Monday, February 11, 2008

Scientists are definitely not interested in money, OK?

Apologies to Tom Nelson, but I am going to quote this post in full (it's his fault for being so concise).
An excerpt from an interview with Ralph Keeling:
One part that my father worked on, that has become a community of scientists, is still a very small community. Things that should be important tend to be overlooked. We're under threat from a kind of apathy and, in my view, an inappropriate apathy. We feel the continuing challenge of having to justify what we do. It was my father's challenge when he was alive and it continues today. I hope that government and private funding should be brought to bear on this to put it in to more stable footing.

From this page (dated Feb. '07):
President Bush committed the United States to continued leadership on the issue and since 2001 has dedicated nearly $29 billion to advance climate-related science, technology, international assistance, and incentive programs. This is far more than any other nation. Since 2002, the Administration has spent more than $9 billion of this amount on climate change research and, under his direction, agencies developed a 10-year strategic research plan for climate science that was endorsed by the National Academy of Sciences. Further, federally funded scientists have conducted an abundance of research, published their findings in peer reviewed papers and journals and talked with colleagues, policymakers, and media around the world about their findings.

If the science is actually settled, why are we continuing to spend so much money on climate change research?

Well, this is indeed a pertinent question and one which I would have thought that most people would be hard-pressed to answer.

But the real issue is this: people tend to ask me why, if these climate scientists are wrong, they would get together to perpetrate this vast hoax on humanity? When I reply that there is (amongst other things) a great deal of money in it, they tend to look at me incredulously.

But look at the figures: they are absolutely colossal. [Emphasis mine.]
President Bush committed the United States to continued leadership on the issue and since 2001 has dedicated nearly $29 billion to advance climate-related science, technology, international assistance, and incentive programs. This is far more than any other nation. Since 2002, the Administration has spent more than $9 billion of this amount on climate change research...

Does anyone honestly think that these vast sums of money would have been diverted to climate change research if the scientists had not painted such a ludicrously apocalyptic picture? (And remember that those billions of dollars cited above are only the US contribution.)

Why on earth should anyone think that climate scientists (and the attendant NGOs, who leech off the spoils like pilot fish) be the only people on the face of the planet immune to the lure of gargantuan amounts of public cash?

13 comments:

knirirr said...

If you think that "gargantuan amounts of public cash" makes its way into our wage packets then you are very much mistaken. A lot of it goes on equipment and overheads and that which is allocated to post docs &c. is then "taxed". I base this on my experience of working on the following topics:

* Investigation of the genetic mechanism behind a particular form of cancer.
* Development of an assay to detect adulteration of certain natural food additives.
* A survey of the prevalence of viruses in wild relatives of cabbage crops in order to give some clues as to whether it would be safe to release virus-resistant GM crops.
* A study of some obscure genetic features of microorganisms in order to see if they actually did anything.
* A study of the types of microorganisms found in sea water (by extracting their DNA and sequencing it) to see what would happen if the CO2 concentration in sea water were to increase.
* A large-scale deployment of various sorts of climate models.

If anyone is making a fortune in another field then perhaps they would let me know.

Devil's Kitchen said...

knirirr,

Of course it doesn't make its way into your pay packet -- except that were money not available to your institute, company, research facility, etc. you wouldn't have a wage packet.

You also probably wouldn't have your institute, company, research facility either.

DK

knirirr said...

were [public] money not available to your institute, company, research facility, etc. you wouldn't have a wage packet.

That is, unfortunately, true. We do get funded by Microsoft to develop climate models, but there is not enough money from them to fund all the staff or equipment.

You also probably wouldn't have your institute, company, research facility either.

In the case of the government organisation I once worked for that is true, but the universities could probably operate without public money. They'd be considerably smaller, though.

The reason that large sums of money are spent is that the infrastructure is very expensive, and this would be the case wherever the money came from and whether the research were into climate change or not. As it happens, the project I am now working on is rather cheap as these things go.

The way your post is phrased suggests that we've made it all up in order to get the money. This is not the case, although in many cases "spin" is put on a research grant to make it more appealing to funding bodies who are influenced by the fashion of the day. If mention of "biodiversity" or "climate change" increases one's chance of being able to find out something that one is interested in, then who can blame people for writing these things into grant proposals?

Dave said...

This nonsense about climate change is not the first instance of dodgy science being used to hoodwink us. Remember the "meteor from Mars" that was supposedly found in Antarctica? Excuse me, but do we actually have any samples of rock from Mars that we can compare it with?
er... no.
Well how can you say it's from Mars?
Doh!
And what about the satellite photos of the moon that supposedly show ice?
When was the last time they sent a satellite to the moon to photograph it?
Er... early 1970s?
And they only just discovered the photos 30 years later?
Doh!
What about the holes in the Ozone layer?
I watched a BBC Horizon photo that showed a satellite view of the hole. It was done in time lapse photography and showed the holes moving around (coloured green I recall) Suddenly there's a ripple of the same colour going around the earth. The commentary suggested that this was due to a shuttle launch and should be discounted.
Excuse me?
I'm to stop spraying my underarms to save the ozone layer and there's evidence on TV to show that the hole is caused by shuttle launches.
Somebody please explain that away.
Hello? Hello?

I guess they must all be off somewhere cosying up to their sponsors

knirirr said...

Well how can you say it's from Mars?

Like this:
http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8004

Devil's Kitchen said...

"If mention of "biodiversity" or "climate change" increases one's chance of being able to find out something that one is interested in, then who can blame people for writing these things into grant proposals?"

Yes, and it is this kind of stupidity that has let to the claims of concensus.

How, I understand why (some) climate scientists do this, but it means that their aims, papers and conclusions are all tainted.

DK

knirirr said...

but it means that their aims, papers and conclusions are all tainted

That turns out not to be the case.
You seem to assume that what is tacked on the end is "...and this will prove that we're all going to die of global warming", whereas what is said is more like "...understanding this obscure part of climate physics will assist in understanding the current state of the Earth's climate."
I.e. all it is necessary to say in order to improve one's chances of getting a grant from funders interested in a fashionable topic is that one's findings are likely to be relevant to that topic, not that it will prove something one way or the other.

al fin said...

Great article! The temptation for climate scientists to paint a grim picture of the climate is virtually irresistable.

Another thing--in order to get wide media attention for their research, scientists from many areas try to tie their research to "global warming" and climate catastrophe. No doubt the same approach in grant proposals also works magic.

Climate sciences--even the legitimate, unassuming, conscientious climate scientists--are going to suffer an unfortunate backlash when all of this obfuscating and opportunism comes crashing down around badly failed predictions.

Too bad. It will hurt all science to some degree.

knirirr said...

The temptation for climate scientists to paint a grim picture of the climate is virtually irresistable.

That is not my experience.

No doubt the same approach in grant proposals also works magic.

Not quite magic, but highlighting the relevance of one's research to a popular topic would increase the chance of it being funded.

Climate sciences ... are going to suffer an unfortunate backlash ...

Quite probably. It would suit politicians very well to be able to use current research as an excuse to do over the public, and should future research differ they can say that it was all the fault of the evil scientists.

Henry Crun said...

DK, at last a compatriot in the fight against the great MMGW hoax. I thought I was the only one who could see through the complete bullshit perpetuated by psuedo-scientists and failed vice presidents. Even my own progeny can't see that it is flawed science because "teacher says...".

As soon as the words "tax" and "trading" and "off-setting" came into the equation, you just knew it had to be yet another wheeze for govts to squeeze more money from its populace.

It is a charade, a sham and a scam.

What frightens me in this thread of comments is this:

"We do get funded by Microsoft to develop climate models, but there is not enough money from them to fund all the staff or equipment."

Microsoft developing climate prediction modelling software. Oh well at least one consolation is that when it blue screens the globalwarmingistas will take it as being soem dort of portent of a clear, carbonless sky.

Henry Crun said...

knirirr

Please can you enlighten us how some of the research projects have benefitted mankind. The cancer one I get but

"* A survey of the prevalence of viruses in wild relatives of cabbage crops in order to give some clues as to whether it would be safe to release virus-resistant GM crops."

How was this research carried out. Did loads of students go trudging through the countryside looking for poorly cabbages? How are researchers selected for these projects? How can we be sure that the results are not skewed to fit the theory because of the researchers' own political, anti-capitalist view-point.

knirirr said...

How was this [cabbage virus] research carried out?

I was considering doing a post on my journal about this particular project, as it was a very good example of spinning a research proposal in order to gain money. The chap who wrote the proposal was interested in host/pathogen/vector co-evolution but realised that the findings of such a project would be of great interest to those who were interested in field trials of GM crops.

Anyway, trudging through the countryside looking for poorly cabbages was one of the methods used, and this enabled various different strains of virus to be found. Then, plants were grown in a greenhouse and infected with the viruses so that the effects could be measured. This was primarily a comparison the amount of viral capsid that could be detected in the plants by immunoassay with the observed effects of the virus (e.g. plant death, reduction in seed production &c.).

How can we be sure that the results are not skewed to fit the theory because of the researchers' own political, anti-capitalist view-point.

In this case because the researchers were not anti-capitalist.
More generally, we assume that the peer review process works most of the time. There are criticisms (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_review#Criticisms_of_peer_review) and there is room for improvement but I do not think that there is anything like the enormous conspiracy that is complained about here.

knirirr said...

As soon as the words "tax" and "trading" and "off-setting" came into the equation...

Where do you see me mention them? You should not conflate atmospheric physics research with political schemes.

Microsoft developing climate prediction modelling software.

Actually they don't develop it, but they contribute towards the cost.