Thursday, December 24, 2009

Have these guys always been liars?

One advantage of having gray hair is that you remember ephemera from decades ago. For instance, the pet rock. It was a big hit in the early '70s. Except for the occasional wag who adds a USB port to it, they are ignored and forgotten.

Other things are ignored and forgotten. Everyone just loves Carl Sagan, the dead astrophysicist who taught PBS viewers how to pronounce "billions and billions" with reverential awe. He also used his fame to hype an idea called "nuclear winter." He did so when there was no talk of global warming, but winters had been colder than usual, and James Hansen of NASA was predicting a new Ice Age.

If you ever want to get a Ph.D. make sure you first line up a grant to do your research topic. I've known academics who languish for years in doctoral programs getting jerked around by committees. On the other hand, if you've got a fat government grant coming into the department, you can bet the chairman of the department isn't going to let the committee dilute your efforts with rabbit trail questions. The grant motivates the department to get a result, and your successful completion of your dissertation is part of that result.

So, imagine it's in the early 1980s and the Reagan Administration has no patience with greens suggesting maybe the stuff you exhale is a pollutant. However, Reagan was in the middle of winning the Cold War, and his predecessor, Jimmy Carter, slayer of killer rabbits, had hollowed out the military in western Europe. If the Ruskies came pouring through the Fulda Gap, the only alternative to surrender was to fall back to England and nuke the heck out of the Russian tanks racing through West Germany. This idea wasn't very popular with the West Germans. If you're an aspiring climate scientist, you're not going to get a government grant for global warming. But suppose you can scare the country with talk of a "Nuclear Winter."

Shortly thereafter there were OpEd in the New York Times, Parade & Scientific American magazines with Respected Scientists claiming that even a limited nuclear war would result in the end of civilization and extinction of all life on earth. At the heart of this was a paper flogged by Sagan, et al. in a paper called TTAPS.

Guess what? They lied. A Nuclear Winter won't happen. But that didn't stop a lot of aspiring climate scientists from shaking the government down for research grants to fund their Ph.D.s and Ph.D.s for their favorite students. Turns out Nuclear Winter was just lefty scare-mongering.

Now, imagine you're used to fat government paydays to investigate Nuclear Winter, and further imagine the Soviet Empire implodes making this scary scenario a lot less likely. How are you going to get tomorrow's payday? Isn't that just about the time we started hearing that Global Warming would kill us all?

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