Mooney: "Science ought to check itself"

Fri, 2007-07-27 09:00Kevin Grandia
Kevin Grandia's picture

Mooney: "Science ought to check itself"

A big part of the global warming denial industry argument is the contention that somehow scientists and policymakers over-inflate the threat of global warming to continue the flow of government research dollars.

Many, including the DeSmogBlog, have refuted the claim, but none quite so well as our friend and author Chris Mooney did to a question posed by “skeptic” Bill Gray at a recent symposium.

Mooney writes:

“The highlight for me (and for many in the audience, I think) came when Bill Gray got up and asked his question. If I can paraphrase, in essence he asked whether the scientists who support human-caused global warming are doing so in part because of government research funding–or in other words, doesn't such funding create a strong incentive for researchers who apply for grants to assume that global warming is actually a “problem” in the first place, and build their research around that assumption?

I replied that there ought to be a strong contrary incentive: Namely, any scientist who unseats the global warming consensus, who proves that it isn't a problem, ought to be able to win quite a lot of fame and renown for doing so. And so, once again, science ought to check itself…” (emphasis added)

Check out Mooney's latest book Storm World: hurricanes, politics and the battle over global warming.

Comments

An observation: whenever we have a ripper of post, none of the usual deniers jump on it.

Anyone care to refute Mooney's observation? NO?

Didn't think so...

While Mooney is correct about incentive, this is not reason for others to abstain from critically trying to find errors in the science or from trying to demonstrate that something has been missed. In that way, lay skeptics are excellent. I believe it really is a benefit to the science for the public to try to bring their experiences and various thought patterns (even if unscientific) to bear on this problem. Unfortunately, AGW denial is an industry that produces some rather crumby skepticism -- lots of poorly-founded questions and lame assertions (e.g., "it's so complex, they can't possibly know anything useful in prediction") and re-phrased, anciently-debunked talking points. They ever so rarely come up with anything helpful. Of course, if your objective is to confuse people who know less, then it's a small wonder nothing useful comes from the PR groups funded by industry. Imagine if all that money went toward skeptical research instead of the repetition of talking points.

The issue is much more complex.
The observation is flawed because of the strong political emotions that the subject of AGW brings to bear. First, it is a debate more about degree's then it is about so called 'denial'. There is little doubt that man' can impact the planet's climate. The question is man's impact on the climate these last 150 years; is it 1% or 90% of the climate changes we've seen in the last 25 years?

But back to the question the problem that many scientists that question the IPCC's assertions have is lack of funding to begin with. If one sets out with a research request for funds stating he wants to study natural cause of climate change, the money is not there. You will find many complaints from solar physicists, for example, that they can't get funding.

The latest IPCC report clearly states that they have little understanding of the impact of solar and cosmic rays on the earths climate. So shouldn't the IPCC be championing the research? The IPCC has little or no understanding of the Arctic Vortex, so shouldn't they be championing the research? Shouldn't this website be calling for more $ for the most skeptical scientists out there? Shouldn't this website be exposing and condemning those that profit from AGW? Shouldn't this website be demanding that the IPCC reform it's self from the built in prejudice to prove AGW not merely to find the cause of our recent climate change? Shouldn't this website be calling out those that hold it's position, not to threaten those that are 'skeptical'. Shouldn’t this website be demanding that ALL solutions to changing our energy usage be put on the table? Shouldn’t this website be demanding that those that champion the cause refrain from excepting gifts and speaking fee’s or any other form of non research money? Shouldn’t this website show disapproval of those that would ‘skew, twist distort, and outright lie about the facts in order to convince the public of AGW? Shouldn’t this website be critical of those that espouse the position of 90% AGW and want you and I sacrifice, ‘walk the walk’ themselves? Not until the politics are taken out of the debate will there ever be a consensus and willingness by the general public that action needs to be taken.

If you truly believe in your cause then you must look inward and clean your own house 1st.

You seem to misunderstand the purpose of this blog. Sounds like you have your own ideas for your own blog. Let me ask you this: if this other, underfunded research is so critical to debunking AGW, then why don't Exxon and Koch and GM (or whoever) pay money into a research fund to be awarded (by an independent group) only for projects looking at natural forcings? They have a lot of money, but instead of paying for the research that your blog would champion, they pay for PR, putting people like Tim Ball in front of all kinds of audiences, misrepresenting himself and the science. Don't you have a problem with that? I do. That's bad for all of science. It will make it much more difficult for good research showing that AGW isn't a big problem (if any such discoveries ever do happen) to have any impact on the public debate and policy.

I agree with you 100%, Steve, an independent group to award ALL non governmental money, through a blind trust. And for the record, I don't champion any ones research. I want the truth out as much as you. I think everyone that doen't have the credentials in the science should get out and let them do their work and yes that includes Tim Ball and Al Gore.

I disagree a little bit (that's my nature) -- if public figures make truthful statements, then that puts the science in the public realm and finally something can happen with respect to the ongoing problems that science defines. If scientific research is ever going to inform/affect policy in a democracy, then politicians are going to have to make public statements about it.

ROConnell said: "You will find many complaints from solar physicists, for example, that they can't get funding".

Who are these scientists and how do you know that it is true? Please provide some proof for your assertions otherwise they will be pitched into the "junk file".

Ian Forrester

KEVIN MOLONEY / THE WASHINGTON POST

"Bill Gray of the atmospheric-science department at Colorado State University calls the scientific "consensus" on global warming "one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people." He has seen most of his government research funding dry up.

WASHINGTON — It should be glorious to be Bill Gray, professor emeritus. He's the guy who predicts the number of hurricanes that will form during the coming tropical-storm season. He works in the atmospheric-science department of Colorado State University. He's mentored dozens of scientists.

But he's also outraged.

Much of his government funding has dried up. He has had to put his own money, more than $100,000, into keeping his research going. If none of his colleagues comes to his funeral, he says, that'll be evidence that he had the courage to say what they were afraid to admit."

You could try including the date when you cite something, or a link:
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2003040068_warming05.html

The article is by Joel Achenbach, not Kevin Moloney, who apparently is the photographer; your first paragraph is the caption for the photo, it would seem. The article also says:

"...The Web site Real Climate, run by a loose group of climate scientists, recently published a detailed rebuttal of Gray's theory, saying his claims about the ocean circulation lack evidence. The Web site criticized Gray for not adapting to the modern era of meteorology, "which demands hypotheses soundly grounded in quantitative and consistent physical formulations, not seat-of-the-pants flying."

The field has fully embraced numerical modeling, and Gray is increasingly on the fringe. His cranky skepticism has become a tired act among younger scientists..."

So maybe he doesn't get funding because of his age, or outdated methods. You could look up the mentioned article on RealClimate, if you really want to research this and not just cherrypick.

Then there is this from Achenbach's article:

"...Americans sorting through this issue may feel constrained by all the unknowns. Perhaps they need to adapt to uncertainty, to see uncertainty as the norm, and not as a sign of scientific failure.

Or as an excuse to do nothing."

Edited to add the article is dated June 5, 2006.

Here is a direct quote from Gray: "I have never had a grant from the fossil-fuel industry. I presently do not draw a salary. I live off of my retirement income. To support my small Colorado State University research project I presently have two quite modest research grants, one from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for hurricane research and the other from Lexington Insurance Company (Boston) for US hurricane landfall probability prediction".

Quoted from "HURRICANES AND CLIMATE CHANGE:
Assessing the Linkages Following the 2006 Season" a talk presented to the Washington Roundtable on Science and Public Policy, October 2006.

If he is so flexible with the truth is it any wonder he is being denied further funding?

It is interesting that he prefaces his talk with a quote from Michael Crichton.

And to get back to your original quote of "You will find many complaints from solar physicists" that is what I want proof of.

Ian Forrester

RealClimate article, April 26, 2006

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/04/gray-on-agw/

"...Concluding remarks

The Wall Street Journal has insinuated that there is some ageism involved in the reaction to Gray's work ("Hurricane debate shatters civility of weather science," by Valerie Bauerlein, Feb.2, 2006). The problem is not Gray's age — we all revered Henry Stommel who did some of his finest work in his seventies. The problem is Gray's failure to adapt to a modern era of meteorology, which demands hypotheses soundly grounded in quantitative and consistent physical formulations, not seat-of-the-pants flying. The WSJ also made much of the withdrawal of an invitation for Gray to join a debate on hurricane trends at an Atlanta tropical meteorology conference. We can't speak for the organizers, but we find it easy to believe that their decision was guided more by the invalidity of Gray's scientific reasoning than by any political or personal considerations. "

"If one sets out with a research request for funds stating he wants to study natural cause of climate change, the money is not there. You will find many complaints from solar physicists, for example, that they can't get funding."

BS. These physicists have had many reports published, especially when it comes to the effects of solar variations on the climate of several millennia ago. However, when it comes to the current warming, solar variations cannot explain the c. 1 C of warming since 1850. Therefore, those who wish to study the effects of solar variations on the current warming are wasting their time (and therefore would be a waste of money) as this has been debunked by several studies.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/07/11/solar_activity_climate/

http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/node/1502

Your using "Cosmo Magazine" and a blog as your source of information? I won't even reply

The articles report on a study published, and peer reviewed in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, here it is.  (pdf)

Everyone made thoughtful comments to your original post, ROConnell. I asked if you thought Exxon should fund those poor astrophysicists instead of spreading misinformation in the media. Ian asked you to name the astrophysicists about whom you wrote. Stephen Berg pointed out that studies to date indicate that solar forcings should not be the focus of the main research effort into climate change. Kevin then backed up Berg's point with the example of a recent solar forcing study. The closest you came to a direct response was a comment about the source mag (ad hominem!) and a statement that you wouldn't reply.

I think you all are missing the point. 1st solar scince is just an example. The IPCC in thier 2001 and latest report lists 12 'important' climate forcings. Of thoes 12 'important' climate forcing they admit they only have a good grasp of the science of 5 of them. One of the 7 they do not have a grasp on is 'solar forcing'. Thier level of understanding is "poor". I don't know the answer to climate change in the last 25 years and I would say that is the IPCC says thier understanding of "solar forcing" is "poor", then it certainly can't be discounted.The IPCC will further tell you that althought better then it was in 2001, there understanding of climate forcing from water vapour, which constitutes something like 95% of the total of greenhouse gas, is poorly understood.

Now to your other questions, Do I think "Exxon" should fund anyone, I personaly don't have an issue with it. But obviouly you do; so I ask you, (which I asked in my original post) should f

Not sure what you were going to say there. You asked a lot of questions in your first post (some of which I thought were non-sensical: the IPCC pointed out weaknesses in scientific understanding of some natural climate forcings and you somehow interpret that to mean that it is against research narrowing that uncertainty?). But I'll try to clear things up. Look, I have a problem with fossil fuel interests poisoning the public discourse with misinformation. I think extremism is problematic because the media know that extremism and fighting sells. You asked in your original comment whether this website should be targetting those who profit from AGW. It does -- it focuses on those who profit (paid by Exxon among others) by making extreme misleading statements. That's why I come to this website. For me it explains a lot about why everyone is talking about the climate but nobody is doing anything about it (or rather, why few actions to stop heating it up are being taken).
I don't know why you've come to this website. So far it seems as though you've done it largely to make unsupportable statements/accusations. Doesn't seem helpful.

So, you never actually looked at the articles (let alone read them), did you ROConnell? Too ideologically-blind to read something with common sense?

Also, it's Cosmos magazine, not Cosmo (a.k.a. Cosmopolitan).

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"If one sets out with a research request for funds stating he wants to study natural cause of climate change, the money is not there. You will find many complaints from solar physicists, for example, that they can't get funding."

If one proposed a brilliant hypotheses that could disprove (or at least begin to) human-induced global warming you don't think it would get funding? The problem is nobody in the denial industry is putting together anything brilliant -- they jut mumble on about medieval warming periods, little ice ages, solar flaring etc...

As far as "studying the natural causes of climate change" there is money. A study published two weeks ago in The Proceedings of the Royal Society looked at the influence of solar radiation, which is of course natural. The study concluded that solar was not a significant contributor to climate change over the last 20 years.

There's many more examples of such inquiry into the natural influences of climate change, I think you just don't like the outcomes.

To quote serveral leading scientists

Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and one of Britain's leading climate scientists. "I have found myself increasingly chastised by climate change campaigners when my public statements and lectures on climate change have not satisfied their thirst for environmental drama and exaggerated rhetoric," Hulme told the BBC in November. "It seems that it is we, the professional climate scientists, who are now the skeptics.

Kevin Vranes of the University of Colorado, by no means a climate skeptic..."What I am starting to hear is internal backlash. . . . None of this is to say that the risk of climate change is being questioned or downplayed by our community; it's not. It is to say that I think some people feel that we've created a monster by limiting the ability of people in our community to question results that say 'climate change is right here!'"

Dear ROConnell, you may have a valid point here but I can't tell because there is no link to check the context of the quotations. (I'll google for that, but you could save the effort next time.) To me the first quotation accuses "climate campaigners" of attacking neutral scientists when the scientists give public presentations. Who are the climate campaigners? Greenpeace? Isn't your comment simply more support for Mooney's contention (which I mildly disagree with) that science should check itself, rather than having public groups do it?

Getting back to your earlier comments, you made a very specific claim and you were challenged on it. You seem to be evading that challenge.

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