Monday, May 06, 2013

If not now when? If not me, who?

An organizing moral of Judaism is Rabbi Hillel's, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” to which Eli, and several others would add "If not me, who?"

If not now, when? and If not me, whom? are the two questions that no Honest Broker dare answer.  David Appell at Quark Soup drives the n+1st stake into the heart of that broken image, first as farce
. . .I was talking to someone in management at a national lab, and they told me on the QT that there is a white paper going around high-levels in Washington, written by a space scientist (unnamed) at another national lab (also unnamed), that warns of a 99+% chance of an 240-meter asteroid strike on Earth in 2029.

. . . .he was recently fired for "advocacy" -- if you can believe it -- because his paper includes policy prescriptions to address the threat, which he estimated could cost up to $800 billion, a number no one in Washington wants to hear.

Even worse (yes, it gets worse), there is a sealed court-imposed gag order on him brought by a House committee, whose Republican chairman insists more research is needed, and with the sequester there's no money in the budget to address the problem anyway and he'd prefer it just go away.
and then by showing how Carl Sagan, and E.O Wilson answered the accusations that they were "advocates" and not to be trusted when a churnalist tried to pin that on them.  As Wilson said
It is reasonable then to ask what scientists are expected to do when they hit upon a serious environmental problem. Whisper in the ear of a journalist? Entirely and chastely refrain from publishing outside technical journals, hoping the results will be discovered by nonscientists?
In the April 5 issue of Science (appears open) Bassam Shakhashiri (2012 American Chemical Society President) and Jerry Bell (Chair of the committee drafting the new ACS policy on climate change) write
F. Sherwood Rowland was a central figure in the late–20th-century controversy about the effect of chlorofluorocarbons on stratospheric ozone. For years, he engaged audiences ranging from students to members of the U.S. Congress. As an exemplary scientist-citizen, his focus eventually led to the worldwide ban on these compounds. Rowland spoke to all scientist-citizens when he asked: “Isn't it the responsibility of scientists, if you believe that you have found something that can affect the environment, isn't it your responsibility to do something about it, enough so that action actually takes place?…If not us, who? If not now, when?
This, of course is the road that James Hansen is traveling down.

Eli's friend Andy Revkin (well we are Facebook buddies) really needs to man up.  There is not a middle to some roads.  Pretending that there is, is both dangerous and dishonest, to your reputation, and to your friends. 


Phillip said...

Another musical piece on this theme well worth listening to is Carrie Newcomer's If Not Now. The youtube link is

I apologize for not knowing the HTML tags to post it as a proper link.

Pinko Punko said...

Did Eli see the Science item about Hansen's retirement. Of course there were quotes from you know whos. It was basically pathetic.

Hank Roberts said...

Hm, aren't orbital elements not exactly secret?

That could make quite a splash.

David Appell said...

Hank: As I indicated, the top part of my post was facetious, to illustrate a point.

Hank Roberts said...

Then again -- you know that kind of off-the-wall space program Obama has been talking about to visit an asteroid?

In 21st Century, better you visit the asteroid than the asteroid visits you.

Say, "what if we built a system capable of diverting an asteroid and found out we didn't need it -quite- immediately? Would that be so horrible a use of funds?"

Hank Roberts said...

Oh, it's those damned statisticians at work again. No wonder the Republicans don't want it discussed.

Could this be in the back story?

Yarkovsky-driven impact risk analysis for asteroid (99942) Apophis

D. Farnocchiaa, Corresponding author contact information, E-mail the corresponding author,
S.R. Chesleya,
P.W. Chodasa,
M. Michelib,
D.J. Tholenb,
A. Milanic,
G.T. Elliottb,
F. Bernardid

a Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, 4800 Oak Grove Drive, Pasadena, CA 91109, USA
b Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, 2680 Woodlawn Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA
c Dipartimento di Matematica, Università di Pisa, Largo Pontecorvo 5, 56127 Pisa, Italy
d SpaceDyS, Via Mario Giuntini 63, 56023 Cascina, Pisa, Italy

Hank Roberts said...

So what're we looking for?
Something more recent than Moriarity's On the Dynamics of an Asteroid ...

Anonymous said...

Frankly I don't know what the fuss is about.

Asteroids are good for you, especially small ones.

And anyway the notion of 'nuclear winters' breaks the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I'm sure that Eli even proved it once in a paper he wrote with IM Gifted and UR Talented.

Bernard J.

[I think, therefore I am not a robot.


Hank Roberts said...


Astronomy & Astrophysics
manuscript no. paper ESO 2013
March 13, 2013
Statistical and Numerical Study of Asteroid Orbital Uncertainty

This, from my maybe 20 minutes of self-eddication on what I know nothing about, would be the paper to read.

A soon-to-be-upgoing satellite for star mapping -- if they borrow some time on it -- could make observations on Apophis useful to greatly improve the uncertainty on its tracking.

Seems like the mystery-paper-and-gag-order story might be claiming unlikely precision given what we know.

Prob'ly good for aerospace stocks tho'

I think someone should put up a prize for netting and releasing Apophis on its next pass, sling a rope on the thing and let it run off dragging an ion engine ...then work with whatever track it's on to do something more useful with it.

Hank Roberts said...

> facetious
Oh, I know, but -- it's fun to extrapolate from the facetious bit and see where it would go, eh?

Russell Seitz said...

While the apocalyptic nuclear winter Sagan published in Parade before it appeared under peer review remains a locus classicus of science by press conference, it posed no 2nd Law of Thermo problems.

Its long string of maxed out worst case parameters-- dozens of them, instead presented a precautionary example of the power of Murphy's Second Law:

If everything must go wrong, don't bet on it.

TTAPS has been called many things. 'Reproducible' is not objectively among them.

David Appell said...

Nonetheless, the question is why Sagan shouldn't have spoken out if, in his opinion (not the opinoion of the peer reviewers) nuclear winter posed a big problem.

Scientists will have differing opinions. That's not a reason for any of them to avoid speaking out, either Sagan or the peer reviewers.

Anonymous said...

"While the apocalyptic nuclear winter Sagan published in Parade before it appeared under peer review remains a locus classicus of science by press conference, it posed no 2nd Law of Thermo problems.

Aw, Russell, you're not an asteroidist are you? Not one of those CAIGNWists?

Bernard J.

[I think, therefore I am not a robot.


Anonymous said...

"Scientific Advocacy"
-- by Horatio Algeranon

Scientists must not advocate
That simply isn't right
Especially if they're second rate
Like the fellow with the kite


By the way, Eli, thanks for changing the captcha's to something that a mouse can actually read.

Anonymous said...

Asteroids are plant food!

Rib Smokin' Bunny

kT said...

In 21st Century, better you visit the asteroid than the asteroid visits you.

And the point of visiting a tiny non dangerous asteroid we can't even detect yet, in a 50 billion dollar rocket that self destructs after 10 minunte is? Charlie Bolden's Asteroid Initiative has been judged by the space cadet community and found to be laughable. It's time for Charlie to do a 'James Hansen' on this one, but he's too used to taking his marching orders from his bosses and shitting his pants in public to 'do the right thing'.

raypierre said...

Regarding the potential asteroid impact, I wish to point out that anybody proposing to prevent this impact shows the most astounding and unjustified hubris. What, after all, is the "right" amount of asteroid impacts? Do we know that? Would we have been pleased if the Dinosaurs had prevented the K-T Impact which helped make way for the rise of mammals? No! We don't know the "right" distribution of asteroid impacts any more than we know the "right" temperature the planet should have, so we should just let nature and economics take its sweet course, and not try to understand anything about consequences.

Anonymous said...

-- by Horatio Algeranon

Asteroids oughta be diverted
Unless of course, they're headed
For those who are perverted
Or evilly embedded

Hank Roberts said...

So, how big, and at what rate, kind of a small city-targeting ground-burst-nuclear war are we figuring is climatologically inconsequential? Just in case, you know, the Himalayas need fighting over.

Martin Vermeer said...

Raypierre got it nailed. And for all we know this asteroid is heading for a country where gay marriage is legalized

Anonymous said...

I'm more worried about great chunks of the Earth flying off into space.

We need all the asteroids we can get in order to to fill the holes that will soon afflict us... it's coming on to that time of the cycle.

And anyway asteroids are natural - how many confirm3ed asteroid refugees can anyone count?

Bernard J.

[I think, therefore I am not a robot.


Anonymous said...

The obvious thing to do is impose an asteroid impact tax, that way we'd get the right amount of impacts.


kT said...

I agree, raypierre really has got the genre down. However I'm still interested in the substance of catastrophism, and I think the space based solutions are the credible means to proceed. As in, teach biosphere maintenence as a basic life experience. Make it real.

On a more practical level I have indentified a whole slew of booster landing sites almost right in my backyard ironically enough, that could make fully reusable large scale space flight possible. Unfortunately this makes the spectre of INTERNATIONAL reusable space flight inevitable, and there is this political thing of ITAR and even on the high seas - piracy, although in the 21st century space based economy I'm less so worried about that.

This is relevant because TODAY there is a hearing about beach closures at Boca Chica. In theory in the near future these things could launch and land anywhere with overflight permission but there is the double problems of noise and cultural perception.

Right now I'm thinking that if NASA and the DOD could give up the range or if they would approve a Shilo commercial launch pad then I could pick up the boosters in the Grand Cay district of the Bahamas for routine high inclination LEO spaceflight, and then Brownsville would be reserved for the occasional equatorial BEO (beyond Earth orbit) very large and very load highly efficient monster rocket launches, and I can pick up the boosters anywhere from the Boca Chica airbase in the keys to the cays in the southern Bahamas, which is indeed my back yard.

Then perhaps we can get on with it. I'll probably blog this later today ... I'm busy making dirt.

Russell Seitz said...

David Appell

Because Sagan expensively deployed a PR firm , Porter Novelli , to spin the press conference announcing its debut in Parade the highest circulation tabloid in the history of printing.

And who was the Science Editor and one man peer review board of Parade at the time ?

Get back to us when you've read Science senior writer Elliot Marshall's account of the ballyhoo, " The Little Chill" which you will find in The New Republic in 1987, and Starley Thompsen and Steve Schneider's "Nuclear Winter Reappraised ", which appeared in Foreign Affairs in 1986.

Or if that's too hard to find , try

Nature 473, 275–276; 2011

Russell Seitz said...

Bernard J

Since I've published on impact geophysics in Nature and Naturwissenschaften , I suppose I must be one.

And Yourself?

David Appell said...

Russel: Sagan (or any scientist) doesn't have to be right in order to have the right and/or obligation to speak out -- he has to think he's right and think he has something important to say that everyone else should hear. Science is always subject to review and correction, and it's often the case that it's reviewed or corrected *because* someone got loud about their particular point of view.

David Appell said...

Russell: I don't know what your Nature 2011 link goes to -- it didn't work for me -- but it did lead me to this:

"Nuclear winter is a real and present danger," Alan Robock, Nature (19 MAY 2011)

"...The fight over the details of the modelling caused a rift between Sagan and Schneider that never healed. When I bring up the topic of nuclear winter, people invariably tell me that they think the theory has been disproved.
"But research continues to support the original concept. By 2007, models had began to approximate a realistic atmosphere up to 80 kilometres above Earth’s surface, including the stratosphere and mesosphere. This enabled me, and my coauthors, to calculate for the first time that smoke particles would be heated by the Sun and lifted into the upper stratosphere, where they would stay for many years. So the cooling would last for much longer than we originally thought."

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should ask Lubos Motl to mediate* what appears to be a dispute between Rutgers and Harvard on Nuclear Winter.

After all, Motl has ties to both schools, having received a PhD from the former and a blofessorship* at the latter.


*though I'd bet without even checking that Motl hates Sagan with a passion, which would determine whom he sides with.

**"Professor of Blogging"

Russell Seitz said...

David : The first two sources are both primary and fairly disinterested

As I remarked to Steve Scneider and others at the time , Sagan's ' Apocalyptic predictions ' amounted to a joke played on strategic policy analysts at the expense of the credibility of climate modeling , which had very little credibility to waste in 1984.

Hence my taking issue with Alan in Nature -

You'll need to use your library if you don't subscribe-

David Appell said...

Russell, I don't have access to the letters of Nature, but your letter doesn't change the point: some scientists, like Sagan, think nuclear winter is a problem, and therefore want to speak up about it. You disagree with them, and you speak up too. So I don't see what the problem is, or why they shouldn't speak up just because some people disagree with them.

Russell Seitz said...

Note that the 'original concept' was that sunlight would instantly plunge to a part per million and everybody would freeze to death in , to quote the title of Saganand Ehrlich's book " ,The Cold And The Dark "

The TTAPS baseline and worst case scenarios- involvd global temperatures falling to -23 C and an overall cooling of ten to twenty thousand degree-days , - well and truly 'winter

As can be seen here five generations of better models, starting with the one Schneider used shrank the effect by orders of magnitude in both degree-day and temperature terms, but true believers in the politically front loaded neologism remain in denial about the meltdown of their cold war factoid.

The double irony is that the reality is a lot closer to what Crutzen predicted in the aptly titled 1982 Ambio article that statred the fracas: 'Twilight at Noon', and Norbert Weiner 's 1954 discussion of the climate impact of H-bomb tests

Russell Seitz said...

The graph corresponding to the 'as can be seen here link is the first graph in the second row, showing cyan on white in the thumbnail, which will expand if clicked

Anonymous said...

I agree with your point David.

the issue in this case is not whether Sagan was wrong or right.

It is whether he had the right to speak out and whether it's a good thing to have scientists speaking out.

Personally, I don't see anything wrong in having scientists speak out on political issues related to science. In fact, I think it's a positive thing.

There is always a chance that a scientist will be wrong and, as you point out, airing a scientist's views is likely to start public debate.

If a scientist is wrong, other scientists can show that to be the case and the public wins in the long run.

Far more dangerous than a scientist speaking up and being wrong is the case where a scientist suspects something bad, is actually right and keeps quiet. Imagine if that had happened with Crutzen et al on CFC's.


EliRabett said...

As Eli recalls the term of art now is nuclear autumn. Still sucks, esp for bunnies hopping within a few parsecs of where the bombs went off.

Russell Seitz said...

David, there is as much distance between the popularized version of nuclear winter and the evolving scientific reality as there is between the first IPCC report and next years.

The problem was Sagan's refusal to change his mind in the face of changing models, and more empirical parameter studies about anything he had paid to advertise and preached as scientific gospel on the Johnny Carson show- Stockholm fever does strange things to people.

David Appell said...

Russell: I realize that's *your* point of view. And I realize scientists can play hardball.

Maybe Sagan was wrong. Maybe you are. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. In any case, I think both of you have the right to speak up and make your views heard as widely as possible.

Expecting anyone to hold their tongue until there is 100% consensus is utterly unrealistic.

Anonymous said...

That Sagan may have "refused to change his mind in the face of changing models" would seem to be Sagan's problem and his alone (or it would be, if he were still alive, that is.)

It certainly makes no difference to the science.

And the rant about Sagan and Johnny Carson seems to have come out of left field.


Russell Seitz said...


Extraordinary media profiles require exraordinary candor in acknowledging technical controversy.

A decade before Nova, nobody could argue when the Editor of Science ,Technology & Human Values said "Science is whatever Carl Sagan says on the Carson Show."

David Appell said...



Sagan did a better job at PR than you did.

So what? He had a right to speak out about his concerns, and he did.

That's how it goes. That's how the game is played.

Anonymous said...

"Bernard J

Since I've published on impact geophysics in Nature and Naturwissenschaften , I suppose I must be one.

And Yourself?

Actually Russell I don't believe in asteroids. They're just a 'theory' dreamed up by conspiratorial astronomers. Except for small asteroids which, as I noted above, are good for us...

Bernard J.

(I think, therefore I am not a robot.


Russell Seitz said...


There was no symmetry of controvery becuse the PR preceeded publication - an early example of science by press conference, complete with the debut of a vanity press newsletter 'Nuclear Winter News

Bernard J

Everybody believes in Asteroid B-612

kT said...

Science is whatever is left over after somebody else speaks up and everyone else takes a good hard look at what was said. That could be you speaking up, or not.

David Appell said...

Russell: Even *if* there was no symmetry in the controversy -- and clearly some people disagree with you on that -- there was still nothing wrong with Sagan (or anyone) speaking out about an issue they felt was important and on which they felt they had important things to say.

Russell Seitz said...

David, the issue is not areopagetics- people can say whatever they please about what they publish, but as a matter of record, Porter-Novelli was paid 100 K to spin TTAPS a month before it was accepted by Science , and threw the press conference on 31 October. So from then until 23 December, no one could gainsay what Sagan was saying in Parade where he had carte blanche as Science Editor. In that hiatus he published 'Nuclear War and Climatic catastrophe ' in Foreign Affairs

How does this sort of preemptive first strike jibe with your idea of informed public dialog on important matters? As part of the disclosure rules that have evolved since, A-list journals now reserve the right to can papers in the press if authors throw press conferences to spin them in advance of scientific publication.

Anonymous said...

As a matter of record: The original TTAPS paper was peer reviewed and published in a reputable journal (Science)

Not sure precisely what

"Porter-Novelli was paid 100 K to spin TTAPS a month before it was accepted by Science , and threw the press conference on 31 October. So from then until 23 December, no one could gainsay what Sagan was saying in Parade"

is supposed to mean/imply.

But we can guess.

Reading this might help in that regard.

Apparently, some (Conway and Oreskes at least) think that Sagan et al were not the ones blowing smoke in this case.


david lewis said...

Revkin's reputation is toast.

When Revkin received his John Chancellor Award Jim Hansen showed up at the ceremony, and after mentioning Walter Sullivan, only slightly hesitated when he said Revkin was the "best" science journalist ever.

When Jim retired recently, he circulated a note stating he "had the good fortune of my research being reported by top science writers: Walter Sullivan..., Richard Kerr..., and Justin Gillis...."

And that was the entire list.

David Appell said...

Russell: Again, I think scientists have a right to speak out on issues they think are important, no matter what others think about their ideas or their timing. Obviously some have more resources (or position, or reputation, or...) than others. That's life. I don't see that an "informed public dialog" on nuclear winter didn't take place -- it seems there has been a great deal of dialog. The idea that scientists are supposed to hold back their concerns until some kind of consensus forms, and then they all line up on a stage and release a big report, is unrealistic, and also unwanted, because dialog often induces more dialog.

My suspicion is that some journals disallow scientists from speaking out before publication because they're trying to coordinate coverage and maximize their own public relations.

Anonymous said...

Sagan, Wilson are hardly the only scientists who have acted as advocates for political issues.

Edward Teller is probably the biggest of them all, the "Father of scientist political advocacy", as it were.

But, unfortunately, unlike the case of Sagan (which was actually based on peer reviewed science published in open journals), much of Teller's advocacy (and that of other "weapons technicians", as Freeman Dyson has referred to them) was shrouded in secrecy, based on classified information not available to the public for open scrutiny.

Perhaps Russell has published harsh criticism of Teller's advocacy in addition to that of Sagan?


"Teller Gave Flawed Data on X-Ray Laser, Scientist Says" LA Times, Oct 21 1987

"The scientist who directed nuclear X-ray laser research for President Reagan's "Star Wars" program says physicist Edward Teller and a fellow scientist, Lowell Wood, have conveyed "overly optimistic, technically incorrect" information about the laser research to the nation's top policy makers."

"Roy D. Woodruff, former associate director for defense systems at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, also charges that Roger E. Batzel, the laboratory director, "was fully aware" that Teller's information was inaccurate but refused to send "correcting technical information" to Washington."

// end La times quotes

And it was hardly the first time Teller had been an advocate for a project for which false claims had been used in the sales pitch;

Project Chariot: The Nuclear Legacy of Cape Thompson, Alaska

"Actively supporting the [Project Chariot] proposal, Dr. Edward Teller, 'father of the hydrogen bomb' and director of the Radiation Laboratory, suggested that the AEC detonate a 2.4 megaton atomic device on t he northwest coast of Alaska in the region of Cape Thompson. Such an explosion would create a deep water hole to be used as a harbor for the eventual shipment of coal, oil, and other non-renewable resources thought to exist along this part of the coast."

"it was not until the spring of 1960 that official representatives of the Atomic Energy Commission came to the village to explain the details of the proposed blast. Foote described what happened in his follow-up report to the AEC:

To the detriment of the Commission and Project Chariot, the officials who spoke in March, 1960, made several statements which could not be substantiated in fact. Among other things the Point Hope people were told that the fish in and around the Pacific Proving Grounds were not made radioactive by nuclear weapons tests and [there would not be]... any danger to anyone if the fish were utilized; that the effects of nuclear weapons testing never injured any people, anywhere; that once the severely exposed Japanese people recovered from radiation sickness...there were no side effects; that the residents of Point Hope would not feel any seismic shock at all from Project Chariot; and that copies of the Environmental Program studies would be made immediately available to the Point Hope council upon the return of the AEC officials to California."

Anonymous said...


Russell's "Porter-Novelli was paid 100 K to spin TTAPS a month before it was accepted by Science , and threw the press conference on 31 October. So from then until 23 December, no one could gainsay what Sagan was saying in Parade"

is a red herring with regard to the peer reviewed science.

Just whom Porter-Novelli was supposed to have been "spinning" (surely not the peer reviewers or editors of Science) is not clear, but the comment gives the impression that Sagan was somehow "up to no good" (unethical, etc), when all the actions really imply is that Sagan was being shrewd.

He knew that if his detractors simply dismissed the Parade essay as "unsubstantiated, politically motivated alarmism", they would be embarrassed a month later when the peer reviewed paper came out in Science.


Russell Seitz said...

~@:>, dont be a <@

"He knew that if his detractors simply dismissed the Parade essay as "unsubstantiated, politically motivated alarmism", they would be embarrassed a month later when the peer reviewed paper came out in Science"

Which is to say he exploited the publication cycle to preempt substantive criticism long enough to pontificate in Foreign Affairs , with an article that also went to press before TTAPS appeared.

It took Steve Schneider and Starley Thompson two full years to sort out the 'sophisticated one dimensional model and publish " Nuclear Winter Reappraised ' in Foreign Affairs in 1986

David Appell said...


I think your real complaint is that Sagan outplayed you.

After reading the "Merchants of Doubt" excerpt posted here, I don't believe for a second that you were somehow pure and Sagan somehow dirty.

Next time, fight harder.

-- David

Russell Seitz said...

Oreskes and and Conway show an odd aversion to interviewing critics of TTAPS, myself included, This may reflect Conways employment as court historian at the NASA lab where the model originated.

But sustained semantic aggression is no substitute for disinterested historiography, and it is ironic that Oreskes, as part of his climate reality project, never bothered to ask Al Gore about the outcome of the debate featuring a team headed by Tom Ackerman, the 'A" in TTAPS, versus Schneider and myself at he two day 1987 Virginia Tech symposium ' Is Nuclear Winter Real and Relevant ?"

I suggest you read cotemporay accounts of the matter for perspective, especially Eliot Marshall's 1987 New Republic TRB column, 'The Little Chill', which astutely compares the hype surrounding nuclear winter and Star Wars and concludes them to be the two best orchestrated myths of the late cold war.

Russell Seitz said...

David- I see the IEE story on the Virginia tech event is not online, so I'll try to summarize from memory- Having listened to both sides, with his father , old Senator Gore , moderating, Al concluded that rather than being the 'robust' proposition Sagan said it was, nuclear winter appeared under cross examination too uncertain to displace the strategic policy assumptions of the day.

A host of serious people agreed with his judgement, which time proved reasonably astute, for the more the matter was studied and the more realistic the models became, the smaller the predicted effect became.

By the Nineties , all that was left of it was a forgetble video game called 'Duke Nuclear Winter"

Anonymous said...


Well, Foreign Affairs only comes out on a quarterly basis.

But I suppose we can't rule out that Sagan was "controlling" the publication time of the TTAPS paper in Science vis a vis the article in Foreign affairs with the help of the editors of the two publications. After all, conspiracy theorizing is not always incorrect.

But I can't see that it would really have made much difference to those making "substantive" criticisms if the Foreign Affairs article had come out shortly after the Science paper (eg, in Winter, "84 issue) rather than shortly before it.

Those who are interested in making substantive criticisms are going to base their critique on the science, not the politics, which means they are going to do it from a reading of the scientific paper, not Foreign Affairs.

So, Schneider et al had to wait a month until they had the peer reviewed scientific paper in hand.

The mere fact that it took Schneider substantial time to "sort things out" actually means that the scientific issues are not the kind of things that some political hack is going to be able to get in a few months (if ever).

But I notice that did not stop you from publishing a rebuttal letter in Foreign Affairs in Spring of '84. Perhaps you are just better/quicker than Schneider at sorting things out?

Finally, I hear only crickets on the question about criticism by you of Teller's "false fact advocacy".


Despite that fact that the TTAPS paper was peer reviewed and published in a reputable journal, Russell has characterized the entire thing as politically motivated conjecture: "a politicization of science sufficient to result in the advertising of mere conjecture as hard fact".
"What is being advertised is not science but a pernicious fantasy that strikes at the very foundations of crisis management, one that attempts to transform the Alliance doctrine of flexible response into a dangerous vision."( RussellSeitz, "In from the cold: 'nuclear winter' melts down", The National Interest, 5, Fall 1986)

Despite his denial of conspiracy theorizing (eg, in a letter to Science), it's hard to escape the conclusion that Russell actually believes the TTAPS paper was at least part of some "loosely knit coordination" by the anti-nuclear-weapons (aka "peace") movement (which was a little more tightly knit in the case of the editors of Science and Foreign Affairs, who coordinated the timing of their publication of Sagan's work to maximize impact, of course).

Arguments based on such assumptions are really hard (if not impossible) to counter with logic and facts.


a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

I actually remember the "Nuclear Winter" debate, as it took place when I was in grad school and actually had time to attend the occasional colloquium.

It seemed a fairly cogent argument to me until I actually attended a seminar advocating the scenario given at Fermilab. It was then clear that the advocates of the theory were positing that nukes would be used in ways that simply didn't make sense strategically.

I do not impute bad faith by either side. I do think that both sides were swayed by preconceived notions and ignorance of fields outside of their expertise.

Being scientists imposes multiple roles and responsibilities on us. On the one hand, we are "experts" who understand a narrow area better than just about anyone else. On the other hand, we are citizens who have a responsibility to ensure the public exercise their democratic responsibilities with the best information possible. There is no guarantee that the various roles will not sometimes pose risks for each other.

Russell Seitz said...


Sagan asked for, and got 'accelerated publication" at Science , perhaps aided by the fact that the "Biological Consequences' companion paper, featured several former and one future AAAS President among its coauthors., all of whom participated in Sagan's DIY review conference at the American Academy in 1982. You'll find the footnotes in 'In from the Cold ' in the Summer 1986 issue of The National Interest

You are also mistaken as to Foreign Affair publication schedule- the CFR under Bundy published a fairly leisurely quarterly, and Sagan's article went to press well before Christmas1983- hence Sagan's attribution to Science of details that failed to pass peer review and never appeard in the companion article. . Yes, I did beat Steve Schneider to the punch by calling TTAPS into question in FA two years before he and Thompson fisked it there.

David, as to the outcome of the play , could ypu please tell us which NATO nations were scared into unilateral disarmament or rejecting theater weapons deployment by the prospect of freezing to death in the dark ?

While Sagan and Turco wrote a book claiming credit for the cold war's end , it's hard to think of any historians, Frankfurt School included, who credit the nuclear freeze movement with the Soviet crack up.

Apologies to Eli for scaring the bunnies by turning his warren into a bomb shelter, but with enough carrots ...

EliRabett said...

FWIW, Eli's opinion of Sagan's science chops is even lower than Russell's. Now some may ask why, and the answer is the tholin industry. Bad experiments, worse understanding, lots of handwaving.

Anonymous said...


So, you are claiming that their actually was a conspiracy?



a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Eli should remember--Sagan was first and foremost a planetary astronomer--and he actually had some important contributions there.

More important to me--his grad students thought very highly of him. That says something about him as a human.

We all risk appearing fools when we speak ex cathedra.

EliRabett said...

Let Eli put it this way, the lab experiments were obviously crap, plagued by leaky vacuum systems, uncontrolled discharges and wishful thinking about the results that was hydrino class.

The man had imagination, he knew how to present things, he inspired many people, but he and his associates had about as much skill in the lab as Pauli and caution as Evil Knevil.

Anonymous said...


David's point that

"scientists have a right to speak out on issues they think are important, no matter what others think about their ideas or their timing" seems to be the essential issue when it comes to advocacy.

One ventures onto very shaky ground once one starts setting "science chops" standards. What are the standards and who decides?


Thanks for pointing out that Sagan is not as evil and calculating as some on this thread appear to believe he is and that he actually did make important contributions to science and science education (and to getting humans to recognize how foolish the huge stockpiles of nukes were, for that matter).


EliRabett said...

Don't really disagree with that. Eli's take being specific to Sagan, that he was a genius at talking to the public, but a lot of his science was shaky. The best twofer out there, was of course Faraday, maybe Feynman, more recently Hansen. The point about them, is they were almost always right.

Now some, not Eli to be sure, might put Neil de Grasse Tyson into the Sagan box, but AFAEK, Tyson has a better track record.

Russell Seitz said...

I'm still in awe of Carl's last physics colloquium here, on atmospheric spectroscopy via immensely long focal length focusing of sunlight by caustic refraction in the thin Martian atmosphere .

Which is why everyone groaned when he elided modeling dust storms in an equally alien regime with terrestrial atmospheric optical depth.

He does however get points for staging TTAPS Halloween press debut on the anniversary of Orson Welles' American Mercury Radio Theater War of the World s broadcast.

In the end he self-destructed by stonewalling in the face of further studies called for by TTAPS itself - prophets of doom who fail to deiiver seem a permanent feature of the historical landscape.

a_ray_in_dilbert_space said...

Russell, "...prophets of doom who fail to deiiver seem a permanent feature of the historical landscape."

This reminds me of the guy who was blown off the top floor of the Empire State Building. As he passed the 50th floor on the way down, he was heard to say, "So far, so good!"

Prophets of doom never fare well in histories--there's no one left to write them. I would suggest that perhaps one should not be so sanguine given how hard scientists and engineers are working to stave off doom.

Russell Seitz said...

' Apocalyptic rpredictions require , if they are to be taken seriously, higher standards of evidence than do other matters where the stakes are not so great..... the extinction of Homo sapiens cannot be excluded "
-- Carl Sagan
Foreign Affairs 1983

"These results are robust "
-- Carl Sagan
Foreign Affairs 1984

recommendations laid out in Foreiqn Affairs
(winter 1983/1984) rested on data published
simultaneously in Science (23 December
1983, p. 1283). But, as noted in the
Science article, "details may be found in
(15)." Reference 15 states in full: "R. P.
Turco, 0. B. Toon, T. P. Ackerman, J. B.
Pollack, C. Sagan, in preparation." It refers
to a paper that has never been published in a
peer-reviewed (or any other) journal. [ Council For A Liveable World President & MIT professor George] Rathjens
also grumbles about the hard-to-get
data. The entire thesis, he says, is "a house of
cards built on reference 15."
Turco, chief modeller for TTAPS, acknowledges
that the work cited in reference
15 was not published in a journal."

Science 16 January 1987


Anonymous said...

Good scientists are not always right.

But they do know how to ask the right questions (about mother Nature, not human nature).

I suspect that by that standard, Sagan (eg, for his questions about the atmosphere and surface temperature of Venus, dust storms on Mars, possible water under the surface Europa) and by the standard of actually being basically right about his hunches on the latter, Sagan would actually be head and shoulders above many of his detractors (including some in this very thread).

Sagan bashing seems to be an ego booster.


David Appell said...

Russell wrote:
David, as to the outcome of the play , could ypu please tell us which NATO nations were scared into unilateral disarmament or rejecting theater weapons deployment by the prospect of freezing to death in the dark ?

Irrelevant to the issue at hand.

Like anyone, Sagan had the right to speak out on topics he felt were important. Unlike most (including you), Sagan had a reputation as an insightful scientist and a record of understanding planetary climates.

He certainly didn't need your approval of his idea, or anyone else's, before making his concerns about a very important issue public. Nor do I see any harm that came from doing so -- on the contrary, it spawned more discussion and investigation, and no doubt led to some rethinking the idiocy of the nuclear arms race.

EliRabett said...

As to Sagan bashing, Eli invites you to read 110 proposals inspired by his tholin experiments. Not a walk in the park. Sagan was imaginative, charasmatic, and more than a bit sloppy.

Anonymous said...

Sagan's scientific record (eg, on Venus) speaks for itself, but the fact that Russell is still harping on the "timing" of Sagan's publications 30 years later tells you far more about Russell than it tells you about Sagan.

And even scientists as great as Einstein get things wrong (not only his later stuff on unified field theory, but also in his work leading up to general relativity)

That's actually to be expected from a scientist who is asking questions that few are asking and challenging common assumptions that few are challenging (eg, about conditions on the surface of Venus).

I hesitate to site Thomas Gold as another example, lest some start attacking him as well for his theories on abiogenic oil.


WHT said...

Thomas Gold also thought the lunar lander would sink without a trace into the moon's deep dust surface.

As for Venus, I actually tried to solve the lapse rate value here

Interesting going through the old papers on how accurately they could characterize without having lots of data.

Russell Seitz said...

Note that the subject of the sentence ~@:> harps upon is 'what is being advertised ', not what Crutzen and Weiner theorized years befor Sagan's media campaign.

The article selectively quoted says pages earlier that the campaign was merely the sociology of science in action, citing C.P. Snow's 'invisible colleges 'meme and stating flat out that "no conspiracy theory is necessary, , the money quote being " having known sin at Hiroshima, science was bound to run into advertising sooner or later ", so ~@:> gets the Godwin

As to where the theory comes from , while Carl & Co tried to lay it at Owen Toon's door with the martian dust storm analogy, the fact is that Carl insisted it was all about smoke not dust, which makes Christopher Anvil the father of nuclear winter for authoring ' Torch' a story in which the cold war is rudely interrupted by the threat of an ice age when a Soviet H-bomb test ignites a Siberian oil field producing a globe enshrouding cloud of soot.

Since Sagan went on to write Contact , it is left to the reader consider whether he read the issue of Astounding Stories in which that sci fi classic appeared.

~@:> also left out the unfunny bits, including the abduction of Soviet climate physics modeler and 'nuclear winter' spokesman Vladimir Alexandrov, who , after flubbing his lines at a nuclear free zone rally in Spain in 1985, was delivered to the Soviet embassy in Madrid , bundled into a van and driven off into the night never to be seen again.

As a physicist subscribing to the principle that physicists should not shoot other physicists, I think that to have been a Bad Thing , and wish more people would harp about it , partially in folorn hope of the Russians shooting the parties responsible, but mostly to remind us that , thank God, they don't make climate wars like they used to.

David Appell said...

>> As to Sagan bashing, Eli invites you to read 110 proposals inspired by his tholin experiments. Not a walk in the park. Sagan was imaginative, charasmatic, and more than a bit sloppy. <<

Sagan had every right to speak out about what he considered important.

So do you.

Antiquated Tory said...

I can see where any scientist has the right to speak out on a policy matter that concerns him/her. On the other hand, I think a scientist has a responsibility not to present speculative or unestablished science as if it were established science. I don't know if Dr Sagan behaved properly on the Nuclear Winter issue, but I have a physicist friend who complained bitterly about him blurring the lines on established/speculative in Cosmos. And all of my acquaintances who are historians of science curse his name routinely.

kT said...

On the other hand, I think a scientist has a responsibility not to present speculative or unestablished science as if it were established science.

Established science? Just using that term sets you up for serious bashing, but I don't happen to feel a responsibility to bash your total misunderstanding of what science is. I think you are referring to something that would be better referred to as acceptable previous scientific results, subject to debate or bashing if you like. Nuclear winter isn't an issue, nuclear weapons are. When you have experimental verification of some form or aspect of nuclear winter, science will be the last thing on your mind. That was Sagan's point. He felt it was better to raise the spectre of nuclear winter well before it was tested in practice.

Wooosh! More Dunning Kruger from the peanut gallery.

Brian said...

kT - not all science is as clear-cut as the basics of climate science and evolution, but on a lot of issues an expert would know if his or her opinion is the distinct minority opinion. When communicating to the public, the expert shouldn't hide that fact.

I would distinguish between science popularization versus science communication for policy reasons. The job of the former is to instill a sense of wonder of the cosmos and general interest in science. I'll forgive a lot more error in that former case than the latter one.

I loved watching Cosmos as a kid. I doubt I was harmed by any mistakes in it so long as it was mostly correct. Science and policy is a different issue though.

kT said...

Dude, there is no 'majority opinion' on nuclear Armageddon, nuclear winter or any other aspect of globally catastrophic cosmic or human impacts, and to suggest that there is reflects your misunderstanding of science to such a degree that I am unwilling to even comment on it. In this realm it is truly 'every man, woman and child for him or herself', and so I don't value your opinion in this realm more or less than anyone else's, but I certainly did value Mr. Sagan's input on the subject when he gave it. I mean seriously, get real. This entire conversation in this thread is basically laughable, especial with the popcorn gallery pops and and claims 'all my friends are science historians and they all hate Carl Sagan'. Truly entertainment for the gifted, that.

David Appell said...

Here is (I think) a copy of Sagan's 1983 Parade article, "Nuclear Winter."

He includes this, which doesn't seem unreasonable:

"Our results have been carefully scrutinized by more than 100 scientists in the United States, Europe and the Soviet Union. There are still arguments on points of detail. But the overall conclusion seems to be agreed upon: There are severe and previously unanticipated global consequences of nuclear war-subfreezing temperatures in a twilit radioactive gloom lasting for months or longer.

"Scientists initially underestimated the effects of fallout, were amazed that nuclear explosions in space disabled distant satellites, had no idea that the fireballs from high-yield thermonuclear explosions could deplete the ozone layer and missed altogether the possible climatic effects of nuclear dust and smoke. What else have we overlooked?

"Nuclear war is a problem that can be treated only theoretically. It is not amenable to experimentation. Conceivably, we have left something important out of our analysis, and the effects are more modest than we calculate. On the other hand, it is also possible-and, from previous experience, even likely-that there are further adverse effects that no one has yet been wise enough to recognize. With billions of lives at stake, where does conservatism lie-in assuming that the results will be better than we calculate, or worse?"

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea - let's have a nuclear war and find out...

Bernard J.

Russell Seitz said...

David, why doesn't it bother you when a science editor does an end run around peer review to self-publicize his own conclusions?

"Our results have been carefully scrutinized by more than 100 scientists in the United States ..."

Note Carl never said they endorsed his views . On interviewing those involved it emeged that he sent the paper to 100 people of his own chosing, edited down the replies and forwarded only the ones he chose to the editors of FA and Science to secure the 'accelerated publication '' he requested. The mind is repelled by what Watts, or Singer might have accomplished given equal latitude.

" the overall conclusion seems to be agreed upon: There are severe and previously unanticipated global consequences of nuclear war-subfreezing temperatures in a twilit radioactive gloom lasting for months or longer."

No independent study ever reproduced that overall conclusion, and Sagan's persistant stonewalling as to that fact was his eventual undoing. Sagane insisted in FA that any nuclear exchange " even a pure tactical war in Europe say" would produce the publicized outcome. A year later Ted Koppel asked him on Nightline if nuclear winter would produce effects analogous to the K-T asteroid impact and extinction event ; "Exactly " Carl replied .

Given the six order of magnitude disparity between Nato's theater arsenal and the K-T event-- 100 megatons versus 100,000,000
nobody seconded his opinion.

Not long after, Saddam Hussein set fire to a thousand oil wells in Kuwait, sending teragrams of soot into the atmosphere , and Ted Koppel had Carl back to foretell the consequences of the holocaust, whereupon, on prime time , Carl predicted the collapse of the Asian monsoon and millions perishing of famine.

It didn't happen.

kT said...

David, why doesn't it bother you when a science editor does an end run around peer review to self-publicize his own conclusions?

Because your 'peers' are welcome to review it and critique it ex post facto? Why does that bother you?

David Appell said...

Russell Seitz wrote:
David, why doesn't it bother you when a science editor does an end run around peer review to self-publicize his own conclusions?

How many of the countering opinions expressed then, including yours, were peer reviewed?

Anonymous said...

Russell is being quite selective.

How many of Edward Teller's claims about "SDI" (eg, nuclear pumped X-ray laser) were peer reviewed? (in the open journals where everyone could see and evaluate them. Claims of "classified peer review" don't count because they are not amenable to verification and can be readily misrepresented)

How interesting that Russell has nothing to say about the unpublished "sweet nothings" that Teller was whispering in President Reagan's ear (direct inspiration for Reagan's crackpot "umbrella" idea to, as he put it, "render harmless virtually all nuclear missiles anyone might fire at us").