Sunday, July 17, 2011

An announcement ... and one more thing about AGW

First of all, henceforth, I will not publish any anonymous comments. If there is to be discourse here, it must be known who is making the comment.

Now ... back to anthropogenic global warming (AGW). I've become very irritated by the constant harping from AGW deniers that the scientists involved in climate research are advocating the AGW position for reasons of personal gain. This is both absurd and insulting.

Right away, naturally, I have to say that scientists are human, and occasionally a tiny minority of scientists engage in various forms of unethical behavior. Hence, the odd example of someone in science who forfeits their integrity for some perceived personal gain can be found. But this is nothing more than a reflection of the fact that science is a human endeavor, not some sort of broad-brush that can be used to tar and feather the majority of scientists. It says nothing that can be applied to the whole collection of scientists who participated in creating the IPCC reports. At most, it might apply to a handful of individuals, but I have little doubt that the vast majority of those scientists are supporting the notion of AGW because that's what the research shows, not for personal gain. When an individual scientist is shown to have engaged in unethical activities, their career in science is, for all intents and purposes, over. They will pay a huge price for their misdeeds within the scientific community, because honesty is a paramount virtue in science -- without it, the whole endeavor collapses. Losing the opportunity to be a practicing scientist would be very harsh punishment for the typical scientist, very passionate about the subject of their research, to say nothing of civil punishments for criminal forms of ethical transgressions.

Misrepresenting climate science for personal gain? It's simply nonsense to believe that such a conspiracy could exist among so many scientists. The risks are far too high for any imaginable rewards and only a very rare person or two would ever take such risks, and such rare instances likely would be very much "disturbed" persons.

Of course, any scientist worth his/her salt is a forceful advocate for their research. Is this an indication of moral turpitude? No way!! Anyone not believing in the value of what research they do shouldn't be funded -- if you don't believe in it, why do it? When scientists seek support for their research, it's so that they can do the work, not to become wealthy. In some very twisted minds, of course, this could be interpreting as seeking personal gain (i.e., doing something you want to do, as opposed to, say, something you're forced to do). If anyone wants to do anything, it has this "selfish" aspect, but the IPCC consensus is light years from some vast conspiracy among climate scientists for personal gain.

Of course, public funds are being used to support climate research (as well as most other forms of scientific research). The National Science Foundation (NSF) is a primary supporter of climate and weather research, mostly through universities.

How do NSF research grants work? I can't speak for other disciplines, but in weather and climate science, the contract is not between the scientist and NSF but rather between the university and NSF. The money isn't a check written into a researcher's bank account to dispense as they see fit! Rather, the funding must be used to accomplish the research as developed in the grant's proposed budget, an effort done jointly by the researcher and the university staff. Among the budget items, a university scientist usually seeks salary support for a few months out of each year of the grant. The salary support from NSF is dispensed over the life of the grant by the university (not NSF) to the researcher, at a rate determined by the researcher's status within the university, and fixed by the budget proposal.

The rest of the money in the budget mostly goes to support student research assistants, pay for travel to conferences, pay the page charges for publications coming out of the research, pay for field data collection, pay for office computers and supercomputer services, and pay the university to support the university's infrastructure within which the research operates (buildings, offices, lights, phones, power, etc.). This latter item is called "overhead" and it adds about 50% of the research cost to the grant, such that a $100,000 research project must be funded for $150,000. The overhead rate varies among institutions - 50% is just a representative value.

The only truly personal gain by the researcher is that few months of salary support. Note that most research universities only pay their faculty for 9 months of salary, so the faculty have to obtain grant support for the other 3 months. This is not a formula for the enrichment of the researchers! No Rolls-Royce limousines, no condos in the Mediterranean, no exclusive country club memberships, no Lear jets for personal travel, unless those scientists are independently wealthy to begin with. No university-based climate researcher is getting rich from NSF grants. Publicly-funded money from NSF to the universities is by a large margin supporting the research, not the research scientist!

Government scientists are not allowed to obtain salary support from the NSF grants -- if government researchers participate in an NSF grant, they can receive the benefits associated with the research (data collection, student research assistants, travel support, page charges, etc.) and nothing else. They are paid a regular government full salary according to their status in the agency for which they work. Although government salaries for research scientists are reasonably good (comparable to intermediate-level university faculty), it's not going to make them wealthy unless they can invest some of their income in some high-yield investment opportunity on their own. Government climate researchers also are not getting rich as a result of these grants, or this research.

These researchers are doing this work because, for the most part, they believe passionately in the science to which they are contributing. To question their motives in supporting the AGW consensus is monumentally astounding rubbish!! I know a few of the people involved in this work, and I find it really aggravating to hear ignorant people casting very negative aspersions on the motives of my friends.

Anyone has a right to an opinion, and when it comes to the use of public funds, it's anyone's right to question the merit of that expenditure. NSF was founded after WWII because it was realized by far-seeing people that federal support of research would pay huge dividends to this nation in terms of new technology for the good of everyone, and jobs for those who worked to make those new technologies available to the public. This is the way it has turned out, although it seems that we as a nation are having trouble deciding where to put our priorities and research of all sorts is being questioned.

Now a cruel spotlight has been directed at the climate scientists not because of their misdeeds, but because their findings are not pleasing to certain wealthy, politically-powerful segments of our society. In an effort to negate those research findings for reasons having nothing to do with the science, an absurd conspiracy theory has been hatched to dispute the science by discrediting the scientists! Their collective integrity has been questioned because of political and politically-inspired media pressure, not because of any widespread, validated wrongdoing in their actual research activities. Media accusations, innuendo, personal attacks on blogs, and so forth are fomenting discontent in the public regarding the climate research funded by their taxes. If you want to look for a conspiracy, look to the AGW deniers, not to the scientists doing the climate research. These AGW-denying narcissists are using a familiar tactic -- accuse your opponents of the very misdeeds you yourself are committing.

I, for one, stand ready to defend my climate science colleagues from this unwarranted attack on their personal integrity. Of course, any actual, proven wrongdoing by individuals is unacceptable, but does not automatically validate any conspiracy hypothesis.


John Monteverdi said...

i am waiting for all the big bucks to come into my bank account because of my position on anthropogenic global warming. On what planet do we find meteorologists and climatologists who are researchers or professors flying around in their Leer jets?

Scott said...

Those that are conspiracy minded are pretty much the opposite of scientists. They are not interested in the truth, they have their conclusion in advance and work backwards cherry picking "evidence" that supports their point of view and ignoring everything else. Discrediting those who oppose their point of view is only one of their tools. Circular reasoning, cherry picking data, falsifying data, deliberately misinterpreting data, ignoring consensus and lumping consensus into a group and making that group suspect. Never mind the fact that those making up the consensus on a particular matter come from all over and from multiple disciplines. In short, don't confuse me with the facts, I've already made up my mind. A very frustrating group to communicate with. A good group to avoid or instead of discussing a particular issue, it may be helpful to talk about their approach and until they can approach a subject reasonably and with an open mind, it's not worth your time to discuss anything further with them.

Scott said...

I forgot to mention that quoting people, scientist, people of authority, etc out of context is another one of their tactics.

They also tend to use very early data. Depending on the issue, early data may be much less accurate than later data. They don't care about that, they just want something that supports their point of view or at least appears to, on the surface.

How can you argue with someone who believes in conspiracy theories? I don't think you can. It's kind of like a leaky boat, plug one hole by refuting a claim and two more open up.

Within every consensus on an issue, there are bound to be unanswered questions. The conspiracy nuts will hunt those down and make the most of them.

They also seem to have a thing for poor quality video and hanging their hat on that video to support their views.

Have a nice day.

Ryan McGinnis said...

The problem with claiming 'conspiracy' is that for the most part people really suck at maintaining them. Those who do usually people who are trained in secrecy methodologies and who have really large resources to give out big carrots and whack people with big sticks. The science community, with it's constant bickering and willingness to eat one another for personal career gain (which ia one of the motivations that makes the scientific process work, really) doesn't seem like a good incubator for conspiracies. If there were a conspiracy, I would expect it to go the other way. Existing energy interests have much more disposable money and much more power than the NSF. Exxon probably makes more profit than the NSA's entire operating budget on a slow Tuesday.

Perceived conspiracies are often just ways for people to continue to believe something in the face of strong evidence to the contrary, such as the widespread belief in Pakistan and Egypt that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by Isreali government agents. Sometimes they are a response to a perceived threat, such as the anti-vaccine movement in U.S. or the strong resistance against the TB vaccine seen in Africa (Africans, after all, have good reasons to not trust westerners).

Ultimately, GCC will or won't happen regardless of what we think, and probably regardless of what we do. Humans cannot change behavior to mitigate GCC for the same reason that they can't all agree to just get along and stop fighting each other, even though both would be highly beneficial in the long run. It requires a level of unity that simply does not exist. We still have several thousand warheads patiently waiting beneath the soil of Nebraska and Colorado 'just in case' - does anyone really believe that mankind will make the decision to move away from hydrocarbons for any reason other than immediate short term advantage?

Chuck Doswell said...


Your last comments are as gloomy as James Kunstler! You may be right, of course. Perhaps humans are just smart enough to destroy themselves and not smart enough to realize what they're doing and stop it before it kills them. Perhaps. But don't we have to try to change the course of events? Some progress has been made, after all. Consider the response to the ozone hole - I think that was encouraging. If I give up hope entirely, and quit trying, then the idiots "win".