with a demonstrable vested interest in the IPCC’s posture on the solar issue. Another proposed speaker’s peer-reviewed, published work on the integrity of the land temperature data was completely discounted because he had endorsed a public expression of religious faith and its connection with science.
While skeptics’ public statements were considered evidence of bias, there were no qualms about applying a double standard that excused doctrine supporters from such considerations. One invited speaker has ventured into public environmental advocacy for reduced meat-eating, vegetarianism, and limiting natural offspring and airplane travel. Another invitee’s public statement of opinion on a supposed human contribution to a single hurricane (Katrina) was not judged grounds for questioning his objectivity. This double standard was no accident: one member of the committee charged with choosing speakers was quite explicit about skeptics’ participation when he warned against an “argument that winds up giving more effective weight to the ‘skeptics’ over the consensus viewpoint.”
None of the proposed speakers’ expressions of belief bear on their qualifications to speak on their scientific work in climate. The science must be considered in isolation – as science and only science. To do otherwise is to act as thought police. The selective application of these expressions of belief as a basis for excluding one kind of science is wrong and biases GPC activities toward support of the doctrine.
My participation in the GPC development process was the result of a grass roots petition signed by more than 200 APS members, most of whom eventually joined the GPC. I now feel compelled to inform these petitioners of the outcome so that they can make their own assessments. Also, since I have supported the GPC in public and private statements, I will be updating these statements in the future.
As you know the GPC was intended to channel strong APS member disagreement over the Society’s 2007 Statement on Climate Change into a productive scientific enterprise. But there was also a greater opportunity: to demonstrate that it is still possible to convene a forum that would present and discuss, as scientists, the broad body of climate science with all of its complexities, uncertainties, and interpretations. Alas, despite good faith efforts made by some, this opportunity appears to have been lost, and I fear that another may not come along soon.
Roger W. Cohen