Life Stories: PETER HOBBS (!) and me (rangno)

PETER HOBBS and me.”

A well-known friend and well-published faculty member from Colorado State University, after I told him I was going write a blog about my almost 30 year professional relationship with Prof.  Peter V. Hobbs, suggested that my title should look like the one above.  After all, Peter Hobbs wrote several books in the atmospheric sciences and had co-authored hundreds of journal articles that came out of his group, thus had massive impact in his field.  Hobbs was honored by the American Meteorological Society with a symposium day in New Orleans in 2008 dedicated to his memory.  I gave a talk there on our publications in weather modification/cloud seeding.

My friend’s suggestion made sense because I only authored a tiny fraction of what Prof. Hobbs did.  Still, I had a measurable impact, one might say, because of the opportunity that being in Peter Hobbs’ group presented, and critically, his support for my “contrary” findings.  I was part of his research group from 1976-2006, except for a two year hiatus (1986 and 1987) whose cause is eventually explained.

We received a monetary prize for our work in 2005.

Why write about my professional relationship under Peter V. Hobbs?

  •  I strongly want to get credit for the views and independent research I carried out when arriving in his group in 1976 from a Colorado cloud seeding experiment. From the published early record, it is not clear due to authorship sequences what my role might have been.  What I brought in to Peter Hobbs was to be the kind of unfunded, volunteer research I continued to carry out over the next two decades on my own time concerning cloud seeding claims that I deemed dubious.  I was bringing an expertise  that wasn’t there in the Department of Atmos. Sci. at the University of Washington due to  experiences I had with the Colorado River Basin Pilot Project in SW Colorado.
  • Don’t all science workers want to get credit for the work and ideas they came up with, even if some are but crumbs off the table?  I think so, and I certainly do, and that explains what all this is about while trying not to look like a little, itty-bitty tiny crybaby.  It’s especially true as I enter true “fogeyhood” and the end of life may be just over the horizon.
  • Some thoughts on authorships in science were expressed almost four decades ago by William J. Broad, Nicholas Wade of the NYT, and science reporter, Daniel Greenberg, in this piece on fraud in science during NPR’s Dateline with Sanford Unger.  This 18 min piece speaks to the very same issues we have today, another reason for posting it:
  •  After I quit in 1985 due to credit issues with Peter Hobbs1,  I was  rehired by him two years later, a quite amazing thing when you think about it.   It says a lot about Peter, too.   Authorship sequences/credit issues were no longer a problem; it was “conflict followed by reconciliation.” We even traded lead authorship sequences for no particular reason being nice to each other.  It doesn’t get better than this because I was returning to a job,  people,  and university I loved (go Dawgs!)
  • My work had a an impact in tearing down or degrading five majority science views which is probably more impact than even most faculty members have at universities.   With only a B. A. in meteorology, i.e., being a quite under-credentialed worker,  makes my story “highly improbable”–I’m smiling as I write this. But, as a weather “monomaniac,” storm chaser, weather map and data hoarder, and cloud photographing fanatic,  eyes always skyward,  I was bringing a different kind of background into Peter Hobbs’ aircraft and research group.
  • When research findings that are potentially embarrassing “come up from below,” and particularly when they could be seen as
    “low hanging fruit” ready to be picked by almost anyone, it may not be welcomed by high-ranking scientists who could’ve easily done it.  Douglas Adams understood this “credential syndrome” so well in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sci-fi parody when he wrote this:

It startled him ( a graduate student) even more when just after he was awarded the Galactic Institute’s Prize for Extreme Cleverness he got lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had finally realized that the one thing they really couldn’t stand was a smart-ass.”

  • My work concerning “majority views” in the weather modification/cloud seeding arena was almost entirely unfunded.  I spent thousands of hours of at home unraveling false cloud seeding or false cloud descriptions in support of cloud seeding projects.  This effort  was driven by a feeling that I had a responsibility and the knowledge to do it, but also too,  because I saw that those who could also do it, wouldn’t.  I was truly “driven” to do something about a deplorable situation in the weather modification/cloud seeding field as I saw it!
  • This is not an unusual story.  You have everything to lose by criticizing or reanalyzing the faulty, published work of others;  silence is a preferred pathway; “truth” (negative findings) remains hidden. Science’s Chief Editor, Donald Kennedy addressed this in the big Pharma arena:

  • The publication of bogus literature is due to poor peer-reviews of manuscripts in the first place.   Here’s where one starts embarrassing not only the authors when you correct their work, but also the reviewers of faulty literature.  Inadequate peer-reviews, perhaps by partisans,  were responsible for the false claims I corrected in the peer-reviewed literature, ones that cost funders of cloud seeding operations, as in Colorado and Israel, based on faulty research  so much.   Namely, it didn’t have to happen.
  • The role of Peter Hobbs:  My work was published in peer-reviewed journals mostly because of being in his research group and due to his support.   He was malleable when new facts came in and could jettison prior views,  such as those he held prior to reading my draft reanalyses of cloud seeding experiments.
  • Too,  Prof. Peter Hobbs’ giant reputation provided a critical mass for editors and reviewers to accept work he signed onto.   In sum, Peter Hobbs was willing to stick his neck out and support my independent research.  Thank you, Peter Hobbs.
  • For these  works in weather modification/cloud seeding,  Peter Hobbs and I received a monetary prize adjudicated by the World Meteorological Organization in 2005.  Hobbs could very well have added other names besides mine from his group in his application for this prize, but he didn’t.

I was not a great, productive researcher at the UW, but rather a mediocre one.  I feel guilty even today about  data collected by our aircraft that I never got finished evaluating and did not publish anything  about.   Part of the reason, to make an excuse,  was that when our aircraft “unterfuhrer,” Prof. Larry Radke,  left for NCAR, Peter Hobbs began to fly on all our field projects instead of remaining back at the UW churning out papers.  He had never done that before.  He needed a “cloud guy” on those flights.  So, off I went on almost every field project beginning in 1990 instead of remaining in SEA working on my own area of research that even in the best of times progressed slowly.

==================================================What were the so-called “majority views” that were downgraded or eliminated ?

1) An aircraft cannot produce ice crystals in clouds when it flies through them at temperatures near -10°C .   This possibility was completely ignored or denied by researchers doing airborne sampling of clouds for decades.  It was thought that temperatures had to be far lower (~<-30°C) for this to happen  before Rangno and Hobbs (1983) came out.  It took eight years for the first confirmation of this effect to come out (Woodley et al.  1991).

2) The Climax and Wolf Creek Pass randomized experiments had “proved” cloud seeding (NRC-NAS 1973, among numerous citations) and these experiments had a strong, but false,  cloud microstructure foundation that accounted for the statistical results. Gone due to Rangno (1979), Hobbs and Rangno1 (1979), Rangno and Hobbs (1987, 1993, 1995a).  The high opinions  regarding these experiments were already in free fall by the late 1970s due to the experimenters revelations themselves, partly due to news they received that an outsider (guess who?)  was going to evaluate their work.

3) Israeli clouds do not rain until low cloud top temperatures are reached and do not exhibit ice multiplication (Silverman 1986, Amer. Meteor. Soc. Monograph, among numerous citations).  Those ersatz claims  buttressed the statistical results of Israel’s cloud seeding.  Status:  Gone:  Rangno (19882), Rangno and Hobbs (1988), Levin 1992, 1994, Levin et al. 1996, Freud et al. 2015) and others.

4) The first two Israeli cloud seeding experiments “proved” cloud seeding (Kerr 1982, Science, among numerous citations). Gone, except in the minds of some Israeli cloud seeding promoters who cannot acknowledge error or the true precipitating nature of their clouds.  Rangno and Hobbs (1995, 1997a, b, c, d, e), Levin et al. (2010).

5) The Hallett-Mossop riming-splintering process produces nearly all of the 2ndary ice in clouds with tops never colder than about -12°C. (numerous citations).    There is still some doubt regarding how much this consensus view has been downgraded in recent research.  Not “gone,” but diminished due to findings that drop shattering also contributes to 2ndary ice in a measurable way but is still not quantitatively known.  Hobbs and Rangno (1985, 1990), Rangno and Hobbs 1991, 1994), Rangno (2008), Lawson et al. 20xx) have all published observations indicating the role of riming-splintering may not be the total driver of 2ndary ice formation.  Blyth and Latham (1998), however, have questioned the “outlier” conclusions by myself with Hobbs.  We responded royally.



When you read what I have to say about the sometimes troubled relationship with Peter Hobbs, you will wonder one thing: “Would I do it again, that is, go through the joy of discovery in cloud-ice research, the overturning of peer-reviewed published, but suspect, cloud seeding literature,  amid the frustrations of working with Prof. Peter V. Hobbs that you will read about?”

The answer is an emphatic, “yes.”

I wrote this about about Peter Hobbs in 2018:

Acknowledgements:  This review is dedicated to the memory of Peter V. Hobbs, Director of the Cloud and Aerosol Research Group, Atmospheric Sciences Department, University of Washington, Seattle.  He allowed me to become the most I could be in my field. 

—-In Rangno (2018), “Review and Enhancement of Chapter 7, AMS Monograph 58 on Secondary Ice” by Field et al. (2017), accepted pending revisions.  (I did not carry out the revisions feeling that they eviscerated much of what I wanted to say.)

In January 1987, the last paragraph of my 3-page letter to Prof. Hobbs correcting some of his statements :

So as not to be entirely contentious in a sensitive area, I do also want to thank you though for your help in backing me up over the years on a number of controversial issues.  Lesser persons would have shrunk from them, I am sure.  For this support, and facilitation of truth in our science I shall always be deeply indebted to you.”

This memoir, too, if I may be so presumptuous to write one, is also dedicated to Professor Peter V. Hobbs, Director of the Cloud and Aerosol Research Group at the University of Washington.

The Cloud and Aerosol Research Group may have been the most visible part of the University of Washington’s Atmospheric Science Department due to having a research aircraft and the large, almost continuous flow of journal papers that emanated from his group following field campaigns.  Groupings of published papers in numbered yellow binders were sent out across the world by Peter Hobbs.  Three hundred of each volume were sent out!

The Group’s findings were almost always at the leading edge of science due to having airborne measurements collected with the latest instrumentation, bringing new information concerning clouds, structure of rainbands, precipitation formation, and aerosols.  It was due to Professor Hobbs management of his research faculty, staff, and graduate students that so much was published in a timely manner.

In my own sphere, cloud microstructure and reanalyses of published cloud seeding experiments, Peter Hobbs supported me in all my research findings, several of which went against consensus science at the time.

When personal tragedies struck, Peter Hobbs was the first to let you know you had his support; that you could take time off as needed for them.  For example, Peter understood when I had to leave work suddenly one afternoon after receiving news that my dad had collapsed and died.  And again, when I needed to leave just as suddenly when my son was having a crisis in Germany.   There was no time limit concerning this kind of absence.  Peter understood and sympathized with these kinds of events because family to him was so important.

Peter Hobbs was always also a happy participant in the Cloud and Aerosol Research Group’s annual Halloween Party at which he happily dawned a costume.

And no one, worked harder than he did, staying focused at his large desk in the corner of the 5th floor of the Atmospheric Sciences Geophysics Building.  When passing his office, which I did several times a day, his head was always down concentrating on the research draft at hand.

But Peter was an enigma in his professional life at the University of Washington, too.

There were sporadic periods of tension and controversy between Peter Hobbs and his staff, graduate students, or faculty within his group, all to my knowledge over authorship issues.   Two faculty members exited his group in bitterness and anger during my time in his group.  I, too, had problems with Peter Hobbs.

Since I am describing problems from my own viewpoint, I have also surveyed some former members of our group, and those who knew him in his field external to his group to chip in with their own opinions, so I don’t produce a slanted account.

The range of opinions I encountered about Peter Hobbs was extreme, even among faculty and scientists at other institutions.  For example, two funding officers who represented NASA and the NSF and who passed large sums of money to Peter Hobbs and his group  told me that they liked Peter; one socialized with him.   And it was true that they got significant returns for their funding in the form of publishable science from CARG’s field programs.

However, two leading external faculty in Peter’s field, both using the exact same wording, asked me, “How could you work for that man?” Another faculty member who exited Peter Hobbs’ group due to what he felt were credit abuses, described Peter in the worst terms, “a total fraud.”  There were other exits in anger, and one major former faculty member in his group who had exited in the mid-1970s recently could not cite a rainband paper authored by Peter Hobbs in his 2022 review.

On the other hand, one long-term member of his group never complained about the appropriation of his work by Peter Hobbs.  There were sole authored papers whose published contents were mostly carried out by this member, an outstanding researcher.   He told me he didn’t really care about getting name credit for his work because having a job and supporting his family was more important to him than fussing over issues of credit that might jeopardize that stability.   This member of his group was responsible for many of the synoptic and ice crystal studies that came out of Hobbs’ group.  He described Peter as “decent person” and socialized with him and wife on many occasions.

And, as far as I could tell, Peter Hobbs was, indeed, a good family man and was good at working the crowd at celebrations or other social gatherings that I was at.

The best outweighed the worst.

Proof of Peter Hobbs’  importance to getting published  

Only one paper I wrote myself, of all the half-dozen or so I submitted to journals on my own, was accepted for publication (Rangno 2008, J. Atmos. Sci.)  It’s true that those that were rejected were controversial and had less chance than the “average” manuscript of being accepted in a polarized field since they were about faults in the cloud seeding literature.  Still…..


1The authorship contribution issue has been addressed recently by such high end journals as Geophysical Research Letters which now has the following criteria for authors.  Below is an example.  Had these  criteria been in place when during my first ten years in Peter’s group, there would not have been any authorship conflicts!

Author Contributions as listed in recent Geophysical Research Letters publications:

Conceptualization: Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, Connie A. Woodhouse, Gregory J. McCabe, Cody C. Routson, David M. Meko

Data curation: Subhrendu Gangopadhyay

Formal analysis: Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, Connie A. Woodhouse, Gregory J. McCabe, Cody C. Routson, David M. Meko

Investigation: Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, Connie A. Woodhouse, Gregory J. McCabe, Cody C. Routson, David
M. Meko

Methodology: Subhrendu Gangopadhyay, Connie A. Woodhouse, Cody C. Routson, David M. Meko”

PS:  I would strongly recommend adding  the following to this list:

             Editorial and organizational guidance/expertise, if any: __________________________

2Resulted from self-funded 11 week cloud investigation in Israel in 1986.

By Art Rangno

Retiree from a group specializing in airborne measurements of clouds and aerosols at the University of Washington (Cloud and Aerosol Research Group). The projects in which I participated were in many countries; from the Arctic to Brazil, from the Marshall Islands to South Africa.