Fred Singer, RIP

Fred Singer

S. Fred Singer, distinguished scientist and leading climate skeptic, died on April 6 at a nursing home in Rockville, Maryland, at age 95. He had a long and varied academic and government career before he became one of the early prominent scientists to speak out against global warming alarmism.

Fred was born in Vienna in 1924 and arrived as a teenager in America as a refugee from Nazi Germany’s 1938 Anschluss. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Ohio State University and then his master’s and Ph.D. in physics from Princeton University. He finished his graduate degrees at the age of 24, even though his studies were interrupted by World War II service in the Navy, where he designed naval mines.

Fred’s dissertation was on cosmic rays, and in subsequent research he predicted the magnetic radiation belts around the Earth later discovered by James Van Allen (after whom they are named). During 1946-1950, he was part of the rocket program at Johns Hopkins University and became an early proponent of launching satellites for scientific research.

He held academic appointments at the University of Maryland (1953-1964); University of Miami (1964-1971), where he was the founding dean of the school of atmospheric and planetary sciences; University of Virginia (1971-1994), where he was professor of environmental sciences, a position he held until he retired as professor emeritus; and George Mason University (1994-2000). My current CEI colleague Patrick J. Michaels first met Fred when he joined the faculty at UVA. Here is what Pat told me:

Fred Singer was a true inspiration. When I first met him in 1979, I had just begun at UVA and was a callow 29-year-old. I soon realized that Fred told the truth, as inconvenient as it might be in a profession that was already soaking in the politics of the day. At the time, our department was awash in acid rain money. Fred remarked to me that rainfall was naturally acidic anyway, and it was hard to find any real forest damage from it, so maybe it should be called “half-acid rain.” I took all of that to heart and to this day treasure the nickname that my somewhat humorless colleagues hung on me: “Oh there goes Little Fred.” To me, that was an honor.

Over the course of his academic career, Fred published several hundred scholarly articles and wrote or edited several books. A book he edited, The Ocean in Human Affairs (1990), indicates the wide range of his scientific interests.

Fred took time out of his productive academic career to serve several tours in the federal government. He was: scientific liaison at the U. S. embassy in London (1950-1953), founding director of the National Weather Satellite Service (1962-1964), deputy assistant secretary for water quality and research at the Department of the Interior (1967-1970), and deputy administrator of policy at the Environmental Protection Agency (1970-1971). Note that he served in Democratic and Republican administrations.

Fred was among the first prominent scientists to speak out against the dubious science behind global warming alarmism in the late 1980s. He founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) in 1990. Over the next three decades, he spoke at conferences and universities all around the world. He wrote op-eds for major papers and several books for a general audience while continuing to publish scientific papers. His popular books included Hot Talk, Cold Science and, with Dennis Avery, Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years.

Fred also excelled as an organizer. At a meeting in 2003 in Milan, he proposed creating a Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), which went on to produce an amazing series of Climate Change Reconsidered reports published by the Heartland Institute. The several huge volumes had scores of authors, but the lead authors were Fred, Craig Idso of, and the late Bob Carter of James Cook University. Heartland’s Joe and Diane Bast were the principal editors.

Fred was charming, highly cultured, and a gentleman—unfailingly polite, always genial, and possessing true integrity. He usually brushed off the smears and defamation by the global warming cabal with a shrug and a laugh. But not always. In the early 1990s he sued one of Al Gore’s henchmen for libel and won. He recounts the episode in an essay published in Politicizing Science.

It was a privilege for several of us at CEI, beginning with CEI founder and former president Fred Smith, to work with Fred Singer. I was lucky to have been one of them and to come to know him as a friend. But of course, Fred had thousands of friends and admirers around the world. Tributes and remembrances have appeared on scores of web sites. Ken Haapala, Fred’s successor as president of SEPP, has collected some of them here. Two other organizations he worked with in recent years have also posted heartfelt tributes: the Heartland Institute’s is here and the Committee for A Constructive Tomorrow’s here.

Let me conclude with a brief eulogy sent to me by Will Happer of Princeton University, who like Fred is a distinguished atmospheric physicist and prominent global warming skeptic:

Those of us who were privileged know and admire Fred can most fittingly honor him by embracing his guiding principles as our own. Among these were: understanding more about our majestic universe, reverence for the truth in science and human affairs, justice, kindness, and never giving up.