American Physical Society

Letter to "Physics and Society" on solar energy potential

When the APS Forum on Physics and Society publication "Physics and Society" published an article by one Wallace M. Manheimer suggesting with little evidence that renewable energy was useless, I felt obligated to respond with some more complete information. They published my letter in the latest issue; I've reprinted it below.

Dear Editors,

Wallace M. Manheimer's article [1] on energy choices in the April 2012 issue makes a number of important points, but also goes wrong on many fronts, and I hope Physics & Society will allow at least some correction of these misstatements.

To start at the end, Manheimer asserts that "one cannot talk about climate and ignore energy supply. Yet, these organizations [AIP and APS] have done just that." One need only read the same issue of Physics and Society to know that claim is false - the book review by Paul P. Craig [2] mentions "the first APS energy study [...] in 1973", which has been followed by many others. Manheimer himself cites the recent APS "Energy Efficiency Report" - and then appears to dismiss it as parochial. This is ironic since he earlier claims that cutting US energy use would be "worse because distances are much greater in the United States, it is colder here, and we have responsibilities as a major world power" Manheimer's argument pertains to Italy, but in general technology developments allowing efficiency gains in the US apply equally well or better elsewhere.

5 year planning

APS Staff were recently asked about our thoughts on the future, to help with a planning exercise for coming years. The following are somewhat frank comments I submitted in response to two of the questions, on biggest challenges and opportunities for the future. I doubt they represent the average views of APS staff right now, but they do capture a number of my concerns and ideas at the present so I thought I'd share a bit more widely... I'd certainly be interested in others' thoughts on these and other ideas for what the relatively near future may hold.

Five biggest (but perhaps not most likely) challenges:

1. Retaining the trust of the physics community as a filter and enabler of physics communication (journals, meetings, new media). Trust is fragile; mistakes that drain that trust could come from any front; openness and honesty in all dealings with the community and society at large are paramount.

Hal Lewis: Incontrovertibly Emeritus

Hal Lewis, emeritus physics professor at UCSB, has just published an open letter to the American Physical Society announcing his resignation, presumably as both a member and Fellow of the society. Lewis' complaint regards the way the society has treated the issue of climate change; he was the second signatory on this open letter published in Nature last year, so has certainly been known to have strong opinions on the matter.

Of course, I've written a bit here before on the genesis of the 2009 APS Council discussion and my thoughts on the "commentary" that was proposed as a way to satisfy some of the complaints.

My Letter to the APS Council on the climate change review

In my earlier story I recommended people write to an APS councillor to express their opinions on the matter. I slightly adapted my comments from that article and sent the following. Others should feel free to use some of this as a template if needed.

Dear Dr. XXX,

I'm hoping you'll be attending the Nov. 8 APS Council meeting, or able to forward this along to those who will be there. I'm very concerned about this proposal to "revise" the current statement on climate change. As an APS life member I absolutely support the statement as it stands - it's brief but extremely clear, and based on the science of the IPCC reports (the 2007 assessment in particular, where the analyses of the three working groups seem nicely echoed in the three paragraphs of the current APS statement).

Open Access: Looking Back

Eli Rabett writes some thoughts on open access for the scientific literature, presumably spurred by the RealClimate discussion on making data and code available. Eli's comments center around the 2004 Wellcome Trust report on costs of academic publishing.

This spurred my own recollections of old discussions on the topic at the still-running American Scientist Forum on Open Access, going back 10 years now. Not much has really changed...

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