Elements of truth

Given the interest in Philip Moriarty’s post about how universities incentivise academics to short change the public, and because I’m away on a trip and am too lazy to write something new 🙂 , I thought I may simply repost something that I wrote that may be relevant. The motivation behind my post was somewhat different to that behind Philip’s, but I think some of what I say is relevant. I would add, though, that if I was writing something related to what Philip Moriarty was highlighting, I may have been much more critical than this post of mine may indicate. I think what Philip Moriarty and others (David Colquhoun being another) are highlighting is extremely worrying and I really think we should be doing all we can to avoid universities becoming places where research and teaching are simply seen as activities that generate income, rather than activities that are intrinsically valuable.

...and Then There's Physics

Stoat’s recent post about peer review, reminded me that there was something related that I had been considering writing about. There appears to be many climate “skeptics” (deniers some would call them) who regularly make claims about peer review being flawed (often referred to by them as pal-review), academia being a closed-shop that skeptics cannot enter, and that research funding is biased towards those who toe the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) party line (for example). What’s ironic – of course – is that most (if not all) who make these claims have virtually no experience with any of this. They’ve never published a paper (never had a paper reviewed or reviewed a paper), they’ve never been in an academic job or experienced academic hiring practices, and they’ve never come close to having a grant funded (never submitted a grant, reviewed a grant, or sat on a grants panel). So…

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71 Responses to Elements of truth

  1. Philip Hardy says:

    The campaigns by most governments and media to promote climate alarmism and ban any climate denialism has made the average man in the street suspect that it is politics not science that is driving the issue. Massive amounts of funding has addicted scientists to the wealth and fame associated with the politically correct point of view. Overstating the problem, understating the uncertainties, downplaying the pause and hiding a large amount of errors will destroy science’s hard won reputation for honesty.

  2. Philip,

    Massive amounts of funding has addicted scientists to the wealth and fame associated with the politically correct point of view.

    I rather think you’ve just illustrated what I was trying to argue against in this post. Fame and Wealth? Do you really have any idea how academia works? A scientist who could show that the mainstream ideas were fundamentally flawed would gain much more fame than someone who was simply toeing some kind of party line.

  3. Philip what “massive amounts of funding”? The UK research funding bodies (e.g. NERC) publish the funding they have given to different projects, go and check out for yourself how much government is spending and where the money has been spent. Note most of the money goes on funding research assistants, the prinicpal investigator doesn’t get to keep it – it doesn’t make them wealthy. Now compare those sums to the money going into biotech, and you will see that if money and fame was the driving force behind academics, they wouldn’t be in environmental science. Curiosity is what drives the vast majority of academics, not wealth or fame.

  4. Philip Hardy says:

    Any scientist proving mainstream ideas were flawed would be labelled as just another thick denier, his scientific paper would be ignored by New Scientist, he would be banned from the bbc and ridiculed by the Guardian. That’s how Climateball works.

  5. Philip,
    No, that’s where you wrong. Any scientist who could prove mainstream ideas were flawed would be lauded. It’s the prove bit that they need to do though.

  6. Philip,
    I’m not trying to wind you up, but do you recognise that you appear to be suggesting some kind of conspiracy?

  7. Philip, if you think those going against the mainstream can’t get their work funded, check out the CLOUD project at CERN. IIRC over ten million euro were spent working on a possible link between galactic cosmic rays and climate (c.f. Svensmark and Claders book “The Chilling Stars”). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CLOUD .

  8. Joshua says:

    Phillip –

    I am wondering on what basis you peak for “the average man in the street?”

    What evidence do you use to determine what their opinions are, what they “suspect,” etc. Do you think that maybe you are just projecting your views onto the wider public?

  9. Eli Rabett says:

    FWIW, most of that money gets shot into space. Relatively little goes to fund labs or individual scientists. By the dollars used to support their research Roy Spencer and John Christy are swimming in it (if you could the cost of flying the MSUs and AMSUs)

  10. Joshua says:

    I have as a client, someone who is is in his 3rd year of a tenure track position in a major university. At a recent faculty retreat, a dean announced that her expectation was that every faculty member would acquire 4-5 significant grants per year. Her explanation was that she had a lot of university service responsibilities, probably as much or more than any other faculty member, and if she could acquire that many grants so should all other faculty members be able to do so.

    Although I certainly know this is how the system works, I was pretty flabbergasted nonetheless. She was saying that her expectation was that this client of mine, someone very early in his career, should be compared to someone with decades of experience and a high degree of prominence in terms of getting grants funded. There was no mention of quality of teaching or even quality of research as evaluated by any criteria other than grant funding.

    The dean later asked my client what he felt about the announcement, and my client said that he felt “threatened.” In part, that word choice was because my client is not a native speaker of English – and so he chose a word that maybe was not the best politically. But there is no doubt that the statement really was a threat, and that grant funding has become a bludgeon in academe – with which to try to beat money out of faculty. But something has to break sooner or later. Between the growth of MOOCs and the priority being placed on grants from institutions that are giving fewer and fewer grants, the current situation seems to me to be unsustainable. I have heard of some interesting reforms that are being considered by the NSF and other institutions for research funding grants, which might help to improve the situation. But it sure looks like reform is needed.

    …The numbers are similarly unsettling for the NIH’s premier research grant, called the R01, a highly competitive, peer-reviewed grant that supports independent, investigator-driven science. From 1983 to 2010, the percentage of R01 investigators under age 36 declined to 3% from 18%. Principal investigators who were age 65 or older received more than twice as many R01 grants in 2010 as those 36 and under—a reversal from 15 years earlier. The average age at which investigators with a medical degree received their first R01 grant rose to 45 in 2011, from 38 in 1980.

    http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304026804579411293375850348

  11. Michael 2 says:

    Orthogonal argumentation — if that’s the correct word here — “A scientist who could show that the mainstream ideas were fundamentally flawed would gain much more fame than someone who was simply toeing some kind of party line.”

    He would gain notoriety, as I suspect you would say of Anthony Watts. But notoriety doesn’t put food on the table. What I understand Phillip to be saying is the average man on the street, the bettor on horse races, the guy that buys used cars and watches closely for being “had”.

    The “little arguments” happen in academia but, as you have pointed out, what happens behind ivy league doors is SO detached from the lives of hundreds of millions of taxpayers as to be completely irrelevant.

    The big argument is politics. Hundreds of billions of dollars each year, trillions overall, being moved around for no other reason that in the moving you can skim a bit. If it doesn’t move then the stock market produces no wealth, either real or imaginary. Money must *move* and it really makes no difference what moves it. Did James Hansen get rich? No. Michael Mann? No. But the people that use their work to move billions end up making millions.

    THAT is what (IMO) the average guy on the street sees. Some are making millions by moving billions and the goal can be utterly imaginary — in fact, it helps if it is so because that way you’ll never reach the goal.

    Remember George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”? An allegory (seems to me) of the Soviety Union? The animals were kept busy building a windmill if I remember right; and before it was completed, it would suffer an accident — the idea being to always keep the animals focused on building this thing that was never going to be completed.

    So, whether or not, or how much, global warming is happening and is your fault or mine is really not much of an issue outside of “academia”. You are doubtless 100 percent correct in your understanding of, and descriptions of, academia — FWIW.

    Consider what is wrong with Christmas: It is the commercialization of it. So too global warming has been commercialized, monetized, politicized. It doesn’t take a member of academia to see that the vast majority of “mentions” of carbon dioxide or global warming — 12,000 or so papers mention it — only 64 to 72 papers really apparently deal with AGW.

    What does it mean? It means 11,000+ papers are just riding the gravy train, toeing the party line, just like Philip says.

  12. uknowispeaksense says:

    Philip……so many things you think you know based solely on things others have written about things they think they know. Your first comment was wrong enough and I didn’t think you could top it but then you made your New Scientist comment. Brilliant. Excuse me now while I as a publishing scientist go and bask in the glory bestowed on me by my adoring fans while counting all my money.

  13. Michael2,

    It doesn’t take a member of academia to see that the vast majority of “mentions” of carbon dioxide or global warming — 12,000 or so papers mention it — only 64 to 72 papers really apparently deal with AGW.

    What does it mean? It means 11,000+ papers are just riding the gravy train, toeing the party line, just like Philip says.

    I think you should read the paper more carefully. The goal of the paper was not to determine the strength of the evidence in favour of AGW, but to determine the acceptance in the literature (consensus) of AGW. Most papers in the literature that use or mention AGW agree with the consensus position. That’s what Cook et al. was trying to determine. You’re essentially criticising it for not doing something that it never claimed to be doing.

  14. Eli Rabett says:

    No academic bunny makes millions. That, dear sir, is just crap.

  15. BBD says:

    Michael 2

    what happens behind ivy league doors is SO detached from the lives of hundreds of millions of taxpayers as to be completely irrelevant.

    Physics doesn’t toe a party line. It just does what it does.

    The big argument is politics.

    Sure.

    So, whether or not, or how much, global warming is happening and is your fault or mine is really not much of an issue outside of “academia”.

    Why not? Physics just does what it does, and politics will determine how much it gets to do what it does.

  16. AnOilMan says:

    Philip got any numbers to back you up? Any at all? Anything? I mean, I consult to the oil and gas industry for a mere $240 an hour. So if you think I can do way better and be famous. Well.. Lets look at the numbers shall we?

    Here’s is what professors can earn (these are averages from newb to dean);
    http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/professor-pay-ranked-from-highest-to-lowest/

    Here’s oil and gas for comparison;
    http://www.calgaryherald.com/business/salaries+average+Survey/9719742/story.html

    Wow… that’s rough. I don’t think I’ll take the pay cut Philip. That Calgary prof will need another job if he wants a house. Rig hands earn $120k a year, Directional Drillers (age 20) earn $350k a year. Profs are looking pretty poor and stupid by comparison Philip.

    And we haven’t even gotten into the fact that a prof looses a healthy million dollars in potential salary to become a prof.

    You personally think I’d be famous after the pay cut do you? Which of 15,000 scientists springs to your mind Philip Hardy?

    I didn’t even know about Victor Venema until I saw him post here. I bet he’s got a hot blond model on each arm. No? Victor? Help me out here! Tell them how many hot blond models are attracted to your famous brain!

  17. Michael 2 says:

    BBD says: “Why not?” (why is global warming not particularly relevant outside of academia).

    On days when I have the luxury of eating in the lunchroom at work, the television is usually on ESPN. If not ESPN, then probably Fox News, whatever is happening in Egypt, Iraq, stuff like that which may impact people’s 401k and stock certificates.

    If you could persuade the fly fisherman here at work that no fish will spawn next year, and I mean persuade, not merely make the same claims that have been made since the doomsday prophecies preceding AD 1000, well then you’d get some sort of action — they’d probably rush out and catch them all NOW while they still can.

    So it is probably good that most people aren’t terribly concerned about it, since if they WERE, there’s no telling what would happen, but it probably would not be wise, carefully considered and measured.

  18. Michael 2 says:

    Joshua says: “Phillip – I am wondering on what basis you peak for the average man in the street?”

    Being one helps! You are either in the system or not. If not, then you are the average man on the street. But some are more average 😉

    “What evidence do you use to determine what their opinions are?”

    Obviously everyone has the same opinions I have, except of course those that don’t; the exact proportion of which can be claimed and then verified within a few percentage points by conducting a study.

    “Do you think that maybe you are just projecting your views onto the wider public?”

    All here do that.

  19. Michael 2 says:

    And Then There’s Physics says: “Philip, I’m not trying to wind you up, but do you recognise that you appear to be suggesting some kind of conspiracy?”

    Like the Koch brothers or Exxon are behind all denialism? 😉

    William F. Buckley spoke on a similar topic, the conspiracy of journalists to all be left wing liberals — no, says he, there is no conspiracy per se, but they all went to the same schools, are motivated by similar things — to report on their neighbors’ activities — so it can LOOK like a conspiracy.

    So it is with teaching in any publicly funded school. Several “gatekeepers” exist to keep out the riff-raff, Republicans for starters. It isn’t even a conspiracy. It just works that way. It’s like gravity.

  20. Steve Bloom says:

    The Koch Bros. and Exxon are behind *some* climate denialism.

    There used to be a lot of Republican scientists before the GOP went all anti-science crazy.

    The same schools? Like Yale? Hmm, that conspiracy is looking even wider than I thought.

    Thank you for your concerns.

  21. Andrew Dodds says:

    Phillip –

    I have exactly one published paper. And frankly, if I could get published* when I did.. the bar can’t be high. More like world championship limbo.

    Didn’t realize I could have stayed in academia and had wheelbarrows of cash delivered to my desk every day in return for publishing the correct results as dictated by NERC. I thought it looked more like a series of short term, badly paid, high-stress and workload positions until I either got a proper position or fell of the conveyor belt into the dumpster in my early 30s.

    Now I get paid to program computers, quite a lot more than any realistic academic position I could have achieved. Interestingly, this means that I combine a solid understanding of the basics of climate, paleoclimate and geophysical computer modelling with absolutely no financial interest. And I’m certainly not a ‘climate skeptic’ (actually, I think that the long term impacts, especially regarding sea level, are strongly understated).

    *Yay! found it! Please – no one read it.

    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0098300400000133

  22. > avoid universities becoming places where research and teaching are simply seen as activities that generate income, rather than activities that are intrinsically valuable

    So, coming back to the original topic. First, I agree that research and teaching are “activities that are intrinsically valuable”. However… railing against people being fired for not bringing in enough grant money isn’t going to work. At its most basic, university jobs are a thing like anything else: whether people do them depends on what you get out of them: they have non-financial advantages [*], and a lingering prestige, that means there is an oversupply of people going in. Anything with an oversupply ends up with a price going down. That’s the way of the world. In a sense, part of the virtue of “exposees” is to reduce the supply, as people get turned off. There’s a naive ideal that the cash-seekers will go elsewhere, and good riddance, whereas only the dedicated scientists will remain, but I doubt it works like that.

    [*] Just being in some of the Oxford or Cambridge colleges is worth a big salary hike; doubtless other places are pleasant too.

  23. William,

    However… railing against people being fired for not bringing in enough grant money isn’t going to work. At its most basic, university jobs are a thing like anything else: whether people do them depends on what you get out of them: they have non-financial advantages [*], and a lingering prestige, that means there is an oversupply of people going in.

    But isn’t that sort of the point. It’s not so much railing against people being fired, it’s the implications of the system moving in a direction where all the perceived benefits are eroded. For example, by and large you’re talking about people who have a lot of options available to them early in their careers. They could go into hi-tech industries and earn good salaries, or remain in academia, live in interesting places, do interesting things, be challenged in ways that they won’t be in industry, but probably earn less. However, they would typically expect – at some stage – some form of job security as compensation for the lower salary. So, the issue I have isn’t so much that people might be getting fired, it’s the overall implications of the system moving towards being more like any other kind of job. If so, you either have to pay people more (since the incentives for remaining in academia are being eroded) or accept that the really good people might notice these changes and decide that if you’re removing the benefits of academia, you may as well just take a job in the city that pays more.

    So, universities can’t have it both ways. You can’t both pay top people less than they could get elsewhere and expect them to face the same risks and uncertainties. IMO, they either have to recognise that some aspects of academia are what attracts people to the job in the first place and protect those benefits, or realise that they’re just going to have to pay people the same wage as they could get elsewhere, if they’re going to treat people as they’d be treated outside academia.

  24. William,
    I should add, that there’s also much more to this than I said in my last comment. It’s also about the role and value of universities. Are they simply businesses that find ways to generate income through teaching and research, or are they places that do things that are of overall benefit to society and that we should find ways to fund? I’m sure that a top businessman could design a university that optimised it’s teaching and research portfolio so as to maximise income. The question, though, would be whether or not what that university taught and the research it did actually benefited the rest of society in the long term.

  25. > the system moving towards being more like any other kind of job
    > It’s also about the role and value of universities

    I pretty well agree with both of those points. The first, apart from anything else, from a diversity-is-good viewpoint: we just don’t want all work to be the same. We want choice; that does mean preserving some of the benefits of academia, though there will be costs (lower salaries) too.

    As to the role-and-value: I agree with you. However, its not clear that society does. And society, via the pols, controls the money. Is there some danger of harking back to a golden era when gowned dons walked through ivy-covered cloisters discussing Aristotle’s physics? I’m caricaturing for effect, of course, but that was a much smaller world.

  26. As to the role-and-value: I agree with you. However, its not clear that society does. And society, via the pols, controls the money.

    Precisely, but if people don’t try and make the case, then we have no chance of convincing the rest of society of the intrinsic value of a strong university system. Having said that, going back to some golden age is certainly not what I’d be compaigning for, so we do have to be careful of it appearing that we’re arguing for the re-instatement of some kind of universities as ivory towers system.

  27. Philip writes “Any scientist proving mainstream ideas were flawed would be labelled as just another thick denier, his scientific paper would be ignored by New Scientist”,

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn11651-climate-myths-its-all-down-to-cosmic-rays.html#.U5rNb5URF-Y

    “he would be banned from the bbc”

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7092655.stm
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/legacy/newsnight/2007/02/the_chilling_stars_by_calder_and_svensmark.html

    “and ridiculed by the Guardian.”

    no, they describe it as “This is a relatively new and interesting hypothesis”, but explain how we can be reasonably sure that the hypothesis hasn’t panned out in the light of the extensive research that has been performed inr ecent years.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2013/nov/12/global-warming-humans-not-cosmic-rays

    “That’s how Climateball works.”

    I suspect climateball actually works by making accusations (and repeating them) without first checking to see whether the cricticisms are actually valid. In this case, I can show you a skeptic scientist (Svensmark) that has been very well funded (I read “The Chilling Stars” and was surprised to see that he felt he was underfunded, given that he has been much better funded than me!). He hasn’t been ignored by New Scientist, he has not been banned from the BBC, who covered his book, and he hasn’t been ridiculed by the Guardian (having someone explain why your hypothesis is wrong is not ridicule, it is science).

    Now here is a challenge to Philip, admit that Svensmark is a counterexample to the argument you have been making here.

  28. Joshua says:

    Michael 2 –

    ==> “THAT is what (IMO) the average guy on the street sees. ”

    Can you provide the evidence on which you base your opinion of what the average guy sees?

    Or is it projection?

    ‘Cause I’m skeptical, and being skeptical means that I try to wait to draw conclusions until I see evidence in support.

  29. William Connolley, I would argue it is not so much about the money. Society spends a fair amount on science and if there are no economic problems, this amount is generally increasing. Salaries for scientists are average for the population (but low for the educational background), but I am find by that okay. We probably also do not want people going into science for the money. (Although, even if we double the salaries, I do not think we would have to fear that yet.)

    The problem is how we spend the money. Do we spend it via project like we do nowadays or do we trust the professors to make good decisions like we did in the past. I would argue that having a few projects are reward for good work is a nice or probably fruitful idea. To spend almost all money this way is lunacy.

    If a professor has limited funding to hire staff and do research he will be very critical in how to spend it to make the biggest contribution to science. In case of projects, the same professor would apply to whatever programs there are with a finite chance of obtaining some funding, whether he sees the project as important or not.

    An the funniest thing is that this system is called competitive. If that is competition, then managing to get resources from Moscow in a socialist planning system is also competition. The people making the decisions have no skin in the game, except for their general interest in science. It is an amazing sign of dedication of the scientists in charge that this weird system works somewhat.

    Another consequence of the system is that researchers are wasting a lot of time to write proposals, time that is lost for research. Writing a good proposal takes weeks if not months and the acceptance rates are quite often below 20% nowadays.

    As a consequence of the low acceptance rate, many good research proposal are rejected, even if the people making the decisions would do so optimally. This means that a good researcher has to move to another group or start all over again with a new topic. Both is inefficient.

    And like Philip Moriarty argues the incentives are there to create a large income for your group, but much less to so contribute to science. All in all, the system has become horribly inefficient and sets the wrong incentives.

  30. John Mashey says:

    For context, see R2-D2 and Other Lessons From Bell Labs.

    In industry, investment in research (especially R1/R2 in that terminology) is usually an investment in a whole bunch of projects, of which only a few will go anywhere. That’s research and companies have to decide how much funding to allocate, and have mechanisms for deciding where to put the funding. For many decades, AT&T had a strong belief that investing some money in Bell Labs and funding basic research would have long-term payoffs, even if most R1/R2 projects failed. Sadly, industrial R1 isn’t what it once was. People around here (Silicon Valley) worry about how to replace Bell Labs, RCA Labs, XEROX PARC, etc … with university research, venture funding, etc … and not all combinations work.

    Human societies have to decide how much research to fund, and how, and these can include:
    1) Government research labs (say, like NREL or LLNL)
    2) Industrial research under contract to government (like SRI)
    3) University research

    Over the long term, societies (or companies) need to expect that funds will spent usefully, but accept the fact that in the short term, being too restrictive is usually a really bad idea. However, researchers expecting a blank check are being silly: “Give me a $T to make fusion work.” I certainly expect Federal funders to exercise some degree of review of funding review and oversight … but I’m not keen on members of Congress choosing which grants to fund or not.
    At Bell Labs, overall funding directions and allocations and directions were decided at very high levels, but by the time one got down to individual researchers, there was a great deal of discretion. I.e., this was the “hire really smart people, to work in a general area of interest, and then let them run.” Hence, Penzias and Wilson found the key evidence of the Big Bang, by accident … and Ken Thompson (UNIX) spent years building (world-champion at the time) chess computers. As we always used to say: monopoly money is nice.

    Rich societies can invest in long-term research and the historical payoffs have been high when such are well-managed via a disciplined research funnel., even though projects often fail. The winners make up for it. Poorer societies have a hard time affording much real R.

  31. Philip,
    As I understand it, that person was an Associate Fellow, not an employee. If you read the description of an Associate Fellow is is

    Associate Fellows are scholars who share their expertise with IPS through one of the institute’s projects or program areas. IPS Associate Fellows represent some of the country’s leading progressive leaders in a variety of areas from inequality, climate justice, foreign policy, and many others. Most work on a volunteer basis unless dedicated funds are raised for their work. Associate Fellows are invited or sponsored by an IPS project director to collaborate with the institute for one-year, renewable terms.

    As much as I’m in favour of diversity of opinions, if an organisation appoints a group of “experts” to advise them on a voluntary basis and then decides that one of them isn’t giving suitable advice, termination their position isn’t quite the same as firing them.

  32. VV> or do we trust the professors to make good decisions like we did in the past

    That’s a good point; I agree the current method is Bad. I think the reason is Fear, or Centralisation. Perhaps its even a bit different: nowadays, communications are so good (in theory) it is *possible* to control everything from the center, if you want to; and of course those in the center do. JM makes a good point about Giant Projects like Fusion; but we’re not talking about such things, mostly.

  33. jsam says:

    Caleb Rossiter. Hmm. Isn’t he at the same institution as David Brat? And citing Climate Despot. Hmm. Have a read of this http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303380004579521791400395288.

    That’s a view built upon a divergence from reality. No wonder the GWPF cites him.

  34. chris says:

    Philip, your example isn’t about science. Professor Rossiter seems to be rather ill-informed and presumably the ISP preferred not to be associated with his style of opinionating.

    Note that Rossiter seems to be poorly informed on a rather wide scale. e.g this opinion…:

    “Obama has long been delusional on this issue, speaking of a coming catastrophe and seeing himself as King Canute, stopping the rise in sea-level.”

    ..totally misses the point since what Canute was doing in standing in front of the rising tide was to show his rather besotted court followers that he lacked the power to influence the tides 🙂

  35. William, yes we will probably always have some more central decisions and project like funding for bigger things like a tokamak, a research vessel or a satellite. But the bulk of the science is bottom up small scale tinkering and that should stay bottom up.

  36. Michael 2 says:

    Outstanding remark from John Mashey, a keeper and a walk down memory lane.

    My grandfather worked at Bell Labs during the Great Depression developing aviation navigation, techniques and instruments for knowing to/from (which I still don’t comprehend) and flying on a “beam”. He would go flying airplanes at a field in New Jersey and back in those days nobody had or needed pilot’s licenses.

    3M also had a culture of inventiveness, the Post-It Notes were somewhat of an accidental discovery. Actually setting out to invent something is somewhat rare — Thomas Edison having a staff of people trying to “invent” the light bulb for instance. But it seems the breakthroughs are often accidents that happen in a culture of encouraged inventiveness which by necessity is often socially isolated.

    What society needs right now desperately is a replacement for petroleum. You can try to “invent” that replacement, but I suspect some geek somewhere is going to stumble on the solution.

    I once was fooled by an April 1 edition of Popular Science (or Popular Mechanics, it was long ago) where you could take sand (mostly silicon), mix it will a little something in a cookie baking sheet, bake it in the oven and make your own solar panels. I tried it, it didn’t work; but I did end up with a big sandy cookie.

  37. Michael 2 says:

    “Can you provide the evidence on which you base your opinion of what the average guy sees?”

    I am the evidence.

  38. It also interesting that Climate Depot suggest that it is a problem in Academia: Rossiter is called professor and Associate Fellow, the Institute for Policy Studies sounds like a university institure, doesn’t it? However the IPS is a think tank:

    As Washington’s first progressive multi-issue think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) has served as a policy and research resource for visionary social justice movements for over four decades — from the anti-war and civil rights movements in the 1960s to the peace and global justice movements of the last decade.

    And the professor is could also have been called a politician.

    he served as counselor to the chairman of a congressional foreign policy subcommittee. During that period, he also taught a seminar on U.S. policy toward Africa as an SIS adjunct professor. Professor Rossiter now teaches courses on African history and politics, U.S. foreign policy, and research methods (with a focus on the use and misuse of statistics and models in the climate change debate).

    Professor Rossiter came to SIS in 2002 following a 20-year career as a practitioner of foreign and military policy in and around Congress. In the 1980’s, he served on the staff of the congressional Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, writing research reports and legislation for Members of Congress trying to end U.S.-backed wars in Central America and Southern Africa. In 1992, he founded Demilitarization for Democracy, which prepared research reports and campaign strategies for efforts to end U.S. military support for dictators and to ban anti-personnel landmines. In 1998 he was the Democratic candidate for Congress in New York’s 31st congressional district.

    Climate Depot somehow chose not to present that information and make sure its readers did not get the wrong impression. They also did not tell what ATTP write above what an Associate Fellow is. It seems to paint a different story. What a surprise. I saw a similar headline on WUWT. May I bet that the story was missing the same information?

    All that information was easy to find, any real sceptic could have done so. A real sceptic would be sceptical of Climate Depot after seeing it debunked so often. A real sceptic might have furthermore wondered whether it is the quality of Rossiter’s work, rather than the message, that provoked the allergic response.

    jsam, I do not have a subscription to the WSJ. Is Rossiter presented as a member of the IPS and is he thus dragging the name of this think tank, which likely depends on donations for its funding, through the mud?

  39. Michael 2 says:

    “…arguing for the re-instatement of some kind of universities as ivory towers system.”

    I have been reminded several times of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy where an entire planet was just such a thing. The depiction is spot-on, at least it was back then when such ivory towers were engaged in nuclear research — but only certain universities and disciplines.

    That’s still somewhat the case — follow DARPA grants and you’ll find your ivory towers.

    But going back to Asimov for just a moment — he depicts this university planet as being seriously out-of-touch with the rest of civilization but it was a desired feature, an engineered outcome, intended to isolate and preserve a not-quite-representative type of civilization while everywhere else society decayed.

    In the Asimov stories the idea was that by the time the university collapsed, the rest of civilization would be on the rise again and university was the “seed” to that rise. It bridges the gap.

    Society seems to be in a gap right now. Nuclear power has been invented, Apollo has been to the moon and back, what’s the next great project? Unobtainium, that’s what. Solar power exists in huge abundance, it could be tapped right now, the problem is storage and distribution.

    It will very likely be a university somewhere that solves each aspect of this great problem, perhaps the greatest problem of all time: Energy. With enough of it essentially all other problems are solvable.

  40. jsam says:

    Victor – I ceased reading the WSJ a while back, after Murdoch’s heavy handed influence became clear. I found my Rossiter material in about one minute using our friend Mr Google. 🙂

    Marc Morono and Climate Despot are not credible sources.

  41. Philip Hardy says:

    Ok Rossitor was not a Permo and was therefore terminated not fired but this is a fairly minor detail in the [Mod: provocative] argument. There are plenty of other examples of prominent scientists who have crossed the Climate Rubicon and then been demonised and bullied because of it. Not to mention Richard Tol. Refusing to debate does not mean the debate is settled.

  42. jsam says:

    [Mod: This is a reference to a deleted quote] Wow. The bullying comes from denialists. Try again.

  43. Ian Forrester says:

    Here is part of the CV Rossiter has on the American University we sight::

    Professor Rossiter now teaches courses on African history and politics, U.S. foreign policy, and research methods (with a focus on the use and misuse of statistics and models in the climate change debate).

    I hope he is using a mirror in his studies.

    It also seems that (redacted) don’t know the meaning of “censorship”. If his views were censored how come we can all read about them and find out how distorted and wrong they are?

  44. Michael 2 says:

    “So, universities can’t have it both ways.”

    Excellent and succinct. As it happens, universities ARE having it both ways but that’s because different kinds of university exist — public institutions which tend to be left wing and for-profit institutions which tend to be right wing. A business education is probably best from a for-profit school, a scientific (and obviously anything social) should be obtained from a public institution.

  45. dhogaza says:

    Philip Hardy:

    When you said this:

    “Any scientist proving mainstream ideas were flawed would be labelled as just another thick denier, his scientific paper would be ignored by New Scientist, he would be banned from the bbc and ridiculed by the Guardian. That’s how Climateball works.”

    Followed by this:

    “If you think fear of censorship for climate change views are overblown, take a look at this.”

    I thought I was going to be treated to a story of some climate scientist being persecuted and hounded over having actually *proven* mainstream physics being flawed.

    Instead, we’re treated to a story about a policy analyst who has no qualifications in climate science at all, hasn’t published in regard to climate science, etc etc.

    Pffft.

    Rossiter is not a climate scientist:

    “Degrees
    PhD, policy analysis, Cornell University, MA, mathematics, American University,”

  46. dhogaza says:

    Philip Hardy:

    “There are plenty of other examples of prominent scientists who have crossed the Climate Rubicon and then been demonised and bullied because of it. Not to mention Richard Tol.”

    Richard Tol – economist, not climate scientist (in fact he accepts the mainstream view of climate science). He is ridiculed because 1) his published work has been shown to be riddled with errors 2) he insults and attacks those who point out those errors, and does his best to intimidate them and to force them to shut up. In other words, exactly the type of behavior you claim that mainstream scientists engage in. He deserves the treatment he gets. If he stopped attacking people and began apologizing to those who point out errors in his work he’d be treated very differently.

    “Refusing to debate does not mean the debate is settled.”

    Refusing to publish claims in the academic literature is, in science, a refusal to debate.

  47. Philip Hardy says:

    Jsam,
    Well there is no shortage of bullying on this alarmist website.

  48. Michael 2 says:

    American University is a private school. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_University

    Pretty much anything goes at a private school.

    I challenge you to find a denier teaching at a publicly funded school. They probably exist in the 3 percent range.

  49. Michael 2 says:

    “A real sceptic would be sceptical of Climate Depot after seeing it debunked so often.”

    Ah, the Real Skeptic fallacy (patterned after the No True Scotsman fallacy).

    I’ll bite — a real skeptic is skeptical of ALL claims by ALL persons. That doesn’t imply rejection, rather, cautious and studied eventual acceptance or rejection.

    (sceptic is too much like septic since the “c” could be scilent as in scenario and science).

  50. jsam says:

    Dear Philip. There’s more bullying on your Twitter account than on this blog. And then there’s Watts, Nova, Bishops Hill etc. You project.

  51. BBD says:

    Well there is no shortage of bullying on this alarmist website.

    People are pointing out that you are making nonsensical statements. This is not bullying.

  52. Michael 2 says:

    dhogaza says “Rossiter is not a climate scientist”

    Neither is/was the director of the IPCC 😉

    Neither is James Hansen: He obtained a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics with highest distinction in 1963, an M.S. in Astronomy in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Physics.

    Neither is Gavin Schmidt: He was educated at The Corsham School, earned a BA (Hons) in mathematics at Jesus College, Oxford, and a PhD in applied mathematics at University College London.

    Neither is Michael E. Mann: He graduated with honors in 1989 with an A.B. in applied mathematics and physics. … received both an MS and an MPhil in physics in 1991. …MPhil in geology and geophysics in 1993. (racking them up, impressive to be sure — but two more masters in just two years?). He was granted his PhD in geology and geophysics in 1998.

    They are scientists who bring their specialties to the table. They are geologists, physicists — mostly physicists it seems hence the emphasis on models and mathematics.

  53. AnOilMan says:

    Philip I’m noticing that you don’t back anything you say, and you are exaggerating pretty much nonstop. If you want to claim scientists are addicted to wealth and fame, you need to demonstrate that. (You did not.) If you want to back a claim of naughty things happening to climate contrarians, you should find evidence of systematic issues. (You did not.)

    Employees, consultants, etc have a pretty high turn over. 20% is the norm, and typically its 50% in the first year. Bringing someone on board who doesn’t suit an organizations needs tends to cause a lot of friction. There are many examples of this in the real world if you’d bother to look. Some conflicts of interest are so concerning that they are not legally allowed.

    Whether or not you have issues around what the IPS did seems a bit silly when you read its mission statement; http://www.ips-dc.org/about Climate Change or not I think they have a pretty clear prechosen direction of supporting sustainable energy. Oil ain’t sustainable.

  54. Philip,

    Well there is no shortage of bullying on this alarmist website.

    I think my dictionary defines “bullying” differently to yours.

    Michael 2,
    Sure, there are few people who have some formal qualification in “climate science”. There are many, however, who can be called one by virtue of their research. Rossiter – as far as I’m concerned – is not one of them.

  55. BBD says:

    Neither is James Hansen [a climate scientist]: He obtained a B.A. in Physics and Mathematics with highest distinction in 1963, an M.S. in Astronomy in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Physics.

    James Hansen’s publications.

    Let’s not be silly.

  56. Windchaser says:

    “Jsam, well there is no shortage of bullying on this alarmist website.”

    Bullying = pointing out errors?
    I have to disagree: attacking someone’s arguments is quite different from attacking them as a person. The former is how science works.

    And from what I’ve seen, this website is far more civilized than most of the others out there.

    Victor, a little-known trick: If you someone posts a link to WSJ, you often need a subscription to read it. But if you google the article, you can get access. So – copy-paste the title into Google, search, and you can read the article.

  57. dhogaza says:

    BBD:

    “Let’s not be silly.”

    We wouldn’t want to censor either philip or michael 2, would we? 🙂

  58. John Mashey says:

    re: Who’s a climate scientist … not just physicists. How about Chris Field, whose formal education was in biology.
    In a relatively young field, senior people rarely have formal degrees in that field, since there weren’t any when they were doing their PhDs.

    Try this scale of knowledge.
    People in a research field know who’s a credible researcher there.
    People outside the field can usually get a quick assessment by looking at publications *and* citations. Anyone experienced in rapid credibility assessment knows enough to consult experts they know or use their social network to find some … and ask them. (That was one of the things one had to early at Bell Labs.)

    Climate science is a big field, with many specialties.
    The problem is that people low on the scale have great difficulty assessing the level of those much higher. In the Salby affair, quite a few people (usually pseudoskeptics) put great stock in fact that Salby had a PHD and a decent publication record … in physics of atmospheric circulation, much of which is fluid dynamics, not carbon cycle or paleoclimate. They seemed to back Salby in carbon cycle arguments, even against somebody like Colin Prentice who has an even more extensive publication track record … and in carbon cycle.

    It was very rare to find a comment like that of dikranmarsupial: “‘I have looked at Salby’s publication record (which is very good); however the carbon cycle seems rather outside his primary expertise.”

  59. Michael 2 says:

    “There are many, however, who can be called one by virtue of their research. Rossiter – as far as I’m concerned – is not one of them.”

    Agreed, but there you go being reasonable and all that. I am reminded of the Supreme Court on defining science: It is what scientists DO. Ultimately it is circular. Climate science is what climate scientists DO. In that sense the consensus defines the term, not the other way round.

  60. Michael 2 says:

    Windchaser says: “from what I’ve seen, this website is far more civilized than most of the others out there.”

    Agreed. I have seen some excellent commentary here.

  61. BBD says:

    dhogaza

    We wouldn’t want to censor either philip or michael 2, would we?

    Goodness no. We wouldn’t want a re-run of what was done to Hansen:

    Dr. James E. Hansen, the top climate scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), believes that the world has little time to waste in reversing its current trend toward global warming. In late 2005, however, Dr. Hansen’s ability to voice his concerns about global warming was severely compromised by NASA public affairs officials. After he called on the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a December 2005 lecture, Dr. Hansen found that NASA officials began reviewing and filtering public statements and press interviews in an effort to limit his ability (as well as that of other government scientists) to publicly express scientific opinions that clashed with the Bush administration’s views on global warming.

    Muzzling, bullying, suppression…

  62. BBD says:

    Cont.

    Dr. Hansen pointed out that Bush administration attempts to control scientific information on climate change were not limited to NASA, and that colleagues at NOAA have told him that conditions there are, in general, much worse. Said Hansen, “In my thirty-some years of experience in government, I’ve never seen control to the degree that it’s occurring now. I think that it’s very harmful to the way that a democracy works. We need to inform the public if they are to make the right decisions and influence policy makers.”

  63. > Ultimately it is circular.

    Not really. It only goes from practice to dictionary. Only if in turn practice was defined in terms of what the dictionary says, you’d get circularity. But we’re far from having that.

    The ongoing project to build that bridge is Lucia’s.

  64. Steve Bloom says:

    But Willard, if that bridge is finally constructed, whither parsing itself? Will Lucia implode into a singularity?

  65. Steve Bloom says:

    John, I would disagree slightly. Climate science as a field seems far too large for a single degree to span it. IIRC there are still PhDs from biology and related fields going into climate science.

  66. John Mashey says:

    Steve: there was no implication of that, just a counter to the silliness where people think that no one can be a climate scientist without a PhD in Climate Science. The senior people could not have such degrees, since they didn’t exist, but in any case, young multidisciplinary fields always have people with a mix of formal degrees, even after they have existed for a while.

    Computer Science is like that as well (and please all, no arguments about whether that label is accurate or not, it is what the field is called, for better or worse.) When I was doing my PhD, none of the senior professors had PhDs in CMPSC. Still today, there are some pretty good computer scientists whose background is math, physics, chemistry, EE, ME, cognitive psychology, etc.

  67. Off topic. ATTP, maybe it would be a nice service to your readers to summarise the typically long discussions in the comments. My last post summarizing some comments on communicating science is quite popular.

    Shall we call you ATP, an energy bundle?

  68. David Young says:

    A lot of what is being said here about academics is in my experience not true. The recent editorial in the Economist is a good summary of some of the problems.

    I’ve seen a lot of grant proposals and the successful grant getters at the best universities are very well paid by any standard. A lot of academics have their own companies and some of them have been quite lucrative. Now there is a lot of sweat equity in these companies, but they also benefit from the essentially free labor of graduate students who are very poorly paid and usually pretty bright and hard working.

    The main problem I see with the grant system is just that there are “fashions” in research and usually grantors are really trying to pursue something fashionable that they can then sell to the real source of the money, the government. I actually have found that fundamental research usually suffers in this setting and “colorful” or “impactful” research prospers even if its real substance is nil. I’ve heard this complaint a lot in engineering from some really top people where the last decades fad was “design” which is in their view really about interfaces, visualization, etc. and not about fundamental understanding or improved methods. Some very top notch people have moved based on these kind of considerations even late in their careers. There are still some holdouts places that do real hard analysis research.

    Another thing I have found in reviewing proposals is that there is a strong tendency to oversell the research and to put the very best face on the positive impacts. That’s a function of the extremely competitive environment. A lot of the literature from some of the “top” academics while not without merit is not replicatible by others at least in my experience. The Economist is excellent on the reasons for this too.

  69. > A lot of academics have their own companies and some of them have been quite lucrative.

    This is as relevant as it is empty.

    A lot of academics also are ninjas. Not that this is as lucrative as one might wish.

  70. AnOilMan says:

    Ultimately I’m with John Mashey. Anyone can pretty much do anything as long as they have a reasonable grounding in the required field, then continue to study and publish within that narrow band of interest.

    At best recycling rehashed work is death to any scientific career. Pseudoskeptics should be no exception in that regard.

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