Byline: Stephen Goode, INSIGHT
Fred Singer established the Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) in 1990 after becoming fed up with what he calls "the distorted science" surrounding the question of atmospheric ozone depletion. Singer is a scientist. His undergraduate degree is in electrical engineering and he has a doctorate in physics from Princeton University. He has spent a lifetime in scientific research and development. So it is not surprising that bad science gets Singer excited and arouses his concern.
The ozone debate has receded and no longer is in the headlines. "It may come back, who knows?" Singer tells Insight. His chief interest now, when it comes to distorted science, is global warming.
Two things concern Singer about global warming. First is the questionable science that says global warming is taking place and it's a bad thing. The second is that the global-warming people argue government and society must now greatly expand the government's authority to enforce policies that will put an end to global warming or at least hold it in check.
"There are, of course, many areas in science that are disputed, but because they have no policy significance, they don't really make the papers," Singer says. "As far as policy significance goes, global warming is still the top one." That's because the policies the global-warming folks advocate are often draconian, even though there's no solid evidence, according to Singer, that global warming is taking place or that it will be a disaster for mankind.
Singer has held prestigious scientific positions, such as director of the Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Maryland and distinguished research professor at the Institute for Space Science and Technology in Gainesville, Fla. He's also published widely both in scientific journals and in the popular press. And Singer's list of scientific accomplishments is impressive.
In 1956, for example, he designed the sensing instruments for the MOUSE (Minimal Orbital Unmanned Satellite), including the first instrument for measuring stratospheric ozone.
Among Singer's other achievements are the design of the high-altitude FARSIDE rocket to search for geomagnetically trapped radiation. Currently, in addition to being SEPP's president, he is a distinguished research professor at George Mason University and professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia.
Insight: When did you first get interested in the question of global warming as an example of bad science?
Fred Singer: My interest in the global-warming scare began about 1988 with the testimony of Jim Hansen (then head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies) before Sen. Al Gore in a Senate hearing. I looked at his testimony and discovered some holes in it. I published a piece in the Wall Street Journal pointing out the weak points in the argument.
Q: What are some of the weak points about the global-warming argument?
A: The fact that they don't properly take into account the effects of clouds in the atmosphere. Clouds will cool the climate rather than warm the climate. When you try to warm the ocean, I argued and the argument is still sound you evaporate more water and create more clouds and this reduces the amount of solar radiation. What you have is a kind of negative feedback which keeps the temperature from rising very much.
Q: Why is the disagreement so wide between those who see global warming happening right now and those who don't? What is a nonscientist to make of such a disagreement?
A: Let me explain the origin of this scientific disagreement. There are two kinds of scientists. Let's assume for the moment that both of them are honest. In the first group there are quite a few who argue as follows:
They say "Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing." It is. Second, they say, "Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. …