Censoring Science Review and Analysis

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Censoring Science
Mark Bowen

Censoring Science begins in Washington D.C., where we are introduced to Dr. James Hansen. Born in 1941 on a farm in Denison, Iowa, Jim was the fifth child and first boy out of seven children. His father, who had minimal education, held many different low-paying jobs and the family moved rather frequently. In third grade, Jim’s sister gave him part of her paper route- a job he would keep throughout high school, gradually saving up enough money to pay for college. Though he was a rather laid-back student, he earned the highest score on an IQ test (taken by seventh-twelfth graders) in seventh grade. Because of his test scores Jim received a scholarship to the University of Iowa, where he came under the influence of James Van Allen, chairman of the department of physics and astronomy. Although Jim held much respect for Van Allen, he never took a course with him because he lacked the confidence. He confides that he “didn’t want him to know how ignorant I was” (page 73). Instead in his junior year, he took a general astronomy course taught by Professor Satoshi Matsushima, where he befriended a student named Andy Lacis. The two did so well during the course that Matsushima suggested they take the graduate qualifying exams in physics, which unexpectedly, both of the undergrads passed. Their success escorted them straight into graduate school and earned them financial support from NASA graduate traineeships. Matsushima became Ph.D. adviser to them both, and during a total eclipse of the moon on December 30, 1963, he introduced them to the art of astronomical observation. Their “observatory” was a converted cornfield out in the middle of nowhere with a tiny telescope that hadn’t been used in years. The night of the eclipse also happened to be the coldest day of the year at thirty degrees below zero, but they stuck it out and that night produced a curve of the moon’s brightness as it passed through the Earth’s shadow. Normally, the moon remains a visible, sallow orange during the passage. However, because of the dust and aerosols from a recent volcanic explosion, so many of the sun’s rays scattered and reflected away from their usual paths that it practically disappeared. It was one of the darkest eclipses on record. But because Matsushima wasn’t much of a physicist, he didn’t really know what to do with the data. So Jim employed a theory of light scattering that was developed by a Czechoslovakian astronomer to estimate how much scattering material the volcano had sent into the stratosphere and provided some rough information about the size distribution of the particles involved. The work they did that night provided a basis for both Jim and Andy’s later careers. The reflection and/or absorption of sunlight by airborne dust and aerosols plays an important role in determining the Earth’s temperature. For example, volcanic eruptions tend to cool the planet for a few years because the particles they send into the air reflect some of the sun’s incoming energy back into space. This is known as the parasol effect, because it’s like putting a parasol over your head on a sunny day. Twelve years after their experience with the eclipse, by which time they had developed a computer simulation of Earth’s climate, Jim and Andy collaborated on a study that demonstrated the correspondence between their simulation of the parasol effect of the eruption and the three-year interval of cooling that actually occurred. Back then, to get a doctorate at the University of Iowa, each student was required to propose and defend an original proposition, but there was no requirement that it be correct. At this time Jim was very interested in the emissions of long-wave radiation from Venus. Someone had already offered that the excessive heat was caused by a runaway greenhouse effect, so Jim offered that the high concentrations of dust in the atmosphere might be acting as a blanket, absorbing and reflecting back...
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