How Consensus Killed the Genius

I’ve got another question for you: What have the pioneers of quantum electrodynamics (QED) and quantum chromodynamics (QCD) to do with climate science?

The answer is: Perhaps more than they should.

In one case, the connection exists because the gentleman concerned, Freeman Dyson, chose to make public his sceptical views – largely to his personal disadvantage. Furthermore, one of the fathers of QCD, Murray Gell-Mann, also threw his hat into the ring before he died. Perhaps the most famous amongst this group, Richard Feynman, remained silent on the subject, but even he has been posthumously roped into the debate (and what he would have thought of that is purely a matter for speculation). The point is, whether dead or alive (and I’m afraid ‘dead’ is the more appropriate adjective for all of the above) these are giants of science who everyone wants on their side. If an appeal to authority means anything, it means a whole lot more when a Nobel Laureate is involved.

But, actually, I’m not here to enroll any of the above onto my fantasy debating team. It is not my intention to convince you that Feynman’s famous proclamations on the nature of science sound the death knell for climate-science-by-consensus. Nor do I aspire towards persuading you that if someone such as Freeman Dyson distrusted the reliability of climate models then so should you. I’m certainly not here to endorse Murray Gell-Mann’s view that the physics behind climate change is so well-understood that it beggars belief that anyone could remain sceptical. No, my intention is to discuss another mighty stalwart of physics who, despite being one of the two who shared the Nobel Prize with Richard Feynman, is far less well known outside of physics. His name is Julian Seymour Schwinger and, as is the case with Richard Feynman, it isn’t his views on climate change as such that make him relevant to this story; in his case it is the process by which his fame faded.

The Lost Artisan

Despite matching achievements in physics, it is not Julian but Dickie who we all remember as the charismatic genius to whom we turn when we want a juicy scientific quote. It is Dickie who has the reputation as the man with the gift for explanation, despite the fact that even he had to concede that Schwinger delivered the better lectures [1]. Feynman would run a mile rather than take on a postgrad student, but Schwinger tutored 70 in his day, four of whom went on to win the Nobel Prize. And yet it is Feynman who we think of as the great educator.

Feynman’s greater reputation in the public eye can be largely explained as the result of his charismatic personality and his penchant for self-publicity. However, this does not explain why the American Physical Society (APS) saw fit to publish a poster containing a portrait of Feynman, accompanied by:

“Together with American colleagues, and Japanese physicists who had worked along similar lines while they were out of touch with the West during the war, Feynman solved the problem by creating Quantum Electrodynamics (QED).”

The APS understood as well as anyone that, working independently, Schwinger was the first to develop a theory of QED and he had been jointly allocated the Nobel Prize for it. So why the snub? Surely, that cannot be explained by Feynman’s charm. Indeed not – a much darker explanation is available.

The Real Deal

At Feynman’s funeral, Schwinger delivered a eulogy in which he famously referred to him as ‘dancing to the beat of a different drum’ [2]. In fact, if this could be said to refer to anyone, it would be to Schwinger himself. Firstly, there was his refusal to attend lectures as a student, despite knowing that graduation depended critically upon attendance records. Either he didn’t understand that knowing everything already wasn’t an acceptable excuse, or he was simply determined not to dance to that particular beat. Then there was his strange habit of only doing work at nighttime, when all of his colleagues were tucked up in bed; this was hardly calculated to ensure his membership of the brotherhood of physicists. However, it was his independence of thinking on the subject of quantum field theory that really sowed the seeds that ultimately resulted in his estrangement. Having initially been the forerunner in the development of QED he then turned his back on it, preferring to develop his own ‘source theory’. Although this was subsequently developed into a modern ‘effective field theory’ none of his contemporaries had been particularly impressed with this work. In fact, it was criticisms from his Harvard colleagues that led him to leave the faculty in 1972 for a job at UCLA. It was the start of a slippery slope, in which independence of thought and an open mind were leading him further and further away from the respectability that comes with adherence to the mainstream of thinking. Finally, he took seriously the prospects of cold fusion, and for many this was the last straw. A once great man was now reduced to engaging in ‘pathological science’ [3].

It’s funny how past brilliance quickly counts for nothing once one steps outside the cosy society of consensus thinkers. Suddenly, a Nobel Laureate couldn’t get his work published for love nor money. He wrote:

“The pressure for conformity is enormous. I have experienced it in editors’ rejection of submitted papers, based on venomous criticism of anonymous referees. The replacement of impartial reviewing by censorship will be the death of science.”

In protest, Schwinger resigned from the American Physical Society and the rest is, as they say, re-written history. As far as the APS was concerned, Julian Seymour Schwinger was now to be known as ‘American colleagues’.

The Nature of the ‘Crime’

Schwinger’s sin had been to suggest that the major objection usually made regarding the posited existence of cold fusion may not stand up to close scrutiny. He felt that he had a possible explanation for the absence of the by-products normally associated with fusion. He may or may not have had a valid point – I am not qualified to say [4]. However, I am qualified to agree with Schwinger that adjudication by anonymous referees who are not willing to allow a hypothesis made by a former Nobel Prize winner to see the light of day is hardly healthy. After all, Schwinger was only suggesting a possibility that was worthy of experimental investigation. As he put it:

“’Cold Fusion: A Hypothesis’ was written to suggest several critical experiments, which is the function of hypothesis. The masked reviewers, to a person, ignored that, and complained that I had not proved the underlying assumptions. Has the knowledge that physics is an experimental science been totally lost?”

In fact, anonymous censorship should play no role in science, as I’m sure Feynman would agree. Or maybe he was one of the ‘masked reviewers’. We will never know. And that is the shame of it.

Pancreatic cancer killed the man in 1994, but I’d hasten to suggest that the genius was killed some years earlier – and the killer was consensus science. Science is not meant to be a popularity contest with secret adjudication, but for Feynman and Schwinger that is exactly what it turned out to be. Today, we can take on board that warning by listening to the ever-popular Feynman’s words. But we get to see the reality of it by observing the demise of his fellow Nobel Prize winner and undoubted equal: Julian Seymour Schwinger.


During the writing of this essay I had occasion to browse Amazon looking for a good text on atmospheric physics. One book that appeared to be attracting considerable approval was titled ‘Physics of the Atmosphere and Climate’, written by Murry L. Salby. One review read as follows. You can make of it what you will:

“I acquired this textbook because it seemed to be the best of its kind. Another reviewer says: ‘… it is unequalled in breadth, depth and lucidity. It is the single volume that I recommend to every one of my students in atmospheric science…’

Salby has done the worst of all possible things, in the mind of anti-climate-skeptics. His very expertise as a climate scientist has led him to become an apostate to the party line. He believes that the rise in carbon dioxide can be explained in purely natural terms, invoking Henry’s Law. For this apostasy, he was hounded out of his top teaching and research post – life was made unbearable.

Check the evidence on all sides, as per Scientific Method.

Marcel Leroux also wrote first-rate textbooks on Climate Science – but because he became a climate skeptic, his Wikipedia page was deleted. Marcel Leroux, Zbigniew Jaworowski, Nils-Axel Morner, and many more have had their work and reputations trashed, and been chased into oblivion, for the crime of having been good scientists with integrity whose findings led them to skepticism of manmade global warming.”


[1] “The beauty of one of his lectures. He comes in, with his head a little bit to one side. He comes in like a bull to a ring and puts his notebook down and begins. And the beautiful, organized way of putting one idea after another. Everything very clear from the beginning to the end…I was supposed to be a good lecturer according to some people, but this was really a masterpiece.” Richard Feynman at a 60th birthday presentation for Julian Schwinger.

[2] This phrase was used as the title for a Richard Feynman biography written by one of his colleagues, Jagdish Mehra. I can recommend it if you are prepared for some pretty advanced physics. No prisoners are taken.

[3] A fair summary of cold fusion can be found in Wikipedia. However, if you just want a laugh, try listening to Bill Nye the Science Guy fumbling his way through.

[4] The presentation, given on Shin’ichiro Tomonaga’s centennial birthday provides an overview of Schwinger’s hypothesis in his own words.

62 thoughts on “How Consensus Killed the Genius

  1. Thank you, John, for a very interesting and educational article. You even provided me with another entry for my ever-growing “quotes and aphorisms” file.

    On the topic of Murry Salby, however, you should known that his problem is not apostasy.

    I cannot comment on his books, which I’ve not read, but I’ve examined his claims about the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration, in detail. They are wildly nonsensical. His problem is not “apostasy,” but codswallop.

    Salby started with an erroneous hypothesis about the “carbon budget,” but that’s no sin in science. The problem is that, when his hypothesis was disproven, instead of discarding it, he constructed an elaborate scaffolding of obfuscation to support it.

    His lecture on the topic is so ridiculous that I wonder whether it is an elaborate prank.

    I wrote a detailed critique of it, in youtube comments on his lecture, over a year ago. There’s also a copy here:


    I’ve been unable to get him to respond. Eventually I even tracked down what I believe to be his correct email address (no easy task!), and wrote to him directly. But he still has not responded.

    The field of climatology is awash with conspicuous deception from crackpot climate alarmists. So it is tempting to assume that everything from people skeptical of climate alarmism is based on robust science, or at least thoughtful reasoning. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As examples like Salby and PSI demonstrate, there is dreck to be found on both sides of the climate debate.

    Here is a list of high quality resources, where you can get information from both sides of the climate debate:


    It has:
    ● accurate introductory climatology information
    ● in-depth science from both skeptics & alarmists
    ● links to balanced debates between experts on both sides
    ● information about climate change impacts, including positive impacts
    ● links to several of the best blogs on both sides of the issue

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Dave,

    Thank you for your response. Most interesting, and an important contribution to the discussion. I had included the postscript because I felt it would emphasise the relevance of the article to the climate change debate. However, I was mindful that I should not be seen to be uncritically accepting the allegations made – hence the ‘make of it what you will’.

    The point is that it can be very difficult for the lay observer to determine whether a particular individual is suffering the backlash from apostasy or has just been found espousing codswallop. I’m even inclined to suspect that, should I have taken the trouble to investigate further, I would find that Schwinger’s views on cold fusion were codswallop. Even so, the point of the article was to sympathise with Schwinger’s concerns regarding the process by which such adjudications are made. People talk about pathological science but it is also important that the decision-making leading to such categorizations should also not be pathological. Even if my article fails to throw any light on this problem, I hope it serves to help redress an injustice where Feynman and Schwinger are concerned.

    I shall read your links with interest.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. So the disease that has destroyed so much was already dangerously metastatic in the 1990s.


  4. Pat,

    Do you have anything constructive to offer? David’s comment may have been ‘strident’ but at least it was relevant and informative. Perhaps if you could offer the same, rather than sweeping criticisms of a fellow commenter.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Excellent post John. I first ran across Julian Schwinger in James Gleick’s biography of Feynman. He painted him as a stodgy, buttoned down, mathematical formula grinder as contrasted with the colorful Feynman. It looks like Schwinger is a much more interesting character with his interest in low energy nuclear reactions (LENR). Rud Istvan has some stuff on this in his ebook, The Arts of Truth. Judith Curry had a Weak in Review link to an article on correspondence between Einstein and a colleague on LENR:


    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m with Hans, genius in one field is not ensure insight or a grasp of the fundamentals in another.

    In the discussion above, Pat refers to Dave Burton as a troll; not deserved since he has done very thorough and convincing analyses of sea level issues. But I do not agree with what he writes about Salby, basically repeating Englebeen’s paradigm that I find unconvincing (even after reading long threads with him defending it).

    I did read Salby’s textbook on Atmospheric Physics, and find his writing is shortchanged by these criticisms. As skeptics, we should appreciate how well he deals with the myopia and lopsided assertions regarding CO2 from humans and its climate impacts.

    My review of that textbook, with excerpts from Salby and a link to the enire volume is here:

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Mike,

    James Gleick is a marvellous writer but it is obvious from his work that he never actually formally studied physics, nor did he get to meet the people he writes about. Also, one doesn’t have to be flamboyant to be interesting. Take, for example, Paul Dirac. According to Feynman, their first meeting went as follows:

    Feynman: “I am Feynman.”

    Dirac: “I am Dirac.”


    Dirac: “I have an equation. Do you have one too?”

    That’s priceless!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Ron,

    That’s what I like to see. Opinions expressed and backed up. The rights and wrongs of it are still up for grabs but at least the full range of opinion gets an airing. I’m getting a fuzzy warm feeling in my tummy.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ron,

    Why don’t you evaluate my critique of Salby’s lecture?


    As I watched Salby’s lecture, I critiqued it point by point, and I noted the timestamps. Each of the timestamps mentioned in my critique links to that point in Salby’s lecture. So you can easily listen to Salby make a point, and read my critique of it, and pause the video while you consider the competing arguments, and reach your own conclusions about who is right, about each point.

    As you can see from my critique, I do agree with Salby about a few things. But I’m confident you’ll reach the same conclusion that I did, about his main thesis: Englebeen, Lindzen, Spencer, Happer, etc. are right, and Salby is wrong.


    Liked by 2 people

  10. Here’s the reasoning with which Pat (whoever he is) disagrees, so vehemently.

    1. Adding CO2 to the atmosphere raises average atmospheric CO2 concentration, and removing CO2 from the atmosphere lowers average atmospheric CO2 concentration, by definition. Here are the amounts:
    ● 1 ppmv CO2 (molecular wt 44.01) has mass ~(44/29) × 5.3 Gt = 8.053 Gt, of which 12/44-ths or 2.196 Gt is carbon.
    ● 1 Pg = 1 Gt, so 1 PgC (“petagram carbon”) is contained in (44/12) = 3.667 Gt CO2, and is equivalent to 3.667/8.053 = 0.4553 ppmv CO2 in the atmosphere.
    ● 412 ppmv CO2 has mass 412 × 8.053 Gt/ppmv = 3318 Gt.
    ● 412 ppmv CO2 contains (12/44)×3318 = 905 PgC.
    ● Adding 2.196 PgC to the atmosphere, in the form of CO2, raises the average atmospheric CO2 concentration by 1 ppmv.

    2. Mankind currently adds about 5 ppmv CO2 per year. We know that from reliable economic data, accounting for the production & use of fossil fuels and cement.

    3. But measurements (at Mauna Loa, Cape Grim, Barrow, Cape Matatula, Hateruma, Mace Head, South Pole, and other places, show that the average atmospheric concentration is rising only 2-3 ppmv/year.

    4. The difference between the rate at which mankind raises CO2 concentration, and the rate at which it actually rises, is the net rate at which the sum of all natural processes remove CO2 from the atmosphere, each year. ∴ nature is removing an average of 2-3 ppmv CO2 from the atmosphere, per year.

    5. We have sufficient data to show with certainty that the sum of all natural CO2 fluxes has been negative (meaning that nature is removing CO2), every year since 1958. (That’s no surprise; it’s due to negative feedbacks, which you can read about here and here.)

    (5.1 Aside: per Henry’s Law, a 31% increase in atmospheric CO2 level increases the equilibrium CO2 level in ocean surface water by 31%, and a 1°C increase in water temperature only decreases the equilibrium CO2 level in the water by about 3%. So the 31% increase in atmospheric CO2 level since 1958 has had a much greater effect on air ⇄ ocean CO2 flux than has the approximately 1/2 °C of sea surface warming over the same time period.)

    6. Salby insists that nature’s fluxes (i.e., nature’s net removals of CO2 from the atmosphere), rather than mankind’s additions of CO2 to the atmosphere, are causing the atmospheric CO2 concentration to rise. It is hard for me to fathom that he actually believes that.

    Pat (or anyone else), if you think any of that is incorrect, please identify the point(s) by number, quote the part(s) with which you disagree, and explain how/why you believe they are wrong.


  11. I don’t often agree with Dave, but he is indeed correct about Salby. What Salby presents is so obviously wrong that I do find it very strange that this isn’t obvious to anyone who is paying any kind of attention to this topic and who has even a modest amount of relevant expertise (the ability to add, essentially).


  12. Dave, my skepticism about attributing CO2 to humans arose years ago, triggered by seeing how miniscule is the estimated CO2 from humans compared to huge fluxes from natural sources and sinks. I looked into how the CO2 cycle is measured, and found that FF emissions are well within the error ranges of emissions from oceans, soil and biosphere. Even insects put out 10 times what humans do, including our livestock. My sources and discussion are here: CO2 Fluxes, Sources and Sinks

    Fact 1. The Carbon Cycle System is estimated with uncertainties greater than human emissions.
    Fact 2. Land-based Carbon Pools Behave Diversely, Defying Global Averaging.
    Fact 3. Fluxes are Dynamic and Difficult to Estimate Reliably.
    Fact 4. The Carbon Cycle is driven by Temperature more than Human Emissions.
    Fact 5. CO2 Residence Times are Far Shorter than IPCC Imagines.

    Oh, those exact estimates of FF emissions? I looked into the documents for calculating them to understand this massive international accounting bureaucracy. It gets statistics on changes in inventories of fuels around the world, and multiplies the amounts by estimates of by products from various combustion processes. Those calculations have 10 to 20% error ranges. And all of this data comes from many government agencies corrupt and/or incompetent. Garbage in, Gospel out.

    Then there is the fact that temperature is a causal factor stimulating natural sinks to release CO2, so that rising CO2 is an effect, not simply the cause. Others have studied the flows between CO2 reservoirs, starting with Tom Segelstad, and extending more recently to Berry, Humlum and Harde. There are many reasons to reject the IPCC notions. I summarized them here: Who to Blame for Rising CO2?

    Your treatment of Salby reminds me of how Macquarie University cancelled him in 2013, and how JCU has abused Peter Ridd for having an alternative POV. And how the thought police, led by ATTP attacked Harde’s work and sought to delay Berry’s publication, because as Rice said: “Any paper concluding that humans are not causing rising CO2 is obviously wrong!” So much for scientific debate. Such stridency and censorship both riles and scares me for our civilization’s future.

    Look at it this way: Human CO2 is the tip of the CO2 tail on the climate elephant H2O. Why give any oxygen to those obsessing over FF emissions?

    Liked by 2 people

  13. John,

    A good summary is given by Dr. Berry in the link that was provided in my earlier comment. Accompanying it there is a proper physical analysis of this issue – without hand waving and phony data.


  14. Pat,

    The reason that I was critical of your initial response is that it seemed to be concerned more with denigrating a fellow commenter than directly addressing the points raised in the post. I concede that the comment you linked to did, however, have a bearing since (amongst other less relevant things) it discussed the American Meteorological Society and their policy of not allowing publication of any paper that disagreed with the IPCC. I don’t, however, think the comment backs up your claim that Dave Burton is a ‘well-known troll’ and I didn’t appreciate that you should be making such a sweeping accusation that ran the risk of poisoning the debate. I know from bitter personal experience how easy it is to fall into that trap. With all due respect, therefore, I think it would have been better had you led with the issue rather than playing the man.

    But credit where credit is due. Some, though I think not all, of the comment you linked to was on topic and I thank you for drawing my attention to the AMS policy. I would comment further regarding the ‘proper physical analysis of this issue’ but I suspect there may be some difference of opinion between you and I as to what the real issue is. That is something for which I would welcome clarification.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ron, thanks for the link, but the problem I have with that 2018 HSU version of Dr. Salby’s lecture is that comments are disabled on youtube, to prevent criticism. (My patience with that has been used up by the climate alarmists who do it.)

    Fortunately, comments are not disabled on the 2013 version of his lecture, which I critiqued on youtube over a year ago, and here:


    Each of the timestamps in my critique link directly to the relevant part of his lecture.

    Ron, I asked you to evaluate my critique of Salby’s lecture. Won’t you please give it a shot?

    Ron wrote, “…FF emissions are well within the error ranges of emissions from oceans, soil and biosphere. Even insects put out 10 times what humans do, including our livestock.”

    That’s all true, but also irrelevant, because it is only net flux (the sum of CO2 emissions + sinks) which affects atmospheric CO2 level. We do not (and cannot) calculate nature’s net CO2 flux by summing the myriad components of that flux, many of which you correctly note are very poorly constrained.

    Ron wrote, “My sources and discussion are here: CO2 Fluxes, Sources and Sinks

    Your page quotes from AR5 saying, “Coupled carbon-cycle climate models indicate that less carbon is taken up by the ocean and land as the climate warms constituting a positive climate feedback.”

    The “and land” part of that claim is dubious, the “ocean” part is true but misattributed, and the positive feedback is real but slight.

    The “ocean” part of that claim (true but misattributed) is shown simply by the temperature dependence of Henry’s Law: Each 1°C rise in water temperature reduces CO2’s solubility in water by about 3%. You don’t need “coupled carbon-cycle climate models” for that.

    Since precise atmospheric CO2 measurements began (in 1958), average atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by about 31%, i.e., from about 315 ppmv to about 413 ppmv. That has increased the solubility of CO2 in seawater by 31%. At the same time, ocean surface water temperatures are believed to have risen an average about 1/2 °C, thereby reducing solubility of CO2 in the water by about 1.5%.

    That “1.5% effect” is what AR5 is referring to. It is dwarfed by the “31% effect” in the opposite direction.

    You can read about the slight positive feedback here:

    Ron wrote, “Fact 1. The Carbon Cycle System is estimated with uncertainties greater than human emissions.”

    That’s incorrect. Many of the individual components are estimated with very large uncertainties, but that doesn’t matter. All that matters is their sum, and that is known with uncertainty similar to (because it’s derived from) the uncertanty in human emissions.

    Ron wrote, “Fact 2. Land-based Carbon Pools Behave Diversely, Defying Global Averaging.” and “Fact 3. Fluxes are Dynamic and Difficult to Estimate Reliably.”

    I think you mean “summing,” rather than “averaging,” right?

    If so, I agree. But that’s why we don’t calculate the net natural CO2 flux by summing its various components. The determination of the net sum of natural fluxes is done by subtracting the measured changes in atmospheric CO2 levels from summed anthropogenic emissions, not by trying to sum the various individual natural fluxes.

    Ron wrote, “Fact 4. The Carbon Cycle is driven by Temperature more than Human Emissions.”

    Not unless you’re talking about the seasonal cycle, which is irrelevant.

    If you’re talking about the long term trend, then human emissions dwarf the effect of temperature changes.

    Here are three proofs of that fact:

    #1. The temperature dependence of Henry’s Law, as I described above: The 31% increase in CO2 solubility in the ocean due to rising CO2 level (since 1958), compared to the mere 1.5% decrease in CO2 solubility in the ocean to to warming ocean surface water, means the effect of human emissions dwarf the effect of temperature change, on the air ⇄ ocean CO2 flux.

    #2. Here are Law Dome (Antarctic) ice core data, back to year 1010. Scroll down to “CO2, 75 Year Smoothed”, then keep scrolling. Watch CO2 levels climb to their peak of 284.1 ppmv circa 1170 (MWP), and fall to their lowest level of 275.3 ppmv circa 1615 (LIA):

    The temperature decrease from the MWP peak to the bottom of the LIA caused a CO2 level change of just 8.8 ppmv.

    Since then CO2 levels have increased by about 138 ppmv.

    Unless you think that the warming during the current climate optimum has been (138/8.8)= 15 times greater (compared to the worst of the LIA) than the warmth of the MWP, that means the recent warming cannot have caused the CO2 level increase.

    #3. Ice core records over the last 400K years show that atmospheric CO2 levels differed by about 90 ppmv between their minimum values at glacial maxima, and their maximum values during interglacials. That corresponds to a global temperature change generally estimated to have been about 6°C. That means the total, eventual effect of temperature on CO2 level was only about 15 ppmv per 1°C.

    What’s more, the typically several hundred year delays between temperature (isotope proxy) trend reversals and CO2 trend reversals in the ice core records indicate that it took hundreds of years for the full effect of temperature on CO2 level to be realized. Over periods of less than a few hundred years, 1°C temperature change affected CO2 levels by much less than 15 ppmv. In 2/3 of a century you might expect at most 1/4 of the 15 ppmv/°C effect.

    But we’ve seen CO2 levels rise by 98 ppmv in just 62 years, even though temperatures rose by less than 1°C over that time period:


    Ron wrote, “Fact 5. CO2 Residence Times are Far Shorter than IPCC Imagines.”

    That’s true. The “effective residence time” or “adjustment time” for CO2 emissions is only about 50 years. I.e., the half-life is about 35 years. (The average molecular residence time is even shorter, but it is inconsequential, imprecisely defined, and poorly constrained.)

    The short effective residence time of CO2 emissions is not evidence that nature’s CO2 fluxes (which have been net-negative every year since 1958), could have caused the increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

    The much longer residence times claimed by climate activists are derived by integrating a modeled “long tail” in the hypothesized CO2 decay curve. The long tail represents modeled predictions of carbon theoretically released into the atmosphere from oceans and biosphere / soil in the distant future, when atmospheric CO2 levels are very low (well below 350 ppmv).

    But when CO2 levels are very low, the climate threat will be cooling rather than warming, and browning from CO2 starvation rather than greening from CO2 fertilization. Even if you accept the IPCC’s dubious claim that the next 0.5° or 1.0° of warming will be bad, there’s no denying the fact that the last 1°C of warming, and the ≈20% agricultural production boost from higher CO2 levels which accompanied it, were very good.

    Thus, when CO2 levels are once again very low, the “long tail” (from release of CO2 from the biosphere / soils and oceans into the atmosphere) will indisputably be a very good thing.

    Yet the climate activists, with their “social cost of carbon” arithmetic, count it as a cost, which is crackpot nonsense.

    Ron wrote, “Oh, those exact estimates of FF emissions… have 10 to 20% error ranges.”

    Okay, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the figures really are that rough. I.e., let’s take the anthropogenic CO2 emission figures as being ±20%. Let’s see what that would imply.

    It would mean 2019’s anthropogenic CO2 emissions were 10.302 PgC ±20%, i.e., somewhere between 8.242 and 12.362 PgC. That’s 3.75 to 5.63 ppmv CO2.

    But CO2 levels are only rising 2 to 3 ppmv per year. From 2018 to 2019 (annual averages), atmospheric CO2 level rose at Mauna Loa by only 2.92 ppmv. From 2017 to 2018, atmospheric CO2 level rose at Mauna Loa by only 1.97 ppmv.

    If CO2 emissions were between 3.75 and 5.63 ppmv, and CO2 levels only rose by 2 to 3 ppmv, it means that the sum of nature’s fluxes removed CO2 from the atmosphere, rather than adding it.

    Ron wrote, “Then there is the fact that temperature is a causal factor stimulating natural sinks to release CO2, so that rising CO2 is an effect, not simply the cause.”

    As shown above (proofs #1 to #3), that has a very minor influence on CO2 levels, compared to mankind’s emissions.

    Ron wrote, “Others have studied the flows between CO2 reservoirs, starting with Tom Segelstad, and extending more recently to Berry, Humlum and Harde.”

    By “studied” you mean “attempted to model.” The fundamental problem is that those flows are poorly constrained. It is all well and good to try to model them, but measurements trump models. It is the measurements which prove that nature is removing CO2 from the atmosphere, each year, not adding it.

    Ron wrote, “There are many reasons to reject the IPCC notions. I summarized them here: Who to Blame for Rising CO2?

    Nobody is to “blame” for rising CO2 levels. “Blame” is the wrong word, because the evidence is compelling that rising CO2 levels are beneficial, not harmful. Mankind can take credit for rising atmospheric CO2 levels. I cover the topic on my site, here:

    Ron wrote, “Your treatment of Salby reminds me of how Macquarie University cancelled him in 2013, and how JCU has abused Peter Ridd for having an alternative POV.”

    Prof. Ridd is the victim of a great injustice, and comparing him to Salby does him another injustice.

    Ron wrote, “Human CO2 is the tip of the CO2 tail on the climate elephant H2O. Why give any oxygen to those obsessing over FF emissions?”

    That’s a political calculation, not a scientific one. I just follow the evidence.

    That said, if global warming really was the cause of rising atmospheric CO2 levels, it would imply that temperatures are currently rising very, very quickly, and also that current temperatures are much, much higher than they were during any of the last four interglacials.

    The day you convince me of that is the the day you turn me into a climate alarmist1

    If you don’t want to “give oxygen” to climate catastrophism, I suggest that you not promote that alarming idea.


  16. Only just read the original post John. First class. It is said that great minds think alike but this case provides a counterexample, because I too have been thinking a lot about Feynman – and, in the process, a little about Schwinger, so that I was neither surprised nor offended by your approving spotlight on the far less celebrated but brilliant physicist, at least for the last half century.

    Please bear with me as I tell the story of why I was thinking of Feynman. It has little to add to the meat of your post, which is terrific, but a few readers may I think find it reasonably diverting. It was a case of solicited name-dropping in the pub on Thursday 26th July 2012, the day before the famous opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. I was working at the time as part of the development team of a startup near London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ (the Old Street roundabout in old money). On that Thursday we all repaired to the pub and were sitting around a single table, maybe 6-7 of us. The chief technology officer – like most of the group considerably younger than me – suggested it might be fun for each of us to say the most famous person we’d ever met.

    I was quietly confident, not to say smug.

    But the man before me in the circle, the only one roughly in my own age bracket, who I knew had a physics degree from Imperial College, blew any of my old meetings out of the water with “I once met Richard Feynman of MIT, completely by chance, in the train in the UK.” I thought Eric had got the MIT wrong, as I always associated Feynman with Caltech. But he did indeed do his undergraduate degree at MIT. You learn something every day, just as Einstein, Pauli and von Neumann perhaps did when they attended Feynman’s first seminar at Princeton before America joined the war and the Manhattan Project started.

    The most famous person I’d met at MIT, I began, was Tim Berners-Lee, back in the mid 90s when he was far less famous for inventing the World Wide Web (around 1990). And the most famous person my son, then 21, had met, I added, was Paul McCartney, just a few days before, when the ex-Beatle had wandered in to an hands-on electronic music session at the Roundhouse in Camden and had a low-key chat with the participants in which he was genuinely keen to learn. And the next night, who were both star players before the world on their respective keyboards? Tim and Macca. (And Rowan Atkinson of course. But, would you believe it, none of us have ever met him.)

    I can only say in my defence that I was absolutely delighted to have my puny name-dropping eclipsed by my friend Eric just before me. But the disappearing (dropping, one could say) of the name of Schwinger speaks of something harder for all of us to face up to in the academic world.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Ken (ATTP), that Bishop Hill discussion links to a different copy of the same 2013 version of Dr. Salby’s lecture. So I went ahead and posted my critique there, which I had posted last year on 1000frolly’s copy. (I also made a few minor corrections & clarifications.)

    Part 1:

    Part 2:


  18. Richard,

    Thanks for that.

    Pride of place on my bookcase goes to a book written by Otto R. Frisch of nuclear fission fame. I got him to sign it at the end of a lecture he had given at my university.

    “Herr Frisch,” I opened, “I wonder if you could oblige me by making this inexpensive book priceless.”

    He took the book from me and smilingly responded, “You make me feel like Frank Sinatra.”

    It was clear from the look on the face of the guy who had organised the lecture that he wanted me expelled from the university with immediate effect. A strange reaction, I thought, given how I had just made an old man very happy.

    I would often try to win the room at family dinner parties by recounting this name-dropping tale but I would always be upstaged by the fact that my Mam’s dog’s bum had once been sniffed by Lord Lichfield’s dog. Schwinger had it easy compared to Frisch!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Dave Burton:
    “Showing that two signals with seasonal components are correlated does not tell you anything about whether one of them is affecting the other, nor which one is affecting the other.”

    The same applies to atmospheric CO2, as measured at Mauna Loa and calculated emissions of CO2 following UN guidelines. They follow a similar trajectory but do not correlate year to year. Jamal Munshi looked at this: “Uncertain Flow Accounting and The IPCC Carbon Budget”

    “We use a Monte Carlo simulation model to carry out uncertain flow accounting of carbon
    transfers to and from the atmosphere described in Figure 6.1 of the IPCC -AR5 report and find that the
    known rate of carbon dioxide accumulation in the atmosphere can be explained without including
    emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

    We conclude that the IPCC carbon balance is not sensitive to anthropogenic emissions in the context of uncertainties in natural flows. Natural flows are not known with sufficient precision to determine the sources of carbon that have caused atmospheric CO2 to rise since 1750. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of a previous paper that year to year changes in atmospheric CO2 are unrelated to the rate of anthropogenic emissions. (Munshi, Responsiveness of Atmospheric CO2 to Anthropogenic Emissions: A Note, 2015)

    The critical thing of course is, does CO2 do what is claimed for it and clearly it doesn’t.

    Phil Jones: https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1029/1999RG900002

    Jones says:

    “We present global fields of surface temperature change over the two 20-year periods of greatest warming this century, 1925-1944 and 1978-1997. Over these periods, global temperatures rose by 0.37 and 0.32C, respectively.”

    He is saying that the greatest increase in the 20th century was 1925-44, before the large increase in CO2 emissions from the war and afterwards. CO2 rose by 5.4ppm during that period. In the 34 years from 1944 to 1978, temperatures were static, for a rise in CO2 of 25.7 ppm.

    Observations from the “Melting Arctic” also show that CO2 is not driving temperatures anywhere.

    “Anomalies and Trends of Sea-Ice Extent and Atmospheric Circulation in the Nordic Seas during the Period 1864–1998” Issn: 1520-0442 Journal: Journal of Climate Volume: 14 255-267 Authors: Vinje, Torgny:

    “It is not until the warming of the Arctic, 1905–30, that the NAO winter index shows repeated positive values over a number of sequential years, corresponding to repeated northward fluxes of warmer air over the Nordic Seas during the winter. An analog repetition of southward fluxes of colder air during wintertime occurs during the cooling period in the 1960s. Concurrently, the temperature in the ocean surface layers was lower than normal during the warming event and higher than normal during the cooling event.”

    Taurisano, A., Boggild, C.E. and Karlsen, H.G. 2004. “A century of climate variability and climate gradients from coast to ice sheet in West Greenland”. Geografiska Annaler 86A: 217-224.

    “the temperature data “show that a warming trend occurred in the Nuuk fjord during the first 50 years of the 1900s, followed by a cooling over the second part of the century, when the average annual temperatures decreased by approximately 1.5°C.” Coincident with this cooling trend there was also what they describe as “a remarkable increase in the number of snowfall days (+59 days).”

    “Climate variation in the European Arctic during the last 100 years” Hanssen-Bauer, Inger, Norwegian Meteorological Institute, Co-Author Førland, Eirik J. (CliC International Project Office (CIPO) 21 June 2004)

    “Analyses of climate series from the European Arctic show major inter-annual and inter-decadal variability, but no statistically significant long-term trend in annual mean temperature during the 20th century in this region. The temperature was generally increasing up to the 1930s, decreasing from the 1930s to the 1960s, and increasing from the 1960s to 2000. The temperature level in the 1990s was still lower than it was during the 1930s. In large parts of the European Arctic, annual precipitation has increased substantially during the last century.”


  20. John Ridgway, I began to read through this discussion, which seems to have been hijacked by one commenter. But after endless stream that has left your article’s theme, I lost interest.


  21. Liam,

    ‘Hijack’ is not the word I would use, but I accept that the discussion has gone down a particular path, and the outcome of the debate (although I’m not convinced the word ‘outcome’ is going to apply) is unlikely to prove the article’s thesis one way or another. The way I see it is this. Sometimes a host puts on a dinner party and the postprandial discussion leads in many directions. Even if no-one is talking about the food they have just eaten, that doesn’t mean to say that the meal hasn’t played its part.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. John,
    I’ll give a counter-argument to what I think you’re suggesting in the post. Ideally a consensus emerges. It doesn’t appear straightaway, but develops over time as more and more evidence is collected. It will be tested in many different ways and a consistent picture will emerge. Given this, challenging a consensus is going to be difficult, and it should be. Slightly cliqued, but extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence. In many cases, over-throwing some consensus isn’t just about finding some evidence in support of an alternative, but also requires demonstrating why all the evidence that supports the consensus is somehow wrong, or has been misinterpreted. This isn’t to say that there won’t be examples where over-throwing a consensus took longer than it should have. However, in general I think that requiring very strong evidence before accepting some alternative to a consensus position makes science stronger, rather than weaker.


  23. John: Ah, the dog of one’s mother. Our consistently irate dalmation – named Rua in honour of my mother’s Kiwi roots – used to bark from the back of our car at all and sundry, including young members of the royal family, in the Windsor area, if I remember the stories of my childhood correctly. (The old Oxford don’s wry comment about his wife, at a garden party, that she sometimes didn’t fully exhibit ‘the scholar’s passion for accuracy’ may have applied to some of those tales, though I do believe the early anecdotes about Douglas Bader and General Sir Aylmer Haldane, partly because they were told against herself.)

    Berners-Lee of course won a MacArthur genius award in 1998, just like Peter Gleick, brother of James, biographer of Feynman, did in 2003, leading to all kinds of fun on Climate Audit in February 2012:

    The newest candidate for the hallowed ranks of America’s Dumbest Criminals is Peter Gleick, MacArthur Genius.

    Steven ‘Sherlock’ Mosher was the key to unlocking who the mysterious hacker and forger of one apparently damning Heartland internal document was and the other Steve clearly hasn’t forgotten this, as he now searches for the real author(s) of the key source documents of the Steel Dossier which ‘proved’ Trump-Russia collusion to the satisfaction of the, apparently equally dumb, US intelligence community:

    The strength of the Schwinger story, though, is that it took effect way before any climate-specific shenanigans began. Twas ever thus, one is tempted to say. But then one thinks of social media, and the whole online world, with its potent propaganda, yet archived clues to elitist economy with the truth

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Richard,

    Mmm, forensic linguistics. I believe that’s how they caught the Unabomber. Good stuff.

    As for the Schwinger story, you are quite right. I try sometimes to provide examples that indicate that the problems of climate science are not unique. Indeed, I would suggest that it would be remarkable if climate science were to prove immune from some of these issues. As I have said on this site before now, my scepticism has never been solely focused upon climate science, I just happen to think that climate science fits the bill for certain forms of re-consideration.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Ken,

    It is almost a truism that any intellectual endeavour that can be premised upon the existence an objective truth cannot help but converge upon it given enough time and honest, unbiased effort. At any given point in time, the current level of consensus serves as a surrogate for that objective truth. But what is at stake here is the knowledge hypothesis. If you’ll forgive the laziness, I’d like to explain myself by repeating what I have written previously about this hypothesis on this site (it is said by a character in a story of mine, but I readily concede that the words are a paraphrase of an abstract from a paper I once read on this subject):

    “Philosophers have often noted that science displays an uncommon degree of consensus on beliefs among its practitioners, and yet consensus in the sciences should never be a goal in itself. Consensus on beliefs is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for presuming that these beliefs constitute knowledge. In fact, a concrete consensus on a set of beliefs by a group of people at a given historical period may be explained by different factors according to various hypotheses. Regarding the climate change consensus, you obviously adhere to what is sometimes referred to as the ‘knowledge hypothesis’, in which shared knowledge is the only explanation for the existence of a consensus. Well, I agree that if all the alternative hypotheses to the knowledge hypothesis are false, or are not as good in explaining a concrete consensus on beliefs, then the knowledge hypothesis then becomes a plausible, though fallible, indicator of knowledge. But it is only when a consensus on beliefs is uncoerced, uniquely heterogeneous and large, that the knowledge hypothesis provides the best explanation of a given consensus.”

    I think that the point to be taken from the Schwinger example, is not that he failed to provide the strength of evidence required to counter the consensus view, but that the process used to establish and protect the consensus was failing to meet the criteria needed for the reliable application of the knowledge hypothesis. As he pointed out, science is supposed to be an experimental discipline and any activities, practices or social arrangements that subvert such efforts are bound to undermine convergence upon the objective truth. In this case, Schwinger, one of the greatest physicists of all time, felt strongly enough about this to resign from the American Physical Society. In my view this is a powerful testimony to the reality of the problem, and the resulting behaviour of the APS does little to assuage concerns.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. “…science is supposed to be an experimental discipline and any activities, practices or social arrangements that subvert such efforts are bound to undermine convergence upon the objective truth.”

    Indeed. Not only is reaching consensus a social process, the roots of that social process both predate and can circumvent rationality, frequently producing emergent cultural consensuses whose purpose as bequeathed by evolution is to bind groups together (with arbitrary emotive ‘truths’) in the face of the unknowable. Such consensuses have well-known characteristics that distinguish them from simple agreements about knowledge. For instance they are socially policed, and out-groupers are stigmatised, in strong cases demonised. This does not mean that all consensuses are perforce cultural, but replicable / mature science needs no consensus, while an immature science that is still grappling with many unknowns, must constantly be on-guard against hi-jack by cultural consensus. Especially within a domain having heavy social implications, or even *perceived* implications, this being lighter-fuel for cultural emergence.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. …ATTP
    “challenging a consensus is going to be difficult, and it should be”

    Not at all. All that’s needed is advancements in technology to give better data and sufficient funerals


  28. John,

    (Pat, I consider your opening sentence to be unnecessarily disrespectful, and so I have removed it.)

    As to clarification of the substantive issue, the following is pertinent. Dr. Berry points out some of the defects in Burton’s numerous claims. See:


    He notes that nothing in Burton’s (moderated) disproves Dr. Berry’s treatment of atmospheric CO2, which shows that human emissions are irrelevant. And, yes, that treatment is a proper physical analysis – because it follows from the most basic of considerations: the balance of carbon going into and out of the atmosphere. This basic consideration must be satisfied. If, under the IPCC’s assumption, this requirement is not satisfied, as Dr. Berry and others have now shown, then that failure is fatal. The proposition that human emissions determine atmospheric CO2 is dead. The litany of other rhetoric spewed, to allegedly ‘prove’ the IPCC’s assumption, is immaterial.

    “No amount of experimentation can prove me right. A single experiment can prove me wrong.” A. E.


  29. Pat: This is John’s thread, which according to longstanding Cliscep policy means he is the sole moderator. But, if I was him, I would remove your latest comment and ask you to make the same substantive points with less rudery. Especially because the original post and thread were clearly meant to be about wider things than just the theories of Salby.

    John: You got me. Congratulations. Out of Cliscep retirement, I mean, as I took a quick look at my weekly admin tasks. I must not get further diverted this week but I may look to see where the discussion has got to by the weekend. Lysenko, the German eugenicists and now, unexpectedly, the QCD crowd. It’s really valuable to have this alternative historical example to ponder, not least because it’s from the ‘free West’ not a brutal totalitarian regime.


  30. Richard,

    I tend to have a liberal policy when it comes to moderation, partly because I am not a stranger myself to the odd indiscretion (particularly in response to what I see as abuse of the moderator’s authority). However, on this occassion I agree that some intervention was warranted. It isn’t the abuse that troubled me so much as its gratuity. I would like to think that I am helping Pat out, but I would understand if he felt he was being victimised.

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Andy,

    As I understand it, Ken’s argument would be that, whilst the physical sciences are subject to social and cultural influence, this cannot ultimately undermine the epistemic importance of the consensus since the methodologies employed are sufficiently robust. Therefore, a proposition that runs counter to the consensus should be held to higher standards of evidential support. My position is that examples such as the censorship of Schwinger’s papers casts doubt on the assertion that the methodologies are actually as robust as one should be able to assume. Furthermore, since Schwinger’s paper was only trying to point out how such evidential support may be achieved (or evidential refutation, of course) then it is even more concerning that those efforts should be obstructed. It is the experimentation that should have been decisive, not the clandestine prejudgements of ‘masked reviewers’. I used to think very much along Ken’s lines, but now, at the risk of being labelled ‘anti-science’, I prefer a much more guarded stance, particularly regarding sciences such as climatology where much of the ‘experimentation’ is in silico.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. ‘Guarded’ is a highly advisable stance. Consensus forming is extremely vulnerable to our cultural instincts. And notwithstanding that science, the law, and democracy are all social-scale tools that help hem-in emergent cultures and combat the biases they propagate, no methodology yet devised is proof against them.


  33. John,

    Therefore, a proposition that runs counter to the consensus should be held to higher standards of evidential support.

    It’s not so much that it should be held to a higher standard, it’s more that if you’re going overthrow something that already has a huge amount of supporting evidence, you’re going to have to have something pretty convincing.


  34. Ken,

    “…if you’re going [to] overthrow something that already has a huge amount of supporting evidence, you’re going to have to have something pretty convincing.”

    Actually, that’s only what I had meant by requiring “higher standards of evidential support.” Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. I’m not sure where our disagreement is here.

    I think more to the point is the fact that Schwinger’s Cold Fusion Hypothesis paper was not rejected because it didn’t provide ‘something pretty convincing’; it was rejected because its value had been prejudged by the reviewers, saying that Schwinger had failed to prove his ‘underlying assumptions’. Schwinger’s view was that he was not obliged to provide such proof since the hypothesis would be tested by the experiments suggested in his paper. Ultimately, this is how the science would progress – not through debate amongst theoreticians, and certainly not through editorial sanction resulting from criticism delivered under the mask of anonymity.

    I’m sure that Schwinger fully understood the weight of evidence against cold fusion when he consequently wrote that he feared ‘the death of science’. And I’m sure that had the experiments he’d proposed been performed, then significant insights would have resulted one way or the other (probably the other). The only way this might not have been the case is if Schwinger’s failure to prove his underlying assumptions precluded that any conclusions could be drawn from the experiments proposed. I think we should not be assuming such a basic error from a man of Schwinger’s reputation.


  35. “…science is supposed to be an experimental discipline“. Some science definitely is, but much of it is not. Certainly I don’t believe I ever did an experiment in my special area of science – the deposition and modification of evaporite deposits. In fact the origin of potash deposits was greatly hindered by experimental work by chemists (mainly from Germany) who tried to explain why ancient potash evaporites differed from those produced experimentally by evaporating modern sea water. The major differences in mineralogy had to be explained by later alterations with modified brines -so a multitude of experiments were conducted using brines of different compositions and sea-water evaporite minerals. Hundreds of papers and several textbooks were written on the subject. Only when the evaporites themselves were examined in detail was it recognised that many showed original depositional features with little sign of alteration. It was then realised that these evaporites either were not deposited from seawater (but from hydrothermal brines, non-marine waters or mixtures with or without seawater) or, more excitingly, that sea waters of the past differed markedly from present-day sea water and therefore produced different mineral sequences.

    Science used to be considered as a hierarchy of different subjects with those using mathematical proofs and quantifiable experimental methods as being the most “pure”. Non- experimental sciences that were mostly observational, like the biological and geological, were disapprovingly dismissed as “stamp collecting”.

    Liked by 3 people

  36. Alan,

    You make a good point. When people refer to ‘experiment’ they should really say ‘structured examination of nature’. If we are not careful, we will be denying that astronomy is a science, and that just will not do.


  37. John. Wouldn’t some mathematical models be included within your ‘structured examination of nature’? Not sure everyone here would agree.


  38. Alan,

    I think I am always going to struggle if I try to capture what I meant to say in one pithy expression. Perhaps I should have said ‘controlled examination of nature’, but even that is probably too open to interpretation. Suffice to say, all I had wanted to do was to avoid ruling out examinations that did not require the contrived arrangements of a laboratory experiment.

    The question of mathematical models is an interesting one. I feel uncomfortable with the notion of a ‘mathematical experiment’ since it seems to me that the re-runs and the ensembles of models do not qualify as a structured or controlled examination of nature. The models are hypotheses. Therefore, when one performs a ‘mathematical experiment’ one is experimenting with the hypotheses to better understand the range of possibilities that are allowed by them. It’s like all situations in which epistemic uncertainty dominates in a model. There comes a point when one has to wonder whether investigations into the model(s) are an investigation of nature itself or merely an investigation into the nature of the ignorance shared by the modelling community. I hope any of this is making sense.


  39. Alan,

    I should add that a manipulation of a model that reveals retrodictions that are at odds with what has already been observed will have obvious implications for the validity of the model.


  40. John. An interesting discussion, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    I am ambivalent about mathematical models. I am aware of many of the arguments against models (and agree with most of them), yet cannot get away from a comment (perhaps from Ken) that if you wish to predict the future you cannot observe so are reliant on models. Astronomy of course is stuffed Chucky jam full of models to the extent that most of what is (or might be) in the Universe is modelled, not observed directly.

    Liked by 1 person

  41. Yeh, Alan, don’t get me wrong. I think models are great. My scientific education was as a wannabe (but ultimately didnae-be) theoretical nuclear physicist. Try getting anywhere in that field without mathematical modelling. In fact, it was nothing but mathematical modelling. I sometimes wondered where the physics had gone 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  42. Although I do not for a moment think it applies to the APS and Schwinger, it would be remiss of me if I were not to point out that cock-up, rather than conspiracy, can also lead to the re-writing of scientific history.

    You see, historians can be awfully clumsy at times. Take, for example, James Gleick, brother of Peter. In his biography ‘Genius: Richard Feynman and Modern Physics’, you can find the following passage, explaining how John Wheeler and Neils Bohr came up with a physical explanation for the fission of the uranium nucleus:

    “It was this last image, the liquid drop, that enabled Wheeler and Bohr to produce one of those unreasonably powerful oversimplifications of science, an effective theory of the phenomenon that had been named, only the past year, fission. (The word was not theirs and they spent a late night trying to find a better one…)”

    So who was this anonymous fool who, according to Gleick, had come up with such a bad name and then left Wheeler and Bohr to provide the physical explanation? Why, it is none other than my old pal, Otto R. Frisch.

    The reality is this: Not only had Frisch come up with the term ‘fission’, he had also (working with his aunt, Lise Meitner) already provided a full physical explanation for it using the liquid drop model, as first conceived by Carl Freidrich von Weizsacker. Wheeler and Bohr were merely building upon Frisch’s pioneering work.

    That’s why I was very keen to get Frisch to sign a book for me and why I won’t be bothering to get Gleick to sign his biography.

    Liked by 2 people

  43. John. If you want classic examples of poor science being hidden by later journalism or later scientific reviews (the dirty hospital wards where Joseph Lister practiced, the downright fudging of data in support of Einstein’s theory of relativity, or best of all the later attribution to Gregor Mendel of genetics when he had not a clue as to what his experimental breeding of pea plants signified) try reading John Waller’s “Fabulous Science, Fact and fiction in the history of scientific discovery” Oxford University Press 2002. Enjoy, I found this book fascinating- a record of famous scientists who did things most unscientific and others with perhaps undeserved reputations due to subsequent revisions of their work by later researchers/historians.

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Last weekend I was thinking about the cock-up possibility even with Schwinger. Once a significant social injustice has become entrenched a large number of people won’t challenge it and that is not because they’ve become hardcore conspirators. It’s more in the cock-up space. Even in the silly name-dropping competition in 2012 one of the web developers didn’t recognise Tim Berners-Lee’s name. When told he’d invented http, the url and html he launched a scathing attack on the guy’s designs. But, unlike him, I remembered what passed for hypertext and communication generally before Tim did his stuff. TBL would be the first person to admit the problems – especially with HTML, which he expected to be swapped out for something altogether better pretty soon after 1990. His reaction to my observations when I met him in Boston were very much along these lines. But Tim’s clearly got ‘over the line’ as far as world acclaim is concerned. Schwinger hasn’t. It is a very interesting subject and very relevant to what’s been going wrong with climate science and and even policy.


  45. Richard,

    Yes, I agree that it is easy for misconceptions to promulgate once they have become established. In Schwinger’s case, it became fashionable to believe that his approach was unnecessarily complicated and obscure, and it took the genius of Feynman to come up with an alternative formulation that benefitted from physical intuition (whilst Schwinger’s suffered from mathematical obfuscation). There is no validity to this, however. The essential difference in approach is best described in Schwinger’s own words:

    “Eventually, these ideas led to Lagrangian or action formulations of quantum mechanics, appearing in two distinct but related forms, which I distinguish as differential and integral. The latter, spearheaded by Feynman has had all the press coverage, but I continue to believe that the differential viewpoint is more general, more elegant, more useful.”

    It is true that many contemporaries found Schwinger’s papers more technically difficult to follow but that in no way detracts from the validity of his approach. But I’m afraid that did not stop biographers such as James Gleick perpetuating the idea that Schwinger, lacking Feynman’s genius, somehow made a simple idea seem complicated, or that he allowed the elegance of mathematics blind him to the physics.

    In their day, Schwinger and Feynman had a great deal of respect for each other, and so the suggestion I make in my article that Feynman could have been one of the ‘masked reviewers’ is entirely mischievous; there is actually no way he would have been. I’m afraid, however, that I could not say the same regarding Murray Gell-Mann:

    It is precisely because such petty-minded vendettas are commonplace at the leading edge of science that the peer review system is so open to abuse. Some might argue that this is not a problem in the long-run because even if one person’s genius idea is unjustly crushed by peer review, it is bound to resurface eventually, since the truth will out. Really?

    Liked by 3 people

  46. “…because even if one person’s genius idea is unjustly crushed by peer review, it is bound to resurface eventually, since the truth will out. Really?”

    Well if ‘eventually’ is extrapolated long enough, maybe. But this will not benefit the producer of a genius idea who is long since dead! Nor, if even the ghost of their idea in the records has long since faded away, will anyone even realise their contribution in order to at least provide posthumous recognition. There’s likely a big stack of great and valid insights which probably left a far lighter scratch in official records than Schwinger’s.

    Liked by 3 people

  47. “Physicist Gell-Mann said we need an Odyssean education”

    — Twitter strapline for @OdysseanProject aka Dominic Cummings

    Well, I guess G-M could be right about that *and* harbour a “petty-minded vendetta” against Schwinger. But it’s not a good look.

    I’m glad to hear the idea you mooted that Feynman could have been one of the ‘masked reviewers’ doing in Schwinger was “entirely mischievous”. Even from the limited amount I knew it seemed far-fetched. Quite simply, Feynman, though a brilliant self-publicist, wasn’t that dishonest.

    But the point you make about how much better Schwinger was with graduate students than the world-renowned ‘educator’ Feynman goes really deep. After watching Gell-Mann put another belated boot in to Schwinger YouTube thought there might be other videos in the series I’d be interested in. Without really knowing why I went for Freeman Dyson on Hans Bethe:

    where of course Dyson puts the boot in, very nicely, to Feynman for exactly this reason. Whereas Bethe was a great team builder but lacked Feynman’s imagination. All very helpful.

    I must not delve further for another 5-6 days. But a really good trip, thanks John. (Not in the full Feynman sense I hasten to add.)

    Liked by 2 people

  48. Autoxicity.

    ‘Support for locking down Americans in the name of saving us from the Covid-19 virus instantly became as integral to the Establishment Left, i.e. to the Democratic Party, as belief in abortion, global warming, open borders, and as censorship of whatever they choose to call “hate speech.” The ruling class’s manifold components have integrated the Covid’s health challenge into their identities just as they adopted each other’s demonologies and demands as their own.’


  49. Beth, unless you mean a bad reaction to gold (which is rather uncommon) I think you may have dropped a “to-“ from auto-toxicity.
    From whence came your quote?


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