The Varieties of Crackpot Experience is a gutless article carried by a mainstream publication and authored by someone who calls himself Sean (no last name). I ordinarily have no problem with pseudonyms or the use of first names only (if Sean is really his first name). Apparently it is. I'm told this is none other than Sean Carroll, a theoretician good at imagining non-existent Galilean metaphors. There are occasions for personal attacks and this Sean writes for a mainstream publication spouting mostly mainstream views. Is his career endangered by this? Hardly. Unless he believes the type of article linked to reflects badly on him. So what's wrong? Quoting:
Frank Tipler is a crackpot.
He can't resist this. The first sentence no less. Sean vs. Frank Tipler in the Discovery octagon. Sean's a brave man. Sean also writes:
At one point in his life, he did very good technical work in general relativity; he was the first to prove theorems that closed timelike curves could not be constructed in local regions of spacetime without either violating the weak energy condition or creating a singularity. But alas, since then he has pretty much gone off the deep end, and more recently has become known for arguments for Christianity based on fundamental physics.
Now we get to the justification for the personal insult. Tipler links physics to arguments for Christianity. Well, perhaps if he had merely used biology to argue for atheism we could appoint him to promote the public understanding of science in a major western nation. Or use that position to help promote the sale of books. Sean links to another post which cites the fact that Frank Tipler wrote a book titled The Physics of Christianity. He quotes from it and critiques the quotes. Fair enough. At Telic Thoughts we have critiqued ideas of Richard Dawkins and others and at times leveled severe criticism of ideas. We usually manage to focus on ideas rather than labeling scientists with records of distinguished accomplishments as crackpots. Sean quotes Tipler:
Science is not restricted merely to describing only what happens inside the material universe, any more than science is restricted to describing events below the orbit of the Moon, as claimed by the opponents of Galileo. Like Galileo, I am convinced that the only scientific approach is to assume that the laws of terrestrial physics hold everywhere and without exception – unless and until an experiment shows that these laws have a limited range of application.
Sean then aims this shot below the belt:
Compares self with Galileo! 40 points! There is really no indication that the person who wrote this was once writing perfectly sensible scientific papers.
Tipler is noting his agreement with a significant point once advanced by Galileo. This is citing an historical authority figure to support his own argument. He is not comparing himself to Galileo. Sean selectively separates Tipler quotes so this is reproduced in its entirety: Tipler:
As regards global warming, my view is essentially the same as yours: Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is a scam, with no basis in science.
A few comments on my own particular view of global warming:
(1) I am particularly annoyed by the claims that the "the debate is over," because this was exactly the claim originally made against the Copernican theory of the Solar System. Copernicus' opponents said the idea that the Earth was the third planet from the Sun was advanced by Aristrachus in 300 B.C. (true), and had been definitely refuted by 100 A.D. The debate is over! Sorry, it wasn't: the Earth IS the third planet.
(2) It is obvious that anthropogenic global warming is not science at all, because a scientific theory makes non-obvious predictions which are then compared with observations that the average person can check for himself. As we both know from our own observations, AGW theory has spectacularly failed to do this. The theory has predicted steadily increasing global temperatures, and this has been refuted by experience. NOW the global warmers claim that the Earth will enter a cooling period. In other words, whether the ice caps melt, or expand — whatever happens — the AGW theorists claim it confirms their theory. A perfect example of a pseudo-science like astrology.
(3) In contrast, the alternative theory, that the increase and decrease of the Earth's average temperature in the near term follows the sunspot number, agrees (roughly) with observation. And the observations were predicted before they occurred. This is good science.
(4) I emphasized in point (2) that the average person has to be able to check the observations. I emphasize this because I no longer trust "scientists" to report observations correctly. I think the data is adjusted to confirm, as far as possible, AGW. We've seen many recent cases where the data was cooked in climate studies. In one case, Hanson and company claimed that October 2008 was the warmest October on record. Watts looked at the data, and discovered that Hanson and company had used September's temperatures for Russia rather than October's. I'm not surprised to learn that September is hotter than October in the Northern hemisphere.
It snowed here in New Orleans last week and it was the second heaviest snowfall I've seen in the 25 years I've lived in New Orleans. According to the local newspaper, it was the earliest snow had fallen in New Orleans since records were kept, beginning in 1850. I myself have looked at the relative predictive power of Copernicus's theory and the then rival Ptolemaic theory. Copernicus was on the average twice as accurate, and the average person of the time could tell. Similarly, anybody today can check the number of sunspots. Or rather the lack of them. When I first starting teaching astronomy at Tulane in the early 1980's, I would show sunspots to my students by pointing a small $25 reflecting telescope at the Sun, and focusing the Sun's image on the wall of the classroom. Sunspots were obviously in the image on the wall. I can't do this experiment today, because there are no sunspots.
(5) Another shocking thing about the AGW theory is that it is generating a loss of true scientific knowledge. The great astronomer William Herschel, the discoverer of the planet Uranus, observed in the early 1800's that warm weather was correlated with sunspot number. Herschel noticed that warmer weather meant better crops, and thus fewer sunspots meant higher grain prices. The AGW people are trying to do a disappearing act on these observations. Some are trying to deny the existence of the Maunder Minimum.
(6) AGW supporters are also bringing back the Inquisition, where the power of the state is used to silence one's scientific opponents. The case of Bjorn Lomborg is illustrative. Lomborg is a tenured professor of mathematics in Denmark. Shortly after his book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," was published by Cambridge University Press, Lomborg was charged and convicted (later reversed) of scientific fraud for being critical of the "consensus" view on AGW and other environmental questions. Had the conviction been upheld, Lomborg would have been fired. Stillman Drake, the world's leading Galileo scholar, demonstrates in his book "Galileo: A Very Short Introduction" (Oxford University Press, 2001) that it was not theologians, but rather his fellow physicists (then called "natural philosophers"), who manipulated the Inquisition into trying and convicting Galileo. The "out-of-the-mainsteam" Galileo had the gall to prove the consensus view, the Aristotlean theory, wrong by devising simple experiments that anyone could do. Galileo's fellow scientists first tried to refute him by argument from authority. They failed. Then these "scientists" tried calling Galileo names, but this made no impression on the average person, who could see with his own eyes that Galileo was right. Finally, Galileo's fellow "scientists" called in the Inquisition to silence him.
I find it very disturbing that part of the Danish Inquisition's case against Lomborg was written by John Holdren, Obama's new science advisor. Holdren has recently written that people like Lomborg are "dangerous." I think it is people like Holdren who are dangerous, because they are willing to use state power to silence their scientific opponents.
(7) I agree with Dick Lindzen that the AGW nonsense is generated by government funding of science. If a guy agrees with AGW, then he can get a government contract. If he is a skeptic, then no contract. There is a professor at Tulane, with a Ph.D in paleoclimatology, who is as skeptical as I am about AGW, but he'd never be considered for tenure at Tulane because of his professional opinion. No government contracts, no tenure.
(8) This is why I am astounded that people who should know better, like Newt Gingrich, advocate increased government funding for scientific research. We had better science, and a more rapid advance of science, in the early part of the 20th century when there was no centralized government funding for science. Einstein discovered relativity on his own time, while he was employed as a patent clerk. Where are the Einsteins of today? They would never be able to get a university job — Einstein's idea that time duration depended on the observer was very much opposed to the "consensus" view of the time. Einstein's idea that light was composed of particles (now called "photons") was also considered crazy by all physicists when he first published the idea. At least then he could publish the idea. Now a refereed journal would never even consider a paper written by a patent clerk, and all 1905 physics referees would agree that relativity and quantum mechanics were nonsense, definitely against the overwhelming consensus view. So journals would reject Einstein's papers if he were to write them today.
Science is an economic good like everything else, and it is very bad for production of high quality goods for the government to control the means of production. Why can't Newt Gingrich understand this? Milton Friedman understood it, and advocated cutting off government funding for science.
Here is another gem from Sean:
First, Frank Tipler is probably very “intelligent” by any of the standard measures of IQ and so forth.
He is probably very intelligent? We need to use the modifier probably for someone like Tipler? Was Newton probably intelligent? If you ever read Newton's bio you know he engaged in some unusual thinking toward the end of his life. Newton was intelligent. So is Tipler. Of course they are intelligent IDiots. There's also this:
Tipler isn’t completely crazy to want “average people” to be able to check claims for themselves.
Most of us know family members, neighbors, coworkers etc. with odd ideas. We don't generally label them crazy. Very few of us even get the opportunity to do so in a well known publication using the name Sean.