A fascinating study by Myanna Lahsen, "Experiences of modernity in the greenhouse: A cultural analysis of a physicist ‘‘trio’’ supporting the backlash against global warming", on how several first generation climate change deniers (specifically the trio of Frederick Seitz, Robert Jastrow, and William Nierenberg, with nods towards Fred S. "alien base" Singer and a few others) gravitated from the center of the American scientific establishment to the Marshall Institute, Cato Institute, and the fringe.
The short answer? After WWII, physicists, and in particular nuclear physicists associated the Manhattan project, assumed an elite position in both scientific and Washington policy making circles. However, as the decades passed this position was challenged by other scientists from other fields (among them environmental scientists). The participation of "the trio" in the "climate change backlash" can be seen as an effort to protect their elite status as well as to refocus U.S. Science policy on "basic science" (ie physics)--to take science policy "back to the 1950s", in other words.
My favorite passage (saying the same thing at greater length):
In the early 1970s, American environmental sociologists predicted that national efforts to solve widely perceived environmental problems would ‘‘run head-on into many traditional values and time-honored practices’’ (Dunlap et al., 1973). This paper confirms their prediction, revealing the role of associated struggles over meaning and values in US climate science and politics. In some respects Nierenberg, Seitz and Jastrow are representative of broader categories of which they are partly part. They share common characteristics with other physicists and with a particular subgroup of physicists and governmental advisors in particular, an older generation of elite physicists shaped by nuclear physicists. The Marshall Institute trio has lived through dramatic changes in popular attitudes towards science and the environment. Their engagement in US climate politics can be understood in part as a struggle to preserve their particular culturally and historically charged understandings of scientific and environmental reality, and an associated, particular normative order. The trio has found support for important dimensions of their worldviews and policy preferences within the backlash and among Congressional Republicans, but they must continuously contend with challenges to the privilege to which they had grown accustomed in science and government.
All sorts of interesting tid-bits along the way to this conclusion. For example, Lahsen confirms the "old fart" nature of the Denialist movement, and suggests that there will not be a second wave once this one has passed:
...the dissenting side has encountered difficulties in terms of attracting new Ph.D.s to their ranks. I base this statement on ten years of research involving monitoring of media articles and events on the climate issue as well as more than a hundred interviews among US scientists involved with the climate issue or knowledgeable about US climate science and politics. This research suggests that only few new actors have joined the ranks of the staunch scientific skeptics on the climate issue since it gained widespread attention in the late 1980s.
Lakatos Law: No New PHDs = A deteriorating research program.
Also, how I signed Seitz's Oregon Petition.
h/t Pielke Jr.