No Respect for the Dead

The Times finds it necessary to bring up a scientist and global warming skeptic's ties to the tobacco industry in an obituary.

More bias on the obituary pages Thursday, this time in the obituary for Frederick Seitz, "Physicist Who Led Skeptics of Global Warming."

Obit writer Dennis Hevesi bypassed the usual tradition of respect for the dead with these middle paragraphs about global warming skeptic Dr. Seitz, something one doubts the paper would do regarding, say, the death of a scientist who falsely fanned Malthusian-style overpopulation fears.

When, in 1998, Dr. Seitz issued a statement and circulated a petition attacking the scientific conclusions underlying international efforts to control emissions of industrial-waste gases, the National Academy of Sciences took the extraordinary step of refuting the position of one its former presidents. The petition called for the United States to reject the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 treaty, negotiated by more than 150 countries, imposing limits on emissions of gases like carbon dioxide.

Dr. Seitz's petition was accompanied by an article concluding that emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas, posed no climatic threat. Instead, the article said, the emissions amounted to "a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution" by stimulating atmospheric carbon dioxide and increasing plant growth.

Dr. Press, who was also President Jimmy Carter's science adviser, said that while he and Dr. Seitz were good friends, Dr. Seitz "was not a specialist in this field."

"Most top scientists in the field disagreed with him, I among them," Dr. Press said. Asked if Dr. Seitz's beliefs had shifted in recent years, Dr. Press said they had not.

From 1978 to 1988, Dr. Seitz was a member of the medical research committee of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. His work for the company was the subject of a 2006 article in Vanity Fair magazine that criticized what it called an "overlap" between scientists who deny climate change and "tobacco executives who denied the dangers of smoking."

The article, by Mark Hertsgaard, said that Dr. Seitz had helped R. J. Reynolds "give away $45 million to fund medical research in the 1970s and 1980s," studies that "avoided the central health issue" of smoking and "served the tobacco industry's purposes."

Dr. Seitz called the charges "ridiculous, completely wrong." In an article for the technology journal TCSDaily, he wrote, "The money was all spent on basic science, medical science," citing in particular research on mad cow disease and tuberculosis and for the work of the Nobel Prize winner Stanley B. Prusiner, the discoverer of prion, an agent that causes brain and neural infections.