Much-Honored Geophysicist Also Upbeat Debunker

Article excerpt

One person you will never see standing on a street corner holding up a sign saying "Repent! The End is Near!" is Dr. John Herman. If Herman were to grace a street corner with a poster, it would more likely read: "Rejoice! A New Dawn May Be Coming!"

Herman, now seventy-seven, a geophysicist by profession and eternal optimist by nature, has courted both good will and controversy with his provisos that go against the "Late Great Planet Earth" scenario that so many scientists seem to embrace nowadays. "I'm more in the 'boom and zoom' school of thought than the 'gloom and doom' clique that sensationalizes every new nuance of nature as another step on the road to Armageddon," Herman laughed. "Remember the Jim Carrey movie Dumb and Dumber? I refer to these sensationalizers as 'Doom and Doomer'!"

He is the author of a recently published autobiography titled Metamorphosis of a Geophysicist, in which he relates his "rags to recognition" life and remarkable career, as well as opining on the above-mentioned apocalyptic scientific thinking so prevalent today.

Among the tenets of the "gloom and doom" coterie which Herman debunks in his writings and addresses include:

--The notion that global warming is going to saute our world. "Actually, what is happening is that we're at the end of a trend of cold weather going back eighty to a hundred years ago," Herman said, "and entering a new pattern of warm weather as part of the cyclical climate, with global warming being just one ingredient in this warming cycle."

--The dictum that the world is on the verge of running out of fossil fuel. "I don't see that we are in danger of running out of fossil fuel oil for the short term," Herman commented. "For the longer term, geologists point to geological features around the world indicating a substantial oil presence, as yet uncharted and untapped. But we do need to develop alternative fuel sources, such as nuclear energy."

--The widely-held presumption that melting polar ice caps will eventually cause a drastic rise in ocean levels and inundate the United States and the rest of the world with flooding. Herman suggests that "the melted ice-water would simply occupy the same general space as that of the polar ice caps, while ocean levels would be raised just a tad, not to flooding proportions."

Back to the subject of nuclear energy as the "new age" energy source of the future: "For too long, people have had this irrational fear of nuclear power as an unreliable, dangerous, environmentally unsound energy source," Herman said. "But the fact of the matter is that nuclear power has many advantages--it's clean, it's cost-efficient, and it's easily renewable as it benefits mankind. People have been brainwashed by the fear of devastating nuclear accidents occurring in their backyards, but the fact remains--in over fifty years of the existence and use of nuclear power plants, which now number in the hundreds, we have witnessed only two major accidents, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Rigid safety controls and security measures have proven successful in negating the dangers of nuclear accidents in power plants."

Herman's belittlement of the "conventional wisdom" of vocal segments of the scientific community is nothing new for him. In 1978 he co-authored a book titled Sun, Weather, and Climate which--not to coin a pun--created a storm among meteorologists and geophysicists. "In this book I stated--going against the prevailing notions then---that solar activity, such as sunspots and solar flares, can and will have a considerable impact on weather," Herman pointed out. "Now this book is the Bible of climatology and weather reportage in Norway, [has] been translated into other languages such as Russian and Chinese, and is a textbook used in American colleges."

Marching to a different drum

Herman's whole career has been of breaking the rules and being nontraditional in his pathway to the top of his profession of geophysics. …