Letter to President of American Physical Society

  • Date: 04/06/15
  • Roger W. Cohen, Laurence I. Gould, William Happer

What follows is a letter that we sent to the current President of the American Physical Society (APS) with a copy to members of the Society’s Presidential Line Officers. Because of the serious issues pertaining to the integrity of APS — one of the world’s premier scientific societies (with upwards of 50,000 members) — we have decided to make the letter public.

SIGNATORIES (2 June 2015)—

Roger Cohen Fellow, American Physical Society
Laurence I. Gould Past Chair (2004) New England Section of the American Physical Society
William Happer Cyrus Fogg Professor of Physics, Emeritus Princeton University

May 8, 2015

Samuel Aronson
President, American Physical Society
One Physics Ellipse College Park, MD 20740-3844

Dear Dr. Aronson,

As three members of the American Physical Society, we are writing on behalf of the nearly 300 other members who signed our 2009 and 2010 petitions to the APS taking strong exception to the 2007 Statement on Climate Change. Those petitions called for an objective assessment of the underlying science, leading to a more scientifically defensible Statement.

We wish to call attention to important issues relating to the processes that led to the 2007 Statement and the Draft 2015 Statement. In developing both the 2007 Statement and the current Draft, the Panel on Public Affairs (POPA) failed to follow traditional APS Bylaws. In particular, regarding APS statements the Bylaws state: “The Chair of POPA has the responsibility for ensuring that the statement draft incorporates appropriate APS member expertise” (XVI.B.2), and, “Anyone, particularly POPA and Council members, who can reasonably be perceived to have a conflict of interest, shall recuse themselves from all aspects of the Statement process, including drafting, commentary, and voting. The President of the APS shall be the final arbiter of potential conflicts of interest” (XVI.E). Examples of relevant process exceptions include:

1. APS email records show that the original 2007 Statement was rewritten “on the fly, over lunch” by a small group of firebrands who arbitrarily inserted themselves in the process, thereby overruling the prerogatives of POPA and the APS Council. Thus, in “reaffirming” the 2007 Statement, the current Draft is referring to one that was produced by a bogus process and led to much ridicule of the APS, especially for its use of the infamous “incontrovertible.” In an attempt to disown this public relations fiasco, in 2012 APS (presumably POPA) quietly introduced a new paragraph break in the 2007 Statement so as to alter the original intent of the passage. Thus, the description of the Statement presented today as “Adopted by Council on November 18, 2007” is untrue and a violation of APS Guidelines for Professional Conduct (http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/02_2.cfm, paragraph two).

2. In the process of developing a Draft 2015 Statement, APS failed to consult any of at least 300 members, including Nobel Laureates, NAS members, and many Fellows, who were deeply dissatisfied with the 2007 Statement. Thus POPA deliberately failed to seek and incorporate interested and appropriate member input, as required in the Bylaws.

3. In the process of developing a Draft 2015 Statement, POPA failed to take into account the findings of the broad-based workshop, chaired by Steve Koonin, which faithfully and expertly executed its charge to assess the state of the science in global warming. The Koonin committee did the APS proud, conducting the only serious review of global warming science by a major American scientific society that we know of, while simultaneously realizing the objectives of our 2009 and 2010 petitions. Having thus advanced the interests of physics and the Society, POPA subsequently ignored the Koonin workshop and its product. POPA once again returned to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as its sole source of authority on the science, thereby abrogating its responsibility to the membership to properly conduct independent scientific assessments.

4. The Chair of the POPA committee has failed to identify serious conflicts of interests by its members. For example, a few years ago, one member of POPA, representing himself as an agent of a politically active nongovernmental organization, demanded that a Cleveland-area television station fire its meteorologist for expressing some doubt about IPCC statements on global warming. On every scientific point, the meteorologist was right, and we are glad to say that he retained his job.

These process exceptions by POPA cloud the legitimacy, objectivity, and content of the current Draft. In considering this, along with the strong basis for continuing investigations of unresolved key scientific questions in the global warming issue, it is clear that the best course of APS action is simply to archive the 2007 Statement without further attempts to replace it. We ask that you take this step in the interests of the Society and its membership.

We trust that you will share this letter with the APS Council. This is a very serious matter, and we intend to pursue it. We look forward to your response.


Roger W. Cohen
Laurence I. Gould
William Happer


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