Dr Fred Singer's controversial use of an aging academic's work on climate science

| 4th September 2018
Theo Wolters via creative commons
We take a closer look at accusations of how academic manipulation may have helped Dr Fred Singer become the most influential climate denier of his generation. BRENDAN MONTAGUE investigates

There is a good but by no means certain chance that the world's average climate will become significantly warmer during the next century

Dr Fred Singer is the architect of one of the most controversial episodes in climate science, accused of using the infirmity of an old man to discredit his life's work on climate change.

He attended the Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in New Orleans during February 1990  where Dr Roger Revelle of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography was speaking.

Revelle helped to establish that carbon levels in the atmosphere were steadily rising and also taught science to a young Al Gore in the 1960s. As Revelle wrote in 1992: “There is a good but by no means certain chance that the world's average climate will become significantly warmer during the next century.”

Singer approached him off the back of this statement, asking if the two men could collaborate on an article for The Washington Post.

Conned at death

That night Revelle suffered a heart attack and was rushed from the airport to a local hospital for a triple-bypass, and was not discharged until May that year.

Singer nevertheless continued to press the scientist to work on a journal article. “Whenever Singer sent him a draft, Revelle buried it under piles of paper on his desk. When Singer called, [Revelle's secretary] would dig up the draft and put it on the top, and Revelle would bury it again,”  records American historian of Science at the University of Harvard professor, Naomi Oreskes, in her account of the episode.

“Some people don't think Fred Singer is a very good scientist,” Revelle told his secretary.

Later that year Singer published his article, with Revelle named as second author, in the journal Cosmos. It stated boldly: “The scientific base for a greenhouse warming is too uncertain to justify drastic action at this time.”

The words were copied and pasted from an earlier article published by Singer - and directly contradicted Revelle's own publicly stated views.

Revelle died of a heart attack the following July. Family members, friends and students all claimed that Singer had pressured or tricked the dying scientist into signing off a journal article which presented an argument opposed to his own.

Silencing the critics

His student, Justin Lancaster, said in a written statement to a Harvard memorial symposium in memory of the late scientist: “Revelle did not write the Cosmos article and was reluctant to join it. Pressured rather unfairly at a very weak moment while recovering from heart surgery,Revelle finally gave in to the lead author.”

Not happy with these criticisms, Singer issued a ‘SLAPP’ lawsuit designed to silence and intimidate opponents. Lancaster was forced to issue a retraction or face an expensive and lengthy court trial.

While Lancaster has since recanted the retraction the damage remains, Singer successfully silenced the truth as he continued to wage a war against climate science.

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press)He tweets at @EcoMontague. This article first appeared at Desmog.uk.

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