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Last week, I attended the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in Germany as a member of the American delegation of young scientists. The purpose of the meeting was to promote the scientific exchange of ideas between nations and generations. Throughout the week, students from around the world discussed research in physics, chemistry, and medicine with each other, as well as the dozens of laureates in attendance.
Ivar Giaever — who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973 for experimental discoveries characterizing electron tunneling — used the occasion to discuss global climate change. His remarks have recently been discussed by Dennis Prager, and shown up in various news stories. The content speaks for itself and, if you wish to listen for yourself, Giaever’s full, half hour lecture can be viewed below.
My principle interaction with Giaever occurred after his lecture, at a closed-door question and answer session exclusively for students. In it, I witnessed student after student attack Giaever, both for his remarks and as a person. Some initiated their challenges by explicitly stating — or, for those with more tact, insinuating — that he was unintelligent, slow-witted, immoral, or unfeeling.
It was shocking. This was the only time during the entire conference that I observed someone treated with contempt. To better set the scene, you need to understand that Giaever is in his mid-eighties and is a soft-spoken, kindly-sort who generally speaks in a strong whisper. The most memorable challenger was a fellow American — a post-doc at NASA doing climate change related research — who issued challenge after challenge, her thoughts never reaching completion, as she progressed through a list of all the errors (lies?) he had made in his lecture presentation. She was visibly shaken by the experience and left the session soon after.
In contrast to the emotional quality of the questioning from most of the students, Giaever always answered politely and on-topic. For him, the topic was of scientific interest; for the students, it was strangely personal.
As my work is concerned with the research and development of lithium-ion battery technology, my knowledge of climate change is limited, but I grew increasingly sympathetic toward Giaever as the discussion progressed. I am skeptical of the accuracy of land-based temperature measurements, the effect of cloud coverage on measurements of radiative imbalance, and the methods used to average such data across time and space. Moreover, those attempting to persuade me of the horrors of climate change do not seem to understand what the error bars for their measurements are.
To my knowledge, I was the only one at the conference besides Giaever who was a “skeptic.” As the meeting progressed, I became convinced that my skepticism was warranted, and that I needed to do more first-hand research. For many of my fellow scientists, climate change is not so much a research topic, but an issue or a cause. It is striking how personally — and, sometimes, financially — invested many are in the issue. It is quite uncomfortable to discuss the topic with them, for they treated me, as they did Giaever, with exasperation and a degree of contempt.
After speaking with students from parts of the world subject to immediate dangers and evils – Jordan, Iran, South Africa, etc. – it angered me that the sort of passionate contempt heaped on Giaever was rarely summoned in response to the unambiguously malignant forces doing real harm to people right now.
If you can suggest where I should look to find the raw temperature/radiative heating data used to measure climate change, please let me know. I want to be more than skeptical about the data and methodologies about climate change.