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The Story Behind a Nobel Laureate’s Denial of Climate Change

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He wrote for IHPVA magazines and raced these vehicles with his father (who builds them).

A chart explaining the numerous effects of  climate change.

A chart explaining the numerous effects of climate change.

Nobel Laureate Resigns Over Incontrovertible Climate Change Remarks

Ultra right-wing blogs, libertarian news websites, and climate denial organizations were abuzz with the news that a prominent scientist recently resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) over the organization’s assertion that man-made global warming was “incontrovertible."

This news was treated with reverence for those that have taken contrarian views on the matter of climate change. Best yet, it added a new element: a Nobel-prize winning scientist was disrupting the perceived consensus on the matter. For them, this must have been Earth-shattering news.

However, a closer look at the news and person may reveal that this wasn't as Earth-shattering as it appeared. Dr. Ivar Giaever, a physics professor and Nobel laureate, has been a staunch skeptic of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) for years, despite never working in the field of climatology.

Giving credit where it's due, Dr. Giaever has had a stellar career in the field of engineering and physics (especially pertaining to the interaction of electrons and semiconductors); however, his criticism of AGW causing climate is odd, considering that he has no academic training or research history on the matter. It also begs the question of his motives and reasoning for coming up with his conclusions.

The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring…”

— Kate Kirby, APS Executive Officer

This situation illustrates a common misconception held by the public—and lately touted by climate change deniers—that all scientists are experts in all things “science." In truth, there is a growing list of disciplines in science, medicine, and engineering. It is a rarity (but not an impossibility) for a scientist to specialize in a field outside his or her expertise.

As mentioned, this only leads to more questions about Dr. Giaever's motives.

How He Made It Official

First reported by the climate-denial website ClimateDepot.com and picked up by FOX News Online as well as numerous politically conservative blogs, Dr. Giaever officially resigned from the APS, citing indifference with the physics society’s stance on AGW. APS later confirmed this stating that Giaever did not pay to renew his membership.

Although noted for his contrarian views, Dr. Giaever officially made his views known through a letter he addressed to Kate Kirby, APS's executive officer. He indicated that he was outraged by the following statement Kirby had written to express the stance made on APS:

“Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes. The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring…”

Kirby's statement also warned that if no action was taken to control AGW, “significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological system” and "drastic damage of human health and security" may occur.

In Giaever's letter, he indicated that he couldn't live with himself if he accepted this statement (his letter was made public through ClimateDepot.com).

Dr. Ivar Giaever From desmogblog.com

Dr. Ivar Giaever From desmogblog.com

"Incontrovertible"

According to his letter, Giaever had a problem with the word incontrovertible, a term meaning “undeniable” or “not open to question.” It’s a term, according to Giaever, that shouldn’t be used in such matters.

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“In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves,” he wrote in the letter, “but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?"

Also, Giaever claimed that there has been little or no change in the Earth’s temperature for more than a century. This is a claim that climatologists have disproved.

“How can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?” he wrote. “[The claim] 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."

As a side note, there is a webpage from the University of California at Riverside that explains why these numbers are critical to climate change. As to where he definitively got the data in question is a bit of a mystery. It's possible he may have data-mined existing research on the matter.

The data behind the rise of the average global temperature has always been hotly contested. However, as more data and more research has backed much of the original finding, the consensus of scientists (more importantly, climatologists) has been rising. To date, nearly 97% of all scientists support the concept of AGW.

Not All Scientists Are the Same

Still, there are dissenters among the scientific community. There are those who are convinced a new ice age is coming, and others who argue the data is simply wrong. Many of these scientists, interestingly, are not climatologists or are actively engaged in studying the climate. Giaever is one of them.

One of the biggest mistake deniers have made in this situation is that they are committing a fallacy akin to appealing to authority. In this case, many believe that Dr. Giaever's credential as a professor with a Ph.D. and a Nobel prize is the foremost authority on climate change. However, as pointed out, he doesn't have the training or research record on the subject.

His educational and professional background are as follows. After graduating from the Norwegian Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering—and after a stint in the army—he immigrated to Canada where he worked as an architect’s aide. Later, he went to work with the Canadian chapter of General Electric.

He moved to the United States to further his education in engineering with General Electric’s engineering program. During this time, he became an applied mathematician and started to study physics at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute. He’d later receive his Ph.D. in the subject.

In 1973, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics when he showed that tunneling of electrons took place in superconductors, as well as in semiconductors.Later he would move on to the academic world, becoming a professor at RPI and a professor-at-large at the University of Oslo. Also, he became the president of Applied BioPhysics, a company dedicated to bio-engineering.

Lately, his research centers on biophysics, an interdisciplinary science using physical science to study biological systems such as cells, whole organisms, and ecosystems.

What Another APS Alum Did

Giaever is not the only scientist to revoke his membership to the APS for supporting the concept of AGW. Hal Lewis, a nuclear physicist and UC Santa Barbara professor, quit. He later went to work for a conservative British environmental think tank called Global Warming Policy Foundation. GWPF formed “fortuitously” about the same time the Climategate scandal broke.

In the Climategate scandal, GWPF was partly responsible for calling an independent inquiry into Climate Research at Unit at University of East Anglia after e-mails from two scientists at the center were hacked and released to the public

Giaever has been an active skeptic of global warming for years.

The site responsible for breaking this news, Climate Depot, has increasingly become one of the most vocal critics of anything pertaining to AGW. Founded and written by conservative writer Marc Morano, Climate Depot routinely publishes updates made to the notorious More than 1000 International Scientists Dissent over Man-Made Global Warming Claims since it first came out in 2007 (also known as U.S. Senate Minority Report and sponsored by Morano’s former boss, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma ). One of the scientists listed in this report is Giaever.

Giaever has been an active skeptic of global warming for years. As well as being part of Morano’s report, he’s made comments to The Wall Street Journal describing AGW as being a “new religion.” Also, in 2009, he was a co-signer of a letter rebuking President Obama’s stance on global warming.

But Did He Do the Research?

As impressive as Giaever’s resume may be, one thing seem to be missing: his own research on climate change. It’s uncertain if he reviewed other people’s work or merely theorized his concepts. Simply put, there appears to be no record of him joining in on any research groups dedicated to the matter.

And if he had done the research, what would have been his method? Dr. Giaever may have been a physics professor; however, his education was in mechanical engineering. While it’s an impressive education, it’s not something that generally crosses over to climatology.

One can only speculate about his intentions for his actions. Whether it was out of use of the word “Incontrovertible" in a letter or something totally different, the reasons behind Giaever’s response is a mystery. Still, that doesn’t seem to matter to climate change deniers. If the message affirms their belief, they'll take no matter where—or who—it came from.

As of 2017, Dr. Giaever isn't going away. Thanks to the Internet, his speeches are found on YouTube and are being passed along by climate change deniers. Even the conservative writer George Wills referenced him in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal. That particular column has been re-published in numerous print and Internet media sites since 2014.

Also, there's still no indication that Giaever has looked at the data or has been part of any climatology studies.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2015 Dean Traylor

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