Monday, October 11, 2010

Hal Lewis's Temper Tantrum

So someone named Hal Lewis has resigned from the American Physical Society in a snit over their position on climate change, and this is supposedly "fracturing" the scientific community.

Who is Hal Lewis? I've been studying physics for 30 years, and I've never heard of him.

We're told that
"Hal Lewis comes from the elite upper levels of science — a physics professor at University of California (Santa Barbara), and a member of the Defense Science Board advising the Pentagon).
He’s resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) today, after 67 years. The APS is the world’s second largest organization of physicists, with 48,000 members. He is scathing of the fall from grace of the once renowned institution.

Anthony Watts is calling it
“…an important moment in science history. I would describe it as a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door." Which is such an exaggeration it's essentially impossible to quantify, except to call it complete bullshit.

So who is Harold Lewis? First, let's note that he does not even appear to have a Web page of his own.

Here is the bio at the end of his letter (note: really important scientists don't sign their letters by including a bio):
Harold Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chmn 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)
In other words, Lewis is the kind of scientist who hasn't really accomplished anything fundamental worth noting in science, but has made a career of sucking up to those in authority via being on their many committees and boards.

He appears to have played it safe his entire career, and was sure to keep his top button fastened all day long, no matter how uncomfortable it was. They paid for him to fly all over the place.

I'm willing to be proven wrong. Can anyone point me towards a single important insight Lewis ever had, or an important result he's derived? An effect named after him, or a theorem? Even an ansatz?

Had Anthony Watts ever heard of Hal Lewis before this? Had Joanne Nova? I highly doubt it.

If Lewis has been an APS member for 67 years, he must be well into his 80s, or even his 90s. In other words, you can surely bet that he's not up on the latest climate date or the latest thinking in climate science, and moreover is probably basing his outrage on ideas he learned in graduate school a half-century ago.

The world -- and especially the US -- is full of such scientists, all of whom are surely smart people, and all of whom once had great potential. They rode the scientific wave spawned by WW2 and Sputnik. When their potential went unfulfilled, they satisfied their egos and justified their salaries by joining every and any federal committee that would have them.

That is really not so bad. At least they didn't become TV weathermen.

Let's note that Lewis's resignation letter does not give even one fundamental reason why modern climate science should be considered wrong. His complaints are all about secret committees and underhanded negotiations. Which is what you'd expect a long-term techno-bureaucrat to complain about.

I'm sure Dr Lewis deserves some respect. But his opinion on climate science does not. Let's move along.


Steven said...

Here's a biography of Lewis:
Lewis should be 87. The closest he got to climate physics is some work he did on nuclear winter. There's a Physics Today article he wrote on it but I don't have access to it now.

Anonymous said...

At RC, [Response:Never heard of him. A quick search on Web of Science gives 6 citations, 3 of them political opinion pieces about nuclear energy, and one a complaint about IPCC co-written with Fred Singer. Hmm.-eric]

Steve Bloom said...

Repeating a comment I left at Climate Progress:

If feces were theses, Watts would be philosopher-king.

Anonymous said...

"They rose the scientific wave spawned by WW2 and Sputnik."

Good to see that you're master of your trade, anyway.

Dano said...

I pointed out their strategy long, long ago: ants finding a crumb and declaring a picnic.

They need something new to trumpet, ululate, and beat pans about. Nothing more.



Anonymous said...

He designed nuclear technology, something you do not have the IQ to do.

People of your IQ level should stick to "climate science".

Anonymous said...


If you are really concerned about co2 I think you need to dispense with snide remarks about those who disagree with you and start building bridges.

Cap and trade was going nowhere and is certainly less likely of going anywhere with the next congress.

Support for the IPCC and related carbon control policies in shrinking. You need to ally with those who don't fear co2 but don't particularly like burning coal. I invite you again to join us in pushing LFTR.


Loquor said...

Anonymous2: I´m sure that David has no problem with people "less afraid" of global warming than he - as long as it is based on the facts.

The issue with people of Lewis´ ilk is that they are spreading misinformation based on nothing but appeals to has-been autority (in a climate-unrelated field). What would be the point in any kind of dialogue with such people? And which new issues does Lewis raise? His opinion about climate science is as important (and as scientific) as his opinion about jackdaw farming.

As David said, let´s move on. Let the poor old guy continue to make the best of his retirement and let´s not waste any more time on this non-issue.

Anonymous said...


The American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution and the Breakthrough Institute (where I am a senior fellow) have jointly issued a new, bi-partisan report on energy policy.

As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt writes in the paper's October 13th print edition, this new post-partisan proposal, and the growing energy innovation consensus surrounding it, "reflect[s] the political reality that raising the cost of dirty energy is unpopular, especially when the economy is so weak. Finding the money to make clean energy cheaper, even when government budgets are tight, will probably be an easier sell."


Anonymous said...

Sorry David, but who are you?

Anonymous said...

Why is everyone on this post so preoccupied with the Hal Lewis’s biography? And since when is having a website now the precondition of being able to question the establishment? Maybe he's been too busy learning about the junk science called global warming to code up a pretty page you can judge him by.
I also find it revealing how you never seem to bring up the character of someone who spouts off the latest revelation from the book of hot air, but find it necessary to invent reasons to attack the character of someone you've admitted you don't even know who’s viewpoint just happens to differ with yours. said...


I'm struck by the viciousness and tone of your remarks.

To say that his age prevented him from cogent thought or that he wasn't hip to 'the latest and greatest' from Real Climate is an ad hominem of the lowest order. (My grandfather lived to 94 and was driving and designing board games to the end. He was an accomplished engineer and computer geek, all to eager to have a go at the likes of you.)

As for your noting lack of familiarity with Lewis's possible accomplishments, it seems that in your own criteria you come up quite short.

The man doesn't even have his own web page! Shock. David, this will surprise you, but there are very successful and powerful men of accomplishment in this world that have neither the time nor desire for such personal self-flattery. Having a web page would only diminish their stature, frankly.

The purpose of his letter was not to debate climate science, hence the absence of that theme. (As you hip web-sters would say, Duh!) The purpose was to publicly call out the APS over what are apparently real conflicts within APS, the lack of conformity to their own by-laws, and clearly the attempt to suppress contrary views a la Climategate. (It's what we politely call shenanigans.) And similar complaints have been vocalized to the APS in the past, so it's not a new theme.

Whether Lewis is a big deal or not may not be the issue. Perhaps his letter simply got a boost from typically dependable and loyal warmists in the press over the gradual realization that (uh-oh) when it comes to smoke, with warmists there is fire. (The Royal Society, satellitegate, Climategate, Kiwigate, William Connelly and Wikipedia editors, PSU Mann whitewash and the many recent peer-reviewing papers supporting anti-CAWG positions.)

Hence, a very likelihood that Lewis will be proven right-on.

Anonymous said...

David, first time visitor. If you don't mind, I would like to move the discussion to a more adult level. Are you a member of the APS? If so, Are Dr. Lewis' statements about the society ignoring their own bylaws based on fact? If so, would you not then support him in at least this aspect of his complaint?

Thanx for your time.

EliRabett said...

One might have had an intelligent debate if Lewis' resignation were less filled with spittle and bile. Truly worthy of Lubos Motl in full flight. To borrow from elsewhere, a full blown, warp drive rant.

Rich said...

Hal Lewis did write on global warming in the 1990s.

Here's what he said then:

"All models agree that the net effect will be a general and global warming of the earth; they only disagree about how much. None suggest that it will be a minor effect, to be ignored while we go about our business."


"Yet, despite the complexity, the bottom line is that the earth will be substantially warmed by the accumulation of man-made gases, mainly carbon dioxide, annd that warming could conceivably approximate the climate at the time of the dinosaurs. It seems likely, but not certain, that sea level will rise accordingly, conceivably by several feet or more. We are doing this to ourselves.

Can anything be done to slow it down? The only option in the long run is to decrease the amount of waste gases deposited in the atmosphere. That would require global cooperation and sacrifice now, to avert something far in the future, and a conjectural something at that. There is no evidence in human history that that is in the cards, but one can always hope."

Chris from Australia said...

Why so scared of an alternative view. Professor Lewis has got nothing to gain from speaking contre to the current mantra and his views should be considered and treated with respect, even if you disagree with them. God forbid we all know scientists always get it right, don't they, especially all those scientists, engineers and analysts who who obviously identified that Saddam had larges stashes of weapons of mass destruction. All they did was provide the USA and UK with justification for a war and the destruction of a functioning country (even if it was led by a rotten dictator). I seem to remember cries form the wilderness claiming that the evidence presented to the public was wrongly interpreted, shock horro the establishment was wrong - badly, very badly wrong. In my long life in addition to the wonderful energy of youth I've also seen the errors borne from inexperience, arrogance and impatience and people of goodwill being swayed by position, money and political interests. Hasten slowly everyone, Professor Lewis may be much more right than wrong.

varptr said...

Hardly a tantrum, more just a passing polemic, but the observation that thousands of purple penguins have jumped on board the global warming train without looking out their own windows, examining their own lives, that is simple observable fact. With most energy used for winter heating, the greater problem would seem to be temperate climate population control, yet not one of these boobs will admit 50 million illegal aliens will increase US CO2 production by 10% to 20%. Sad day for science, great day for the Dr. Lysenko's of the world.

GLICKTON said...

he died in 2011

Unknown said...

energy policy is one domain. climate science a different domain. politics happens at the junction, but political diversity should not be passed off as evidence the science is unsettled

Unknown said...

while Lewis might not be faulted for no web presence, we cant say the same of lack of citations for his published works. or ma ybe distinguished unpublished top scientists as his touts refer...are common

Unknown said...

Spoken by the man who did not bother to spell-check his work. What have you ever done that is noteworthy that you think you can rip a man of Hal Lewis' caliber? You dolt! If he studied nuclear winter, he knows a lot more abut climate than you will ever know!

Unknown said...

It always amazes me that people who can appear intelligent (academically) Can be so suckered into believing this hoax! Thank God I am street smart, and recognized this hoax very easily! It's not hard at all to see when people are trying to do things for political, and financial gain! I remember reading something about Jefferson saying that you should be able to find genius in the hobble as well as the higher levels of living. My feeling is that the hobble is a better education! :) suckers! lol

David Appell said...

Kevin, what leads you to think manmade global warming is a hoax?

Unknown said...

I know it's a Hoax, because I know the people who are trying to convince us it is not. They have a political agenda. They need servants, Willing ones mind you! And it seems people are all to will to cooperate with them in there intent. I am 55 years old. I remember days on end when the Temp was in/above 100 deg. I have not seems it that in many years. I guess I'm suppose to not believe my lying eyes nowadays! lol It's is SO completely obvious what they are doing! The thing that amazes me is watching perfectly good thinking minds fall for this bullshit! I go outside, I see the VERY same planet I witnessed as a child, with VERY little (if not NO) change at all, and I am told what I see is NOT what it is.. lol stupid.. If anything, it has become cooler out side. I am willing to make a bet with any person that in 5 year we will still get winter here in Minnesota (meaning cold ass weather) and if at that point they want to bet again, I'm your guy!. lets say $5000.00 any takers? I'm just basing this on Al Gores predictions. seems to be a safe bet for me! :)

David Appell said...

How many people do you figure are in on this hoax, Kevin -- 100,000? A million? Higher?

Unknown said...

Just Obama and one other guy... lol

Unknown said...

David, do you have a faith? If you don't mind me asking. I think I know the answer. I would say you do, and I bet I know what you believe in also.

David Appell said...


Faith in what? I'm curious what you think I believe.

I meant the hoax question seriously. Do you have a serious reply?

Unknown said...

because someone doesn't share your opinion and bias is not a reason to belittle. This article is soaked in self importance and condemnation.

AuthorDam said...

'He doesnt even have a website'? This is part of your rationalization about the success of a scientist? You're a freelance journalist who dabbles in fiction. Stay there or do your homework.

David Appell said...

Bernard: Lewis's ideas are easily debunked, and have been. They've certainly not changed anything.

Unfortunately, older scientists, including those with honors, have a long history of being wrong. They think their honors make them qualified to speak outside their field, but they do not. Lewis clearly don't not know enough climate science, not by far.

You need to be more skeptical.