Freeman Dyson is a scientist of enormous stature. For more than four decades, he
taught theoretical physics at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study
- described by the New York Times as "the
most rarefied community of
scholars" in the US.
In a recent
8,000-word profile, the Times says Dyson is "a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other
scientists." One colleague describes him as "infinitely smart." Another says:
"You point Freeman at a problem and he’ll solve it. He’s extraordinarily
Dyson is also a longstanding member of
- "a small government-financed group of the country’s finest scientists"
that evaluates matters of an
nature. At JASON meetings, in which everyone present is considered
brilliant, reports the Times, someone will idly pose a math question and
Dyson will quickly provide an answer, pointing out that "the smallest such
number is 18 digits long."
In the words of one of Dyson's colleagues, "When this happened one day at lunch, the
table fell silent; nobody had the slightest idea how Freeman could have known
such a fact or...could have derived it in his head in about
Dyson, who has written
several books and received numerous awards (including 21 honorary degrees),
is a big-picture thinker. The Times says he's
known for his "interpretive clarity" and his "penetrating ability to grasp the
method and significance of what many kinds of scientists do."
Now 85, Dyson has lived in the same house for more than
50 years and has been
married to the same woman for equally as long. His car bears an Obama bumper
For the past four years, he has also challenged prevailing ideas
about climate change. In a nutshell, he thinks the computer-generated
models being used to predict long-term climate consequences are flawed because
scientists have too little information about many of the variables that must
be taken into account.
In 2007, Dyson
reminded a Salon writer: "I was in the business of
studying climate change at least 30 years ago before it became fashionable."
Having seen many faddish notions come and go,
Dyson is distressed that many environmentalists
"global warming is the greatest threat to the
ecology of our planet."
Although the public thinks that "anyone who is skeptical about
the dangers of global warming is an enemy of the environment," he feels the
opposite is true.
"Many of the skeptics are passionate environmentalists," he
insists. But they
believe old-fashioned pollution and nuclear weapons are bigger
Based on Dyson's understanding of where the science of biotechnology is
he feels that "in 50 years, this whole problem of fossil fuels will
evaporate." Just as computer technology has transformed the world in recent
decades, he foresees a future in which biologists are able to manipulate the fuel-producing
- and carbon dioxide processing - properties of trees.
"We'll have an ample supply of fuel without having to dig it out of the
ground," he insists. "Fifty years is long enough for that kind of technology to
take over the world, and 50 years is short enough so that the climate won't have
changed very much in the meantime."
Dyson may or may not be correct about global warming. But as he himself
his arguments deserve to be heard. Silencing our finest minds won't lead to a