back to article Top boffin Freeman Dyson on climate change, interstellar travel, fusion, and more

The life of physicist Freeman Dyson spans advising bomber command in World War II; working at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, New Jersey, 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 …

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  1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale..."

    "China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale and that means they burn a lot less coal."

    Or maybe they could strike a $470 Billion dollar deal to develop and import Siberian natural gas.

    D-Oh!

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: "China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale..."

      Or both. The price for Russian gas goes down every day a pipeline to China doesn't exist. Pollution from coal is a huge problem in China but so is the amount of energy produced from coal. Hence current plans to increase generation from every other source: gas, renewable and nuclear.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: "China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale..."

        @CC

        Your post is correct, but it's not clear its point.

        My point. The quoted quote indicates that Dyson apparently didn't know about the mind-bogglingly huge China Siberian natural gas deal. Half a TRILLION dollars worth of natural gas, even over 30 years, is worth mentioning in the context of the quoted quote. That it wasn't mentioned hints that he's unaware of the deal.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      (sigh)

      "Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere does more good than harm, he argues, but it is not an insurmountable crisis."

      If we stopped outputting all CO2 emissions right now (which no one has the slightest interest in doing) there is still enough residual heat in the oceans to melt the icecaps.

      Hope you can swim.

      1. BillG Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Freeman Dyson

        Freeman Dyson - this man is a REAL scientist!

        1. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Freeman Dyson

          >Freeman Dyson - this man is a REAL scientist!

          Not anymore. I heard him speak and though a very very interesting man (like if you had the most interesting grandfather ever) its obvious he has lost a step or two to age. His talking about nuclear power right after WW2 was really interesting to me. His thesis was the move to concentrate power into a very small area as was necessary for the Navy (an early pioneer) affected the direction of the whole nuclear industry and was what help give nuclear power such a bad reputation and limited its growth today (paraphrasing here and might have remembered incorrectly). Just in general listening to him talk about the technologies emerging in 1940s and 50s (space race, nuclear, computing) was very interesting from a historical perspective but pretty sure I wouldn't trust his climate science chops today.

          1. Bleu

            Re: Freeman Dyson

            Climate-science chops?

            Relevance in general.

            I struggle to think of anything of value that he came up with, except for SF ideas like the Dyson sphere, absolutely nonsensical, but a prop in so many short stories and novels, so he did a great service to certain kinds of SF, the parts that pretend to have a base in science, but are mainly just fantasy.

            At work, we have a Dyson and a Hitachi vacuum cleaner, the Dyson is noisier. Still, it is the triumph for designs made-in-China.

            I know that is not the same Dyson, so can somebody tell me, consisely, what contributions

            'Freeman' has made to physics or to the comprehension thereof,other than his 'sphere'?

            Not that the interview was devoid of interest

        2. asdf Silver badge

          Re: Freeman Dyson

          And just to clarify I am not being derogative to him. The odds of me even being alive at his age forget so lucid are tiny. Also did a little research and I am assuming he was implying the nuclear industry should have moved more to pool-type reactors like the TRIGA he invented (with others) which require more space and more reactors to generate the same energy as our current energy generating reactors but are inherently safer.

          1. Bleu

            Re: Freeman Dyson

            I think the word you were looking for is 'derogatory'.

        3. Bleu

          Re: Freeman Dyson

          Please explain why and how.

          The replies in the interview were a little interesting, pray tell me what he has done that matters in physics.

          I am sure that he would have been a great teacher, but please tell me how he made any other contribution to theory or fact other than the ridiculous idea of the Dyson sphere.

      2. GunLobby

        Re: (sigh)

        You're clearly quoting a prediction of some sort, or the output of a model. Could you at least cite the study this is based on? The observable fact that both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents are at or beyond long run seasonal averages would lead me to be sceptical of your claim. Especially without reference.

        1. John Hughes

          Re: (sigh)

          The observable fact that both Arctic and Antarctic sea ice extents are at or beyond long run seasonal averages would lead me to be sceptical of your claim.

          "Arctic sea ice extent is at or beyond long run seasonal averages"?

          Are you blind?

          The last figure, as of posting (day 284) is 6.063 million km^2. The 1981-2010 average for the same day is 7.684 million km^2. What's 1.6 million km^2 between friends? It's just inside the 2sigma region, but only just.

          The Antarctic is currently more or less at the 1979-2008 mean, 14.835 million km^2 vs a mean of 14.830 million km^2. That's likely to be around its high point, and is less than it was last year.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: (sigh)

            No mention of the fact that, after looking kind of disconcerting there for a while back in the spring, Arctic sea ice extent turned the corner up from its summer minimum a bit earlier than average (and even earlier when compared to the 2012 figure), and now looks to be trending up more towards the average? Not really the kind of thing you'd expect to see in a "warming" Arctic, now is it? Time will tell how far and how fast it actually goes from here, though.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: (sigh, with feeling)

          And which 'long run' would that be? Arctic sea Ice is definitely on the decline, 4th lowest on record (http://nsidc.org/arcticseaicenews/) and well below median. Antarctic extent may have increased, but that's more about changes in circulation of ocean currents than about lack of warming. A bit 'pot calling the kettle black' to call out earlier poster for lack of references to easily found and peer reviewed references while making statements about observations as fact, that are demonstrably not fact.

        3. John Presland

          Re: (sigh)

          Consider, please, not only the extent but also the depth.

      3. smille10

        Re: (sigh)

        Melting of the icecaps is compensated for by increased evaporation of the ocean resulting in more water vapor in the atmosphere, and more fresh water which we very much need. The prediction was that the ocean would rise 3 feet over 100 years, which is not catastrophic, but that prediction seems to be too high according to this scientist.

    3. pxfragonard

      Re: "China may in fact be able to develop shale gas on a big scale..."

      The last time I looked there were indeed many bright night fires east of the Urals. No cities, lots of light. Burnoff. Sure it could be sold.

  2. Chris Gray 1
    Go

    "good steward" - not likely

    I can't imagine mankind being a good steward of nature in the current setup. No way.

    Interesting interview though, regardless of where you sit/stand.

    1. Schultz
      Thumb Up

      Re: "good steward" - not likely

      It's the old glass half full / glass half empty story. We didn't break the ecology yet and we built great things to house and feed 7 billion humans. If you dream about going back to the Holocene, you are probably out of luck, but it looks like we might yet manage a balmy Anthropocene that might be compatible with human life. It's worthwhile to note that the scientists fighting the political battle against climate change don't claim that we'll all die from hyperthermia, but they argue that the cost of mitigating climate change will be orders of magnitude less than that of handling it.

      For once I applaud Andrew Orlowski for an interesting article that managed to fill 2 pages without any forced rhetoric on climate change policy. Keep up the good work (and stick with the good scientists).

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "good steward" - not likely

        " If you dream about going back to the Holocene, you are probably out of luck, but it looks like we might yet manage a balmy Anthropocene that might be compatible with human life."

        If you follow your own link to the Holocene definition we're not going to go back there because we're still in it; it's still the standard term for the current interglacial.

        Anthropocene is still only a proposal & its proposers don't seem to agree a start date between the earliest Neolithic (which makes it pretty well a replacement for the Holocene) and the industrial revolution. A definition as vague of that smells more like marketing than science.

  3. jason 7

    Nice current topics...

    and a great chap! Rather hear him talk about Project Orion...

  4. Youngone Silver badge

    Scientists

    I wonder how Freeman Dyson will be thought of in 300 years or so.

    I'm not sure if it will be as a scientific hero, or just some loony with a great imagination.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    2. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Scientists

      I guess it depends if someone writes a book about him... or makes a movie or... Until now, I hadn't heard of him and I find he's impressive. Been doing some Googling since I read the article :)

      Kudos to El Reg for this article.

      1. Mike Pellatt

        Re: Scientists

        If you've never heard of him, you've clearly watched very little Star Trek.

        Two words. Dyson Sphere.

        1. David Paul Morgan
          Happy

          Re: Scientists - Dyson 'sphere'

          Also name-checked in Larry Niven's "Ringworld" - which is a cut-down Dyson sphere as a 'strip' and also in a joint work with Gregory Benford - and this one is truly awesome!

          http://us.macmillan.com/shipstar/gregorybenford

          their hemispherical Dyson 'sphere' the self-propelled ShipStar

          1. Marshalltown

            Re: Scientists - Dyson 'sphere'

            Niven's ring-world proposal is inherently unstable. It makes an interesting story. I'm not convinced that Dyson's sphere is any better.

          2. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

            Re: Scientists - Dyson 'sphere'

            But the ring in ringworld was unstable!

          3. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: Scientists - Dyson 'sphere'

            Also name-checked in Larry Niven's "Ringworld"

            Niven wrote an article, "Bigger than Worlds", on artificial-world designs - it's included in at least one of his collections. It describes the Dyson Sphere in more detail. Niven even talks about scaling it up to a sphere around an entire galaxy, which while clearly ridiculous makes for an interesting thought experiment.

        2. David Haworth 1
          Coat

          Re: Scientists

          Dyson sphere? Isn't that some kind of Hoover?

      2. M7S

        Re: ! guess it depends if someone writes a book about him

        Try "The Starship and the Canoe", although its been around a while

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Scientists

      "I wonder how Freeman Dyson will be thought of in 300 years or so."

      Like this: That chap that made bag-less vacuum cleaners.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Scientists

      In 300 years? Assuming there's anyone around to remember him, I expect it will be as a talented mathematician who made important contributions to both pure and applied mathematics, and as an interesting but very speculative and quite controversial thinker. There's no need to yoke his formal, verifiable work in mathematics to his speculative work in evaluating his career; one can be both a "scientific hero" and a "loony with a great imagination".

      Dyson himself has argued that both the science and the imaginative work are important (see the links DAM supplied) to culture, and - as someone who works in both the sciences and the humanities1 - I agree. They have different affordances; I don't turn to literature when I'm designing a load-bearing wall. But they both contribute to human life.

      1Assuming you hold with that sort of Snowian "two cultures" model in the first place. I think it's up for debate, but this isn't the time.

  5. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Still at work

    Dyson is a true scientist. He demands theory explain observation and if the theory does not scrap it. Rather hard nosed but very scientific.

    1. John Hughes

      Emeritus

      Maybe at work, but not bothering to keep up with the research.

      What has happened in the past 10 years is that the discrepancies between what's observed and what's predicted have become much stronger.

      That's simply rubbish.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Mushroom

        That's simply rubbish.

        Yep, they just keep changing the historical observations to match the crap models. Much better than admitting the models still don't work.

      2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: Emeritus

        @John Hughes

        Hmm renowned mathematician and scientist (and pro warmer afaik from the article) says they are getting worse, whilst some bloke off the internet says the opposite.

        Who would you believe?

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

          Re: Emeritus

          > ...and pro warmer afaik...

          I do not think so, the section "Global warming" in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson doesn't quite give that picture (there are other sources if you are skeptic about WikiPedia).

          Btw., I find the following Dyson interview a pleasant read: At 90, Freeman Dyson Ponders His Next Challenge

        2. John Hughes

          Re: Emeritus

          I'd believe published papers, not what some guy not involved in the field says.

          Can you cite any published research that says models are getting worse? No. Can you cite published research that says models are fitting the data pretty well? Yes.

          1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: Emeritus

            "Can you cite any published research that says models are getting worse? No."

            Well, it's not that the climate models are "getting worse", it's just that the Earth is refusing to cooperate. To find published research on this point, Google within this context with the keyword 'PAUSE'.

            The models are "simply wonderful" (LOL). Unfortunately the people involved haven't even read 'Chaos' by James Gleick. So they're blissfully unaware of the fundamental limitations of such modeling. They literally need a smack upside the head because they're so daft.

            (That said, I don't like higher CO2 due to unknown risks. Actually a 'Greenie' at heart.)

          2. dogged
            Joke

            Re: Emeritus

            > Can you cite any published research that says models are getting worse?

            "As a Climate Scientist, I tried to get funding to investigate whether my work was incurably flawed by suspect and corrupt data sources, worse models and a habit of making my sources say different things whenever reality disagrees with them but my proposal was rejected on the ground that I might not produce reliable evidence".

          3. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
            Mushroom

            Re: Emeritus

            I won't downvote you (expect so from other readers though, I am much afraid).

            But your "some guy" is off: this guy is among the giants in his field (theoretical physics, something not for the feeble minded; heavy duty math here). Just marvel at his publications. TOP(as in icon) BOFFIN, no less.

            About "not involved in the field": he seems to seem to acknowledge this if I get his email (cited in a post in this thread) right. He certainly cares about the topic and there are people who are much more vocal whilst having no background to talk of. One extreme (but sadly not extremely uncommon) example be our "Faux Science Slayer".

            tl;dr: a more respectful wording could improve your post(s).

            1. John Hughes

              Re: Emeritus

              If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

              -- Arthur C. Clarke

              Science doesn't work by argument to authority.

              If Dyson had some real argument about model quality he'd be pointing at published research saying it was falling, rather than unfounded assertions.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Emeritus

            @John Hughes "Can you cite any published research that says models are getting worse? No."

            Err yes - (Marvel, Schmidt, Tsigaridis, Cook 2015) starts with the statement "Recent trends in global mean surface air temperature fall outside the 90% range predicted by models using the CMIP5 forcings and scenarios" and is one of a set of recent papers discussing Fyfe & Gillett 2014 (http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/v4/n3/full/nclimate2111.html) and why the models look as if they're running off-target.

            1. John Hughes

              Re: Emeritus

              The key word here being "look", models "look" as if they're running off target. What that paper says is simply that natural variability can, over short periods, hide the trend, something we already know. (I.E. MSTC 2015 definitely doesn't say "models are getting worse"). (*)

              Other recently published papers were able to show this rather more clearly, for example by choosing model runs where the randomly chosen ENSO signal happened to match the observed ENSO signal, or by imposing the ENSO signal on the model.

              (* It's amusing to note that the so called "pause" wasn't the first time the model ensembles have looked different from the observed climate, but nobody complained when they looked like they were running cold.)

          5. Marshalltown

            Re: Emeritus

            Try this.

            https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2015/research/climate-models/

            The issue has been a concern for years. The entire "falsifiability" question in science hinges on when you decide an hypothesis (a model) is shown to be false. The early *proponents* - proponents mark you, not critics - of these climate models proposed a span of 15 years. A steady divergence over 15 years would thus constitute a failure of the model(s). The ensemble mean of the various models have ALWAYS been higher than empirical data, despite consistent adjustments that push modern temps upward and historical (pre-WWII) data downward. In case you don't understand that, it means the adjustments themselves are known to have imposed a trend on data that lacked it. There is good agreement over the history of the US CRN (not HCN) and adjustment of modern temperatures so presumably adjustments to modern data are justifiable. The same cannot be shown for adjustments to historical data. Next time do your own research.

            1. John Hughes

              Re: Emeritus

              @marshaltown

              Try this.

              https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2015/research/climate-models/

              Seriously? You think I don't know how to follow a link? You're using Cowton et al (2015) to say models are wrong? A paper that demonstrates that most model/data differences are caused by incorrect comparisons?

              The ensemble mean of the various models have ALWAYS been higher than empirical data, despite consistent adjustments that push modern temps upward and historical (pre-WWII) data downward.

              Except that the adjustments don't do that. Most of the planet is sea, not land, and the SST adjustments show lower warming than the raw data.

              When will you guys figure out that the continental US is a tiny part of the planet?

        3. GunLobby

          Re: Emeritus

          Calling him a "pro -warmer" is probably pointless. He has no emotional investment in either side of the AGW theory. He isn't sobbing into his melting glacier or hugging the drowning polar bears. He is observing the breakdown of the mechanisms which have allowed so much progress through rigorous science and is calling it what it is - emotionally invested confirmation bias. The emotional investment is driven by the conviction that "something terrible is going to happen" and that, broadly speaking, mankind is responsible. the AGW doom scenario gives form to that unjustifiably negative pair.

          Dyson has lived through some of the worst periods in modern history - and consequently wonders what all the moaning is about these days.

        4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Emeritus

          Who would you believe?

          "Whom". And neither, without doing a great deal more research into the subject. Believing someone based purely on their reputation (ethos) is a logical fallacy, and a failure of critical thinking.

          Of course, we can't investigate every controversial claim we encounter. We can't investigate more than a tiny fraction of those we run into every day; we're not even capable of consciously recognizing most of them. (The conscious mind simply doesn't operate that way.) But when the question is raised to consciousness, the only logical options are to operate as a Perfect Bayesian Reasoner and estimate the probability of each competing claim based on presently available information, or to punt and admit that you simply can't determine among them on any reasonable basis.

        5. Schultz
          Boffin

          Gordon 10: "Who would you believe?"

          Thanks for summarizing the climate discussion in four words.

          (The correct answer being: Don't believe, but go read about the science. Science being the stuff that's based on 'data' as opposed to 'opinion'.)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Emeritus

        John Hughes: And you are qualified to make that well reasoned statement because...

      4. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

        Re: Emeritus

        That is the only statement in the interview that puzzled me. I would be extremely surprised if more than a minority of scientists in climate research would agree ( <--= that is as polite as I can be).

        As to former posts regarding Dyson's achievements: search for "Freeman Dyson" in, say, Google scholar to marvel at the monumental corpus of his work in theoretical physics.

        1. dogged

          Re: Emeritus

          > I would be extremely surprised if more than a minority of scientists in climate research would agree

          Consensus doesn't mean you're right, it just means other people are potentially also wrong.

          Einstein was particularly clear about the (utter lack of) value of scientific consensus, especially when the Nazis had a whole bunch of German physicists sign a paper saying he was wrong.

          "Why thirty? It only takes one to be right".

          1. TheOtherHobbes

            Re: Emeritus

            So you're fine with consensus unless it disagrees with your pet loopiness?

            Or do you think most of maths and physics is "just consensus" and therefore might be wrong, even though it's been making useful stuff work for a couple of centuries now.

            Also, bonus for mentioning Einstein. That always proves that your point is a clever one.

            This has a link to real science:

            Realistic predictions of global warming

            Here's some more from Weather Underground, who can't possibly be expected to know anything about climate or weather:

            Climate models are reliable

            Oddly enough, the page includes a quote by Freeman Dyson which makes it clear he has absolutely no idea what he's talking about on this particular topic.

            But that's how science works. If you're wrong, you're wrong. Doesn't matter who you are or what your background is. Your ideas either match the observations, or they don't.

            And when it comes to denial, the denialists don't have a great record of accurate fact collection, accurate modelling, or accurate predictions of any kind at all.

          2. This post has been deleted by its author

            1. The Dude

              Re: Emeritus

              "You do realise that there is rather a large gap between "scientific consensus" and "sign this or go to a concentration camp"?"

              Is there really? Isn't that the same direction we are going with the "denier" slurs and the funding difficulties for scientists who investigate alternative explanations etc.?

        2. bigtimehustler

          Re: Emeritus

          I think that is entirely the problem, scientists 'involved with global warming' by definition have a vested interest that the research never be put to bed and to defend their original position. Where as, a world renowned scientist who has the ability to understand the research, but no vested interest in it, says the models are getting worse. I wouldn't dismiss his point of view out of hand.

      5. nsld

        @ John Hughes Re: Emeritus

        Reply Icon

        Emeritus

        Maybe at work, but not bothering to keep up with the research.

        What has happened in the past 10 years is that the discrepancies between what's observed and what's predicted have become much stronger.

        That's simply rubbish.

        ==============

        He was being polite, as a proper scientist he probably shudders at the thought of the fraudsters at UEA and the rest of the climate scammers.

        As he points out, CO2 isnt the issue, its all the other stuff you get from burning coal and other fossil fuels.

        Diesel, less CO2 per KM but many thousands of deaths from all the other crap is just one example.

        Bottom line, pollution is bad (particulates, NOx etc) whilst CO2 is plant food.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @ John Hughes Emeritus

          Have you seen where Europe has gotten so hung up on controlling COx issues (to the detriment of controlling NOx issues) that some cities there are now dealing with smog issues that can at times be as bad as what Beijing currently experiences, and harken back to the old days when none of this stuff was really being controlled at all? Between this and the fallout out from Diesel-gate, some places are talking about maybe now trying to phase out diesel autos as much as they can. This after decades of diesel automobile growth in Europe.

        2. The Dude
          Mushroom

          Re: @ John Hughes Emeritus

          I remember the days when the holy grail of fuel use was to have exhaust consisting only of CO2 and H2O, for reasons of efficiency and low (no) pollution... and it seems to me that for all practical intents we are there (VW diesel excepted, of course). I suspect that creates a problem for the "control the means of production" crowd, because if there is no pollution then there is nothing for the regulators and controllers to do. They solved that by declaring CO2 to be a poison gas, certain to roast us all and/or flood all waterfront property. Then they got politicians on-side, which wasn't difficult given the amount of money to be made from the various investment opportunities and the 'encouragement' from regulators. If/when the CO2 Ponzi scheme bubble bursts then that will leave only H2O as the problem. Which it is, of course, since H2O inhalation kills many more people than CO2 inhalation has ever done.

      6. fruitoftheloon
        Happy

        @John Hughes: Re: Emeritus

        John,

        Would you be so kind as to share your opinion re the 'adjustments' that have taken place re 'historical temperatures'?

        Cheers,

        Jay

        1. John Hughes

          Re: @John Hughes: Emeritus

          You mean those adjustments that reduce the global warming signal?

          What, you don't know that the largest adjustments made to the historical temperature data had the effect of warming the past and cooling the present?

          I wonder why.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @John Hughes: Emeritus

          You mean the Karl et al paper from NOAA that adjusted the good data (ARGO bouy network) upwards to match the bad data (ship engine intake). They admitted in the paper that the ARGO data was better and yet that was what they adjusted.

          There is no justification for that other than fixing the numbers to meet a pre-determined result. It is not science.

          1. John Hughes

            Re: @John Hughes: Emeritus

            Are you unable to follow a link?

            How could adjusting the ARGO data change the sea surface temperature before 1940?

            The link I gave refers to the adjustments made in the HadSST3 dataset, refered to by Judith Curry as "In my opinion, the gold standard dataset for global ocean surface temperatures is the UK dataset, HadSST3".

            (P.S. the changes made to the NOAA data still warm the past more than the present -- the adjusted data shows less global warming than the "raw" data).

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @John Hughes: Emeritus

            If people realized just how poorly controlled those ship-based measurements generally were, then they'd understand how almost all of them really need to be thrown out! They've already thrown out about half of them, IIRC, and supposedly tried to keep the better ones - although whether these were actually "better" or not is open to debate. But if they threw out all of them then they'd probably have no historical basis on which to argue that the seas have been steadily warming. And we can't have that, now can we? :)

      7. Marshalltown

        Re: Emeritus

        Speaking of not keeping up, where have you been?

    2. Bleu

      Re: Still at work

      I would like to hear anything concrete about his achievments in science, if any.

      Neither the comments nor the article make any case other than, as I introduced, in 300 years, he may be conflated with a new design for a vacuum cleaner, by somebody else in any case..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Still at work

        You might start with his Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freeman_Dyson

        I agree that he will most probably be *remembered by history* for his bold imagination concerning things like the Dyson Sphere - and, of course, for the Dyson line of vacuum cleaners. :)

  6. Martin Budden

    customising weather to combat sea level change?

    Inducing snowfall is something you can do which hasn't been discussed very much, to keep the oceans from rising.

    Presumably you'd need to induce a lot of snowfall to make a noticeable difference to sea levels, and presumably you'd need to keep inducing all the time so the new snow doesn't just melt again?

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: customising weather to combat sea level change?

      Why would you need to keep inducing it? The rate at which the snow melts is a constant - making it snow more doesn't cause more melting. In fact it might mean less melting since when it is snowing the sun isn't out melting stuff.

      Antarctica is big, assuming you were able to induce a meter of snowfall over the whole place, you'd cancel out several cm of sea level rise. I have no idea how you induce a meter of snowfall over a whole continent, but I imagine Dyson has a few ideas along those lines or he wouldn't have mentioned it.

      1. dogged

        Re: customising weather to combat sea level change?

        You'd also boost the planet's albedo and therefore cool it, which would result in more ice, not less.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          @dogged

          You wouldn't change the albedo, because the snow would be falling on top of other snow.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: @dogged

            Actually dogged is correct. The snow storm itself raises the albedo while falling, then the ice sheets spread increasing the albedo.

            The extent to which we'd be able to detect it is another matter.

            But if you're going to try to tie up water, why not do it more productively? Set it up off the coast of Africa and make it rain in the Sahara. If you can get the rainfall, you'll get lush vegetation. That both locks the water in an environmental cycle while providing a carbon sink as well.

            Full disclosure: I'm anti-Warmist. Mostly because if you assume the Warmists have their science right, their prescriptions for correcting it are all wrong. That in turn means they aren't really concerned about the alleged issue, but only about how the money gets spent.

      2. Omgwtfbbqtime Silver badge

        Re: "I have no idea how you induce a meter of snowfall over a whole continent"

        I would imagine the same way as you would seed a cloud for any other form of precipitation - just on a larger scale.

    2. DavidJB

      Re: customising weather to combat sea level change?

      Not much snow melts in Antarctica, where the temperature even at the coast in summer is seldom above zero. In the centre of the continent, where the snowfall would presumably be induced, 'summer temperatures struggle to get above minus 20°C' (British Antarctic Survey). As to the quantities, Antarctica covers about 3% of the Earth's surface, so to lower sea level (covering about 2/3 of the Earth's surface) by a metre (the projected rise over the next century or so), you would need to pile up the equivalent in ice of about 20 metres of water over Antarctica. That's a tiny fraction of the present thickness of the ice cap. (Newly fallen snow is much less dense than water, but it would soon compact into ice which is only slightly less dense than water.) So I think in principle it is doable, provided you can actually get enough snow to fall.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: customising weather to combat sea level change?

        Also interestingly the amount of snow falling in Antarctica is quite low.

        1. DougS Silver badge

          @mage

          Isn't the reason there is little snowfall because cold air holds less moisture, and the air over Antarctica is really cold? That's why I'd be curious to hear Dyson's take on how you induce more snowfall there. It isn't a simple matter of cloud seeding, because you need moisture for that to work. Maybe there are things you can do to the surrounding ocean that would potentially change wind patterns and bring in more moisture laden air (i.e. iron seeding or something) Of course that might bring its own set of problems, if it meant drought in South Africa or something...

          1. Martin Budden

            Re: @mage

            Doug S is right: Antarctica is basically a huge desert. The Dry Valleys in Antarctica are actually the driest place on earth, with zero precipitation. There is no moisture in the air, therefore you can't make it snow.

          2. The Dude

            Re: @mage

            "...there is little snowfall because cold air holds less moisture, and the air over Antarctica is really cold? That's why I'd be curious to hear Dyson's take on how you induce more snowfall there."

            Simple answer: warm it up a tad. Sounds like a problem that solves itself. Gotta love negative feedback, it brings stability out of chaos!

  7. Indur Goklany

    The study was published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, not the Global Water System Project. GWPF can be found at http://www.thegwpf.org/.

  8. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  9. IvyKing
    Mushroom

    Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

    The first reference that I've run across using a laser and lightsail for interstellar travel was from an early 1970's era short story by Larry Niven. This was also part of the opening of "The Mote in God's Eye" by Niven and Pournelle published in 1974.

    My understanding is that Forward, Niven and Pournelle all knew each other, Forward has written some SF as well.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

      While we are at it, Freeman Dyson approved of the Ringworld idea (though where you get the scrith and the energy for spin-up from he didn't say)

      1. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

        "The main point is to leave the energy source behind; don't carry it on the ship."

        "And you could get up to half the speed of light"

        How are you supposed to slow down? "Ooh look a habitable planet ahead!" In space nobody can hear you whoosh by!

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

          Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

          You change the properties of the laser to take energy out of the ship/sail system - creating a low energy vacuum behind the sail thus slowing it down by "sucking it" backwards.

          Look up laser cooling - similar concept,

          1. John Hughes

            Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

            You change the properties of the laser to take energy out of the ship/sail system - creating a low energy vacuum behind the sail thus slowing it down by "sucking it" backwards.

            Got some kind of citation or source for that, because it sounds like bollocks.

            1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

              Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

              Got some kind of citation or source for that, because it sounds like bollocks

              It absolutely is bollocks.

              See this for how to do it with non-magic physics.

            2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
              Pint

              @John Hughes

              "Got some kind of citation or source for that,..."

              Please stop being an @$$. Thank you.

              1. John Hughes

                Re: @John Hughes

                Hur Hur, I replied to your message in English, rather than your "American with funny punctuation" and the mods rejected it.

                El-Reg out-nannies the Graun.

                Seriously, why do you think it's "being an ass" to ask someone to justify their ridiculous statements?

        2. TheOtherHobbes

          Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

          > How are you supposed to slow down?

          Or steer? "Hey everyone - there's nothing here, so we want to try the next one... Everyone? Hello?"

          [fifteen years later]

          "OK - thanks!"

        3. badger31
          Joke

          Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

          @ Mystic Megabyte

          Let's worry about that when we get there.

        4. Patrician

          Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

          "How are you supposed to slow down? "Ooh look a habitable planet ahead!" In space nobody can hear you whoosh by!"

          Robert Forward already worked this out in his book Flight of the Dragonfly. Well worth a read ....

        5. DavidJB

          Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

          How would you slow down?

          I don't know what Dyson would say, but I suggest a judicious use of gravity. In existing space travel within the Solar System (Voyager, etc) the gravity of the planets has been used as a 'slingshot' to accelerate space vehicles, so with an appropriate choice of timing it could be used to slow them down.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

            "a judicious use of gravity."

            Unless you are planning to slingshot around a few star systems and add ENORMOUSLY to the trip time, I suspect that will not work. Without even looking at the maths, I suspect a spacecraft traveling at 50% C is not going to be deflected very much at all by any star we currently think might have habitable planets.

      2. John Hughes

        Re: Bob Forward? Try Larry Niven

        You mean he didn't spot the minor problem that it wouldn't work? (Niven had to write l The Ringworld Engineers to "fix" the problem).

  10. norpag

    (untitled)

    Climate and CO2- Exchange with Freeman Dyson

    E-mail 4/7/15

    Dr Norman Page

    Houston

    Professor Dyson

    Saw your Vancouver Sun interview.I agree that CO2 is beneficial. This will be even more so in future because it is more likely than not that the earth has already entered a long term cooling trend following the recent temperature peak in the quasi-millennial solar driven periodicity .

    The climate models on which the entire Catastrophic Global Warming delusion rests are built without regard to the natural 60 and more importantly 1000 year periodicities so obvious in the temperature record. The modelers approach is simply a scientific disaster and lacks even average commonsense .It is exactly like taking the temperature trend from say Feb – July and projecting it ahead linearly for 20 years or so. They back tune their models for less than 100 years when the relevant time scale is millennial. This is scientific malfeasance on a grand scale. The temperature projections of the IPCC - UK Met office models and all the impact studies which derive from them have no solid foundation in empirical science being derived from inherently useless and specifically structurally flawed models. They provide no basis for the discussion of future climate trends and represent an enormous waste of time and money. As a foundation for Governmental climate and energy policy their forecasts are already seen to be grossly in error and are therefore worse than useless. A new forecasting paradigm needs to be adopted. For forecasts of the timing and extent of the coming cooling based on the natural solar activity cycles - most importantly the millennial cycle - and using the neutron count and 10Be record as the most useful proxy for solar activity check my blog-post at http://climatesense-norpag.blogspot.com/2014/07/climate-forecasting-methods-and-cooling.html

    The most important factor in climate forecasting is where earth is in regard to the quasi- millennial natural solar activity cycle which has a period in the 960 – 1020 year range. For evidence of this cycle see Figs 5-9. From Fig 9 it is obvious that the earth is just approaching ,just at or just past a peak in the millennial cycle. I suggest that more likely than not the general trends from 1000- 2000 seen in Fig 9 will likely generally repeat from 2000-3000 with the depths of the next LIA at about 2650. The best proxy for solar activity is the neutron monitor count and 10 Be data. My view ,based on the Oulu neutron count – Fig 14 is that the solar activity millennial maximum peaked in Cycle 22 in about 1991. There is a varying lag between the change in the in solar activity and the change in the different temperature metrics. There is a 12 year delay between the neutron peak and the probable millennial cyclic temperature peak seen in the RSS data in 2003. http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/rss/from:1980.1/plot/rss/from:1980.1/to:2003.6/trend/plot/rss/from:2003.6/trend

    here has been a cooling temperature trend since then (Usually interpreted as a “pause”) There is likely to be a steepening of the cooling trend in 2017- 2018 corresponding to the very important Ap index break below all recent base values in 2005-6. Fig 13.

    The Polar excursions of the last few winters in North America are harbingers of even more extreme winters to come more frequently in the near future.

    I would be very happy to discuss this with you by E-mail or phone .It is important that you use your position and visibility to influence United States government policy and also change the perceptions of the MSM and U.S public in this matter. If my forecast cooling actually occurs the policy of CO2 emission reduction will add to the increasing stress on global food production caused by a cooling and generally more arid climate.

    Best Regards

    Norman Page

    E-Mail 4/9/15

    Dear Norman Page,

    Thank you for your message and for the blog. That all makes sense.

    I wish I knew how to get important people to listen to you. But there is

    not much that I can do. I have zero credibility as an expert on climate.

    I am just a theoretical physicist, 91 years old and obviously out of touch

    with the real world. I do what I can, writing reviews and giving talks,

    but important people are not listening to me. They will listen when the

    glaciers start growing in Kentucky, but I will not be around then. With

    all good wishes, yours ever, Freeman Dyson.

    Email 4/9/15

    Professor Dyson Would you have any objection to my posting our email exchange on my blog?

    > Best Regards Norman Page

    E-Mail 4/9/15

    Yes, you are welcome to post this exchange any way you like. Thank you

    for asking. Yours, Freeman Dyson

    1. John Hughes

      It's all cycles -- or is it.

      Well, I hope Dyson was just trying to be polite here. If he really agrees with this nonsense he may be losing it.

      http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/rss/from:1980.1/plot/rss/from:1980.1/to:2003.6/trend/plot/rss/from:2003.6/trend

      Oh, RSS is broken, as if we didn't already know that.

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: It's all cycles -- or is it.

        "data fitting 101": manually selecting intervals and using linear fits is, erm, highly unwise.

    2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

      > Dr Norman Page

      > Houston

      Oil man? Yep..

      I do like Freeman Dyson, but he's always been at the battier end of the spectrum.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cycles

      Any time anyone talks about a natural cycle with respect to a departure from a mean, you can bet there is fruitloopery at work unless they quote some fairly rigorous statistical tests. 60 year cycles are a particular favourite at the moment - what's the betting it was derived from a 120 year data set.....?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Cycles

        There are quite clearly cycles of various types and various lengths at work here, though, according to the historical record. Up until recently the climate change crowd has been trying to pretend that such cycles simply don't exist (at least not during modern times), but lately they've been forced to change their tune quite a bit - if for no other reason than to be able to use such cycles to try and explain away why their models' predictions don't match reality. As is, "We would be having an ongoing warming trend if it weren't for the fact that we're in the middle of a pesky cooling cycle!" It's always fun to read such things. :) And indeed, if the 60-year(ish) thing is correct, then we may in fact now be heading into a cooling cycle.

  11. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: Exxon caught red-handed knowingly lying about climate change.

      Regardless of the content you do realise that 'leaked' and 'official' don't actual belong in the same sentence right?

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. Faux Science Slayer

    There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

    Climate alchemy is the worst science since the world was flat. NO gas molecule can capture, store, amplify or redirect radiant energy as claimed by the GHG hypothesis. For a summary of ACTUAL Earth science forces see

    "Greenhouse Gas Ptolemaic Model" at the FauxScienceSlayer site. For the FAKE debate see

    "Lukewarm Lemmings and the Lysenko Larceny" as the Luke LITTLE Warmists are WRONG

    coasttocoastam.com/show/2015/03/18 > Climate Change & Thermodynamics

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

      Promoting your idiotic web site again?

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

      NO gas molecule can capture, store, amplify or redirect radiant energy as claimed by the GHG hypothesis.

      Put simply: Absolute bollocks.

      I assume that you have never seen an infra-red spectrometer at work, a device which I commonly used at university some two decades ago, which works on exactly this principle. Essentially, radiation at a specific frequency is absorbed by a molecule, and re-emitted.

      The reason this leads to warming of the atmosphere is that carbon dioxide absorbs 'black body' infra-red radiation that is emitted from the ground (i.e. is heading into space and causing the planet to cool), and re-emits it in ALL directions, including back at the ground, essentially acting like a big blanket. Crucially, it is transparent to the higher frequencies of radiation coming from the sun, so these continue to heat the ground. The result is that the planet cools more slowly than it otherwise would, as it is losing heat at a lower rate, but still receiving the incoming heat at the same rate. This leads to a new balance where the ground gets warmer until the rate of loss equals the rate of absorption (hot bodies lose heat faster than colder ones).

      The problem that a lot of people have with understanding this is the confusion between heat (a form of energy) and temperature (a measure of the heat energy content of a mass). In common parlance, these words are used interchangeably, but have significantly different technical meanings in physics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

        "The reason this leads to warming of the atmosphere is that carbon dioxide absorbs 'black body' infra-red radiation that is emitted from the ground (i.e. is heading into space and causing the planet to cool), and re-emits it in ALL directions, including back at the ground, essentially acting like a big blanket."

        Not a word about how as this warm carbon dioxide rises (as it naturally tends to do), then the chances of any radiation being re-emitted towards Earth drops, because Earth is a curved ball and not a flat surface? And not a word concerning the argument that, as this warm carbon dioxide rises to the thinnest, coldest levels of the troposphere, the odds of it re-emitting at all (or at least in any timely manner) also drop considerably?

        "Crucially, it is transparent to the higher frequencies of radiation coming from the sun, so these continue to heat the ground."

        Not a word about how much of the inbound sunlight (something on the order of 50%, IIRC) is actually infrared itself, and so will also be blocked by greenhouse gases, at least to some extent? And about how, as water vapor increases and rises and turns to clouds and ice, it will block even more of the incoming sunlight, at all wavelengths? Remember that blankets cut both ways - they may keep things in, but they also keep things out!

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

          Not a word about how as this warm carbon dioxide rises (as it naturally tends to do), then the chances of any radiation being re-emitted towards Earth drops, because Earth is a curved ball and not a flat surface?

          The carbon dioxide (which is evenly distributed in the atmosphere due to mixing and entropy) absorbs and re-emits the radiation, it doesn't magically warm up and separate from the other constituent gases in the atmosphere. To suggest so implies a fundamental lack of understanding of physics on a number of levels.

          Not a word about how much of the inbound sunlight (something on the order of 50%, IIRC) is actually infrared itself, and so will also be blocked by greenhouse gases, at least to some extent?

          Except, of course, where I say exactly that by pointing out that it is at a higher frequency, in other words, at a shorter wavelength than that infrared radiation that is emitted by the ground.

          The incoming radiation from the sun is actually spread broadly across the spectrum, from radio, through infrared, all the way up to ultraviolet and 'harder' radiation, which is blocked by the upper atmosphere. That which does reach the ground is absorbed and causes heating. This heating leads to the surface of the planet warming, and emitting black-body radiation, which has a different profile to its wavelength (depending on the temperature of the object emitting it). This has a much larger component in the frequency ranges that carbon dioxide molecules absorb at. If you don't know what this means (and you pretty obviously don't), I would suggest looking up the term 'black body radiation' on something like Wikipedia, which despite its faults is largely accurate on such topics. I would also suggest googling the terms "carbon dioxide infrared absorption profile", "earth black body emission profile" and "solar emission profile" and trying to understand how these are relevant to the conversation before you make a bigger fool of yourself. (hint - the results from such searches pretty neatly negate the argument you just made using real hard facts rather than opinions)

          1. Tom 13

            Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

            (which is evenly distributed in the atmosphere due to mixing and entropy)

            Got it. So that whole thing about the ozone layer protecting us from hard solar radiation is a myth. That's good to know. Can I please have my CFCs back now?

            The incoming radiation from the sun is actually spread broadly across the spectrum, from radio, through infrared, all the way up to ultraviolet and 'harder' radiation, which is blocked by the upper atmosphere.

            I see. So the sun is not itself a black body radiative transfer object. It actually spreads its spectrum evenly across all frequencies, unlike the Earth. That's good to know too.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

            "The carbon dioxide (which is evenly distributed in the atmosphere due to mixing and entropy) absorbs and re-emits the radiation, it doesn't magically warm up and separate from the other constituent gases in the atmosphere. To suggest so implies a fundamental lack of understanding of physics on a number of levels."

            I never said anything about separation; I merely stated that it would rise. And presumably after re-emission (in a direction that's less likely to hit the Earth the higher up it goes) then it would fall back down again, or at least stop rising. And there are those who argue that if it reaches a point in the atmosphere which is high enough and thin enough and cold enough, that it would basically not re-emit at all (and therefore no longer be much of a concern), but I don't know that I buy that yet.

            BTW, warm water vapor definitely rises (you may have noticed those things called "clouds"), and condenses in the process and releases its heat. And also, of course, the higher up it goes, the less likely that re-emitted heat energy is to be aimed at the Earth; plus the more likely there is to be cloud underneath to block that re-emission even if it was aimed at Earth. So there's that ...

            "Except, of course, where I say exactly that by pointing out that it is at a higher frequency, in other words, at a shorter wavelength than that infrared radiation that is emitted by the ground."

            So you willingly choose to ignore that portion of the Sun's spectrum which falls in the infrared range, and therefore might get blocked by greenhouse gases, just as the up-welling infrared might be? Why is that?

            And I don't need any lectures from you about black-body radiation or anything else along those lines. At this point in time, after keeping an eye on the situation for 10 or maybe 15 years now, I've probably reviewed, absorbed, and then mostly forgotten more about such things that you will ever even know about them yourself. Just because much of this probably goes over your head and you therefore can't think for yourself about it is no reason to project such a situation on me.

            BTW, I definitely fall into the "The more they know about the situation, the less concerned they are about it" camp. You used to hear complaints about this a lot from the climate change folks (that people who were better informed on the whole situation weren't too concerned about it), and they hated this! But I guess they've STFU about it now that they've come to realize how idiotic saying this makes them look.

        2. Schultz

          Not a word about how [...] this warm carbon dioxide rises [to] the troposphere [...]

          Hehehe, you are funny!

          Wikipedia: "the density of carbon dioxide is about 1.67 times that of air"

      2. Tom 13

        Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

        And in your attempt to disprove his claim, you reveal the fundamental problem with the Warmist theory: The primary mechanism for heat dispersal where this effect would be most pronounced is precisely NOT radiative transfer, but air movement itself followed by conductive transfer.

        1. Schultz

          Tom13: "The primary mechanism for heat dispersal [is] NOT radiative transfer, but air movement

          Hehehe, you are funny too!

          There is actually very little air movement between earth and space, that's how we keep the thing called atmosphere. So to describe the atmospheric energy balance, we only have to worry about radiative processes (plus minor contributions from nuclear processes on earth, ...).

    3. fritsd
      Trollface

      Re: There is NO Carbon forcing and NO phantom back radiation 'warming'....

      And Dutch farmers spend fortunes on fragile glass greenhouses, because it protects their tomatoes and peppers from the rain!

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Dutch farmers

        No they spend all that money to prevent air movement and conductive transfers. Which is the precise reason that CO2 cannot accurately be described as a greenhouse gas. It paints the wrong picture. Admittedly one favorable to the Warmist redistribution desires, but still wrong.

  13. Barely registers
    Boffin

    So you've reached 0.5c...

    and you left the energy source behind when you set off to ride a beam of laser light across the heavens.

    How do you slow down?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      "How do you slow down?"

      Reef in the photon sails and cast the anchor as ye pass a neutron star, me hearties.

    2. circusmole
      Joke

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      ...and how do you get home?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So you've reached 0.5c......and how do you get home?

        See my post above, except get close enough to the neutron star to swing around it and do a 180.

        Someone else can tell you how to deal with the sunburn problem.

    3. Dexter

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      How do you slow down?

      Get someone to point a big laser at you from the other direction, of course.

      Or just run into to something - that will slow you down quite quickly.

    4. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      Switch your headlights on.

    5. Andrew Newstead

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      Robert Forward had a plan for this. His sail is split into a number of concentric sections. At launch we have the full sail and maximum acceleration. When we want to decelerate we detach the outer section of the sail and focus the laser light reflecting off it on to the central section. The outer section goes flying onwards but the centre section and payload decelerates into the target system. Forward then goes on to suggest that you drop further sections to act as a reflector to drive the vehicle back to Sol and then use the laser on the centre section for deceleration into the Sol system.

      For reference see:

      http://www.transorbital.net/Library/D001_AxA.html

      Andrew

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      "How do you slow down?"

      Rather suddenly, I'd imagine.

    7. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: So you've reached 0.5c...

      If only Robert Forward had answered these questions thirty years ago. Oh, wait, he did.

      But props to all of you who felt the need to post this sort of question (or up-vote it) without spending fifteen seconds in online research.

      Hint: Use two lightsails.

  14. Paul Kinsler

    on the subject of climate science,

    here's an interesting take on how the scientific conclusions on climate differ from most; broadly that any conclusion useful to society at large is by /necessity/ a judgement made by averaging over a vast range of disparate data, models, simulation, and theory:

    http://scitation.aip.org/content/aip/magazine/physicstoday/article/68/9/10.1063/PT.3.2914

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Where are all the Big Thinkers?

    Are today's Scientists and Engineers too specialised? Like Freeman Dyson, the Boffins of the past seemed to be able to turn their hand (and minds) to a wide variety of subjects not just their own specific fields.

    We need more Big Thinkers, people with the vision to think past today's headline problems and propose realistic solutions for tomorrow's problems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Where are all the Big Thinkers?

      "Like Freeman Dyson, the Boffins of the past "

      Things are a lot more complicated nowadays because we know so much more about everything. The Manhattan Project relied on calculations that could be done by human beings and some clunky electromechanical card-fed calculators. That wouldn't suffice to design an engine cylinder head these days.

      The problem is that we old guys who grew up in the pre-computer days tend to think we know about stuff because we have no idea how big and complicated it has become. As a result our views tend to be laughably simplistic.

      (I think Dyson is right about fusion, String Theory and a few other things, but that probably tells you more about my education than it does about who is right.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Where are all the Big Thinkers?

        "Things are a lot more complicated nowadays because we know so much more about everything."

        As a data guy myself, I'd say that while we certainly have a lot more data these days (and the computing power needed to handle it), I'm not so sure that we actually have a whole lot more knowledge. The whole point of collecting the data is to extract knowledge from it, and from what I've seen in my time, this often entails someone with a relatively high level of cluelessness taking said data, massaging it in any number of fun and exciting ways (perhaps discarding data that they consider to be ambiguous, or maybe just inconvenient for whatever reasons), and extracting from it conclusions which may at best be weak, and at worst may be downright ridiculous; dangerous even. I've done this myself on occasion, in fact, so these days I have to remind myself that the data tends less to tell me certain things than just to imply certain things, and that these implications may very well be wrong!

        "The problem is that we old guys who grew up in the pre-computer days tend to think we know about stuff because we have no idea how big and complicated it has become. As a result our views tend to be laughably simplistic."

        Big and complicated isn't what you want, though; instead you want clear and concise! If you find yourself buried in data then you might as well just be making it up as you go along. In fact, I believe this is what tends to happen a lot these days - people just more-of-less make things up, then try to cover their tracks and shut down disagreement by saying "but look at all of our data", where the data itself may be mostly bogus or otherwise just generally unreliable and useless. Those of us who have actually looked at some of the older climate data and know how that was acquired will tell you that much of that falls into this category (generally unreliable and useless). Hopefully more recent data is of much higher quality - as well it should be. But when even "modern, reliable sources" tend to disagree with each other to a great extent, then you still have to wonder sometimes.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Where are all the Big Thinkers?

      There are still plenty of prominent polymaths. They're just easier to recognize in hindsight, so it seems like there were more in some past eras than there are in the present.

      Also, of course, some (e.g. Frank Ramsey) who died young, which again makes it seem like such people were more common in the past. Ramsey's not a great example because he certainly wouldn't be alive today even if he hadn't died young, but that's the sort of person I'm talking about.

      But polymaths are not necessarily "Big Thinkers", and neither group has a particularly spectacular record at "propos[ing] realistic solutions for tomorrow's problems".

  16. scatter

    "How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?"

    Or... just maybe it's not your field and you don't know what you're talking about.

    His arrogance is pretty breathtaking.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Or... just maybe it's not your field and you don't know what you're talking about"

      Yet if he were speaking from the other side of the argument, then he would no doubt be held up as an esteemed, senior paragon of science who rightfully agrees with the "consensus" on climate change. This despite the fact that he "doesn't know what he's talking about". :)

      "His arrogance is pretty breathtaking."

      Or ... he's speaking from decades of experience dealing with actual science (as she is done) and actual scientists - and research organizations, and funding apparatus, and so on - and as such knows what's really going on behind the scenes here. And if you were like me then you might see where's he's coming from, and you'd probably subscribe to the idea that 50% of what passes for science these days is actually just so much crap - designed primarily to get papers published, grants funded, and careers enhanced. (Much of the time I feel that this number is being overly generous on my part, too.)

      1. scatter

        He'd add no more weight to climate science than, say, Stephen Hawking does, and Hawking's support for climate science doesn't make the blindest bit of difference to anything at all so I don't get your point.

        If denigrating an *entire* field of science isn't arrogant I don't know what is.

      2. Tom 13

        Re: this number is being overly generous

        When in doubt, stick with Sturgeon's observation: 90% of everything is crap.

        Dyson probably concurs with this observation, but is too polite to put it so crudely.

  17. TonyK

    IAS is not Princeton U

    Dyson worked at the Institute for Advanced Study, not Princeton University.

  18. Tim99 Silver badge

    Citations

    Could El Reg please mark amendments to articles after they have been published please?

    Originally the link to the article by Indur Goklany referred to it being published by GWSP (Global Water System Project) instead of the corrected reference to GWPF (The Global Warming Policy Foundation). Although the article was locked for comments while the changes were reviewed, this is potentially confusing - Particularly in this case, as the two organizations have different purposes.

  19. jsam

    The secretly funded Global Warmers' Propaganda Fund?

    I see your Dyson and raise you a Hawking on climate change.

    1. Steelhead

      Or the other "King of Science", Richard Dawkins! But as Professor of the Public Understanding of Science his views would probably be as welcome here as at a Fundamentalist Christian meeting on the infallibility of scripture.

  20. LionelB

    The role of models in Science

    I think there are widespread misconceptions about the role of scientific models. A common perception seems to be that the purpose of a model is to replicate as closely as possible every detail of the phenomenon we are trying to understand. This is both unrealistic (cf. Rosenblueth & Wiener's maxim: ""The best material model for a cat is another cat, or preferably the same cat") and frequently unproductive. Rather, models turn out to be most useful when they distill or abstract a particular aspect of a problem, in answer to specific questions.

    An excellent example (one with which I am personally familiar) is the Ising model in statistical physics. Ostensibly a model for ferromagnetism, on one level it is complete rubbish - it is a gross simplification that comes nowhere near capturing the gory details of ferromagnetism in the physical world. What the Ising model does do, though, is completely nail the phenomenon of (second-order) phase transitions, which are ubiquitous and of great importance in physics and beyond; it has been said that (almost) everything we know about phase transitions originates from studying the Ising model. In short, if you want to characterise and accurately predict every aspect of the behaviour of a ferromagnetic material, the Ising model is not your friend; if, on the other hand, you want to understand and predict specifically the ferromagnetic phase transition, you need look no further.

    The reasons for this are illuminating: it turns out that phase transitions fall into "universality classes", so that very diverse critical phenomena display identical behaviour around their phase transitions. The minutiae of the physical process underlying the transition is irrelevant - all you need to know is which universality class the transition falls under (and this may in general be ascertained experimentally). Equally importantly, the Ising model is tractable; it may be fully solved analytically (with great difficulty, as it happens, despite the simplicity of the model itself). I believe it remains to this day (the original solution was in the 1940s) the only fully-solved model of a phase transition.

    The relevance of this to the climate debate is that, to my mind, there is little enlightenment in obsessing over how accurately (or not) the latest horrendously complex all-singing-all-dancing computer simulation captures the insane complexity of the climate dynamics of our planet. Rather than trying to "model the cat" we should instead seek specific questions about climate (change) that can be abstracted and, hopefully, nailed, by simple, tractable and testable models.

    Oh, and also, can we be a little wary of Great Scientists pontificating outside of their comfort zone* (cf. James Watson, ...)? Of course scientific consensuses (consensi?) do sometimes turn out to be wrong, but more frequently they do not.

    *Having not yet achieved Greatness, I am permitted to do this.

    1. Squander Two

      Re: The role of models in Science

      > models turn out to be most useful when they distill or abstract a particular aspect of a problem

      Such as the temperature?

      > in answer to specific questions

      Such as "What will the temperature be?"?

      Less facetiously, yes, good point. Another excellent example of successful oversimplified modelling is the various pre-Keplerian models of planetary movements. Despite their insistence on making all astronomical bodies follow paths constructed of perfect circles (often quite contrived combinations of circles), some of those models were good enough to make accurate centuries-long predictions.

      Of course, we now know that the heavens are not eternally unchanging and that planetary orbits will change over very long timescales. So, whilst those models were brilliant at predicting movements within this small fraction of astronomical time human civilization exists in, they're useless at modelling the eventual departure from this apparent equilibrium and what might happen next, or at explaining what happened before.

      Ferromagnetic phase transition, on the other hand, is a more universal thing: it was the same a billion years ago, it'll be the same in a billion years, and it's the same whether you're standing on planet Earth or flying through some other galaxy.

      It strikes me that these are essentially different circumstances to model: something universal, or near enough universal, and something that only pertains in specific local conditions. In the latter case, we need to know the limits of what can be accurately described by a simple model so that we may then make confident predictions up to those limits and equally confidently assert "No idea" beyond them.

      So the question is: have climatologists figured out those limits yet?

      Meteorologists have.

      1. LionelB

        Re: The role of models in Science

        "It strikes me that these are essentially different circumstances to model: something universal, or near enough universal, and something that only pertains in specific local conditions."

        Local conditions? Surely current climate science pertains to every earth-like planet with an earth-like sun, earth-like geology and earth-like biosphere and ecology in its anthropocene post-industrial epoch?

        "In the latter case, we need to know the limits of what can be accurately described by a simple model so that we may then make confident predictions up to those limits and equally confidently assert "No idea" beyond them."

        Fair point, though: unless you can establish some degree of universality (and even, to some degree, if you can) you never really know what the limits of validity of a model are without testing it against the real world - which can, of course, be problematic in climate science, where we only have a single realisation of the process we're trying to model. I wouldn't, however, rule out the possibility of establishing some manner of universality for a given "toy" climate model. Dynamical systems theory, for instance, throws up some nice, robust topological features (in terms of phase portraits, attractor basins, ...) that might conceivably be relevant to climate dynamics.

        1. Squander Two

          Re: The role of models in Science

          > unless you can establish some degree of universality (and even, to some degree, if you can) you never really know what the limits of validity of a model are without testing it against the real world

          The thing I should have added about pre-Keplerian astronomical models is that humans had been staring at the night sky and keeping meticulous and pretty damn accurate records of what they saw since the Babylonians, so those models were based on a hell of a lot of data -- so could easily be tested against the real world. Climatologists just don't have that advantage.

          I think my point is that, to develop a simplified model, you either need real-world comparison or you need to develop complicated models that include everything and then figure out which variables can be removed. Which is a bugger.

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: The role of models in Science

      "blah blah blah"

      Weather, climate. Examples of 'chaotic' systems.

      Unless the model heavily leans on (for example) the work of Mandelbrot, then it's based on ignorance of the first order.

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

        Re: The role of models in Science

        > ... work of Mandelbrot ...

        You have not studied any of it. Otherwise cite the publication you read.

      2. Squander Two

        Re: The role of models in Science

        > Weather, climate. Examples of 'chaotic' systems.

        Weather is a chaotic system. Last I checked, climatologists were still trying to figure out whether climate is chaotic.

    3. Tom 13

      Re: hopefully, nailed, by simple, tractable and testable models.

      Well, that's where the male bovine waste hits the oscillating air mover.

      You'll NEVER have a Simple + Tractable + Testable Model. At best you MIGHT get a testable one. There's a very simple reason for that. Weather, and therefore Climate are not simple or tractable. In fact, much of what we've (re)discovered about Chaos Theory comes from a simple mistake made a long time ago by a weather modeler.

      Back in the days when green and white sheets of pin fed paper were the sine qua non of any real computer lab, a couple of guys were running a model when the power failed. No problem, they had the printouts. So all they had to do was take the printouts, feed in the last full line of data and restart the program. But to be sure everything was good they backed it out a couple dozen lines to make sure everything checked. It almost did. So they backed it up a few more lines. This time the results were worse. So they moved it back a few more lines. And got a third result. And that's when the brain cells clicked: they'd been keeping twice the precision in the computer that they'd been printing. So they'd never get back to the starting point again.

      Now those guys were only trying to model the simple aspects of something to improve their long range (about 5 days back then) forecast.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: The role of models in Science

      can we be a little wary of Great Scientists pontificating outside of their comfort zone

      Watson's a good example. So is Pauling, who received two Nobels (admittedly one was the always-quixotic Peace Prize) and still managed to promote a dangerously wrong-headed agenda when working outside his field.

      There's an entertaining Cracked article on this sort of thing. Take with a considerable dose of salt, of course.

  21. Yugguy

    One of the wisest things I've ever read.

    http://edge.org/documents/archive/edge68.html

    Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

    Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance. The media rarely mention the fact that the great majority of religious people belong to moderate denominations that treat science with respect, or the fact that the great majority of scientists treat religion with respect so long as religion does not claim jurisdiction over scientific questions. In the little town of Princeton where I live, we have more than twenty churches and at least one synagogue, providing different forms of worship and belief for different kinds of people. They do more than any other organizations in the town to hold the community together. Within this community of people, held together by religious traditions of human brotherhood and sharing of burdens, a smaller community of professional scientists also flourishes.

    1. Eclectic Man

      Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

      "Trouble arises when either science or religion claims universal jurisdiction, when either religious dogma or scientific dogma claims to be infallible. Religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive."

      Problems often arise when one groups (scientists or religionists) mis-represent the others' beliefs and stataments. I have often heard on the BBC Radio 4 religious 'Thought for the Day' slot, religious people mis-representing scientists as 'claiming they know how the universe works'.

    2. LionelB

      Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

      So science and religion get along just fine as long as they respect the other's jurisdiction. And who draws the lines of jurisdiction? Which side do the origins of the universe/life/consciousness fall on? (The answers may just depend on who you ask.)

      I'm always irritated when religious folk say something along the lines of "Oh, as a scientist your system of beliefs also depends on faith." No, it doesn't! I used to respond that if there was an article of faith in science it is that the world is amenable to understanding via (human) rational thought. Then I realised that I don't even believe that. In fact I take the "world is amenable to reason" more as a working hypothesis: if someone produced a rigorous proof tomorrow that 1 + 1 = 3 (and according to Godel's Theorem we can never rule that out - we can't know for sure whether any [reasonably powerful] system of reasoning we might adopt is consistent), then I'd have to renounce science as unfeasible - at least until an alternative, viable and not-yet-proven-inconsistent system of reasoning turned up - and I wouldn't have any faith in that happening either :)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

        "Oh, as a scientist your system of beliefs also depends on faith." No, it doesn't!

        Actually it does - because you and others like you tend to have way too much blind faith that "scientists" (who I often now refer to as "the high priests of science") are in fact doing what they do the way they claim to do it (strict adherence to the scientific method and principles), are generally above suspicion, are the only ones really capable of interpreting various pieces of data, and so on. This isn't much different from actual priests claiming that since they are "men of God", they should be above suspicion, you should always listen to them concerning spiritual matters because they are the only ones capable of interpreting God's intent, and so on. Total BS, either way.

        The fact is that scientists are just as human and fallible as the rest of us; tend to publish papers less to enhance scientific knowledge than to enhance their own careers; aren't nearly as good at peer review as they like to pretend to be; and as a group aren't nearly as good at getting science "back on track" (the whole "science is self-correcting" thing) than they like to pretend, either. (Or at least the timeliness of this aspect of science too often seems to be lacking.)

        It simply amazes me that so many people are so willingly gullible here. But then I remember that mankind seems to have a compelling need to believe in something ("have faith"), and for a lot of people these days science seems to fill that role. In other words, it's their new religion. :)

        1. Steelhead

          Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

          Totally agree. There are serious holes in evolutionary theory and the measurements of the age of the Earth. These range from entropy issues and the inability to explain how molecular machines could evolve independently yet which only have any function when they work together. There is at least as much evidence against evolution as there is against climate change but because there is no money to be made denying evolution compared with global warming, our beloved El Reg never reports it. You are happy to deny the consensus when it suites your anti-Green world view but not when it admits to believing in the infallible Word of God. Both Global Warming and Evolution have serious issues with well publicized criticisms in both well published and at least 0.0001% of scientists working in each field seriously disagreeing with them (at least after they have had enough to drink) and with plenty more who know very little about either field but with credentials in totally unrelated areas all too happy to expound their biases in the hope that the uneducated masses might believe that a physicist or economist knows more about climate change or evolutionary theory than someone who has spent their entire career working in it.

          The world is 6000 years old, created by an old man in a white beard and is cooling, at least until the rapture happens when you will all BURN!

          1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
            Stop

            Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

            "The world is 6000 years old, created by an old man in a white beard and is cooling, at least until the rapture happens when you will all BURN!"

            I'm calling Poe on this one.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

              "I'm calling Poe on this one."

              It never used to be necessary to add an [irony] tag to posts on El Reg. Truly the average IQ of the Internets (which was quite high in the early days) will asymptote at 100.

        2. LionelB

          @ac: Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

          "Oh, as a scientist your system of beliefs also depends on faith." No, it doesn't!

          Actually it does - because you and others like you tend to have way too much blind faith that "scientists"

          What are you trying to say? That because there is some bad science (sure, there're bad hairdressers too) and some gullible attitudes to science, therefore science is like a religion? That makes zero sense to me. And what on earth do you mean by "you and others like you"? I am a scientist and certainly don't recognise your view of scientists, neither in myself nor among my peers. Sounds like you've bought into some trendy science-bashing package - I guess that's a lot less effort than actually trying to understand the stuff.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: What are you trying to say?

            What he is telling you is that you are no better than the Inquisitors you condemn. You seem to have chosen not to study religion and therefore do not, and are not capable of understanding that you have elevated Science to Godhood and now condemn all the heretics to burn in hell.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @ac: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

            "What are you trying to say? That because there is some bad science (sure, there're bad hairdressers too) and some gullible attitudes to science, therefore science is like a religion?"

            No, I thought I was very clear in what I was trying to say. Namely, that you and others like you (be they scientists or non-scientists) all too often act as if it's a matter of blind faith that "scientists" (note the quotes) uniformly and consistently operate on principles which are designed to move knowledge forward in the name of "science". (Again note the quotes; note also that I'm trying to make a clear distinction here between "scientists" and "science".)

            In other words, far too many people seem to be far too willing to believe that a "scientist" would never publish a weak, sloppy, or maybe even fabricated paper simply because "it's been a while now and I need to get something out there", or "I'm trying to get tenure", or "I've got to show something for all of that grant money I've spent", or what have you. Or that they wouldn't chase funding just because it's there and they've got mouths to feed and bills to pay. Or that they wouldn't jump on a bandwagon along with the rest of their peers because, in a peer-review based system where everyone is fighting tooth-and-nail for the same funding and to get their work published, they need to go along with the flow and not rock the boat too much, lest they get stabbed in the back or shunned or what have you. Or that they wouldn't come up with a theory first and then try to bend the available data (which might be quite sparse and perhaps of questionable quality to begin with) in order to fit that theory. And so on.

            And BTW, I was into "scientist"-bashing well before it became trendy, thank you very much! :)

      2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

        "Science and religion are two windows that people look through"

        Except that religion's window is stained glass. Lots of pretty pictures to look at (along with an occasionally nice but more often horrible story) but essentially useless if you want to see the outside world. Meanwhile science is working at reducing the reflection on its window to one part in ten billion.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

      "In the little town of Princeton where I live, we have more than twenty churches and at least one synagogue, providing different forms of worship and belief for different kinds of people. They do more than any other organizations in the town to hold the community together."

      Hence Stephen Gould's Erastian solution of the non-overlapping magisteria that enables everybody to live together peaceably.

    4. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

      Simple enough then, get rid of the dogma. Science can manage quite well without it, as the basic idea is to question things until you get an answer consistent with all observations. Religion, not so much.

    5. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

      >Science and religion are two windows that people look through, trying to understand the big universe outside, trying to understand why we are here. The two windows give different views, but they look out at the same universe. Both views are one-sided, neither is complete. Both leave out essential features of the real world. And both are worthy of respect.

      BS, religion is not worthy of respect. People who gob the crap are worthy of respect, though ... it was not their choice to be brain-washed, actually, it was, in most cases, the fault of parents who happily "assimilate" their young before they know any better. You would not want your kids to laugh you out the house every morning, would you ?

      All religions are bullshit that we have introduced in the past to impose ethics and morals, to try and help those who cannot be otherwise stopped from stealing, killing etc ... The irony is that these religions, all religions WITHOUT exception, happily ask of their faithful that they kill, steal, rape, torture ... you name it, in "god's" name.

      Today, we are more and more replacing religious belief with patriotism. We as a community are better than you numpties because we live on right side of the pond/mountains/river....!

      1. Yugguy

        Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

        "All religions are bullshit that we have introduced in the past to impose ethics and morals,"

        I freely admit that my belief in God is completely unprovable and I would never try to impose it on anyone. It also does not conflict with my belief in a big bang, stellar and human evolution etc.

        However, I am a logical chap, and part of my belief is based on what I think is a very rational, empirical observation, and one that has been made by many better and wiser people than me, humanists amongst them.

        And that is that the human race as a whole does not have the maturity to create or live up to a high enough code of ethics and morals. We cannot look after our environment or protect the vulnerable in our society. We destroy each other at the drop of a hat and we revel in it.

        And if you think that if religions were banned we'd all be living in some Star Trek style utopia then I'd say you'd be sadly disappointed. Until/unless we can change basic human nature to grasp, consume and destroy we'd just use another excuse to abuse each other.

        Science and religion do not have to be enemies or incompatible.

        Let the votedown commence. (;->

        1. LionelB

          Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

          "I freely admit that my belief in God is completely unprovable ..."

          That seems to miss the point of the science/religion debate: science cannot "prove" anything either (although mathematics can), only provide evidence for---or, maybe more importantly---against a proposition. The key point is evidence. Religious people tend to see evidence for their beliefs - I don't, personally.

          "It also does not conflict with my belief in a big bang, stellar and human evolution etc."

          That must surely involve some serious cherry-picking of religious dogma.

          "... and I would never try to impose it on anyone." Glad to hear that. As a scientist I too have little desire to police the contents of anyone's head (persuasion, maybe with a little shouting, is fine by me).

          "... the human race as a whole does not have the maturity to create or live up to a high enough code of ethics and morals."

          I don't think that science has much useful to say about ethics and morality (and no, I don't think evolutionary science has any bearing here). But nor does religion have a privileged status regarding morality and/or ethics (although it frequently likes to think it does). There is absolutely no requirement that ethical/moral codes be based on religion. (And I won't point out that many of the ethical/moral messages in classical scriptures are horrendous... oops, I just did.)

          What I really don't get is how your (distressingly pessimistic) view of human nature leads you to belief in a god. To me that's a non-sequitur. I'm genuinely puzzled how that works.

          "And if you think that if religions were banned ..."

          Who (apart from adherents of other religions) seriously wants to ban religions?

          "Science and religion do not have to be enemies or incompatible."

          Science (by which, of course, I mean "good" science) is anti-dogmatic, and demands evidence as the bottom line. Religion... isn't and doesn't. Hard to reconcile those things without some uncomfortable double-think.

          1. Yugguy

            Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

            "That must surely involve some serious cherry-picking of religious dogma"

            I've never been one for dogma, or organised, heirarchical churches. And I would definitely say there are many very un-christian churchgoers. Doesnt matter what you call yourself, and it doesnt matter how much theology you might study, if you're not at least trying to live by Christ's example then you can't be a Christian. I get as annoyed as anyone when fundies quote "WIVES OBEY YOUR HUSBANDS" yet fail to bother with the next line - "husbands love your wives as Christ loves his church". Well, Christ served and then died for his people.

            "What I really don't get is how your (distressingly pessimistic) view of human nature leads you to belief in a god. To me that's a non-sequitur. I'm genuinely puzzled how that works."

            We are incomplete without God's help. And we have an inbult need to worship something greater than ourselves. If we all lived according to love you neighbour then the world would be a better place but w cannot do that by ourselves.

            "Who (apart from adherents of other religions) seriously wants to ban religions?" Believe me, I've seen many a post saying exactly that, and yes, I know, it is only the Internet.

            That said I really must stop posting about religion or politics it's playing havoc with my vote up/down ratio.

            1. LionelB

              Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

              "I've never been one for dogma ..."

              ... followed by a whole lot of ... dogma.

              "That said I really must stop posting about religion or politics it's playing havoc with my vote up/down ratio."

              Hey, chill, no-one's voting you down (yet) - least of all me. Just bantah.

              1. Yugguy

                Re: One of the wisest things I've ever read.

                Yeah I know I should have smileyed.

                I'm trying to keep a 4 good 1 bad ratio.

                Well it beats working.

                (;->

  22. Eclectic Man

    Disturbing the Universe

    Dyson wrote a sort of autobiography a while ago called "Disturbing the Universe", as I recall there is an amusing anecdote about a road trip with Richard Feynmann and a speeding ticket.

    As for the solar sail balancing on a laser beam, what happens if funding for the laser beam is used up, and it gets, turned off?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Disturbing the Universe

      "as I recall there is an amusing anecdote about a road trip with Richard Feynmann and a speeding ticket."

      Didn't Feynman [one terminal n] actually get multiple speeding tickets and a record fine?

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: Disturbing the Universe

      "what happens if funding for the laser beam is used up, and it gets, turned off?"

      You end up with one very pissed off probe which you better hope doesn't meet some sort of vast machine intelligence.

  23. Greymouser

    Good article, and what an interesting guy. Would love to hear more from him

    1. harmjschoonhoven
      Boffin

      Re: Would love to hear more from him

      You could try ADVANCED QUANTUM MECHANICS

      Lecture notes by Professor F. J. Dyson, Cornell University 1951.

      http://arxiv.org/pdf/quant-ph/0608140.pdf

  24. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  25. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. bigtimehustler

      How do you know he hasn't bothered to study it? Because he doesn't agree with you and who you agree with? Seems rather a quick conclusion to jump to... but hey, dismissal is better than upsetting the status quo right?

      1. Tom 13

        Re: How do you know he hasn't bothered to study it?

        There is one sense in which he has studied it. The reason I eventually moved to fixing computers instead of sticking with astronomy: he's studied and grasped a number of fundamental mathematical concepts. If you've mastered that you can apply it to ANY of the real sciences. Physics is the one where it is most visibly connected and which has the closest ties. Chemistry is a close second. Biology is still tolerable, as are mixes of these three. Beyond those boundaries, it's mostly throwing the bones and reading the tea leaves. Sending a mathematician in there is like putting a fox in the hen house.

  26. IanDs

    Just because somebody is a world expert in [thing A] doesn't mean they're any more of an expert in [thing B] than a random passerby. Of course they might know a lot about [thing B] or they might be spouting utter drivel, there's no way to be sure.

    Yes it's possible that more than 95% of the scientists on the planet who actually understand all the issues about climate change are wrong about global warming. But it's 20x more likely that the other 5% who say it's not caused by man are wrong, and this ratio is going up year by year.

    If we believe the 95% and decide to seriously do something about it, the worst that can happen if they're wrong is some fossil fuel companies will make less money and lifestyles will have to change to reduce energy consumption.

    If we believe the 5% and hope the problem will go away and they're wrong, the worst that can happen is massive flooding, food shortages leading to starvation, wildlife extinction, and massive disruption of the world economy and life as we know it.

    Given the odds and the consequences, any rational person -- even a gambler with no opinion either way on who was right but just considering the odds -- would conclude that it's much better to assume that the >95% are right and the <5% are wrong.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Interestingly, your "odds" argument sounds an awful lot like the religious argument that goes something like "Better to believe in God and maybe go to Heaven, than to not believe and maybe go to Hell." To which the logical response is, "OK, then, if that's the case, then which God (or gods) should I believe in - because there are so many!" And almost invariably the comeback will be "Well, MY God, of course! And not just my God, but also my particular religious affiliation!", and so on. :) It's mostly a self-serving, specious argument, in other words. :)

      As to the "expert" thing, I find it interesting that certain groups will point to non-experts in a matter when they want to try and make their numbers look larger ("consensus"), but then attack such non-experts if they point out any potential flaws in their argument. And even non-experts can peruse raw data and do the relevant analysis and math, and may find things lacking there, even if they don't necessarily understand where all of that data originated and how certain conclusions were arrived at by the experts. In fact, they might actually be the best ones to look at such data, at least at first, because they'll come in with the relevant basic analysis skills but without necessarily any preconceived notions of what they're maybe going to find there.

      As to your 95% (or 97%, or 99% - this number keeps changing, it seems), it helps to know how these numbers were arrived at. In one instance, for example, they started out by surveying something like 12,000 scientists in various fields concerning their beliefs concerning climate change. Then, when only about half of those folks responded and they found no consensus, they narrowed this down to a much smaller number, then narrowed it down yet again to only a relative handful. Then they claimed "97% consensus". But this was 97% of that select few, not 97% of the great many, only you wouldn't know that unless you read the fine print.

      Similar "9x%" claims have played similar games to get to their numbers, too. In one other instance, it pretty much looks like they just computer-scanned a bunch of published papers for words and phrases related to climate change. And whenever they found one, unless they looked at it and saw where it specifically said something like "Climate change is a non-issue", then they just went ahead and automatically put it in the "consensus" column, whether it actually took such a position or not. It's easy enough to get high numbers when you do something like that.

      1. IanDs

        And your point is what, exactly?

        The numbers (95% and 5%) are taken from international reviews of the opinions of experts in the field of climate science. If you'd rather believe pseudo-scientific people who aren't experts that's your prerogative, I'd rather listen to people who are likely to know what they're talking about.

        There are still a few climate change deniers -- many of them scientists with links to fossil fuel and allied industries, which doesn't increase my confidence that they're impartial -- but the numbers are falling year by year as the evidence against them builds up.

        Even if you're one of them and convinced that you're right and all the others are wrong, you still need to think about the consequences of you being wrong (mass starvation etc.) compared to the consequences of them being wrong (reduced oil company profits, no more SUVs to look big in).

        Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "The numbers (95% and 5%) are taken from international reviews of the opinions of experts in the field of climate science. If you'd rather believe pseudo-scientific people who aren't experts that's your prerogative, I'd rather listen to people who are likely to know what they're talking about."

          Sadly, you appear to be taking it as a matter of "blind faith" that the people behind these numbers aren't actively deceiving you with their methods! If you were to look more closely into the matter (as I have) then you probably come to the conclusion (as I have) that these numbers are mostly BS. Other numbers that I've seen, derived using other methods, range from (IIRC) a surprisingly low 3% to more like 50%, give or take. I'm not saying that these numbers are necessarily any more believable than the other numbers, but they're a long way from 95%+!

          When you talk to many scientists privately about such matters, it seems that a lot more of them are actually on the fence about it than those high numbers would indicate. When pressed, though, they also tend to fall back onto the "but I'm no expert on climate change" line. Very few of them, it seems, have actually bothered to look into it for themselves, even cursorily - which is a shame.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: When you talk to many scientists privately about such matters

            That's falling for the biggest part of the lie the Warmists push. You've fallen for the bit where they've lied about it being the scientists who call the shots. They aren't.

            The ones who call the shots are the administrators running their organizations. Administrators who might once have been scientists but are now managers and fiefdom builders. If you want to know what's going on, THOSE are the people you have to catch in a rare moment of candor.

            Oddly enough these days the IT tech working on their desktops are nearly as invisible as the American negro was circa 1940. Which gives rise to the ultimate reason I'll never believe the Warmists. I've been in the room when the head of one of the big agencies driving all this crap admitted they needed to get on the AWG funding train to grow the agency. Not to me. They'd never make that mistake in a direct comment to me. They made it during a conference meeting to get someone to accept that even if they thought the science was questionable, they needed to be on board with the agency plan and budget requests for the next fiscal year.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          (continuation of earlier response)

          "There are still a few climate change deniers -- many of them scientists with links to fossil fuel and allied industries, which doesn't increase my confidence that they're impartial -- but the numbers are falling year by year as the evidence against them builds up."

          Actually, from my point of view (looking at it from both sides of the matter) the "evidence" trend appears to be going somewhat the other way. We currently have, for example, scientists starting to freak out about a great cold spot which has apparently formed in the North Atlantic, and which is probably going to play hell with their most dire global warming predictions for Europe and elsewhere. We'll just have to see how all of this plays out, won't we? :)

          "Even if you're one of them and convinced that you're right and all the others are wrong, you still need to think about the consequences of you being wrong (mass starvation etc.) compared to the consequences of them being wrong (reduced oil company profits, no more SUVs to look big in)."

          One of the pillars of the AGW crowd is that we have to stop using fossil fuels right away - the sooner, the better. (I should point out that I am no particular fan of some fossil fuels myself.) And that we have to completely revamp pretty much everything we're doing when it comes to modern agricultural practices. (I should point out that I'm no particular fan of some modern agricultural practices myself.) But what would be the effect of doing this in a harsh and short-sighted fashion? Mass starvation, maybe? And it's easy to turn this argument on its head, too. As in, why risk mass starvation and such in the short term, just on the off-chance that the most dire global warming predictions are accurate in the long term?

          1. John Hughes

            Re: (continuation of earlier response)

            We currently have, for example, scientists starting to freak out about a great cold spot which has apparently formed in the North Atlantic, and which is probably going to play hell with their most dire global warming predictions for Europe and elsewhere.
            You shouldn't believe everything you read in el-Reg, especially stuff about global warming.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: (continuation of earlier response)

              Sorry to disappoint you, but I didn't read about this here. In fact, I haven't yet seen where they've even mentioned it, so maybe now I'll have to go look! :)

    2. Tom 13

      Re: somebody is a world expert in [thing A]

      Yes, but Dyson isn't an expert in [thing A]. He's an expert in mathematics. And so long as [thing A] is a science, that means he's an expert in the most critical part of whatever [thing A] is. So if Dyson says the math [thing A] proponents are using is frelled beyond belief, it's 99.999999% likely it is.

    3. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      ...Just because somebody is a world expert in [thing A] doesn't mean they're any more of an expert in [thing B] than a random passerby....

      Actually, he's the world No. 1 scientist. And so when he says that climate science is not science, he KNOWS what he's talking about...

  27. mtp

    Scientists say that X

    I am so allergic to the phrase "Scientists say that X". It crops up so many times in the popular literature (newspapers+tv) frequently with some fringe theory not backed up by statistics. Not reporting science would be much better than reporting anything that is pushed hard but with minimal significance.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Scientists say that X

      You should probably just automatically read that as "Scientists *claim* that X" - which clearly implies that they may very well be wrong, as they so often are. And then when they are eventually *shown* to be wrong, you can chime in (along with the true-believers) with the chorus of "Of course - because that's how science *works*". That is, it often "works" by jumping from one incorrect claim to another - hopefully maybe getting somewhat closer to the actual truth in the process. :)

  28. mememine69

    Welcome to Liberalism's Iraq War

    No matter how much you "believers" exaggerate a science that has never said a threat to our very existence was "PROVEN", it still won't stop another 34 MORE years of global disbelief and climate action delay to SAVE THE PLANET.

    Welcome to liberalism's Iraq War.

    1. Bleu

      Re: Welcome to Liberalism's Iraq War

      You are very off-topic.

  29. Steelhead

    Top Boffin??? What next, "Interview with David Ike"?

  30. Philip Lewis

    Conflation 101

    " Pollution is quite separate to the climate problem: one can be solved, and the other cannot, and the public doesn't understand that."

    Here in Europe Connie Hedegaard conflates these two things every time she opens her mouth. She is despicable in my opinion, a duplicitous weasel.

    It is hardly surprising that Joe Average is doesn't understand, he is being lied to on a daily basis by people exploiting the situation (politicians) as they drive blindfolded, headlong into their New World Order of Global Government.

    /endrant

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Conflation 101

      I for one welcome our new lizard overlords. Clearly they are way way cleverer than all of us, because they manage to hide their path to global government so successfully behind a façade of government by rich lobbyists, weird right wing loons and recycled banker/layers and stockbrokers.

      I look forward to the day when the UN helicopters parachute their crack climate storm-troopers into every house, grabbing the guns even off defenceless 8 year olds, who won't be able to assert their right to play with the neighbour's puppy, while the leaders of the free and not so free world peel off their masks and show their true scaly commienesss. Or not.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Maybe we should search for WMD's or invent Chinese ISIS so we can invade them for there natural resources.

  32. StudeJeff

    Dr. Dyson is a self admitted 0bama fan and in spite of that after reading the interview I find that I really like this guy. He's uber smart, has lots of common sense (in spite of that 0bama thing), and is saying things that need to be said.

    Bravo Dr. Dyson and thank you Register for publishing this.

  33. Bleu

    in 300 years

    I am pessimistic.

    He may be remembered as the designer of a new type of vacuum cleaner.

    The whole laser-driven light-sails idea is interesting, but a general idea, not his, and begs the question of what slows one down before reaching a destination.

    ... and where to go.

    My opinion is that, while people will likely walk on Mars in this century, it will be pointless, a completely non-sustainable presence for now.

    1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

      Re: in 300 years

      ...He may be remembered as the designer of a new type of vacuum cleaner....

      Oh, dear - moron alert...

  34. Louis Schreurs BEng

    He's just another science dude like Einstein and Feynman, they were right about some things and wrong about other stuff.

  35. Yugguy

    Feynman

    Can't remember if it's been posted already, but here is a link to the famous Feynman lectures.

    http://feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/

    Fascinating stuff.

  36. danwat1234

    Carbon Dioxide helps more than it hurst? Oh goodness, I guess the majority of scientists and Elon Musk are wrong.

    1. Philip Lewis

      Only under a very narrow definition of "majority"

      As for Elon, he has a great deal of money invested in tech companies that exists because of the issue - it is hardly likely he would have a differing opinion.

  37. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

    ...How about altering spacetime in front of the ship?...

    I think I see a problem here.

    If you're going to alter spacetime in this dimension, how do you know where the front of the ship is?

  38. mashman

    "How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?"

    They are not "blind to obvious facts" - they simply do not care about the facts. They either are part of what Eisenhower's 'Scientific Technological Elite', and are simply providing the government what it requires to receive funding, or they choose to be "blind to obvious facts" because it furthers their political beliefs - such as higher energy costs like Secretary Chu, or larger government control of economies.

    Those in both camps scare me, but those in the ends justify the means camp anger me the most.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      So by "the ends justify the means", do you mean something like the following?

      "On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but - which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we'd like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased support, to capture the public's imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. ***So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.*** This 'double ethical bind' we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both."

      That was from the late, "great" Stephen Schneider back in 1989. I went ahead and included the entire paragraph here because he would later complain that his words were being quoted out of context. Personally I think that the highlighted sentence pretty well sums things up, but judge it as you will. It would appear that the climate change community really took it to heart, though, especially after his death in 2010.

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