S. Fred Singer, Friend and Courageous Man of Science

The world-renowned astrophysicist Siegfried Fred Singer (1924–2020) passed away on April 6, 2020, at the age of 95. Fred was Emeritus Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, and since 1993 we were proud to have him as a dear friend and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.

He is the author of the bestselling Independent book, Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate, first published in 1997 and then revised for a second edition in 1999. The first two editions featured a foreword by the late Frederick Seitz (former President of Rockefeller University, American Physical Society, and National Academy of Sciences). The revised and expanded third edition, which the Independent Institute published last month, features a new foreword by the distinguished Princeton University physicist William Happer and an extended afterword by the climatologists David R. Legates (University of Delaware) and Anthony R. Lupo (University of Missouri), both co-authors with Fred of this new edition.

Fred was born in 1924, in Vienna, Austria, where his father Joseph was a jeweler and his mother Anna a homemaker. When the Nazis invaded in 1938, Fred was sent to Northumberland, England, where he worked as a teenage optician. He later emigrated to the United States and became a citizen in 1944. He received his B.E.E. (1943) in electrical engineering from Ohio State University and A.M. (1944) and Ph.D. (1948) in physics from Princeton University. His dissertation was on cosmic rays, and his committee included the world-renowned physicists Niels Bohr, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and John Archibald Wheeler.

With his dissertation and further research on astrophysics, Fred had become a leader in early space research. At the “Celebration of the Life of S. Fred Singer,” held on the 96th anniversary of his birth (September 27, 2020), at The Cosmos Club, in Washington, D.C., at which I had the privilege of speaking, Will Happer noted that:

Fred has maintained a lifelong interest in the atmosphere, space and space exploration. He helped to design the first earth observation satellites, including instruments to measure atmospheric ozone. In the past few years, he has focused on how the rates of temperature change depend on altitude in the atmosphere, a particularly awkward area for climate models, which predict much more warming in the mid troposphere than is actually observed. He has also published interesting papers on the origin of the moons of Earth and Mars.

And in his foreword to Hot Talk, Cold Science, Professor Seitz noted that:

As an academic scientist in the 1950s, he published the first studies on subatomic particles trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field-radiation belts later discovered by physicist James Van Allen. Also, in challenging the findings of other scientists, he was the first to make the correct calculations for using atomic clocks in orbit, hence contributing to the verification by satellites of Einstein’s general theory. He further designed satellites and instrumentation for remote sensing of the atmosphere, accomplishments for which he received a White House Presidential Commendation.

Fred later became the Founder and first Director on the U.S. National Weather Satellite Service, now part of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). As Seitz noted that for Fred’s achievement:

[H]is efforts were recognized with the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal Award. Dr. Robert M. White, former NOAA Administrator and later President of the National Academy of Engineering, wrote of Fred’s achievement: “The contribution that Fred made to the development of the operational weather satellite system was crucial to its successful launch. . . . His understanding of space technology and remote sensing put him in an outstanding position to chart the course of that very important component . . . some of his fundamental ideas about the use of space vehicles for atmospheric observation were turned into reality.

Fred’s work included positions at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory, Research Physicist at the Upper Atmosphere Rocket Program at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, and Office of Naval Research. The following are among his titles of distinction:

  • Director, Center for Atmospheric and Space Physics
  • Chief Scientist, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Founding Board Member, American Astronautical Society
  • Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland
  • Vice Chairman, National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmospheres
  • Deputy Assistant Administrator, U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary, U. S. Department of the Interior
  • Dean, School of Environmental and Planetary Sciences, University of Miami
  • Research Physicist, Upper Atmosphere Rocket Program, Applied Physics Laboratory, Johns Hopkins University
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • Member, International Academy of Astronautics

Fred also served as a Visiting Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; National Air and Space Museum; Lyndon Baines Johnson School for Public Affairs, University of Texas; and the Soviet Academy of Sciences Institute for Physics of the Earth.

I first had the pleasure of meeting Fred at an annual holiday party in 1991 hosted by the late Aaron B. Wildavsky in Aaron’s home in Berkeley, California. (Aaron was the Founding Dean of the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and later became a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and a founding Member of Independent’s Board of Advisors.) Aaron was eager for me to meet Fred at the party and to speak with him about the then nascent issue of global warming, which Aaron first and famously described as “The mother of all environmental scares.”

At the time, Fred was writing on energy issues, including the issue of global warming, prompted in part by concerns about oil-price volatility associated with the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and the subsequent Gulf War. Aaron meanwhile was involved in a research project at Independent that resulted in the Independent Policy Report, Regulation of Carcinogens: Are Animal Tests a Sound Foundation?, later included in the inaugural Spring 1996 issue of The Independent Review, and then in our 2000 book, Cutting Green Tape: Toxic Pollutants, Environmental Regulation and the Law, edited by Richard L. Stroup and Roger E. Meiners, with a foreword by W. Kip Viscusi.

At the party, Aaron and I encouraged Fred to apply his renown and vast scientific and economics knowledge to critically examine the climate-change issue in a more comprehensive way, but Fred indicated that his many commitments elsewhere precluded his diverting his full attention to the matter. However, after the passing of Aaron in 1993, and as the proponents of climate alarmism became ever louder, Fred indicated that he had reconsidered and was very much interested in shifting his main focus to the issue of climate change. At the time, he started researching and then writing on the subject on a more systematic basis.

Fred became in the process a good friend of my wife Mary and me. He would visit with us at our Oakland home, and one year spent Thanksgiving with our family, discussing with our sons Paul and Drake the scientific and economic aspects of climate change, energy, and much more over the sumptuous feast that Mary had prepared, lovingly joking and answering all of their questions. This was repeated at numerous occasions when he was in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our sons became friends and admirers of Fred, and whenever Mary and I might see him, Fred would always ask how they were doing and tell us that he so enjoyed speaking with and getting to know them.

Dr. S. Fred Singer with the Theroux family (Left to Right: David, Fred, Paul, Drake and Mary), Scott’s Seafood Restaurant, Jack London Square, Oakland, CA, December, 1993

Along with other topics, Fred explained to them that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had been established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess climate change based on the latest science. Since 1990, the IPCC has been issuing scientific reports which had been used (or misused) to promote a Global Climate Treaty and later a Protocol to control emissions worldwide of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel use.

The literature on climate change was dominated by the IPCC’s four initial reports that had been published by Cambridge University Press in 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1996. Fred had examined these four IPCC’s initial four reports, especially The Science of Climate Change 1995 (published in May 1996), and he wanted to respond to what he saw as unfounded claims. We began work on what initially was a 70-page Independent Policy Report in which Fred would address each of the salient climate issues. As we proceeded, however, it became apparent that a longer, peer-reviewed but accessible book was needed, which then led to the creation of Hot Talk, Cold Science.

At the time, very few serious books criticized the IPCC conclusions. Among them were Robert Balling’s The Heated Debate (1992) and Patrick J. Michaels’s Sound and Fury: The Science & Politics of Global Warming (1992). Other books dealt with global warming, but only as one of many environmental issues, and in a non-scholarly, more popular way. They included Wildavsky’s But Is It True? (Harvard University Press, 1995), Ronald Bailey’s Eco-Scam (St. Martin’s Press, 1993), and books by Dixy Lee Ray and Michael Parsons. There was also a 1996 anthology by the European Science and Environmental Forum, entitled The Global Warming Debate, as well as a book edited by Fred, Global Climate Change (1989).

What distinguished the new book, Hot Talk, Cold Science, was its comprehensive coverage of scientific papers that had been either insufficiently noted or ignored by the IPCC, or were published after 1995. The book also contained original analyses of crucial issues such as the effects of air traffic on climate, whether sea-levels would rise or fall because of global warming, and the possible use of ocean fertilization as an alternative to controlling CO2 emissions.

The book further featured a non-technical overview and summary so that the general reader could gain a good understanding about the current scientific controversies and become resistant to blindly accepting the conclusions of the IPCC’s politicized reports as a basis for hasty and harmful public-policy measures. Hot Talk, Cold Science showed that the science was incomplete, that the existing literature could not confirm the existence of a climate crisis, and that much further work was required before governments could justify instituting policies that would harm access to affordable energy and slow the growth rate of economic progress.

On June 12, 1996, Dr. Seitz wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, “A Major Deception on Global Warming,” which reported that The Science of Climate Change 1995, published by the IPCC in 1996, had been altered without the consent of all of the contributing scientists to make distorted and exaggerated claims. Seitz stated that:

[M]ore than 15 sections in Chapter 8 of the report—the key chapter setting out the scientific evidence for and against a human influence over climate—were changed or deleted after the scientists charged with examining this question had accepted the supposedly final text. Few of these changes were merely cosmetic; nearly all worked to remove hints of the skepticism with which many scientists regard claims that human activities are having a major impact on climate in general and on global warming in particular. . . . IPCC reports are often called the ‘consensus’ view. If they lead to carbon taxes and restraints on economic growth, they will have a major and almost certainly destructive impact on the economies of the world. Whatever the intent was of those who made these significant changes, their effect is to deceive policy makers and the public into believing that the scientific evidence shows human activities are causing global warming.

In response, many of the IPCC authors tried to claim that the changes were made with the consent of all of the authors, but Seitz showed otherwise. Seitz and Fred contacted key policymakers and included the Seitz article as a sidebar feature in Hot Talk, Cold Science.

Upon its publication in August 1997, Hot Talk, Cold Science began receiving extensive media coverage, with Fred landing interviews on major TV and radio networks, including CNN, Fox News Network, PBS, ABC, Danish National TV, and NYV German TV. Also, hundreds of articles by or about him appeared in periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Barron’s, The Economist, Washington Times, Journal of Commerce, USA Today, National Post, Boston Globe, Toronto Globe and Mail, and many other newspapers and magazines worldwide. Every year, Fred undertook major tours of Europe and the United States to address scientific, business, and other organizations, including the following:

  • American Geophysical Union
  • American Meteorological Society
  • Austrian Parliament (Vienna)
  • Center for Business and Policy Studies (Stockholm)
  • Center for Security Policy (Washington, D.C.)
  • College of Business and Economics, California State University, Hayward
  • Congressional Staff Briefing, U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
  • Department of Applied Science and Chemistry, Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University
  • Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie-Mellon University
  • Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University
  • Department of Geography, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • Department of Marine Science, University of South Florida (Tampa)
  • Department of Physics, Dartmouth University
  • Department of Physics, George Mason University
  • Department of Physics, Imperial College (London)
  • Department of Physics, Stanford University
  • Department of Physics, University of California, Berkeley
  • Department of Physics, University of Colorado (Boulder)
  • Department of Physics, University of Connecticut
  • Department of Physics, University of Rome
  • Department of Physics, University of Virginia
  • Electric Power Research Institute
  • Embassy Personnel, Capitol Hill Building (Washington, D.C.)
  • European Academy for Science and the Arts (Bonn)
  • Fertilizer Institute
  • Finnish Heidelberg Society, University of Helsinki
  • Hoover Institution
  • IEEE Section, Los Alamos National Laboratory
  • Independent Petroleum Association of America
  • Institute of Geophysics, Copenhagen University
  • International Centre for Research on Environmental Issues (Aix-en-Provence)
  • Interstate Natural Gas Association of America
  • Lundy-Fetterman School of Business, Campbell University (Buies Creek, NC)
  • Max Planck Institute (Hamburg)
  • Max Planck Institute (Munich)
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research (Boulder)
  • National Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.)
  • National Ocean Industries Association
  • New York Academy of Sciences
  • Office of the Provost, California Institute of Technology (Pasadena)
  • Philadelphia Society
  • Public Relations Society of America
  • School of Physics & Astronomy, Tel Aviv University
  • S. House Small Business Committee
  • World Affairs Council (Wilmington)

Sales of Hot Talk, Cold Science were very strong, and we distributed thousands of copies of the book to scientific, school, business, policymaking and other groups seeking to better understand the issue of climate change and the alarmist claims of global warming. In conjunction with our sending copies to all members of Congress, Fred made presentations to numerous members and their staffs, as well as think tanks and scientific groups in Washington, D.C.

Partly due to Fred’s efforts, the Senate on July 25, 1997, unanimously passed the Byrd-Hagel Resolution 95 to 0, defeating the U.S. ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Protocol sought to “mandate new commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the U.S. and 35 other industrialized nations and the European Union, unless . . . [it] . . . also mandates new specific scheduled commitments to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions for Developing Country Parties within the same compliance period.”

In the following years, Fred created the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which issued numerous scientific reports, and his book Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years (with Dennis T. Avery) became a national bestseller.

As the rhetoric of global warming heated up and became increasingly hyperbolic and partisan, Fred became a target for the climate activists. A true man of science, he never cowered in the face of their attempts to discredit and “cancel” him but instead maintained his scientific integrity, his advocacy of sound public policies, and his courageous presence in the public square. In no small way, Fred greatly contributed to depoliticizing, protecting, and advancing the content and impact of real science, and his brilliant and tireless work in completing the third edition of Hot Talk, Cold Science at the age of 95 is a testimony to his unwavering commitment to the pursuit of truth.

Most recently, and despite the earlier Climategate corruption revelations (see here, here, and here), ever wilder and unscientific claims and efforts regarding climate alarmism regarding CO2 have resulted in President Joe Biden signing an unconstitutional executive order to rejoin the U.N.’s Paris Climate Agreement. As a result, the new revised and expanded third edition of Hot Talk Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate (see summary and highlights and praise received to date), and the entire legacy of Fred’s work, could not be more timely and important.

We have been deeply grateful and privileged to have had the courageous, world-renowned scientist Dr. S. Fred Singer as a friend and colleague.

Requiem æternam dona ei, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

David J. Theroux is Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute.
Posts by David J. Theroux | Full Biography and Publications
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