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Story Behind a Nobel Laureate’s Denial of Climate Change

Updated on April 3, 2017
Dean Traylor profile image

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher. He is a former journalist who has worked on various community and college publications.

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Nobel Laureate Resigns over Incontrovertible Climate Change Remarks

Ultra right-wing blogs, libertarian news websites, and climate denial organizations were abuzz with the news that a prominent scientist recently resigned from the American Physical Society (APS) over the organization’s assertion that man-made global warming was “incontrovertible."

This news was treated with reverence for those that have taken contrarian views on the matter of climate change. Best yet, it added a new element; a Nobel-prize winning scientist was disrupting the perceived consensus on the matter. For them, this must have been Earth-shattering news.

However, a closer look at the news and person may have revealed that this wasn't so Earth-shattering as it appeared. Dr. Ivar Giaever, a physics professor and Nobel laureate has been a staunch skeptic of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) for years, despite never working in the field of climatology.

Giving credit where it's due, Dr. Giaever has had a stellar career in the field of engineering and physics (especially pertaining to interaction of electrons and semiconductors); however, his criticism of AGW causing climate is odd, considering that he has no academic training or research history on the matter. It also begs the question to his motives and reasoning for coming up with his conclusions.

The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring…”

— Kate Kirby, APS Executive Officer

Also, this situation illustrates a common misconception held by the public – and lately touted by climate change deniers – that all scientists are experts in all things “science.”

In truth, there is a growing list of disciplines in science, medicine, and engineering. It is a rarity (but not impossible) for a scientist to specialize in a field outside his or her expertise.

As mentioned, this only leads to more questions about Dr. Giaever's motives.

How He Made it Official

First reported by the climate-denial website, Climate Depot.Com and picked up by FOX News Online as well as numerous politically conservative blogs, Dr. Giaever officially resigned from the APS, citing indifference with the physics society’s stance on AGW. APS later confirmed this stating that Giaever did not pay to renew his membership.

Although noted for his contrarian views, Dr. Giaever officially made his views known through a letter he addressed to Kate Kirby, APS's executive officer. He indicated that he was outraged by the following statement Kirby had written to express the stance made on APS:

“Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes. The evidence is incontrovertible. Global warming is occurring…”

Kirby's statement also warned that if no action was taken to control AGW, “significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological system” and "drastic damage of human health and security" may occur.

In Giaever's letter, he indicated that he couldn't live with himself if he accepted this statement (his letter was made public through Climate Depot.com).

Incontrovertible

Dr. Ivar Giaever From desmogblog.com
Dr. Ivar Giaever From desmogblog.com | Source

According to his letter, Giaever had a problem with the word incontrovertible, a term meaning “undeniable” or “not open to question”. It’s a term, according to Giaever, that shouldn’t be used in such matters.

“In the APS it is ok to discuss whether the mass of proton changes over time and how a multi-universe behaves,” he wrote in the letter, “but the evidence of global warming is incontrovertible?

Also, Giaever claimed that there has been little or no change in the Earth’s temperature for more than a century ( update: this is a claim climatologists disproved, recently).

“How can you measure the average temperature of the whole earth for a whole year?” he wrote. “[The claim] is that the temperature has changed from ~288.0 to ~288.8 degree Kelvin in about 150 years, which (if true) means to me is that the temperature has been amazingly stable, and both human health and happiness have definitely improved in this ‘warming’ period."

As a side note: there is a webpage from the University of California at Riverside that explains why these numbers are critical to climate change. As to where he definitively got the data in question is a bit of a mystery. It's possible he may have data-mined existing research on the matter.

The data behind the rise of the average global temperature has always been hotly contested. However, as more data and more research has backed much of the original finding, the consensus of scientists (more importantly, climatologists) has been rising. To date, nearly 97% of all scientists support the concept of AGW.

Not All Scientists are the Same

Still, there are dissenters among the scientific community. There are those who are convinced a new ice age is coming, and others who argue the data is simply wrong. Many of these scientists, interestingly, are not climatologists or are actively engaged in studying the climate. Giaever is one of them.

One of the biggest mistake deniers have made in this situation is that they are committing a fallacy akin to appealing to authority. In this case, many believe that Dr. Giaever's credential as a professor with a Ph.D and an Nobel prize is the foremost authority on climate change. However, as pointed out, already, he doesn't have the training or research record on the subject.

His educational and professional background are as follow: After graduating from the Norwegian Institute of Technology with a degree in mechanical engineering – and after a stint in the army - he immigrated to Canada where he worked as an architect’s aide. Later, he went to work with the Canadian chapter of General Electric.

He moved to the United States to further his education in engineering with General Electric’s engineering program. During this time, he became an applied mathematician and started to study physics at Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute. He’d later receive his PhD in the subject.

Giaever has been an active skeptic of global warming for years

In 1973, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics when he showed that tunneling of electrons took place in superconductors, as well as in semiconductors.Later he would move on to the academic world, becoming a professor at RPI and a professor-at-large at the University of Oslo. Also, he became the president of Applied BioPhysics, a company dedicated to bio-engineering.

Lately, his research centers on biophysics, an interdisciplinary science using physical science to study biological systems such as cells, whole organisms and ecosystems.

Giaever's History of Denial

What Another APS Alum Did

Giaever is not the only scientist to revoke his membership to the APS for supporting the concept of AGW. Hal Lewis, a nuclear physicist and UC Santa Barbara professor quit. He later went to work for a conservative British environmental think tank called Global Warming Policy Foundation. GWPF formed “fortuitously” about the same time the Climategate scandal broke.

In the Climategate scandal, GWPF was partly responsible for calling an independent inquiry into Climate Research at Unit at University of East Anglia after e-mails from two scientists at the center were hacked and released to the public

The site responsible for breaking this news, Climate Depot, has increasingly become one of the most vocal critics of anything pertaining to AGW. Founded and written by conservative writer Marc Morano, Climate Depot routinely publishes updates made to the notorious More than 1000 International Scientists Dissent over Man-Made Global Warming Claims since it first came out in 2007 (also known as U.S. Senate Minority Report and sponsored by Morano’s former boss, Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma ). One of the scientists listed in this report is Giaever.

Giaever has been an active skeptic of global warming for years. As well as being part of Morano’s report, he’s made comments to The Wall Street Journal describing AGW as being a “new religion.” Also, in 2009, he was a co-signer of a letter rebuking President Obama’s stance on global warming.

But Did He Do the Research?

As impressive as Giaever’s resume may be, one thing seem to be missing: his own research on climate change. It’s uncertain if he reviewed other people’s work or merely theorized his concepts. Simply put, there appears to be no record of him joining in on any research groups dedicated to the matter.

And if he had done the research, what would have been his method? Dr. Giaever may have been a physics professor; however, his education was in mechanical engineering. While it’s an impressive education, it’s not something that generally crosses over to climatology.

One can only speculate about his intentions for his actions. Whether it was out of use of the word “Incontrovertible" in a letter or something totally different, the reasons behind Giaever’s response is a mystery. Still, that doesn’t seem to matter to climate change deniers. If the message affirms their belief, they'll take no matter where -- or who -- it came from.

A chart explaining the numerous effects of  climate change.
A chart explaining the numerous effects of climate change. | Source

Update 2017

Dr. Giaever isn't going away. Thanks to the Internet, his speeches are found on YouTube and are being passed along by climate change deniers. Even the conservative writer George Wills referenced him in an opinion piece for The Wall Street Journal. That particular column has been re-published in numerous print and Internet media sites since 2014.

Also, there's still no indication that Giaever has looked at the data or has been part of any climatology studies.

© 2015 Dean Traylor

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    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 18 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Sorry for going off topic a bit. I was trying to demonstrate how some scientists takes the CO2 global warming as gospel that they fail to recognize discrepancies even when it appears in their own data.

      I realize his study is not on a global scale but don't you think it should correlate as least to some extent over the last 20 years? That was my question to him and he was not dismissive of my comment but a little taken a back. He was a little surprised by someone pointing out the obvious. He was not a climate scientist. His specialty was on tree forests. His conclusion is that we are living in the best of environment for trees in the last 200 years or so. The increase of CO2 helps trees.

      I did not cherry pick the data. In my research on climate change, I found it very difficult to get data that are "raw" and untouched by adjustments... That is why I found Dr. Pedersen's slide so interesting and why I call it a nugget.

      I don't doubt his sincerity or yours. I'm just pointing out some problems with the current theory of AGW. As you say, climate science is very complex and we need to understand it much better before proposing drastic changes that may or may not work.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 18 months ago from Southern California

      First of all, you're not getting the gist of the article. It has to do with one person spreading BS, despite never really looking at any data.

      Secondly, I figured this was going to happen: Somebody was going to tell me to look at some data that they obtained and try to tell me how wrong I am. And, as I suspected, the data was either bogus or misinterpreted by the person presenting.

      By any chance to did you read the last line of the abstract? Also, it sounds like you've cherry-picked the data to fit your opinion. You're making the mistake that uniform temperature gauges will be the same everywhere else. In fact a closer look at the graph indicates that it's not that stable as it appears (something I would've expected). It will fluctuate but steadily climb or fall. And considering you're dealing with micro-climates, that's exactly what's happening.

      Keep in mind, global warming is not merely about hot days. It's much more complex than that. It's about change in weather patterns. The data you've presented may have been consistent with a micro-climate, but it doesn't deal with macro-climate, which is probably why he may have seem dismissive about the "warming" .

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 18 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Here is link to my hub -

      https://hubpages.com/education/Climate-Change-Pred...

      Please scroll down to the chart by Dr. Neil Pedersen.

      I obtained it from the source and I was in the audience when he presented this talk at the Lamont Observatory.

      I would like your honest opinion on this. It does have implications on what the truth is and who is being deceived.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 18 months ago from Southern California

      Ok now you're just reaching. But i agree that there has been deception in this debate. Thing is, I not the one.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 18 months ago from Yorktown NY

      But your explanation does not hold up to their projections. The question is who is being deceived here. Just stating the obvious. Have a great day.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 18 months ago from Southern California

      I've heard about the hurricane argument before. To make a long story short the reduction of hurricanes has a lot to do with atmospheric winds, which have been affected by global warming. Call it a silver lining in the whole situation.

      Also it doesn't matter how many articles you wrote or how many times you proclaim common sense or logic. If your information is faulty, then your information is faulty.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 18 months ago from Yorktown NY

      Where are the extreme storms predicted by a warming globe? The US has not had a category 3 or higher hurricane since 2007. The climate scientist are scratching their heads trying to find the heat. I've written quite a few hubs on this topic. I am a skeptic of AGW theory and I am not paid by the Koch brothers. Some skeptics are not anti-science but just have common sense.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 18 months ago from Southern California

      My eyes are wide open and I've drunk my fair share of coffee. I know what's happening. Do you?

      I suggest you read the other two articles I have on the deception perpetrated by denialists. It's quite fascinating how people like you have been hoodwinked by some incredibly dumb and silly tactics. Also, this stuff about "more and more people are realizing the deception." Quite the opposite. A lot of people--- including scientists (some who were in denial in the beginning) -- who've actually looked at the data and became firm believers. This includes one scientist that was paid by a known denialist (Koch Brothers). The person at the heart of this hub never looked at the data. Heck he wasn't even a climate scientist.

      But why waste my time arguing about that? Right now, I'm sitting in 90 degree heat in the middle of February just like I did last year and the year before.

      Oh, and the climate models? First of all, that's not what the hub was about. Secondly, what are the climate science model you're referring to ? You claim they don't correctly predict current global variations .

      Finally, don't use the term skeptic to describe your climate denial. I follow a lot of skeptics and most, if not all, are offended to be associated with this denialism nonsense that's seems to be taking hold of this country. It's anti-science gibberish.

    • jackclee lm profile image

      Jack Lee 18 months ago from Yorktown NY

      I am a skeptic and I want to be convinced with logic and facts and not hyperbole claims. Show me where climate science models have correctly predicted current global variations... They don't exist. More and more people are realizing the deception and it is not coming from the skeptics. Wake up and smell the coffee.

    • Dean Traylor profile image
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      Dean Traylor 20 months ago from Southern California

      Thanks. The deception on this matter is so deep that there had been people challenging me and getting into Twitter wars with me on the matter. This is a problem in this issue that needs to be addressed. There's a lot misinformation being spread and a lot of people who are buying into it. I had previous article, in which somebody tried to debate me on it. Anyway I have one more article on this matter to publish. Also, I'm starting to hear more about that Exxon cover-up. I may add that to one of my hubs.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 20 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you for rerelease get this hub Dean. There has been so much misinformation spread by climate sceptics who seem to be funded and encouraged by fossil fuel and mining companies and the like. They seem to search out rogue scientists to add their name to he list of debunkers and the misinformation is spread by the likes of the Murdock media empire (Fox News) and the like. Thank you for exposing Ivor Giaever as a climate fraud.