A conversation with theoretical physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson

[ Thu. Aug. 13. 2009 ]

CHARLIE ROSE: Freeman Dyson is here. He has spent a lifetime grappling with some of the toughest problems in science and beyond. As a young physicist, he achieved worldwide recognition by merging three competing theories of quantum physics. Dyson has since become a best- selling author on topics from biotechnology to extraterrestrial
intelligence.

In recent years, he has emerged as a critic of climate change. In March, “The New York Times” profiled him in an article called, "The Globing Warming Heretic." The piece asked, "How did Freeman Dyson, revered scientist, liberal intellectual, problem solver, wind up infuriating the environmentalists?"

We’ll ask that and more. I’m pleased to have Freeman Dyson back at this table. Welcome.

FREEMAN DYSON: Thank you.

CHARLIE ROSE: I’ll get to this in a moment, but you really stirred them up when you talked about global warming, don’t you?

FREEMAN DYSON: So, that article, of course, is totally misleading. Global warming is a very small part of my concern. ...

[...]

[ED NOTE: Two years ago Edge published Freeman Dyson's essay "Heretical ThoughtsAbout Science and Society" [8.8.07]. In it he wrote:

My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.

The conversation around Dyson's "heretical" ideas has continued, and most recently he was the subject of a critical cover story in The New York Times Magazine. On August 14th he appeared on Charlie Rose to talk about global warming, origins of life, why he believes in belief. ... — JB]

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