Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Martians, AGW Deniers, and The Wiki Wars

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[10].

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.


buckets said...

Something has gone wrong with your link to Bauder's comments, which are best given as a "diff" like this. (The talk page itself will eventually be archived.)

bigcitylib said...

I meant the comments of Solomon's piece, and to link to Bauder's wiki user bio. But that's interesting stuff too and I've added another link at the end.

Dante said...


While your determination to stick to your AGW opinions is commendable, have you not in all seriousness begun to question at least some of the "settled science". The evidence is stacking against the issue. The hockey stick is proven to be crap and the IPCC climate model fails backtesting. Cognitive dissonance is common enough to explain why people would choose to disparage a prominent scientist like Singer. I just can't understand however, why anyone would choose to point to some alleged belief in 1960 as ammunition against his current well qualified views. The tactic is sophomoric if not a little retarded.

bigcitylib said...

Alleged? Just cuz it doesn't appear on SDA doesn't mean it isn't true, Dante.

Dante said...

Over time truth tend to be distorted. 48 years is a lot of time. If true, he may have been taking LSD or smoking pot like every self respecting academic. Can't hold that against him.

Dante said...

...I meant self respecting academic at the time

bigcitylib said...

I hope not. He was an advisor to Pres Eisenhower at the time.

Paul S said...

Singer is less nutty then James Lovelock with his Gaia nonsense, but, being on the "correct" side of GW, Lovelock is given a free pass for his wonkiness.

Still, data that is at odds with the prevailing view of GW (lack of ocean warming found by Argo floats, cooling troposphere using either UAH or RSS data) keeps popping up and the attack the person method so popular with warmers, becomes ineffective.

bigcitylib said...

Actually, Lovelock is not.

I've even written on him a bit sceptically.