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In Memoriam: Harold (“Hal”) Warren Lewis

(October 1, 1923 – May 26, 2011)

From Wikipedia (circa 1980)

Before his dramatic resignation from the American Physical Society on October 6, 2010 over the society position on global warming (the text of his letter is available here and the APS reply and WUWT discussion is available here), Dr. Harold Lewis would not have been described as one of the rock stars of science. Few people outside of the worlds of physics and government had ever heard of him, yet his was a career of quiet but substantive accomplishment. His biographical blurb on the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which he joined in October of 2010, is a good summary of his career:

Emeritus Professor of Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, former Chairman; Former member Defense Science Board, chairman of Technology panel; Chairman DSB study on Nuclear Winter; Former member Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards; Former member, President’s Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee; Chairman APS study on Nuclear Reactor Safety Chairman Risk Assessment Review Group; Co-founder and former Chairman of JASON; Former member USAF Scientific Advisory Board; Served in US Navy in WW II; books: Technological Risk(about, surprise, technological risk) and Why Flip a Coin (about decision making)

Though not a household name, Dr. Lewis, one of the last of the great Robert Oppenheimer’s students and with whom he co-authored several papers, was considered one of the best physicists of his time and was well regarded in the physics community. He was a founding member of the JASON Defense Advisory Group and its chairman from 1966 to 1973, an association that did create controversy during the Vietnam conflict.

JASON took up a great deal of his time and effort and is discussed extensively in the transcript of an oral history interview he gave in 1986 for the Center for History of Physics of the American Institute of Physics. Among other things, the transcript makes clear his position that the role of Scientific Advisory Groups was to advise on things that scientists thought government should pay attention to, rather than advising in the things that government was actually paying attention to. It also documents an ongoing struggle to maintain autonomy from government agencies, with the JASON group engaging in projects of their own choosing, doing basic research while at the same time providing solutions to important needs.

He made a point of the fact that JASON provided a good return on a fairly small government investment. It certainly provides context for his assertions that floods of government money have corrupted science and the APS in particular.

On behalf of all our readers, contributors and authors, our condolences go out to his wife, Mary, and their family.



Note from Anthony: Regular WUWT reader (and now contributor) Robert Phelancompiled this obituary, and it was he who alerted me to the news. From what I know of him, Hal Lewis was a quiet man, not only in life, but also in death. Robert Phelan writes in his email to me about how little information there is, which is why it has taken so long for it to be reported here:

It’s an odd thing, but I could find no obituary for him anywhere, not in his home town papers, not in the Los Angeles or San Francisco papers… just a small mention on the UCSB Campus Notes Page here: , a small mention in the UCSB Retirees / Emeriti News Letter, and the addition of his death date in his Wikipedia entry.

Given how private and quiet Dr. Lewis was, it underscores how extraordinary his resignation from AIP was. I thank him for his courage to do what must have been the most painful professional act of his life.

Watts Up With That, 9 July 2011