An inadvertently interesting piece by the Financial Post's denier in chief Lawrence Solomon, in which he highlights how battles over wiki edits can reflect upon and highlight larger cultural, political, and scientific struggles. At issue are conflicting edits to the biography of one Siegfried Frederick Singer, a once prominent atmospheric physicist who has descended in later years to climate change denial and hacking out contrarion opinion pieces for a number of Conservative journals.
Of particular concern is an edit concerning Singer's views of the Martian Moon Phobos. Presently (but for who knows how long) it reads:
In 1960 Singer supported the suggestion of Russian astrophysicist Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky that the Martian moon Phobos was of artificial origin.
In an recent interview, Solomon asked Singer:
“Do you really believe in Martians?”[...] The answer was “No.”"
So is the matter settled? Is wikipedia wrong? Not at all! Because you see Solomon asked the wrong question. The right question is: did you at one time believe that the moon Phobos was an orbiting Martian space base? And to this question, Singer did, back in the early 1960s, answer:
"I would be very disappointed if it turns out to be solid," said the white House advisor[Dr. Singer]. If the figures were correct, he stated, then Phobos undoubtedly is a hollow, artificial satellite. If it is, he said, its purpose would probably be to sweep up radiation in the Mars' atmosphere, so that Martians could safely operate around their planet. Dr. Singer also pointed out that Phobos would make an ideal space base, both for Martians and earthlings.
Wikipedian Fred Bauder makes an interesting argument in the comments in the article, not as to the truth of the above statement, but to its relevance in the greater scheme of Singer's career. To which I would reply that the most important aspect of Singer's career for today's wiki reader is his intellectual decline, and the wiki article accurately reflects the fact that the seeds of this decline may have been planted very early on.
Incidentally, the "nasty" William M. Connolley mentioned in the comments is this fellow, one of my favorite climate bloggers (and ex-climate modeller). William actually occupies the Conservative end of the AGW consensus, so you can often read him on his blog giving James Hansen hell for allegedly going beyond the evidence.
PS Singer eventually changed his mind over Phobos.
PPS. An earlier post about an interesting study of the sociological conditions that produced the first wave of climate change deniers, Singer included.
PPPS. For more interesting observations by Bauder on Singer, see here.