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AMS opposes climate witch hunts

Left-wing media activists have been excited about finding out that Willie Soon, a climate skeptic at Harvard-Smithsonian, has earned over $1 million which included grants from the Koch Foundation. They could have asked me years ago – I would tell them.

Willie is clearly one of the top earners and the impressive figure makes him a counterpart of James Hansen (and that man's Greenpeace money). On the other hand, it is no way an obscene amount of money for research that Willie has participated in for at least 20 years. If a quick calculation helps you, note that $1,200,000 / 20 = $60,000 which is not too much for an important guy.

Of course that I consider the Koch Foundation to be a much more impartial and decent sponsor of scientific research than Greenpeace. Can the source of money affect the character of research and conclusions? You bet. But let me be more precise about my thoughts on this question.

I do believe that it is inappropriate to "assume" that a particular scientist has distorted his research because of the source of money – in the absence of specific evidence. That's what we call "presumption of innocence". In particular, I am actually convinced that Willie believes what he does which is why the Koch Foundation money hasn't materially changed the character of Willie's scientific conclusions – it may have changed (increased) their amount or visibility.

However, I think it's statistically inevitable that if you have lots of money affecting lots of people, the "flavor of the money" will be imprinted in the papers that these people write. And in the context of the climate research, the money from sponsors "naturally preferring the alarmist conclusions" beats the money from the sponsors "who may prefer skeptical conclusions" by 2-4 orders of magnitude.

One researcher or two or three may keep their impartiality and be unaffected by the money. But it's implausible that hundreds of people are unaffected by the money. And that's why I think that it's obvious that the overwhelmingly pro-alarmist money has played a huge role in distorting the conclusions of the climate research in the pro-alarmist direction. This opinion of mine doesn't really contradict the presumption of innocence. After all, I don't even name any particular culprits. But the fact that this is happening in the big picture is a matter of common sense.

Someone may dream about funding schemes that guarantee the neutrality but I don't really think that this is realistic or necessary. The scientific progress may occur in the real, imperfect world, too. And the ability of the scientific method to converge to the truth despite the imperfection of the researchers, their pre-existing opinions, and their environments is one of the features that makes the scientific method so powerful.

So of course that scientists will always have to get some money from someone and the sponsor will always be seen as "potentially biased" in one direction or another. And this "imperfection" doesn't make science compromised in general although when the "strength of the bias" and the "motivation of the researchers to reproduce it" exceeds a certain threshold, the research may get compromised, indeed.

Back to the specific events.

Raúl Grijalva, a Democratic lawmaker from Arizona who is powerful in the Committee on Natural Resources (his father immigrated from Mexico after the war) and who has close connections to the Communist Party, wrote

Letters to Seven Universities Asking for Documents on Climate Change Research
He wants to know where the funding of the climate researchers comes from. Under certain circumstances, you could say that this controversial attempt to obtain confidential data is an effort to achieve some financial transparency which is good for taxpayers and everyone who uses the results of the research. Even if you decide to believe that this is the legitimate goal, there is a huge problem with the letters. What's the problem? Well, look at the list of scientists whose financial data should be revealed:
Legates, Christy, Curry, Lindzen, Balling, Pielke, Hayward.
They're seven skeptics. To call them The Magnificent Seven could be exaggerated but they're pretty close to being a group of seven (nearly) most prominent climate skeptics in the research community. Because of this selective character of the letters, there can't be any doubt that this is a completely illegitimate political attack on science. It is undoubtedly a witch hunt.

Roger Pielke Jr has already announced that he suspended his research which is not feasible in this environment.

Incidentally, I think that e.g. MIT has enjoyed lots of money thanks to the gifts stimulated by the prominence of Richard Lindzen. Maybe comrade Grijalva wants to "call out" the whole MIT because it gets external funding? Every official scientific institution must get some funding and Grijalva's opinion that the Koch Foundation funding is worse than the Greenpeace or the U.S. federal government funding is just an artifact of his being an extreme left-wing whackadoodle.

I recommend you to read one of the sick letters. Take the Judith Curry letter, for example. It's something like this:
Hi Bud [Peterson, the president of Georgia Tech], I am a powerful man in the House whose task is to protect the U.S. land and everything on it. You must have seen that Willie Soon has received the money from the Koch Foundation. And I've seen Judith Curry whom you harbor to say something that I didn't like on TV. So I demand that you expose every penny she's been ever paid, its sources, and your precise description of the policies you will establish to guarantee that not another skeptical word will ever come from your institute. Don't take it as an ultimatum but please provide me with everything I demand before March 16th, 2015, else...
It's staggering what sort of totalitarian aßholes may have gotten to the U.S. Congress.

Now, the American Meteorological Society has had a mixed record in the hysterical climate debate. I believe that their officials have endorsed the panic in several documents. On the other hand, there has always been some restraint. Its causes are easy to understand. According to some polls, 48% of the meteorologists in the AMS are "climate skeptics" of a sort, thinking it's unlikely that more than 50% of the warming since 1850 was anthropogenic. (I am not even sure whether I am a skeptic according to this definition.)

Dr Keith Seitter, the president president of the AMS, wrote this sensible
AMS letter to Raúl Grijalva
It says that the academic freedom and the free expression of scientific ideas are vital for the scientific research to continue and the AMS has supported these values in the past. While transparency is a good thing, if researchers are singled out for the conclusions of their research that somebody finds inconvenient and if their scientific integrity is questioned for that reason, it sends a chilling message to academic researchers. It's also and especially wrong for the free pursuit of ideas that is central in the concept of academic freedom if the researchers are being harassed when they are preparing testimonies etc.

Seitter recommends to stick to the existing practices to evaluate the research – proper disclosure of potential conflicts of interests plus peer review. The committee is also recommended to rely on the whole corpus of the scientific literature about the subject.

If you ignore the fact that the "corpus" of the climatological literature has already been distorted by similar Grijalva-like influences in the recent quarter of a century, it's a reasonable letter. (Unfortunately, the female president of the American Geophysical Union implicitly supports Grijalva's request.) You may dismiss Grijalva as an ugly yet irrelevant Hispanic McCarthy wannabe but a problem is that you may find lots of people who are very close to this kind of ideological bullying and witch hunts and who are employed not only as rank-and-file politicians but also as journalists, members of the scientific community, and they exist at very many places that actually affect what's going on.

The virus of political interventions into the scientific research has become omnipresent. Of course, this – and not global warming – is one of the major problems that good politicians should heroically wrestle with. But politicians who are good in this sense are very rare.

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snail feedback (15) :

reader Rathnakumar said...

Mike Mann feels a little uncomfortable too! :-)


Mann, a prominent Penn State climate scientist who has has been subject of Republican-led probes of his work in past years, had a mixed verdict on the letters.

"It does come across as sort of heavy handed and overly aggressive," Mann told National Journal, adding that he is "a little uncomfortable" with the demands for the professors' correspondence. But he said there's nothing wrong with seeking information on funding sources. "That is something that no scientists should have any qualms" about providing, Mann said.

Mann also said the Grijalva letters on funding should not be "conflated" with probes he has faced from GOP Rep. Joe Barton and Cuccinelli.

"The difference being that they were demanding materials that are protected under principles of academic freedom—private deliberations between academics or scientists, unpublished manuscripts, raw source code that was written, stuff that's intrinsic to your work as a scientist," Mann said.

Mann is best known for research that produced the "hockey stick" chart, which that reconstructs global temperature over the past 1,000 years and shows a sharp uptick in the 20th century. His conduct has been cleared in several probes.

reader Luboš Motl said...

He must feel very uncomfortable, indeed! ;-) If it could be guaranteed that such probes would always be restricted to the "deniers" only, that might be good, but... :-)

reader R T Deco said...

He's a Hispanic McCarthy wannabe, which is an amusingly ironic aspiration for a commie bastard.

reader papertiger0 said...

The thing is this taking the temperature of Willie Soon's bank account it preamble to the real attack. What they'll do next is dry him out. Once they know the figure there will be just enough legal action to silence him, stretched out over time with no conclusion.
Because the conclusion isn't the thing. Just like with Tim Ball and Mark Steyn. The process itself is the punishment.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Shouldn't the Koch brothers fund all such problems? If I were them, I would do so - after all, it's they who is being sold as the ultimate "untouchable" ones.

reader Gene Day said...

This is the most blatant attack on academic freedom that I have seen in 60 years. I can only hope that the presidents of the universities have the courage to point that out to the media.

reader Marc said...

The appropriate response from all Universities should be:

Mr. ...

Other than to note the fact that your letter is factually malignant and inappropriate, we will not be providing any further response.

Signed So and so

reader Gene Day said...

That would force Grijalva to shut up or to convince Congress to subpoena the documents for an open hearing.
This would likely be a good thing, all, considered.

reader Tom Trevor said...

Congress won't be subpoenaing any such thing, while Republicans are in charge.

reader MikeN said...

I think you have completely missed the story here.

The White House issued a call to 'expose climate change deniers' on Feb 20. Now within a week we have a letter to individuals who were selected by an outside group, the NRDC, based on how they influence policy. This is not the work of a crackpot Congressman, but a coordinated campaign to silence dissent prior to upcoming negotiations in Paris, as well as giving the EPA firmer legal ground for its illegal CO2 regulations passed without Congressional approval. Blogs that objected then faced questions about how they supported Ken Cuccinelli vs Michael Mann. PowerLine asked the reporter whether someone fed them that question and received no response.

reader papertiger0 said...

Well, you still have that Lumo Energy. You must be rolling in the loot.
Serving greater Australia with their electric and natural gas needs.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Lumo Energy are greenies, aren't they?

reader papertiger0 said...

Hey. How could you let that happen, boss? You need to get down under and crack the whip.
There's no profit in green without government subsidy.
Abbot in control.
That's where the money went.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I am working hard to retake this company of mine and make it to the most efficient energy company - when it comes to tons of CO2 produced per kWh - in the world.

reader Andrew Kidd said...

I recently read the letter asking for the Smithsonian to refuse to the Koch Brothers money. Of course, in addition to Usual Suspects of Hansen, Romm and Mann, such doyennes of the Far Left as Greg Laden and PZ Myers are there as well.