Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
One response to Christopher Booker graciously mentioning my work in the Telegraph is the predictable increase in the usual personal attacks on me, as opposed to attacking my ideas and claims. People are rehashing Tim Lambert calling me a liar because he disagreed with my methods, as though that meant something about me rather than simply revealing something about Tim. They point out that I am an amateur scientist (as though that were other than a badge of honor). I’m told that I’m out of my depth. I am constantly assured that I am not qualified to offer a scientific opinion on climate, because of my lack of academic qualifications (BA in Psychology), and because of the shortness of my scientific publications list. The supply of reasons given to try to convince people to ignore my work is seemingly endless. To hear people tell it, I’m not fit to kiss the boots of a true scientist.
My point is that none of that matters. Either my scientific claims are correct, or they are not. It’s not about me. Period. End of story.
When I was younger, for decades I was a Zen Buddhist. There is an important saying that Zen is not the moon, it is just the finger pointing at the moon. Complaints, arguments, and discussions about the finger miss the point – the subject of importance, the subject worthy of discussion, is the moon.
That’s the ultimate egalitarianism of science. Doesn’t matter if the person who made a scientific claim is a world-renowned expert or a semi-literate ditch digger. They are just the finger pointing at the moon. All that matters is, can the claim be falsified? What are the facts that support the claim? What are the facts that falsify the claim? Is the logic correct? Is the mathematics solidly based? Does it agree with other understandings?
Whether I lie (I don’t), or whether I have peer-reviewed publications (yes, three with a fourth currently in peer-review) is immaterial. All that matters is, are my ideas right or wrong? That’s why I put my ideas up here in the public square, so someone can falsify them. That’s the game called science. I make scientific claims, and you try to poke holes in my claims. Or you make scientific claims, and I try to poke holes in your claims. I play the game from both sides, falsifying the claims of others as well as publishing original and falsifiable claims of my own for people to attack.
So, attack is the very nature and essence of the science game. But it is supposed to be an attack on my SCIENTIFIC IDEAS. Not an attack on me, not an attack on my qualifications, not an attack on my occasionally rough cowboy nature, not an attack on my honesty, not an attack on what I have chosen to study. Truly, it’s not about me.
Now, having said that this is not about me, enough people have questioned my fitness to comment on climate science that I would like to give an answer as to why I am qualified to do so. However, as with many things in my life, it’s kinda complicated, and involves a number of misunderstandings and coincidences. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, it’s a sea-dog’s tale of military madness.
The main strength that I bring to the analysis of the climate, curiously, is that I am a generalist. In a field like climate science, which is far broader than it is deep and encompasses a host of scientific disciplines, this is a huge advantage. How does one get to be a generalist? In my case, it was a combination of being a freak of nature, of growing up on a very remote and isolated cattle ranch surrounded by virgin forest, and of my curious interaction with the US Army.
I went to a two-room country grade school. There were 21 kids in eight grades, and seven of them were me and my three brothers and my three cousins. For the last four years of grade school, I was the only kid in my grade. I loved math and word play and puzzles of any kind, I sopped up knowledge and read everything I could lay hands on. In grade school, my Dad hauled me and my older brother off to Stanford University, where a guy who actually wore a white scientist coat gave us some kind of Sanford-Binet IQ test. They said my IQ was over 180, his was over 160. They didn’t believe it the first time, so they tested us again and got the same result. Freaks of nature. He focused on electronics, was in charge of one of two Hewlett-Packard Research Labs, invented the first civilian version of the GPS, and was a Discover Magazine Scientist Of The Year.
Me, I became a generalist.
The grade school teacher said I could skip two grades. My mom said no, so the school let me go at my own speed. I finished eighth grade spelling in sixth grade. In seventh grade, I studied Spanish on my own. In eighth grade, the entire school district introduced Spanish education by TV. All the teachers in the county went to Spanish class one night a week so they could teach the kids and support the TV lessons with in-class training. My teacher couldn’t make it to the weekly teacher’s training, so they sent me instead. As a result, when I was in eighth grade, I was already teaching Spanish … I also completed a year of high school algebra while in grade school, which let me take college calculus in high school.
My mother was a single mom who raised four sons and ran a 280 acre cattle ranch. She was both a wise and a well-educated woman with a binge drinking problem, working for months without a drop and then going on a one-week bender. We never had much money. After some years of seeing other kids who always had better clothes and newer toys, one day I screwed up my courage and asked my mom if we were poor. “No,” she said angrily, “we’re not poor, and we’ll never be poor. Poor is a state of mind.” She sighed and relaxed, rubbed her work-hardened hands, looked wistfully at the summer sky, and added “I admit we’ve been broke for a while now, but we’re not poor …”
Growing up broke on a remote cattle ranch surrounded by wild forest means that if something has to get fixed, you have to fix it. If something has to get made, you have to make it. If you have to learn something to do that, you learn it. Growing up like that is a huge advantage to a future generalist. I came away with Leonardo da Vinci and Jim Bridger as my heroes, with the ability to do most practical things with my hands, and with the blind, wildly incorrect, but fervently-held belief that whatever needed to be done, somehow, someway, I could do it even if I had nothing but baling wire and a balky Crescent wrench.
In high school, I was the kid who carried a circular slide rule in his pocket and knew how to use all of the scales on both sides. Not a nerd, I was class president, but eccentric, obsessed by math and music and science. I ascribe my nose for bad numbers to the use of the slide rule. A slide rule doesn’t have a decimal point. So if you are say multiplying 3.14 times 118, you have to mentally estimate the size of the answer to decide where the decimal point goes. To this day, this sense of the right size for a number still serves me well. I often see a numerical value describing some natural phenomenon and correctly say “No way, that answer’s out of scale, something’s wrong”, even though I’m not familiar with the subject.
I started working as soon as I was old enough to legally work, the summer after my freshman year in high school. That summer was spent was bucking hay, six ten-hour days a week, 35 cents an hour. I was fourteen. I was a Boy Scout. I got my Merit Badge for Weather, I found it fascinating. The next summer I worked as a bicycle messenger in San Francisco. The summer after that (1963) I went to a National Science Foundation special summer school for mathematicians in Oregon. We learned how to program computers. I was in heaven. I had read about computers, and I had heard about them, but to see one taking up an entire room, with its relays clicking and vacuum tubes humming, was my science fiction dream come true. And they let us write programs and run them! I was hooked, hooked bad, but of course there were no desktop computers or work in computing for me then. My last year of high school I worked a 20 hour week, running the photo-lathe and the Fairchild machine at the local newspaper past midnight into the small hours of the morning.
By this time, we had moved into town. My senior year of high school, mom ran away from home. I woke up one morning to find a thousand bucks and a note saying she wasn’t coming back, and could I take care of my two younger brothers. I ran the house, made sure they had food and did their studies, and with the invaluable help of my cousin, bless her, kept the home together for the rest of the school year. At the end of the school year I graduated as the class valedictorian, my brothers went to live with my dad, and when the money ran out I took a job as a cowboy on a cattle ranch up by the Oregon Border.
In the fall of 1964 I started college at the University of California at Berkeley, but I hated it. I lasted one year, and then I went to Alaska to seek my fortune. Instead, mostly I starved. I worked as a short order cook. I worked on a floating crab cannery. I worked emptying boats of rotten stinking crab. I worked longshoreman horsing 400 pound bales of pulp around a ship’s hold. And mostly I made my living singing folk songs and playing my guitar in saloons and coffeehouses. When it got cold I fled down the Alcan highway to Greenwich Village, New York in November, still singing. There, through the usual coincidences and misunderstandings, I lost everything I owned but my guitar and the clothes I had on. I hooked a ride to Coconut Grove in Florida because it was warm and I was freezing. I played music.
Then the Army sent me a draft notice. 1966, something about a little conflict in Southeast Asia, they wanted cannon fodder. But if I enlisted, I could choose my specialty. I enlisted and chose, ironically, weather observer. But I barely made it through Basic Training. Halfway through, I’d had enough. I didn’t go postal, I just quit taking orders. I calmly told the Sergeant that I couldn’t blindly take orders from someone I didn’t know, because they might order me to do something I didn’t believe in … his eyes bugged out and he took me to the Captain. I told him the same story. The Captain scratched his head, stuck me in front of a typewriter and gave me a stack of papers to deal with. I graduated with my company, but I never marched or trained with them again. They’d roll out at five-thirty AM for reveille. I got up at seven, walked over to the Company HQ, did company paperwork all day, filled out the forms the Captain hated to do, then went to the mess-hall and had dinner with the guys. I desperately wanted the Army to let me out. Instead, they just went around me. Go figure.
After Basic, they sent me to Weather Observer’s school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, near New York City. I learned how the Army categorizes clouds and what an “octa” is, how to use a wet bulb thermometer, weather theory, what a cold front looks like on a weather map and what it means, the usual stuff, and mostly, how to fill out US Army weather reporting forms. And I was going slowly nuts. They wouldn’t let us off base at all. So I stole a Class A pass from the Company safe.
The safe was in the Sergeant’s office. I timed his morning breaks for a couple of weeks. Never shorter than 8 minutes, and he left the safe open rather than relock it/unlock it. Easy.
With my stolen pass, every weekend I snuck out with my guitar and went into Greenwich Village, and played music in the clubs and hung out with the beatniks and the people I knew from the year before and slept in Central Park. For a couple Sundays, I was playing in a club on one side of the street, and the Loving Spoonful was playing on the other side. But at eight on Monday morning they were sleeping in, and I had to be back in my fatigues waiting for the other soldiers to catch up to the instructor’s slowly explained ideas about the weather. That split lifestyle went on for three months or so, half beatnik, half GI. I hated the Army. I constantly risked arrest for being AWOL or for my stolen pass. I developed an uncontrollable tic in my eye, it twitched like a demon, I couldn’t stop it. I was losing the plot, my dreams were of endless wandering in strange landscapes, I found myself lashing out in random anger at strangers, or brooding in my room for hours. I was losing the plot.
Finally, one weekend I had gone up to Boston, and through the usual misunderstandings and coincidences I couldn’t make it back to the base in New Jersey on time. That meant I was headed for real trouble when I returned because I was AWOL, my Class A Pass was stolen. I was mondo depressed. I decided I had to get out. I ate a double fist-full of sleeping pills, and told someone to call the ambulance when I passed out. I didn’t care if I lived or died.
I passed out.
I woke up with the docs pumping the bad drugs out of my stomach in some emergency room and the cops questioning me about what happened. Then to counteract the bad drugs, they shot me full of good drugs.
I passed out.
I woke up firmly lashed to a bed. They told me I was in the Terminal Heart and Cancer Patient Ward of the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
I stayed lashed hand and foot to the bed for several days. Couldn’t feed myself. They fed me through a tube in my arm. I watched people die around me every day. They wouldn’t move the corpses during the day to avoid upsetting the others. So I’d wake up at two am, sleeping on my back because I can’t turn over, each arm is tied to the bedrail, and watch them carry out yet another body.
One day, a man with kind eyes walked through the ward. He told the orderly to untie me and bring me to his office. He looked at me and said “Son, you don’t belong in the military.”
I could have cried. I could have told him I knew that. I didn’t belong there in any sense. But I stayed silent. He said “This is a Navy hospital, I don’t even know why you’re here. The Army wants me to send you right back to your unit. I’m not comfortable with that. I’m putting you in the Bethesda Navy Mental Hospital.” I can’t remember if I offered to kiss his feet. After what I’d been through I wasn’t tracking all that well.
In 1966, the US Navy’s idea of what constituted a nuthouse might misleadingly be described as nautical and quaint. It was a quonset hut divided in half from floor to ceiling by a chain link fence. Half was for violent contestants, half for non-violent. Plus in the violent half was the rubber room, where they’d put you so you could bounce off the walls as much as you wanted. They stuck all us new contestants into the violent half, packed us full of Thorazine (a very heavy tranquilizer that they said was good drugs) and watched us nod out. Most of us were too sleepy to be attentive, much less violent, so we were let out into the other half of the nuthouse in a few days. There was no therapy. There was no radio, no books, just announcements from some Nurse Rached wannabe over the intercom. They gave us pajamas and a robe. There was nothing to do but watch crazy folks do their thing. And drool. Thorazine is great for drooling, I became an expert. I had been unfettered all my life, on the road, singing my songs, free as a bird. Now I was locked up in a distinctly un-gilded cage. My brain was regularly pumped full of happy juice. I was unhappy and depressed. I drooled and stared at the wall. A day on Thorazine with nothing to do lasts about a week.
After a month there moving in slow motion on good drugs, the Navy and the Army decided to ship me to Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco. Nurse Rached read the orders and the names out over the intercom and had the orderlies bring out a bunch of stretchers. Instead of pills, they strapped us each to a stretcher and shot us each up with a mega-dose of Thorazine. Can’t have too much good drugs, I guess. Things got fuzzy. They stacked us like cordwood in a DC3, sliding the stretchers into special racks on the walls. I wanted to remember how close I was to the man on the stretcher above me. I found I could slide my hand on my chest in between us, but I couldn’t make a fist … and then the cotton wool closed in on my brain again. The trip took three days, with a different stop every night. They’d unstrap us, and we’d all stagger out like extras in a zombie movie. That first night after they unstrapped me, I staggered into the bathroom and sat down. I was bursting from the day on the plane. When I finished, I realized that although I’d remembered to drop my pajama bottoms, I hadn’t flipped up the back of my hospital robe. I’d sat on the flap instead and filled it with human waste. I looked down, shrugged, took my arms out of my robe, and walked out and left it right there. I was loopy, half crazed and half dazed, tranked to the max and locked up 24/7 with men as far off the rails as I was, what did I care? I just went to bed and said nothing to anyone, being crazy means never having to say you’re sorry. The next day they gave me a robe. Then they shot us up again, and again we flew all day. I remembered this time about the toilet and the robe. Finally, on the third day we staggered into the a base somewhere near Sacramento. They propped us all up in a bus, where we all flopped around like gumbies on the way to the Letterman nuthouse.
The Letterman Army nuthouse on the Presidio Army Base in San Francisco was in a building previously used as a holding prison for Federal criminals headed to Alcatraz. They took us into this prison and shot us up with a bunch of other good drugs. They propped us up against the wall to wait for dinner, and things got weird. First I started feeling stiff. Then my neck started to pull back, I couldn’t lower my chin. My shoulder started to arch back. Then my legs gave out and I fell on the floor. My back arched further and further back in an insane contortion. I was sure my back was going to snap, my muscles were seizing and bowing me backward. I was screaming and begging for help. Orderlies came and shot me full of yet more good drugs. I woke up groggy and tied to a bed in the violent ward, this was getting to be a theme. They explained slowly that I had spazzed out because they had given me bad drugs, but it was all OK because now they were giving me good drugs. Welcome to the Letterman nuthouse, where if you weren’t before, you will be.
I spent almost six months there, while the prelude to the “Summer of Love” was going on outside the prison doors. They let us out little by little. At first we could walk around the base for an hour with a visitor. After while, they gave us day passes. Me and my crazy friend Mel from the nuthouse would go to the Haight Ashbury. His girlfriend had a house there. His girlfriend also had a girlfriend, who became my girlfriend. After while, the Army gave us weekend passes out of prison. So every weekend, we’d take off our Army robe and pajamas that we wore all week, nutters don’t wear regular clothes. We’d put on freak clothes, paisley shirts and bell-bottom pants, we were unbearably cool. Except for our Army haircuts. We’d go with the ladies to the Haight, play music, get weird. We went to the First Human Be-In in Golden Gate Park and heard Timothy Leary rant, Allen Ginsberg emote, and the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane.
But every week we had to be back on the crazy ward by eight o’clock Monday morning. So we’d take LSD every Sunday night like clockwork, then turn ourselves back into the nuthouse with our eyes spinning like pinwheels on Monday morning, put on our robe and pajamas and watched the colors crawl up the wall and people’s faces change and melt … but it was worth it because it was more than a man could do to voluntarily return to that hole of lost humanity in a sane and sober state. You had to be crazy to go back there.
That split life went on for months. More schizophrenia on the half shell. The Army wasn’t much help. At the time they were mostly doing a lot of shock therapy. But they never did any followup. Me and Mel started doing what we could to help the people after shock therapy. I remember a guy who used to say “Well, they’re going to plug me into the wall today.” Then in the afternoon they’d take him out of the locked ward where we all lived, and bring him back with his memories scrubbed whiter than white, dump him on his bunk to stare at the wall, and walk away. Mel and I and some of the other walking wounded would pull out his wallet and show him the pictures. We’d tell him his name, and say he’d been in an accident. We didn’t say a war. We’d tell him that the young woman in the picture was his wife and the boy was his son. We’d tell he lived in Texas, and had been a soldier in a faraway war. That always seemed to surprise him, even without his memories he didn’t think of himself as a soldier, and I understood that perfectly.
After while we’d tell him that he’d been in a terrible situation in a distant country called Vietnam. We’d slowly work up to the fact that he was in a hospital. After while we’d let slip that it was not just any hospital, it was a nuthouse, because we’d learned by experience that he couldn’t cope with that information when he was straight out of the juice box. And so bit by bit he’d start remembering stuff, and for a while the balance was OK … but then after a week or so he’d start remembering too much stuff. He started remembering seeing and doing and enduring things no man should ever have to even witness, much less bear the shame and guilt of having seen and done and endured things beyond belief, and he’d start to shut down a bit at a time, until one day they’d take him off and plug him in again.
And they’d bring back a memory-free rag doll, and we’d start the process over again. Don’t get me wrong. The shock therapy helped him. We knew him from the day he came in from Vietnam. Before the first shock therapy, he was catatonic and never spoke one word. So I’m not opposed to the use of electroconvulsive therapy, it can work when nothing else does … but dang, the Army could’ve done better than leave his recovery to me and Mel …
Finally, after an eternity, four months in the nuthouse, they said I could go, and Mel could go too. We were going to escape without getting plugged into the wall, get discharged! The doctor signed our discharge papers. The Lieutenant and the Captain signed them. Everyone signed them right up to the Commanding General of the Presidio.
He said Mel would be discharged, but not me. I was to be sent to Ford Ord to be trained as a company clerk.
Go figure. I saluted the guy who gave me the orders, walked out the door, and went AWOL. I spent a couple of weeks snorting speed, in this case methadrine, and spending hours talking really, really fast to people about whatIshoulddo, shouldIgotoCanada, ormaybeturnmyselfin, noIshouldjuststayAWOLandhopeforthebest, I made up my mind dozens of times and unmade it again just as fast as my tongue could move.
Finally, after hours of listening to a record of Bob Dylan singing Memphis Blues Again, “Here I sit so patiently / Trying to find out what price / I have to pay to get out of / Going through all these things twice”, I took a massive dose of LSD and turned myself back in to Letterman Hospital to go through all these things twice. At the time I was dressed in Letterman hospital pajama bottoms and a tie-dyed shirt. The doctors just shook their heads and shot me full of happy juice, once again it appeared I was off bad drugs and on good drugs. I woke up lashed down on a bunk in the locked ward, this was getting kind of old. No weekend passes for the bad AWOL boy this time. In a couple weeks they decided I needed work therapy.
So I was put to work in a small room with three black guys wearing pajamas and robes like me but all styled out with colorful do-rags around their heads. All day long they listened to the blackest of Oakland radio stations, “KDIA Lucky Thirteen”. They were great, they welcomed me as one of their own, as only fellow lunatics can. We ironed iron-on patches onto teeny holes in operating room sheets all day long, all of us buzzed on Thorazine, all of us gently rocking and singing along with James Brown and the Shirelles and Etta James and Motown and all things black … great music education for your average white boy. Plus I got to enjoy just hanging with the brothers and listening to and joining in with their endless jive and good spirits, bizarrely, a wonderful time.
Plus I learned how to iron patches on operating room sheets at a rate of knots, what’s not to like?
Finally, nine months after taking a double handful of sleeping pills in Boston and not really caring if I lived or died, having slipped between the Scylla of being plugged into the wall and the Charybdis of being sent back to the Army, and in a state both less crazy and more crazy than when I went entered the nuthouse, they let me go. I had outlasted them. I was given an Honorable Discharge as being “Unfit for Military Service” … like I say, I could have saved them a lot of work, I knew that from the start.
So I was free, finally free, out of prison free, no walls free, living in San Francisco in 1967 free. No more unbreakable steel bars dividing the sky into a demented solitaire tic-tac-toe game. No more grilles and locks on the door. No ironing tiny patches on sheets for eight hours a day, only to return to a locked ward full of fellow sufferers after work. No more waking up once again lashed to the damn bed. I moved in with my girlfriend. She was dancing in a topless bar on Broadway. I was twenty years old, I couldn’t even go into the bar to watch her dance … but I was free, and I swore a very big swear to unknown deities that I would remain that way.
And finally, to return to the theme, somewhere in the first months after I got out from behind bars, I made some rules of thumb for myself that eventually turned me into a generalist. One was that my motto would be “Retire Early … And Often”. Since then I’ve never been unemployed. Instead, I’ve worked a while and then retired until the money ran out. Being retired is very different from being unemployed. It’s worry-free.
Another rule of thumb I took up was that given a choice between something I had done and something I had not done, I would always do the thing undone.
Another was that if I was offered security or adventure, I’d choose adventure. And curiously, that has led to perfect security.
Finally, I swore that I wouldn’t take any more jobs unless they had a fixed ending date. I was done with serving indeterminate sentences. The end of the season, the completion of the house, the end of the harvest, I swore not to be bound by unending work as I had been bound in the nuthouse, with no known end date in sight. Some prisoners in WWII German concentration camps said worse than the cold, worse than the hunger and the beatings, the worst thing was the uncertainty of whether they’d ever get out. I can see why. I had faced that uncertainty in a cold concrete building with bars on the windows for half a year, seeing men rotting away in a Thorazine daze in the Letterman nuthouse, sometimes they’d been there for years, watching some get shipped off to a more permanent lifelong nuthouse, not knowing if I would get out or if I’d get plugged into the wall.
Yes, I’d take a job, but this time I’d know when my sentence would be up, and I’d be waiting for that day so I could retire again.
I have mostly followed those guidelines for the rest of my life. Since then I have worked at dozens of different jobs and trades around the world. I make as much money as I can as fast as I can until the bell rings, then I retire. I stay retired until I get called out of retirement by a great job offer. Or by an empty stomach. I have worked on all the continents but Antarctica. I lived on tropical South Pacific islands for seventeen years. I have made money by making and selling jewelry, as a commercial fisherman from LA to Alaska, as a psychotherapist, a refrigeration technician, a well driller, an auto mechanic, a computer programmer, a graphic artist, a construction manager on multi-million dollar projects, a sailboat deliveryman, a maker of stained-glass art, a project and program designer for USAID and the Peace Corps, a shipyard manager on a hundred acre remote island, an international renewable-energy trainer, a maker of fine custom cabinets, a multi-country health program manager, the Chief Financial Officer of a company with $40 million in annual sales, the Service Manager for an Apple Macintosh dealer, a high-end home builder, a sport salmon fishing guide on the Kenai River in Alaska, and a bunch more. I’m a surfer, a sailor, and a diver, with Open Water II and Rescue Diver tickets and an inshore Coast Guard Skipper’s License. I have my Ham Radio license, Hotel 44 Whiskey Echo.
All of this has given me all of the tools needed to work in climate science. I understand tropical weather intimately because I’ve spent years observing it. I know the vertical temperature structure of the ocean’s nocturnal overturning because I’ve experienced it scuba diving at night down under the surface. I understand climate as a heat engine because I’ve dealt with heat engines and refrigerators and their mathematical analysis and concepts for years. I’ve watched underwater damage to coral reefs from bleaching as it happened, and I’ve watched them recover. I understand the computer models because I never stopped programming after 1963. I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours writing all kinds of programs, including models of physical and business systems. I speak a half-dozen computer languages fluently, and can read and write slowly in another half-dozen. I have also seen what the lack of inexpensive energy does to the desperately poor, I’ve shared their tables and listened to their stories. I know the vagaries of Arctic weather, not from books, but because I fished commercially in the Bering Sea and froze my guitar in Anchorage. I am not an expert in chemistry, or physics, or atmospheric dynamics, or oceanography, or computer models, or biology, or mathematics, or arctic ecosystems, I am self-taught in all of them. But I have a good solid practical working knowledge of every one of them, I have a deep understanding of various aspects of a number of them, and I have the ability to use the lessons from one field in another.
I became interested in climate science in the 1990s. My nose for numbers said that Hansen’s claims were way out of line. Here was my first and admittedly simple climate calculation. I figured half a kilowatt per square metre average global downwelling radiation (long-wave plus short-wave). People said doubling CO2 might be 4 watts per square metre. That’s less than 1%, and in a huge, ponderous, chaotic, constantly changing climate, my bad number detector said no way that a 1% variation in forcing would knock the Earth’s climate off the rails. I reckoned if it were that delicately balanced, it would have done the Humpty Dumpty long ago.
So I started reading the various climate science studies, but idly, as they came by, just to keep in touch with the field. The real change came in 1995, when we (me + wife + four year old daughter) moved off our houseboat in Fiji and back to the US, where I could connect to the internet … and opening the internet to a mathematically minded fact junkie like me was a heady drug. Suddenly, I could actually read the papers and go get the data and see what was going on. I wasn’t chained to other peoples’ opinions of the science, I could run the numbers myself.
Of course, all of this required an immense amount of study. But I’m real good at doing my homework. I once took a job to assemble, install, charge, and test a blast freezer on a sailboat in Fiji. I was hired along with my buddy who was a welder, he did the tricky soldering work, and taught me to do it. At the time, I couldn’t have told you how a refrigerator worked, but I knew the job wouldn’t start for two months. So I bought a college refrigeration textbook and ate, breathed, and slept with that sucker. At the end of one month I could recite it backwards. The second month I bought a refrigeration technician’s textbook, bought some gauges and tanks of Freon and learned the practical end of the game.
At the end of two months, I figured I could build a refrigerator from scratch … which was fortunate, since what was supposed to be a full blast freezer kit with all the parts turned out to be a half kit, and Fiji is short on refrigeration parts. In the event, we got it built like we built things on the ranch, simply because I had to, so I figured out how to. The blast freezer worked perfectly, the wind came off it at minus 50 degrees F, about minus 46°C. It turned out to be an alchemical freezer, because when it was completed it magically transmuted a half-dozen one-litre bottles of vodka chilled to -40° (C or F, your choice) into a two-day Fijian freezer boat party that led to a couple of divorces, one marriage, headaches all around, and a wallet or two that went swimming. I was so drunk I went to sleep on a nice soft pile of rope, and woke up in pain to realize I was sleeping on the anchor chain … but I digress.
That is the kind of intensity I brought to my investigation of climate science in the nineties as once again I began yet another field of study. I don’t know how many this makes for me, I’ve done it for most new jobs, but this has been an obsession. I have spent literally thousands of hours learning about how the GCMs work and don’t work, about how the statistics of non-normal datasets differ from those of normal datasets, why polar albedo is less important than tropical albedo, how many populations of polar bears there are and what their populations are really doing (mostly increasing), how to program in R, the list never ends. The beauty of climate science is that it is a new science, there is still so much to learn, the opportunity to find out new things beckons because so much is unknown, I never get bored, and so I continue to study.
That’s why I think I am qualified to comment on climate science. I am one of a dying breed with a long and proud history and tradition, a self-educated amateur scientist. As the root of the word “amateur” suggests, an amateur scientist is someone who investigates things scientifically for love (Latin amare) rather than for money … which is fortunate, considering my profits on the venture to date.
I am also one of the few amateur scientists who has published anything peer-reviewed in Nature Magazine in many years. Yes, it is a humble “Brief Communications Arising”. But it was assuredly peer-reviewed, and strictly reviewed.
I also have published three pieces in Energy & Environment, the journal AGW supporters love to hate and slander because it dares to publish peer-reviewed non-AGW supporting science, a disgraceful flouting of wanton public heresy. Two of those three pieces were peer-reviewed, and one was an opinion piece. And yes, E&E has published some peer-reviewed stuff that has turned out to be junk … quite unlike say Science or Nature Magazine …
However, at the end of the day all of that is nothing but stories to tell around a campfire. None of it means anything about whether a claim of mine is true or false. I bring immense practical experience and thousands of hours of study and a very quick mind to the problem, and despite that I can be not just wrong, but stupidly wrong, embarrassingly wrong, make me say very bad words wrong. Because my hours of study mean nothing. My experience means nothing. It truly is not about me, the only thing that counts is whether my ideas can stand the test of time or not.
Anyhow, that’s my story of how I became a generalist, or at least a small and not real pretty part of it. It got more interesting after that. I tell it to encourage everyone to please cut me (and everyone who dares to post their ideas for public attack) some slack regarding the personal attacks. As my story shows, some of us have studied extensively and thought long and hard about the subjects in question even if we may not have credentials and diplomas and official positions. As my story also shows, you may not have a clue what a man knows and what he has done in his life and what he can do and what drives him to do it. Leave all of that speculation at home.
So those are my requests. Talk about the science, quote my words if you disagree with them, sign your work, and keep fighting the good scientific fight.
My regards to everyone, and to misquote Willy Nelson, “Mommas, don’t let your babies grow up to be generalists” …
[UPDATE] I’d like to thank Claude for raising an issue that I actually thought would have come up long before.
Claude Harvey says:
March 1, 2011 at 12:03 am
Now that we’ve been treated to a litany of idolatrous responses to your personal story, let us hope that your clear analysis and “ideas” are, indeed, not confused with “who you are”. Your romanticized account of your stint in the military’s “Med-2″ program is the classic account of a fellow who “couldn’t (or, according to your account, wouldn’t) do the time for which he’d contracted”.
I too joined the military at a tender age and I too was appalled at having to “tuck it in” and take orders from lesser (in my opinion) mortals than myself. The difference between us is that I did what I had agreed to do and you did not. Twist and turn it any way you like, that is not a very admirable bottom line and it reflects an “elitist” attitude (you were ever so too smart for such mundane endeavors) that I find very unattractive.
I continue to admire your work, but I do not admire certain aspects of your history.
Claude, thanks for your comments. Here’s the problem. Let’s try looking at it from the other side.
What we didn’t understand at the time, and what many don’t understand now, is that to the Vietnamese it was always a war of independence. The Chinese, and then the French, then the Japanese, then the French again, the Vietnamese fought these foreign invaders all in succession. And when like fools and against the advice of De Gaulle the Americans invaded, it was like take a number, here’s the latest contestant.
Here is a stunning fact. In 1963, when from the Vietnamese perspective America joined the endless parade of invading countries, Ho Chi Minh was already 73 years old. He had been fighting to throw first one invader, then another, then another out of his country for over fifty years before the first American soldier came to his country, and he gladly went forward with his unending war of independence.
Fifty years! Fifty years of endless wars, and he used everything he’d learned in his war against the Americans. We totally misunderstood. We thought we were fighting Communism. We thought there was a civil war, north against south. It was nothing of the sort. By the time we stuck our hands in the buzz-saw, it was a fifty-year war of independence against country after country after country.
Ho Chi Minh knew that he was the good guy, fighting a lifelong fight against anyone trying to invade his country. We had no idea what we were up against. Most folks didn’t dream that we were the bad guys, the invaders.
And to return to my own story, I see what I did as escaping, in any way I could, from a lethally misdirected war. I see what you did as knuckling under to the tyrants who wanted to use you for cannon fodder in that unjust war.
Consider it in your own words:
“Twist and turn it any way you like”, knuckling under to thugs and going thousands of miles to kill people who just wanted you out of their country, merely so Claude’s precious ‘word’ can be true, “is not a very admirable bottom line”.
You see the problem? It’s far from a simple question. Honoring your word is important to you, just as it is to me. We agree. You think that you should honor the word you gave when you joined the military, that you keeping your word on that is more important than the life of some yellow-skinned guy halfway around the world fighting to drive you out of his homeland. Me, not so much … we disagree.
Now, obviously, this is something on which reasonable men can and do disagree. It is not a simple question, there’s no right answer. I wrestled with it myself, as did you.
But for you to come in and try to bust me because I didn’t make the choice you made, and then to claim that you have the moral high ground here?
Sorry … in that war, there was no moral high ground. There was no honorable path, no middle road. A friend of mine was a Captain in the Army who was going to be a lifer. He was stationed in Korea. He took leave to go to see what was happening in Vietnam because he was slated to be sent there. Having seen it, he resigned his commission, an option I did not have, so he would not have to participate in what he saw (and still sees) as the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time against the wrong people for the wrong reasons … you gonna tell us that he should have kept his word and not resigned and happily gone to “kill gooks” because LBJ said so? Because I’d advise against you telling him that, since he actually is a pretty noble and ethical warrior, and he won’t be impressed …
I have friends that made the decision you made. But they don’t put on your airs. They’re not like you, insulting people by claiming that it was some moral crusade and that they made the right decision. They don’t blame me for the path I took, nor do I blame them (or you) for taking the path you took. They know what I know. Nobody came out of the Vietnam War unwounded, there were no right decisions. Nobody made the “moral choice” about Vietnam, Claude. Not you, not JFK, and certainly not me … the most moral act I’ve seen in the context of Vietnam was my friend resigning his commission.