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Letter to the Editor

May 29, 2010

I've written a few letters to editors of magazines and other publications, and I've replied to letters to the editor from others who have commented on my work. My most recent letter was a sales pitch for Free/Open Source (FOSS) Software. The May 7, 2010, issue of Science had a particularly important letter to the editor. It was a letter signed by 258 members of the US National Academy of Sciences. [1] The letter was a diatribe against "the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular." Since the NAS has not taken a formal position on this matter, these scientists were not speaking ex cathedra, but as private citizens.

The letter further affirms the following scientific conclusions about climate change [1]:
  1. The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.
  2. Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
  3. Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.
  4. Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.
  5. The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

So, here we have it - A concise refutation of the critics of climate change by 258 of the most prominent scientists. The letter ends with the following exhortation [1]:

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.

This letter has two hundred and fifty-eight authors, and that might seem like a lot. The particle physics people have that beat by more than an order of magnitude. The team behind ATLAS, a particle detector at the Large Hadron Collider has 3000 collaborators, all of whom are authors on ATLAS papers. The author's list can be seventeen pages long, depending on font size. [2-3] ATLAS is designed to detect extremely massive particles.


  1. Climate Change and the Integrity of Science, Science, vol. 328, no. 5979 (May 7, 2010), pp. 689f.
  2. Zachary Marshall, "I Wrote That!" (May 11, 2010).
  3. The ATLAS Collaboration, "The ATLAS Simulation Infrastructure," arXiv Preprint (May 25, 2010).

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