Sunday, June 14, 2009

Consensus and the feedback loop of no funding

Last night I had dinner with a couple we have known for 29 years. I know how long it was because I hired this gentleman out of college and while we mostly ended up working for different companies around the world, we occasionally kept in touch through the years. In 2002, my friend, a geophysicist, had fallen on very hard times. He was working as a motivational consultant, being one of the many casualties of the layoffs in the 1990 and early 2000s which swept through the oil industry like a plague of locusts. I ran into him coming out of my Aberdeen, Scotland office. He said, 'Glenn!" I had no idea who he was until he spoke more and I recognized the voice. I helped get him hired on in Aberdeen Scotland as a geophysicist and his career since then has done well.

He just finished an MBA so my wife and I took him and his wife out to celebrate at a very fancy restaurant worthy of the occasion. There he told me about the forum the AAPG (the American Association of Petroleum Geologists) had at their Denver convention last week. He said it was the first time he had ever seen anyone in one of these fora actually doubting anthropogenic global warming. And he found it interesting.

After the debate, in which he said the two skeptics did a grand job and got applause, he saw one of them, John Christy from U of Alabama, out in the hall after the symposia. My friend went up to thank him for providing a balance to the normal stuff. And this is where it got interesting as far as I am concerned.

According to my friend, Christy was appreciative but said that because of his doubts about some aspects of global warming he can't get funding! That did not surprise me because I know how the funding works. In almost any field of science, if you are not a party line kind of guy, you don't get the money. And the party line is decided by the people in the funding committees, a group of self-selected individuals. And they select those who agree with them to be on the funding committees.

So, here is the problem this raises for this 'consensus' that everyone seems to think is so important in the global warming area. If doubting can ruin your career because you get no funding, who in their right mind wants to have a career in climatology will publicly express doubt? Because of this, then, ideological purists can proclaim that 99% of climatologists accept global warming, which becomes true because the funding agency enforces that.

Why do I say it enforces ideological purity? Because in a university if you don't bring in grants, you won't get tenure. If the funding agencies ensure that no doubters get funding, then faculties fill up with people who have no doubt.

All of this is highly incestuous and creates a self-fulfilling consensus because that is what the money buys. If they want to prove that there is a consensus, fund skeptics and proponents alike and see where the data goes.

But this sick affair does show that if you want to win a battle in science, win the funding agencies

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