Another Whack at the New York Times Magazine Freeman Dyson Profile by Nicholas Dawidoff

By Chris Mooney | March 30, 2009 1:11 pm

Apparently this piece–which I previously slammed here–is resonating for a lot of people. It is the number one most emailed article at the Times right now.

Meanwhile, those of us who know climate science find it maddening.

A little bird pointed out to me an exercise you can do to establish just how out of touch with climate science the New York Times magazine writer, Nicholas Dawidoff, apparently is. Go to the article, and just search. Put in phrases like “United Nations” and “Intergovernmental Panel.” Yup, that’s right: Nowhere in the 8,000 word article will you find any reference to the definitive source of scientific information and consensus on global warming, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It just isn’t there, not even as something that Dyson can critique and argue against.

It’s simply stunning.


Comments (9)

  1. Tuatara

    You must understand that raising atmospheric carbon is all part of the grand plan that will culminate in the construction of the promised Dyson’s sphere.

  2. Erasmussimo

    Hold on. This is a profile of Mr. Dyson, not an article on global warming. It emphasizes his oddity. I think it’s fair-minded and I continue to respect Mr. Dyson. We can disagree with others without the need for trashing them.

  3. Dyson gives credit for the “sphere” to Olaf Stapledon. And its envisioned as more of a solar collector than a habitat.

  4. Erasmussimo

    You know, something has always bothered me about a Dyson Sphere: it can’t be mechanically stable. J.C. Maxwell proved that Saturn’s rings could not be stable, and the same argument applies to a Dyson Sphere. Does anybody know how Mr. Dyson answered that objection?

  5. Erasmussimo:

    You’d be asking the wrong guy.

    It was Larry Niven who totally misinterpreted what Dyson was getting at.

    A Dyson sphere, as Dyson and other imagined it, would be a swarm of solar collectors, and maybe habitats, built over time as a civilization needed more and more energy.

    Not a solid sphere with a habitable inner surface.

    That said, I can imagine that the gravitational interaction of several planetary masses worth of solar collectors strung out along variously inclined nested orbits would be rather complex.

  6. MadScientist

    As Erasmussimo points out, the article was mostly a ‘profile’. Rather than gasp in shock, it may be far better to write to the NYT and state that you do not agree with the sentiments which Dr. Dyson expressed in the article re. global warming and explain why. One of the tactics of the faithful is to refer to numerous little quips such as those that appear in the article and claim that this is some sort of proof of their views. You may think “fine, but these people are no authority” – but stop and think for a moment: will people accept the statement “he’s no authority” or “he doesn’t know what he’s talking about” as any sort of argument that Dyson is wrong? So, don’t let these things just go by – if you do a good job of explaining what’s wrong with the statements, there will be less nonsense for people to believe. The challenge is always in writing an intelligible yet short article which explains things well.

  7. Erasmussimo

    Thanks for clarifying that for me, Stefan. A swarm of independent solar collectors makes more sense. If you kept them all in the same orbital plane, there’d be no problem.

  8. In my opinion the rather inept Dawidoff made a feeble effort to couch Dyson’s views in a Dyson profile. Freeman Dyson’s life is one of the most interesting and brilliant lives you can read about and you really don’t need to include his views on global warming for this. I would now try to forget it as an oddity unless Dyson becomes more vocal in his views.

  9. FFFearlesss

    The thing that actually surprised me most was that I originally got the link from a Tweet by RICHARD DAWKINS.

    Thing is, that article only had a little bit about global warming. I found the bulk of it to be pretty inspiring stuff though. All about using science to help people pull themselves out of poverty and balancing your moral fiber by using it in the military to ensure that LESS people die. Sure, the hardcore republicans and whatnot are going to focus on the global warming part of this article, but there is a lot more in there to take away than just that.


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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.


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