Obituary – Hal Lewis

In Memoriam

Harold (“Hal”) Warren Lewis

(October 1, 1923 – May 26, 2011)

From Wikipedia (circa 1980)

Before his dramatic resignation from the American Physical Society on October 6, 2010 over the society position on global warming (the text of his letter is available here and the APS reply and WUWT discussion is available here), Dr. Harold Lewis would not have been described as one of the rock stars of science. Few people outside of the worlds of physics and government had ever heard of him, yet his was a career of quiet but substantive accomplishment. His biographical blurb on the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which he joined in October of 2010, is a good summary of his career:

Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chairman of Technology panel; Chairman DSB study on Nuclear Winter; Former member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards; Former member, President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee; Chairman APS study on Nuclear Reactor Safety Chairman Risk Assessment Review Group; Co-founder and former Chairman of JASON; Former member USAF Scientific Advisory Board; Served in US Navy in WW II; books: Technological Risk (about, surprise, technological risk) and Why Flip a Coin (about decision making)

Though not a household name, Dr. Lewis, one of the last of the great Robert Oppenheimer’s students and with whom he co-authored several papers, was considered one of the best physicists of his time and was well regarded in the physics community. He was a founding member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group and its chairman from 1966 to 1973, an association that did create controversy during the Vietnam conflict.

JASON took up a great deal of his time and effort and is discussed extensively in the transcript of an oral history interview he gave in 1986 for the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. Among other things, the transcript makes clear his position that the role of Scientific Advisory Groups was to advise on things that scientists thought government should pay attention to, rather than advising in the things that government was actually paying attention to. It also documents an ongoing struggle to maintain autonomy from government agencies, with the JASON group engaging in projects of their own choosing, doing basic research while at the same time providing solutions to important needs.

He made a point of the fact that JASON provided a good return on a fairly small government investment. It certainly provides context for his assertions that floods of government money have corrupted science and the APS in particular.

On behalf of all our readers, contributors and authors, our condolences go out to his wife, Mary, and their family.

_____________________________________________________

http://thegwpf.org/the-climate-record/1670-hal-lewis-my-resignation-from-the-american-physical-society.html

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/10/13/aps-responds-deconstructing-the-aps-response-to-dr-hal-lewis-resignation/

http://www.aip.org/history/ohilist/4742.html

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Note from Anthony: Regular WUWT reader (and now contributor) Robert Phelan compiled this obituary, and it was he who alerted me to the news. From what I know of him, Hal Lewis was a quiet man, not only in life, but also in death. Robert Phelan writes in his email to me about how little information there is, which is why it has taken so long for it to be reported here:

It’s an odd thing, but I could find no obituary for him anywhere, not in his home town papers, not in the Los Angeles or San Francisco papers… just a small mention on the UCSB Campus Notes Page here: http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/93106/2011/June/notes.html , a small mention in the UCSB Retirees / Emeriti News Letter, and the addition of his death date in his Wikipedia entry.

Given how private and quiet Dr. Lewis was, it underscores how extraordinary his resignation from APS was. I thank him for his courage to do what must have been the most painful professional act of his life.

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47 thoughts on “Obituary – Hal Lewis

  1. I honestly hope and pray that some scientists take a leaf from his book – and learn a degree or two of humility coupled with a large swig of honesty. It takes real guts to stand aginst the crowd – especially in this current world of psuedo-science or post normal modern science – call it what you will.
    RIP Hal Lewis
    as we say in our neck of the woods – Top Bloke!

  2. R.I.P., Dr. Lewis. Thank-you for your courageous witness to the truth. It must have been a life-long habit, drawn from the very best tradition of science.

  3. It is often the quiet ones who are the great achievers. They don’t shout. They simply don’t need to. Their deeds and intelligence – their acumen and wisdom, cry to the world, “I am unique – I am special”! Such an individual was Hal Lewis. Yes Kev., you are correct. Honesty and humility, almost silently proclaim, yet in thunderous tones, a true science and wisdom, and a brave heart.
    Hal Lewis we salute you!

  4. RIP Hal Lewis. A great man who will be missed by many. Please offer my condolences to his family and friends.

  5. “I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?
    How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’être of much physics research”

    Thank you Dr Lewis

  6. For the h/t record, from Tip & Notes:
    Derek Sorensen says:
    June 21, 2011 at 4:40 am
    Might be of interest to WUWT readers that Hal Lewis died on 26th May this year. Hal famously resigned from the APS in October last year, citing corruption and AGW bias among his reasons for doing so.
    http://www.ia.ucsb.edu/93106/2011/June/notes.html
    Scroll to “In memoriam” at foot of page.
    REPLY: Yeah, I missed that. Look at the time, 4:40AM PST. Somebody else approved it. Thanks to Derek. – Anthony

  7. “If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
    Sir Isaac Newton

  8. Ditto to all responses here.RIP Hal Lewis.
    A great man who through honesty, gained respect and will be recognized in history as such.
    My condolences go to his family and friends.
    “When a true genius appears in the world you may know him by this sign; that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” — Jonathan Swift, author, 1726

  9. Before his dramatic resignation from the American Physical Society on October 6, 2010 over the society position on global warming (the text of his letter is available here and the APS reply and WUWT discussion is available here), Dr. Harold Lewis would not have been described as one of the rock stars of science.

    I hope he rests in peace knowing that he made his position clear. Sleep in peace John Daly et al.
    Climate is sooooo patient; ‘weather’ you are right or wrong.

  10. Hal Lewis’ book, Technological Risk, is a must-read. It explores the middle ground between the Luddite ain’t-it-awful approach and the Pollyanna whitewash approach. If you’re looking for conversation-stopping zingers, this may not be the best book for you. But if you want to know how rational people come to grips with technological risks in the real world, you’ll learn a thing or two.

  11. A fine physicist and a person of the highest integrity, who demanded the same from others claiming the mantle of science. I was honored to know him.

  12. Thank you Dr. Lewis, for your contributions to science, physics, and to the advancement of society.
    And thank you for inspiring the fight. We promise not to disappoint. Grrrr.
    Requiem æternam. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.
    Chris
    Norfolk, VA, USA

  13. My condolences to his family.
    His letter to the APS set him apart from the crowd of yes-men who dutifully maintain the status quo instead of question it. He seemed to be a man who tirelessly attempted to advance the future of science. The fact that he was one of Oppenheimers students is simply amazing.
    ” The men who deserve the most attention are those who do not demand it.”
    He was a very humble and brilliant man, and will be missed.

  14. Dr Lewis stood up and showed the courage of his convictions. He spoke out when others dared not. Thje world has lost a brave, intelligent and noble man. My sympathies to the grieving family and friends.

  15. Shall we say the same of Mann, Jones and Trenberth? Will they be seeing further because they stood on the shoulders of giants? Hardly.
    You will all be thrilled as I was that today Julia Gillard announced her fabulous Carbon Tax, a tax she vowed not to introduce prior to the last election. If she had told the truth then she would not be in power and this abomination would be a bad dream of the left. But from deception comes justice. At the next election not only will Julia be ancient history but so too will be the Greens who have been responsible for so much of our woes.
    More men like Hal Lewis must stand forth and tell the West that the current science about AGW is not infallible and that we are barking up the wrong tree. There are heroes and scoundrels. The heroes are sidelined and the scoundrels are feted. How bad is that?

  16. There is good reason to echo the sentiments expressed here. The world has lost an outstanding scientist, a genuine scientist, one who was never a willing to sell his principles. Sadly the world has insufficient numbers of such people.

  17. The APS bears eternal shame for its treatment of a great man. Perhaps now that he’s no longer here to hear it, an apology will eventually be forthcoming.

  18. Lawrie Ayres says:
    July 10, 2011 at 1:45 am
    Shall we say the same of Mann, Jones and Trenberth? Will they be seeing further because they stood on the shoulders of giants? Hardly.

    They are gnawing on the shoulders of giants, and will burrow further in if we permit them to.

  19. Brian H says:
    July 10, 2011 at 4:37 am
    They are gnawing on the shoulders of giants, and will burrow further in if we permit them to.
    I would have chosen a lower extremity . . .

  20. Quietly, the Apache hunter moved from the bright sun into the shadowed lands leaving no trace of that passing.
    I will remember the passing of Hal Lewis.
    John

  21. A quiet man, not blowing his own trumpet. That makes his resignation letter now, after his death, even more important, because the saying is to beware the anger of a quiet man.
    Condolences to his family and friends.

  22. I am personally touched by all the comments here, and by the obituary itself, as would my father have been. That he was a person of deep integrity and commitment to truth and honesty in science hits the mark perfectly. That he was a brilliant physicist with great breadth and depth (from what I hear) also hits the mark. That he took his amazing science talents and applied them to improve life in so many ways (Jason, nuclear reactor safety, climate controversy, debunking cold fusion, and a zillion more examples) is what impressed me. That he was quiet and humble – well, those words above just made me chuckle, especially the latter! He would have agreed with my assessment. We once had business cards made up for him that said “hal lewis, expert”. No subject – just “expert”. He carried those around. No, I would not call him a humble man. 🙂
    I think the perception of him being quiet might have arisen because so much of what he did wasn’t and couldn’t be public. But I think you’ll find that people who worked with him would probably not describe him as quiet. I’ve seen posts elsewhere that imply he didn’t really do much in his life of significance, because they can’t find it in the public literature. Wrong conclusion.
    My brother and I need to get our acts together to write a proper obituary, I guess.
    Nina

  23. At the risk of being completely out of line . . . I say thank you Nina . . . it seems that I never know about the important people of history . . . until after they have passed “through the veil”!

  24. Nina, thank you very much for coming by and sharing your recollection of your father. I was hoping that someone who actually knew the man would come here and offer their insight. In researching your father I came to the conclusion that he did indeed know he was usually the smartest man in the room, held strong views and was justifiably proud of his accomplishments. At the same time, his willingness to constantly learn new things and learn from others, share credit, work as part of a team and take on work that could never get public exposure and public acclaim speaks of a real humility as well. Through out his oral history interview one gets the impression he strongly valued the independence of the scienfific enterprise and that to watch his science become a contractor to the interests of bureacrats must have been very painful for him and puts his resignation into context. I wish I could have known him.

  25. As a physicist, Hal probably loved Science fiction, that wonderful genre that has predicted so many human achievements. The most important dream of them all, in my opinion, was the dream of rejuvenation and the end of old age and death due to its infirmities. And that dream has come true: first cells, then mice, then people are growing younger. The first humans growing younger have been doing so for five years now.
    So Hal was among the last generation or two to die of old age. That makes his death triply tragic–if only this one, so deserving, had been told! But there are the survivors, which include so many brave, intelligent and honorable souls on this very website. How about you?
    “I ain’t growing any younger.” –old familiar saying. Formerly inevitable.
    If you want to find out more, google “telomere” and “telomerase activator”

  26. Lady Life Grows:
    Straight to the point . . . do you have any couth? Post a commercial here? “Growing” younger is an oxymoron! I doubt you have read comments here.

  27. So, essentially, at about the age of:
    7 he probably started to get aware of advanced “papier-mâché” air planes, telephones and automobiles.
    17 he would’ve known about the British spitfire.
    19 he possibly knew about the jet-powered aircrafts, radar and apparatuses for cryptography.
    22 he got to knew about nuclear power and mass destruction.
    24 he would hear about Yeager breaking the sound barrier (imagine such a simple feat happening two years after nuclear detonation.)
    25 he might have heard about the worlds first stored-program computer, SSEM. The pre-pre of computer memory.
    26 he might have heard of the first computer chip.
    34 did he feel awe or horror of the advent of the first satellite having been constructed and hurled into space by the big enemy in the east?
    36 He probably heard about the soviets making a dent on the moon.
    38 he would have gone through a droll period of one war to another where the most interesting really was in communications and nuclear energy. Mere “refinement” of jet propulsion was done. But here he got to witness Gagarin as the first man in space, quickly followed suit by, less then a month later by, Shepard. He got to witness the creation of Goddard’s institute for space studies.
    45 He was most likely be well read in what is now the foundation of todays computers and communication technology, everything since has pretty much just been refinements.
    46 He witnessed USA’s NASA put a man on the moon.
    49 He witnessed the last man to set foot on the moon and the complete demise of NASA and it’s defeat under the advent of hippie bureaucracy.
    50 Probably got to know about the the first hand-held mobile phone. And the advent of green “logic”.
    58 He had gotten used to mobile phones becoming even portable and not just hand-held. Ordinary people affording to get computers. Kids hacking the phone systems. NASA’s finally introduces the Shuttle program in practice with STS-1. The first year of the end of GISS.
    68 The complete demise of the soviet union. Of course then EU hired the old farts just they did the nazis.
    70 He probably started to use the world wide web as most interested parties did.
    74 He experienced non-manned missions to Mars, again. He experienced that 30 some years earlier as well in the 60’s and 70’s. But this time they managed to put a man made machine on mars streaming images from the surface.
    76 If he had moved to my country he would have moved to a place that offered 10Mbit internet connection for under $50 a month.
    78 The doom of the dot com era, the advent of hand-held 3G mobile phone/computers. He would probably have known about it being a another Mars launch window this year.
    81 The birth of facebook. NASA’s MER-A and MER-B Lands on Mars. Cassini-Huygens arrive at Venus. NASA’s Messenger is launched. Ubuntu is released. The voyager deep space probes , that he most likely noticed being launched when he was at age 54 was now some 11.5 and 14 billion kilometers from earth. A satellite form the european space agency passed from earth gravitational pull to the moons, yay! Of course a couple of hundred of thousand lost their lives due to natural disaster due to an 9.3 earth quake.
    84 It was the polar year and the year of the dolphins, and Rumi, and Highland cultures. The year when Romania joined the EU. When Ki-moon, even less practical ‘an Annan, became UN’s secretary general. NASA’s Messenger makes a second fly by of Venus. An 8.0 earth quake hits Peru and rocks the earth to its rotational foundation. But probably the worst of the pathetic was the release of AR-4 from IPCC. The conclusion of the green hell on earth program.
    88 At least he got to knew all rationality was not lost on humanity I hope.
    I can infer he knew about all of the above since he was a scientist keeping up to date of present day matters.
    And for having been a rational functional real scientist for all his life he’s now being denoted by the crazed climate communist hippie parade as knowing nothing, so I beg to differ.

  28. Actually, he was not fond of science fiction, with a few notable exceptions where the author stuck to proven science.

  29. Not even the Stargate 1 Saga . . . SG1 . . . I always wondered , , , . what their reactions were or would have been!

  30. Um, no. I see nothing there that deserves a response. The claim that science requires articles (let me add peer-reviewed) is legit, but I already answered that above. There is nothing we can do to prevent people from making up stories and pretending they are true. If you have a concrete question, feel free to ask.

  31. Big Yellow:
    You’re asking Nina to write a defense of her father against the charges of critics. I don’t think that would be appropriate for an obituary or an appropriate task for the child of the father. Hal Lewis carved a unique place for himself and played a major role in the transformation of science into a stakeholder in public policy formation. His biography would be an important contribution to the history and philosophy of science.
    As for answers to critics like William Connolly… I’m pretty sure that modern science has not yet found the antidote and I’m looking forward to the day (strictly from a dispassionate, intellectual and scientific perspective, you understand) that he bites his own tongue and we can determine empirically if he is immune to his own venom.

  32. It is indeed sad when great men pass away. But a reality that we have to live with. My sincerest condolences to his loved ones at their sad loss.
    May we all be strengthened in our resolve, to encourage and remind each other to live and work in such a way as to continue the legacy of such as this man.

  33. Hi Anthony,
    I spotted Derek Sorensen’s alert on the day and thanked him for letting us all know with an immediate note back into Tips and Notes. I was a bit puzzled – at the time – by the fact that nothing was made of it here. I also commented on Prof. Lewis’ courage but now that T&Ns have been cleaned up I cannot find my June 21st comment. Ric, or the Mods, can you help me out by finding and republishing please? I would very much appreciate it if you would.
    JVW
    REPLY: Some days I’m just overwhelmed with the volume of email, comments, and demands on my time. I regret I didn’t see it. The timing at 4:40AM was a factor too. – Anthony

  34. Hal Lewis knew exactly what was happening to science and his letter of resignation was the product of a lucid mind (in my opinion) I have read the letter many times and each time I ask myself if I would have stepped up to the plate in his position. I like to think that I would.
    Nina sounds like a chip off the old block to me.
    Thanks Hal for your lifetimes work and particularly for that inspiring letter of resignation which brought you and your thoughts to a greater audience.

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