Ethics Hero: Nobel Prize Recipient Ivar Giaever

"You keep using that word 'incontravertible.'; I do not think it means what you think it means."

Nobel Prize winning physicist Ivar Giaever just resigned as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) in protest over the group’s official position that

 “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring,” the APS stated. “If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.”

Giaever, an 82-year-old Norwegian, sent an e-mail to the APS  announcing his resignation, saying he  “cannot live with the statement” on global warming. Giaever wrote:

“In the APS, it is ok to discuss whether the mass of the proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves, but the evidence of global warming is ‘incontrovertible?’ The claim (how can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?) is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period.”

Giaever, co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1973, is an institute professor emeritus at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., a professor at large at the University of Oslo, and the president of Applied BioPhysics Inc.

Giaever’s resignation doesn’t mean that global warming isn’t occurring, or that his colleagues are wrong. What his resignation does mean is that…

  • Not everyone who disputes the claims that the extent, causes, speed and likely consequences of climate change is a high school dropout wearing a Rick Perry button.
  • There are respected scientists who are offended at the politicization of the science and the over-reaching claims of certainty in a field dependent upon modeling, projections and estimates.
  • It is now fair to say that there is at least one global warming skeptic who understands the science immeasurably better than Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Maureen Dowd, Eugene Robinson, or Bill Maher.
  • The evidence of global warming may be strong, it may be persuasive, it may be well-supported, but it is not “incontrovertible.” Giaever just controverted it.


For adding some much-needed perspective and balance to an issue recently dominated by ridicule of those unconvinced by science they do not understand, by supporters of the science who don’t understand it any better, and doing so out of  principle rather than ideology, Ivar Giaever deserves to be recognized as an Ethics Hero.

26 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Nobel Prize Recipient Ivar Giaever

    • What about that post made you wonder THAT? No, actually now I have a full head of hair, and have gone to contacts. The photo is about 5-6 years old. It appears to be the same guy I see every day in the mirror. It replaced another one, with hair, that made me look like a political consultant.

  1. APS is taking a supid position. They can say the evidence is overwhelming and questioning it is unlikely to bear fruit, but “incontrovertible” is a step to far.

    • Yes, exactly. The use of that word is one of many pieces of circumstantial evidence supporting the political argument that global warming is all hype. I guess they could make 1/2 the old joke that they went to MIT so they can’t speak English.

  2. This post is, in effect, a winning rebuttal to the claim that “ONLY those ignorant of science are climate change denialists.” Obviously, Giaever isn’t ignorant of science, so that refutes the claim.

    What hasn’t been refuted — because it’s true — is the claim that the overwhelming majority of scientific experts in climatology believe that the evidence for climate change is overwhelmingly persuasive.

    Here’s my question for you: What would persuade you that global warming is real? Of course, nothing can be known absolutely; it’s always possible that anyone is wrong.

    But what would convince you that the likelihood of global warming being a real, serious problem is so high, that governments should act to prevent (or at least mitigate) global warming, even at great cost?

    • I think it’s real. Nothing I have seen indicates that there is anything like the consensus you describe regarding its likely extent, duration, short and long term effects or whether any action by us can have enough of an effect to be worth the cost. And there are many, many scientists who support all of that.

      But denying global warming at all is silly.

    • But what would convince you that the likelihood of global warming being a real, serious problem is so high, that governments should act to prevent (or at least mitigate) global warming, even at great cost?

      Would it not be more prudent to wait after the warming is done? We could always detonate a few dozen atomic bombs to cool things off.

  3. Thanks for the response, Jack.

    But I find myself more puzzled than ever by your position.

    But denying global warming at all is silly.

    1) I don’t see any substantive difference between saying “denying global warming is silly,” versus ”The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.”

    2) Why are the conclusions in the IPCC reports about the “likely extent, duration [and] short and long term effects” not persuasive to you?

    3) Again: What would convince you that the likelihood of global warming being a real, serious problem is so high, that governments should act to prevent (or at least mitigate) global warming, even at great cost?

    • 1) There’s a big difference, because denying something goes far beyond doubting it or having qualms about the certainty of it. I don’t deny the existence of God, but I think the evidence for it is zilch, and those who are certain have other reasons than logic for their certainty. I am confident that global warming is occurring now because the external indications are many; I am far from certain that the earth will still be warming in 100 years.

      2) “Why are the conclusions in the IPCC reports about the “likely extent, duration [and] short and long term effects” not persuasive to you?” Because I’ve actually read a lot of the data, only about 25% of which I understand. It is obvious even to me that 1) reputable scientists do NOT agree in the least about these aspects of global warming, which are what count; 2) There are holes in the data that bother even some strong advocates 3) projections of what large systems will do are per se speculative 4) the projections are based on computer models and estimates, and a decimal point or a better model will suddenly change what was supposed to occur in 20 years to an “oops, make that 20,000 years” 5) the degree to which man-made causes are the reasons for the warming trend is not known, and from basic causation principles, the interaction of it with other causes and factors, now and in the future, is unknowable, 6) earth warming trends cannot be accurately assessed over the relatively short periods that scientists have been able to come close to measuring them, 7) I remain persuaded by Michael Crichton’s essay on the unreliability of mega-scientific projections, 8) there have been too many examples of “confident” projections in this area that have gone awry, suppression of dissent, politicization of the conclusions, conflicts of interest of the researchers, and over-hyping—I think the IPCC and the climatology establishment, in short, lacks integrity and credibility at this point beyond the basest likelihood that yes, the earth appears to be in a warming cycle. 9) the primary advocates for global warming apocalypse, like Gore, are science dummies who are obviously ideologically driven, and couldn’t make heads or tails out of a basic climate model. 10) Why? Because they want the world to be warming; they want to cripple industry and force “green” technologies on everyone, and because they can’t get their policies through fairly, they are using fear-mongering and manufactured moral arguments instead. It is exactly the way the Right used AIDS to discourage pre-marital heterosexual sex, by co-opting hysteria to hype the idea that unprotected vaginal sex was like playing Russian Roulette. In fact, most heterosexual infections from AIDs involved anal sex, other risky behavior that the participants didn’t want to admit, or people whose immune systems were already compromised. The chances of two healthy heterosexuals who had not engaged in risky sexual practices being AIDS infected by unprotected vaginal sex has always been less than the chances of getting struck by lightning walking down the street—but even doctors covered that up, because it was deemed better to scare people. That’s exactly what is going on with global warming. 11) I have faith in Chaos Theory. Scientists are lousy at predicting the weather, which has fewer confounding, non-linear, interacting factors involved than the climate.

      There are 50 more reasons where these came from, and some of them are probably even better.

      Frankly, I don’t understand how anyone without a bias can possibly NOT doubt the current assessments of global warming’s causes, duration, extent and consequences.

      3) “Again: What would convince you that the likelihood of global warming being a real, serious problem is so high, that governments should act to prevent (or at least mitigate) global warming, even at great cost?”

      Nothing, because of both parts of the question. The phenomenon would have to be studied and the projections would have to have a chance to be shown correct, which would take longer than I am likely to be there. And governments don’t have the competence or the objectivity to act on something this sweeping. It would be corrupt from the start, with decisions being made based on cronyism and back room deals. No matter who’s right, whatever is going to be done about the effects of global warming will have to be short term fixes, or there will be no fixes at all.

      The idea that mankind can control something as sweeping and pervasive as the climate with sufficient precision to address the feared consequences is hubris squared, and can only be held with willful forgetfulness about how miserable governments are at even guessing which green technology companies know what they are doing (cough), much less mustering the plans to alter climate trends.

      (If that damn emoticon is still in the post, I apologize…I don’t know where it came from, but I can’t seem to shake it.)

      • The emoticon comes from typing an “8” followed by a “)”; the computer interprets those two characters together as meaning that you want an emoticon of a smiley face wearing sunglasses. You might be able to fix it by replacing the “)” with the HTML code for a close parenthesis, but it might not be worth the effort. Alternatively, you could type 8] instead of 8) — that might work.

        1) Science and religion aren’t the same, so that analogy fails. And they didn’t say anything about what’s going on “in 100 years” being “incontrovertible,” so that’s not relevant.

        They said that “Global warming is occurring” is incontrovertible. That’s not substantially different from saying “denying global warming at all is silly,” For you to support the latter statement while condemning the former, when the two are virtually identical, is inconsistent.

        2) There’s too much here to respond to all of it, especially since you seem to say that no evidence could change your mind.

        I am very willing to discuss this with you or anyone in a calm, civil, fact-based manner, but — like you — I have a life and a career apart from this. Could you pick out just one or two fact-based arguments that you find persuasive, and I’ll address those? I promise that my response will try to be substantive, not insulting.

      • I think the IPCC and the climatology establishment, in short, lacks integrity and credibility at this point beyond the basest likelihood that yes, the earth appears to be in a warming cycle.

        Wow !!! They lack credibility. All the scrutiny and they still lack integrity. we don’t know why they lack credibility and integrity other than you said so.

        FYI, Every fair investigation has found the scientists have been honest and fair. What we haven’t seen is any acceptable evidence coming from the deniers. What they do promote is largely provided by or through carbon based energy giants. (Clean Coal?????, they’re joking, right?)

      • It is exactly the way the Right used AIDS to discourage pre-marital heterosexual sex

        This is a very good point.

        Condoms are very good at preventing HIV transmissions due to vaginal sex. In a similar sense, nuclear weapons are very good in preventing global warming, per the TTAPS study, one of the greatest scientific papers since Einstein’s “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”

  4. I see a big problem with the entire argument, and have said so before. (Aside from the fact that most people can’t distinguish between “weather” and “climate,” but that’s another issue.

    The Al Gores of the world have the temerity to think that they can control the Earth — which is a living organism and changes ON ITS OWN over time — millions of years, perhaps, but it is constantly evolving (as do the species that inhabit it). Sure, we should protect the environment, and have done a great deal over the years (Lake Erie is now full of fish, for example, after decades of being a “dead” body of water). But the attitude of the Gore-supporters is basically this: We like the Earth the way it is (or should be), and HUMANS HAVE COMPLETE POWER TO MAKE IT THAT WAY. We can damage it, we can help it. But it is its own organism, if you will, and the hubris of humans who think they can control it is ridiculous. For example, the continuing shift of the Earth’s tectonic plates causes earthquakes from time to time. We are only starting to be able to predict them, and we can’t control them. That is Earth itself doing its thing, and for the most part I have found that the global warming advocates seem to believe that planet Earth can be kept just the way it is– BY THE ACTIONS OF THE HUMAN SPECIES. Really, really stupid. And that’s my diatribe on that.

    The argument that few real scientists, including Geiever, believe that the “evidence” of global warming is NOT incontrovertible, is supported as well by the scandal of those other “scientists” who were discovered faking data to support their position.

    • Elizabeth, no one I know of thinks that they can “control” the Earth. What scientists know is that human activity has affected the Earth’s atmosphere.

      Over the course of (as you said) “millions of years,” of course the Earth’s average temperature fluctuates. But the point is that over the last fifty years, the temperature has gone up far faster than can be accounted for by any non-human inputs to the global climate system known to scientists. The recent, rapid warming that they’re concerned with is, according to nearly all scientific experts, largely caused by human activity.

      It’s not “stupid” to believe that human activity can affect (not control) the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a proven fact.

      We can’t control the earth. But we can choose to release fewer carbon emissions, and by doing that reduce humanity’s contribution to rapid global warming.

      As far as I know, no climate scientists have ever been caught faking data. Can you support that claim with a link to a non-partisan news source?

  5. There are still those who deny the Theory of Evolution and the Big Bang Theory. I understand some people still have a hard time with Climate Change. That they often are the same people is just coincidence.

    • The Bid Bang Theory is hardly on the same footing as evolution, and the full cant of the climate change zealots is far from either. Science does not depend on the credentials of those who advocate a theory. The scientific ignorance is thick on all sides of the climate change issue, as your comment shows.

  6. Hey, everyone! Here’s an example of the kind of comment that gets you banned:

    This old coot has lost his fuckin ability to reason. You deniers are such pathetic bubble dwellers. Its relatively easy to find answers from REAL CLIMATOLOGISTS rather than an 82 yr old physicist who only googled the topic for a few hrs and made his mind up. Answers that easily debunk this bullshit, but u imbeciles are too arrogant, lazy, and/or disingenuous to even check into it. Read below if u have the fucking balls to do so u weak minded morons.

    And, of course, one arrogant snot being recommended by an even more obnoxious arrogant snot really is the way to be persuasive. I’ll say this: if climate science makes no sense to a Nobel Prize winner, what are the chances that a dufus like Al Gore understands them, or just about any legislator, or Bernie, or anyone else who bleats about “consensus.” The louder people like this yell, the less I trust their conclusions.

    This jerk calls himself Bob F, and he’s bannedbannedbanned.

    Make your debut here with dignity and respect, or not at all.

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