Environmental Ethics
and Public Policy
Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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Before 2004


I offer below, random musings, reflections, correspondence, scraps of work-in-progress, and other such miscellany, perchance worth sharing but not ready for the prime time of formal publication.  

Much of this material  has been adapted from personal e-mail correspondence. While I am perfectly free to use, revise and expand on my side of these exchanges, use of the "incoming" correspondence is problematic. I have neither the right nor the inclination to include the words of my correspondents if they can be identified either by name or description.

If I am confident that the correspondents can not be identified and if their part of the exchange is essential to the exchange, then I might quote them directly. Otherwise, their ideas will be briefly paraphrased, only to supply context to my part of these conversations. In no case will I identify the correspondents by name.

On the other hand, signed letters to The Crisis Papers and The Online Gadfly are fair game as are other comments published in the internet. They were submitted with the clear understanding that they, and their signatories, might be made public.

Incoming correspondence will be identified by italics. My contributions will be in plain text.


February 4, 2007

A PEER Review Gone Bad

On January 10, I posted a blog concerning an accusation by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) that “Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush Administrations appointees.”

This accusation, as I pointed out, is false. Apparently, I was not alone with my complaint.   PEER received numerous criticisms of its accusation, and as a result attempted to back away from its claim. That attempt was pathetically inadequate, and I said as much in a letter to PEER, a revised version of which appears below.

This Grand Canyon fiasco by PEER made me much more sad than angry. PEER is a worthy organization, with dedicated members and admirable objectives. I sincerely hope that the organization and its objectives will “live long and prosper.” However, this Grand Canyon boner brings disrepute upon this and similar organizations. And so criticism is in order, as a warning to PEER and other environmental organizations, to be scrupulously accurate in their public pronouncements.

Toward this end, I present below, in chronological order, my blog entry and my following response to PEER’s bungled “retraction” of its earlier accusation against the National Park Service, edited to remove redundancies.

January 10, 2007.

Two weeks ago, on December 28, 2006, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) issued a press release, which began thus:

Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees. Despite promising a prompt review of its approval for a book claiming the Grand Canyon was created by Noah's flood rather than by geologic forces, more than three years later no review has ever been done and the book remains on sale at the park, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under orders to suspend its belief in geology,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “It is disconcerting that the official position of a national park as to the geologic age of the Grand Canyon is ‘no comment.’


However, the part about the NPS "gag-rule" on scientific information is apparently false -- an "urban legend."

Last week, I was at the Grand Canyon, where I asked a senior park ranger, "how old is the Grand Canyon." He replied that the best scientific estimate is about five to six million years.

I then confessed that I had asked a "mischievous question," and that I had read that Grand Canyon park rangers were forbidden to answer such questions.

He replied that he had received no such instruction, nor had any other of the rangers of his acquaintance. The story of a "gag order" regarding the age of the Grand Canyon was totally without foundation. He seemed, with some justification, to be more than a bit peeved at this besmirching of the professional integrity of himself and his colleagues.

The ranger's answer to my query is validated by a letter from the NPS Chief of Public Affairs, which follows this commentary.

Stories such as this about the long reach of religious fundies into our government carry a terrific impact, which is why they persist even without a scrap of confirmation. But in the long run, the perpetuation of such rumors serves only to undermine the credibility of liberal, progressive and environmental organizations.

There is an abundance of anecdotes to remind us of the sorry state of scientific knowledge in the USA, along with the appalling influences of the religious fundies on public opinion and policies.

No need, then, to invent new ones.

PEER is a worthy and important organization, which I greatly admire. Thus it grieves me to discover that it is perpetrating this unfounded myth. PEER must either present evidence of this claim of a gag-rule, or failing that (as I suspect it will), it must issue a retraction and an apology.

[Comments in the original blog about the book, The Grand Canyon: A Different View, are repeated in my January 22 response below, and thus omitted here].

And now, that statement from the NPS:

Age of Grand Canyon

Recently there have been several media and internet reports concerning the National Park Service’s interpretation of the formation of the Grand Canyon.

The National Park Service uses the latest National Academy of Sciences explanation for the geologic formation of the Grand Canyon. Our guidance to the field is contained in the NPS Management Policies 2006 and NPS Director’s Order # 6 and requires that the interpretive and educational treatment used to explain the natural processes and history of the Earth must be based on the best scientific evidence available, as found in scholarly sources that have stood the test of scientific peer review and criticism. Our commitment to scientific accuracy is also driven by Director’s Order #11B, which requires us to ensure the objectivity of the information we disseminate.

Therefore, our interpretive talks, way-side exhibits, visitor center films, etc use the following explanation for the age of the geologic features at Grand Canyon. If asked the age of the Grand Canyon, our rangers use the following answer.

The principal consensus among geologists is that the Colorado River basin has developed in the past 40 million years and that the Grand Canyon itself is probably less than five to six million years old. The result of all this erosion is one of the most complete geologic columns on the planet.

The major geologic exposures in Grand Canyon range in age from the 1.7 billion year old Vishnu Schist at the bottom of the Inner Gorge to the 270 million year old Kaibab Limestone on the Rim.

So, why are there news reports that differ from this explanation? Since 2003 the park bookstore has been selling a book that gives a Creationist view of the formation of the Grand Canyon, claiming that the canyon is less than six thousand years old. This book is sold in the inspirational section of the bookstore. In this section there are photographic texts, poetry books, and Native American books (that also give an alternative view of the canyon’s origin).

The park’s bookstore contains scores of texts that give the NPS geologic view of the formation of the canyon.

We do not use the Creationist text in our teaching nor do we endorse its content. However, neither do we censor alternative beliefs. Much like your local public library, you will find many alternative beliefs, but not all of these beliefs are used in the school classroom.

It is not our role to tell people what to believe. We recognize that alternative views exist, but we teach the scientific explanation for the formation of the Grand Canyon.

I hope this explanation helps.

David Barna
Chief of Public Affairs
National Park Service
Washington, DC
Registered Professional Geologist (AIPG #6528)
Licensed Geologist (North Carolina #129)

January 22, 2007

. . .

Let's face it: in that December 28 press release, PEER made a howling error. The best course would have been to acknowledge the error, apologize, and then move on. Unfortunately, PEER first attempted to explain away the error and to deflect attention from the error by discussing the irrelevant issue of the sale of the creationist book, and now has followed-up with a weak "clarification" that even attempts to put blame on a few readers of the press release who, we are told, "misinterpreted" the release.

The following is PEER’s latest release, with my commentary:

"Many PEER supporters and bloggers world-wide have commented on the controversy surrounding the age of the Grand Canyon generated by a recent PEER press release. We would like to apologize for the fact that our December 28, 2006 release, “How Old is the Grand Canyon? Park Service Won’t Say,” was not as clear as it should have been.

Lack of "clarity" was not the problem. PEER published a falsehood.

If we had it to do over, it would have been written differently. While we aim to call attention to issues that we believe are important, it is not our intention to promote misinformation. To set the record straight, we would like to offer the following clarification and update.

"Once we became aware that the press release was being misinterpreted, we took a couple steps to amend this error:

“Misinterpreted”?  Shame on us readers!!

1.) PEER revised the original release on our website, deleting the problematic first sentence. 'Grand Canyon National Park is not permitted to give an official estimate of the geologic age of its principal feature, due to pressure from Bush administration appointees.'

That first sentence was more than "problematic:" It was flat-out false and without foundation.

Although the information was not included in the release, that sentence was based on the fact that since 2004 (until this recent controversy erupted) we heard from reporters that the superintendent’s office at GCNP had answered media questions about the age of the canyon with either a “no comment” or by referring the reporter to Headquarters.

"No comment" and referral to headquarters does not constitute confirmation of the claim in that "problematic" first sentence.  And as I found out personally, when I asked a Grand Canyon park ranger the age of the canyon, I was given, without hesitation, the accepted scientific account. 

Why didn't PEER ask the NPS personnel at the Grand Canyon, instead of passing on hearsay from some unidentified "reporters"? PEER claims that "GCNP is not permitted to give an official estimate ... (etc.)." The validation of that claim rests, not amongst DC bureaucrats or "reporters," but upon the actual behavior of the rangers and employees at the Grand Canyon. It is obvious that PEER didn't take the trouble to ask them, for if they had, the claim would have been refuted.

2.) We distributed a second press release that laid out clearly the Park Service’s position on the age of the Grand Canyon, and posted the NPS official statement on our website.

And that NPS position paper directly contradicts the PEER accusation in that first press release.

It’s significant to note that the public controversy surrounding our release finally stimulated the National Park Service, for the first time, to go on the record saying it did not endorse the content of Tom Vail’s book, Grand Canyon: A Different View. As with all other statements on this issue, of course, it came out of HQ, and not the park.

The issue of the Vail book is separate and irrelevant to the claim in the "problematic first sentence" that there is, in effect, a gag rule against giving a scientific account of the age of the Grand Canyon. Selling a book with a contrary opinion hardly constitutes a "gag" on GC personnel. Yet in dealing with complaints about that "first sentence," PEER has routinely turned attention to the book controversy -- a fallacy of misdirection -- as it does, once again, immediately below. I have much more to say below about the separate issue of Vail's book.

Our intention in the original release was simply to point out that the National Park Service [NPS] is:

a.) still selling the creationist book in violation of their own policies and despite the protests of the Service’s own geologists and the park superintendent.

Is the NPS "selling the creationist book"? I wasn't aware that the NPS was in the book-selling business. In fact, the book is on sale at the gift and book store in the Park, a store that is managed by the Grand Canyon Association, a private citizen group. Perhaps books on sale at the store must be pre-approved by the NPS. But that is more than I know. But if that is the case, then we have a government agency dictating what a private store can or cannot sell. Don't know about you, but I find this chilling. (More about this below).

b.) stonewalling on the long-promised official review of their decision to sell the book

c.) refusing to issue formal guidance to park staff on how to address questions from visitors about creationism and the official NPS position in light of the approval of a book espousing this view.

Why should such "formal guidance" be necessary. It appears that NPS personnel are free to present the scientific position without restriction. In fact, isn't that what the aforementioned NPS directive states quite explicitly. Here a guess: isn't it just possible that the reason NPS doesn't issue "formal guidance" is to keep the fundies off the backs of the CG rangers, thus allowing them to keep on doing what their professional integrity requires; namely, giving the scientific account of the age and origin of the canyon?

As a side note, we spoke today with someone who bought the book out of curiosity, and was dismayed to find that it included promotional material about the author’s church and for his river tour company. He suggested that this offered further reasons it shouldn’t be sold in the NPS bookstore.

Big deal! "Promotion" is what authors demand and what publishers do. And once again I ask, does the NPS "have" a bookstore? Isn't that store managed instead by the private Grand Canyon Association? Just wondering.

Again, our apologies to anyone who felt offended or misinformed, and we hope that this clarifies the matter. Thank you for following PEER’s work, and taking the time to become engaged in the issue. Public discourse and healthy skepticism are crucial in arriving at a more complete understanding of the truth.

End of PEER "clarification."

A final note about the alleged "gag rule:" As PEER surely knows better than most, "government officials" consist of two fundamental categories: political appointees and professional civil service employees. Though I have no evidence apart from what I surmise from the media, I strongly suspect that there is an ongoing struggle in the NPS (as well as the EPA, the FDA, NOAA and other science-oriented agencies) between Bush appointees, with political and religious agendas, and career employees who are scientifically trained and devoted to public service, and presumably valiantly resisting pressure from the pols "above" them. As I learned at my recent visit to the Grand Canyon, it appears that their resistance has been successful.

Now about that book, Grand Canyon: A Different View.

I share PEER's disappointment that such a book is on sale at the Grand Canyon Book and Gift Store. It testifies, once again, to the appalling scientific ignorance in this country.

However, it strikes me that any imaginable remedy by the NPS to that unfortunate situation would constitute a cure that is far worse than the disease.

Consider first, the actual situation in said bookstore. As I discovered earlier this month, the store sells hundreds of books and media which present the scientific view of the age and origin of the Grand Canyon. Tucked away in an obscure section titled "Inspirational," one finds "The Grand Canyon; A Different View," alongside books describing Native American "different views." It is doubtful that "... A Different View" will persuade anyone not already convinced of the literal truth of Noah's flood. In short, the sale of the book is essentially harmless.

But banning the book, on the direct order of a government agency, is not harmless.

For if the book is banned, what follows? A public burning? An official US government "index" of banned books?

And what is PEER to say, when a school board in a red state bans the teaching of evolution, or a town council orders the removal of "The Origin of the Species" from the public libraries? Might not the teaching of the scientific view be just a bit compromised by this uproar over “... a Different View”?

What has become of our tradition of free press and open debate, when presumably "liberal" citizen organizations call upon the federal government to remove of books from private bookstores?

Voltaire famously said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." And as one who regards the story of Noah's flood as credible as the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, I ask PEER to give up this silly vendetta against a harmless religious tract. To those open to evidence and rational argument, Creationism will fail of its own inadequacies. To those blind to evidence and deaf to reason, as long as they remain in this condition, their faith is unassailable. Those rare scientifically literate individuals who might buy this book will only be amused, and reminded of the pathetic naiveté and credulity of the fundies. For those still undecided, the debate must be kept alive and open.

John Stuart Mill said it all in his "On Liberty:"

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind... [T]he peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

The most valuable asset of PEER and similar organizations is credibility, and credibility is achieved through a record and a reputation for veracity. In the Bush Administration, we are dealing with a bunch of conniving liars. It is of no benefit to PEER to imitate their methods.

It is past time for PEER to cease its defense of the indefensible. Time to issue a public apology and to move on. PEER has much more important work to do than to demand that the government function as a censor.

March 20, 2007

The FAUX News Version of Plamegate: A Deconstruction.

On March 7, 2007, FOX News’ John Gibson set forth an “explanation” of the Valerie Plame scandal that surely earns him a nomination for the Ignoble Prize in Fantasy Fiction. It must be the boldest “reach” in political propaganda since Josef Goebbels announced the September, 1939 “invasion” of Germany by the Polish Army. 

When I began to read a printout of Gibson’s fantasy, I had an irresistible urge to grab a pencil and write a running commentary. Either that, or wake up the entire house with my shouts of anguish.

What follows is Gibson’s complete commentary, with my responses in offset text:

“So let me get this straight: Scooter Libby is going to jail for not remembering who he told what. He didn't lie, evidently.”

Not "evident" to the jury.

“He didn't remember right, and that is a federal crime, of course, if you happen to be speaking to a FBI agent when your memory fails.”

Testimony in open court proved otherwise.

“But at the same time, the same Justice Department has taken the case of a high government official i.e., [Sandy Berger] who lied, who stole classified documents, who destroyed those documents, and he's walking around free as a bird. They won't even ask him to take a lie detector test to determine if he lied more than they already know.”

Even if all this is true (and that is doubtful to say the least) it is irrelevant to the Plame case.

“People are saying the Libby trial is the key to the kingdom, that it stands for the trial of the entire administration and the war in Iraq.”

Who are these unidentified "people"?

“Here's what it was about: Does the vice president have the right to say, see that guy named Joe Wilson who is going around saying I sent him to Africa to investigate Saddam's nuke bombs? I didn't send him. His wife did.”

All lies, from beginning to end: (a) Wilson never said Cheney sent him to Africa. (b) Wilson was sent to Africa to investigate alleged shipments of yellowcake (uranium) ore to Saddam, not "nuke bombs." (c) Plame did not send Wilson to Africa. If Gibson is right, Plame is guilty of perjury and vulnerable to indictment. This is unlikely since, if false, her testimony could be easily disproved. Ergo, it is safe to assume that Plame is telling the truth. Gibson, unlike Plame, has made none of these accusations under oath.

“Seems pretty simple to me.” 

“Joe Wilson wrote a piece for The New York Times implying the vice president sent him on a mission to Africa and then ignored his advice. In the vice president's office the question was: Who is this guy? Why is he saying we sent him, and as a matter of fact who did?”

Again, Wilson wrote no such thing in his article. The "implication" is the product of Gibson’s manifestly fertile imagination. (See for yourself. Read Wilson's column).  A kernel of truth: Cheney ignored Wilson's findings (not his "advice").

“Let me quote from an Associated Press report from the trial, dated January 24, 2007, when former CIA Iraq mission manager Robert L. Grenier appeared as a government witness in the trial of Libby. The report reads: ‘Grenier testified he told Libby that the idea of sending ex-Ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger was the brainchild of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, who worked in the CIA office that sent him in 2002.’"

The quote is correct. But Gibson jumps from "brainchild" (i.e., an idea -- the dismissive word, "brainchild" is uncalled for) to "sent him to Africa" (i.e.,  authorized and implemented the trip). Plame testified that she had no authority to initiate or approve the trip, and that the idea of sending Wilson to Africa originated elsewhere.

“Now, Libby was informed who sent Wilson to Africa. He certainly knew the vice president's office didn't because, well, because he would know. He was the V.P.'s chief of staff.”

Presupposes, falsely, that Plame "sent Wilson to Africa."

“So the vice president and Libby wanted the press to know because they were getting pointed questions about why did you send this guy if you weren't going to pay attention to his report. And they found out that his wife had sent him. They wanted people to know. Problem was, she was a covert spook, at least technically.”

There's the “his wife sent him” accusation again.  Still false.  And note also that Gibson carelessly acknowledges that Plame was a "covert spook." John Gibson (“covert”), meet Victoria Toensing (“not covert”). [See my: Valerie Plame and the Incredible Shrinking Cover Story“]

“So if you are the vice president or his assistant, can you out the spook if the spook is pulling strings behind your back to make you look bad?”

Gibson cites no evidence of this "string pulling," or the alleged motive to embarrass Cheney.  But even if we assume the "string pulling" and the political motives, Gibson's conjecture makes no sense whatever.  In this fanciful situation, wouldn't Cheney have a compelling reason to "out the spook?"

"Evidently not.”

Brace yourselves: here comes "the money shot":

“Personally, I'm glad they did. There was a cabal inside the CIA working against the president's policy and they wanted to hide behind their secret status while they did what was essentially an anti-war political hit job.” [EP emphasis].

Not a scrap of evidence cited to support this "CIA cabal conspiracy" fantasy.

“This is bad. It is the bad thing at the bottom of this whole episode. Valerie Plame knew what she was doing when she sent her husband."

“She sent her husband.” That again! “Tell a lie often enough and the public will believe it.” (Josef Goebbels).

“She knew he would never come back with an endorsement for the war.”

Finding an “endorsement for the war” wasn't Wilson’s assignment. He was asked to find out if there was any evidence of yellowcake shipments to Iraq. He reported that there was no evidence. No evidence has since come forth that Wilson was wrong, and there is an abundance of evidence that he was correct. Note that Gibson and other Bush apologists have little if anything to say about the factual accuracy of Wilson's report.

“He says in his own book he didn't even believe in deposing Saddam back in the '91 war.”

Neither, for that matter, did President George H. W. Bush.

"So why would Cheney send an anti-war activist to investigate a key fact in the decision to go to war? Answer: He wouldn't.”

No! Answer: he didn't “send” Joe Wilson.

"And the person who did was trying to sabotage the president.”

Again, no evidence whatever of a "sabotage".

“That is the real story behind this entire saga.”

And if you believe this, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

Summing up: “Journalism” in the United States has come to this: unsupported fantasy with a total disregard of the evidence and established facts.  In a word: "propaganda."  Admittedly, FOX News is the worst of the bad. Even so, the mainstream media today has sunk to a depth of mendacity and triviality that was unthinkable a generation ago. (For evidence and argument in support of that oracular pronouncement, see my
All The News that Fits the Bush Agenda,  Following the Light. and other essays about the media). 

To paraphrase Dan Quayle, “If Thomas Jefferson were alive today, he’d roll over in his grave.”

March 22, 2007

More replies to a libertarian Friend:

Unregulated capitalism invites fraud. It is not the job of the tobacco industry (or any other) to tell the truth to the public. The objective is to sell the product, in any way they can get away with. Yes, I know that your solution is torts and courts. But for reasons that I have presented in some detail, this simply won't work. ("Progressive," Ch. 8). Best evidence of this? In the real world, it hasn't worked. Given the chance, the corporate lackeys in Congress enact "tort reform" which reduces citizens suits to a minor nuisance -- "the cost of doing business." And who will require, and enforce the requirement, that a seller (e.g., tobacco companies) identify a product as risky? Did I hear "government"? For that matter, how will it be determined that a product is risky? Research? Surely not research funded by the industry. Did I hear government funded research? If not, then how else?

. . . .

If the tone of my remark re: welfare vs. night-watchman seemed snide, I regret it. But I am entirely serious about my intended point. "Welfarism" is notoriously vague. On a scale of ten, it varies from zero (night watchman state) to ten ("pure communism" -- the goal, not the achievement, of Soviet "socialism"). Put me at a five (plus or minus a point or two). I acknowledge a "commons" -- wealth (both economic and moral) and institutions owned by all in general and none in particular (i.e., privately). Also, "market failures" can victimize the innocent, who are entitled to compensation. The only agency legitimately authorized protect and manage the commons and in behalf of the public in general, is "Jeffersonian" democracy: "To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

I'd prefer not to be identified as a proponent of "the welfare state." Better a term I've not found elsewhere: "The referee state." This means a state which, under the rule of law, establishes and maintains the conditions that are pre-requisite for a thriving, free enterprise economy. Namely, an educated work force, an informed citizenry, a clean environment, a functioning infrastructure, regulation of commerce to "promote the general welfare" (Preamble, Constitution). Absent these, "capitalist acts between consenting adults" are impossible. Instead, we have, or at least move toward, a Hobbesian state of nature. As, I submit, present conditions in the USA seem to be indicating.

I believe I understand your disagreement, since I have read many of your publications and other writings that you endorse. My position, I submit, is hardly original, since it is derived from familiar and mainstream political philosophers of which we are both familiar -- most notably from our founding documents.

Which is why I regard myself as an authentic "conservative," and most contemporary soi-dissant "conservatives" as "regressives."

May 8, 2007

An "Overflow" of Responses to "On the Morality of Science."

My essay, "On the Morality of Science," provoked a huge response when it was published last week in "The Smirking Chimp."  The posts were especially noteworthy for their quality and the obvious expertise of the writers.  Worthy, in short, for publication on a page that is separate from and more permanent than our "Letters to the Crisis Papers." 

The letters begin with elaborations on the theme of my essay:  Does the activity of science (apart from the content of science) entail moral behavior by scientists?  It then moves to an exchange between "Bajanman" and "Purchasing Unit_451" on climate science and global warming, with appropriate digs against the Busheviks.  (Because these responses were in a public forum, I feel free to include the writers "tags."


Science is way more than a mere abstraction. It is a way of thinking first and foremost. It is based on asking questions, probing nature further, and then obtaining answers by open inquiry and testing hypotheses.

"Science" - when I hear or see the word- means someone has initiated a process of inquiry into some aspect of nature and sought answers. These answers do not originate from any authority but from the work itself.

Translated into an activity or process, science unfolds very much the same way, irrespective of field:

You have data, and accessory information which leads to some iniital result which tests a particular hypothesis- call it 'x'.

You then acquire better data (perhaps because of refined instruments, techniques ) and are led to a modified (improved) result such that:

x (n+1) = x + P(x)

where x(n +1) denotes an improvement via iteration, with P(x) the process (acting on x) that allows it.

Later, more refined data become available, such that:

x(n + 2) = x(n + 1) + P'(x + 1)

and so on, and so on and so forth. Each x, x(n+1), x(n+2) etc. being a successive approximation to what the objective, genuine value should be.

While genuine science can be done at multiple levels, by numerous people (not all of whom bear the recognized academic qualifications) it obviously reaches its apex in professional-university based scientific research. (Thanks mainly to media attention and focus - as when a new Mars lander touches down, and all eyes turn to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. But this doesn't mean a solitary little feller working at Pahokie U. and probing into gravitational lenses with numerical simulation isn't also doing science)

There is scientific activity, along with all the other human activities, but 'science' does not have its own existence.

I think it does have its own existence, as a process and way of thinking (see above). Thus, it is always possible to distinguish a religious process, for example, from a scientific one and hence science from religion!

Thus while science will approach objective truth via successive approximations (and incessant tests of falsification) Religions simply impose their truth ab initio, by fiat or decree.

There is no attempt whatever to incorporate any approximation. Or to even acknowledge that 'truth' can't be accessed all at once. Rather, one must set rational truth aside and succumb to ‘faith”.

There is "faith" Jesus walked on water or changed water to wine, but no testable proof of it.

In the sphere of economics, likewise.

Economics never has been a science, it only adopts some scientific window dressing, a few of the methods (mostly statistics) and some jargon. But no serious empiricist would regard it as "science" - hence there can't be any "science of inequality". That is gibberish.

Economics has no true objects of inquiry - say like physics - nor does it offer any consistent, theoretical models that don't rely on statistical artifacts. Nor does it make quality predictions based on said models, say like atomic physics. (Prediction of specific spectra - emission or absorption- using the Schrodinger equation, and the correct energy eigenvalues for the atom chosen).

Because you have correlation, does not mean for a moment there is causation. The confusion of these two is the single most recurrent contributor for inflating economics into any kind of "Science". (Since models must be founded on seeking out and exposing causation, not merely correlation or coincidences)

And we won't even go into the details of exposing why politics can never be confused with science.

Hence, in many ways, science does have its own existence. Can science still be compromised by external agents and influences (political, economic etc.). Of course. But this doesn't mean science cannot exist on its own - doing the best work possible - when and where allowed to.

What gives it that tangible quality are the social structures that have developed over the last 200 years or so, particularly professionalisation strategies and the development of academic career paths.

While it is true these "social structures" (academic journals, peer review boards, networks, professional societies) have imbued science with a tangible quality, this doesn't mean real science cannot exist outside that professional-social sphere.

Even if I were not a member of ANY professional society, I'd still be able to do useful (and publishable) science, since I have been trained as a scientific researcher first and foremost and therefore have the "knack" as it were, in approaching everything from solar magnetic storms, to sunspot behavior.

Again, science is a mode of thinking. A graduate research degree refines and augments that ability and allows one to DO very high QA science, irrespective of whether he or she actually belongs to any social structure.

Lastly, I do think a moral component inheres in science. It is there when one pursues objective truth without letting external agents corrupt and undermine the value and process.

In so doing, one is faithful to the highest and noblest aspirations and executes them to the highest degree. If this isn't "moral" I don't know what is. (But then, in my lexicon "moral" may be a much more expansive term than in yours!)


Ernest Partridge responds:

A lot to bite into, B-Man.  So I'll make do with some comments about Economics and Economists.

If Economics (specifically, "macro-economics") had even a smidgen of predictive warrant (say, 60/40 correct), then all economists would make a killing on Wall Street, and be able to retire at 40.

The problem is not that economists explain too little, it's that they "explain" too much, which is to say, any development in the nation's economy has contrary "explanations," according to the political inclinations of the economist.

As for predictions, two ex-economists in the Congress, Dr. Phil Gramm (Texas A&M) and Dr. Richard Armey (Univ. of North Texas) warned that Clinton's tax cuts were certain to bring on a terrible recession. Instead, prosperity followed. The reason, they "explained," was in spite of Clinton and because of "time-lags" in the policies of Reagan & Bush I).

"Time-lag:" the ad hoc gift to the economist that keeps on giving.

So it comes down to this: Macro Economics is a pseudo science, because it is non-falsifiable, and falsifiability is an essential criterion of science.

As for micro-economics, it is based upon two "ideal types" -- "economic man" and "the perfect market" -- neither of which exist in the "real" world. From these fictions, advanced math is applied, resulting in tomes that look impressive as hell. The result (as one wit put it): "The theory is beautiful; it's realty that has me baffled."

More in Chapter 9, "Remedial Economics for Regressives,"   in my Conscience of a Progressive.

It's Science (insert echo) Gimme my fix! Gimme my fix!

"x (n+1) = x + P(x)

where x(n +1) denotes an improvement via iteration, with P(x) the process (acting on x) that allows it.

Later, more refined data become available, such that:

x(n + 2) = x(n + 1) + P'(x + 1)

and so on, and so on and so forth. Each x, x(n+1), x(n+2) etc. being a successive approximation to what the objective, genuine value should be."

Aaaaah, I needed that.

Sarcasm aside. I am, in large part, in agreement.

AKA Macho Chef


'science' is an abstraction, a mere grammatical metaphor.

purchasing_unit is dutifully parroting the "accepted" interpretation of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

Unbeknown to him, even Kuhn had reject that interpretation.


I think you've missed the point

Although looking at Partridge's article again I'm not sure whether he means that science generates morality or that it's just a good thing to do. I assumed the former.

Anyway, the basic moral quality he identifies is its truth-seeking function. I am merely saying that truth-seeking is a universal intellectual activity and is not an exclusive property of science.

BajanMan is quite right, of course, to point out that science has developed techniques for this function to an elaborate degree, and I thank him for his explication of the phoneyness of social 'science' - my thoughts, too. My point, however, was that science can do this because it has excluded all that fuzzy subjective stuff that comes in with individual perspectives, mixed as they are with feelings and unique circumstances. That is what makes science distinct from other truth-seeking activities.

SuzieQ questions the truth value of the arts, law, etc. But art is intrinsically bound up with telling a truthful story about the world - we value Shakespeare or Rembrandt because they depict life in such an accurate way that we can draw lessons from them, factual and moral. Law courts are all about discovering the truth.

But this confuses the pursuit of truth with the truth that is discovered. There is no moral value in truth as such - it is simply what is 'out there', reality. The virtue, surely, lies in seeking it out and accommodating to it.

But what IS the truth? Strictly speaking, 'truth' is *our account* of what is out there. The trick is to make sure that account fits all the phenomena as well as making sense. The same criteria apply to science. Thus there is the truth of a Rembrandt and there is the truth of a scientific theory and, indeed, the truth of a legal position. These simply relate to different aspects of human experince.  SuzieQ says art and law, etc, are only human thoughts (I would add "values") and so do not affect the "physical laws of the universe". But our thoughts and values are also realities, essential ones, too, because we live by them as much as by physical laws.

BajanMan suspects my understanding of 'moral' is less expansive than his, and I may have to agree. I cannot in any way see how a scientific analysis of, say, solar structure, however elaborate, can be said to be 'higher' than Shakespeare's analysis of political power. They are surely just operating in different spheres of human life. And to say that the dedication which one does indeed find in science (as in other pursuits) is laudible is not to say that science is capable of providing moral value, which I (perhaps mistakenly) took to be Partridge's point.

And Bart, point taken. It's been years since I read Kuhn, and I didn't like him much. Too glib. I only meant to emphasise that science is only one human activity (as BajanMan says, quite distinct from religious activity) and we should not get too reverential about it.


Ernest Partridge replies:

As this excellent discussion progresses, I regret that an essential distinction in my essay begins to fade: namely, that the CONTENT of science is value-free, and that the PROCESS of science is value-laden.

Solar structure repercussions ...beyond solar structure

I cannot in any way see how a scientific analysis of, say, solar structure, however elaborate, can be said to be 'higher' than Shakespeare's analysis of political power. They are surely just operating in different spheres of human life

Ordinarily this might be the case. However, certain solar researchers - namely Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas of Harvard- have actually used their solar research to distract attention from the human-incepted greenhouse effect.

In a number of their papers they have claimed that the heating effect from the Sun (specifically irradiance from sunpots) dominates, and essentially relieves humans of responsibility.

I submit to you this is both reckless and immoral, to the extent it provides millions (including many in government) the de facto justification they need to do nothing and blame it all on "natural causes".

And I also submit for your consideration, that arguably global warming and its oncoming repercussions is the biggest moral issue of our time - in terms of how we deal with it, not only for ourselves but for future generations that will have to live on this planet.


Consideration and resubmission

I think what you're referring to here is the use to which scientific findings can be put. I think it actually supports my case. Consider what the Prometheus Archives at Colorado say:

'Today one advocacy group funded by the fossil fuel industry and on record as being against emissions reductions states bluntly in a moment of candor their view why this putatively scientific debate matters: “Why are so many researchers concerned with reconstructing a thousand years of Earth's climate history? Some will argue it's actually a political debate;  to the winner goes the spoils - passage of or withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol by governments worldwide.”'  (Broken link)

This is no different from any serious historical debate. They also rage over evidence yet are aimed at current political issues (in the widest sense). I see no problem with this as long as truth, or its proper pursuit, constrains the outcome.

On the other hand, in the topic of global warming the business of evaluating evidence seems to have been largely set aside in favour of accusations of "bad science" - on both sides - with Mann et al being accused of botching evidence by using composite sources and Soon et al similarly accused of abusing evidence. Along with that, the "pro-warmers" make a lot of snide ad hominum comments (such as the "moment of candor" above), which I find absent from the skeptics.

I imagine you are one of the very few who understand the science, as I must confess I have only a shallow grasp, as do most of the people I talk to about this, but this "debate" seems to be one that truly is shabby and deceitful in that respect.

I said originally that science achieved its spectacular success at truth-seeking by abandoning the messy subjective stuff of individual human lives, yet that messy stuff is precisely the ground of morality - which makes science a bad candidate for providing moral value. Yet science is seen by many as epitomising moral superiority (paradoxically via its lack of value-statements). The danger of this, I submit to you, is that scientific findings can be effectively deployed for political ends, relying not on actual evidence but on this perception of science's moral authority, as seems to be prevailing in the global warming controversy.


Climate debate

I imagine you are one of the very few who understand the science, as I must confess I have only a shallow grasp, as do most of the people I talk to about this, but this "debate" seems to be one that truly is shabby and deceitful in that respect.

Actually, it's not "shabby and deceitful" at all, unless you are on the "skeptic" -actually ANTI-human global warming side. (The blog you referenced, btw, is the 'home' of Roger Pielke Jr. one of the most notorious global warming deniers. So I wouldn't put much stock in much you read there, since his blogs seem to draw deniers by the ton)

I spent time on one of Pielke's blogs posting under a pseudonym about two months ago. The sort of "arguments" I found to counter the overwhelming evidence for anthropogenic warming were absolutely disreputable. They were both unscientific and, I'd go so far as to say, pseudo-scientific. And believe me that I don't bandy about that term casually.

You are correct I have a much better grasp of the science, perhaps because when I was a (space physics) research assistant at the Geophysical Institute (University of Alaska-Fairbanks) I'd often have chats with Prof. Gunther Weller, one of the best known Arctic climate scientists there. I became familiar with ice cores, and their correct interpretation - which the naysaying lot have yet to master. (Or perhaps choose not to)

The long and short of it is that even then (1985) Weller's data showed the Arctic was warming and in major ways. This "debate" now then is CLOSED for all practical purposes, and is only kept going by the skeptic side to create (or try to) ambiguity in the public mind. In other words, fabricate the "fuzziness" you reference.

In truth, there is NO subjectivity or "fuzziness' and anyone who is au fait with the science is aware of that. Hence, denying anthropogenic global warming is even more despicable than denying the Holocaust - since the former will have real, horrific and tangible negative effects.

The IPCC reports(3) this year, have put the final seal on the issue. It is time now to ACT and that is the MORAL thing to do. (And again, honest, untainted science made the findings to support it possible!) As opposed to mucking about, and allowing the skeptics and their ilk to find immoral excuses not to act. The planet and the welfare of future generations is at stake.

There are TWO things you can do if you really want to inform yourself about this issue, and not be distracted by pseudo-science.

1) Go to


where you'll find credible debate by real climate scientists on the remaining uncertainties

2) Order or get hold of the Teaching Company's excellent course: 'The EARTH'S CHANGING CLIMATE' - given by Prof. Richard Wolfson of Middelbury College.

It is one of the best courses (12 lectures on dvds) to gain a grasp of what's going on.

Also check out the background of Baliunas - one of the solar researchers I referenced, at:


I am confident that after you do all that, you will agree that in the moral sense, we need to act and the "skeptics" need to concede this debate is finished. We haven't the luxury to piss around anymore.

And you will also see that what Baliunas did, which saw 13 of the authors of the papers cited (by her) refuting her interpretation of their work- as immoral.

You are correct that science in large measure attained its spectacular success by abandoning "messy stuff" - which is really to say it focused exclusively on reductionist paradigms.

However, we now see - especially via quantum mechanics and climate science - that humans can not only be observers but the subject of study.

In QM, humans set up the experiments (with assorted emphases) by which particular subsets of reality are examined and investigated. But that very selection means other aspects aren't. (This is known as the 'Principle of Complementarity'. Thus certain experiments such as to do with the photo-electric effect, expose the photon's particle nature, while others, such as diffraction experiments, disclose its wave nature).

In climate science, as Prof. Wolfson's course shows, we see that humans are not detached but part of the climate problem, having pumped out so much CO2 that the climate is now veering toward permanent instability. (The late Carl Sagan predicted that once the increase of 6C was exceeded, we'd have the 'runaway Greenhouse' effect and be on the way toward another Venus)

In this context, it would be daft to attempt to sit aloof from the findings, as if the planet undergoes catastrophic changes in the abstract which won't impact humans.

Ultimately, courageous science - ruthlessly and faithfully practiced with exacting moral integrity - in the face of threats, jeers and vile PR, is science at its best. It also demands action vis-a-vis policy, in the real here and now. This is exactly the case with the IPCC Report #3.

Footnote: Hey, I have been guilty myself of using "ad hominems" against the deniers too, having referred to them as "flat Earthers" and "kin to Holocaust deniers" in letters published in the Denver Post the past year.

I make no apologies for it. I am human, after all, and when I behold stupidity that carries vast catastrophic impacts, I can let loose. I admit it. Just don't think the other side is free of it, or - because they retain this detached pose - their position is more credible.

You'd be making a most grievous error if you went that route!


I shall continue to try informing myself of the issues, although it seems hopeless without the specialist knowledge to make sense of the findings. I must say, though, that a skeptical frame of mind keeps me from becoming too sheep-like, and as a result I've asked myself questions that I don't find answers for.

Since you know about ice core samples, perhaps you could help me with this one. As I understand it, the readings for CO2 level in the atmosphere are taken at the Mauna Loa facility in Hawaii. The ice core samples come from air caught by snowfall over the Antarctic ice fields.

The CO2 in the atmosphere gets there from the oceans (approx 55%), vegetation and animal life and decomposition (approx 35%) and a significant amount from volcanic output. About 4% currently comes from us (outside of agriculture and land use).

The Mauna Loa facility is thus, 1) near the ocean, 2) near the vegetation of the mountain slopes and 3) near a volcano. On the other hand the ice core samples come from air which is 1) a long way from the ocean, 2) even further from significant biomass and 3) no where near volcanic output.

Should one expect the natural CO2 levels to be different as a result? And if so, shouldn't the current air samples be taken from Antarctic areas around the time of snowfall to ensure comparing 'like with like'?


Skepticism, CO2 etc.

I must say, though, that a skeptical frame of mind keeps me from becoming too sheeplike, and as a result I've asked myself questions that I don't find answers for.

It could also be that, by virtue of the lack of a solid knowledge base, your questions may be either irrelevant or inherently defective. Hence - asking them- even to yourself- isn't useful. It only appears so.

It is somewhat like the many novices in astronomy who have always asked "What came before the Big Bang?"

Essentially a nonsense question like asking 'What is north of the north pole?'

In general a “skeptical frame of mind” is good and to be encouraged, but what I call uninformed skepticism is not much use. (And one is more likely to be a sheep here – at least a paralyzed sheep or “deer in the headlights” sheep!)

To be a bona fide skeptic, or display a bona fide skeptic mindset -one needs to possess some basis in knowledge for the phenomenon being queried. Else, how does one know if one’s skepticism is baseless or valid? A person skeptical that the holocaust occurred, is merely a capital ignoramus – and probably moron too. (since he’s probably swallowed hook, line and sinker all or most of the holocaust denial literature)

A scientific example: a person that is largely ignorant about the astronomical sky – what objects are visible and when, relative brightness, angular size and even the artificial satellites that may be visible at a given time – cannot display any credible skepticism about claims in the sky.

Since ab initio he isn’t clear what’s there, how can he argue? Because he doesn’t “feel” a claim (say for a large UFO) is true? Not really, since this isn’t good enough. To be a real skeptic one has to be able to at least minimally refute or debunk assorted claims, and that means one must have a residue of real knowledge and facts at hand. Not guesses, not intuition, not “gut checks”.

OTOH, an experienced sky observer or astronomer has the real basis to also be a skeptic, since he or she knows enough to intelligently question and even refute many types of claim.

Perhaps in response to the prevalence of climate change skeptics and contrarians in the U.S., the president of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society – Sir Robert May – said in a May 18, 2006 statement (Eos, Vol. 82, No. 23, June 5, 2006):

Some people have unjustifiably sought to undermine the work of the IPCC, but governments should be left in no doubt that it offers the best source of expertise on climate change

What May is saying is that, given one has an inquiring and open mind but is in doubt re: climate change, his best option is to place the greatest credence in the IPCC since it has the wealth of climate science experts. As opposed to the shills who work for the PR firms and outfits, faux interest groups (like 'Global Warming Coalition') and funded by Big O-I-L.

Why would one even give passing credence to the latter? In the scheme of things, one shouldn't - unless one attains a degree of knowledge he can verify those claims for himself (or conversely, refute the IPCC's claims)

This is also after a recent (skeptic-hyped) film screened on BBC-4 has been shown to be specious rubbish. As The Economist noted (p. 61, March 17, 'A hot topic gets hotter') most of the film's arguments were flatly untrue or misleading. One oceanographer, Carl Wunsch of MIT, went to far as to complain the way he was portrayed came "close to fraud".

The producer, a Martin Durkin, had already been called on the carpet for similar shenanigans for a "documentary" in 1998 when he was forced to apologize for distorting contributors' views.

Bunkum like this does the skeptics' cause no good.

Since you know about ice core samples, perhaps you could help me with this one. As I understand it, the readings for CO2 level in the atmosphere are taken at the Mauna Loa facility in Hawaii. The ice core samples come from air caught by snowfall over the Antarctic ice fields.

The CO2 in the atmpsphere gets there from the oceans (approx 55%), vegetation and animal life and decomposition (approx 35%) and a significant amount from volcanic output. About 4% currently comes from us (outside of agriculture and land use).

The Mauna Loa facility is thus, 1) near the ocean, 2) near the vegetation of the mountain slopes and 3) near a volcano. On the other hand the ice core samples come from air which is 1) a long way from the ocean, 2) even further from significant biomass and 3) no where near volcanic output.

Should one expect the natural CO2 levels to be different as a result? And if so, shouldn't the current air samples be taken from Antarctic areas around the time of snowfall to ensure comparing 'like with like'?

I am afraid you may have to clarify this question, since a lot of it makes no sense to me. I tried re-reading it several times, but am still at a loss.

For one thing, ice core samples are extracted from the land usually via deep drilling, not from the air. (Note also that the air trapped inside ice cores tests for not only climate but paleo-climate going back at least 400,000- 500,000 yrs. when continental drift was still occurring. Hence they have a greater generality and give a historic perspective not found by merely looking at current cores).

Perhaps you are confusing the ice core extraction with the air measurements which are made by more than 1700 bouys scattered across the world's oceans - which record air content of CO2 almost hourly. Or with the dozens of CO2 monitors scattered throughout the country on land, and placed carefully outside "heat islands".

In addition, ice core sample are extracted from all over the world - from Patagonia, to Alaska, to Siberia, to Africa. Thus, there is no chance of a geographical selection effect or selective filter which preferentially yields results from only one locale.

Different CO2 outputs arise from different sources, not all at the same intensity or with the same forcing factor. For example, natural sources (e.g. CO2 expelled in breathing, expelled by trees etc.) are not included as forcing factors (or non-linear drivers) since they are already reckoned into the natural “baseline” output. This also includes estimates of volcanic CO2 – such as the Pinatubo eruption in 1992. (These outbursts are evened out or averaged out as part of the natural baseline)

What does add to the forcing factor?

For one thing, deforestation. The IPCC has estimated that 25% of all CO2 emitted in the last decade is accounted for by deforestation. (Given tropical rain forests and others act as CO2 “sinks” and these are being eliminated). Hence, absent the “sinks” CO2 can spike. Where does it go?

Well, it will then be absorbed by the oceans, if trees aren’t there to perform the task The accumulated oceanic burden of fossil fuel CO2 is now over 400 billion metric tons. (See, e.g. ‘The Ocean in a High CO2 World’ in Eos, Vol. 85, 14 Sept, 2004.

As the referenced article points out:

The net CO2 gas invasion rate across the air-sea interface, driven by the growing mean pCO2 difference between air and sea, is now about 1 million metric tons CO2 per hour….This signal is detectable worldwide and has penetrated to more than 1000 m depth

The authors note that without the benefit of the massive disposal of CO2 in oceanic “sinks” the world will “face an overwhelming atmospheric CO2 problem”.

The injection rate from oceans, noted above, in a way obviates the basis of your question - assuming I am interpreting it in the sense that geographical distances (from source) undercut the claims, say for land. No they don't because with that level of CO2 "invasion" rate (and diffusion) from the oceans, ultimately air samples will be affected from across continents.


Thanks for taking the time

Thanks for taking the time to reply at length to a skeptic - your response is very useful.

I freely admit to being poorly informed, especially on matters of the climate, and given what is now taking place I am trying my best to rectify this - though it's very frustrating because it's an area I'm unlikely to understand very well anyway.

You have indeed answered my question about the CO2 level readings. Every question answered brings a little more knowledge, even if the question was a little naive. We have to start somewhere.

I'm working on the sources you recommended now.


Another climate science gem I neglected to mention is Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005). This superb monograph takes the lay reader through more than two hundred yrs. of climate science and shows how we got to the point we're at today.

It also elucidates the multifold signs of catastrophic, man-made global warming, minus the spin.

Lastly, since you're high on the moral elements here, never forget to ask the question in terms of any critical scientific research: Cui bono?

WHO benefits?

In the case of the so-called "skeptic" science it is the large oil companies, like Exxon, who maintain and sustain a market for their products and earn enormous billions in profits. (Exxon's profits for the past quarter were well over $10 billion).

Remember also, these same companies fund the work, whereas in the case of the IPCC and other climate researchers most money must come from their respective governments. In addition, very few (if any) of the skeptics' research is published in peer-reviewed journals. Even when they are, as in the Wiki case referencing Baliunas and Soon, immense outcry often arises in the wake. Usually because previous work has been deliberately misinterpreted or the data improperly used (In the case of Baliunas and Soon, they chose 50-yr. intervals for their study which excluded the signal of recent warming - which appears at 30-yr. intervals)

It clearly doesn't take genius to see that if a profit -making entity is funding the science it is more likely to be debased-reduced to the outcome desired by the profiteers.

The oil companies thereby keep winning, by keeping a large set of intelligent people in an ambiguated state, not knowing which way to veer. This is rendered worse by the fact most of these folks are unwilling or unable (for whatever reason) to adequately inform themselves. Which, in the context, is also is a moral thing to do!

Meanwhile, the disreputable "skeptics" while extolling the "benefits" of longer growing seasons, etc. use their PR flacks to deftly avoid discussing the specter of increased pestilence and diseases – such as cholera, malaria or dengue fever -and the fact that growing seasons are largely at the mercy of droughts, monsoons and other climatic aberrations.

Exotic diseases, violent storms, and rising sea levels that inundate coastal developments comprise human costs. These are costs that gradually accumulate over the years and decades, eventually overwhelming the relatively small economic costs that could have neutralized them. The question is whether we wish to defer the unfolding human costs – which may be unimaginably high – or pay for them now in terms of lowering economic expectations.

Even the major re-insurance companies are now on board with this. Munich Re, the world's largest re-insurer, was among the first voices for global warming action. Meanwhile, re-insurer Swiss Re made clear its position on the issue from early, noting (The Washington Post, December 4, 1997):

The phenomenon of climatic change is not some vague threat.....Human intervention in the natural climatic system could accelerate global climate change to such an extent that society might no longer be able to adapt quickly enough.

Reinforcing this is the "Statement of Environmental Commitment by the Insurance Industry", issued in 1997 and signed by no less than seventy-one insurance and re-insurance companies hailing from twenty-five countries.

Ultimately all this boils down to one moral question and one only: Is it right or morally correct that oil-generated profits - in the billions - be allowed to be used to trump the genuine climate science that is exposing the largest threat to human existence in its history, outside of planet-exterminating asteroids?

Ask yourself that before you next respond.


What is truth? How do we recognize it? Truth is a concept with which we are all pretty familiar. It is an undercurrent in every conversation and interaction we have with one another. Yet few of us ever give it much conscious thought except when we believe it is absent or in doubt. It's one of those intangibles that, when it does come up, we typically speak of only in absolutes. A statement can be either true or false, and that is all.


"The pursuit of truth is human, and scientists are simply one group who heed this evolutionary call in their chosen profession... The scientific method stands as an illuminating model for how to proceed with honesty and rationality. Science will always have this to offer us... With science and rationality behind us, we can only be stronger."

Now, this is what I mean by getting too reverential about science. Don't get me wrong - I've always been a science enthusiast, though sadly no mathematician - but I have also studied other areas of human activity where the pursuit of truth is important.

Philosophers since Thales have relied on "rational thought based on observation and prediction" to study the world. They didn't learn it from science, rather science has acquired it from philosophy.

Honesty has been a basic human value as long as we have records, and no doubt it has ever been so. It has always been understood that the decisions we make for our lives must accord to the reality that is both 'out there' and also 'in here', in the form of our needs and attributes.

Science has indeed achieved a "privileged vista onto the truth", but only onto part of it, the 'out there' part. Philosophy - or much of it - has specialised in the other part, the part that includes our living selves within it.

If only the philosophers' truth were not built on the shifting sands of human life it could accumulate, like that of science, but instead it must be recaptured with each generation. The truth of science, on the other hand, has been able to accumulate precisely because it has left behind the messiness of individual perspectives and values. However, that is precisely the ground on which correct choices for ourselves - moral choices - are made.

You could say that philosophers have gained a unique vista onto the truth, but it seems not to be a privilege any more.

Thanks for the link.


Philosophy & Science

Science has indeed achieved a "privileged vista onto the truth", but only onto part of it, the 'out there' part. Philosophy - or much of it - has specialised in the other part, the part that includes our living selves within it.

Writing as someone who's had to take enough Philosophy courses for a degree minor (when I was at Loyola Univ.) I revere it, and also its many aspects - from the Existentialist philosophy of Sartre (who I was privileged to hear in 1964 at a lecture in the Loyola Field House) to Wittgenstein and his interesting solipsist purview, to the ancient Stoic and Epicurean forms, to Aquinas' Aristotelian writings in the 'Summa Theologica'.

Nevertheless, as I also learned, Philosophy is rife with self-reference. This means it is much more likely to fall into meta-statements about the world if one is not careful. Further, this is very easy to do since Philosophy and its arguments, assertions lack the testability that underscores and propels science.

No one said science's grasp of truth was "perfect" - but those of us who've done it to prefer to at least have a mode of practice that approaches what (NATURAL) truth is out there via succesive approximations than mere axioms or arguments imbued with self-reference.

And btw, I do not dispute that 'Natural Philosophy' was the original source of science as practiced today, but do not be confused by the term! It is more that Natural Philosophy was really science in the first place (taking after Galileo's & Newton's methodology) than that it was ever traditional philosophy!

Further, if there is any purview of empirical philosophy that does what science does today, I enjoin you to point it out for me.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Philosophy would never have exposed the peril we face now as a species, in global warming. It would merely have provided largely impotent insights and arguments as the world boiled. Science, by its empirical exposure of the threat, provides all of us in the species with a basis, a raison d'etre for concerted action.

If we do nothing but sit on our butts, and then pay the piper, we can't blame science after it delivered the warning.

As Anita Gordon and David Suzuki put it in their superb book, Its a Matter of Survival (Harvard University Press, 1990)p. 236:

we claim to deal morally with suicide, homicide- but if we commit biocide and geocide - the killing of the life systems of the planet, how moral can that be?

Science, as the empirical "whistleblower" here - on the effect of human energy activities, thereby plays a moral clarion role every bit as compelling as any moral philosopher's. Perhaps more so, because here ALL LIFE really is at stake, rather than perhaps some ethereal life in another realm.

As the authors note, not to take action is not to evince any moral discipline. It is no different from knowing someone intends to put cyanide in a water supply, and doing nothing about it - preferring to waste time instead debating whether "there is really enough cyanide to do any harm".



May 15 , 2007

An Exchange about "Cold Fusion" Energy.

A Crisis Papers reader, takes issue with my casual dismissal of "Cold Fusion," in my essay On the Morality of Science.

Being quite unqualified to respond, I called upon an old friend, a retired professor of physics, to help me out.  (I will not disclose his name or institution, since I am confident that he does not wish to be deluged with unsolicited e-mails from cold fusion enthusiasts.  This is precisely what I would expect for myself in such a case).

Here is my critic's reply to me, and thence to my anonymous professor-friend, with some closing comments from Yours Truly.


You wrote the following about cold fusion:

"If the failure is due to carelessness, the investigator is subject to ridicule. (This was apparently the case with Fleishman and Pons' claim to have discovered 'cold fusion.')"

This statement is incorrect. The cold fusion effect was replicated at high signal to noise ratios by researchers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, Amoco, SRI, Texas A&M, Los Alamos, Mitsubishi Res. Center, BARC Bombay, Tsinghua U. and over a hundred other world-class laboratories. Hundreds of positive, peer-reviewed papers on cold fusion have been published in mainstream journals, most recently this month in Naturwissenschaften. (DOI:10.1007/s00114-007-0221-7)

You will find a bibliography of over 3,500 papers on cold fusion, including the full text of over 500 papers at our web site: http://lenr-canr.org/ .

You have apparently not reviewed the peer-reviewed scientific literature on this subject. I believe it is unethical for an academic researcher to comment on a subject without first carefully reviewing the facts.

Perhaps it understandable that you made this error, because reports in the popular press and in many scientific journals claim that cold fusion was a mistake, fraud or lunacy. However, these statements are at odds with the published experimental literature, as I said.

EP replies:

You are correct: I am not qualified to pass judgment on the scientific status of cold fusion. So I asked a friend, who is an emeritus professor of physics at a major state university. He replied:

I wouldn't apologize for anything.

Cold fusion has taken on a cult-like existence. Most of the physics and engineering community believe the preponderance of experiment and theory that say it's not a very likely phenomenon. The language in some circles is more severe than mine, although I buy into the criticism. The problem is that the fringe exists in some fairly respectable places. They have their own journals and community, so "peer reviewed" isn't very meaningful.

The Fleishman and Pons claims have been laid to rest for a long time. I was at the APS symposium that reviewed them and some of my very capable colleagues attempted to reproduce their results without even the hint of success. More recent positive reports don't seem to have convinced many people at all.

That was my impression, from what little I've read about Cold Fusion.

The Critic responds:

The professor did not read my message carefully. He wrote:

"They have their own journals and community, so 'peer reviewed' isn't very meaningful."

Please note that I wrote: "Hundreds of positive, peer-reviewed papers on cold fusion have been published in mainstream journals, most recently this month in Naturwissenschaften."

Naturwissenschaften is, "the long-standing official organ of the German Society of Natural Scientists and Physicians." Other mainstream peer-reviewed journals that have published papers on cold fusion include the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics, which is considered Japan's most prestigious journal and which devoted a special issue to cold fusion, the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry, the Journal of Fusion Energy (whose contributing editor Prof. Li of Tsinghua U. is a major cold fusion researcher), and many others.

The professor also wrote:

"I was at the APS symposium that reviewed them and some of my very capable colleagues attempted to reproduce their results without even the hint of success."

I believe this refers to a meeting in the summer of 1989. It is not surprising that the early replications failed. Prof. Richard Oriani, one of the worlds top electrochemists, said that in his 50-year career, this was one of the most difficult experiments he ever replicated. The experiment takes months or years of preparation, and at least a month of "incubation" (material preparation) so was not widely replicated in 1989. However, despite the difficulty, by September 1990, 92 groups of researchers from 10 different countries reported they had replicated cold fusion. See: Will, F.G., "Groups Reporting Cold Fusion Evidence." 1990, National Cold Fusion Institute: Salt Lake City, UT http://lenr-canr.org/acrobat/WillFGgroupsrepo.pdf

Note that many distinguished experimentalists and theorists have contributed to cold fusion, including Nobel laureate Julian Schwinger; Heinz Gerischer, the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Berlin; Dr. P. K. Iyengar, director of BARC and later chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission; Prof. Melvin Miles, Fellow of China Lake; three editors of major plasma fusion and physics journals; a retired member of the French Atomic Energy Commission, and many top researchers from U.S. national laboratories. I think it is bad form for the professor to denounce such distinguished scientists as "fringe" researchers. I suggest he should review their papers more carefully before judging them or commenting on them.

The professor wrote:

"More recent positive reports don't seem to have convinced many people at all."

Science is not a popularity contest. It is based on carefully performed, peer-reviewed experiments. People who have not read the results, or who claim that Naturwissenschaften or the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry are "fringe" publications have probably not made a sincere attempt to review the data objectively.

. . .

The professor gets the final word.

First, the community of workers in the field that he describes is typical of isolated schools of thought in science. The ESPers are another, and there are many more.

Second, iconoclasts such as Bob Park might not read their literature, but they talk to people who do. The thing is, that cold fusion is so very unlikely from sound nuclear theoretical grounds that the burden of proof really is on those who give it credit, and Park and other good physicists know when something smells funny.

Third, if obtaining positive results is so exquisitely difficult ("months or years of preparation, and at least a month of "incubation" "...we're talking nuclear processes here for heaven's sake; not chicken farming), there seems to be little point in reading the papers; without the "touch" you won't be able to replicate the results anyway. And there are so many ways in which false results (background) can crop up.

Fourth, revolutionary or watershed results, at least the breakthrough papers, in physics should be published in the principal physics journals. The citations that would interest me would be from Physical Review Letters, Physical Review, Nature, Science or similar journals from Germany or Japan that are published by physics societies, not peripheral scientific organizations. Cold fusion is, after all, fundamentally a topic of basic nuclear physics, and not electrochemistry (even though it requires electrochemistry techniques) or medicine. But, of course, the true believers will claim scientific bigotry against the editors and referees of these journals.

My advice: don't spend too much time on this issue. If something does happen someday, you'll read about it in the New York Times headlines and the Nobel Prize announcements.

EP's closing observations.

I sincerely hope that the Cold Fusion advocates succeed, for if they do, this will be the greatest technological development since fire-making.  A possible collapse of industrial civilization, following the depletion of oil reserves, might thus be averted.  (See my The Oil Trap).

Mr. Rothwell will surely complain that the critics of Cold Fusion have no right to dismiss the theory if they refuse to read the published reports.  While this sounds like a valid complaint, I confess that I see the critics' point.  It is tough enough to keep up with developments in the mainstream of physics, and thus a physicist must ration one's time spent exploring the fringes.  Though the comparison may be unfair, I spend no time reading about UFOlogy, the search for Noah's ark, ESP or Creationism.  I feel justified in requiring that some things reach a reasonable threshold of credibility, before they deserve my attention.

Mainstream science, physics in particular, is not a grand conspiracy.  I feel confident that if and when Cold Fusion can come up with unequivocally and decisively replicable experiments, mainstreams physicists will take notice.  Even more, the research will gain lavish support, since such a breakthrough promises financial returns that even Bill Gates will envy.

So I will keep my eyes open as each issue of Science is delivered.  (Science is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, of which I am a member).  If a breakthrough is accomplished, it will surely be reported in Science, to be followed soon thereafter by a Nobel Prize.

But I am not holding my breath.

May 22, 2007

The Cold Fusion debate continues:

In the past week, I have received eight additional letters from "the cold fusion community." This further justifies my decision not to publish the name of my friend, the Physics professor, who so kindly offered his professional opinion and who reported the scientific consensus about cold fusion.  His anonymity has mercifully spared him the sort of treatment that I have endured.

I had expected that with last week's postings, this would be the end of it.  However, I can't allow this new incoming criticism to go unanswered.

So here are two of those letters with my replies. And with these, I firmly announce "no more!"

I have other matters to deal with -- all of which (unlike nuclear physics) are within my fields of competence.

To: crisispapers@hotmail.com
Mr. Ernest Partridge,

You do not need to consult with an "expert" in nuclear physics to avail yourself of an informed understanding of the nature and details of the subject of low energy nuclear reactions, ill-named and historically referenced as "cold fusion."

You, and the public at large would be best served by performing your own careful investigation, analysis and decision-making. Only then will you be in a strong position to speak confidently about the particular subject matter.

Several people have made the collection of knowledge accessible to you and the public.

Mr. Rothwell and Dr. Edmund Storms are one such team, with their comprehensive online library and bibliography of LENR papers.

Charles Beadette, Tadahiko Mizuno, Edmund Storms and myself have also written current books to help people learn what was not known 18 years ago.

As well, every two months New Energy Times publishes a free online magazine covering some of the history and all of the latest developments of the subject.

For years the feathers of many a nuclear physicist have been ruffled and their minds repulsed at the illogic of room-temperature fusion. Do not let the semantics, nor the chest-beating of a few believers interfere with your, or others independent evaluation of this work, it may very well turn out that the reactions are not fusion at all, but some other previously unrecognized nuclear reaction.

I would be pleased to avail myself to you and Dr. EP should either of you have further interest in the facts.


May 18, 2007

Ernest Partridge replies:

With all due respect, I insist that I must avail myself of experts. I cannot "[perform my] own careful investigation, analysis and decision-making." I can not do so, for the same reason that I cannot study Arabic literature in the original language. I do not have the pre-requisite knowledge. I don't read Arabic, and I am not a trained physicist. If you put a competent physics paper, pro or con cold fusion, in front of me, I would likely not understand it. Or even if I did gain some small sense of it, I would be a totally incompetent judge of its merit.  I have refereed hundreds of papers for philosophical journals.  But no one has ever asked me to referee a paper in physics. Nor should they.  Accordingly, I "avail myself" of experts. Just as I "avail myself" of experts when I go to the hospital for a check-up or take my computer to a shop for repair.

Furthermore, I can not "[perform my] own careful investigation, analysis and decision-making" because I can not afford and do not own a physics laboratory, and should I request access to the excellent laboratories at the University of California (where I was once a faculty member), I would quite correctly be refused. And for the same reason: I am not qualified to work there.

So much for the expected complaint: "If you haven't read the literature yourself, just shut up!"

I have found that people like Partridge, who write naive blandishments about how wonderfully fair scientists are, [not scientists, science EP] are often themselves unfair and unscientific. They exaggerate the intellectual purity and the effectiveness of science because they are blind to its problems, and to their own. They are not introspective. They claim that scientists are especially objective, and that scientists must be honest or their ventures will fail. That's true, but it is like saying that bankers must be prudent with money. Of course, but that does not stop some bankers from foolishly investing in stock market bubbles and the like, and going bankrupt. Why does anyone suppose that scientists are especially good at their jobs compared to people in other professions? Or that they are above politics and jealousy? Scientists must honor the truth and make a clear distinction between what is real and what is imaginary, but so must airplane pilots, structural engineers, farmers, and computer programmers. An academic scientist who wanders away from reality and fudges the experimental data will probably pay a smaller price than a pilot who ignores instrument readings. People say that science is self-correcting. Indeed it is, but so are most other institutions, and many of them do a better job. When the structural engineer fails to put enough steel into a building, people find out and they take away his license. When Partridge or his professor friend publish nonsense about cold fusion, no one takes away their license to practice academics or publish essays.

People who most loudly praise the value of objective thinking are sometimes the least likely to practice that skill. One of cardinal rules of science, that you will find in any elementary school textbook, is that you must read original sources, think for yourself, and muster quantitative facts to back up your arguments. Your argument should be falsifiable. So what do Partridge and his professor friend do? They give us a stream of fact-free opinions and impressions! They do not cite a single fact, paper, instrument, technique or equation.

The professor ridicules the electrochemistry jargon "incubation," saying: "we're talking nuclear processes here for heaven's sake; not chicken farming." This is not a critique of cold fusion; it is an admission that he knows nothing about the subject. He supposes it might be difficult to understand the papers (which he has not read), or to perform the experiments, as if only simple, easy, quick experiments have merit: ". . .if obtaining positive results is so exquisitely difficult ('months or years of preparation',) . . . there seems to be little point in reading the papers . . ." The top quark experiment, a tokamak plasma fusion experiment, or a global warming simulation are "exquisitely difficult" and they take years. I doubt the professor thinks there is no point to reading about these things. He invents this weird new standard -- that the experiment must be easy! -- and he applies it to cold fusion only.

Partridge says that comparing cold fusion to ESP or Creationism may be unfair, but unfair or not, since he does not read about ESP or Creationism he is magically justified in attacking cold fusion without reading about it. In other words: "cold fusion may not resemble ESP but is okay for me to act as if it does, and I need not glance at a paper to find out one way or the other." He speculates about what Bill Gates would say or do about cold fusion, and he assumes that we can trust that Gates or some other billionaire will make an accurate technical evaluation. (As it happens, I have a letter from Gates to A. C. Clarke about cold fusion, so I know the extent of his knowledge, and I know that Partridge is wrong. Trusting the wisdom & insight of Bill Gates in this instance is like trusting President Bush on global warming.) He assumes that a journal editor at Science or Physical Review will be fair and objective toward cold fusion, so he will believe the results only after these particular editors accept them. The corollary is that the editors at the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics and the Journal of Electroanalytical Chemistry are unfair and subjective, since they already published cold fusion papers. In any case Partridge has no idea what the editor at Science thinks. For all he knows this editor is a political animal like the editors at Scientific American and Nature.

These are not valid objections to cold fusion. They are not invalid objections. They are illogical, emotional expressions of gut feelings.

In my opinion, people like Partridge and his friend, who think that science is particularly good at self-correction and above politics, and who lavishly praise objectivity while they steadfastly refuse to practice it, suffer from two problems:

1. They are blind to the glaring deficiencies of science. They think the institution is already close to perfection, so there is no urgent need to improve it. They have not read history, so they do not realize that hundreds of vital discoveries were held back for years.

2. They suffer from a failure of imagination eloquently described by Giorgio de Santillana, in the book "The Origins of Scientific Thought," (U. Chicago, Mentor; 1961). People act this when an institution is stultified, and improvement is no longer thought possible or desirable. They think we have reached "the end of history." Everything is derivative. Instead of reading original sources, people quote experts. Partridge goes to the ultimate extreme when he quotes Park's anonymous "experts" at third hand. He does not even know who he is relying on! Not a single person in this chain of the blind leading the blind even mentions a thermocouple, or has any clue what is done in the laboratory! (Unlike Partridge, I know who some of Park's "experts" are, and I know that you might as well consult a Magic 8 Ball as depend upon such people.) Facts not only cease to matter; they cease to exist. They are replaced by slavish faith in self-proclaimed gurus like Park -- or Bill Gates, of all people. de Santillana wrote:

"It is a common experience of our time that enough change takes place in one generation to more than fill a century for our grandfathers. Things seem to go the other way in antiquity after about 200 b.c. -- a divide which is marked not only by the death of Archimedes but by the consolidation of Roman dominion over the Hellenistic empires. Intellectually, what had been decades become centuries. . . .

Ernest Partridge replies:

One of the privileges of being an editor is that one can refuse to publish insults directed at oneself. But sometimes, as with the above, insults that are gratuitous and immaterial nonetheless reveal something about the writer and the "quality" of his argument. Which is why I include this.

This is a long letter, and I cannot respond point by point. So please do not assume that an unanswered criticism is ipso facto irrefutable.

First, as to the charge that since I haven't read the relevant publications I have no right to comment, see the above response.  The charge has some merit, and so, because I am not a physicist, I do not pretend to have an informed opinion. So instead, I call upon an expert.

Second, if you carefully read my chapter, "The Eclipse of Science and Reason"  you will find that I wrote no "naive blandishments about how wonderfully fair scientists are." It is not "scientists" that are "wonderfully fair," it is science -- particularly the methodology, that imposes tolerance, objectivity, humility upon scientific activity.  But this is a gross over-simplification of my treatment of "the morality of science," and as such, it might easily invite derision.  So please, read the chapter.

Third, My Critic has grossly distorted, at times to the point of concoction, what I have written, above and elsewhere. And I could go on for pages and pages, commenting on his remarkable account of the history of ideas.  Instead, as a sample of these I direct your attention to his remarks about Bill Gates.

This is the sum total of what I had to say in my comments below (May 15), about Mr. Gates: If cold fusion research yields promising results, "the research will gain lavish support, since such a breakthrough promises financial returns that even Bill Gates will envy."

The reference to Bill Gates is completely rhetorical and arbitrary. I might just as well have mentioned such billionaires as Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, the King of Saudi Arabia, (who, to my knowledge, has no expertise in physics).  Or I could have simply said "some billionaire."  Obviously, all I was saying was that operational cold fusion technology would result in huge returns on investment. I had nothing whatever to say about Gates' expertise in nuclear physics, and thus did not "speculate" or "assume" anything about his knowledge thereof. 

Now notice how my critic carries on about this Bill Gates thing:

"[Partridge] speculates about what Bill Gates would say or do about cold fusion, and he assumes that we can trust that Gates or some other billionaire will make an accurate technical evaluation. (As it happens, I have a letter from Gates to A. C. Clarke about cold fusion, so I know the extent of his knowledge, and I know that Partridge is wrong. Trusting the wisdom & insight of Bill Gates in this instance is like trusting President Bush on global warming.... Facts not only cease to matter [to cold fusion critics]; they cease to exist. They are replaced by slavish faith in self-proclaimed gurus like Park -- or Bill Gates, of all people."

I make absolutely no "speculation" or "assumption" about Gates, nor do I need to. Gates is, once again, totally irrelevant to my point. But Rothwell is so eager to criticize, that he shamelessly props up a straw man and then knocks it down.

Finally, I can do no better than close with a repetition of the paragraph that prompted this Gates nonsense:

I feel confident that if and when Cold Fusion can come up with unequivocally and decisively replicable experiments, mainstreams physicists will take notice. Even more, the research will gain lavish support, since such a breakthrough promises [enormous] financial returns."

So enormous, I then added, that even a billionaire (e.g. Bill Gates) would be envious.

Now isn't that obvious? Just imagine a group of investors invited, along with their own scientists and engineers, into a laboratory in which some contraption is pumping out mega-mega-watts of energy, with only a miniscule fraction of energy input to run the thing. And it continues to do so, for a week, a month, and apparently indefinitely. This device (patented of course) is then examined minutely and found to be what it is claimed to be: powered by cold fusion, or as the proponents prefer, "low energy nuclear reactions."

Are we to believe that this would or could be kept a secret?  Given the lavish financial gains for the inventor(s), would it be kept a secret?

If cold fusion is what these folks claim it is, then we'll eventually know about it, even if the alleged and implausible "grand conspiracy" of mainstream physicists and journal editors do their damndest to suppress the news.  And really, why would they do so?

Sorry, but "they all laughed at Christopher Columbus and Thomas Edison" etc. just doesn't cut it with me.

Once again, I sincerely hope that cold fusion turns out to be all that the proponents hope and claim for it.  The continuation of the civilized condition might well depend on the development of a new, cheap, abundant, and non-polluting source of energy.

Be assured, that if and when it appears, validated and operational, we will all know about it.

So to "cold fusionists" I say: Carry on, good luck, and humanity wishes you well.

But stifle those insults, straw men and conspiracy theories. They are unworthy of you.


July 17, 2007



  "To initiate a war of aggression ... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Robert H. Jackson
Nuremberg Tribunal

A couple of weeks ago, I watched “Nuremberg,” a TV Movie that I had recorded seven years earlier, just before the advent of the Bush Administration.

It was a sobering experience.

As I later discovered, the movie was scrupulously historical, with the opening and closing statements of Justice Robert Jackson (Alec Baldwin) taken verbatim from the actual documents. The one possible exception to this accuracy was the portrayal of the romance between Jackson and his secretary (Jill Hennesey). Whether or not this actually happened, I do not know, do not care to know, and didn’t bother to investigate. It was an unfortunate and unnecessary distraction.

The opening and closing statements were excerpts, as they had to be. The transcript of the opening statement is forty-two pages long, and of the closing statement, twenty-four pages.

Here are the excerpts, from the movie and from the record. First Jackson’s opening statement:

The real complaining party at your bar is Civilization. In all countries it is still a struggling and imperfect thing. It does not plead that the United States, or any other country, has been blameless of the conditions which made the German people easy victims to the blandishments and intimidations of the Nazi conspirators.

But it points to the dreadful sequence of aggressions and crimes I have recited, it points to the weariness of flesh, the exhaustion of resources and the destruction of all that was beautiful or useful in so much of the world, and to greater potentialities for destruction in the days to come. It is not necessary among the ruins of this ancient and beautiful city with untold members of its civilian habitants still buried in its rubble, to argue the proposition that to start or wage an aggressive war has the moral qualities of the worst of crimes. The refuge of the defendants can be only their hope that international law will lag so far behind the moral sense of mankind that conduct which is crime in the moral sense must be regarded as innocent in law.

Civilization asks whether law is so laggard as to be utterly helpless to deal with crimes of this magnitude by criminals of this order of importance. It does not expect that you can make war impossible. It does expect that your juridical action will put the forces of international law, its precepts, its prohibitions and, most of all, its sanctions, on the side of peace, so that men and women of good will, in all countries, may have "leave to live by no man's leave, underneath the law."

Next, the closing statement:

Populations of occupied countries were ... exploited and oppressed unmercifully. Terror was the order of the day. Civilians were arrested without charges, committed without counsel, executed without hearing....

If we cannot eliminate the causes and prevent the repetition of these barbaric events, it is not an irresponsible prophecy to say that this twentieth century may yet succeed in bringing the doom of civilization.

[These Defendants] stand before the record of this Trial as bloodstained Gloucester stood by the body of his slain king. He begged of the widow, as they beg of you: "Say I slew them not." And the Queen replied, "Then say they were not slain. But dead they are..." If you were to say of these men that they are not guilty, it would be as true to say that there has been no war, there are no slain, there has been no crime.

Eleven of the twenty-one defendants were condemned to death by hanging. Of these eleven, eight were found guilty of the second of four charges: “the planning, preparation, initiation, and waging of wars of aggression, which were also wars in violation of international treaties, agreements, and assurances.”

As I heard (and later read) these accusations, I was fully aware that George Bush and Richard Cheney deserved to be in that dock. And that, to our everlasting shame, the United States government, accusers at Nuremberg, stands accused today before the world.

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and others are unlikely to face such a tribunal.

As I have written several times in the past, only the American people can restore the honor of the United States.

That opportunity is immediately before us.

    See also my responses to the film, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

More about the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon

My skeptical view of 9/11 conspiracy theories is on record, with my April 26, 2006 essay, 
The 9/11 Conspiracy: A Skeptic’s View.  The essay prompted an unprecedented 500 replies. Obviously, I had touched a nerve.

Hoping that I was not lost to the 9/11 conspiracy cause, a Crisis Papers reader sent me a copy of David Ray Griffin’s new book, “Debunking 9/11 Debunking.”

My reply:

Thanks for the Griffin book.

I've done some selective reading, but not a proper start at the beginning.

However, I wonder if there is any point in reading any more about what David Ray Griffin has to say about the Pentagon attack.

There is a huge problem which, to my mind, settles the Boeing 757 account at the get-go: there were many eyewitnesses to the airliner, and none (at least that I've heard of or worse, that Griffin cites) of a missile or fighter plane.

If the eyewitnesses are correct, then an airliner struck the Pentagon and all else that Griffin has to say about the Pentagon is moot.

And it seems to me that the eyewitness evidence is simply irrefutable. Moreover, Griffin's attempt to debunk it is, quite frankly, simply pathetic.

Now to the particulars.

Eric Bart has collected statements from 190 witnesses (I counted them). . Admittedly, many of these are "earwitnesses" who didn't claim to actually see the plane. But most so claim. (I didn't take the trouble to sort out the eyewitnesses).

Griffin mentions none of these websites, nor the number of eyewitnesses who gave their names and made statements.

Instead, he focuses on just three witnesses assuming, apparently, that if he debunks three eyewitnesses he has, by implication, refuted them all. And it seems to me that he has refuted none of them

Consider witness Allyn E. Kilsheimer. On page 263, Griffin says that Kislheimer's account must be false because Kilsheimer’s claim that he lifted the tail section is impossible because "the tail section of a Boeing 757 is over 20 feet long and quite heavy."

Trouble is, in the preceding quotation from Kilsheimer we find that Kilsheimer said no such thing. He said "I held in my hand," by which he must mean that he put his hand on it. Because holding a complete tail section in the palm of one's hand, as Griffin would have us believe Kilsheimer meant, is absurdly impossible, no one would mean to say it. Kilsheimer simply spoke carelessly, as we all do from time to time.

Suppose Kilsheimer is an outright liar (and there is no reason to believe this), then that's one down, and 44 to go. He then goes after two other eyewitnesses, picking apart details of their accounts, thus proving what needs no proof: that eyewitness testimony is rarely 100% accurate in all details.

Finally, he claims that there is no evidence that hundreds of witnesses saw the planes. I believe that I can figure out the source of those "hundreds." The attack occurred at morning rush hour, and the plane flew over two major freeways and close to a third. If, in fact, there were a plane, then hundreds saw it. Investigators knew there was no way to track down all the eyewitnesses, and figured that a few dozen witnesses to the impact, all testifying to an airliner and none to a missile, should settle the matter. They didn't count on dealing with David Ray Griffin.

Refute each and every one of the twenty five-plus with recorded statements, and I may pay attention. What am I to believe? That they were all taken aside and blackmailed into making their statements (and none reported the blackmail)? That many or most of these names were "made" up and their statements as well? That there was some kind of mass delusion?

And what of the physical evidence -- the body parts, the personal belongings, the engines and landing gear assemblies found at the scene?

Consider the following from my article

"The Skeptic Replies to his Critics."  (Follow this link for links to the sources):

(From USA Today, September 13, 2001). When [Sgt.] Williams discovered the scorched bodies of several airline passengers, they were still strapped into their seats. The stench of charred flesh overwhelmed him.

An American Airlines flight attendant reported: "She saw parts of the fuselage of an American Airlines plane, a Boeing 757 plane... She recognized the polished aluminum outer shell, an unpainted silver color that is unique to American Airline planes, and the red and blue trim that is used to decorate the fuselage... One area of fuselage had remaining window sections and the shape of the windows, curved squares not ovals, was also distinct to the 757's she had flown. She also saw parts with the A/A logo, including parts of the tail of the plane... She spent approximately 15 minutes in the crash area looking at parts of the wreckage, all of which she recognized as coming from a Boeing 757 American Airline plane, the same planes she flew regularly. She did not see any rubber, only metal pieces of fuselage, engine parts and sections of the inside of the plane."

"During an interview earlier this week, Koch delicately handled eerie mementos of the crash found during cleanup: Whittington's battered driver's license... a burnt luggage tag and a wedding ring lie on a book dedicated to those lost in the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The wedding ring belonged to Ruth's daughter and the luggage tag belonged to one her granddaughters."

“Suzanne Calley died aboard American Airlines Flight 77 when terrorists hijacked the plane and sent it crashing into the Pentagon... Rescue crews were able to pull Calley’s body from Flight 77’s wreckage. Jensen [Calley’s husband] spent last year’s anniversary of the national tragedy in Washington, D.C. There, a Pentagon official - assigned to Calley’s family as a liaison - gave Jensen his wife’s wedding ring, which had been recovered from the plane.”

Were the photos all "photoshopped" and evidence all fake? Were all these accounts coerced by the "conspirators"? Possible, but a conspiracy of this magnitude is implausible in the extreme.

And what happened to the passengers and crew of Flight 77? Not a word from Griffin.

Dozens at least (and perhaps hundreds -- though not authenticated) saw an airliner. None saw a missile. No plausible refutation of all those witnesses. Ergo, an airliner struck the Pentagon. Game, set, match.

So why should I bother to read any more of this nonsense about the Pentagon attack?

So its on to Griffin's account of the WTC

A final word.

I yield to no one in my detestation of the Bush/Cheney criminal enterprise, and I have almost 200 internet essays to testify to this. But somehow, many 911 conspiracy theorists seem to suggest that if you don't agree with them, you are somehow "pro-Bush/Cheney."

I vehemently resent this inference. Not only is it absurd and unfair, it is divisive -- fracturing the anti-Bush coalition at a time that it needs unity.

Moreover, wild theories about 9/11 discredit other, valid, accusations against the Busheviks: e.g., that the past four elections were fraudulent, that Bush/Cheney planned to attack Iraq long before 9/11, that Bush and Cheney were directly involved in the Plame affair, etc. We need to make these cases to the remaining hard-shell Bush supporters. That effort is not helped when we are asked to believe dozens of eyewitnesses to the Pentagon attack all suffered from a mass hallucination.

Sorry to disappoint you, but that's how I see it.

Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .