News

Outspoken scientist's colleagues ponder climate situation

In combined symposium and memorial, Stanford's Schneider recalled as great communicator

The sudden death in July of Stanford University climatologist Stephen Schneider silenced an influential voice in the global discussion on climate change, Schneider's fellow scientists agreed Sunday.

In a combined "scientific symposium" and memorial event, more than 400 of Schneider's colleagues and friends -- including White House Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren -- recalled Schneider's gift for explaining complex scientific findings in terms the public could understand.

They also speculated on why, in the face of "overwhelming" scientific evidence accumulated since the 1930s on human-caused global warming, climate change contrarians have gained political traction in Washington.

The 65-year-old Schneider died July 19 after suffering a pulmonary embolism on a flight from Sweden, where he was attending a science meeting, to London.

A biology professor at Stanford, he was a lead scientist on the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore.

Holdren said Schneider was "tireless in explaining to the less-informed and skeptical that our understanding of how global climate works rests not on speculation or untested computer models but on a veritable mountain of evidence ... and incontrovertible data.

"There is equally unambiguous evidence tying a large part of the (greenhouse gas) increases to human activity," he said.

Asserting that the scientific "core conclusions" on climate change are all but irrefutable, Holdren said, "It seems the height of irresponsibility for policymakers who assert the science is wrong to bet the public's welfare against" overwhelming evidence.

Schneider's many publications included the 2009 book, "Science as a Contact Sport," laying out his perspective on global-warming science and politics; as well as "The Patient from Hell," a 2007 account of how he obtained "the best of modern medicine" after being diagnosed in 2001 with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Holdren lauded the "unfailing courtesy, respect and patience with which (Schneider) treated everyone, even climate change contrarians, some of whose shenanigans have caused others of us to lose our patience.

"Although he was the best there is at demolishing the positions of the deniers and the delayers, he always did it politely," Holdren said.

Scientifically acknowledged truths about climate change have become "the victims of political ideology" in the hands of individuals, including some scientists, who have exploited some of the uncertainties surrounding global warming, said University of California, San Diego, science historian Naomi Oreskes.

"My recent work is aimed at explaining how we came to this place of rejecting scientific evidence, of having opinions about the natural world aligning to political party," said Oreskes, author of "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming," published this year.

A key player in sowing public doubt has been the Virginia-based George C. Marshall Institute, founded by three scientists in 1984 to defend President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (dubbed Star Wars) against a widespread scientific boycott, Oreskes said.

The group or its founders since have worked to cast doubt on the harms of tobacco, the reality of acid rain and the severity of the ozone hole as well as human causes of global warming, she said.

Stanford social scientist and pollster Jon Krosnick disputed oft-repeated conclusions that the Democratic rout in November's elections was a rebuke to climate science.

A careful reading of public opinion polls suggests "a large majority of Americans agree with natural scientists on the basics, and has for a number of years," Krosnick said.

Stanford President John Hennessy mourned Schneider "first and foremost as a scientist," who was also a "great collaborator and great colleague."

As the university has moved to build "multidisciplinary teaching and research efforts" on a variety of world problems, Schneider's depth of knowledge and commitment "really helped convince a lot of people about the critical challenge we face on our planet," Hennessy said.

Comments

Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Dec 13, 2010 at 3:24 pm

The memorial celebration definitely captured the essence of Steve Schneider, one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. You can learn more about him and "Science as a Contact Sport" in an excellent conversation between Palo Alto Weekly editor Jay Thorwaldson and Steve at <Web Link; Steve's brilliance, courage and tenacity are unequalled. A climate scientist who worked with him at Boulder said that they gave him the nickname "Steve Wonder"! We must honor his legacy by coming more active in addressing climate change issues. Palo Alto is definitely at the forefront, but we have "...miles to go before we sleep."


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by anonymous, a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2010 at 5:33 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2010 at 10:24 pm

> to defend President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative
> (dubbed Star Wars) against a widespread scientific boycott

And were the scientists of the 1980s correct about the impossibility of the US being able to develop weapons that could defend us from an incoming missile attack? Remember, there were many people here in the Silicon Valley who were making claims that it was "impossible to develop the software to actually target an incoming missile". These were some of the "best scientific minds" of the time (or so they and the media claimed). Yet, in spite of their concerted effort to claim that they were smarter than those working on a missile shield, and therefore the US should listen to them.

Well .. it's now a couple decades later. Not all of the shield is in place, and it may never be finished, but many of the ideas have come into play. Just this week, the Navy announced the success of a "rail gun", which was one of the ideas of SDI.

Point being, just because someone from Stanford says something, doesn't make it true. (Remember that yahoo who claimed, during the 1970s, that the world's farming system would break down by the mid- '90s and that hundreds of millions of people were going to die of starvation? He was (and still is) one of Stanford's finest. Not to mention all of the scientists at the time who were claiming that we were about to enter an "ice age" (or some cooling event of similar proportion).

> Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of the Midtown neighborhood
> [Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

It's a shame the editor of this blog spends so much time sanitizing the postings. Don't know what "brother Walter" posted, but would have like to have read it.

If the premise is that this fellow's work is now "sanctified", and it can not be analysed, attacked, and eventually displaced by better work, then we are not in a "good place" relative to the role of "science" in our governance process.

For instance, Al Gore is a shifty politician, who has become incredibly wealthy pushing "climate change". Gore's rise to fame included "inventing the Internet" and raking in bags of cash from Buddhist monks who had taken a vow of poverty, Here are a couple of Gore's more interesting activities:

Web Link

April 1996 Gore attends an event at the Hsi Lai Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles that nets the Democratic National Committee close to $65,000 from donors. In September 1997, a trio of Buddhist nuns from the temple admit in Senate testimony that the temple illegally reimbursed guests for their donations. Gore later denies knowing the gathering at the temple was a fundraiser, describing the event as "community outreach."

March 1997 Gore is criticized for making fundraising calls from his White House office, and passing the bill on to taxpayers. Gore said he was advised before making the White House calls that there was nothing wrong with making the calls and that there was "no controlling legal authority" governing his actions.
---
Oh, and let's not forget how Al Gore is not a climate scientist, has never published a peer-reviewed paper on this topic, and has been shown to have been wrong on a number of his claims (like admitting within the last week that "ethanol" might not have been such a good idea as an alternative fuel. It's only fair to be able to question why someone like Schneider, who seems to be a "saint" in some people's eyes, would accept any award that included Al Gore, as a co-recipient?

Science is continually rethinking its core beliefs. Some of these activities bear fruit, some don't. Within the last couple weeks, a couple of astro-physicists made a prediction that there was evidence to suggest that the big bang was one of many big bangs, and that the universe had gone through many expansion, contraction, explosion phases before. This week, three papers were announced that challenged this revisionist theory--arguing for the status quo of "one big bang". What's interesting is that this branch of science does not seem to be claiming that "the origin of the universe is 'settled science'" as Al Gore and his cronies seem to be trying to do with climate science.

It's a shame that this fellow passed away, but he should not be put up on a pedestal and anyone who criticizes his work vilified.


Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

Joe, I saw Walter's post before it was removed. It was simple name-calling, insulting Prof. Schneider with no reference to facts. Ad hominem arguments, attacking the person instead of the ideas, are ineffective and inappropriate for discussions of science and public policy.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2010 at 9:23 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Donald, my posting was correct in every detail. It was an appropriate response to a laudatory article. While I did not go into detail, neither did the original article, an anthem that gave no voice to the doubts surrounding Steven's advocacy.


Posted by Roger Potash, a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 4:44 pm

I attended this tribute at Stanford held in Steve Schneider's memory. I learned a great deal about this renowned scientist, beyond what I had already known from hearing him lecture on global climate change at Stanford and elsewhere as well as reading his website and books, and that is that he had taught so very many effective and influential people who have come to be positive change makers today. The deeply felt and expressed emotions, courage, insights and experiences of the many speakers reinforced the deep respect and appreciation I have come to have for Professor Schneider since I first heard him speak two years ago. I only wish that he had lived longer, for we would have all benefitted from his remarkable contributions, particularly on the extremely challenging issue of how to respond to anthropogenic global climate change. My deeply felt condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues on his death.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 15, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Support Walter, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 16, 2010 at 5:18 am

I support Walter's comments. Just because someone is dead doesn't mean that one can't tell the truth about the results of his or her work. People can be well meaning and still have made horrific errors, and contributed to horrific results.

Unsubstantiated tributes do not demand substantiated repudiations.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is one of them.

Results count. There is no problem with anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere..it is all just a way to grab money and power, using "useful idiots" to get there.


Posted by FOXLEAKS, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 16, 2010 at 8:51 am

Internal memos prove that Fox News has been deliberately misleading the public about global warming and climate change: Web Link


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 16, 2010 at 5:02 pm

"And were the scientists of the 1980s correct about the impossibility of the US being able to develop weapons that could defend us from an incoming missile attack?"

Emphatically YES! The latest missile shootdown failure occurred just yesterday. From a statement from the U.S. Missile Defense Agency:

"Missile Defense Test Conducted

VANDENBERG AFB, Calif.--The Missile Defense Agency was unable to achieve a planned intercept of a ballistic missile target during a test over the Pacific Ocean today... Program officials will conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the failure to intercept the target. The next flight test will be determined after identification of the cause of the failure."

The record of successful intercepts in these meticulously staged events has been about 50-50 for decades. That's hardly an operational weapons system to use against an impolite adversary who doesn't give a detailed countdown to launch. (Or maybe they would, just to taunt us.)

BTW, the centerpiece of SDI (the polite term for the Star Wars boondoggle) was a space-based nuclear-powered x-ray laser, which has never worked. Rail guns were a sideshow.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 17, 2010 at 4:09 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

A 50% intercept ratio would be just fine - just shoot twice at each incoming.
The program used to predict terminal temperatures, untouched by external criticism, should be used to predict the end result of each individual act of mitigation.
A failure to demonstrate significant change in end results would be prima faci evidence of the uselessness of the predictive program.


Posted by Support Walter, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 17, 2010 at 6:13 am

to "Engineer"..by your "emphatic yes" logic, we should shut down every school district with a 50% failure rate ..that would be pretty much every inner city public school, wouldn't it?

Your "logic" would have us, every time a piece of equipment blows, shut down an entire industry.

Every time we exhale, we would need to acknowledge our sin of poisoning the atmosphere with CO2.

I don't know what you are an "engineer" of, but I suspect it is not math based. Are you a social engineer?


Posted by jerry, a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 12, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I attended this tribute at Stanford held in Steve Schneider's memory. I learned a great deal about this renowned scientist, beyond what I had already known from hearing him lecture on global climate change at Stanford and elsewhere as well as reading his website and books, and that is that he had taught so very many effective and influential people who have come to be positive change makers today. The deeply felt and expressed emotions, courage, insights and experiences of the many speakers reinforced the deep respect and appreciation I have come to have for Professor Schneider since I first heard him speak two years ago. I only wish that he had lived longer, for we would have all benefitted from his remarkable contributions, particularly on the extremely challenging issue of how to respond to anthropogenic global climate change. My deeply felt condolences go to his family, friends and colleagues on his death.

Web Link


Posted by Well said, W and SW, a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 13, 2012 at 6:14 am

Walter and Support Walter: Yes!! Well said. Logic has no foothold in a lot of peoples' brains, but you hearten me with your responses.

If I could wish ONE thing for our nation's education system, it would be that we teach, from grade one, courses in logic development. We don't teach it, and as a result we suffer...and have ridiculous circular arguments with no end, since the twain of emotion and logic never meet.


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