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Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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March 26, 2009

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Posted by Derek

For those who haven't seen it and might be interested, I wanted to point out this excellent profile of Freeman Dyson in the New York Times Magazine. He's a particular scientific hero of mine, and I'm very glad indeed that he's still around.

And here's some more recent Dyson for those who wish.

Comments (42) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: General Scientific News


1. Anonymous on March 25, 2009 10:33 PM writes...

I wholeheartedly agree - a true scientist in a time of followers.

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2. Wavefunction on March 26, 2009 9:20 AM writes...

My hero too. I was lucky to correspond with him by e-mail once and hope to summon up the gall to try to ask him for an audience at the IAS sometime. Maybe we can both go.

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3. Bored on March 26, 2009 10:46 AM writes...

I remember reading about "Dyson Spheres" in the mid-'70's when I was in high school. Dyson, Asimov, Clarke, Ley, Sagan. I hope the new century produces lots more like them. It is nice to know he's still around.

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4. DaveinHackensack on March 26, 2009 11:04 AM writes...

Dyson has to belong to an elite club of living scientists who were mentioned on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Off the top of my head, I count him and Stephen Hawking.

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5. VS on March 26, 2009 11:23 AM writes...

Too bad he's completely nuts now. A global warming denier of extraordinary proportions.

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6. anon on March 26, 2009 12:07 PM writes...

I miss Feynman--he was character, at least, so I gleaned from his biography.

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7. startup on March 26, 2009 12:07 PM writes...

VS, if you don't need to publish and apply for grants there's nothing wrong with disagreeing with global warming theories.

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8. Hap on March 26, 2009 1:10 PM writes...

I didn't think he disagreed with global warming, but that he believes its effects and consequences to be not worth spending the money on. (I have to read the article yet.) I have little confidence in the use of cost-benefit analysis (though the concept makes sense, it is probably sensitive to the assumptions on which the valuations of different consequences are based, and it generally values noneconomic values less than economic ones), and I think it ignores human history to assume that because we can spend the money spent on mitigating global warming for other useful social goods that we will actually do so if the money is not spent on warming, but I don't think he's crazy for believing what he does. He could be crazy, but believing what he does is vastly insufficient to conclude that.

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9. Robert Bruce Thompson on March 26, 2009 1:20 PM writes...

Completely nuts? I don't think so. Dyson merely points out what many others have also commented on, that the prevalent AGW alarmism is based on models that have one very serious flaw. They're not predictive. If you plug in known data from the past and run the models, their output bears no relation to observable current conditions. On that basis alone, you can disregard any claims those morons Gore and Hansen make. The whole AGW thing is a political. It's about controlling people and getting government grants by following the party line. It's sure not science.

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10. DT on March 26, 2009 1:46 PM writes...

Its quite sad that he remembers Crick and Watson (Crick in particular) but makes no mention of Rosalind Franklin whom received little to no recognition of her work on the structure of DNA. Its arguable that Crick and Watson could not have figured out the structure without her x-ray crystallography results. Bright minds should recognize other people's works.

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11. vs on March 26, 2009 1:53 PM writes...

Hap - Perhaps I should have called him a GW "Delayer" which is really no better than a denier.

RBT - The vast majority of climate scientists believe that AGW is real and the impacts will be somewhere between very bad and catastrophic. The models may not be perfect, but they are accepted as valuable tools by the experts. Your claims of a political/academic conspiracy are just silly. Can you name 1 scientist who lost ajob or grant because his data suggested AGW was not real?

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12. Harry on March 26, 2009 2:05 PM writes...

Valuable tools, in that they give the results their designers like.

The question is valuable for whom and for what?

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13. vs on March 26, 2009 2:24 PM writes...


Do you know of any peer reviewed studies that suggest the models are completely wrong (i.e., the world is cooling or will cool in the future)?

The models of the late 80's and early 90's have proven largely correct, no?

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14. Hap on March 26, 2009 2:26 PM writes...

I think his argument is iffy, but it could be true without global warming being false. I don't view his arguments as being as internally inconsistent and homicidal (what else should I call enabling mass death for the benefit of few other than the arguers?) - he could have come to them honestly. It would be better to refute his arguments [1) see the Pinto - knowing people will die and doing nothing about it to benefit yourself is likely to be morally unacceptable, and not too popular with those likely to be the unfortunates who won't be around, and 2) if we wanted to act on other social and environmental problems, we have had the money to deal with them for years and have chosen to do other things instead - assuming that global warming money will be spent on other items instead is inconsistent with how we have actually acted and thus how we are likely to act] than to call him crazy for holding them.

I love how conspiracy theories show up around this, though - most times, scientists expect to see actual evidence to support a contention. Positing conspiracies is great, because suddenly the lack of evidence for something becomes evidence, because the conspiracy is inhibiting the presentation of beneficial (to the arguer's point of view) evidence. Why this gets any more credence (in the absence of significant evidence of actual conspiracy) than "the voices in my head told me that global warming is a fraud" is beyond me, apparently.

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15. Lucifer on March 26, 2009 2:29 PM writes...

Since a few AGW cultists have found their way here, I have this to say..

Are you nuts? Can you predict the future? Look at all the dead and almost dead scientists who tried to do that.. They failed!

In case you still do not understand why such predictions fail, I have an explanation- Hubris leads to the delusion of knowledge.
However the delusion of knowledge is not knowledge.

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16. vs on March 26, 2009 2:41 PM writes...

Lucifer (great name by the way),

Predicting the future is the whole point of science. We examine nature, try to figure out how it works and predict (and sometimes try to alter) the outcome. When our prediction is largely correct it is reasonable to believe our model/theory might be correct.

Without prediction there's little point in doing science - why bother knowing if you can't act on that knowledge?

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17. Harry on March 26, 2009 2:53 PM writes...

Well, since we've been in a generally warming trend since at least the 1940's (and in some respects, the 1700's), its not too surprising that models that predict warming have followed along.

To turn your argument around, do you think that recent years are in any way unique? If the models are generally applicable, then why can't they "predict" known events starting from known conditions.

Note: I'm NOT saying that the earth isn't getting warmer (at least in some places) but the earth has been both warmer and colder many times without human intervention. As lately as 10,000 years ago, much of the US was covered with a thousand feet of ice. Why isn't it now? Did something release googoltons of CO2? Did solar output change?

AGW advocates haven't answered these questions to my satisfaction. I don't think it's wise to cripple our economy and give over massive amounts of money and power to "wiser heads" without better information (and I'm not sure it would be wise even then).

My $0.02 YMMV

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18. Tok on March 26, 2009 4:04 PM writes...

I love the "if it happened naturally in the past, it must be natural now, because who would have done it back then?" argument. By that logic, we can't possibly cause or exacerbate any problems that have happened before humans came about. Wouldn't that be nice?

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19. milkshake on March 26, 2009 4:15 PM writes...

Freeman Dyson is wonderful man; I still remember the impression from reading his Disturbing The Universe the first time, many years back.

Some of his ideas and dreams are pretty odd though - and cheerfully so. And look how he drives the global warming orthodoxy enforcers up the wall.

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20. Hap on March 26, 2009 4:58 PM writes...

I guess that's what they call a hobby.

Though if he wants to jerk people's chains around, why can't he just drive 60 in the left lane like everyone else?

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21. startup on March 26, 2009 5:33 PM writes...

I've been wondering, has anyone dared to compare temperature increase and population growth? In peer-reviewed literature?

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22. Harry on March 26, 2009 6:36 PM writes...

Tok- typical non sequitor. You didn't bother to adress either question.

Let me break them out once more.

1. Climate has been known to change drastically in rather short periods of time even in the short time we have been recording events. What makes this one special? Subquestion: Historically CO2 seems to LAG temperature change. AGW proponents seem to be saying that CO2 now LEADS temperature change. Why?

2. Why don't these "generally useful" "accurate" models predict known events staring with known data?

Simple questions, no?

Anyhow, I'm done. I keep forgetting that AGW has the status of religious fervor. It is to be taken on faith.

Enjoy yourselves.

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23. Handles on March 26, 2009 6:49 PM writes...

startup, I think the graph in this abstract summarises the problem with your approach:

Apologies if youve all seen it before, I cant remember if Derek posted this once.

Although predicting future climate is hard, I am all for efficiency, and I will support things like carbon credit schemes if they force people to increase the efficiency of our energy use and cut down on wastage.

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24. milkshake on March 26, 2009 7:06 PM writes...

The environmentalist activism is victim of its past success: 1) banning chlorinated pesticides and limiting other persistent polutants 2) baning commercial whaling 3) baning freons + imposing heavy taxation on other ozone-depleting chemicals. Now they want to tax and ban man-made carbon dioxide.

Do you remember the hydrogen economy fad? This was a completely lunatic scheme, sold to politicians as an action plan for better future by the same people who now want governments to build CO2 storage wells and tax all fuels based on their carbon content.

Anyone who works with hydrogen knows that manufacturing hydrogen is a pretty problematic way of storing electric energy. Nevertheless the funding was flowing into these ridiculous schemes for many years.

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25. vs on March 26, 2009 8:02 PM writes...


Don't leave now, it's getting interesting.

1) (a) "This one" is special because the evidence overwhelmingly points to CO2 emmisions as the cause of the recent warming. There are explanations for more distant warming (and cooling) periods that are not in effect now. See here for example

(b) CO2 has lagged warming in the past that was initially driven by the M Cycles above. The key point is that the added CO2 produced even more warming. This is simple chemistry - CO2 absorbs IR Radiation.

2) The models do predict known events and they do it fairly well (see

They are not perfect, but there are no peer reviewed papers to suggest they are completely wrong or even mostly wrong.

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26. Wavefunction on March 26, 2009 10:04 PM writes...

The article seems to have provoked ire. See this for instance.
"Disturbing the Universe" is truly wonderful and evocative.

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27. befuddled on March 27, 2009 12:49 AM writes...

milkshake, please.

As I recall, the hydrogen economy fad was silliness cooked up by people who wanted to act as though there was a cheap technological fix for carbon dioxide emission, and thus forestall more realistic approaches to the problem. And my impression is that CO2 storage is a slightly more technically sound idea that is being promoted by some of the same people.

A carbon tax, on the other hand seems entirely reasonable and necessary for both environmental and national security reasons.

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28. befuddled on March 27, 2009 1:01 AM writes...


After having read the whole piece, it seems that Dyson doesn't believe that anthropogenic global warming exists, that even if it does, the consequences will be less negative than generally thought (and perhaps positive: gee they can grow cabbages in Iceland now!), and that while ocean acidification is an issue, it's not as bad as they say (which will be a relief to the coral reefs).

Overall, it was a very disheartening read. An obviously brilliant man obsessed by a kind of compulsive contrarianism. Kinda like Duesberg on steroids.

It saddens me to see someone so obviously smarter than me peddling such egregious nonsense. But it's happened before (see Shockley, Josephson, and at times, Teller and Friedman).

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29. befuddled on March 27, 2009 1:07 AM writes...

OK, I should clarify #23. Compared to Duesberg, it's Dyson's intelligence that is comparatively on steroids. His contrarian compulsion doesn't seem to be as advanced.

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30. whatever on March 27, 2009 2:55 AM writes...

There is global warming - travel to the once permafrost regions and you can see it with your own eyes. There was global warming and cooling before. The difference to now is the speed. What once took a couple of thousand years happens now in less than a couple of hundreds. That is or could be the problem. The theory explains this never (to our knowledge) before observed event with the influence of mankind and link it most likely to the increase of CO2.
Of course no one can seriously predict what will or could happen, because it never happend before. Educated guess is here the keyword. For some parts on the world there will be less change and consequences than for others - the question is: Where is what and do we care? Some people not others yes and here we are.

Nice article thanks for posting.

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31. Tok on March 27, 2009 7:41 AM writes...


I wasn't posting pro or anti AGW, I was just pointing out that "it happened in the past naturally so it can't be us now" is a terrible argument no matter what you're talking about.

My view is aligned more closely with Milkshake, whether AGW is true or not, I'm a big fan of efficiency and reducing waste.

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32. Harry on March 27, 2009 8:16 AM writes...


I didn't intend to comment on this any more, but since I was addressed directly, I will.

I'd just point out that I wasn't making that argument. I was asking people to explain why this warming period is different.

That's it for me on this thread.

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33. Hap on March 27, 2009 10:13 AM writes...

I still haven't read the piece - I keep falling asleep while trying to get through JACS after baby is done eating. I saw the beginning and the end, and I probably based my conclusions or assumptions too much on that. Sorry.

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34. TFox on March 27, 2009 1:47 PM writes...

My reading of Dyson is that his views of AGW science are fairly mainstream (ie it's real). It's only in policy response where he might be considered a skeptic -- he'd rather see ecosystem engineering (GMO trees, land use changes, etc) than emissions controls. A more mainstream view would be that we'll need everything...

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35. TeeFox on March 27, 2009 2:51 PM writes...

That wasn't me.

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36. srp on March 27, 2009 10:37 PM writes...

Dyson is unusual in that he is both very very smart in a technical math-and-physics way and he has an unusually broad perspective that often goes under the name "wisdom." For instance, his essays show a good intuitive understanding of microeconomics, engineerng, and the connections between moral and technical issues. He also knows a lot of history (including scientific history, important parts of which he has lived), and seems to be pretty good at understanding human nature.

All that said, his value system is much more "wet" than mine so I often disagree with his big-picture views about society. But on many subjects his analysis is by far the most convincing around. Check out From Eros to Gaia and the essay about "Plan A" and "Plan B" projects, for instance.

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37. Jeff on March 28, 2009 4:42 PM writes...

More and more scientists will begin to jump ship on the AGW hypothesis, as Mother Nature demonstrates just how puny the manmade CO2 effect really is. The last scientist standing will be blamed for the whole mess. In retrospect, it will be seen as absurd to have believed that humans could control the climate.

When the AGW house of cards collapses, I wonder what will become of the army of believers. Will they do the honorable thing, like falling on their swords, or will their devotion be rewarded with well-paid jobs in the nacent "green industries"?

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38. vs on March 28, 2009 5:10 PM writes...

Hey Jeff,

You're a very confident denier. Where did you get this idea and when will these things come to pass?

Are there more or less AGW believers among climatologists now than 10 years ago? I think you know the answer to that question.

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39. Sili on March 29, 2009 1:48 PM writes...

I'm reminded of the koan (or whatever it is): "If you meet the buddha on the road, kill him."

There's nothing wrong with admiring Dyson for his contributions to science, but no scientist - not even "the Holy Ghost incomprehensible" - is inerrant.

How's that saying? "When a respected, old scientist says that something can be done, it is wise to pay attention for he is very often right. When an old, respected scientist says that something is impossible, he is almost inevitably wrong."

Bethe and Wheeler strikes me as good examples of scientists who kept their good heads right up until their deaths, but I'm prepared to be corrected.

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40. Jeff on March 30, 2009 5:42 PM writes...

Hey, vs:

You've asked some good questions regarding my previous comment (#37), and I will answer them as best I can.

Many scientists have been skeptical about the ability of manmade CO2 to exert any significant effect on climate. A few years ago, the so-called Oregon Petition had 19,000 named signers, all of whom shared their common belief that AGW science was off the mark with reality. Today, that number is over 31,000. Last year, Sen. James Inhofe (a long time AGW skeptic) presented the U.S. Senate with a list of some 400 well-respected scientists from a wide variety of disciplines, from countries around the world. This year, Inhofe released the list of names which had grown to 600. And now we see Freeman Dyson (arguably the successor to Albert Einstein) adding his name to the ranks of skeptics.

Warmers have trivialized both the number and "quality" of skeptics that came out against the AGW orthodoxy, since they are all identified by name. Many commenters (warmers) have already done this to Dyson. On the other hand, we'll never know the number and quality of the much touted consensus supporting AGW, let alone their names. Only paymasters who dole out the big Federal grant bucks can guess who they are.

When will AGW as a significant effect on global temps be finally discredited? Some of the more aggressive studies "suggest" it could happen within the next 12 months. Others say it "might" be in another 24 - 36 months. Some researchers have stated it will "probably" occur no later that the year 2014. The general consensus centers around 2012, but then we don't know for certain how many are in these consesus or who they are. There "could" be some wackos in this bunch. More research in this area "may" be warranted.

You asked if there are more or less AGW believers among climatologists now than 10 years ago. I cannot answer that with certainty, but it seems "very likely" that there are more Federally funded climatologists today than 10 years ago. It goes without saying that few of them could (or "would"?) disagree with AGW science, at least until their mortgage has been paid off and the last kid put through grad school. However, singling-out the climatologists amounts to cherry-picking the numerous scientific disciplines involved in AGW research.

And for that, shame on you.

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41. vs on March 30, 2009 11:26 PM writes...


I asked my questions in the hope that you were not a kook.

The fact that you reference the Oregon petiion betrays you. Is the Oregon Institute (with 6 "faculty", zero students and zero published papers in climatology) really the foundation of your disbelief? Do you really choose them over every major scientific association and university in the US and every major country in the world?

Do you realy tout a nutcase like Inhofe (a young earth creationist who believes "evolution is a lie", the Bible is a scientific book and claims to know for sure that "there are no homosexuals in my family tree for hundreds of years") as your expert on matters such as this?

Are you a scientist? Do you know how that real science is reported and "debated" in peer reviewed journals? Do you really think an online poll is how it's done? That every shmuck with access to a PC should be counted as an equal to a trained climatologist who has worked on this for years?

Do you realy believe there's some vast conspiracy going on involving thousands of scientists around the world and not one paper has been leaked? Not one hidden video of a meeting in which the PhD's are all grumbling about how crazy it is that they must lie every day?


If so, get a clue.

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42. Bored on March 31, 2009 10:30 PM writes...

Anthropogenic global warming is the heated topic that it is because it is all about politics. Sometimes, politics can motivate us to do great things like land a man on the moon. More often than not, it causes nothing but huge volumes of hot air to be wafted about. Maybe that is where the warming is coming from.

As if anyone cares, I think AGW is a load of crap.

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