New York Times: For more than 50 years physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Princeton, New Jersey, on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study.
Lately, however, since Dyson raised some concerns about the computational models predicting an increased likelihood of severe global warming, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors’ letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.”
Dyson’s son, George, a technology historian, says his father’s views have cooled friendships.
Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists since he came to the US at 23 and right away contributed seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory.
Among Dyson’s gifts is interpretive clarity, a penetrating ability to grasp the method and significance of what many kinds of scientists do. His thoughts about how science works appear in a series of lucid, elegant books for nonspecialists that have made him a trusted arbiter of ideas ranging far beyond physics.
Formed in a heretical and broad-thinking tradition of British public intellectuals, Dyson left behind a brooding England still stricken by two bloody world wars to become an optimistic American immigrant with tremendous faith in the creative imagination’s ability to invent technologies that would overcome any predicament. And according to the physicist and former Caltech president Marvin Goldberger, Dyson is himself the living embodiment of that kind of ingenuity. “You point Freeman at a problem and he’ll solve it,” Goldberger says. “He’s extraordinarily powerful.” Dyson seems to see the world as an interdisciplinary set of problems out there for him to evaluate.
Climate change is the big scientific issue of our time, so naturally he finds it irresistible. But to Dyson this is really only one more charged conundrum attracting his interest just as nuclear weapons and rural poverty have. That is to say, he is a great problem-solver who is not convinced that climate change is a great problem.