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If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons – suggest:

  • conspiracy
  • collusion in covering up the truth
  • manipulation of data
  • private admissions of flaws in their public claims
  • and much more!

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

Here are a few tasters. They suggest dubious practices such as:

Conspiring to avoid public scrutiny:

There is nothing which I desire to avoid in matters of philosophy more then contentions, nor any kind of contention more then one in print: & therefore I gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concern then that for truth: but what passes between friends in private usually deserve ye name of consultation rather then contest, & so I hope it will prove between you & me.

Newton to Hooke, 5 February 1676

Insulting dissenting scientists and equating them with holocaust deniers:

[Hooks Considerations] consist in ascribing an hypothesis to me which is not mine; in asserting an hypothesis which as to ye principal parts of it is not against me; in granting the greatest part of my discourse if explicated by that hypothesis; & in denying some things the truth of which would have appeared by an experimental examination.

Newton to Oldenburg, 11 June 1672

Manipulation of evidence:

I wrote to you on Tuesday that the last leafe of the papers you sent me should be altered because it refers to a manuscript in my private custody & not yet upon record.

Newton to Keill, May 15 1674

Knowingly publishing scientific fraud:

You need not give yourself the trouble of examining all the calculations of the Scholium. Such errors as do not depend upon wrong reasoning can be of no great consequence & may be corrected by the reader.

Newton to Cotes June 15 1710

Suppression of evidence:

Mr. Raphson has printed off four or five sheets of his History of Fluxions, but being shew’d Sr. Is. Newton (who, it seems, would rather have them write against him, than have a piece done in that manner in his favour), he got a Stop put to it, for some time at least.

Jones to Cotes, 17 September 1711

Abusing the peer review system:

…only the Germans and French have in a violent manner attack’d the Philosophy of Sr. Is. Newton, and seem resolved to stand by Cartes; Mr. Keil, as a person concerned, has undertaken to answer and defend some things, as Dr. Friend, and Dr. Mead, does (in their way) the rest: I would have sent you ye whole controversy, was not I sure that you know, those only are most capable of objecting against his writings, that least understand them; however, in a little time, you’ll see some of these in ye Philos. Transact.

Jones to Cotes, October 25 1711

Insulting their critics:

The controversy concerning Sr. Isaac’s Philosophy is a piece of news that I had not heard of unless Muys’s late book be meant. I think that Philosophy needs no defence, especially when tis attack’t by Cartesians. One Mr Green a Fellow of Clare Hall in our University seems to have nearly the same design with those German & French objectors whom you mention. His book is now in our press & is almost finished. I am told he will add an appendix in which he undertakes also to square the circle. I need not recommend his performance any further to you.

Cotes to Jones, November 11 1711

Gravity does not extend so far from Earth that it can be the force holding the moon to its orbit; school students are increasingly reluctant to practice differential equations, that will only lead to the practice of more oppressive forms of higher math; the tide is turning against over-regulation, like Newton’s “laws” of motion and Universal Gravitation. The so called ‘Cartesian’, ‘skeptical’ view is now also the majority view.

Unfortunately we’ve a long way to go before the public mood (and scientific truth) is reflected by our policy makers. There are too many vested interests in classical mechanics, with far too much to lose either in terms of reputation or money, for this to end without a bitter fight.

But if the Newton / Royal Society mail scandal is true, it is a blow to the Renaissance lobby’s credibility which is never likely to recover.

Resources:

Real Climate on the CRU hack

Greenfyre’s overview of Climategate

158 Responses to “Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’”

  1. […] And for context on how scientists talk and what they talk about, this essay is absolutely brilliant, an absolute MUST READ: […]

  2. greenfyre says:

    Brilliant, absolutely brilliant [bows].

  3. Chris says:

    Wow, that’s brilliant! Did you cut and paste that from Huffington Post yourself, or did you get help?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-demelle/climategate-in-perspectiv_b_366531.html

  4. Chris says:

    I would alike to ammend that last comment, as it has occured to me that the writer there could have copied it from you.

    Timestamps are pointless w/o timezone.

    [CAM: No problem; HuffPo got it from me. This is the original.]

  5. Norton Messier says:

    Cute. I suppose if you endeavor to misunderstand both Newton and the skeptics, then the parallels must be overwhelming.

    In fact, that Telegraph column on the CRU emails bears uncanny similarities to the report on the Manchester game. You know, if you close your eyes, believe it hard enough, and mock anyone who doesn’t agree.

    I’m just a little sick of both sides playing for the back-slapping of compatriots and exaggerating to scare the ignorant, rather than addressing each other respectfully in the middle. It’s disappointing skepticalscience.com linked to this, since they usually favor the latter.

  6. […] 2: This reply from Carbon Fixated is very smartly done. Interesting in its own right […]

  7. Renee says:

    Norton, there is no middle ground. There’s people who mistake, misrepresent, misunderstand, and mis-attribute; and then there are people who do science. Both groups sometimes lose their tempers at their colleagues, are occasionally snarky, and get annoyed when people try to use their work/models/data without permission and without context… but make no mistake, being human is not a middle ground.

    I’d love to see what we would discover if we hacked in the Heartland Institute’s email servers – attempts to discredit oncologists and cancer researchers would be the least of it, nevermind their discussions of AGW – but the difference between scientists and “climate skeptics” is that scientists don’t have to resort to illegal activity, ad hominem. hearsay or eavesdropping to have their work ultimately carry the day. And, indeed, it will carry the day regardless of those tactics.

  8. […] Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’” is a brilliant example of this. Many climate bloggers have impressed me, surprised me, […]

  9. Liam Hedge says:

    Absolutely brilliant Sir. Keep up the good work.

  10. NickS says:

    /tip o’ the hat

    Bloody brilliant stuff.

  11. Neil says:

    *round of applause*

  12. Dr. Jones Sucks says:

    Are you on illegal drugs?

  13. Vinny Burgoo says:

    Excellent! But how did you manage to miss this one?

    Warning editors not to publish papers by upstarts seeking to replicate and reveal the Team’s alchymical secrets:

    I believe ye fingers of many will itch to be at ye knowledge of ye preparation of such a ?, and for that end some will not be wanting to move for ye publishing of it, by urging ye good it may do the world … But yet because ye way by which ? may be so impregnated, has been thought fit to be concealed by others that have known it, & therefore may possibly be an inlet to something more noble, not to be communicated without immense dammage to ye world if there should be any verity in ye Hermetick writers, therefore I question not but that the great wisdom of ye noble Authour [Boyle] will sway him to high silence till he shall be resolved of what consequence ye thing may be either by his own experience, or the judgmt of some other that thoroughly understands what he speakes about, that is of a true Hermetic Philosopher, whose judgmt (if there be any such) would be more to be regarded in this point than that of all ye world beside to ye contrary, there being other things beside ye transmutation of metals, (if those great pretenders bragg not,) whch none but they understand. Sir, because the Author seems desirous of ye sense of others in this point, I have been so free as to shoot my bolt; but pray keep this letter private to yourself.

    Newton to Oldenburg, 26 April 1676

  14. dhogaza says:

    And, don’t forget, Galileo fudged the experimental results of his Pisa experiment.

    We just can’t trust anything scientists do. That’s why it’s far safer to assume the world is 6,000 years old and that those big teeth on T Rex were used for cracking coconuts.

  15. Dr. Jones Sucks says:

    Dhogaza must be on every blog I’ve seen to date offering multiple explanations as to what the word “hid” means. What amazing stamina s/he has in clicking different sites.

    ———

    Yep, lets invoke Newton when a bunch of climate scientologists are looking to subvert peer review and FOI. ROTFL. You guys really do belong to a religious cult. Oh and I do believe in AGW, however I also believe in honest science.

    Hogza, please go away and stop spamming blogs.

  16. Alex says:

    Ha! Fastest descent of a meme into parody yet!

    “Dhogaza must be on every blog I’ve seen to date offering multiple explanations as to what the word “hid” means. What amazing stamina s/he has in clicking different sites.”

    If dhogaza has been on all the blogs you’ve seen, then perhaps dhogaza has the same stamina as yourself. Engage logic next time.

  17. […] Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’” is a brilliant example of this. Many climate bloggers have impressed me, surprised me, delighted […]

  18. Kudos for a superb posting.

    It sent me looking more in Wikipedia – Newton had a peculiar view of the end of the world

    “In a manuscript he wrote in 1704 in which he describes his attempts to extract scientific information from the Bible, he estimated that the world would end no earlier than 2060. In predicting this he said, “This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail.”

  19. Dave says:

    nice one. I mean completely irrelevant, but an entertaining read nonetheless.

  20. […] blog Carbon fixated provided some excellent must-read perspective on the recent ‘climategate’ email […]

  21. AndrewS says:

    You gave that straw-man a good work-out.

  22. roger harrison says:

    So Chris, even with the retraction, you still seem like a dick.
    Ready to denigrate, and assume the “Leftist Media” was involved.

  23. Tatterdemalian says:

    What do you think you’re accomplishing, honestly? The more scientists insist that the Earth is warming as the climate around the globe gets observably colder, the worse the scientists look, while their critics, including the religious nuts and neo-nazis, look more and more honest.

    Do the scientists honestly believe that they’re accomplishing anything but ruining their own reputation by massaging the data in an effort to reverse the downward trend on paper? What will happen if the world really does face a global crisis caused by excess CO2 in the atmosphere, but the scientists have already ruined their reputation and divested themselves of all authority by crying wolf when the data shows there isn’t one? What if it turns out the panic of the 1970s was right all along, and the excess CO2 is actually going to usher in a new ice age instead of a worldwide flood, with the temperature spike we had in the 1990s actually being the exception instead of the drop we’re seeing now?

    Seriously, the change in the atmosphere’s composition is a worrying one, no matter what the actual effect turns out to be. If the increase in CO2 concentration is being matched by a decrease in O2 concentration, a quarter of the human population could suffocate with another 1000 ppm change. But I guess it’s far too late to keep politics out of environmental research now.

  24. Dave says:

    Charles Johnson is a complete f##kw#t, I’m just as certain of that as I am that C02 rises as the earth cools. Get a life you kooks, and that includes you Chuck.

  25. Jake says:

    Sir, are you by any chance associated with the Creation Museum? Your journalistic excellence demands a much wider reading, and I suggest you court the religious right in order to gain greater support for your your views. Failing that, you might seek an exchange of techniques with the Psychological Operations community. They would surely learn lessons from your experience in an overt information campaign, though I cannot promise they won’t laugh hysterically.

  26. Curiously, I just stumbled on this CFP:

    http://www.pitt.edu/~pittcntr/Events/All/Conferences/others/other_conf_2009-10/Newton_10_11_Apr_2010/Newton_10_11_Apr_2010.htm

    You have a week to pull together a paper revealing your findings.

  27. David says:

    It’s so difficult to get a grasp on what is the “real” truth when scientists play around. I stopped paying attention to Global warming, when a serious scientist I know argued with me that it was OK if scientists fudged the data…since it bought awareness of the problem to the general populace….

    I found that attitude unacceptable….especially considering the multiple Billions of dollars of damage any rash decision would cause…with that being said…I do think that green energy, nuclear energy(not so green, but definitely more efficient than any other power source) and other clean energies should be promoted to have a “less polluted” environment. But seriously it sounds like the promoters of AGW basically want everyone to just shut down the factories tomorrow. hmmmm….

  28. Dirk says:

    Apparently, Newtonian physics IS riddled with error, per Einstein.

    But why would I expect anyone here to know anything about that?

  29. hushashi says:

    Clever, but doesn’t change a thing.

  30. John16:3 says:

    Proof positive that the liberal elite are trying to mask God’s Righteousness! You’ll note that there’s no mention whatsoever of any of the Great American Thinkers!

    This is an OUTRAGE! WORD MUST BE SPREAD!

  31. John Vreeland says:

    Ugh. No one ever said “ye” for “the.” What looks like a “y” is actually a lazy form of the letter thorn, written “þ”, so if you want to be correct and comprehensible write it as “the” like any sane person. Or if you want to be pedantic you can write “þe” which is (imo) only slightly less confusing.

  32. Mean Mister Mustard says:

    This was wonderful, thanks for making my day!

  33. AA says:

    hushashi says:
    “Clever, but doesn’t change a thing.”

    That’s the point… the hacked CRU emails are unflattering, but the science of anthropogenic global warming remains unchanged.

  34. private says:

    So, we’re reduced to the logic of two wrongs make a right?

    If Newton had been able by collusion and fraud to impose his opinions on alchemy, religion, death penalty for counterfeiters would you still be using him as an example?

  35. CC says:

    I find this entire discussion less than convincing. For the record, I’m a scientist in an entirely unrelated field who has long worked under the assumption that human activity is contributing to global warming. I’m also skeptical of the political activists who’re trying to insert themselves into a scientific discussion.

    That said, the behavior of the scientists reflected on these leaked emails makes me seriously question all of their contributions to the field. I for one would expect the community as a whole to essentially throw out everything these guys have written or been involved with over the last 15 years, and start from scratch with first principles.

  36. Lyle says:

    What the Newton quotes show is that human nature has not changed. Private letters have been leaked by opponents for a long time. People will put in private writings their doubts and uncertainties and opinions of others. Science is conducted by human beings and just like economics has discovered that people don’t make economic decisions as pure calculating machines, but other trends influence them. The same is true of scientists, since they are at first human. Look at the various stories of historic rivalries between scientists, fights over priority, etc. There is a vision of scientists as pure science machines who have managed to put the human (and indeed in some areas animal) parts of our nature away as part of doing science. This is done by the way science is taught as a nice cut and dried field where discussion in bloodless and not affected by personal competitiveness among other factors. It has never been such and until silicon beings take over from carbon based beings may not be.(Not clear if we will endow our silicon successors with human foibles)

  37. […] And a rather humorous take on “climategate” is available here: Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’ […]

  38. CorkScrew says:

    Yes, yes Newtonian physics is completely crap. You really didn’t fly on that plane like you thought you did because planes use Newtonian physics to get off the ground. And of course Newton made it all up right? You bunch of stone age tub thumping retards.

  39. Mooloo says:

    Actually Newton did make it all up. The reality of what is actually happening is something complicated with gravitons and quarks etc and we don’t understand it at all well. Newton gave some nice approximations and concepts to help predict physics. But explain it, not at all. (Planes don’t use Newtonian physics, any more than birds do.)

    ” is that scientists don’t have to resort to illegal activity, ad hominem. hearsay or eavesdropping to have their work ultimately carry the day”

    No, but they are not permitted to fix their results to get the answer they like. On the face of it those e-mails show it happening. That is, in the long run, far more serious.

    Straw men being burnt will not prevent these scientists, who are at the core of GW scare, from losing their influence in the scientific community.

    For sure they will remain believed by the masses for a while yet, especially the true believers. But anyone with a scientific background knows that what they did is unacceptable.

    And don’t give me “we all know the earth is warming” line and anyone who doubts that is a liar. Well, yes, I know the earth is warming. The question actually is – what is causing it?

  40. Dave says:

    I’m curious – if Newtonian physics is riddled with errors I wonder how astronauts ever make it back to earth? Surely even miniscule errors would result in them being catapulted towards Mars after a trip around the moon. Or did they not go?

    As an aside, I think it very wrong to leap to conclusions about the motives of a man from letters written hundreds of years ago …

  41. Jinchi says:

    school students are increasingly reluctant to practice differential equations, that will only lead to the practice of more oppressive forms of higher math

    You realize that this is bound to end up on Conservapedia’s site, and treated as gospel, don’t you?

  42. […] Isaac Newton perverts the course of science. Jump to Comments ?An investigation of the private correspondence of Isaac Newton and other members of the Royal Society has revealed that they were less than candid in their public utterances concerning science! All the truth that is fit to print here! […]

  43. Thony C. says:

    Apparently, Newtonian physics IS riddled with error, per Einstein.

    But why would I expect anyone here to know anything about that?

    The Principia was indeed full of minor errors. In Newton’s own time his rivals took great delight in discovering and making public such errors. Newton himself correcting such errors in the second and third editions. In more modern times it is a favourite sport amongst Newton experts to hunt for and publish new errors. However none of the errors is really significant in terms of the physics presented in the work.

  44. Spiv says:

    Dave: Little errors like that do indeed make meaningful errors in such situations. Even though the moon landings were done using relativistic principles, there was still a fair bit of margin built in for correction ‘on the fly.’ The amount of relativity required to make those calculations work out just fine was proven beyond doubt in 1919. The missions would have been possible even with only Newtonian physics, but we likely would have run in to more difficulties with data tracking.

    That said, GPS does not work without (accurately) taking relativity in to consideration. Lensing of time near a massive object (earth, as apposed to geosynchronous orbit) would cause the timing codes from satellites to be off a great deal if only using Newtonian physics, enough to make them all but useless.

    Now I didn’t go through all the emails just yet or anything, and I’m not sure I can without feeling too much like an a**hole. But a cursory browsing last night didn’t look much different than any other pre-publication banter I’ve been involved in. Lots of debate over who/what else to mention or leave out, where you want things to get published or definitely not (keep in mind some things are exclusive, putting papers up on arxiv will keep you out of ‘nature’ almost certainly, and some journals compete). I’ve also run in to plenty of scientists who do not want to get certain things published in certain places because they felt mistreated in the past, or that the journal does not represent the level of scientific integrity they desire, or whatever. This is normal stuff. I would also be wary of the somewhat difficult humor that tends to go on between academics in private correspondence. Everyone thinks they’re a comedian. Some people are Farva.

    I see talk about manipulation of data, but I guess I didn’t stumble across that. Anyone want to point out where/how to save me some time? Obviously this would be the real meat of the accusation if true.

    Regardless, it may damage the perception of AGW science, but it does little to effect the actual results as they stand from a large subset of data/papers/scientists/etc.

  45. S Jobs says:

    I will put an end to Newton.

  46. dwall says:

    If AGW or Sustainability did not have the end result of Cap and Trade and global governments they might be worth more consideration.

    There are sound economic ways to impact CO2 other than Cap and Trade. If your green movement want credibility divorce yourself from making al gore more millions and van jones a platform and creating the chicago climate exchange.

    One of the White House Fellows is from the Chicago climate exchange so the process is well under way. Has to be stopped November 2010.

  47. Whispers says:

    “If your green movement want credibility divorce yourself from making al gore more millions and van jones a platform and creating the chicago climate exchange.”

    If your anti-science movement wants more credibility, you really need to stop focusing on Al Gore. The more you insist that global warming science is all a conspiracy to make money for Al Gore, the more ridiculous you look.

  48. Christopher says:

    I think this actually works quite well as a satire of some of the anti-evolutionist literature with its ad hominem focus on Charles Darwin (see Ben Stein’s movie).

    But I don’t see that you’ve made a point that affects skeptics about AGW. Sorry.

    Indeed, I think the key figure in contemporary debates about anthropogenic global waring is Karl Popper, who would demand to know what are the falsification criteria.

  49. […] RealClimate: The CRU hack: Context this one is particularly hilarious: Carbon Fixated Blog Archive Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenmen… "If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and […]