Climate Skeptic Freeman Dyson Dies at 96

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Physicist and climate skeptic Freeman Dyson has sadly passed away following a fall earlier this week.

RIP Freeman Dyson: The super-boffin who applied his mathematical brain to nuclear magic, quantum physics, space travel, and more

Science’s civil rebel dies aged 96

By Katyanna Quach 28 Feb 2020 at 22:53

Video Freeman Dyson, the eminent British-American physicist and mathematician best known for his theoretical work in quantum electrodynamics, died today. He was 96.

His death was announced by his daughter Mia Dyson via Maine public television and the Institute of Advanced Study (IAS) – the top research hub in Princeton, New Jersey, once home to Albert Einstein, John von Neumann, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other giants of science and technology.

Mia said her father accidentally fell on Wednesday during one of his regular visits to his office at the IAS, where he had worked from 1953 until 1994. He died from his injuries at a hospital on Friday morning.

“No life is more entangled with the onstitute and impossible to capture — architect of modern particle physics, free-range mathematician, advocate of space travel, astrobiology and disarmament, futurist, eternal graduate student, rebel to many preconceived ideas including his own, thoughtful essayist, all the time a wise observer of the human scene,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Director and Leon Levy Professor at the IAS. “His secret was simply saying ‘yes’ to everything in life, till the very end.”

Read more: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2020/02/28/freeman_dyson/

Dyson was a giant of 20th century physics. The most memorable thing about Dyson from my point of view was his fearlessness; he was always someone who chose his own path, a rebel to the very end.

Dyson’s views on climate change and politics were complex. Dyson was a climate skeptic but he also strongly supported President Obama. He thought President Obama’s support for climate action was an unfortunate mistake in an otherwise excellent policy programme.

Climate activists were frequently triggered by Dyson’s outspoken views; because of his scientific reputation, because of his bipartisan fan base, because he was always ready to speak his mind, Dyson was an ongoing thorn in their sides, a significant impediment to their efforts to convince the world to embrace climate action.

I loved reading Dyson’s visionary articles and work, his son George Dyson’s book about Project Orion shows how close Dyson and his fellow scientists came to opening our way to the stars. They developed a known technology space drive with capabilities straight out of science fiction, so powerful yet affordable it could conceivably have propelled a manned mission to Alpha Centauri, or boosted space colonisation efforts by transporting entire cities to other planets or the Asteroid belt.

Project Orion was killed off by President Kennedy, when he signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

For his fearlessness, his vision, and many other reasons, Freeman Dyson’s legacy will endure; he will be remembered as one of the giants of the 20th Century.

71 thoughts on “Climate Skeptic Freeman Dyson Dies at 96

      • Fear not, only the worthy gain Nobel prizes, just ask Barrack Obama, Al Gore, The entire EU Bureaucracy, and later this year, Greta is to be awarded the prize. A seventeen year old from nowhere who knows nothing, and condemns all those scientists who do know, how dare they. As for Freeman, well what did he know that they didn’t……

        • With the steady and mounting drum beat to bestow the Nobel Peace Prize on Greta, when she’s threatening violence if we don’t accede to her demands, convinces me that the committee has gone completely insane.

          • Not even a mention of his passing on the BBC website as of Monday PM GMT, even doing an exact search. RIP Freeman, you were a giant standing on the shoulders of giants. Science will be better because you practised real science, as it should be practised by all scientists. The world is better understood because of you.

      • the ones the really deserve them..dont get them
        but then the nobel labels been dragged down from what it was anyway.

        I was sad to read this the stuff he did was Waaaaybeyond me but you have to appreciate genius, even when you dont understand it;-)
        I was hoping he’d make the 100 just because.

  1. ‘Project Orion was killed off by President Kennedy, when he signed the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.’

    The fact that it would’ve produced radioactive fallout may have had something to do with it as well. Even if Dyson showed that the number of global extra deaths would’ve been minimal, it’s still an hard sell to someone who thinks they may be the unlucky one. Still, Dyson was a giant amongst pygmies.

    • Using the Orion system would have been perfectly safe, if initiated in space, and not in orbit.

      • Have never seen a description of the Orion propulsion system that was not initiated in space. The fear-mongering is baseless.

        Now that it is possible to make far smaller atomic ignitions it maybe possible to reduce the crazy size and dimensions of the initial concept.

    • Not if the Orion ship had been built in Orbit….I’m convinced that the DoD (Mac”Nam mara)
      wanted the money for Vietnam..
      Glad Dyson died with his boot on-stilll working..
      A great loss.

  2. The greatest physicist since Einstein (and that includes my other physis hero, Feynman). RIP, you will be sorely missed by all proper physicists.

    • “RIP, you will be sorely missed by all proper physicists.”

      Yes. Humanity has lost a great mind.

      God Bless you Freeman Dyson. We appreciate what you have given us during your lifetime.

  3. In addition to Dyson’s work, Noether’s law and the principle of least action calls into question atmosphere warming by CO2.

    Could Fermat’s theorem and the principle of least action apply to the atmosphere’s response to increasing CO2? And show that a vast energy expenditure to heat atmosphere and ocean, is contrary to these laws? In other words, call into question whether increasing the trace gas CO2 really does heat the ocean and atmosphere.

    The principle of least action states that the universe will choose the path between two states that minimises the action. This principle is a generalisation of Fermat’s theorem which requires light to take the path between two locations that minimises the travel time.

    The principle of least action can be extended to any system evolving between two states. It is the founding assumption behind Noether’ theorem that is required to explain why Einsteinian relativity does not break conservation of energy.

    Amalie Emmy Noether (she preferred the name Emmy) was a German mathematician who was born in 1882 – 13 years after my grandfather. In that time she was (sadly and inevitably) under-recognised as a female academic, but made important contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics that later would grow further in importance in cosmology and quantum physics.

    Noether’s theorem is fundamental. It allows calculation of the true conserved quantities for any system that is evolving according to the principle of least action. (As long as we can identify the system’s symmetries.) Noether’s theorem is used in both cosmology and quantum physics.

    Maybe the principle of least action could apply to atmospheric thermodynamics. For instance, the CO2 concentration in air increases. How will the atmosphere’s state evolve as a result? Conventionally we are told that the atmosphere’s response to a small increase in this trace gas is to exert vast quantities of energy to increase the temperature of both atmosphere and ocean. This is an enormous thermodynamic response to this tiny trace gas perturbation, that transgresses the principle of least action.

    However, a response by the system rearranging its structure, changing for instance water vapour content or the emission height, or adjustment of convection or even radiative interactions, could lead the system toward a new equilibrium with much less expenditure of energy. And thus fulfil the laws of least action, Noether’s and Fermat’s theorems. Miskolczi’s hypothesis was of this nature – a rearrangement of the emission structure without temperature change.

    On the other hand, response to the tiny adjustment of CO2 amount by heating up the whole atmosphere and ocean, is the exact opposite of what one would expect in fulfilment of the principle of least action. It’s the principle of most action, and most (empty) heat and noise.

    • “Maybe the principle of least action could apply to atmospheric thermodynamics. For instance, the CO2 concentration in air increases. How will the atmosphere’s state evolve as a result? Conventionally we are told that the atmosphere’s response to a small increase in this trace gas is to exert vast quantities of energy to increase the temperature of both atmosphere and ocean. This is an enormous thermodynamic response to this tiny trace gas perturbation, that transgresses the principle of least action.”

      The enormous response is supposed to come from water vapor. Increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere are supposed to cause an increase in water vapor and water vapor is what is supposed to overheat the Earth.

      So far, no significant increase in water vapor is seen and no tropospheric “hotspot” has been seen to develop, which is a requirement of the CAGW (Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming) speculation.

      Alarmist predictions are not coming to pass.

    • “Initial” is the word that is always ‘forgotten’. CO2 has an INITIAL warming effect. A ‘missing cloud’ also has ‘an initial warming effect’, not changing everything.

      After initial warming the system adapts, probably in a way to search the way of ‘least action’. Always trying to stay close to ‘equilibrium point’ in which already many forces together created ‘equilibrium temperature’. An equilibrium temperature which will not change much by a change in just one single item. Because all other forces will react.

    • Phil S: You probably are familiar with Le Chatelier’s Principle in chemistry formulated in the latter half of the 19th Century. It became recognized after his death as having a much broader application and being properly a ‘law’.
      From Wiki, the broader statement of it is

      “When a settled system is disturbed, it will adjust to diminish the change that has been made to it”

      That is to say the system resists changes from applied new temperature, pressure, volume and composition. One could equally say the principle is present in Newton’s laws of motion. If I push on a stone wall it pushes back, not budging until I exceed the ‘bending’ strength of the wall. Or ‘back-EMF’ in electric motors. Similarly in economics if we increase price, demand declines and this leads to a supply surplus, resisting the price increase.

      This doesn’t seem to be distinct from Noether’s and Fermat’s theorems.

      This homeostasis also appears to apply in climate with increased CO2 in the atmosphere stimulating its sequestration in plants, ocean lifeforms, and solution into seawater diminishing substantially CO2s direct warming effect and the feedbacks attributed to it. Morever photosynthesis is endothermic, a sequestration of the heat from the sun

    • Tom, Wim, Gary

      Thanks for your helpful comments.
      The adaptive and optimising nature of complex systems is certainly missing from the alarmist greenhouse paradigm.

      To Fermat and Noether can be added Le Chatalier and I’m sure many others.

      • Scientific Proof needs that all other options are excluded. This is where the IPCC – not being a scientific institute – fails. Being part of a political organisation (UN) the IPCC does not need to exclude all other options – they think.

        This is a main point: when complex systems are inherently stable (and they ARE) the IPCC needs to prove why the Earth is not.

        Compared to the Earth every Model is extremely simplified. Essential elements are excluded or are misrepresented. Only then the balance can disappear.

  4. Incredibly, according to the wikipedia: “At the age of four he tried to calculate the number of atoms in the Sun.”, but at a bit older and more sensible age he wrote non-fiction scientific book The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet
    which reminds me that the sun’s sunspot count is still low, with the current minimum still going strong (contradiction in terms?)
    http://www.vukcevic.co.uk/SSN-23-24-min.htm

  5. Notice how all the Freeman Dyson obituaries dance very carefully (or entirely skirt) mentioning his deep skepticism (flat-out rejection, in fact) of the accuracy, validity and efficacy of the mathematical climate models used to justify claims of “catastrophic/dangerous anthropogenic global warming.”

  6. But that approach lost out to the computer-modeling approach favored by climate scientists. And that approach was flawed from the beginning, Dyson said.
    “I just think they don’t understand the climate,” he said of climatologists. “Their computer models are full of fudge factors.”
    snip
    To show how uncivil this crowd can get, Happer e-mailed me an article about an Australian professor who proposes — quite seriously — the death penalty for heretics such as Dyson. As did Galileo, they can get a reprieve if they recant.
    https://www.nj.com/njv_paul_mulshine/2013/04/climatologists_are_no_einstein.html

  7. ”Conventionally we are told that the atmosphere’s response to a small increase in this trace gas is to exert vast quantities of energy to increase the temperature of both atmosphere and ocean.”

    Temperatures don’t stack up. Adding energy from the cooler atmosphere, can not increase the temperature of the warmer Earth.

    Eamon.

    • Eamon

      You are confusing conduction with radiation. Hold your pen until you have understood well the difference. Cold objects radiate heat in all directions, same as hot objects.

    • Eamon Butler wrote, “Adding energy from the cooler atmosphere, can not increase the temperature of the warmer Earth.”

      That’s nonsense. Your body temperature is in the neighborhood of 37°C. If you add energy to the air in your home, raising its temperature from 10°C to 30°C, do you think your body temperature will be unaffected?

      If you think that, then why don’t you save a lot of money by setting your home thermostat to 10°C, or even lower, in the winter?

      PSI is a cancer, and that particular confusion is a metastasis. It horrifies me how successful John O’Sullivan and his little disinformation website have been at sowing confusion, and thereby emasculating the climate realism movement.

  8. I also wanted to add my sincere sadness for the passing of Dr. Freeman. The man was indeed a legend of our times. May he rest in peace.

    Eamon.

  9. He questioned a lot, and through the model of inquiry and personal experimentation made vacuum cleaners work better. There is not much that cannot be achieved in a world that has lost hope/direction with even one such as him. I am sure he organized someone to take his Place. Fingers crossed 🙂

  10. Dyson is probably the only man who ever missed getting the Nobel Prize because he had made too many important contributions in too widely spread fields of science. For example he designed a foolproof nuclear reactor, which is still in production after 60 years.

      • Let’s not sully the memory of the passing of a great man by making reference to stinky, compromised, Nobel Prizes!

        If a Nobel Prize wasn’t on his list of accolades, that is just as well.

        • He had plenty of recognition: Lorentz Medal, Max Planck Medal, J. Robert Oppenheimer Memorial Prize, Harvey Prize, Enrico Fermi Award

          • Let’s not forget the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an astounding award for an agnostic and a tribute to his ability to unify.

        • True.

          Even the science prizes were long ago compromised, as shown by Einstein’s being ignored early on for his greatest contribution.

          But Peace, Literature and the bastard offspring Economics Prizes are far worse.

        • At the time when Richard Feynman and Freeman Dyson were building humanity’s scientific heritage the Nobel Prize was highly respected recognition of a superlative achievement, at least Feynman was awarded one.
          ****
          Another giant who never got one is Nikola Tesla. The New York times announced that Tesla and Edison were awarded the prize jointly. Tesla jumped the gun and publicly announced that he wouldn’t share a Nobel Prize with Edison in a thousand years, or something like that. The Nobel committee withdrew the offer and neither ever got one.

  11. A loss to us all, a great skeptical scientist.
    I was only thinking during the week about the last time he emailed me, it was about climate alarmism.
    I also had a dream during the week about Freeman going to Mars using a nuclear powered rocket.

  12. In his Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society essay, Dyson laid out why he was a humanist and not a naturalist.

    There is no wilderness in England, and yet there is plenty of room for wild-flowers and birds and butterflies as well as a high density of humans. Perhaps that is why I am a humanist.

    That is opposed, of course, to upper class British twits (you probably know who I’m talking about) who want to be reborn as a pathogen so they can wipe out humanity.

    It occurs to me that the contrast between Stephen Hawking and Freeman Dyson is one between unidirectional cleverness and actual intelligence over a broad spectrum.

    • Actually, commiebob, the difference between Hawking and Dyson, in reference to political alliances, was very small. Both are liberals and, typical of the ultra-intelligent, predisposed to think intellectual thought can solve all conflicts and avoid wars, create a grand global strategy, and solve whatever issue. The reality is very different and most wars have two sides: the agresor and the defender. Dyson supported Obama and Hawking was a Remainder, both issues not held in high esteem by conservative thinkers. Yes, they were brilliant, and smarter than me, but I see many global issues differently than they did.

  13. Deaths of giants affects us all. The time around 1900 seems to have spawned many such giants. They have mostly left us now and I am saddened that replacements are lacking.

  14. I see that the BBC have not reported this yet.

    And that his Wiki entry is written to suggest that he supported much of the Climate Change hypothesis. it is a little odd – he is stated to believe in AGW, but then stated to have been criticised for his beliefs – though the actual criticism is not specified… Doublethink is hard to maintain all the time…

  15. Sad to hear that. But at 96 he lived a long and productive life. It’s left a hole that can’t easily be filled.

    • While I don’t agree with dancing on people’s graves I will miss one but not the other. The contributions to mankind’s knowledge base were massively increased by Freeman Dyson and set back by Pachuri (and others).

    • Well, remember what Mark Twain said, I’ve never killed anyone but I have read many obituaries with approval.

      Sad to see Dyson go though, a truly brilliant mind. The other, not so much.

  16. Still no mention of Prof. Dyson’s passing on the BBC website.
    One of the most important physicists ever, and they can’t be bothered to present an obituary, yet they collude with Extinction Rebellion in the fake miners protest.
    I feel a snot-mail to the BBC brewing.

  17. He was very future oriented and did a lot of space based work. After Gerard O’Neill passed away he headed the Space Studies Institute (ssi.org) of which I was a long time member going back to the 80s.

    A true giant among giants. RIP.

  18. In reference to the passing of Freeman Dyson, I can’t help but mention two of his popular books that I read years ago. The first one, ‘Disturbing the Universe’ (1981) was a wide ranging autobiography, including World War II experiences, coming to the U.S. in 1947, physics contributions, etc. The second book that I read was ‘Infinite in All Directions’, an edited lecture series with a overall philosophical/theological theme.

    Anyway, this is a milestone, the passing of one of the great minds of both the 20th and 21st centuries.

  19. Gradually we are losing the only scientists with the knowledge and integrity to fight the green madness. Feynman fought NASA dyson fought everything else

  20. Great man! Great mind! Except his so-called Dyson spheres would probably not be an option for an advanced civilization to build. For one, they would be difficult to build and for two, a sphere can’t orbit around something like a star. There’s no gravity on the inside of a sphere for the star to accelerate and make orbit.

    Jim

    • Dyson’s original idea on this was basically an ultimate speculation as to what it would look like if a civilization made use of *all* the high quality (or high frequency) energy coming from a star (with the outer layers of that civilization only radiating in hard-to-use or impossible-to-use IR frequencies, the “garbage out” of energy being infrared, essentially).

      So, the Dyson Sphere never had to be any sort of solid or near solid structure, although sf writers love to mess around that way.

  21. Perhaps, in Dyson’s honor, we could revive the Orion Project using the moon as a launch pad.

  22. Dyson’s views on climate change and politics were complex. Dyson was a climate skeptic but he also strongly supported President Obama. He thought President Obama’s support for climate action was an unfortunate mistake in an otherwise excellent policy program.

    Sounds like a genuine scientist who didn’t let his personal politics influence the results of his research.
    It’s a badge of honor and integrity that the MSM’s “climate scientist” got “mad” and ignored him when what he found became “An Inconvenient Truth”.

  23. A huge loss. Dyson was America’s most distinguished living scientist. America’s average IQ dropped slightly, yesterday, as did the average integrity of her scientific community.

    • Not being snippy but worth mentioning; Dyson’s birth in 1923 in Berkshire England, 1st class BA from Trinity Cambridge and Trinity Fellowship from 1946 to 1949 (with rooms below Wittgenstein). He was a scholar at both Winchester (‘public’ school) and Trinity and never found it necessary to get a PhD.

      • Great minds don’t need titles and most PhD are not great minds. Today’s education system is a big joke.

  24. What makes his loss so tragic is that he was still active and engaged…he will be missed.

  25. Unfortunately another Orion spacecraft was made, which has nothing to do with the original one. It can only create misunderstanding.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Orion_(nuclear_propulsion)
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(spacecraft)

    It is wrong, because we would definitely need nuclear propulsion, Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty notwithstanding.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial_Nuclear_Test_Ban_Treaty

    We could construct nuclear spaceraft in space, thus avoiding the initial pollution connected to departure. What is more, we would need several such craft ready in orbit.

    Because Earth would surely be hit by something large, sooner or later. In case it comes from the asteroid belt, we have plenty of time (provided the thing is identified early). But it is not so with Trans-Neptunian objects. Those can come fast, with no warning whatsoever. The only hope we have is a nuclear spacecraft ready in orbit. That can produce the necessary acceleration to reach and divert the fella in time.

  26. May you rest in peace great mind and writer. Your words will stay with me and with millions of others. Now go and explain to god how his creation works.

Comments are closed.