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Science Technology

Freeman Dyson Talks Interstellar Travel, Climate Change, and More (theregister.co.uk) 330

New submitter Tulsa_Time writes with this interview in The Register with Freeman Dyson. They cover a wide range of topics including climate change to which Dyson says Obama has picked the "wrong side". The Reg reports: "The life of physicist Freeman Dyson spans advising bomber command in World War II, working at Princeton University in the States as a contemporary of Einstein, and providing advice to the US government on a wide range of scientific and technical issues. He is a rare public intellectual who writes prolifically for a wide audience. He has also campaigned against nuclear weapons proliferation. At America's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dyson was looking at the climate system before it became a hot political issue, over 25 years ago. He provides a robust foreword to a report written by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cofounder Indur Goklany on CO2 – a report published [PDF] by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF)."
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Freeman Dyson Talks Interstellar Travel, Climate Change, and More

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  • Climate modeling (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    He also said that climate models were a joke, and are getting worse and are deviating more and more from what is actually happening. But he is only one of the worlds most distinguished physicists. I trust Al Gore more. His carbon trading system will save the planet!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      What he's not is a climatologist, and one should be very cautious about any scientist speaking out of their area of expertise. That you rely on him as an authority suggests you've bought into a fallacious appeal to authority.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mi ( 197448 )

        The truth remains — there have not been many climate-related predictions published, that came true in due time. In fact, I can't find even a single one such prediction, but there really ought to be many by now. We see new ones made in the press quite often...

        Don't call me a troll — simply try to put together a list of such predictions, and you too will come to realize, it is an impossible task... The list must consist of pairs of links: first link in each pair will be to a prediction, the secon

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:21PM (#50728745)

          I saw predictions before the end of 2014 that it would be the hottest year on record. Those predictions were right.

          Similarly right now I am seeing predictions that 2015 is going to be the new hottest year on record - it has already set record for 6 months of the year being the hottest ever.

          I think these predictions are out there, you just have your head in the sand.

          Because these predictions are talking about the global average temperature, they are climate predictions. When you put a decade of "hottest year on record" years together, the average thinking person should start asking for an explanation - whether that be Sun spots or anthropogenic warning, there should be some explanation.

          • I saw a prediction in a 2007 money magazine saying that housing was a bubble and it as going to be very bad when it popped (contrary to what almost all other people were saying at the time). I even read (on slashdot I believe) that it was the new normal and also, thanks to advertising, that plane rides would be free in the future.
        • Re:Climate modeling (Score:4, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:22PM (#50728755)

          OK, lets see what single prediction you have checked that didn't come true.

          100% of the time so far, the "prediction" was one never made. Just a misquote of a rewording of something that was said, but never predicted what was claimed of it.

          You know, like "Al Gore said Florida would be under water by 2100 in AIT", which never happened. He said when the WAIS and GIS melt, Florida would be under water. Never when that would happen.

          Here, meanwhile, are a few denier predictions that failed to materialise (and compared to the predictions of the realists' models):

          http://skepticalscience.com/comparing-global-temperature-predictions.html

          But go ahead, let us know which predictions you've found and tested as having failed the prediction.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by cnaumann ( 466328 )

          80% predicted value... lets see. Temperature is an absolute quantity. The average temperature of the earths surface is currently about 15C (57F), in absolute terms, that is 295 K.

          You will be happy if the models predict average temperature with 80% accuracy, so if the models can predicted average temperature for any given year between 236K (-35F) and 368K (202F) this will pass your test?

          Guess what? That can do that!

          • by mi ( 197448 )

            Can you put together the list I described above? Kindly hold your peace until you can — and only post a follow-up, if you've found at least two pairs to list. Thank you.

            • Did you even read what GP wrote? About your "requirements" only requiring temperatures to be in the range of -35F to 202F? He's basically saying your requirements are bullshit. So why would anyone waste the effort of putting together a list for you? If you mean for your requirements to be different, maybe you should clarify, because GP makes it sound like you don't know what you are talking about.
              • by mi ( 197448 )

                If you mean for your requirements to be different

                They are different, but even if cnaummann sincerely misunderstood them to be much more lax, than I intended, well, he did not offer a list anyway.

                To clarify, the 80% would apply to the predicted changes. For example, if somebody predicted in 2005, that by 2015 the oceans will rise 10 cm, I would consider a rise of 8 cm as confirmation of the prediction.

                Not at all predictions are quantifiable — statements like "Arctic will be ice-free by 2013" [bbc.co.uk] or Scotl [theguardian.com]

        • Re:Climate modeling (Score:5, Informative)

          by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:48PM (#50729015)

          The truth remains — there have not been many climate-related predictions published, that came true in due time. In fact, I can't find even a single one such prediction, but there really ought to be many by now. We see new ones made in the press quite often...

          Several times I've pointed out to you a scientific paper that compares temperature and sea level rise projections to observations up to 2011. Link [iop.org] You reject it since it is not in your required format. That's arguing like a lawyer not a scientist. You should care more about the information that is presented than how it's formatted.

          In the realm of more general predictions scientists have said that increased CO2 would cause temperatures to rise. Temperatures on the Earth have risen and continue to rise. They said that the warming would cause land and sea based ice to melt. Land and sea based ice has melted. They said the combination of melting land based ice and warming oceans would cause sea level to rise. Sea level is rising (over 3 inches since 1993) and continues to rise. They said that increased CO2 in the atmosphere would cause ocean acidification. The oceans continue to acidify.

          You can argue about it all you like but the real world and physics just doesn't care. It will do what it will do regardless of your (or my) feelings. I just don't see any good reasons to disbelieve the climate scientists.

          • by mbkennel ( 97636 )

            They've also predicted more specific signals particular to the greenhouse mechanism which have come true: increased infrared emissivity in atmosphere from more greenhouse gases, cooling of stratosphere, particularly increased polar heating, larger effect at night than daytime, larger effect in winter than summer.

            In fact, I see few generally accepted and investigated predictions which have been disproven.

            The details of regional impacts are less known at the time.
        • there are plenty (Score:5, Informative)

          by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @04:04PM (#50729161)
          James Hansen:

          http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/05/hansens-1988-projections/

          JASONs and National Academy of Sciences, 1979:
          In 1979 the subject was addressed by the JASON Committee, the reclusive group of scientists with high-level security clearances who gather annually to advise the U.S. government; its members have included some of the most brilliant scientists of our era.

          The JASON scientists predicted that atmospheric carbon dioxide might double by 2035, resulting in mean global temperature increases of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius and polar warming of as much as 10 to 12 degrees. This report reached the Carter White House, where science adviser Frank Press asked the National Academy of Sciences for a second opinion. An academy committee, headed by MIT meteorologist Jule Charney, affirmed the JASON conclusion: "If carbon dioxide continues to increase, [we] find no reason to doubt that climate changes will result, and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible."

          http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/31/AR2007013101808.html

          And then there is of course the big one, Roger Revelle writing in a report to Lyndon Johnson on ecological problems. 1965.

          http://www.dailyclimate.org/tdc-newsroom/2015/02/president-johnson-carbon-climate-warning

          In 1979 and 1965 there was not significant and reliable data firmly indicating global warming (we now know that greenhouse forcing was compensated by increased pollution in N hemisphere); the predictions were made entirely from basic physics and thermodynamics, and their underlying principles still stand today. The fundamental predictions: increased infrared emissivity from additional carbon dioxide, warming surface and troposphere, cooling stratosphere, global warming, and relatively higher in polar regions, are all specific markers of increased global warming from increased greenhouse forcing (vs aerosols and increases in solar forcing), and subsequent major observational programs showed them to be true.
          • by mi ( 197448 )
            I wonder, if you are slow, or am I so unclear... Did you not see the requirement for pairs of links? One to a prediction, the other — to its confirmation?
        • The truth remains — there have not been many climate-related predictions published, that came true in due time. In fact, I can't find even a single one such prediction, but there really ought to be many by now.

          What about the predictions of climate denialists that nothing will happen if we megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere? Should we trust those predictions?

          • What about the predictions of climate denialists that nothing will happen if we megatons of CO2 into the atmosphere? Should we trust those predictions?

            I don't really care, who you trust. But if you want to convince and force me to change my ways, the burden of proof is on you, not on "denialists".

        • by XXongo ( 3986865 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @05:54PM (#50730581) Homepage

          The truth remains — there have not been many climate-related predictions published, that came true in due time. In fact, I can't find even a single one such prediction

          Actually, an interesting question. The oldest "scientific consensus" I can find that gives a number that can be used as a prediction is the 1979 National Academy of Sciences report. This predicted that the climate sensitivity was between 1.5 and 4.5C per doubling: that is, 3 plus or minus 1.5. Citation: Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1979. http://www.nap.edu/catalog/121... [nap.edu] (you can go back earlier than this, but this is the first one where a panel of scientists came together to evaluate all the models available at the time, and not just a single team making a model.)

          That's 36 years ago, so it's long enough to compare prediction to reality. In 1979, carbon dioxide (annual average) was 336.8 ppm; in 2014 concentration was 398.6 ppm. citation: http://co2now.org/Current-CO2/... [co2now.org] That's an increase of 118%, log(2) of that is 0.243. So given that CO2 increase, the predicted temperature rise between 1979 and 2014, if the NAS value was correct, is 0.81 plus or minus 0.4.

          Actual temperature rise, according to the GISS temp, is 0.17 above datum in 1979, 0.75 above datum in 2014, for a temperature rise of 0.58C. citation: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gist... [nasa.gov]

          The prediction of 0.81 plus or minus 0.4 is within the error bars of the actual measurement, 0.58. So I will rate this as a correct prediction.

      • by Trailer Trash ( 60756 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:20PM (#50728735) Homepage

        What he's not is a climatologist, and one should be very cautious about any scientist speaking out of their area of expertise. That you rely on him as an authority suggests you've bought into a fallacious appeal to authority.

        Martian, I generally like your contributions so I'm going to help you out. Note:

        I trust Al Gore more.

        See any "fallacious appeal to authority" there regarding someone who is not a climatologist?

        As someone else said: whoosh.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        How is this marked insightful? Dyson has studied climatology before most of the "experts" were born. Climatology is NOT outside of his area of expertise.

        • by mbkennel ( 97636 )
          There are climatologists who do climatology for a living and are in direct professional contact with the data, literature, and run models and experiments personally for their career.

          That's what an expert is.

          Yes it is outside his area of expertise, any more than finding one climatologist telling that the CERN simulation codes and analysis of particle results of Standard Model are wrong, when thousands of experimental and theoretical particle physicists find them to be generally correct.
        • Dyson has studied climatology before most of the "experts" were born.

          That may be true, but if it is, he hasn't studied climatology since most of the "experts" were born, either.

      • Re:Climate modeling (Score:4, Interesting)

        by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:37PM (#50728907)
        He doesn't need to be a climatologist to look at climate models and see that their predictions firstly do not hold after a certain point and second that for more recent models, that the amount of deviation after some threshold is larger than it was for earlier models.

        I don't know whether that statement is actually true (but it is testable) but I suspect that neither of us are climatologists, but we could both gather and analyze the data and could ourselves reach the same conclusion. There's a difference between saying all of climatology is bunk and pointing out that the predictions made by their models have been wrong and that also that the magnitude of the error is larger for newer models. The only potential error made is that we're trusting that as a scientist he really has conducted a rigorous study (i.e. looked as as much available data as possible) to reach his conclusions. I would almost expect that if he went to the trouble of actually looking into this himself, that he would have documented his methodologies and published his findings.

        Also, just because all of the models have been wrong or imperfect does not imply that we can't create a working one, simply that it might take a long time so it's not a good idea to put a lot of faith into an arbitrary model unless it starts to show good long-term prediction abilities. It supposedly took Edison hundreds of attempts to get a working light bulb. It may take that many failures in our climate models until we can accurately account for the things that we're currently missing.
        • Re:Climate modeling (Score:4, Informative)

          by CaptainLard ( 1902452 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @04:28PM (#50729459)

          I don't know whether that statement is actually true (but it is testable)

          Good news, its already been tested!

          https://www.skepticalscience.c... [skepticalscience.com]

          Coincidentally in response to Dyson's opinion. A blanket claim that models are wrong should cite at least one. And before anyone pulls up the "95% of climate models are wrong graph", that was thoroughly debunked here:

            http://blog.hotwhopper.com/201... [hotwhopper.com]

          • by khallow ( 566160 )

            And before anyone pulls up the "95% of climate models are wrong graph", that was thoroughly debunked here:

            Nope, it remains a valid example. I notice the "debunker" follows up with ad hominem attacks when Roy Spencer defends his work.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Graph [drroyspencer.com]

            There you go, an ACTUAL graph of IPCC TEMPERATURE predictions vs reality. What you gave were a bunch of graphs that didn't show IPCC predictions vs reality. You know you are lying and misleading people and are hoping to god that no one calls you on it.

            I checked your links and was initially shocked because the graphs match the predictions, and EVERY time I've attempted to see that they haven't matched. Then I read the details and not a ONE of them showed temperature. If you want to make a claim abou

      • At America's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Dyson was looking at the climate system before it became a hot political issue, over 25 years ago. He provides a robust foreword to a report written by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change cofounder Indur Goklany on CO2 – a report published [PDF] today by the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF).

        Just from the article.

    • by HiThere ( 15173 )

      Not in that article he didn't. He said the models were now precise enough to show that they aren't correct, which is a *very* different statement. Different enough that what he said was true and your paraphrase was false.

      That said, it's true that he doesn't consider CO2 rise to be a problem, outside of a few minor things like causing the oceans to rise. I disagree with him, but neither of us are either climatologists or biologists (and esp. marine biologists).

      P.S.: Anyone who thought that the climatolog

    • "He also said that climate models were a joke, and are getting worse and are deviating more and more from what is actually happening. But he is only one of the worlds most distinguished physicists. I trust Al Gore more. His carbon trading system will save the planet!" ref [slashdot.org]

      "More Than 400 U.S. Cities May Be 'Past The Point Of No Return [huffingtonpost.com]' With Sea Level Threats: But there are still cities that could be saved by reducing carbon emissions..
  • It's easy to not worry about climate change when you'll probably be dead in a few years anyway.

  • The whole picture. (Score:5, Informative)

    by truck_soccer ( 4286027 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:22PM (#50728753)
    After doing a lot of reading about this man, I have come to this conclusion about his views: Basically he has said "you're {climate scientists} all wrong because I don't like your models and if you try to ask me about specific technical flaws in those models I will defer to my status as a physicist and not a climatologist" So which is it? Are the models flawed, and if so, how? OR are you just a contrarian old codger whose views on climate science are about as reliable as my plumber's opinions on thermonuclear generators? Here is an interesting exchange [independent.co.uk]
    • by chaosmind ( 31621 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:37PM (#50728911)

      Thank you for that link! When I was reading TFA, I found his assertion that climate change was doing more good than harm rather startling, and was wondering if there was some research that I was unaware of which might change my opinions somewhat. From that exchange you linked to:

      "Second, we do not know whether the recent changes in climate are on balance doing more harm than good. The strongest warming is in cold places like Greenland. More people die from cold in winter than die from heat in summer." ...which is just a really special kind of logical fallacy. Special like it rides the short bus to school. He might be a brilliant physicist and/or mathematician, but when it comes to climate change he is just (as another suggested) an old codger.

      • by mbkennel ( 97636 )
        "More people die from cold in winter than die from heat in summer."

        He has a very British regional bias.

        People not in U.K. will die when their crops fail and agricultural climate changes. People not in U.K. will die when the excess heat in tropical oceans contributes to massive typhoons and hurricanes, and increasingly violent and intense rainstorms and flooding.

        and he is probably just wrong:

        http://www.statista.com/statistics/267708/number-of-deaths-globally-due-to-heat-or-cold-waves/
    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      After doing a lot of reading about this man, I have come to this conclusion about his views: Basically he has said "you're {climate scientists} all wrong because I don't like your models and if you try to ask me about specific technical flaws in those models I will defer to my status as a physicist and not a climatologist" So which is it?

      You did a lot of reading on Dyson and all you can talk about is his views on climate change? (Or rather all you can do is disparage his views on climate change.) Doesn't sound to me like you really did that reading.

      As to the link you find interesting, I notice that Steve Connor, the journalist/editor interrogating Dyson via email, acts an awful lot like a lawyer trying to discredit a witness for the other side. That plus making the exchange public afterward indicates to me that he was grandstanding for t

      • You did a lot of reading on Dyson and all you can talk about is his views on climate change?

        You may not have noticed this, but it's kind of a hot issue these days.

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          You may not have noticed this, but it's kind of a hot issue these days.

          I don't buy it, especially when all the original poster tried to do was discredit Dyson's opinions on climate change. Sounds more like a tribal thing. Chuck rocks and sticks at the Earth Burner tribe.

  • I have respect for Freeman Dyson and would not call him a climate science denier but a "lukewarmer". He admits that increased CO2 will have effects but doesn't think they will be so bad that it won't be a major disruption to our civilization. I think he is wrong in that judgement and wish he'd take the time for some deep talk with actual climatologists but he may be to set in his ways for that to have an effect.

  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <{moc.cam} {ta} {rcj}> on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @03:45PM (#50728989) Journal

    I agree that fusion is unlikely to solve any of our problems in the near future, but what I've read about thorium reactors is very promising.

    -jcr

  • Which is pretty interesting itself, is filter effect on the current slashdot community. It's amazing how many people who are always flocking to anything AGW related just stayed away. Have to wonder if being denied their favorite weapons (anti-science etc etc) just soured them on the fight.

  • by U2xhc2hkb3QgU3Vja3M ( 4212163 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @04:13PM (#50729271)

    Freeman Dyson

    Don't you get it?

    Freeman Dyson

    Freeman Dyson

    Freemason!

  • Who needs fish if corn has better yield. Those stupid oceans are not acidic enough. It is like touting fluorocarbons and insisting that removal hurts poor people because refrigeration becomes marginally more expensive, and never mind the skin cancer. Maybe he really needs his own sphere by now.
  • "Dyson contends that since carbon dioxide is good for plants, a warmer planet could be a very good thing. And if CO2 does get to be a problem, Dyson believes we can just do some genetic engineering to create a new species of super-tree that can suck up the excess." ref [yale.edu]
  • ...in which distinguished elderly physicist becomes convinced that the entirety of a "lesser" field is wrong and its practitioners fools. See Penrose, Roger.
    • When the Cold War was winding down, the National (Weapons) Labs were looking for something to do to justify their budget -- they branched out into alternative energy, environmental research, etc. Freeman Dyson was doing climate research before you were even born.
  • by burtosis ( 1124179 ) on Wednesday October 14, 2015 @08:01PM (#50731641)
    Yes it's true that climate models do have some issues (as any science does), and are constantly refined. It's also true that, from a scientific perspective, the earth will be quite habitable even under the most dire predictions.
    This is NOT where the major problems associated with global warming come from. It's the changing of natural resources everyone is used to. It could require massive engineering projects or moving tens of millions of people and abandon whole cities near sea level. It could cause massive heat waves that could kill tens of thousands like what is starting to happen in India. It could require whole regions to abandon the familiar agriculture practices, and in some areas leave no alternative production. It could destabilize whole regions of the world and cause massive wars killing millions - far worse than any direct effect.
    This is the real danger of global warming, not simply a few degrees of temperature rise on an otherwise bearable average value.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Thursday October 15, 2015 @01:44PM (#50737205)

    Dyson has succeeded in destroying his reputation as a serious and credible observer and commentator of society and his times by propagating pseudo-science around climate change. His actual scientific achievements are of course spared.

    Freeman Dyson is not a climate scientist. He's a scientist who dabbles in theorizing about the climate because he wants to. He is trading on his name and reputation, to the detriment of both. It doesn't matter how smart you are or how accomplished you are in other areas; if it's not your specific area of expertise, then you're in over your head.\

    If you want to see Dyson's theorizing on climate systematically and thoroughly destroyed - (amongst other things he gets caught in just plain old logical fallacies) by actual climatologists, here's what that looks like:

    http://www.realclimate.org/ind... [realclimate.org]

    https://www.skepticalscience.c... [skepticalscience.com]

    http://initforthegold.blogspot... [blogspot.com]

    https://www.skepticalscience.c... [skepticalscience.com]

    https://www.skepticalscience.c... [skepticalscience.com]

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