Global Warming Hysteria
Art Hobson most probably overstates the case with his assertion that essentially all knowledgeable scientists buy the idea that we have a human-caused global warming (Letters, P&S, 29(2), April 2000). In fact, many don't. Most of the sources Hobson quotes are items of political propaganda, not of science, and there is quite a difference between the two (see, e.g. , Freeman J. Dyson, "The Science and Politics of Climate", American Physical Society News, Vol. 8(5), May 1999, page 12). It is worth to recall that before the global warming hysteria kicked in, the predominate scare-mongering was of up-coming New Ice Age, not of warming. When a sudden change of decorations occurred (in 1977), many former Ice Age apocaliptics promptly jumped into the global warming bandwagon. Cat knows where the ham is. The central point here is not what is "really" coming on us (freezing, frying, or some other nightmare) but that public alarmism of any kind handsomely pays off, politically and economically. And those who pay, they order the music. For example, in a Realpolitik of the present-day academic life it is much easier to get a research grant if it pretends to say something about the control of the so called green-house emissions. I know, I just got one.
Alexander A. Berezin
Department of Engineering Physics
McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, L8S 4L7
As a member of the Forum, I would like to introduce the readers of the Newsletter to the recently organized Association of Environmentalists For Nuclear Energy (EFN). EFN is a totally independent non-profit environmentalist organization based in France devoted to presenting complete and honest information on energy and the environment, to promoting the benefits of the peaceful application of nuclear energy for a cleaner world and to uniting people in favor of clean nuclear energy. Beginning in 1996, EFN grew up around Bruno Comby, a graduate of the elite Ecole Polytechnique with an advanced degree in nuclear engineering and author of the French best-seller "Le Nucleaire Avenir de l'Ecology ?" (about to appear in English as "Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy"). He appeared in a number of TV debates in which he faced the Executive Director of Greenpeace and representatives of other anti-nuclear organizations. The publication of the book and his first interviews led to threats, anonymous telephone calls, insults and other indirect attacks by anti-nuclear groups and individuals. In reaction a number of prominent French scientists joined together to defend Comby's point of view ; they created the Association des Ecologists Pour le Nucleaire (AEPN), EFN in English, to promote nuclear energy for a better and cleaner planet. It is EFN's view that the environmentalists' opposition to nuclear energy is the greatest misunderstanding and mistake of the 20th century. One need hardly explain to the members of the P & S Forum that well managed nuclear energy is safe and very clean; it does not dump polluting gases into the atmosphere, it uses relatively little construction materiel compared to solar electric and wind energy (per kWh capacity), it produces a very small volume of waste as compared to coal and oil (and that waste is almost totally confined) and it does not contribute to the greenhouse effect (for it emits no carbon dioxide). True environmentalists should therefore be in favor of nuclear energy, and the purpose of EFN is to inform the public of its environmental benefits. EFN's members now constitute a world-wide cross-section of people who are concerned for the future of the planet and who want to keep it clean and protect nature by substituting nuclear and renewable energies in place of coal, oil and gas. EFN circulates a petition which has to date over 3500 signatures. There are Sympathizing Members, Active Members and Benefactors; as well as a Scientific Committee and an Honorific Committee. Visit the web-site : WWW.ECOLO.ORG or write in English or French to EFN@ECOLO.ORG.
1, rue du General Gouraud, F-92190 MEUDON, France
Telephone: 01 46 26 02 05(from France) 331 46 26 02 05(from elsewhere)
The writer of the commentary, "Science Education and Religion Science Conversations" in the July 2000 issue of Physics and Society is to be commended for a very thoughtful and collegial statement of how science and religion (especially Christianity) should conduct dialogue. I also agree with his statement of personal belief, and would add to it the old adage that "the Bible is not a science text, and science has nothing to say about the spiritual world. " Therefore, the two should be complementary, not antagonistic.
Further, I would caution writers who are arguing the "science side" of various science-religion debates, such as Adrian Melott, against becoming too strident in their criticism of Christian or other theistic points of view. While I doubt any physicists adhere to creation cosmologies that require a short lifetime for the universe and other tenets inconsistent with experimental measurements, many (probably most) physicists are themselves Christians. Certainly, those scientists who reject the need for or possibility of a Creator God do not speak for the entire scientific community or for the American Physical Society.
Ronald I. Miller, (256) 313-7179
Defense Intelligence Agency
Missile and Space Intelligence Center
ATTN: MSD-4, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama 35898-5500
I wanted to start off saying that I really enjoyed P&S, Vol.29, #3. Most of the time when I get physics publications I am only interested in reading one or two articles and then I throw it out. This issue was so full of interesting articles, commentary and letters that I practically read it cover to cover. I did have one minor disagreement with one of the letters: "Science and Creationism" by Derek Walton. In his letter he said that there is not a rigorous method to distinguish science and non-science and quoted something by Larry Laudan. I have not heard of Larry Laudan or seen his method for showing this; however I disagree on an instinctual level with this position and would require proof of this indistinguishability. It seems to me that the difference is summed up quite nicely in a quote I heard once (although I cannot remember from where) "Acceptance without proof is the fundamental precept of western Religion, Rejection without proof is the fundamental precept of western Science. " This seems to me to be a good basis for a rigorous demarcation between science and non-science. One could examine the number of assumptions used within a theory and compare with the amount of evidence in support (or contrary) to each assumption. This could provide a sort of chi-squared test of the scientific feasibility of any proposed theory. Something more rigorous than Occam's razor yet not as mathematically feasible as a standard chi-squared test. The initial difficulty in describing the difference between science and non-science is much akin to the initial difficulty in describing the difference between a sleeping live person and a recently dead person. At first it's so obvious that one cannot put the difference into words, there just is one; however upon further investigation it is obvious that there are subtle but easily verified differences.
William E. Butler
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Bausch and Lomb Hall 206, University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627-0171
"The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living. "
Jules Henri Poincare
There Is No Demarcation! Reply by Dr. Walton:
The comment in my letter was based on an article, "The demise of the demarcation problem" in vol.76 of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, edited by R.S.Cohen and L.Laudan, to which I refer the reader.
Dr. Butler seems to be claiming that science is distinguished by it's methodology. However as Laudan points out this is complicated by lack of agreement on what that methodology is. This makes it very difficult to fault purveyors of scientifically questionable points of view, e.g. creationists, parapsychologists, etc. . To make matters worse questionable science can often be found in well-accepted scentific areas: e.g. some aspects of palaeomagnetism in geophysics, some scientific dating techniques in archaeology.
I would like to end with this quote from Laudan's article
"Through certain vagaries of history, we have managed to conflate two quite distinct questions: What makes a belief well-founded (or heuristically fertile)? And what makes a belief scientific? The first set of questions is philosophically interesting and possibly even tractable; the second question is both uninteresting and, judging by its checkered past, intractable. If we would stand up and be counted on the side of reason, we ought to drop terms like 'pseudo-science' and 'unscientific' from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases that do emotive work for us. "
Dept. of Physics and Astronomy