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Physicists Stick to Warming Claim Post-ClimateGate

The professional association for physicists is facing internal pressure from some of its most distinguished members, who say the burgeoning ClimateGate scandal means the group should rescind its 2007 statement declaring that global warming represents a dire international emergency.

When asked on Monday whether it will rethink the statement calling for immediate reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, the American Physical Society said it would not. APS spokeswoman Tawanda Johnson replied with a pre-ClimateGate announcement from November 10 reiterating support for the 2007 statement; neither APS president-elect Curtis Callan nor Johnson would answer other questions on the topic.

Pressure on this venerable society of physicists, which was founded in 1899 at Columbia University, is coming from members who are squarely in the scientific mainstream and are alarmed at the state of climate science revealed in the leaked e-mail messages and program files from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit. (See CBS News' prior coverage.)

Those files show that prominent scientists were so wedded to theories of man-made global warming that they ridiculed dissenters who asked for copies of their data, plotted how to keep researchers who reached different conclusions from publishing, and discussed how to conceal apparently buggy computer code from being disclosed under the Freedom of Information law. Internal investigations are now underway at East Anglia, Penn State, and the British government's weather forecasting unit.

One APS dissenting member is William Happer, a physicist who runs the Happer Lab at Princeton University. Another is Hal Lewis, a professor emeritus of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A third is Robert Austin, another Princeton physics professor and head of a biophysics research group.

They've been circulating a letter saying: "By now everyone has heard of what has come to be known as ClimateGate, which was and is an international scientific fraud, the worst any of us have seen... We have asked the APS management to put the 2007 statement on ice until the extent to which it is tainted can be determined, but that has not been done. We have also asked that the membership be consulted on this point, but that too has not been done."

Some of the same scientists had asked the APS, pre-ClimateGate, to revise its climate policy statement. To the applause of like-minded bloggers who dubbed the petition "a silly distraction," the APS shot down that idea on November 10.

In the aftermath of the embarrassing data leaks, however, Princeton's Happer says that about half of the APS members they've contacted now support the petition (which, after all, is only asking for an independent analysis of the science involved).

Of the signatories so far, Happer says, 77 are fellows of major scientific societies, 14 members of the National Academies, one is a Nobel laureate, and there is a large number of authors of major scientific books and recipients of prizes and awards for scientific research. He adds: "Some have accepted a career risk by signing the petition. The 230 odd signatories can hardly be dismissed as lightweights compared to those who spread the message of impending climate disaster."

This has become a common refrain: Hans von Storch, director of the Institute for Coastal Research, calls the climate change axis a "cartel." A colleague, Eduardo Zorita, went further and said the scientists implicated in the e-mails "should be barred" from future United Nations proceedings and warned that "the scientific debate has been in many instances hijacked to advance other agendas." One estimate from a free-market group says that 12 of the 26 scientists who wrote the relevant section of a U.N. global warming report are "up to their necks in ClimateGate."

Below are excerpts from e-mail messages that the scientists behind the petition to the APS sent me on Monday:

Princeton University's Robert Austin:
I view it as science fraud, pure and simple, and that we should completely distance ourselves from such unethical behavior by CRU, and that data files be opened to the public and examined in the full light of day. We as taxpayers pay for that work -- we are owed examination of the analysis.

Princeton University's William Happer:
The APS has not responded to our petition. We submitted the petition several weeks ago... Prof. Callan, the president elect of the APS, who works in the same building in Princeton University as Professor Austin and I, has been unable to find time to discuss the petition with us.

We have independently contacted as many members of the APS as we can to ask for their support of the petition. We are getting about as many supportive as negative responses, so I would judge that about half the membership of the APS agrees with us. Those who oppose us usually have little or nothing to say about the science and plenty of things to say about what evil people we are. Those who agree with us are troubled by the lack of scientific support for the current APS statement and the highly political nature of it.

Hal Lewis of the University of California, Santa Barbara:
I think it behooves us to be careful about how we state the science. I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help (and specifically since the Little Ice Age a few hundred years ago), and is most likely to continue to do so in its own sweet time. The important question is how much warming does the future hold, is it good or bad, and if bad is it too much for normal adaptation to handle. The real answer to the first is that no one knows, the real answer to the second is more likely good than bad (people and plants die from cold, not warmth), and the answer to the third is almost certainly not. And nobody doubts that CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for the better part of a century, but the disobedient temperature seems not to care very much. And nobody denies that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, along with other gases like water vapor, but despite the claims of those who are profiting by this craze, no one knows whether the temperature affects the CO2 or vice versa. The weight of the evidence is the former.

So the tragedy is that the serious questions are quantitative, and it's easy to fool people with slogans. If you say that the Earth is warming you are telling the truth, but not the whole truth, and if you say it is due to the burning of fossil fuels you are on thin ice. If you say that the Earth is warming and therefore catastrophe lies ahead, you are pulling an ordinary bait and switch scam. If you are a demagogue, of course, these distinctions don't bother you -- you have little interest in that quaint concept called truth.

So it isn't simple, and the catastrophe mongers are playing a very lucrative

Declan McCullagh is a senior correspondent for He can be reached at and can be followed on Twitter as declanm. You can bookmark Declan's Taking Liberties site here, or subscribe to the RSS feed. Before becoming a CBS employee, Declan was chief political correspondent for CNET, a reporter for Time, and Washington bureau chief for Wired.
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    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.